What Is Femininity? And Is It Lost? (A Rantie)

We talk a lot about “feminine details” here at this lingerie blog; but what does “feminine” really mean?

On the surface this might seem like a silly thing to talk about. Everyone knows the definition of the word. But when we talk about the qualities and characteristics traditionally associated with women, we are stereotyping women. Even things such as gentleness and compassion, delicacy and prettiness — traits which seem positive, rather than derogatory — are connected to ideas and assumptions about female identities and the socio-cultural values and expectations of women. These are judgements about how one is expected to think, look and behave based on the sole fact of being female — and even those of us who proudly sit and strut in frills, we resist such labels. Because we know labels come with limits.

Ideally, “feminine” is exactly the traits, characteristics and appearance that each individual female, biological or identifying as female, wishes to display. Our attitudes (and affirmations) are:

* I am female, I define myself; that’s my femininity.

* I have lady parts, this is how they look, and I celebrate them as they are by dressing the way I desire; that’s my femininity.

Personally, I prefer (when practicality isn’t ruling my life) to exhibit my femininity framed in frills; draped in nylon, silk and satin; adorned in lace, ruffles and embroidery; high heels and a spritz of perfume; that’s my way.  But it’s not the only way. Someone with less “frills” is no less feminine.

And you shouldn’t mistake my frou-frou attire for weakness of any kind. I admire my strength, intellect and fortitude; that’s my femininity too. It’s just wrapped in one way of the many ways of presenting “pretty.” It’s my aesthetic. It pleases me. I’m happy when you like it too; but it’s not the only way.

Why am I talking about this?

Not only is this perhaps a long overdue sentiment to share at a lingerie blog, but, like the “body issues” topic, I receive comments and emails on this subject in one form or another often.

Sometimes these comments come from men, wishing their ladies would dress more “feminine.” Less often, but more plaintive, are the comments from women who wish they could dress more feminine — feel more feminine.  While it’s easy to “blame feminism” or shifts in gender roles, that’s not only infuriating to a feminist like myself (I know feminism was about equal rights; not becoming men!), but it’s inaccurate.

I think the largest problem we women have in dressing or feeling more feminine is the economy, and our share or place in it.

Some speculate that every time women have surged ahead in the marketplace, the patriarchy has conspired against us using fashion to put us in place by raising hemlines etc. There might be some truth to that… And women will buy into it because while working we still desire mates, so we will show off our female forms more to counteract the “masculine” appearance of success.  But I think even without male intervention to feminize us, women with more means to fund their fashions put their increased if not considerable consumer powers into purchasing “feminine” garments.

As our confidence and incomes increase, we delight in dressing and undressing to show ourselves at our ideas of our best; that may mean lower necklines and higher hemlines.  Look back at the 1980s, when women flooded successfully into the workplace: the teddy never had it so good!  Women wore teddies — as well as silk tap pants and camis, etc. — beneath their power-suits.  Sensual symbols to remind themselves they were, underneath it all, still fabulous and female.  And since they made the money, they could spend it as they wished.

The 80s were hardly ideal, but now…

Now we have the Pink or Pink-Collar Ghetto and the Hecovery. Women, still not paid what men are in any field (his paycheck is more important; even though we have the same bills — with less medical coverage, reproductive rights, etc.), lack the means to buy what they want. Plus, the economic downturn has resulted in numerous political and legislative fear-based attacks on women (and minorities) in general.

We women are not feeling too good about ourselves, and in many cases, however unconsciously, fear being seen as female or too feminine. We are attacked for it, you know. We frilly femmes aren’t “bad-ass enough.”

Like our petticoats make us feminist turn-coats.


This “too feminine” vs “not feminine enough” battle has been around forever. When will it ever end? Seriously.

As Deanna wrote:

Stop this incessant bitching about who is and isn’t being a good feminist or feminist role model. Stop worry about who wears lip gloss, bleaches her hair, & why. Stop making snide gossipy comments about who is a stay at home mom, a working mom, or a true career woman; who does or doesn’t have kids; who does or doesn’t have a man — who doesn’t even want a man — and why. Just stop worrying about what people choose to do (99 times out of 100, it has nothing to do with anyone’s safety or your life) and start worrying about whether people have equal rights to control their own lives.

That’s what feminism & true equality are all about.

Those of us who seek to dress in what’s considered the traditional feminine ways of dresses, skirts, high heels, frilly lingerie, etc., we find ourselves not only stymied by the labels, by the limits in opportunity, but by the limits of funds.

Money for “underwear”? Just barely.

But pretty dresses and lingerie falls under “discretionary income” and how many of us really have that?

For many of us, our definitions of “feminine” — and “strength” too — means taking care of others, including to our own detriment. Any extra money we might have for a pair of something flirty “should” go to treat the kids, pay up the credit card “just in case,” make sure hubby has a little extra in his pocket in case the boys from work want to stop somewhere for lunch… On and on it goes.

Most of today’s jobs and the work we women do, require us to dress more practically than in frou-frou and frills. If we women are to dress in what’s considered such feminine attire, we need time, space and the financial means to do so.  All these things are luxuries for most of us. Not coincidentally, all of this applies to the female sex drive too.

So, if this post has an advice it’s this:

Women, be your definition of “feminine.”  Let everyone else get over it. If there are to be equal rights, dress must be part of it. This, and social change itself, begins in your own homes.  So create the time and space and wardrobe for the repose you dream of.  Yes, time, space and wardrobe for you. Putting yourself last on the list only encourages others to do so too; conversely, making yourself a priority has others following suit.

Men, embrace your partner’s version of “feminine.”  If you want more frills, then be careful how you address it — make it a loving, sexy invitation; not a whine or demand to put a label on your lover. Give her the gifts of what now are such luxuries. Be sure there is time and space for her to wear “feminine frills.” Be sure you share the discretionary income so that she can get such things. And no ridiculing of her when she does so.

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