Throughout my childhood, I was always told that I could do whatever I wanted. I was raised without the concept of a woman’s job versus a man’s job. I wasn’t exposed to the traditional gender roles that plagued popular media, culture, music, education, and religion. My dad was the stay-at-home parent, while my mom worked in a high-power corporate position. While this was unconventional and mostly opposite to all my friends, it was normal to me. I see my parents as equal; in intelligence, emotional capacity, and strength. ‘Gender’ was never defined for me as it has been throughout history. As our society progresses, young girls are taught that they can be as strong as any man, as intelligent, as powerful, as successful…
…at the price of losing their femininity.
Femininity and equality have become mutually exclusive. Feminism has come a long way, and women are respected across all fields, but this is only if they act ‘like a man’. One cannot be taken seriously in an aerospace lab with inch-long acrylic nails, and a woman cannot give an academic presentation to a room of engineers with a full face of makeup. These feminine characteristics are seen as vain, as if intelligent, scholarly women shouldn’t care about them. While women are increasingly supported and celebrated in positions traditionally not available to them, they are not encouraged to bring their femininity with them.
One might argue that this is not true. Powerful women wear dresses to work and are often mothers. But, it is common that they don’t hear the end of it. Women are discouraged from being emotional, from caring about their looks, and are frowned upon when taking extended maternity leave: “she’s just not cut out for this job.” It is ingrained in society that femininity makes one weak, illogical, and incapable.
How one presents themselves from one day to the next is their own choice, regardless of gender.
A look at the media we consume proves this. The recent Miss USA crown was competed for by a list of smart, creative, and passionate women, but the focus of the pageant – what they were scored and judged by – was their beauty. An argument could be made that this is the whole point of a ‘beauty pageant’, but in the progressive year of 2021, why can’t it be both? Beautiful women are not born without brains, just as smart women do not look like men. During the competition, when the women were finally given a chance to speak (and only the top 8 contestants were given this chance), they were asked questions about who they preferred; Adele or Taylor Swift? A question at a level fitting for the type of woman that has time to sit and prepare for a beauty contest, one might say. But, Miss Florida has a degree in aerospace engineering. Miss Delaware delivered COVID-19 vaccines to Afghanistan refugees. These facts were all but skipped over. And for a good reason; they’re unbelievable. Comments on Tiktoks and Instagram posts attest to this. “There’s no way she went to college,” someone commented on a video of the swimwear portion of the pageant. “I don’t believe that woman could read a children’s book let alone write her own articles,” says another in referral to Miss USA winner Elle Smith, an accomplished journalist.
It is ingrained in society that femininity makes one weak, illogical, and incapable.
Why is it so hard to believe that beautiful, feminine women can also be intelligent? The roots of the feminist movement have this answer. In order to be taken seriously, to prove themselves, women started to act like men, to dress like men, to speak like men. Early feminists were willing to discard their feminity to be afforded a seat at the table. But now that we’ve been sitting for a while, how is it that we still aren’t taken seriously?
I have never been told I can’t do whatever I want, but I have been given the terms and conditions. For most of my life, I believed I wouldn’t be able to get my nails done before my job at NASA. I shouldn’t spend my military salary on Louboutins, and pink is not the right colour for the construction site. Why? These things signify stupid or vapid –– and thus –– feminine.
This argument is not speaking to gender presentation. How one presents themselves from one day to the next is their own choice, regardless of gender. It is speaking to the guilt that some women often feel, the worry that they are not going to be taken seriously. That they will be spoken of by their colleagues as a b*tch, a crybaby, as weaker, a bad mother, vain, and vapid. One should not have to sacrifice their feminism to feel feminine, and one does not have to diminish their womanhood to gain respect.