“Once, power was considered a masculine attribute. In fact, power has no sex.”
– Katharine Graham, the first female Fortune 500 CEO as CEO of the Washington Post company
Over the past week, we have been discussing the difference that gender presents in sports and in society. From Professor Mika LaVaque-Manty’s excerpt, “Being a Woman and other Disabilities”, to the “Either/Or” article on athlete Caster Semenya. Most recently a guest speaker, Suzy, an officer in the U.S. Army came to class and spoke of the inequities of being a woman soldier and the unfair, sometimes incensing treatment she has received based solely on her gender. Needless to say this week has been a fountain of new perspectives of how the experience of being a woman can vary. During Thursday lecture the class had to complete an activity in which we had to submit things that were “seemingly arbitrary gender norms.” The list ranged from girls liking pink to men not crying. And although the list of norms seemed to be silly in some cases, others were very thought-provoking. I rarely think about my identity as a woman. I am a Puerto Rican girl whose identity as a Puerto Rican supersedes that of a female. As an ethnic minority I allow my ethnicity to overpower my gender. It really wasn’t until this week that I started to think about the nuances and the complexity of gender roles. We discussed the often- forgotten difference between the biological category of being a male or female with the social category of being masculine or feminine. Both Caster Semenya and Suzy were females who in some way valued their professions more than their femininity. As women in the 21st century, must we abdicate being feminine in order to be more successful and respected in the professional world?
In the “Either/Or” article a very interesting point is brought up that although many of our social norms are constricting and demeaning, we still don’t want to get rid of them. “We depend on gender to make sense of sexuality, society, and ourselves. We do not wish to see it dissolve.” Is this true? We do not want to do away with sometimes oppressive stereotypes because they simultaneously help provide order and control in society and our daily lives. This is true especially when it comes to how men and women see each other, as well as how women and men see themselves.
Throughout the lessons this week we mainly focused on women who did not necessarily consider that being feminine is a defining aspect of their identity. Consequently, these women made me think about how much I do indeed consider being feminine as a crucial part to who I am and how I present myself.
Many times being feminine and being a woman are equated with being nurturing, maternal, compassionate, emotional, and other traits. These societal ideas of what it means to be a woman or a man are intertwined with the biology of being a female or male, as the different levels of hormones greatly influence our behavior and, sometimes, even our personalities. Although our hormones aren’t the only thing that dictate the differences between men and women, these differences do exist and as LaVaque-Manty’s states, “equality requires the acknowledgement of differences.”
When a woman is feminine her femininity is interpreted as being sexually desirable and, thus, used to objectify her and even dehumanize her. When a woman, like Caster, lacks apparent femininity and female reproductive parts this absence of feminine qualities is also used to dehumanize her. To combat this general perception and judgment of people, I think many women have increasingly adopted more masculine traits to compensate for what society has dictated feminine to be synonymous with a disability. As Suzy revealed, there are circumstances like being in the military that make it almost impossible to be feminine in fear of harassment or disrespect. However, Suzy also affirmed that she wasn’t just a soldier, that she could continue being a feminine woman when she wasn’t at work. We don’t need to ignore our feminine gift to conform to what our heavily misogynistic Western societal values have ingrained in our subconscious as being unfavorable or disadvantageous. Masculine traits should not be solely associated with the male gender and feminine traits should not be solely reserved for the female gender; I completely believe that both men and women should embrace both feminine and masculine qualities. We are human beings, and being such we are complex, emotional entities that shouldn’t limit ourselves to a strict list of traits that have been designated to us before we were even born.
Simultaneously, as women we have the choice of embracing our femininity and we need to stop confusing it with weakness. Vulnerability, dependency and compassion are traits that can be used wisely and we should allow ourselves to feel them wholeheartedly, as they can be very powerful in our personal development. This can lead to more genuine connections that can also be very useful in the workplace, as your coworkers can relate to you more, thus enabling better cooperation in group projects and leading to more potential success and achievement professionally.
Reclaiming our femininity and redefining what it means to be a woman in our personal and professional lives:
That is a powerful thing.