World Femininity Day - are you serious?
by Jess McCabe // 21 June 2011, 21:00
Some bright sparks have decided that 24 June is World Femininity Day, which they explain like this:
To acknowledge and celebrate femininity by women, for women, for humanity. We believe it is vitally important as women to be encouraged to feel powerful through our femininity as opposed to matching or competing with masculine ways of being to achieve power in our lives whether that be socially, in relationships, family or career.
The idea is that on 24 June everyone* wears a flower in their hair to indicate their support of 'feminine power' - whatever that is. I say everyone, but only (white?) women are pictured on the site.
(*Since I started writing this, the site has been updated to say: "women, men and children are all invited to take part in the celebration", however it goes on to say "Our Universal symbol is a flower and we are asking all women to wear a flower in their hair for World Femininity Day" - my emphasis.)
So, here's the thing: often, femininity and things coded as feminine are devalued. (See: androcentricity.) Not buying into misogynist denigration of people and things that are coded feminine is important.
The organiser, Zoe Charles, says on the site that women shouldn't be "ashamed to express being feminine for fear it will be deemed weak or anti feminist", which I totally agree with.
Equally it's important to stay critical about what is considered feminine and masculine in our particular time and place (both being social values, which quite clearly have changed over time).
Also, race intersects with femininity and the beauty standard in complex ways that are not acknowledged or dealt with in this campaign - as we've just seen in the Satoshi Kanazawa episode, which involved faux-scientific claims that black women were more "masculine". See also stereotypes of passively feminine Asian women.
The site says:
We are saying YES to women worldwide feeling fabulous, being fully self expressed and loving their lives.
But what about women who feel confined by expectations of femininity? Who don't perform their gender this way? Or identify as butch? They are not on the radar of the organisers of WFD.
Then we have the issue of men and boys being policed for expressing femininity.
Meanwhile, we are targeted with advertising, media and other social messages that promote and expect a narrow form of femininity as the valued gender expression for women, interlinked with mainstream ideals of beauty and attractiveness. Sometimes the policing is less subtle, such as the contentious new dress code for female badminton players. As a white cis woman, I am not in need of any extra encouragement to embrace femininity.
Then we get to the WFD organisers' 'about us' page, and find this statement:
We believe the ownership and celebration of femininity by women, for women for humanity will eventually eliminate exploitation of Women and Children across the world.
If only women would be more feminine, it would end the exploitation of women and children worldwide? I had no idea that a flower in my hair could be so powerful! If only women would stop appropriating the "masculine" ideas of power, then we could say goodbye to domestic violence, sexual assault, FGM, discrimination and oppression in all its forms?
Photo by Frank Kovalchek, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license