Today, I listened to an excellent and thoughtful podcast by the charming and witty ladies at Stuff Mom Never Told You. The topic of this week’s podcast is was femmephobia, particularly interesting to a feminist such as myself. The podcast can be found here (as well as on iTunes):
Femmephobia: the devaluation, fear, and hatred of the feminine. This is the definition read by Caroline at the start of the podcast, which sums up what will be discussed in the following blog post.
This definition immediately caught my attention. In many of my political theory classes, activists were seen as less effective, less “feminist” if they possessed what were considered feminine characteristics. One student said she noticed a difference to how receptive the activist community was to her when she had short hair; compared to when her hair was long. Another had been blatantly told that while she was buying into patriarchal beauty ideals, she couldn’t be a “real” lesbian. All these experiences seemed to point to two different points of view: either the feminine should be accepted as a reality and a legitimate preference, or the feminine is a patriarchal structure and detracts from one’s legitimacy in the feminist community.
First we must define what is considered feminine. In the podcast, Caroline and Cristen mention things like the colour pink, the soft, and the emotional. Anything that is traditionally feminine, like baking, ponies, even Hello Kitty, is criticized by femmephobia as being “unserious”. It’s ok for women to be tomboys, but being a sissy is a horrible thing for men. The podcast emphasizes that femmephobia is particularly insidious because it’s easier to not recognize it as sexism. It’s not as blatant, and often goes unrecognized.
Naturally, the manic pixie dream girl enters the picture. For those who don’t know, the manic pixie dream girl is an archetype portrayed in film of a woman who exists solely for the maturation and healing of a male character. Her fun-loving, childlike and whimsical ways lead him out of a funk to the new him, often with no character development of her own. Zooey Deschanel is a prime example. Though I’m not a huge Zooey fan, I am definitely a fan of the cutesy, the polka-dotted, and the fuzzy. I believe that the theoretically offensive part of the manic pixie dream girl is the pliability of the woman to suit the man’s developmental needs of the time. Though the obsession with pink and fuzziness may be irritating to some, it can hardly be called unfeminist. However, some believe that the infantilizing aspect of an interest in things like ponies and cupcakes is simply not setting a good example of the female half of the population. Being a “non-threatening girl woman” is more pleasing to men, and is likened to pretending to be bad at academics, as cited by SMNTY.
Femmephobia runs deeper than this infantilizing issue, however. The problem is that the feminine is perceived as negative, for either gender. The problem is that women are expected to represent the entire gender with their interests and bodies. The problem is that women who are interested in topics such as these are not taken seriously, or are viewed as unimportant. The issue of femmephobia is so deeply ingrained that women criticize women, that it’s not recognized as sexism, and it’s harder to call out.
Caroline and Cristen come to the conclusion that this sort of femmephobia is a waste of time. Why are women nitpicking at other women for their interests? Why does it matter if I want to paint my room pink (which I did) and partook in horseback riding and dance lessons into my teens (which I also did)? Femmephobia is a part of a much deeper web of prejudices and discrimnation associated with gender, race and ableism, and perhaps as well dealing with economic status and age.
For now, women, let’s not pick away at each other’s choices. Whether or not the feminine is a patriarchal structure is irrelevant. We cannot step outside of society completely, which is profoundly patriarchal. So if you like make up and long hair, go ahead and enjoy it. I’m currently sitting at a café with my pink iPhone, flower-printed top, and eye make up. Though I recognize that this isn’t me in my entirety, it is certainly a part of me, and I refuse to be ashamed of it. I refuse to give up my feminine side, or my feminist side. They do not clash.
Thanks for a spectacular podcast SMNTY! Check out more from Caroline and Cristen, including topics such as uterine prolapses, Pussy riot, and body dysmorphic disorder, and read their blog here: Stuff Mom Never Told You Podcast Page
Now, I’m off to look for recipes on Pinterest for an afternoon of baking spent with a good friend. Pumpkin recipes, here I come!