Who Defines Femininity? A Few Questions About Women, By A Woman

By Saweini S. Laloo

An online article defined Womanhood through characteristics such as integrity, physical beauty, compassion, ambition, obedience, wisdom. We live in a world where there are just too many definitions of being a woman.

For instance, being able to accept one’s demanding role as a woman and to perform it well means that one is a true woman. To be comfortable in one’s own skin is also one of such achievements.

But what does it mean to be comfortable in one’s own skin?

Magazines, beauty blogs, and even celebrities celebrate this concept of being confident in your own skin as the ultimate definition of being sexy. “Curvy is the new sexy” they say, but isn’t it ironic how the very idols that you admire end up getting plastic surgery, or botox and god knows what else!

So then, how can one advise people to be confident in who they are if one is made up of plastic from head to toe? Being comfortable in one’s own skin is also regarded as one of the ways of embracing one’s femininity.

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We see models and actresses posing in the nude and captioning them as “embracing my femininity”.

But who defines this femininity?

If we look back a few years, let’s say a century back into the past, how is femininity defined?

A twentieth-century woman is defined by her roles in the domestic sphere as an innocent and chaste daughter, a gentle and sensible mother and so forth. A woman is defined primarily by her social and domestic roles.

Who defines this role? Well, the answer is simple.

In today’s world, a woman is defined more and more by her physical being. I for one have always been uncomfortable with this. It has nothing to do with being prudish. But my question has always been, “who are we displaying ourselves for?”

If it is not women, then isn’t the only species left, the male species? What I am trying to say is that I feel that as a species, we as women are easily manipulatable. We define ourselves according to the male gaze.

We are constantly seeking to please this male gaze and to be defined by it. As Bell Hooks states in Feminism is for Everybody, “If any female feels she need anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self- defining, her agency”.

In a world where the fight for women’s empowerment is at it climax, how then can we be so blinded and so easily manipulated in this manner? Why can’t we create our own definition of what empowerment really is? Why must we, in our race towards this emancipation be trapped into this bell jar created by the patriarchal society, which is so deeply embedded in the society that it is difficult to notice it?

We can be all that it means to be a woman but our sole end should not be limited to the male gaze alone. We are so much more than that. However, this is easier said than done. We are born into a patriarchal society and we have to accept this truth whether we like it or not. Our thoughts and actions are defined by its conventions. We talk about women’s emancipation and liberation but how far have we reached in our journey?

Have we unconsciously rolled ourselves back into the patriarchal mould in a continuous cycle? Will the possibility of women empowerment ever really be a reality?


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