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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Authentic Femininity

Sarah (one of my dear Ohio friends who sends me hugs and baby drool in her emails) has linked to a post about modesty which is actually from another post and then another, so I'm just linking to Sarah. You can do your own legwork to read the rest!

But here's a snippet (from Sarah) that I'm plagiarizing in order to use it as a jumping-off point:

It all makes me reflect on the change of heart I've experienced in the last ten years. It especially makes me think about how FREE I felt after reading Theology of the Body (which is available online too) and I started understanding what authentic femininity really means. It doesn't mean being an object of men's desires. It doesn't mean putting up with sex. It doesn't mean ignoring anything distinctive about the double-X. Oh no, it is so much more than what gender equality (which often seems to translate into "gender sameness") would have us believe.

She's right, and there's a few points here to address.

The first is general modesty. I still occasionally come across photos from about 10 years ago in which I was posing in manners contrary to feminine dignity. I'm not talking "Girls Gone Wild", but just the same, I don't think there's any REAL difference...just a matter of degrees. So what if I didn't "bare all"? I certainly implied what I had, and I KNEW I was being ogled for my looks.

(As an'd never know it now. Youth IS wasted on the young! And I can't believe I just said that!)

Trashy Girl

I had my "party years" fresh out of college, I was healthy, I looked good, and as it was the culture, I flaunted it through short skirts, midriff-type shirts (on the "modest" end), and low-cut tops.

When I lived in Minneapolis with my left-winger best friend, she appraised me one evening as I headed for the door for a night of clubbing. I was clad in a short black mini, heels, and a tight long-sleeved black top.

"Do you want to know what you look like?" she queried sarcastically.

"NO!" I turned and stalked off, out of her sight. I couldn't stand her appraisal...I knew what she was going to say, I knew I looked like a hooker, and I didn't need her to say what I knew was true.

I looked like trash, and even now as I look back upon that night and those years, I feel like trash.

No, I was never into the "one night stands" like some of my friends (most, actually...), but I think it's only by God's grace such a thing was avoided. I've been in many bad situations, placed there by how I dressed and how I behaved, two elements that tend to go together.

On Androgyny

The legacy of radical feminism is an odd monster for it pits the beauty of humanity, trait against trait, warping what is supposed to be beautiful into something quite literally inhuman.

On one hand, while I would never describe myself as "beautiful", I wasn't hard on the eyes, and I knew that at times, I turned heads. And I was proud of that while it lasted. And as I said, I dressed the part, INVITING people to look at what I had, trying to put any discomfort behind me. I didn't want to feel discomfort...I only wanted to feel beautiful, to attract people to me by how I looked.

I was a late-bloomer...if you were to ask any of my high-school friends about me, they'd either say, "Who?" or "HER? Pretty? WHAT!?"

So when, in my young adult years, guys seemed attracted to me, well, I LOVED it!

But that's where the dichotomy of feminism gets its other half, ironically.

It was during this phase of my life that I applied for a Fire Dept., and was subsequently hired and put through training. I had a boyfriend at the time, also a firefighter for the same department, so I approached the Job for the Job...the guys were not interesting to me. And it's fair to say that for ALL of the women, guys were not on the radar screen.

I had come to this also with experience in Law Enforcement, and so the things I'm going to discuss encompass both that and the Fire Department as it relates to women.

To be clear, many women in those jobs remain very feminine in many ways, but ALL have a certain hard edge, which might even be natural either as part of their personality, or an adaptation to difficult you might find in a pioneer wife or daughter of the 1800's. Or the World War II era.

But there's more to it for most women; there is nothing official, but the very culture, both inside and outside of "the Job" encourages androgyny. Men are always men, and are expected to be men, especially in those roles. And women...are ALSO expected to be men...unless it's convenient to be women.

I lost a lot of femininity when I trained for those jobs. I lost a sense of who I was supposed to be, and in fact began to deny my normal female tendencies in order to be more like "one of the guys." My life became about being "one of the guys."

Most of my friends were guys, and really, I loved them and still do. But they got so used to me that they began to complain about women and the female traits they (WE!) have, such as decorating the new house with "girlie things."

What am I....roast duck?


Once I was on the Job, though, especially the Fire Dept., well, an extremely high percentage of women in that field are attracted to other women. I got along with everyone just fine, and I was a bit of a relativist also at that point. But I wasn't comfortable with what was going on...all the female
"love" triangles. (Of course, there were other "love" triangles as well.) It was rampant.

Look beautiful, have a great body...but make sure you act like a guy in all things but the bedroom. The message was clear, was never spoken, but was lived out every single day.

Even some of the women looked like men, making no effort to reveal their femininity in any way. It was as if they were ashamed to be a woman, like being a man is any better.

As my High School English teacher used to say about Freud's ideas about envy, "Who'd want one anyway?"

Exactly! I wished that some of these women had had my English teacher when they were in their formative years!

I think that even today I'm trying to get over the damage of those years. I've always had long hair, wore makeup, had long nails when I could, and when I dress up, I like "froofy-girly" skirts. But most days I'm "frump girl", favoring my old tomboy-type clothing, and that may never change.

Some days I look at other women, longing to be like them, longing to have never denied my femininity, wanting to be truly girly..but I fear it will never be so. But I'm grateful that I don't have to be a "guy" anymore. I can wear my heart on my sleeve, and even as I'm ashamed when my emotions get the best of me, I know that as a woman, it's part of who I am and reveals my humanity. Even as I cringe when I can't do the job of 5 men, I'm grateful when those 5 men step in to help and don't throw me a chainsaw, expecting me to wield it.

And when I walk through a doorway and a man opens the door for me, I'm thrilled to look directly at him, smile, and thank him for his courtesy. Because it's nice to be a woman and to be treated as such. It's freeing to know that I don't have to reveal myself (not that any of you would want me to!), and that the people I love don't return that love for my looks or any other ulterior motive. It's freeing to know that I don't have to be a guy and really, most of the guys I know don't want me to be one.

I love being a woman, and every day, I wake up and thank God for the wonderful gift and privilege of being a woman.



uncle jim said...

in a recent article in InsideCatholic there is another view of feminism addressed.

i wrote in a comment:
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Marriage and Doublemint-gum
2008-04-08 08:02:46

I can speak to my experience, though. My wife and I married in the middle 60's, in the midst of the revolution to free women from oppression by men, and to free all from the scourge of chastity.

The era was certainly one in which our heads were getting turned round and round. Not only was secular culture changing, the Church was changing. Vatican II had many of us wandering around looking for something familiar to which we could cling.

By the grace of God, we find that in our marriage. It is unitive. As the Trinity is one, so is our relationship. We certainly had to learn how to live that unity and that still requires a lot of work.

Unlike the blending of flavors in Doublemint-gum where the two blend together to make a new flavor, I think marriage brings two into one yet allows each to have their individuality still discernible.

Through it all, true femininity thrives.

Written by uncle jim
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Anne Marie said...

The whole androgynous, feminine dichotomy has been bubbling up for me of late too. Oddly enough since I began wearing a mantilla. The little piece of lace has got me thinking about what it means to be a woman. That and the fact that I’ve been going to Mass with an order of dissenting nuns many of whom look like men. It’s been an odd experience.

adoro said...

Great comment, Uncle Jim!

Anne Marie ~ the same thing happened to me. (Not the androgynous nuns, though. But I've seen them in other places.)

Lindsay said...

Your thoughts on androgyny are really fascinating, Julie. You can't be a mild girl without being a girl. True femininity is as much an attitude and a way to behave as a way of dressing.