Women and Feminities

Although women have more freedom to resist the gender binary in some ways, the expectations for men and women are different and unequal. Women have more freedom than men to enjoy masculine and feminine coded parts of life. Even so, doing feminity is relatively compulsory, where women have to assume gender performances that harm them as individuals and produce group disadvantages.

Unlike men – who face policing when they do gender associated with the feminine, women’s performances of masculinity are often regarded positively, so that women are doing almost everything men do.

Research found that parents actually encourage girls whose behaviors or activities resist the gender binary while policing boys gender-nonconforming behavior. And while they felt a need to uncover a reason for their son’s preferences for feminine things, their daughter’s interest in masculine things needed no such explanation. Since masculine activities are highly valued, it made perfect sense that girls would be drawn to them.

Women are much less constrained in their daily lives than men; however, they must maintain a balance – do not violate the binary – the rule is: you must identify as male or female and perform gender consistent with that one. As such, women’s performances of masculinity are regarded positively. And while women are allowed and even encouraged to “do” masculinity, a woman who performs too much masculinity will prompt gender policing and sanctions. Women in non-traditional occupations, (e.g. WNBA, NASCAR, Football, etc.) must somehow be tough enough for the job and maintain their feminity.

The media portrayals of such women often employ the feminine apologetic – the requirement that women balance their appropriation of masculine interests, traits, and activities with feminine performance. This “balance” points to how a woman’s performance of feminity can be a way to soothe others’ concerns about her appropriation of masculinity. Christma Abbot, CrossFit competitor, weightlifter, and the first woman to work in a NASCAR pit. Abbot gets away with being masculine by also conveying feminine sexual attractiveness. She, like other women in the west today, is allowed to do what she wants to do as long as she sends clear signals that she wants men’s approval.

We need to consider intersectionality. Christmas Abbott was born blond into a society that privileges whiteness that are considered conventionally pretty. It is easier for her to do the feminine apologetics than it is for women who aren’t at ease with their feminity or who were not granted the dominant ideal of feminity, to begin with.

According to “the other sociologist” blog: women do not have cultural power; there is no version of hegemonic feminity to rival hegemonic masculinity. There are, however, dominant ideals of doing feminity, which favors White, heterosexual, middle-class cis-women who are able-bodied. Minority women do not enjoy the same social privileges in comparison.

Women sometimes refuse or fail to perform enough conventional feminity to soothe the people concerns around them. In practice then, there are wrong ways to be a woman.

Women who defy, rather than balance, refuse to perform a feminity that compliments hegemonic masculinity.

These ways are referred to as pariah femininities. These women don’t defer to men, don’t seem to care if men find them attractive, have or withhold sex without concern for whether men approve, or do not form households with men. These femininities are described as a pariah because they are stigmatizing to women who adopt or are ascribed to them.

Ambivalent sexism is a theoretical framework that posits that sexism has two sub-components: “hostile sexism” and “benevolent sexism.”

Benevolent sexism involves complimenting women based on stereotypes – which serves to justify their subordination to men. Other examples of benevolent sexism include practicing chivalry and holding women to higher standards than men. Check out the article “7 examples of benevolent sexism.” These traits traditionally associated with women are the traits that stand opposed to exercising power. They seem like a female-friendly gender order, but that is not how it works. Read “How Benevolent Sexism Hurts Us All.” Benevolent sexism is plan A for ensuring women’s subordination.

If plan A fails to subordinate women, enter plan B – Hostile sexism. Hostile sexism is the most commonly identified form of sexism, in which women are objectified or degraded, like saying cleaning is a “woman’s job” or feeling like you’re entitled to grab a woman “by the pussy.” Or when asked whether women deserve to make the same amount of money as men, you answer, as a presidential candidate, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” In other words, hostile sexism is often presented in anger, resentment, or fear because a man’s ego is being challenged.

Both benevolent and hostile sexism are used to maintain power and control over women, and to keep women in their place.

Patriarchal bargains are a deal an individual or group accepts and even legitimates some of the costs of patriarchy in exchange for receiving some of its rewards. Women make patriarchal bargains to maximize their autonomy and well-being in the face of sexism. There are three types of patriarchal bargains: emphasized feminity, emphatic sameness, and gender equivocation.

  1. Emphasized feminity – an exaggerated form of feminity oriented to accommodating the interests and desires of men.
  2. Emphatic sameness – the playing down of feminity and playing like “one of the guys.”
  3. Most women don’t emphasize feminity or emphatic sameness consistently, instead, they may apply different strategies based on the situation. That is Gender equivocation.

The double bind – is a situation in which cultural expectations are contradictory. Women experience this, and their lives are impacted by it. Shankar Vedantam’s Hidden Brain episode about the double-bind illustrates this very well.

Additional resources

Masculine Women | Feminine Men Ted Talk by Kiyoka Yahaba

What we get wrong about misogyny (Links to an external site.) – Sean Illing Vox 2020

The Problem When Sexism Just Sounds So Darn Friendly (Links to an external site.) – Scientific America

Gamers, Misogyny, and Capitalism (The Consumption Palace) (Links to an external site.) – Sunny Moraine

Feminine Beauty: A Social Construct?

Why Do Women Shave Their Legs?

Everything that’s Wrong with Women in the Media

Can’t get enough of being a woman – I hope you learn something.

Good Luck!

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