I got this question from a reader this morning:
Hello! Thank you so much for all you do! I just read your piece on what happened to Breanna. ? That is very sad that she is going through that and street harassment is always a stressful and very often times a dangerous situation. I really loved what you said about reinvesting in ourselves. However, I have one question and please pardon me if it sounds completely ridiculous: what exactly does it mean to be feminine or embrace femininity? I feel that I have some ideas but I don’t really have a concrete definition of it especially relating to dating and competing with other races and ethnicities for women. I want to get serious about reinvesting in myself not only for this summer but continuously but I think having a good understanding of femininity would be wise to have first. I would ask my mom but I’m not sure if I would get the “you have to be a strong black woman response” or something that is related to the black community which does annoy me at times especially knowing all of the problems and dysfunction that is occurring.
Here’s my answer. I think that the definition of femininity needs to be properly explained, and tailored to fit the experiences of black women:
Good question. Femininity is more than dresses, high heels and makeup. It is a softness of attitude, body language (don’t curse like a drunken sailor) and diction. Think Marilyn Monroe–who was both sexy and feminine, and men fell to her feet. It’s also about releasing the need to control every aspect of your dating life (and then later, married life), and constantly reminding a potential partner that you don’t need them and can do everything on your own. But femininity requires a masculine counterpart. It is impossible for women to be truly feminine without being in the orbit of masculine men who have the ability to PROTECT that femininity. Remember when men would dual to fight for a woman’s honor? Men still do that, (“Let’s take this outside”) but without guns (mostly), thank goodness! Since there is often little opportunity for black women at large to practice true femininity when they live in unsafe neighborhoods full of “fake”masculinity, it’s often hard (and even dangerous) to display the vulnerability necessary to truly be feminine. However, it can be practiced SELECTIVELY when you date men who express the quality of TRUE masculinity. In other words, you might have to be “bi” or “code switch” in this regard, to move fluidly between femininity and self-protective masculine traits depending on the level of safety you feel.
Here’s an example of a white woman unapologetically practicing hypergamy, and the men who line up to willingly give her what she wishes in exchange for her beauty and femininity.
And our look at the grace and beauty Lena Horne displays, despite the great about of discrimination she was up against. Still, she was a lady.