Monday, May 23, 2011

Femininity and a Strength Most Feminists Don't Understand

I’ve been noticing something more and more lately and I have to say, it bothers me. I guess I’ve noticed it before, in different, round about ways, but these days it feels like I’m confronted with it more and more often (this may be a direct result of my Year of Dresses). Here it is:

Feminists don’t believe that women can be traditionally feminine and strong.

Wait. Lower the pitchforks. Let me elaborate. And I’ll begin with my standard disclaimer:

I don’t have a problem with the early feminists. I think they did a ton of good. I’m grateful to them. I’m thankful that I have the right to vote.

Things get a little fishier as we go along (think about: by the 1920s women were dying on a certain island so that Margaret Sanger could test out the Pill... all so we could be "free").

The focus of feminism has shifted over time, and for the purpose of this post and this blog, it’s this newer feminism that I’m referring to when I use the term. At some point feminists decided that we all needed to be the same. And that since men sometimes behaved badly, women should be allowed to behave badly too. They told us that we could poison our bodies and the environment. They told us we could do whatever we wanted to do simply because we wanted to. They elevated pride to an art form and self gratification (and destruction) to what is basically a form of idolatry.

Lately I’ve noticed though, that the “we’re strong and we can do whatever we want” attitude does not extend to living a life that is authentically feminine.

Embracing who I am as a woman is only okay if it involves promiscuity or taking on traditionally male characteristics (or both). It’s not okay if it involves wearing dresses and learning what were traditionally womanly arts.

You see, what I’ve noticed lately is an attitude that, because my exterior is rather feminine (and my interior too!) I must be weak.

Hold on. That’s odd. Feminists tell me I must be strong. But it seems they only will accept a woman who’s strong in their own image.

I’ve noticed this more and more on a day to day basis. Maybe it was the woman at our garage sale who couldn’t hide her shock when she learned that the karate gear, and the surfing gear and the skiing and snowboarding gear and the skateboard and rollerblades, were all mine. She’s just been talking about how sporty her own daughters were, but her jaw nearly hit the pavement when she commented on how I was making my husband get rid of all his stuff and he said that actually it was mine. The conversation that followed was rather uncomfortable.

For the sake of length I’ll eliminate some of my other recent experiences, but the hostility has been cropping up more and more lately (one dress in particular actually seems to bring on the most negative reactions). And the negative assumptions. I must be weak and a little pathetic, and probably not all that bright because I’ve embraced my femininity.

The sad fact is, modern day feminists are attempting to force women into a mold just as strict and restrictive as any mold past societies have thrust upon women and heaven help any woman not willing to bend and change to fit that mold.

Paul’s sort of funny. I’ve heard him tell quite a few people that his wife is tougher than she looks. They always look at him like he’s a little bit crazy. Most people who know me these days don’t know I’m a black belt or that I played rugby on two continents (and broke six bones and my nose twice in a single year). They don’t know that I won a number of tournaments (fighting) and further damaged my back surfing.

You see, I used to fit the feminist image of femininity pretty well. But it wasn’t me. I was conforming to someone else’s idea of strength and womanhood. It was like wearing a dress that just didn’t fit.

So now I sew and knit and crochet and cook and bake and garden when I get a chance. And I take care of my home and family.

I’ve come to realize that that takes a lot of strength too (and inexhaustible reserves!). Giving birth, staying up with sick babies and going for years without sleep, isn’t for wimps. Keeping a house clean certainly isn’t for the mindless.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful that I have the right to work and do a great many things. But I resent the idea that those things should form the entire scope of every woman’s existence. My vocation has called me in another direction and I’ll follow that call.


  1. I totally agree. First wave feminism makes sense to me. Second wave feminism is where I hop right off that particular train of thought. :)

  2. Wonderful post, Cam. Women have lost true femininity, true womanhood. I look around me, and women no longer look like women. They look like men, and it's so odd! I'm tired of trying to figure out if the person in front of me is a guy or a girl at first, instead of just being able to tell. It amazes me how our society made a complete 180 in the course of a single century. It's scary.

