I’ve never been the most feminine person in the world.
Despite my position as a feminist (obviously), I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the prefix of that word. In a shocking adherence to gendered norms, I’d always associated ‘fem-‘ with all things girly, pink, and emotional. Don’t get me wrong, I played with dolls as a child, I had a pink room, and I’ve always had an interest in fashion. But it was the last aspect that always got me – emotions.
Recently, I’ve been making a real effort to be more emotionally open and aware, and honestly just accepting of my own emotions. It’s a long journey, full of personal and societal histories of undermining and devaluing women’s feelings.
Throughout history, nearly anything that has been related to women has been devalued. Traditional women’s work, such as care work and domestic labour, have been continuously undervalued and underappreciated. Crafts such as knitting and sewing, an area traditionally dominated by women, has repeatedly been shunted from the realm of ‘art’, and demeaned through referring it as a ‘hobby’ done by ‘amateurs’. And, most of all, women’s feelings have been condescended and laughed at. Women who express themselves emotionally have consistently been seen as the hysterical woman, or the angry bitch.
And sadly (and I am so ashamed to admit this), I bought into this.
Despite my passion for feminism, my passion for the acceptance of all women, I was alienating certain women. I revered rationality and logical thought. I believed that thinking over an issue was far more valid than going with a gut feeling. These masculinised traits (and I must add that these are socially constructed traits, not inherent, biological, gendered differences) came with more admiration in my mind. I valued people who put aside their emotions and made the ‘smart’ choice. And in doing this, I began to value less the traits generally associated with my own gender. Empathy. Loyalty. Kindness.
I’ve never felt comfortable around emotions, whether they’re my own or an others. I felt better being the counselor, listening to the problems of friends, than being counselled. I’d listen, and give advice, and feel quietly smug that I wasn’t the one crying, I wasn’t the one in pain. I didn’t feel any of it. Of course, that wasn’t true.
The problem was that I had/have this inherent fear of being seen as weak. I’d built myself over years (and the last few in particular) as this impenetrable person. I loved being seen as the tough one, the one who people believed could survive through anything. And I still identify with that way of being, I always will respond with thought before feeling. But I’m now beginning to see the value of emotion and how it is such an intrinsically important part of being human. And, of being a woman.
Because the truth is that of course I felt/feel anything and everything. maybe I don’t respond to my feelings the same way as others, but they are still there. And relearning to embrace them, to me, is like relearning how to be a feminine woman. Somewhere along the way, I learned that ‘feminine’ traits were silly, and dramatic, and unacceptable. So I started acting more like many of the men around me – bottle up those feelings boys. She’ll be right. I ain’t no bitch (although I still stand by this as my signature catchphrase 😉 ).
But in doing so I began to lose some of the things that I value so strongly. From sadness and anger can come poetry and art. I love to write, but I’ve struggled finding the right words when I write poetry because I’m not used to reaching within myself and letting the feelings that drive me be shared. My relationships with the people I love can become tense because I’m not willing to let myself open up and be emotionally vulnerable. And that’s really scary, because letting others in means they have the power to hurt you, and so we strive to protects ourselves by putting up these walls around ourselves.
I’m slowly breaking down those walls. One by one. And I’d be lying if I said that some didn’t build back up. But I’m trying to embrace more of that ‘femininity’ inside me. And I’ll continue to embrace the ‘masculine’ as well.
Sociologist Raewyn Connell* conceptualises hegemonic masculinities and emphasised femininities as damaging stereotypes which dominate social gender orders. What this means, is that we (society) value certain ways of expressing femininity and masculinity over others. She states that there is not only one way of being masculine, or one way of being feminine. The “macho man” and “girly girl” tropes are only one way of being. As a woman, I identify with many more ‘masculine’ traits, but there are aspects of ‘femininity’ within me as well. The same goes for most people – men, women, gender diverse – we all exhibit different aspects of masculinity and femininity.
I guess my point here is that I’m learning. In the modern world, most of us are struggling blindly towards some form of self-acceptance. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break from trying so hard, and just let ourselves feel like ourselves without all the outside crap leaking in. Anyway, I’m getting there.
*see Masculinites (2005), or The Men and the Boys (2001), or any of her writings really because she’s incredible.