I want to dedicate this blog to Julie Bodhi Deepika from Belgium whose mails inspired me to write this essay.
While surfing through Wikipedia , I came upon an old story from the Bible, as told by Rabbi Joshua:
"God deliberated from what member He would create woman, and He reasoned with Himself thus: I must not create her from Adam's head, for she would be a proud person, and hold her head high. If I create her from the eye, then she will wish to pry into all things; if from the ear, she will wish to hear all things; if from the mouth, she will talk much; if from the heart, she will envy people; if from the hand, she will desire to take all things; if from the feet, she will be a gadabout. Therefore I will create her from the member which is hid, that is the rib, which is not even seen when man is naked."
This article, I think represents a patriarchal view of what a woman should be in their eye. A woman should not hold her head high; should not wish to pry into all things; would not wish to hear all things that man could hear; should keep her mouth shut against all the mischievous acts of a masculine world; and should talk less and leave desire to take anything, and even will not envy. It sums up that femininity, then, simply means frilly, flouncy, flippant, frivolous, and fluff-brained.
There are significant gender differences in how women and men socially construct the meaning of femininity in their lives, particularly concerning the intersection of gender, sexuality, and power. Freudian psychoanalyst theory says as women lack the visible genitals of the male, they feel they are "missing" the most thing central necessary for gaining narcissistic value and therefore, they develop a sense of gender inequality and penis envy, which in later periods, has related to power relation between gender. Freud said a little girl when observing the difference between the genital organ of her father or brother and the similarity with her mother, can notice her status of being the second sex, the less dominant sex. From this time of noticing, a girl possesses envy towards the male role model and tries to compare and identify herself with the male role model as the power holder.
According to Freud, sex is the most powerful instinct in humans. This tendency later develops into an Oedipus Complex and an Electra Complex. Being a woman, I can say that this ‘penis envy’ is not at all a significant point for femininity. It is not a proper place to discuss this topic in detail, but I referred to this Freudian psychoanalysis theory, as I have an idea that the formation of genital organs in male and female might have a link with their masculinity and femininity. The male genital is projected outward whereas that of a female remains inward. These structures may create the different characteristics among both genders. Femininity, so an introvert in nature to which some psychosnalysis termed as ‘passive’ while the extrovert masculinity for its outward projection of genital organ as ‘active’. Gerard Hendrik Hofstede, the Dutch scholar (I have discussed and compared his theory with that of Ashish Nandy in one of my earlier essays ) described these differences as ‘Quantity of Life’ and ‘Quality of Life’ repectively.
I solely believe that both masculinity and femininity are different but they are always complimentary to each other. We can’t say which one is superior and which one is inferior. In Samkhya Upanishad, the philosophers of the Vedic period named these as Prakruti and Purusha. But in their concept, Purusha (masculinity) is passive and Prakruti (femininity) is ‘active.’
‘Samkhya philosophy’ also described the creation of life with this Prakruti-Purusha concept. According to this philosophy, this Prakruti is an all pervasive but complex primal substance which is transformed into multifarious nature. The original entity is not found in its original form but remains in a state of equilibrium, and in a non-modified condition. This eternal and infinite principle is lifeless and consists of three inter-reliant and interchangeable elements called the ‘gunas,’ which consists of three parts: sattva, rajas, and tamas. These gunas are not the qualities but rather the constituent parts of Prakruti. They give complexity to Mula (original) Prakruti.
But Purusha is inactive and passive, but also alert and infinite and eternal. Under the inscrutable influence of Purusha, the equilibrium in Prakruti is disturbed and the whole universe of unlimited permutations and combinations comes into existence. The first modification of Prakruti, primordial nature, is called Mahat or Cosmic Intelligence. It further involutes into two forces, 1) Akasha, the primal matter, and 2) Prana, the primal energy. Akasha forms the material basis and Prana the energy basis of creation. From the interaction between Akasha and Prana are formed five delicate elements, crudely translated as Ether, Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. In various proportions, these are the constituents of all the material existing in the universe. As can be seen, even Mahat or Intelligence is matter consisting of three gunas and five elements.
