Thursday, 6 April 2006

The great femininity mystery

Wednesday 4 April 2007

My cousin told me she feels inferior, less of a woman than others. It’s a feeling I experience too from time to time: I feel my femininity is immature, unrefined, primitive and awkward compared with other women. I have this feeling, for example, with my sister, who, very naturally, wears make up and jewellery. This is not at all natural for me. At times it even means it’s a real effort to make myself attractive. Besides I wear little make-up, I practically never wear skirts (except in summer but that’s because I’m hot) and I’m not even talking about shoes with heels. I’m not masculine either, I like clothes, I pay attention to my presentation but … How can I explain? Let’s take an example: it’s as if I were in front of a large chest of drawers which was hiding all things for women and where I opened only the lowest drawers, those which contain the basics, the cotton tops, women’s jeans, sneakers etc… The top drawers, those are out of my reach, reserved for “grown ups”, for “real women” containing much “sharper” things, shoes with heels, eyelash curlers, designer dresses etc… I’ve thought for a long time that the drawers you choose as a woman derive entirely from your personality, full stop [period]. Besides, I like my clothes, I choose them with great care.

My cousin thinks that her feeling of lacking femininity is linked with her circumcision, that it has stopped dead the development of her pride in being a woman the day she was mutilated. Myself I don’t know. My lack of femininity could originate in my circumcision, or my distant relationship with my mother, or an accumulation of events in my past. What is certain, is that I have especially spent time quelling my fears, that in the past and indeed for a long time the subject hasn’t interested me.

In my mid twenties, moreover, I experienced a sort of complex that I wasn’t feminine. Sometimes, even often, I come to a stop in front of a shop window containing beautiful dresses for a “femme fatale” and shoes with vertiginous heels or I admire the skilful make up of a woman sitting opposite me in the metro and I say to myself that I would love, myself, to wear with such ease beautiful flowing dresses, the highest heels or know how to make up like that. But I continue on my way, or go back to my book thinking that it’s not for me, that on me these clothes, these shoes or this make up would be ridiculous. I tell myself that I would feel awkward, as though I was "dressing up" and I feel frustration and pain …

From time to time I try. I put on a dress, low heeled shoes, make up…. But my attempts to be more feminine seem pathetic to me, they are so awkward and the result so far from what I would have wanted. Or then, when I don’t find myself grotesque, past the phase of euphoria and exuberant narcissism (My God but I’m beautiful! It’s strange but great!) dressing myself in a very feminine way and putting on make up quickly becomes an effort, I end up by taking no pleasure in it at all and after some days, I stop the expense and return to my trousers and clodhoppers for months on end.

In therapy I therefore started to find out what femininity was. So far in vain. Whatever way I address the question, the notion of femininity stays out of reach and I more or less stop and let it drop. But today it’s bothering me again. What is femininity? What can I do to be more feminine? Is it because I am circumcised that I find the question so complicated. What’s more, my sister doesn’t have this type of worry at all, femininity is natural for her. What then? Well I don’t know how to think any more about it to tell the truth.

To clarify the question I looked for the definition of femininity in dictionaries and on the internet. The Larousse said of femininity: “Feminine characteristic. Collection of characteristics belonging to a woman or judged such”, which didn’t get me much further. As for the Petit Robert, the definition it gives is “Feminine characteristic. Collection of characteristics corresponding to a biological and social image (charm, softness ...) of a woman”, which didn’t get me any further either.

On the internet, I read attempts at the definition by several people and clearly it’s not obvious. Here are some of the sentences I collected:
“Approved of as being in accordance with the representations of the female type in its social setting, and taking advantage of that in her circle of acquaintances.”
Femininity is less a question of the exterior, than an interior one which permeates to the exterior.”
“A woman is feminine when she truly accepts she is a woman, when she considers it to be a strength, an asset. There is nothing more feminine than a woman who feels beautiful.”
“It is her attitude, her movements and her way of acknowledging her body which makes a woman feminine.

