What is Femininity?

What is Femininity?

What does the term “femininity” mean to you? The quality of being female is the concise definition but its interpretation is of course far from concise.

A femininity storm has erupted in our house on the back of an innocent comment to my youngest teen from a friend ahead of a joint shopping trip.  The crux of it was the suggestion that my daughter might benefit from introducing an element of ”feminity” to her wardrobe.

There was no ill intent meant of course but unfortunately as we all know it is often the most casual and throw away remarks that will strike a nerve and provoke the loudest response.

So how did my daughter interpret this comment? Well not favourably. In short she felt insulted and perhaps not surprisingly, suddenly very self-conscious of her appearance.

Of course, as we are all too aware, a woman’s feminity is defined by much more than simply her looks and how she presents herself externally.  It is about how she is as a person, how she interacts with others and what she brings to the world.

Ultimately, there is not a universal definition and as such we can’t stereotype so I am not going to either.  Neither in this instance am I going to pursue the well-trodden path of considering the relationship between feminity and feminism - that is a debate for another day.  This is a question born purely from a comment about looks and presentation and its impact upon the formative teenage brain.

So is it the case then that feminity from the perspective of external appearances is limited to such a simplistic view as the one my teenage daughter interpreted the comment to mean.  Namely that to demonstrate her own feminity she must wear a skirt (not a dress!), make-up and god forbid forego her beloved trainers!

The short answer is no.  My son was at pains to point out to my daughter that "clothes don't make the (wo)man"  and that her preference for individuality rather than conformity was something to be celebrated not concealed.

On the flip-side and at the risk of sounding "old-fashioned"  I confess to falling into the camp that says yes to a good pair of heels and some lippy as a sure fire way to make me feel good about myself.  Is that the same as feeling feminine?  On a superficial level yes, but then again I am 50+, menopausal and having spent the last few weeks since my op dressed down in loungers and comfortable shoes, I would give anything for a chance to boost my sense of feminity right now, however, irrelevant the means of achieving that might seem to others.

For our teenagers, however, the landscape is different.  That transition from awkward and doubtful, to confident and self-assured is a delicate one that needs to be navigated with care and at their own pace. As I have said before, appearance matters hugely to teenagers.  Nobody wants to be made to feel like the odd one out, but if my daughter is going to feel like that I would rather it was for something as simplistic as her refusal to wear an outfit favoured by her peers, than her inability to inquire and challenge perceptions about the true definition and values of feminity.

I have heard it said that the exact definition of words is actually set by the listener rather than the speaker and that is probably why comments are so easily misconstrued.   We all interpret situations and words differently and no doubt a straw poll of people’s opinions of “feminity” will elicit a range of responses rather than a universal one.  In fact Teen magazine posed this question to a group of celebrities back in 1965.  The answers were varied and illustrate not only a different mindset but a vastly removed society.

Jane Fonda: "Femininity is knowing how to listen — men love it!"

Sandra Dee: "You must be meticulous in your clothing, makeup, skin — to be clean, fresh, and nice all the time."

Connie Stevens: "You work at being a good homemaker, making it fun and romantic."

Is there any point in trying to define what feminity is or more importantly do we care?  There is no doubt it will alter and be defined by its time.  Fundamentally, however, it is a set of attributes and behaviour, which can take on many forms because it is unique to the individual and it is that sentiment we should be embracing more than any other when considering feminity.

 

What do you think?  What does feminity mean to you?  I would love to hear your views in the comments below. 

 

What does feminity mean?

 

 

 

Mum Muddling Through

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31 Comments

  1. May 17, 2018 / 1:55 pm

    This is so interesting! I have never thought about what femininity is but I guess it is something that must be with us as women on some level subconsciously all the time. I think it’s the things that make us different to the opposite sex, the things that can only be celebrated as a woman – some of those physical, some of those emotional, and some even psychological. It’s funny thinking about some of the outdated quotes above and I do think current attitudes towards femininity will also become outdated in turn. A truly thought provoking post thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub xoxo

    • Jo
      Author
      May 31, 2018 / 11:46 am

      There seems to be such a difference between what everyone feels is feminine, not just between men and women but also between women and women. I think you are right Talya, our views now will no doubt provoke a wry smile amongst our own children in years to come. Thanks for hosting. #coolmumclub

  2. March 20, 2018 / 7:11 pm

    My younger self said femininity was hair, makeup, clothes, handbag. My 40+ self says it CAN be those things but also how much YOU choose to be swayed by those things. Great and interesting debate which I read with interest as I know I’ll wish I knew the answers when the time comes for our 8 yo to navigate the teenage years! #pocolo

    • Jo
      Author
      April 16, 2018 / 12:28 pm

      Oh wise words Carol! As you say it is definitely different depending on your age and your attitude towards what is important. Thanks for your comment. X

  3. March 14, 2018 / 5:33 am

    I have no idea what felinity is really. My dad spent his whole life telling me I didn’t need to wear make up then would suggest I wore heels with my jeans to make me look less of a boy and hated it when I had my hair cut short (as in below the shoulder) Whenever I wore a dress I was told I looked nice and I never really understood what ‘nice’ meant other than I think I was conforming to his idea of a female and how I should present myself to the world. TBH it never bothered me. #tweenteensbeyond
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    • Jo
      Author
      March 14, 2018 / 3:59 pm

      Oh Suzanne this did make me smile a bit as I think it would be an interesting question to ask of the men in our lives and particularly those across different generations. I would be intrigued to know what my father thought of my short hair during my own teen years.

