When it comes to the masculine/feminine spectrum, I’ve always placed myself at the far end of pink. That being said, I am most definitely aware the masculine/feminine are social constructs that we use to categorize people by gender (which is also a social construct). I mean, what is inherently feminine about bows and dolls? Nothing, really, other than the fact that it’s these things that we prescribe to girls before they even realize whether or not they are “girls”. This spectrum does NOT have anything to do with the gender binary that is so problematic in this day and age. I’m using these terms purely for what we consider things to be traditional masculine, such as tools and sports and trucks, and feminine, such dolls and pink and flowers.
Once I started to identify as a feminist, I spent a bit of time trying to reconcile these two parts of myself. This desire for anything ruffled and sweet, while also recognizing that these are things that the patriarchy told me to like.
Back when I was pregnant, I used to spend a lot of time on the Reddit parenting subs. One question that really stuck with me, and made me realize how problematic our understanding of femininity through the lens of feminism was what is your hill to die on? That is, what is one issue that you will never compromise on.
There were the usual answers; vaccines, no TV, etc. What really surprised me, however, was that SO many women had such convictions against feminine toys and products for their daughters. Not their sons, mind you; the idea that toys and products shouldn’t be gendered was a common value, but that seemed to only go so far as to when little boys wanted to play with Barbies. If a little girl wanted to play with a doll? Oh NO, we need to give her the trucks and the doctor kits to show her that she can be anything she wants to be. That is, roles that have been traditionally assigned to males.
I feel like there may be a reactionary kind of thing going on here. That is, white women earn only seventy-seven cents for every dollar that a white man makes. The numbers are even more disproportionate when you look at salaries for women of color. This is unacceptable, on SO many levels. We need to work toward true equality between men and women in the workforce; this is non-negotiable. So perhaps it’s this problem that is causing a reaction so strong. It’s not that feminine toys are bad, but we do just need to encourage our daughters to see the same value within themselves that sons are taught through their toys.
Here is where it gets tricky, however. Because I have seen a reaction against things that are considered feminine within these “feminist” circles. I’m not supposed to wear high heels because they were traditionally required in the workplace and home by men. I’m not supposed to want to be a stay-at-home mom because I have much more potential than that! My favorite color isn’t allowed to be pink, because that’s just too delicate for me as a “strong” woman.
I call bullshit.
I’m afraid that this shunning of anything that we consider “feminine” is almost doing the opposite. It’s creating a new form of misogyny in which we place no value on femininity, or traits that are traditionally female, at all. Are Barbies problematic because they portray women as having unattainable bodies? Sure, I guess. There’s a lot of shit wrong with toys these days. But playing with a doll shouldn’t just be problematic overall, for any gender.
I say that my femininity is an act of feminism because I’ve been told what I should be and look like from a thousand different people and places. I’m constantly inundated with images of the “perfect” woman, with the clothes that I’m supposed to wear and the traits that I’m supposed to cultivate. And you know what? This is what I’ve chosen for ME.
Pink is a style. It’s not a value. I express my femininity by wearing dresses, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I somehow place importance on it as a woman. Because being feminine has absolutely nothing to do with being a woman.
There is a deep subversion to embracing these things that the dominant class values and using them in a way that goes against how they are traditionally prescribed. And I’m being my authentic self, which is probably the most radical thing you can do as a feminist.
Joelle Charming is a place for me to explore my femininity through the lens of feminism. If you are interested in continuing this conversation, please join me on Facebook in Feminist Happy Hour.
Photos by Jillian Rose Photography