What I understand from all of that is that femininity is a subjective notion. But I am still in a fog when I try to define my representation of femininity. Perhaps having a more harmonious relationship with my body is going to help me become more feminine? Perhaps the operation which I am going to have will lead me there? Perhaps after 16 May it will seem more clear?

In the meantime, I ask the question of everyone: what is femininity? Who exactly decides that a woman is feminine or not? And for those of you who were excised and who indeed want to answer, do you think that your excision could have altered your femininity or not at all?

Next post


  1. Hello

    That’s a very interesting question you’re asking.

    My feeling is that femininity can be defined in two ways: either by or for others, or by internal feelings. The difficulty that a good number of women experience (no, no you aren’t alone!) comes no doubt from the fact that often those two points of view don’t coincide.

    The opinion of others, of society, imposes on us a very narrow definition on the whole of this famous “femininity”: you have to be sweet, beautiful, (and particularly thin as a rake!), desirable at all times, frivolous (it’s so cute!), etc. No room in this definition for strength, will, intelligence…. Yet we know very well that we ALSO have these qualities which are considered “masculine”.

    So what to do then? Hide in “pure sugar” to be sure at least of being a woman indeed, even if it means denying part of our personality?


    Hesitate in a more or less androgynous no man’s land, sneakers and little tops being the most daring incursions towards the female side, for fear of losing the masculine qualities which make us what we are?

    Not easy, especially since if we start a bit late it’s necessary to face the competition of “true” women, those who “know how to do it”. But by what authority are the women who wear make up more “women” than the others?

    Une chatte n'y retrouverait pas ses petits! A very complex situation. [lit. a cat wouldn’t find her kittens there.]

    My advice: get there little by little, experiment. If it’s an effort and you feel you are in disguise, that’s funny for 2-3 days but no more than that… Discover (sometimes in the opinion of others) that you can be and feel a woman without necessarily by way of make up – heels – close fitting dress, even though from time to time that’s good too. And why not experiment with fine lingerie, neither seen nor known about, underneath the jeans – sneakers androgyne! Very feminine … and you will be the only one to know.

    Good luck in your quest.


  2. Hello and thank you very much for having answered! I find your analysis very apt. Effectively, for myself, when I try to be feminine, I have the impression of having to choose between my “fighting” side (strength, seriousness, determination etc) and that light femininity which I so much want. As if both notions couldn’t exist together.

    By what authority are women who make up more “women” than others? I don’t know. I feel that the answer is “there is no reason”. But then maybe I have to ask myself “Why do women who make-up seem to me to be more “women”?”

    I feel I haven’t finished with this question …

  3. It’s funny because I recognised the theme in your text. The feminine bits and pieces were never for me. I had a huge number of unpleasant remarks “You aren’t pretty”, “you aren’t feminine”, “if you sorted things out you’d be all right …” in brief.

    The pressures multiplied, one was so pretty in a short skirt and .. when I was pregnant they wanted to give me maternity dresses. Well my pregnancy passed in jeans, shorts and flowery pants etc. and I was well and truly a woman.

    If you knew how much I searched. Like you. I forced myself to buy magazines like Elle or Biba, saying to myself “that’s it, I’ll be like others”. When I was pregnant I also said “that’s it, I’ll finally feel like a real woman” and then I had the children and after .. still my own style, ultimately mixed because I’m not pretending to be a man. I am just “cool” and at work that raises no problem ..

    One day I met some feminist women and I said to myself, that’s it, I have my identity. I am happy to be a woman, I have loved having children, I don’t have penis envy or envy men. … I am just this style of woman dressed mainly in sports clothes and who hasn’t gone in for the cliché of beauty products…

    Femininity is simply a woman. Just like virility is simply a man. Without any need to add anything.

  4. A distant relationship with my mother - i think this could be one component. How the sister is "close", seen as more accepted by the mother while the other sits on the outside, almost feeling like an outcast - it's revealing that sister has no qualms with make-up.

    Same for me, so exactly the same. Will ramble later though ;) I think my greater peace comes from meeting other women who are more like myself. Seeing/knowing there are other "women" like this, puts me in a position to not castrate & reject the physical female gender that i was born with.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


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