World Femininity Day – are you serious?

// 21 June 2011



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

Comments From You

Aimee // Posted 23 June 2011 at 12:51 pm

“Femininity is owning my unique beauty and fully accepting myself at every age and every stage of my life. It is a celebration of my curves, playfully adoring myself with gorgeous lingerie and using my charm for my own pleasure! ”

“Femininity to me is motherhood, vulnerability, groundedness, flowers, beautiful dresses and high heels.”

“I know too many women of my generation who’s only access to equality has been to act the same as men, they have forgotten what it’s like to feel truly feminine and the impacts are huge, health implications from working and drinking to keep up with men.”

… What a load of bolloks. Who decided what their arbitrary version of femininity is anyway? They can identify with it all they want, but don’t ascribe it to ALL women under the blanket term ‘femininity’… this doesn’t apply to everyone. They can keep their sugary sweet, vomitous idea of femininity if they want. This has made me angry. This is such a superficial Gok Wan version of empowerment.

Laura // Posted 23 June 2011 at 9:48 pm

I’d like to say something articulate, but honestly I just want to tell them to take their “empowering femininity” and shove it. Are they all desperately trying to land a job in beauty industry PR or something? Oh, I see, the founder is a “femininity coach”. I guess we’d better give her a call if femininity is the route to ending the oppression of women and children. How convenient…

How exactly is femininity an innate part of the female experience if you need training to display it anyway?!

Victoria // Posted 23 June 2011 at 10:30 pm

To be fair, they try to get around all these justified criticisms by claiming that they’re celebrating “all it is to feel truly feminine however that looks to the individual”. I have to say, though, the word “femininity” makes me think, not of flowers, but of the creepily named “feminine hygiene” sections in chemist’s and supermarkets. Still, I’d like to stop exploitation as much as the next person, so tomorrow I’ll be the one with the tampon in her hair.

MarinaS // Posted 24 June 2011 at 4:28 pm

If femininity is so empowering, and they’re so keen for everyone to celebrate it, why don’t they ask men to wear a flower in their hair? Now that really *would* go some way to show that the feminine is no longer an identity of the shameful Other.

But no, this is a campaign to pressure the oppressed into celebrating their oppression. Happy Kleizmer music. Beautiful Caribbean slave dances. The exotic Orient. Been there, done that, got the false conciousness t-shirt.

Clara X // Posted 24 June 2011 at 4:59 pm

My other half went to work today wearing a pink shirt. He often wears a pink shirt, but I noticed it today because I remembered that I’d seen the World Femininity Day website, and I thought how ridiculous that pink has become synonymous with a particular type of femininity.

I also found the concept behind World Femininity Day off-putting. Like most people, I have many qualities and skills which are seen as feminine, and many which are seen as masculine.

But our culture suggests that all women are feminine, and all men are masculine, and then carefully places every skill, every quality, and even every piece of clothing in one of these two categories. The sense of feminine or masculine is a social construct, and the problem is that people don’t fit easily into these categories.

The way I see it, we’re all individuals. We all have varying degrees of femininity and masculinity in our personalities. So, yes, I could celebrate the feminine part of myself today, and then celebrate the masculine aspects of my character later. Really the terms “feminine” and “masculine” are inadequate ways of describing the depth and breadth of variety in humanity.

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