Note: This post is meant for women who want to be more feminine in the old fashioned sense. It’s really not about being a male-identified woman or about arguing whether being feminine is right or wrong. Women are free to make the choice to be old fashioned feminine. This is somewhat of a tutorial of a specific type of femininity, not all forms of femininity. This is not meant to pressure you to be something else or dictate what you should wear or behave 🙂
Any time a discussion about femininity arises someone asks the question, “What is feminine and what is femininity?” Well I looked into it a bit. According to Wikipedia (I know it isn’t an academic source):
Femininity (also called womanliness or womanhood) is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with girls and women. Femininity is made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors. This makes it distinct from the simple definition of the biological female sex, as women, men, and transgender people can all exhibit feminine traits…Behavioral traits generally considered feminine include gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity. (source: Wikipedia)
So, you being a woman does not automatically make you feminine. Anything that a woman does is not automatically feminine. I don’t rely much on modern definitions. Why? Because in the past masculine and feminine was clearly delineated and there was no androgyny or ambiguity like there is today. It was simple so it was also easy to understand. This also doesn’t have to be a scientific thing because femininity predates gender studies. You just know it when you see it. It may help to look at works of art depicting women. You might not like this, but realistic paintings like those of the Renaissance and French Impressionists (e.g., Manet, Degas, Renoir) really captured femininity, although all the women were White (please just imagine they were Black). I read an African American art book once and almost all of the paintings were depicting suffering or something edgy so they were not the same. Wouldn’t it be great if Black artists depicted us in a highly feminine manner? Sigh…one can only dream. See the P.S. below for more tips 🙂
The femininity I focus on is old fashioned/vintage femininity, specifically femininity in Western countries dating from maybe 1900-1960. However Western women looked and acted back then is what I consider “feminine”. I’m focusing on Western femininity because that’s where I live. No need to be rigid about that image though (i.e., you do not need white skin, white features, or straight blonde hair to be feminine). What stands out about this look is that women’s clothing looked different from men’s and it was soft, flowing, and delicate with nothing androgynous. Hair was medium length to long. Other aspects include painted or well manicured medium length nails, especially in red. Subtle makeup was worn to look natural and to enhance natural features and clear skin. Feminine shoes, dresses, skirts, and modest jewelry were the norm. Basically Dorothy Dandridge, Diahann Carroll, Marylin Monroe, Dita Von Teese, and Zoe Deschanel stand out to me for having old fashioned femininity. Stores like ModCloth, Shabby Apple, and vintage/thrift stores sell clothing that I recommend to get this look. So nothing hard, edgy, or masculine in terms of dress. Back then everyone knew what feminine and masculine meant and there was no ambiguity. Some women may prefer a modern feminine look that includes masculine items like pants, androgynous styles, or edgy styles but that doesn’t appeal to me and that isn’t old fashioned feminine.
Today in research, questionnaires are often used to assess someone’s masculine and feminine traits. I searched the Interwebs and had
no luck finding long lists of traits! But I found one, the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI; 1974), that might still be used today. The BSRI lists masculine and feminine traits that you can read below:
Masculine Traits: acts as a leader, aggressive, ambitious, analytical, assertive, athletic, competitive, defends own beliefs, dominant, forceful, has leadership abilities, independent, individualistic, makes decisions easily, masculine, self-reliant, self-sufficient, strong personality, willing to take a stand, willing to take risks.
Feminine Traits: affectionate, cheerful, childlike, compassionate, does not use harsh language, eager to soothe hurt feelings, feminine, flatterable, gentle, gullible, loves children, loyal, sensitive to the needs of others, shy, soft spoken, sympathetic, tender, understanding, warm, yielding.
Based on the BSRI it’s no wonder many think the “Strong Independent Black Woman” role and title is too masculine, that’s because it is from an old fashioned viewpoint! I actually believe that Black women would benefit from adopting an old fashioned feminine look as well as some old fashioned feminine traits. I do not consider occupations when I discuss femininity so whatever you have to do at work is not an issue. I am not concerned about hobbies either or what you are good at doing around the house (i.e., gender roles). This is about feminine traits not activities or jobs so I do have some modern ideas about femininity, lol! Traits that need to be turned off outside of work include being aggressive, defending own beliefs too much, dominant, forceful, too independent, too individualistic, masculine, too self-reliant, too self-sufficient, strong personality, too willing to take a stand, and too willing to take risks. These traits make people in general difficult to get along with and they bother people even more when expressed by women. Yes that’s not fair I know.
From what I’ve read and heard from men, they are turned off by women who are more masculine than feminine. They are more
interested in women they do not confuse with men. So if you want to attract a high quality masculine man for a relationship then maybe getting in touch with your femininity will be helpful. I also think that some women may look better in feminine clothing. I used to wear jeans, hoodies, and runners all the time like everyone else. That was until I cut my hair after going natural and felt uncomfortable. I felt that I looked too masculine and I didn’t like it. So I started to wear more jewelry and decided to wear more dresses and skirts that I purchased from a thrift store. I found out that the clothing was actually quite comfortable and looked great! I would not have known had I not tried! I have changed styles many times and this was a change that I really liked.
So if you don’t like being thought of as masculine then why not try to be more feminine? It seems as though, once again, for a Black woman to be considered as feminine as the average White or Asian woman then she has to appear more feminine than average. Old fashioned/vintage feminine women appear more feminine than average to me. I don’t mind looking more feminine because I think it makes me look better. I don’t mind acting more feminine or like a lady either because I think that it makes me pleasant to be around and that’s a good thing. Being liked is helpful and being disliked is not. Fortunately for me it is also compatible with personality so it’s not so much of a stretch. If you are used to dressing in a more masculine, androgynous, or edgy manner I would suggest you start with small changes such as wearing a plain black skirt, ballet flats, heels, or a feminine top and see how you feel. Then you can add more items as you become more comfortable.
I am not of the mindset that you should only do things for certain reasons and that there is a “right” or “wrong” reason for doing something (outside of ethical issues and laws). I do not look at being feminine from a moral standpoint or a feminist standpoint. I look at it from a pragmatic, realist, or behaviourist operant conditioning perspective, and any choice that brings your rewards, avoids punishments, and doesn’t hurt others is a valid choice. You can decide to be and look more feminine for any reason you want. If it makes you happy, gets you what you want, and doesn’t hurt anyone then the reason is valid. People do things for many reasons that they are not even conscious of and how you present yourself is no exception. Other people choose their behaviour and styles for many different reasons and the choice to be feminine is no different. Here are some reasons why you might want to become more feminine or embrace your femininity (some may think that only reasons 1 and 2 are valid reasons but I don’t):
P.S. This video of women in gowns may help you to visualize ultra feminine Black women. My Tumblr site also has many images and the more you see them the easier it will be for you to notice femininity. Focus especially on the way the women are presenting themselves (e.g., posture, smiles, expressions). Look at the images and use adjectives to describe what is feminine about the women. The most common adjective will probably be “soft” in appearance, expression, clothing, and personality (as in being open, pleasant, kind, affectionate, cooperative, friendly and the opposite of hard, inflexible, unapproachable, scary, threatening, or mean). A smile softens you and is a universal expression of softness that says ‘I am a friend and I am not a threat’.