“She’s not very feminine.” Uh, what?
What does it mean to be feminine?
Google says: having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness.
I write stories about kick ass women and oogy monsters. Says so, right here on my blog. You can check out my Kick Ass Woman’s Manifesto if you want to know how I define kick ass women. As you can see, I don’t mention anything about femininity, womanhood, or any other gender-conforming language because to me, a kick ass woman is all about attitude, feelings, and beliefs. She’s not about stereotypes. She’s not about rigid gender roles. She’s not about touting one standard of womanhood over another. I hope that the characters in my books reflect that.
If you hadn’t guessed yet, someone remarked that one of my characters “wasn’t very feminine,” and I take exception to that. Let me tell you why.
1. Why do female main characters need to be “delicate and pretty”? My main character, Taye Pocrejac, is strong and determined. She may be pretty to those who love her and she’s certainly pretty to Lucifer, but the story isn’t about her looks or how pretty she is (or isn’t) so why would it matter at all that she “wasn’t very feminine”?
2. What exactly does it mean to be feminine? Do women, even when they are in battles for their lives, need to be delicate and pretty to be sympathetic characters? Is that the only standard to which we hold them? Doesn’t it matter that they were injured, victorious, deadly, brutal, or cowardly or does it only matter that they were pretty while doing any of those things?
3. If a character is feminine, does that mean that all her other actions are subordinate to this particular characteristic? Does this mean that a raging sociopath who is feminine automatically ranks higher than an average, unfeminine female hero? Does a feminine hero become a laughingstock if she defeats the Big Bad because there isn’t any way a “delicate and pretty” character could also be victorious over evil?
4. When we look out over this vast, green Earth, with its billions of people and its stunning and magnificent diversity, who do we see? Who is valuable? I would argue that everyone is valuable, but according to our media, our movies, our TV shows, the valuable people are the pretty, the thin, the gender-conforming, hetero, white people. Our entertainment rarely allows for the diversity we see everywhere else. We need characters who are different. There’s nothing worse than incestuous, inbreed fiction with genetic defects and too-thin bones on which plot hangs loose and wrinkled.
5. Femininity is held up as an achievement, as a social necessity if you want to fit in, if you want to be popular, if you want to get the guy and the house and the dream life. It’s okay for women to be feminine if they want to be. It’s not okay for women to be told they have to be feminine because otherwise no one will love them. It’s not okay for women to be told they can’t be feminine because they are promoting stereotypes and “shame on them.” It’s not okay for people to put their ideas of “the Ideal Woman” on anyone, especially if it’s to “put them back into their place.”
6. “She’s not very feminine,” implies that something is wrong with my character, that she has a defect because she is not conforming to this notion of the delicate female. It’s an accusation, a finger-pointing moment. “YOU HAVE DONE IT WRONG!” As if a woman being her true self is wrong.
7. It’s not okay to make such statements because it locks out so many possibilities. What happens, for instance, if a transgender woman doesn’t act feminine? Is she denigrated for not acting like a woman? Why do other people get to define how she acts in the first place? Why can’t a transgender woman live her life the way she wants? Why does she have to wear makeup and paint her fingernails and wear high-heeled shoes? I don’t and I’m a woman. Why do we have these ridiculous “rules” in our heads when it comes to the way we think other people should act?
8. It’s not okay to dismiss a character because they don’t conform to society’s gender rules. A male character who’s emotional isn’t automatically gay or a pussy. Male characters, too, suffer from expectations of hyper-masculinity and are derided if they don’t blow shit up and screw the dame, (the dame a perfect picture of femininity, of course.)
In conclusion, femininity isn’t bad. What’s bad is the way my character was dismissed because she didn’t conform to the rules inside the person’s head who accused her of not being very feminine. Now, my character isn’t real. She doesn’t exist … but there are many women like her who do exist and they deserve to be able to define womanhood how they want to define it. They deserve to be taken seriously whether or not they are delicate or pretty or match society’s idea of what a woman should look like/act like/be like.
In short, they should be allowed to be themselves, even when they wear leather pants, steel-toed boots, and a demon-eating grin.