I told a friend she was feminine and I meant it. I'm not afraid to use that word and I stand by it. Somehow, it wasn't received well, or adequately. It may have offended. It definitely wrankled. I meant it as a compliment almost a place of honor or certainly high regard. This friend of mine is attractive, yes. Hair, touseled, colored with a blend of highlights and lowlights, a cut that can handle a bad hair day without so much as a whimper. Clothes, a choice blend of trend and classic, fitted without harming circulation. Accentuating attributes while minimizing flaws. (I'll hear about this) She can talk about waxing, waning and meatloaf with confidence and self-assuredness. Motherhood has softened her and informed her. She hadn't realized how loving she was until these beautiful little boys entered her life.
So what's so feminine about all this? She's strong. She's intelligent. She is interested in learning more and finding out more about herself and the world around her. She is a force to be reckoned with when the reckoning comes. This is the feminine piece. This is what I admire in her. Strength. When and why did that become something not considered feminine? Well, reviewing the definition of feminine and womanly provides a bit of insight.
Feminine- adj. 1. Of or relating to women or girls. 2. Characterized by or possessing qualities generally attributed to a woman.
Synonym- Womanly, womanlike, womanish mean having the traits or qualities that a culture regards as especially characteristic of or ideally appropriate to adult women.
The term womanly goes quickly downhill. It starts out strong and honorable: having the traits or qualities that a culture regards as especially characteristic of or ideally appropriate to adult women. Womanly is usually a term of approval, suggesting the display of traits admired by the society, such as self-possession, modesty, motherliness, and calm competence. I, myself being from a matriarchal Irish culture can relate to this. (Although, it is a bit tricky and subversive in some ways, the Irish-matriarchal and somehow not)
This moves into a worthless attribute pretty quickly when adding ish; a womanish petulance; womanish disregard for the rules. When applied to a male, these characteristics are deemed outrageously inappropriate and denote sexual confusion; a womanish shrillness in his speech; a womanish way of stamping his foot in anger. Of course, the same holds true when describing a woman as manly or masculine. Personally, no one can hold a candle to me, when my hand is placed firmly on my hip and I am about to give a what for. Feminine? Maybe. Positively, Ginger, Mommy in a huff, etc. more like it.
Now looking into what it means culturally, and how a culture may determine womanly or feminine characteristics, I came across Gloria Steinem's discussion of the origins of patriarchy from 1972:
Once upon a time, the many cultures of this world were all part of the gynocratic age. Paternity had not yet been discovered, and it was thought ... that women bore fruit like trees—when they were ripe. Childbirth was mysterious. It was vital. And it was envied. Women were worshipped because of it, were considered superior because of it.... Men were on the periphery—an interchangeable body of workers for, and worshippers of, the female center, the principle of life.
The discovery of paternity, of sexual cause and childbirth effect, was as cataclysmic for society as, say, the discovery of fire or the shattering of the atom. Gradually, the idea of male ownership of children took hold....
Gynocracy also suffered from the periodic invasions of nomadic tribes.... The conflict between the hunters and the growers was really the conflict between male-dominated and female-dominated cultures.
... women gradually lost their freedom, mystery, and superior position. For five thousand years or more, the gynocratic age had flowered in peace and productivity. Slowly, in varying stages and in different parts of the world, the social order was painfully reversed. Women became the underclass, marked by their visible differences.
Ok, so men want to hunt and they are strong. Women make babies and they are also strong. Basically we need each other for one thing or another. We can all come to the table, or the boardroom, the war zone or the fields. At this point in the game, we can all be weak, strong, masculine, and feminine. Me? I like my feminine side, but when that hand is off my hip and my sleeves are rolled up, I may just be doing something manly, like grilling a steak. My friend? No doubt, her husband is doing the grilling, but she may be out on the four wheeler tooling through the woods and dropping the f-bombs like a sailor, or trucker, or feminine woman.