  3. I know just what you mean. I've chosen to stay home and that bothers so many people once they find out that I have a masters and graduated at the top of all my classes from high school to graduate school. They are upset when I wear modest dresses to go out into the world, they are upset when I wear a head covering to mass. Why are they upset when I say that my husband prefers it when I cover important parts of my body in public? They are extremely upset when I say I am subordinate to my husband and obey his wishes.I am by no means a push over but many see me as one. When did it become bad to be a true feministic woman? When did acting like a lady become a capital offense?

  4. It's funny how so many women shout for women to have a choice, but what they really mean is that they want women to make the same choices they do. If feminism is really about choice, then my choice to be an at-home wife and mother is just as valid as another woman's choice to be a CEO. Or a rugby player.

  5. You have very articulately described a phenomenon in our culture that I too have experienced since feeling called to step back from my career outside the home to be a full time mother and wife. I have encountered various reactions from self described "feminists" ranging from snarky comments about how I am, "wasting your master's degree to finger paint and change diapers" or "setting the clock back to the 1950's" to outright hostility. One woman recently went on an angry rant about how my husband must not be able to handle an independent thinking woman. I guess because I don't agree with her that killing babies is a great way to assert ones independence I am incapable of forming an intelligent opinion for myself! You hit the nail on the head in describing the ludicrous hypocrisy in the neo-feminist mantra. They claim to be all about a woman's right to make her own decisions, but that only holds true if you stand in line with the beliefs and lifestyle they have deemed to be correct, which tends to include a lot of self-destructive behaviors. I also completely agree that running a household and trying to raise children to be virtuous and live their faith in a culture that attacks it requires a great deal of strength. It was like a breath of fresh air to read your blog today and know that I am not the only one who feels this way. Thanks!

  6. I am fine with woman having the choiceto stay home or go to work. My problem lies in a lot of groups who see woman staying home as the only way of "godly" living and that she shouldn't work outside the home so it's a double standard. Feminism and anti feminism can swing either way.

  7. Fortunately Lexie, for woman who do make that choice to work, in the "real world" you don't see much of the "your only godly if you stay home." You probably do see a disproportionate amount in the blogging world, because a lot of us SAHM are bloggers. You won't see it here. And while I've heard a lot of how I'm overqualified and wasting my degree and have been sneered at quite a bit, outside of the offline world I've never actually heard the argument that you propose. I'm sure it goes on, but after years of feminist indoctrination in our culture, I don't think it's nearly as prevalent.

  8. I should add to my last comment: this post wasn't just directed at Stay at Home Moms. It was describing women dressing and acting femininely. I said that I don't work outside the home, but that certainly doesn't mean that I implied that women who do aren't feminine (that might be another feminist projection of the you must be this or that and you can't be feminine and useful mentality). There are plenty of feminine women who feel called to their vocations as mothers, who work. And I'm sure they are given just as much of a hard time (if not more since they're in the workplace every day) for dressing and acting femininely.

    I'm sorry. I just get tired when I post a blog about feminism or headcovering and people jump in with an argument that neither I nor any commentor has mentioned, whether it's someone twisting my words about headcovering or imagining that women who work are being attacked when that wasn't even the issue at hand (and I do feel for working moms who have been made to feel that way).

  9. Oh okay that makes sense sorry I didn't mean it as an attack it's early here for me. I do enjoy your blog though and it's nice to see a Catholic blogger since I haven't come across too many.

  10. Hi Lexie-

    I realized after I published my comments that they were an over the top response to what you said (more of a response to the entire situation in general!). I think your comment reminded me of other comments. Sorry!

  11. As a publicly denounced male chauvinist pig, I must say the arguments I hear from feminists are bizarre.

    A prime example is the double standard in society that men can (or are expected to) sleep around but women are shunned for doing so. They hold that women should be allowed to fornicate at the same rate as men. My solution, rejected by most, is to make fornication deeply taboo for both sexes. This makes me a M.C.P(tm).

    It is not limited to sexual encounters. Profanity, rudeness, violence, and all the other bad traits of men are coveted by many college-age feminists. Apparently this is Strength.

