Friday, August 16, 2019

On Femininity and Masculinity

Masculinity and femininity are tricky concepts to define: They include both the way we interpret biological sex differences and the impact of societal rules and norms* attached to proper behavior for men and women.

Those societal rules and norms and stereotypes about masculinity and femininity serve (whether intended to do so or not) to keep women from reaching equality, and that's why critiquing masculinity and femininity is an important feminist task. 

I tackled that task in this post from last January and  in this post from last summer.

The reason for re-posting them is that I have realized that what I thought were old-fashioned views about the proper behavior for women are not as rare today as I had hoped**.  Not performing femininity or masculinity properly even has a special name in psychological jargon:  It's gender nonconforming. 

Wouldn't it be nice it it was just seen as human?


* Even though anti-feminists often assume that all observed sex differences in behavior are innate, they are clearly affected by social and religious norms. Thus, what is proper feminine behavior in Iceland would not qualify in Saudi Arabia and so on.

** That hope was for obvious reasons.  If femininity, say, is defined as including characters such as humility, while masculinity includes characters such as leadership, it's hard to see how women, if required to perform femininity,  could ever compete in the labor markets and in politics and so on.

I want to stress that I am not discounting the importance of humility, gentleness, empathy and other characteristics associated with femininity.  Rather, I argue that societies code them as exclusively female and often punish women for not demonstrating them. (Men can also be punished for not demonstrating the characteristics assigned to masculinity). 

I believe all those characteristics are mostly human ones, even if different individuals have them in varying combinations.  Societies, however, tend to divide them rigidly into two sets of characteristics, one for men and for women.  The resulting rigid gender roles are not good for anyone but they are particularly bad as obstacles against women's full equality with men.