Lately, I’ve been spending some time thinking about womanhood and the alienation of femininity within society – partly in relation to how I’ve dealt with both during my life but also how we as a society deal with gender. My own struggle with gender has been life long and something I highly doubt will ever stop being an important part of my life. And I’m not the only one who has struggled with femininity and/or womanhood, especially in relation to societal expectations.
I grew up a tomboy – preferring things that are coded more towards masculinity like cargo shorts (ugh), playing rough and in the mud. I shied away from traditionally feminine things – hardly ever wearing anything remotely feminine, avoiding things that were even kind of associated with being a girl. I never felt like I was born in the wrong body or that I was a boy because as much as I shied away from femininity, I always knew I was a girl.
Discovering queer theory, feminism, and identities like nonbinary woman changed a lot in my own life because I realized that it was possible to be a woman but fit into a nonbinary narrative. At first it felt like an oxymoron to use nonbinary in relation to a binary gender but in reality, I’ve realized that the identity means (for me) that I don’t fit into a cis woman’s identity because my own experiences will always be nonbinary in many ways but will always relate back to womanhood. I don’t fit into what it means to be a binary woman and I don’t identify with the assigned expectations that come from others.
And as a society, we undervalue femininity and anything associated with it or womanhood. Phrases like “you throw like a girl!” or “sissy!” are playground insults that tie being a girl or a woman to inferiority in some way. And there are so many other ways in which we talk about women differently and negatively compared to men (bossy for example). One study actually found that from two decades of fiction, newspapers, magazines, and academic text, women were twice as likely to be labeled as pushy than men. Nic Subtirelu wrote about this issue and mentioned that while men were more likely to be described as condescending, there wasn’t much of a balance struck because:
condescending seems to differ from pushy and bossy in an important way, namely that it seems to acknowledge the target’s authority and power even if it does not fully accept it.
Even in the queer community, we have a problem erasing femininity, spouting misogyny, and ignoring our femme siblings. So many femme queer people are invisible in all different circles or are made to feel bad for their femininity – something that we all need to not only acknowledge but work against. And blaming and shaming trans women for not fitting into your own narrative or the right kind of femininity or womanhood? That’s definitely not the way to go.
Ultimately though, I will probably always have a complicated relationship with femininity and being a woman but I do know that we don’t treat women and feminine traits as a society very well. More than anything, we need to be valuing feminine traits in all people more and need to stop erasing femme people.