Femininity & Feminism: damned if we do, damned if we don’t

Image via Daria Shevtsova

As I sit in front of my laptop waiting for words to pour in, I spent hours jumping from one article to another for ideas to tackle the broad issue of ‘Women, Sex, and Oppression.’ 

That is. . . Until I read this article by Saba Sodhi, a writer at Mint Lounge. In it, she talked about her initial rejection of femininity in her teenage years, plus her enlightenment with femininity after watching Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde

I realized that growing up as a straight, cis-gendered woman, I never questioned my femininity.

I was, and still am, comfortable in projecting myself as feminine. Still, I consider myself as 70% feminine, and 30% masculine (having traits like independence, individualism, etc.). 

I don’t see that choosing to identify with feminine traits makes me weak. 

Femininity encompasses being generous, kind, courageous in our way, the courage to be vulnerable, to be compassionate, and instead of resenting these traits, we shouldn’t think of it as lesser than masculinity. Nor does masculinity be greater than femininity.

There’s a reason why a balance of these traits is meant to harmonize with each other, no?

‘You’re a yes, and you’re a no’

Image via Oleg Ivanov

But regardless of my choice to embrace/perform my femininity in certain areas of my life, unfortunately, there are many out there who are still damned for doing just that, damned for going against femininity, and damned for being a feminist. 

It’s clear that a lot of us, especially women, have internalized some degree of misogyny. It’s why we’re damned no matter what.

Whether it is by looking down on other women, flaunting the “I’m not like other girls” trope, slut-shaming, resenting traditionally “feminine” women, telling other women who chose not to have a child as not a ‘real woman’ and the list goes on. 

That is toxic femininity. Toxic femininity = internalized misogyny. 

Patriarchy pitted women against each other because we’ve involuntarily internalized sexist ideas for so long. To undo this will take who knows how long, but even the most ardent feminists out there occasionally stumble on this self-loathing that is femininity.

The paradox of choice feminism

Image via Rebecca Cohen

So that brings us to this whole ‘choice feminism’ debate. To help you clear on that, I’ll draw on some quotes from Jessa Crispin, author of Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto:

“[Choice feminism is] the belief that no matter what a woman chooses, from her lifestyle to her family dynamic to her pop culture consumption, she is making a feminist choice, just from the act of choosing anything. The idea is that under the more rigidly patriarchal past, women’s choices were made for them. So simply by choosing anything at all, you are bucking the patriarchy and acting like a feminist”

Jessa Crispin

Choice feminism becomes problematic when someone does not or fails to acknowledge how much a woman’s access to these ‘feminist’ choices in a given society influences her daily life decisions. 

By solely focusing on every individual choice as inherently feminist, we’ll stop asking why women make them in the first place. 

When this happens, we’ll stop questioning the systematic oppression that patriarchy has imposed on us because we’re so fixated on choosing feminism as the empowerment solution against the system!

In reality, it takes more than that to dismantle patriarchy. 

“Conflict is the beginning of consciousness”

Image via Hanna Postova 

So. . . what’s that got to do with my choice to be feminine/embrace femininity in some aspects of my life? 

Well, to an extent, I want to acknowledge that my declaration of “I choose to be feminine” reflects the degree of privilege I have as of now.

My social standing, my race, and my class in a multiracial country like Malaysia have allowed me to express my femininity with minimal judgment. However, my gender itself is still being seen as inferior here. 

Except for the part where being a feminist or feminist-leaning in Malaysia because. . . oh my God, we still get a shit ton of hate for being just that.

But this whole article is not just about me. I want to bring attention to this contentious debate of whether being feminine equals being a feminist or whether choosing to be feminine reflects choice feminism. 

My reason to highlight femininity and feminism is only the tip of the iceberg. Simply because every day, women still face all kinds of oppression. 

Thus, one of the first steps in recognizing this complex issue is to be conscious of this. It includes everything from being aware of your thoughts and ideas about yourself, but also in regards to other women. 

Before I end this unintentional deep-dive, do check out this comic that pretty much sums up everything on choice feminism.

Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk!

Article by Elly Zulaikha


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