Femininity is generally taken to mean those characteristics a culture expects women to display. They vary from culture to culture and are usually hotly disputed from generation to generation, between different groups of women, who either resent men having a view or accept the male view and interpretation. How’m I doing? Agreeing so far? Or not?
In my culture – I have lived in another and experienced many others – it is culturally accepted, even expected in some areas, that women will not only be competent at all the usual assigned female roles, but may have competence in other areas too. My State boast many firsts among women who broke through the glass ceiling, became the first female High Court Judge, police officer, dentist, reformer and so on. We also were the second in the world to bring in votes for women and to bring in the charges of rape in marriage and stalking.
A dear English friend, who was once a neighbour and a colleague, asked me years ago to define femininity and asked why it was that some women appeared to have it whatever they did, whereas others did not. At the time I was wearing dungarees and boots, had just finished a day of mixing concrete and was relaxing in the pub with a drink in my hand. I laughed, made a remark I now can’t remember and took it as a compliment. The question has stayed with me over the years and I’ve thought about it from time to time, given it a bit of a shake and put it away again.
My male friend, knowing me well for decades now, has seen me cuddle babies, work with the bereaved and vulnerable, cook and feed an army of workers, on a picket line, doing building work, dressed for weddings and parties and living my life to the full, dedicated to my work, active in the community, attempting to be a loyal friend and an appreciative companion. I do not try to define for others what it is to be a woman, what femininity should be or whether the concept should exist at all; it does and most of us have to deal with the consequences at some time in our lives. I have however attempted to develop those qualities which are often seen as feminine, but which of course are seen in many men – empathy, compassion, intuition and caring. I have also refused to be defined, labelled or put in a box for the convenience of others. I know I can do all the so-called womanly things in life – give birth, feed a baby successfully, wear velvet and lace, use Chanel No 5, be a supportive and sympathetic friend and confidante. I also know I can change a tyre, plaster, mix concrete, run a small holding, fix a cistern, lay bricks and use a Pozidrive. My lifestyle has always required those things and I don’t recognise limitations or imposed boundaries. I was brought up that way, by aparents who didn’t either. My life has been the richer and fuller for it and the expression that life is a rich tapestry has real significance and meaning for me. I consider myself lucky to have had the encouragement, the mentors and the support of men and women throughout my life,who saw no limitations for others.
I’ve watched with sadness the development of the Mommy Wars, the debating over breastfeeding, induced lactation in adopters and the growth of the ART industry which appears to lack ethics to an even greater degree than the adoption industry. I’m a great supporter of breastfeeding but not by adopters, am saddened by some of the reasons given for not when the opportunity arises and have seen the results of prolonged feeding. As I often ask in a variety of situations – Who is it for?
At three years of age or older, there can be little question of major nutritional benefits for a child in breastfeeding. Generally it is a private family matter and the exploitation of children to publicise a cause, an idea or sell a product, as always, gives concern, particularly for the future of the child. Probably in a few weeks or months time it will all be forgotten, the mother will have had her moment of exposure and the child will have to live with being on the cover of Time and the subject of a story for many years to come – maybe!
And for a little light relief, a favourite blog at –http://fashionismymuse.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/constructions-of-femininity