  4. March 13, 2018 / 11:59 am

    I am reading this wondering why I have never thought this through before, and other people’s comments are so interesting too. To me, feminine is something which emphasizes the differences in the sexes, but from a female perspective. In which case it’s open to different interpretations as society changes. My contemporary interpretation would be delicacy (both in art and human interaction) and embellishment. That may sound old fashioned one day soon. Frankly, the average man will always be physically stronger than the average woman so I also see feminine as being strength which is not physical. Anyway, I think what your son said is great and I am not at all surprised that your daughter was upset. It’s the kind of comment that youngsters can make with all good intention but without tact. #TeensTweensBeyond

    • Jo
      Author
      March 14, 2018 / 4:04 pm

      My daughter is very much someone who is happy in her own skin, she knows what she likes to wear and just doesn’t think about the need to be “feminine” so the comment really did provoke an interesting debate in our house. For her the concept of adapting her external appearance simply to demonstrate her femininity is ludicrous. Needless to say her response was indicative of her red hair if nothing else.

  5. March 11, 2018 / 2:09 pm

    Perhaps being ‘feminine’ will need to evolve with what being a woman is. There are huge changes around what it means to be a woman today and so some of the ideas about femininity will also have to change. As a (fairly) older person, my views on femininity may be different to that of my daughters. So, to me, it conjures up lace, skirts, pretty shoes and handbags. I never liked any of these and so I was never a very feminine woman I guess!? Brilliant subject for debate Jo.xxx #TweensTeensBeyond

    • Jo
      Author
      March 12, 2018 / 7:43 pm

      Yes I think you are right Sharon it is an ever evolving scenario. Dior was deemed to have written the boiler plate for femininity but it is interesting to see how his interpretation has evolved over the decades and is almost unrecognisable now. Certainly I think the term in its simplest form, conjures up images of skirts, heels, elegance and sophistication but there is no doubt that it has been adapted somewhat for this century.

  6. Lieve Geysen
    March 10, 2018 / 8:16 am

    I just wanted to say ‘well done’ to your son for supporting his sister with these wise words. I hope your daughter listens to him as I’m sure she’s a very pretty, feminin girl… in trainers.

    • Jo
      Author
      March 12, 2018 / 7:45 pm

      Thanks Lieve for taking the time to read my post and leave a comment I appreciate it. My eldest does have his moments and knows when to step in and offer his support. It is also interesting to hear what he has to say on the subject and he is firmly of the belief that femininity is not defined by clothes alone.

  7. March 8, 2018 / 2:16 pm

    I think being feminine means celebrating all that women are, naturally. It’s fairly obvious that there are many differences between men and women (although WHAT those differences are is not always obvious). In embracing femininity I think we embrace what means to be different to men without the need for feeling as though we are in competition with one another. #Tweensteensbeyond

    • Jo
      Author
      March 14, 2018 / 4:07 pm

      I love this perspective Liberty and I think my daughter would concur.

  8. March 8, 2018 / 11:58 am

    We have this with my eldest girl. She’s 15 and very much a trainers and hoody girl , doesn’t bother with make up and people feel ok to tell her “ooo why can’t you dress more like a girl?” I’m the one who gets irritated on her behalf , she just eyerolls and says she’s wearing clothes and is a girl and therefore dressed as a girl!! #tweensteensbeyond

    • Jo
      Author
      March 14, 2018 / 4:10 pm

      Oh that is funny Kelly that you get irritated on your daughter’s behalf. Similarly my daughter does not feel any need to be overt in her demonstrating her femininity and sees that as ridiculous. The world would be a very dull place if everyone was the same wouldn’t it?x

  9. March 8, 2018 / 11:39 am

    I agree with the last comment, I think there’s a definite trend to more fluid gender definitions as the norm. For myself I’ve never worn much make up or heels of any kind, and am rarely seen in florals these days, but internally I’ve never felt anything but wholly female. My daughter is 11 and very much aware of gender and trans issues. She’s really embraced the gender neutral clothing movement and even started browsing the boys’ section of H&M – whether she’s confident to continue that into teenage years, time will tell! #TweensTeensBeyond

    • Jo
      Author
      March 14, 2018 / 4:14 pm

      You are right Beth this question is not as simple as it seems on the surface is it? There is so much more to it nowadays as our children are growing up in a more transgender environment. Maybe that is why some feel the need to demonstrate their “femininity” more obviously than others. It’s a debate we could continue for some time.

