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What is femininity? (1 Viewer)

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Moonbeast32

Senior Member
Increasingly often in media and literature, I'm seeing attempts made at making strong female characters. I believe this is a good direction, but it is often executed poorly. It would appear to me that many writers believe one of two things: (A. A female character's greatest strength is their ability to seduce males. (B. Strong female characters are less feminine, and more masculine.

I don't like either of these views, so I want to write female characters who are strong without acting like a prostitute or a man. But I don't think I understand what femininity really is. Will any of you help me understand what qualities define femininity, and what it means to be strong in femininity?
 

nanabanana

Senior Member
I think there isn't a right answer. Femininity and strenght are abstract constructs which vary from culture to culture and even from individual to individual. There are many ways to be strong and just as many to be feminine. When I think about strenght and femininity, the Strenght (Major Arcana tarot card) always comes to my mind. This card depicts a pure and delicate woman gently yet firmly clasping the lion's jaws. Strenght can be gracious. It can come from within, but it shows on the outside too. Kindness, perseverance, compassion, integrity are all manifestations of strenght.
 

Bayview

WF Veterans
I agree that there's no real list of characteristics I can supply.

I generally use the phrase "stereotypically feminine" when I want to discuss the kind of femininity I think you're looking at, because really there are as many ways to be "feminine" as there are females.

For me, I try to avoid even thinking about my characters in those kinds of terms. I want my characters to be individuals, not representatives of the stereotypes of their gender categories. Yes, of course my characters grew up in cultures that have gender roles, but I can take those into account without allowing them to completely dictate the characters' behaviours.

Can you give something concrete you're wondering about?
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
This is really a great question. I have struggled with your same issues, not always in writing, but in reality as well. My most recent encounter with this is an on-going attempt by media and sitcoms to give little girls power, give them a voice, by making them little snots. For some reason it's seems a popular view that a girl who is rude and disrespectful possesses qualities that show her strength. I think just the opposite, and this is where bullies come from. While feminine characters in writing may often come to the same results or consequences, despite how they got there or how they appear, I think being able to honestly portray a truly feminine person is a worthwhile goal.

I think to be feminine is to be calm and focused. Women have long been seen as nurturers, soothing troubled waters and the like, but the techniques women use are often overlooked. We often listen better and our reactions can be more measured than our counterparts. A 'feminine' character will be introspective and may take unexpected avenues to achieve a goal. Traditionally, men have been hunters and gatherers, and we pretty much know how that is done. Put a woman in that role, and see what you come up with. But always consider her characteristics, what makes her different from that man. And be sure you give her a flaw or two, maybe something in her background that makes her go soft around puppies and kittens, but gritty when she needs to be, like she is defending her child.

Okay, here's an example I thought of. A man meeting a foreign dignitary to get him to agree to something, may shake his hand and then sit down for an hour where the two exchange stories of their greatest accomplishments. Put a woman in the role of meeting that dignitary and she may start by asking about his family or where he grew up. She will not speak much of herself, because her goal is an agreement of some sort with the dignitary, not to spend time revealing herself. She learns more by listening, rather than talking. finding out what his weaknesses may be. The dignitary may notice how she sits, that she leans toward him in interest, and be flattered - and then spill his guts.

It's a fine line, and if you are successful at this, it will - in my view - be a great accomplishment. Oh, one more thing. This is a suggestion, but I would try to keep any descriptions of her physical appearance at a minimum, unless really necessary. There's nothing more off-putting - to me at least - than a long, detailed description of her golden hair in moonlight, or how when she walks into a room, all heads turn. You want a strong, feminine protagonist - don't allow your readers to be distracted by an impossible beauty that just miraculously also has strength of character.

I hope this helps - and I hope you let us read some!! :) Go you.
 

haribol

Senior Member
Femininity is a term given to characterize women's specific characteristics that gives them a unique identity that distinguish them from man's world. In most ways there are not materiel distinctions between masculinity and femininity apart from certain structural differences. Society in the course of time gave a certain distinction and polarize their zines of thoughts and domains of works and gradually lines of thoughts as well. But if we delve deeply into their natures there are no typical differences. And therefore when one wants to writer about family characters there are some differences may come across in their natures of jobs society has assigned to them but if if one goes deeper and deeper all the hitherto seeming differences vanish. We both sexes are humans in different colors and the difference if any is shallow.
 

Moonbeast32

Senior Member
Hmm. I'm perceiving an obstacle here. It would appear that not everyone here has the same ideologies regarding gender.

In the case of those who believe gender is Nurture and not Nature, you have said that gender characteristics are roles constructed by the given culture. Could you please elaborate or explain what these roles are, or what traits you think are culturally associated with femininity? That's what I'm looking for here.
 

Bayview

WF Veterans
Hmm. I'm perceiving an obstacle here. It would appear that not everyone here has the same ideologies regarding gender.

In the case of those who believe gender is Nurture and not Nature, you have said that gender characteristics are roles constructed by the given culture. Could you please elaborate or explain what these roles are, or what traits you think are culturally associated with femininity? That's what I'm looking for here.


In which culture? At which time period of that culture?

In the western world, there was a time when women were considered to be untroubled by sexual desire or even sexual interest. There were also times when women were considered to be completely ruled by their sexual desires to the point that they were essentially irrational. There have been times when women were considered to be too emotional, times when they were considered much more logical and cool than men. etc.

