The definition of femininity has constantly been in a state of flux, but by general consensus, the world has more or less reached a silent agreement to take a stand against objectification and unrealistic beauty standards. While most people make a conscious effort not to partake in discrimination, it’s the subtle patriarchal undertone that is common to all of us that bothers me. And it’s not just the men.
Women, more often than not, feel the need to nitpick on physical characteristics that are not perceived as feminine and go to great lengths to justify their argument, sometimes even at the cost of sounding misogynistic. But what MAKES you feminine? Who gets to call the shots on that? Is it your waist to hip ratio, or the size of your breasts, or even the fullness of your lips?
While being short seems to be equated with femininity, what with #RelationshipGoals posts on Tumblr and Instagram featuring tiny girls with their male counterparts towering over them, the exact opposite is expected of women when it comes to the length of their hair. Because cut your hair off, and the first thing people will say to you is “You look like a boy!” If you’re (un)lucky enough to be taller than average to boot, like me, you can write a whole book on how to get noticed for all the rights reasons and picked on for all the wrong ones.
All through my childhood, I’ve had extremely short hair. My mother worked long hours, and managing long hair in a school that had stringent rules about tidiness was an added chore. She thought it was absolutely pointless, and since chopping my locks meant that I could sleep for an extra fifteen minutes every day in the time that would have otherwise gone to braiding and combing my hair, I had no complaints. In my tenth grade, however, being the impressionable, sensitive teenager that I was, I couldn’t deal with all the leg pulling and good natured banter that went on about the length of my hair. So I grew it out.
But that’s when I realized that the problem was not MY hair, it was the fact that I was a girl, and short hair is not the universally approved symbol of femininity.
“You’ll look so much prettier with long hair!” they said, “like the wonderful girl that you are.” Really? So if I cut my hair short, would it mean I’m not wonderful anymore? (Or to focus on the more ridiculous part of the statement, would I not be a girl anymore?)
Over the last two years, I didn’t do anything drastic with my hair. It is now halfway down my back, and although the compliments feel good, the nature of those continues to bother me. Apparently, long hair makes me look elegant and graceful… sort of a magic antidote against clumsiness, that makes people look the other way whenever I trip over my own feet or slip and bump into things, which by the way, happens on a daily basis. Oh look, her hair is so long and shiny, let us fail to notice that impromptu dance across the room she performed in order not to fall flat on her face!
Getting inked too, has its own rules for femininity. When I ran into an old neighbour after years, she looked at my new tattoo and gushed, “I love how you picked your collarbone for your ink! That spot is perfect,” (I beamed at her) “…for a girl”, she finished. (My smile turned into a grimace.) What about collarbones contributes to the effect of femininity? Men have collarbones too, it’s not like they are exclusive to women, and I’ve seen spectacular tattoos on them. I fail to see the logic behind this remark.
We correlate delicacy with femininity, and thereby marginalize all the girls who are tall and have broader frames or do not, in one way or other, fit into the fucked up framework we’ve come up with for femininity. And it’s almost funny, the way the rules came into existence. All of it is deeply rooted in patriarchy. Ever since the beginning of time, women who were shorter and therefore easier to subjugate and control, were considered more desirable, and have ever since then thought to be more attractive.
We subconsciously connect fuller lips with lusciousness, and I’ve personally encountered men and women both, who thought that the characteristic adds to the overall attraction in bed, which makes complete sense because that’s the purpose of women – pleasuring their men. This is the precise reason why Xena the warrior princess or the Catwoman trigger an automatic “she’s hot” from most people, rather than what they were actually known for – you know, winning at life, fighting their own battles and making their own rules.
I haven’t even touched on the vast topic of transwomen and the non-binary gender community, and the sickening ways in which they made to feel less womanly. But when it comes to listing the characteristics of femininity, it is almost a no-brainer: if the person you’re looking at identifies as a female at that point in time, she is (they are) feminine. That’s it, you’re done. Which means that your opinion is invalid there – only THEY get to decide what makes them feel powerful, dynamic, and strong – because these characteristics are feminine too.
Short hair is feminine. So is long hair. Or no hair.
And made up faces, and non made up faces. And thick lips, and thin ones. And curves, and straight figures. And flirty dresses, and suits and ties. Femininity comes from within. From the fire that burns inside our souls and somehow shines brighter each day without burning us to smithereens. From the sunshine in our eyes and how it doesn’t fade even after weathering a zillion storms, and the way our hands reach out to capture galaxies that may not even exist.
Revel in what makes you feel womanly, and go with it, for if we were to let society dictate our physical appearances and conduct, in just a couple of years we’d all be robots going through the motions of life, governed by the laws of perceived attractiveness – lifeless and listless and as far from the vibrancy of feeling feminine as ever.
Tanvi Deshmukh is a nineteen year old girl from Pune, India, with an affinity for words and books, cats and coffee, Nepalese food and hippie music, and the colour green (along with Oxford commas). Currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in English, she loves poetry, volunteers at an NGO and plays the keyboard in her free time. Along with devouring books of all kinds, unless of course, she’s in the middle of heated discussions on feminism, patriarchy, gay rights, or what to name the neighbour’s new dog.