  10. March 8, 2018 / 12:08 am

    Good for your son – I’m so impressed he supported his sister and her choice of clothes. I do think this generation of teens will continue to challenge deep-rooted traditions about what’s ‘proper’ for women. A girl can be feminine in trainers just as much as in heels!

    • Jo
      Author
      March 14, 2018 / 4:16 pm

      He certainly has his moments Nancy and I am glad that he was here to add his opinion to the mix actually. It certainly helped my daughter to calm down and not feel so outraged. Thanks for popping over for a read.

  11. March 7, 2018 / 6:34 pm

    I think femininity is open to interpretation by individuals. Offhand, I think of flowers, dresses, makeup. But in the real world there is much more to it than that. Being a tall woman (nearly 6′) I’ve always felt I’m not feminine. But then supermodels are tall and they are thought of us beacons of femininity–sexualized femininity though.

    I have no answers, Lol.
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    • Jo
      Author
      March 14, 2018 / 4:39 pm

      Wow 6ft Katy, you are a lucky lady. As a shortie I am always rather envious of those blessed in the height department.

  12. March 7, 2018 / 12:13 pm

    You’re so right when you say throwaway comments can be the worst, there have been many ocassions when I’ve felt like lumping somebody when they make an unwanted comment, although it was not an intention to be nasty.

    These are conversations we have a lot in our house, I love listening to the kids take on this kind of subject. With 2 girls and 2 boys there’s lots of different takes on it all. Both my 2 daughters have a completely different style, with my eldest (like me) favouring jeans and only having wearing a dress/skirt if she’s going to a party while my youngest daughter prefers skirts and dresses. I’ve always championed the idea you wear what you feel good in. If you wear something because you feel you should, it will show in your face!

    As I write this I cant help forget the comment one of my uncles made when viewing a property. He said, to the agent whilst in the kitchen ‘this floor is too cold with all these tiles on it, a woman could get very cold standing in here all the time and end up ill which would be no good’. The thing is he meant it! Might be why to this day he has never married! #tweensteensbeyond

    • Jo
      Author
      March 14, 2018 / 4:45 pm

      Unfortunately Sharon I think those unintentionally hurtful comments are always the ones that end up striking a nerve. Individuality is something to be celebrated over conformity and as you say if you do something to conform it shows. I love the story about your uncle! How funny is that?! A sign of the times for sure. x

  13. March 6, 2018 / 9:09 pm

    Those quotes really made me laugh. Things have moved on since 1965 in some ways, in others we seem more behind than ever.

    • Jo
      Author
      March 14, 2018 / 4:45 pm

      Oh me too Nikki. I would love to know what Jane Fonda would say if asked now!

  14. March 6, 2018 / 8:11 pm

    Femininity to me means an inner strength, a poise that shows out despite what other say or do to you. Physically I feel it’s all personal preference – I do prefer more feminine clothes and I love fashion but less is more on the make-up front. I HATE how girl bands like Little Mix are supposedly portraying feminism yet are exploiting their looks and body’s, that to me is degrading the womans body. I’m sure my opinion riles some folk though. Each to their own though eh. Excellent provoking article #tweensteensbeyond

    • Jo
      Author
      March 14, 2018 / 4:55 pm

      A great interpretation of femininity Alex. As with anything it all comes down to self-confidence and in my daughter’s case I was surprised given her own inner strength, that she did not challenge the friend directly when the comment was made. I agree with you regarding the portrayal of femininity by girl bands – to be honest I think with some jumping on the feminism bandwagon is just an easy marketing option. Thanks so much for your comment.

  15. March 6, 2018 / 6:12 pm

    Femininity to me seems at its worst to be almost synonymous with helpless and a little ‘dumb’; an attribute which means you can’t change a tyre, dig a potato row, or sort out computer problems! I don’t think any of the women in my family would fit that image – not my mum, riding round on motorbikes wearing her munitions factory overalls during WW2, me, slobbing around in baggy gardening trousers and t-shirts, my eldest who dressed like Lara Croft through most of uni, or my youngest in harem pants and vest tops! I think we all value practicality over what’s perceived as femininity. On the other hand, I do like a good old ‘grunge’ outfit – flowery dress, denim jacket, Doc Martens 🙂
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    • March 6, 2018 / 6:15 pm

      Just popping back to add #tweensteensbeyond (!)
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  16. March 6, 2018 / 11:18 am

    I’m confused by the way things are changing. At 52 I can see young people redifining gender and by doing so, no doubt they will redifine or even destroy totally, the idea of ‘male and female’ . To me femininity is anything that accentuates female-ness, and being female is pretty complex, but mostly the stereotypical stuff, not being hairy, being soft, being curvy, having long eyelashes, plump red lips….hilariously I’m not many of those! But I don’t really care, I think I can be female, a woman and sexy without being overtly feminine …so …(ends ramble) there we are (I don’t own any heels, I don’t wear makeup but I adore wearing ballgowns inappropriately)
    #TweensTeensBeyond

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