    Television and movies are no better than reality. A strong female character is one that either can physically man-handle an enemy while in high heels, or can seduce any male oaf to get what she wants.

  12. Love this post and the pictures of the dresses :-) Might try a year of dresses myself :-)

  13. Sadly, it's so true that having choices seems to go only one way with some folks. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with my girls when they were little, and when I went back to work as a development director, it was at the ballet company where they danced! They couldn't get away from me if they tried! ;)

    Our younger daughter is halfway through a four-year graduate program in audiology, and is agonizing over heading back to school tomorrow, after 5 weeks off with her new baby. We know how tough this will be, and therefore will support her in any way possible; I told her I'd gladly bring the baby to her to nurse him at lunchtime, meet her with him in the corridors between classes, whatever is necessary so that she feels connected to him during the day. I'm fairly sure she'll work only part-time, after he and any other children are in school, and that is great!

    It's wonderful to have access to education, professional degrees, and good careers...but nothing beats nurturing little ones.

  14. I'm happy to have access to the same things as my male counterparts (education, a fair chance at a job, the right to vote). I even appreciate some of the advances of second-wave feminism. I know a woman who grew up in Texas in the 1960's (small town) and she described date rape as "just something that happened sooner or later", particularly if a girl went out with someone on the football team or someone from a well-known family. There were no prosecutions, because it was widely accepted that boys would be boys. I prefer to live in an era where sexual assault is not just 'commonly accepted'.

    Heck, even marital rape wasn't criminalized until the 1980's. The cultural attitudes regarding spousal abuse have changed drastically since our grandparents' time, and I think that feminism played a huge role in that.

    Ok, I'm rambling.

    I know some women who get upset when men hold a door open for them. This attitude bothers me--he's not holding the door for you because he thinks you're 'weak', it's good manners!

    As far as attitudes regarding SAHM's vs. working moms, I think that might depend on which is dominant in your area/subculture. I've known some women who received no end of grief from friends and relatives for going back to work after having kids (even when there was no other financial option since the father was out of the picture), and others who were treated poorly for getting an advanced degree and then staying home to raise children.

    It's all about figuring out what works for you and your family.

  15. I love this post & I totally agree!!

    A dress a year is a great idea! Maybe next year I'll do something like that. Maybe a year of Skirts!!

  16. Hi Catherine-

    I'm not sure how much the date rape thing has changed. I know quite a few girls who were assaulted... and I know no boys who faced any consequences, I think mostly because girls were afraid of being believed. But even a friend who did speak up in college (at a very liberal, feminist college) saw nothing happen to the guy (an athlete). It's awful. But I'm not sure how much better it's been made (sadly).

    I was thinking about your second point (about SAHM vs. working moms and the whole "culture wars" debacle earlier today). I think, because I live in California, I only see the other side of it. I only hear the "your wasting your education" and the passionate statements that all women need to do something outside the home or their lives aren't "meaningful" (the student commencement speech at Paul's graduation pretty much focused exclusively on this was was pretty insulting). But I can imagine it being different in places were there's less emphasis on feminism and materialism.

    I do wish the culture wars on that issue would go away. Most women simply do what they must to do what's best for their families. I know there are plenty who wish they could change places (either as stay at homes or working moms). But I imagine that debate will end around the same time people stop arguing about all the other mommy-debates (co-sleeping vs. not... breastfeeding vs. bottle and so on).

    It is all a little crazy. :O/

  17. Hi Cam,
    Your post really related to a lot of what I have been going through lately. I have been trying to find good friends here in the suburbs but so many people look down on me staying at home, canning, sewing, etc. that they are downright embarrassed or uncomfortable to be around me. Still, I hope that God will send some good friends our way some day.

  18. I know I'm a little late to this conversation but I've had experience with an interesting variance on the phenomena. The feminist friends of mine from college (some very ultra-fem) actually do appreciate the value of dressing femininely, though not always modestly. These are the girls' who can't wait for spring, summer, and fall so they can wear their "cute" skirts and dresses because that's part of being a girl.