I believe the role of femininity can be explained in no other way. Femininity is thus considered as Shakti or a source of energy in ancient Indian Philosophy. It is a regrettable and astonishing fact that while discussing ‘femininity,’ we discuss Christian ideology or psychoanalysts’ point of view but never any day has anyone discussed the idea of this Indian philosophy.
It is correct that the word femininity has not been heard very often as compared to the word ‘feminist.’ I have observed that in the West, only the Christian religious scholars discuss more about ‘femininity’ while the feminist scholars did not like to utter this word ‘femininty’ partly because of stereotypes as opposed to archetypes. They were dedicated to the proposition that the difference between men and women is a matter of mere biology and some of these feminists tried to avoid the word altogether or whenever possible, denying femininity a reality of Nature’s design and making.
On the other hand, throughout the millennia of human history up until the past two decades or so, people took for granted that the differences between men and women were so obvious as to need no comment. They accepted the way things were. Patriarchal society also used this hypothesis as an issue of the gender power battle with male hegemony and adherence to traditional male and female roles. For centuries, the concept of ‘femininity’ has been used for transforming patriarchy, making females to be subordinate in a masculine world. Femininity has always been used with a double standard by patriarchy.
While a nude art or its artist receive appreciation for the aesthetism from society, at the same time, the model has also been criticised for lacking the modesty of femininity. In the name of sexual objectification, both patriarchy and feminism have never adored femininity in any real sense. They impose many taboos and regulation on femininity in the name of keeping it safe and secure.
It is no doubt that due to feminist movement and discourse, we now have the opportunity to express ourselves; to make ourselves more visible in social perspectives; and to embrace our sexuality and sensuality. As Julie relates: “But still, women also have issues. For instance, many girls and women in Western don't totally accept themselves as they are because of the beauty standards the media and society imposes on us. The focus is so much on outward appearance rather than inner beauty.”
And she goes on: “Women also experience so much pressure. They want a career, be independent, have a household, kids, etc., etc....And manage that, ALL at the same time. Still, every woman wants to be feminine and beautiful with her dresses, jewelry, and modest attitudes. They want to be very beautiful and soft, but at the same time, strong. And that kind of women I see as my inspiration -- a humble, kind, loving woman, but at the same time, strong and intelligent.”
In earlier articles, I have discussed these matters in detail to show not only how both patriarchal society and the feminists make the rules and regulations and create the new taboos to make women more controlled in the name of ‘freedom.’
But still, women are subjugated and controlled in the name of ‘modesty’ and are also ignored in the social perspective. Their term of femininity is misunderstood and misused either by patriarchy or by the apostles of the so-called radical feminism.
Personally, I never find any difference between modern femininity and feminism if we consider feminism as a goal to make females strong enough to mark their identity against becoming invisible by those who want them to be. We should be thankful to our predecessor feminists who have made patriarchal man turn into a new masculine entity who believes in gender equality.
I believe femininity is related to ‘shakti’ and being ‘shaktified’ (I borrowed this word from my friend Wahkeena Sitka’s article ‘What Is Shakti?’). We could include power of intelligence (buddhi), compassion (daya), and divine love (bhakti) in our femininity. I also believe that this femininity has a wonderful power.
In our de-gendered times, a really feminine woman is a joy to behold and you can love and unleash your own unique yet universal femininity. We are here for gender sensitivity to proclaim the differences between men and women with a kind of pretence that we are all the same. Too many women have been de-feminized by society.
To be feminine today is to know how to pay attention to detail and people, to have people skills, and to know how to connect to and work well with others. There will be particular times and situations in which you'll want to be more in touch and in tune with your femininity. Being able to choose is a great privilege and a great skill.