Femininity – what does it mean?

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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This month, the OPTIONAL QUESTION involves the NaNoWriMo. As I never participated in it and don’t plan to in the foreseeable future, I want to write about a different question. I went shopping yesterday and saw a small poster on a wall: a simple sheet of colored printer paper. It asked in a large font: What does your femininity mean to you? I didn’t stop to read the small font underneath, just skimmed the title and continued on my way, but the question stuck. What does femininity mean to me: as a woman and a writer?

In traditional psychology, the terms masculinity and femininity referred to characteristics typically associated with being male or female, respectively. High masculinity implied the absence of femininity, and vice versa. [He is strong and aggressive. He is a man. She is gentle and nurturing. She is a woman.] As a result, everyone could be classified as either masculine or feminine. No gray area.

Mars and Venus by Alexandre Charles Guillemot, detail

Contemporary science views the subject differently. In modern psychology, any individual simultaneously possesses both masculine and feminine features, to some degree, a mix of Mars and Venus. Moreover, many philosophers agree that both femininity and masculinity are often more social than biological constructs. Gender (outward attributes) notwithstanding, when a person has more feminine attributes psychologically than masculine ones, that person could be considered feminine. Otherwise, masculine.

Statistically, in most women, feminine traits outweigh masculine ones. The same is true of men. Our species wouldn’t have survived otherwise. But sometimes, our gender and psyche clash, and we have people who feel the opposite of their bodies, the opposite of their gender stereotype. That’s where trans-genders come from. Or, if not the opposite, leaning to the other side, trying to figure out who they are. Trying to fit in inside the rigid society definitions.

I never felt any conflict with my body. I’m a woman, maybe not 100% feminine but feminine enough. I’m a mother. I was a wife, until my divorce. I guess, I took it as a given that I’m feminine. Somewhat. It didn’t mean anything to me; it simply was.

But as a writer, perhaps I should think about it. Most of the protagonists of my fiction are females. Should I try to make them more feminine? Less? Should I find a balance of sorts? How?

There are novels aplenty about people, male and female, struggling with themselves and the society, when their genders and psyches are in discord. But I recently read a fantasy novel by Mercedes Lackey, one of her older Valdemar stories. In her story, one of the characters, Firesong, has his feminine and masculine sides perfectly balanced. In the book, he is beautiful, homosexual, and a powerful Adept magician.

I wonder if any writer ever wrote a female protagonist who balanced both sides of her nature: feminine and masculine. Would she be a lesbian? Would she be a fighter? What does it mean, when both sides of your psyche are in balance? Does it make you a better mother? A worse lover? A hermaphrodite? I don’t know. Do you? Tell me in the comments?

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Unrelated: I had a fantasy short story Defying Kikimoras published in the April 2017 issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly. They are running a poll for the annual Reader’s Choice Award, asking people to vote for their favorite story and author. The poll is open until Nov 15th. You can read my story for free here. If you like it, would you mind going to the poll and voting for me? You have to scroll down to the April issue and find my name. Here is the link.
Thank you.
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20 Responses to Femininity – what does it mean?

  1. Hello, Olga. What a fascinating question! I think my protagonists (always female) have about the same balance of “feminine” and “masculine” traits as I do, though those traits manifest in different areas. I consider myself a feminist, and for me that means claiming the right to be fully myself, whether that does or does not meet others’ expectations of what a woman should be. (As if anyone had a right to such expectations!) I love cooking, hate cleaning, enjoy sewing, hate shopping, love male bodies, don’t wear pink, worked as a teacher, a soldier, and now a romance writer…Why limit ourselves? All souls share much more commonality than traditional sex roles admit, and yet–there is a fascinating otherness about the male psyche. In real life and in fiction, I enjoy getting to know complex characters who work together to solve problems.

  2. It seems like gender stereotypes are a social construct. A lot of this is conditioned into us. I like to think that we are all individuals and can be different. Men can be sensitive but then are taught to cover it up. I am drawn to strong women characters probably more courageous than myself.

  3. spunkonastick says:

    I think everyone has some traits from both, but to me balance would be more of one than the other.

  4. I’ve written a strong woman before, but she was still very feminine.

  5. Donna Hole says:

    When I think of masculine and feminine I don’t totally think totally of gender. Masculine traits, to me, include physically and emotionally strong, protectors and providers, strategists and thinkers. Feminine as nurturers, compassionate, balanced and forward thinking. I just can’t help thinking “male” and “female” respectively were genetically built to fulfil their gender roles; but I don’t think sexual orientation has any play in that. Men can be nurturers and women can be aggressive protectors without being homosexual. Today’s world is just too hung up on “gender” roles; stereotypes.