    The problem that I have with some of them and their version of feminism is that their critique is not so much the way I dress (they were the ones that got me wearing more skirts and dresses in the first place) but the lifestyle I have chosen, and more importantly the faith that I adhere to. When I got pregnant with my 3rd child I had more than a couple of "friends" feel the need to tell me that I was "more than just a uterus". And I shouldn't be letting the Catholic Church or my husband (whom they have dubbed the "Professional Catholic") dictate the amount of children I have. They do think I've been brainwashed by the Catholic Church and my husband into thinking that all I am good for is to have children, because they think this is what the Church believes (and consequently my husband, since he's the professional).

    In fact one of these now-former friends actually said, when we told her we were having baby #4, actually said she should take a butter-knife to my husband. She even said it in front of my other children! Needless to say, I think I only spoke with her a handful of times after that, and we haven't spoken at all since my husband and I announced that we're having #5 (due in Sept.)

    So in my neck of the woods (the midwest), I deal less with the way I dress (though I think my scarves are throwing a few people but no one has said anything), and more with the fact that I have chosen to devote my life to my family and to God, rather than to a self-actualized career and "Sex in the City" life-style.

  19. Maria,
    I'd be your friend. I hate being lonely out here in the suburbs too. I come from a little town where it's still ok to stay home with your kids even if not many still do it. My generations mom's stayed home with us.

  20. I'm a little late to this, but this post and the following comments hit home. I struggle within myself because I seem to have one foot in "feminism" (what is that, anyway?) and another in being Catholic. Cam, I live in an area where a good number of women go to college to find a husband and get married at a very young age. Being anything other than a SAHM is considered odd, if not downright repulsive. As an athletic woman who wants to pursue a Ph.D. , I struggle because the prevalent culture has told me that the gifts God has given me are grotesque, or, even worse, are unbecoming of a woman. Yes, I almost have a degree in mathematics, I do well in school and I can outswim many boys. I want to travel and learn to surf, but I also wear skirts and dresses almost exclusively (exercise excepted)and am prayerfully considering covering my head at Mass. I often feel scrutinized and attacked by the more conservative side (not you specifically, so don't take this as directed at you) of this (false, I think), between "feminism" and feminity. As a feminist myself (not a "It's okay to kill your babies." kind), I think that the constructed opposition between femininity and having rights, abilities and opportunities is extremely damaging to women on both sides of the equation. Some talents are common to both men and women, such as intelligence or creativity, so to label a particular ability as masculine is damaging to women who can do these things, but value being women.

    When I work as a professor someday, I plan to be a mother of sorts to my students, by helping them become the best writers they can, by making myself very available to help them with their work, by keeping on top of my field so they learn the best information possible and by continuing to mentor them after they leave my class. I think this is a particularly feminine way to pursue my career.

    If you feel this is off-topic, I'm sorry. I just think that any strict definition of womanhood, whether from radical feminists or ultra-conservatives, is damaging. Though we all share the gift of motherhood, God did not make (or men!) from a cookie cutter.

  21. Hi Liz-

    I think you made some great points! I definitely don't think that the realm of all things intellectual is limited to men. Sadly, I think it's almost swung the other way (I say sadly because I wish it were just a bit more equal in this case) I think mostly because the current educational styles in most schools don't work as well for little boys and the trend is created in this way.

    I'll definitely be encouraging my girls to be athletic as well, if they'd like to. I plan, just for safety, on teaching all of our children martial arts.

    Many of my interests I think, have shifted away from more physical sports, like surfing, because of the safety issue. Now that I have children doing things that have a high(er) risk of death just aren't as appealing. I ruptured a disk surfing (I'd damaged it already playing rugby) and the last time I went out I nearly drowned (and I was a lifeguard for eight years). The risk, especially in Northern California, just became to much for me. It's not that I don't think that girls should do it (and I found the very prevalent sexism in the surf community to be downright annoying), just that for me, it's not worth the risk.

    On the other hand I do think that there are some gifts inherent in woman that are different from men.

    I have winced when I see websites that imply that women shouldn't swim at all because it's not modest (yet I struggle with modesty and swimsuits).

    As you point out it is a fine line between one and the other. Yet I think if our true feminine selves were embraced there would be less of a divide because many orthodox women wouldn't have the knee jerk reaction that almost always ends in a list of things we "shouldn't" do.

    Your goals do sound very admirable (before I pursued the clandestine services job I was hired for before I got married I wanted to get my PhD in Sub-Saharan African Politics) and sound wonderful. It would be great to see more common sense in academia these days!

  22. I can totally understand that you stopped contact sports for safety reasons. I do think that there are some jobs and activities that men and women should not do once they have a family, just because of a risk of death. If I travel somewhere dangerous, for example, I plan to do so before I have a husband or children who need me (I mean this in the most un-prideful way possible).

    I plan on reading some of Bl. Pope John Paul II's writings on women because I'm really interested in what womanhood and manhood are on a spiritual level. I think the differences are much deeper than our society constructs or ignores, but I'm sure they add to the value of each sex, rather than detract. As far as I'm concerned, it's not feminism if a woman has to become a man to be acceptable.

  23. P.S. Sub-Saharan African Politics sounds really interesting. South Africa seems like a really cool place, though dangerous and not without its problems.

  24. Hi Liz-

    Reading your posts I hope you definitely do succeed in your dream of becoming a professor! If I'd had a professor who thought like you do and had common sense views (most of mine really pushed the radical feminist agenda!) I don't think I would have ended up quite as radical as I was by the end of college! I think professors with a sense of balance are definitely needed these days!

  25. Liz--not sure if you're still reading but I also identify as feminist :)

    It sounds like you'll be the kind of professor students remember for years to come.

  26. Interesting post but something to point out: You talk about 'feminists' choosing to take on ‘male’ attributes like it's something they feel they should just be able to do, because why can’t they have/be the things men have/are. But this is not necessarily the motivation. Many women - albeit mostly subconsciously - ape 'male' behaviours because to be male is still an advantage in most cultures. If you can't do things just as good as the boys, you're just not good enough. As an example, I was involved in student politics and saw many young women build acceptance from and co-operation with males not by their views or speeches but by showing they could drink as much alcohol and be 'one of the guys'. The guys (the majority in that situation) have the power so to have power, you have to be like the guys.

    (Linked to this is the mindset that some women/girls have that in order to look ‘nice’, you MUST look ‘sexy’ because ‘sexy’ is what guys like and it’s important to base your identity on what appeals to guys; subtext being your value as a woman is calculated by the amount of male approval you generate.... Please!)

    The basic point of ‘feminism’ - whatever 'wave' - is that women should have equal opportunities to men, they should not be penalised simply for being women. No, you shouldn't be fired from your job just because you are pregnant. Yes, you should be allowed to hold property in your own name. Yes, you should be allowed to have your own bank account. Yes, you should be allowed to study at university if you are clever enough. Yes, you should be able to vote and run for office etc etc etc. It’s about choice – a woman should be able to CHOOSE whether to stay at home or go out to work, she shouldn’t be forced to do one or the other. Some conservatives and feminists go too far to either side of that argument, however, and as some other commenters have pointed out, would respectively like to take away different halves of that choice!

    And ‘femininity’ – as you describe it – and ‘feminism’ are not mutually exclusive! In any case, I’m tempted to go into a long paragraph about femininity/masculinity as social construct but I’ll spare you that...... :)

    Finally, you said “Feminists don’t believe that women can be traditionally feminine and strong.” Well, I am and I do. Beware of generalisations!

  27. I'm a feminist and I cover part-time. It isn't a very feminist thing to do, either! I also spend time crocheting, embroidering, cross-stitching, ect...the "womanly arts" you mentioned. (My next project is going to be a baby quilt sewn by hand, I'm so excited!) I haven't covered in Mass yet, I'm still gathering my courage for that. You know, when I first started reading this blog entry I thought I wouldn't read anything new, but I was really surprised. You gave me a lot to think about! I am subscribing to your blog.


I love comments and I read every single comment that comes in (and I try to respond when the little ones aren't distracting me to the point that it's impossible!). Please show kindness to each other and our family in the comment box. After all, we're all real people on the other side of the screen!