The Accuracy of the Definition of Femininity

June 6, 2010
There are a couple reasons why this project has bothered me. I find my bedroom to be very personal. It is a complete extension of me and I think all bedrooms, whether teens deny it or not, are representative of themselves. Whether you like it or not, your being is influenced by your family, culture, school, extra curricular activities, sexual orientation, race, class, etc. and all of these things can be reflected in your bedroom. When I first heard that we were doing a project based on our rooms, my excitement quickly turned to skepticism and then to dread. I think analyzing someone’s room is a direct judgment of that person. I was immediately uncomfortable with the idea of critiquing of someone’s bedroom through a gendered lens, but it took me awhile to figure out why I was so unnerved. I finally realized what irked me, a gendered lens does not really cover both genders. A more accurate title would be masculine lens. When using a gendered lens, everything is compared to masculinity. In this situation, I can confidently define the masculine construct and apply it to someone’s room. The problem I have, is that I feel that masculinity is too narrow. It holds men to unrealistic ideals and it obviously ignores women all together. Females do not have an accurate construct to be compared to. I struggle with comparing my own room to any feminine construct because I don’t think one exists. Although, in a perfect world, I believe that gender should not influence a representation of oneself, I recognize that gender is too deeply imbedded in our culture to be ignored. That being said, I think there is a problem with the current lens we use. Even though the masculine construct has stayed consistent, for as far back as history reaches, today, there really is no accurate definition of femininity.

The masculine construct is fairly straightforward. It implies that men and boys should be smart and powerful while also staying strong and attractive. The Gender Knot, written by Allan G. Johnson, gives a clear definition of the ideal man, “…the ideal man[can be described] in terms that closely resemble the core values of society as whole. These include qualities such are control, strength, efficiency, competitiveness, toughness… self-sufficiency, and control over any emotion.” As Johnson states, the ideals of masculinity are very similar to those of society. This implies that if one does not meet these expectations, then one is not an upstanding member of society. This also implies that women are not a part of society. It is never desirable to be called a man or manly, but to not be a man means you are not a valued person. These ideals are still passed down through the generations today. Fathers still teach these lessons to their sons about what it means to be a man, to be aggressive and powerful. These expectations for men were true of the earliest hunters and gatherers as far back as our history reaches and are still realistic expectations of the male population today.

The definition of masculinity is too narrow and restricting of men. It is unrealistic, and unfair, to expect every man to be the perfect stereotype. Or course there are some who have no trouble leading a masculine life, that is why the stereotype still exists. But those who don’t, are easily ostracized by our society. To me it seems like a form of oppression. Marilyn Frye compare oppression to a bird cage, “all avenues, in every direction, are blocked or booby-trapped.” Masculinity is a cage or box that men must conform to in order to fit inside. I also think that the definition of masculinity is too simple. When I first looked at Andrew’s room, the first thing I noticed was his walls. Two of them are a sky blue and the other two are a dark blue green. I found these colors to be very calming and peaceful. I don’t think calming or peaceful are two adjectives that have ever been used in the masculine construct. While blue is the color often associated with men, I think a navy or a royal blue promote a more powerful feeling. His bedspread is also blue, but tie-dyed. Tie-dye is typically something that is homemade as a craft project. Craft projects, art in general, are not very machismo. Andrew’s room contradicts itself. While blue is associated with masculinity, it is not represented in very masculine ways. These are just two examples of how the definition of masculinity is not complex enough.

I do not believe that there is an accurate definition of femininity. There once was a definition, created by the Cult of Domesticity in the 1800s. Which was based on four virtues; Piety, Purity, Submissiveness and Domesticity. Generations of feminists have been trying to overthrow this outdated perception of women but unfortunately, much of what the stereotypical definition of femininity that exists today consists of ideals created during the reign of the cult. I think part of the reason a definition has not been created yet is because women are still not viewed as part of society. Mary Pipher wrote in and excerpt of the book, Teenagers, titled Reviving Ophelia, “…. Healthy women were described as passive, dependent and illogical ,while healthy adults were active, independent and logical.” Because our society’s females, over a hundred years later, are still in a transition period, a new definition or femininity has not yet been created that accurately defines the female population.

This brings me to the true reason why this project baffled me. Due to the lack of an accurate definition of femininity, I have no idea how to look at my own room through a gendered lens. Without a female construct, I have nothing to compare my room to but the masculine construct. But I am not a man nor a boy, and do not wish to be compared to either. Then were do I fit in? I certainly do not meet the expectations of the cult. Everything in my room screams colorful and the need to express myself. The brightly colored drawings that cover one door, paintings and posters covers the walls, and my t-shirt patchwork blanket that covers my bed are all examples of this. There is nothing that is simple and ladylike about my room. Does this mean I am masculine? But I do not lie in that category either. The multitude of stuffed animals and playbills do not seem to say I am self reserved or jock like. You can even gage my emotions by its state of cleanliness. My bedroom is the contradiction, it proves that definition of femininity is not accurate and needs a reexamination.

Maybe this reexamination starts with my generation. There have been decades of activists trying to prove what females are not. There has been little work to create a new definition. But then I asked myself what the new definition should be. And I couldn’t come up with an answer. You insist that gender influences our personal constructs. But I can not think of any linking characteristics between me and any other female I know that exists purely because we are women. I don’t know if a new definition can be put in place that will be representative of all females if we are all so different from each other. I also think the same thing goes for masculinity. I think there should be a complete overhaul of the system, one where the emphasis is not put on what your gender dictates about you and who you really are as a person.

Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback