When you think of the word feminine, what comes to mind? I did a simple Google search and this was the first definition to pop up:
having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness.
For most of my adult life I’ve been confused and uncomfortable with the feminine ideal. “Ideal” implying that anything less is not feminine, or worse – masculine.
By no means do I consider myself unfeminine, yet the definition implies what I am certainly not. I’ve been tall and strong built since I burst forth from the womb. I eschewed dolls and girly little things, much to the disappointment of my mother. I wasn’t a tomboy, either. No tree climbing or scraped knees. My childhood was filled with reading. Never enough information. Always another book in my hands.
In high school, when other girls were layering on the makeup and going on first dates, I fell behind; uncomfortable in my own skin and unprepared for male attention. In fact, I avoided it completely. I found male friendship not romantic, but brotherly. It was safer that way. Safer because I didn’t have to address the perception of myself that I was unfeminine. Not “pretty” enough. Not “delicate” enough. Visually, I felt I didn’t meet the standard. My personality, strong and fierce – easier to be rejected for having a brain than for being un-pretty.
And, so it continued into adulthood. Even when, finally in a relationship, I wondered what “he” was doing with me. I was, and to a certain extent, still am, unsure of my worth because of the feminine ideal.
Simone de Beauvoir wrote:
“Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man. And she is simply what man decrees; thus called ‘the sex’, by which is meant that […] she is sex – absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.”
She is the Other. A woman’s femininity determines her worth and that a woman’s value is based on the man’s default.
Where does that leave the single woman? Or the rejected? Or the marginalized? Where does this leave the woman with strength and valor and intelligence?
It leaves us with a challenge.
Let’s go back to that definition for a minute: having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness.
Having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women… Really? Hmmm.
You see, here is where I see the problem. If we are “traditionally” told to value ourselves in relationship to man’s desire, we are stepping out of truth. The truth is we need to change the language. We need to associate femininity with more than delicacy and prettiness.
We need to redefine femininity in relation to true womanhood. And in my mind, it’s so much more than pretty or worth based on the opinions of man.
We are, as women, also created in Imago Dei – the Image of God.
Maybe, like me, you watched “Wonder Woman” this past year as it took over the summer box office. There was something that resonated deep inside of women as they watched this film. The idea that feminine was more than prettiness and delicacy.
It was a warrior. Strength. Character. Intelligence. Compassion. Hope. Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Diana Prince was a sigh of relief to many women. She was beautiful, yes, but also tall and strong and muscular and intelligent and compassionate. So much more than “pretty.”
There was another female in that story, as well. As the assistant to the male protagonist, Etta Candy was the feminine ideal by World War 1 standards. Delicate. Pretty. But whip smart and a warrior in her own right. In her own way.
And this is where the definition needs help: both these women represent the “feminine ideal.” True feminine is so much more than pretty, delicate flowers that need protection from men. My femininity requires it.
Because I’m not “pretty” or “delicate” – and I suspect many of you who read my blog aren’t either. We long to be defined by the content of our character and not our dress size. By our intelligence and not our ability to manipulate men. By our unique bodies, hair lengths and self-expression whether it be tattoos, clothing or makeup and not conformity to media expectations.
How am I redefining my femininity? By being me authentically. Tall. Strong. Chubby. Intelligent. Deep. Poetic. Strong willed. Gentle. Compassionate. Beautiful.
Because in Imago Dei, we are all beautiful. We are born female, and by default are feminine.
Comments welcome – I’d like to hear your views on this subject! (Even the men!)