  6. Donna Hole says:

    Oh, and congrats on the publication 🙂

  7. Erika Beebe says:

    I love your question Olga. I think humans in general have a mix in traits. I do admit, I’ve wished to be equally physically strong as a man, but I realized through hard work and training my genetics has limited me and I’m ok with that. 🙂

  8. Nicki Elson says:

    I think a character is more realistic if they have some traits of both. Perfectly balanced…I know a few like that. They’re not necessarily gay – but everyone tends to think they are since they have so many traits of the other sex.

    Thanks for the link to your story!

  9. patgarcia says:

    Hi,
    I’ve asked myself that question for years because my female characters are strong, faithful, loyal and true themselves. Yet, they are feminine. I don’t write about weak women. My women are strong, determine, and they have goals. Yet, their attraction is to the opposite sex. For me, personally in my writing I will always write about the attractions between heterosexual couples.

    Congratulations on your story. I voted.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  10. Diane Burton says:

    What a fascinating question. I see my female protagonists as strong, kick-butt. That doesn’t mean they’re masculine (to me). They’re also nurturing. I try to take the best qualities and form the character. The same is true with my male protags. I see them as protective, strong but not aggressive. A balance.

  11. Oh, what an interesting question! I’ve been thinking about this lately in terms of the characters in my book. Are they too stereotypically male or female? Am I falling into gender stereotypes? I think it would be a good exercise to go back and look at my characters in terms of the balance of male/female traits they have. A real thought provoking post 🙂

  12. Kathy says:

    As someone who identifies as genderfluid, rigid gender stereotypes (for both men and women) upset me. Even the question: What does femininity mean? Why is it even a question? Why does it need to be a question? Can’t a female (or male) act/dress/speak/do in whatever way they wish without us needing to categorize it as “masculine” or “feminine?” I say this not to criticize your post. I actually enjoyed reading it. I only share this as food for thought, things to ponder. Thank you for sharing, and happy writing.

  13. cleemckenzie says:

    Having a strong female identity, I am cautious when I write other sex characters. It’s easy to fall into stereotypes and I’d like to avoid that. Great discussion, Olga. You have me thinking!

  14. emaginette says:

    I’ve watched documentaries on this very thing. I think we need to think of people as people. Quit with the labels. It causes so much harm where the only thing that is clear is: they are vulnerable. That said I may be female but I’m not lady. Call me a tomboy, but does that work when I’m sixty? I work in a nontraditional job. I’m a heterosexual female. And the best part is I’m not confused. I’m comfortable as a person.

    When it comes to characters, make them people first. If their identity is strongly focused on gender, color, religion, etc, then let them explore that part of them as they see fit. See what I did there. Follow your nose and let it take you where it will. When done with respect, it’s not wrong. 😉

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  15. Rebecca Douglass says:

    Interesting question. I’m a total tomboy, not precisely uncomfortable being female (at least not any more. As a kid I wanted to be a boy, but that was because I’m old enough to come from an era when there were few role models for adventurous girls, and I wanted to be like the heroes of the books I read), but not very feminine. I realize that my 2 main protagonists (from the 2 series I’ve written) are pretty tomboyish, too, though I actually have worked to make one of them more “typical” than I am. I write a lot of male characters in my flash fiction, and feel pretty comfortable doing that.

    For me, the hardest would be writing a character who is really “girly” without making it a caricature, I think, which is food for thought too!

  16. Juneta says:

    I feel comfortable writing male or female but lean toward writing males. I like being female but I also like a lot of things thought male. The yen yang thing is necessary. Balance often = moderation . Different, yet great value in both.

    I agree with Anna about making the characters human and being true to who they are. It is about the characters inner truth and that will make the story.

    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  17. That’s a great question. I don’t think there are clear answers. Society, and its prejudices, play such a big role. I think even calling aggressiveness masculine is a stereotype. I’d like to see a female character who is strong and assertive, smart, and a leader, AND beautiful and loving. Most of the time the beautiful women are portrayed as weak, followers, and the strong women as homely and harsh.
    Mary at Play off the Page

  18. I don’t think there’s necessarily ‘a’ answer to this question. As the others said, a lot depends on society at that time and their definitions. It reminds me of one of those silly question games I played a few weeks ago, which determines if you think more male or female. I ended up with 85% male. Guess that makes me masculine 😉

  19. Congrats on getting published. Interesting question. I think with the breakdown of traditional roles that it gives us a lot of freedom to write both male and female characters that experience themselves in different ways than we used to think was acceptable. I have never written from a male POV. Not sure if I feel like I could get into a guy’s head enough to do that.

  20. Loni Townsend says:

    My co-workers constantly make generalizations about women and wives. It usually has me raising an eyebrow at them and pointing out that their words apply to me too, but they don’t reflect who I am at all. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard them say, “well, you’re different.”

    I’ll be the first to admit I’m not very feminine. Most of my thought processes are on the masculine side. But I’m a wife and mother. Am I balanced? Who knows? I’m not a lesbian, though. Maybe there’s no good way to define it.

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