I think we often think of women as being more nurturing of young children, but there are loads of men who are great with little kids and loads of women who aren't. Are these men less "masculine" because they're good with babies? If a woman doesn't like babies, is she less "feminine"? What about if there are two women, one of whom is blunt and wears jeans and workshirts and is great with kids and one of whom is agreeable and wears dresses and makeup and doesn't like babies at all. Which of those is more "feminine"?

I really don't think it's a useful word because too many people use it in their own ways, and too many people use it as a politicized weapon or reward.

ETA: Based on the ideas of how a woman would act from Sue's post, I'd say that Obama was more "feminine" than Trump. I'd also say he was more "feminine" than Margaret Thatcher. But in general I wouldn't say he's a feminine man...
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
ETA: Based on the ideas of how a woman would act from Sue's post, I'd say that Obama was more "feminine" than Trump. I'd also say he was more "feminine" than Margaret Thatcher. But in general I wouldn't say he's a feminine man...

I love this, and you are so correct. We associate femininity with women, and a misnomer if we are talking about men, but your examples are spot on! Margaret Thatcher was not, imo, feminine, but she was strong and somewhat powerful. But femininity is the question at hand - so how do you put femininity into The Iron Lady, if required?
 

sas

WF Veterans
Haven't really followed the thread closely.

My sister does not cook.
My daughter-in-law doesn't cook.
My mother-in-law never did cook.
My daughter does not cook.
I do not cook.

All the men cook, and, well. Self-defense, no doubt.
We women brought home the bacon, and let someone else fry it up in the pan.

So, what does that all mean? Nothing.
 

Bayview

WF Veterans
I love this, and you are so correct. We associate femininity with women, and a misnomer if we are talking about men, but your examples are spot on! Margaret Thatcher was not, imo, feminine, but she was strong and somewhat powerful. But femininity is the question at hand - so how do you put femininity into The Iron Lady, if required?

I think you abandon the concept of femininity altogether. It's indefinable.

Possibly people are looking for a way to make characters softer? Is that a reasonable synonym for the way people want to use "feminine"? I mean, we could soften both male and female characters, so I'm not sure it's what people are looking for, but it's about the only way I can approach this question, I think.

And if it is a reasonable synonym - make the characters care about something/one. Make them nurture something/one, make them be gentle with something/one. Don't feminize them... humanize​ them. Would that work?
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
Websters dictionary doesn't help at all, for even a generic definition of femininity. It seems Moonbeast32 wants to know how his character can be assuredly feminine, while being capable of strength or power. Is that it? This is really harder than you would have imagined, and like Bayview said, we all have preconceived ideas of what the word means to each of us.

So I have to ask. Can you give us a description of your girl? How do you see her behaving? Is she like Margaret Thatcher, strong but not nurturing? What are your ideas? Give us a description of what was going on when you decided you needed input?

I want to write female characters who are strong without acting like a prostitute or a man.

Maybe its not femininity you are after at all. Here's my list of characteristics of a strong female:

Calmn
Calculating
Private
Stoic
Committed
Empowered
Respectfully aware
Capable of femininity

Maybe that's better. I really do like this thread.
 

Bayview

WF Veterans
Websters dictionary doesn't help at all, for even a generic definition of femininity. It seems Moonbeast32 wants to know how his character can be assuredly feminine, while being capable of strength or power. Is that it? This is really harder than you would have imagined, and like Bayview said, we all have preconceived ideas of what the word means to each of us.

So I have to ask. Can you give us a description of your girl? How do you see her behaving? Is she like Margaret Thatcher, strong but not nurturing? What are your ideas? Give us a description of what was going on when you decided you needed input?



Maybe its not femininity you are after at all. Here's my list of characteristics of a strong female:

Calmn
Calculating
Private
Stoic
Committed
Empowered
Respectfully aware
Capable of femininity

Maybe that's better. I really do like this thread.

What does "capable of femininity" encompass?
 

nanabanana

Senior Member
Maybe its not femininity you are after at all. Here's my list of characteristics of a strong female:

Calmn
Calculating
Private
Stoic
Committed
Empowered
Respectfully aware
Capable of femininity

Except the last one, these traits would all be suitable for a strong male character too. I don't think we can actually find traits that are both strong and feminine. Something easier and more efficient, at least IMO, is finding traits that denote strenght (like the ones you described) and, separately, traits that denote femininity (e.g. elegance, gentleness, beauty). Then use them to define a female character.
 

Annoying kid

Senior Member
I'd advise to forget about the femininity/masculinity dichotomy and instead focus on the real problems of the SFC -

Becoming a trophy/object/pornographic figure.
Being a flat character. Under-reacting at critical moments. Missing opportunities.
Being a faux action/genius girl, and passive when it truly matters.
Generally lacking a goal and motivation.
Being treated as a nag.
Elevating herself over other females for ill conceived reasons.
Hypocritical morality.
Being too many things at once, so they all have to be rushed.
Having men and women around her be incompetent so she looks better. Aka measuring her competence against a strawman of what people are.
Having a chip on her shoulder about where she stands in relation to men. Humiliating people unnecessarily. Acting like a dominatrix in an attempt to be "assertive".
The strength from rape/redemption from sex cliches.
The Madonna/Whore complex.
Rushed character development.
 
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