Monday, 9 November 2009

What the...

I am a firm believer in embracing your feminine side, feminine meaning what it is that makes you a woman, whatever that may be (not the whole culturally-constructed idea of ‘feminine’ which, let’s face it, basically equals the colour pink). I also identify strongly with myself as a feminist. I see nothing in these two statements that contradicts.

And that’s why when I read articles like this, they make me so, so angry.

There are so many things wrong with this article, I have no idea where to start. Perhaps with the title - ‘Are you a Feminist or a ‘Feminine-ist’?’ – because obviously you can’t be both! Being a feminist and wanting to be in any way pro-feminine would just be ridiculous and obscene: everyone knows that all feminist are ‘tough, overworked and unattractive’; ‘a woman who’s unattractive in both looks and spirits’! Contrast this to feminine-ists, who embrace their ‘feminine sexy and loving side[s]’, the epitome of which is, in this article, ‘a beautiful, leggy, sexy woman’. All of these terms are ones on which a woman is graded from a heterosexual patriarchal point of view, and are thus demeaning. But being the epitome of physical attractiveness is what it’s all about, right – oh, and being ‘powerful’ (she adds, hastily) – so this one-dimensional stereotype is what all womankind should aspire to be.

Karen Salmansohn states that her goal is:

To inspire women to embrace their fullest potential selves – feminine, sexy, warm, loving – everything the word ‘feminine’ stands for, alongside strong qualities like powerful and successful.

There are several things wrong with this, and her whole argument:

1. Where do characteristics like ‘intelligent’, ‘creative’ and ‘happy’ come into the feminine norm? Nowhere is the answer: they’re not ‘feminine’ characteristics. And neither are ‘strong qualities like powerful and successful’. ‘Feminine’ and ‘strong’ don’t really mix, and they are definitely not the same thing; you just get one plus the other.

2. Salmansohn notes how so many women today are ‘not being their fullest, best feminine selves’ because they’re ‘rushing around trying to do it all ... being tougher than they’d like to be as well as more exhausted, strident and irritable, thereby feeling unattractive inside and out.’ Being exhausted and emotionally depleted is all the fault of the woman, of course, neglecting her inner femininity. Salmansohn fails to address the real reason for this: that women in a men’s world must constantly over-perform in order to combat the effects of discrimination, especially in employment.

3. Salmansohn claims that she feels her most powerful when she takes the time to tap into ‘feminine-ism’ – i.e. when ‘indulging in a meditative and self-nurturing manicure, a facial or a hot bubble bath’. Salmansohn has obviously not been watching any Target Women lately! These ‘indulgences’ are exactly the kind of thing that patriarchal companies target women with. Nobody is 'powerful' when having a bubble bath, however much you might enjoy it. And by listing these things off as typical ‘feminine’ pastimes, Salmansohn simply falls into the trap of succumbing to the culturally-constructed ‘feminine’ norm.

4. Then, there’s Salmansohn’s annoying overuse of the word ‘sexy’, meaning ‘attractive to the average heterosexual male’. Feeling sexy in this sense is not empowering, as she claims. It is feeling happy in yourself, as yourself, that is empowering. And though this may include feeling confident about your sex appeal, you cannot conflate the two ideas.

5. Men can be and are feminists, and any man who is put off from calling himself a supporter of women’s equality because ‘it might sound like he was admitting to supporting a group of controlling, bitchy women’ is not someone who believes in female empowerment at all, really, is he? No, he’s just ignorant, close-minded and sexist to boot. But that’s OK, in Salmansohn’s point of view, because it’s generally agreed that men don’t really go in for that kind of thing. But something that’s ‘pro-sexiness, pro-sweetness [and] pro-balance’ (excuse me while I puke) like ‘feminine-ism’ – well, a man can be proud to support something like that!

And why is this? Because it’s cool for a man to be in touch with both his feminine and masculine sides (though he is, of course, predominantly masculine if he is straight). But hang on – when can we get in touch with our masculine sides? Oh, that’s when we embrace our ‘strong qualities’, like powerfulness? But then aren’t we meant to feel our most powerful when indulging ourselves in feminine activities like facials? I’m confused, which is unsurprising, as Salmansohn’s argument makes no sense at all with its narrow-minded categorisation of the masculine and the feminine.

6. And finally, please, please do not try to personify and thus stereotype your country. It’s just wrong. Especially if you’re going to be sexist about it too. America, the ‘real guy’s guy’ (in other words, ‘the very masculine man’) is described as loud and active. India, on the other hand (a country that is in reality torn by its desire to Westernise and achieve Western ideals of perfection – which for woman generally means pale and submissive), is described as embracing its feminine qualities. And it is passive, passive, passive.

Being a feminine woman should not be about self-indulgence in facials, being ‘sexy’ or god-forbid being passive. It should be about being yourself, whoever that may be. So if you’re going to preach to women to embrace feminine-ism, don’t just tell them to subscribe to the culturally constructed feminine norm. Because that’s not empowering; not at all.
For a better-written take on the stupidity that is feminine-ism, see this article on The Frisky.


  1. This is absolutely outrageous!

    I am so shocked!

    I am so fed up of people thinking that it is empowering to be sexy to men and that women are in the best position when they are attractive and manicured and traditionally 'feminine.'

    This sort of thing pisses me off beyond anything!!! I mean, I appreciate that some women enjoy the whole sexy/girly thing but at least most of them don't dare to try and incorporate socially-constructed norms into feminism. In some respects it is better to reject feminism than to try and pollute it with this so-called 'feminine-ism' bullshit.

    Aaaargh *spazzes*


  2. I was equally infuriated by the article, believe me...

    I totally agree. The way I see it, feminism is about women being gaining the opportunity to be who we want to be. And I do NOT want to be a socially constructed stereotype, thank you very much!

    Much 'aaaargh' to this!


  3. I wonder how much of what we as girls do, even believing ourselves not to be socially constructed stereotypes, would be different if there was never any social construction.

    I live in fear of being socially-constructed even though I like to think I'm a free agent!

    It's like I worry about the morality of wearing makeup... I wear it because I tell myself that I like what it looks like, not because I want to be feminine and that I'd also wear it as a guy... but if I was a guy I probably wouldn't because I'd be different person altogether!

    I'm so stressed out about it! I just want to be free of fucking STEREOTYPE.


  4. It's impossible ever to know what it would be like without the stereotype, because even our way of thinking is part of a socially constructed system: basically everything is! And I guess, to some extent, those more 'intangible' parts of cultural construction we just have to accept as part of being human.

    Makeup is a grey area, because there are so many different 'ways' it can be worn. I think as long as you don't wear it out of 'social pressure' to be 'feminine', then it's fine.

    Individuality rules all!


  5. Yes, I suppose it can be relative, can't it? You can be relatively free, if not completely free.

    Yay. Well, I have no intention of stopping wearing makeup!