Femininity As Strength


Illustration of a woman wearing a large, red hat with a blue bird sitting on the brim
I've been thinking about femininity and strength lately. As a society, and as individuals in that society, I think it's easy to associate femininity and weakness. We have "power poses" that women in high-powered careers are supposed to learn so they can appear larger and stronger and ultimately more masculine. The gestures that are associated with femininity are often considered weak, or even frivolous.
 
I was thinking about that as I painted this little sketchbook painting. This gesture of reaching to adjust one's hat is "girly." It's vain. It's a model pose - it's just about selling something. But what if it's not?
In process shot of a sketchbook illustration of a woman wearing a large, red hat
 
What if she's holding onto the brim so her hat doesn't blow away while she's standing on top of a mountain she just climbed for the first time?
 
What if she's adjusting her hat so she doesn't get burned while on the ground doing research for her Ph.D. thesis?
 
Maybe she's shading her child playing on the ground. Maybe she's the world's top international spy and no one has ever seen her face. (That's her top secret robot spy pigeon.) Maybe she's just enjoying a beautiful day at the beach and is full of joy as she listens to the waves crash.
 
I'm running away with maybes...my point is that maybe we view this gesture as frivolous not because it inherently is, but because it's feminine. And somewhere along the way, we've been taught that femininity is frivolous.
 
It's not. Femininity is not the weakness that masculinity must compensate for. We (both men and women) don't need to make ourselves more masculine to be strong. Just as there are different types of intelligence - and all types are desperately needed to create a fully functioning world - there are different types of strength. And - here's the kicker - one isn't more valuable than another.
That's easy to say. It's easy to think you believe it too. But I think it's a little more difficult to put into practice. I'm still learning how to fully embrace my femininity as a source of strength. I've always loved being a woman, but I have also felt at times that I needed to downplay my feminine side to be taken seriously in certain circumstances.
When I look back on those moments, I realize that by acting as I was expected to, I was affirming that the expectation was valid. That I agreed that femininity wasn't smart enough or quick enough or strong enough or just generally good enough for the task. And that's not an idea I agree with or want to support.
I don't have a good way to wrap up this post. I'd like to say that I'm going to fully embrace my femininity in all circumstances from this point forward, but life doesn't actually work that way. I'll keep learning one step at a time how to cultivate the valuable feminine and masculine traits in myself that make me a better human, a better neighbor, a better partner and a better artist. 
Illustration of a woman wearing a large, red beach hat with a blue bird sitting on the brim

1 comment

  • chelsea @ the new wifestyle

    oh my goodness – this is a fantastic article, ruth!

    especially love your line “Femininity is not the weakness that masculinity must compensate for.” and that one isn’t more valuable than the other. you wrote about it so eloquently, thank you! i too am guilty of hiding or shading my femininity at times because i felt it showed ‘weakness’ but in fact, it shows diversity and authenticity (of myself). gorgeous painting as well

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