Femininity is a continually contested concept, from traditional values, to cultural difference, the oft-depricated ‘Feminist Agenda’, and more frequently discussed in modern society – the variety in gender presentation and performance.
When I think about gender, Judith Butler is the first to come to mind. Her theories on performativity break down the idea of a ‘correct’ type of femininity, paving the way for those of non-binary genders to find a place in a rigid, binary society. For myself, to be reminded that femininity is a construct, and gender is in part performative, means that I am comfortable in my body – my queer, stereotypically unfeminine body. By rejecting femininity, I can utilise typically feminine symbols and objects, such as makeup and women’s clothes, without ‘betraying’ my gender identity. Yet here in the UK, we still belong to a society which will punish or look down on women who ‘betray’ the expectations of their sex.
Despite the efforts of Feminism teaching that leg hair ≠ unfeminine, and that women do not have to wear makeup and dresses to be considered womanly, these ideas remain ingrained in our society. Many Feminists still choose to display themselves in feminine, womanly ways, because this is how they like to present themselves. It is an undeniable fact that women are still being brought up with an idea that they should present themselves in a certain way in order to assert their sex. Women are still advertised hair removal products as a bathroom necessity, makeup as a vital part of a woman’s morning routine. I myself still consider showing off my figure, and sitting in front of a mirror with a vast array of creams and powders to be the main definition of “getting ready” for a night out. Up and down the country, before heading out on the town, or whenever the sun comes out, millions of women examine their legs for a stray hair, checking and rechecking the slightly smudged nail varnish on their pinky toe. “OH MY GOD!!! WILL ANYONE NOTICE???” they cry. Nobody will. Yet this is ritual for the modern woman.
Failure to meet a certain standard of ‘feminine’ remains a concern for many (if not most) women today. A perfect manicure, even and natural tan, a full and womanly figure dressed in exactly the right clothes, with the latest makeup trend buffed and blended perfectly into a blemish-free face, somehow remains the ideal image of ‘feminine’. “We do it for ourselves!” we proclaim, while we turn to the nearest male and think “does he think I look good?”
I hope you enjoyed this rather satirical take on modern-day beauty standards. While I do hold these beliefs to some degree, the idea of femininity is multi-faceted and extremely complex. And so, in the words of Puck:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 5,1)