Femininity is defined by Wikipedia.org as “(also called womanliness or girlishness) a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with women and girls. It is distinct from the definition of the biological female sex, as both males and females can exhibit feminine traits.”
French girls are encouraged to be feminine as soon as they are born. French mothers choose girlish clothes throughout the infancy of their precious bundle of joy, and they bring the dolls and the “dinette” (little chef’s dining set) at the first signs of early childhood. Girls are taught politeness, gentleness, good manners (not only table manners but all manners), good posture and gracefulness (usually through ballet classes), and how to speak and behave in private and in public. Unless they show obvious signs of interest for R/C cars or army action figures, those are not part of the toy chest in a girl’s room in France.
When the next stages of development (middle childhood and adolescence) arrive, French girls are not encouraged to go into competitive sports, therefore develop an aggressive behavior and a loud voice - Notice, I have purposefully been using the word “encouraged” (not “pushed”, not “forced”). Voice empowerment naturally comes from self-esteem, self-confidence, academics or professional achievement in French girls, not from sports. Also, it is measured.
Feminism is defined by britannica.com as “the belief in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. Although largely originating in the West, feminism is manifested worldwide and is represented by various institutions committed to activity on behalf of women’s rights and interest.”
The question is, can femininity cohabit with feminism in a woman?
During these longs weeks of covid-19 and confinement, I had an interesting conversation on this topic with my long-time friend Catherine from prep school in France - Whereas she stayed single, never had children, and lives in France, I, on the other hand, got married and raised a family in the US. Both of us are firm believers that women should be feminine and, at the same time, defend their rights for equal salary and equal chances.
However, we, French women, do not feel threatened by men. We have FUN being feminine. We don’t want to over-power men or to belittle them either. We like where we are in life and who we are, and we like to be treated as women when it comes to courtesy and civility.
If a man holds the door for us, we love it. We know we can physically open that door, but we do not need to prove it. We are secure.
I was telling Catherine that, generally speaking, more American than French women “wear the pants at home” … Well, that, by the way, is an old-fashioned expression that might offend some, wouldn’t you say? … It does not offend me because I understand it goes back to the days when men and only men wore pants… That changed, and I “tip my hat" (another “outdated” one for you!) to Amelia Bloomer here in America and to George Sand in France, then later, Coco Chanel for changing that.
Back to my conversation with my long-time friend, we were talking about men now being the minority in college (in both countries), men turning into chefs and daddies at home, and men being outperformed by women in science, which would not have been believable a generation ago.
Then Catherine asked a question that had never crossed my mind and that I could not answer for lack of knowledge: When couples get a divorce nowadays, does the husband go after the wife’s money? Are the roles also reversed on that specific issue? That, I thought, brings an interesting point… a bit controversial, would you admit?!
I know, talking about divorce is no bright note to add to these few remarks on feminism vs. femininity. I personally would rather talk about romantic nights and date nights, but I think it is worth reflecting upon. I just hope that women will not be the victims of their own emancipation. I wonder sometimes… Do you? That will be another subject some day when, thru facts, data and statistics, we may have some more precise answers.