Being Female or Being Feminine

My girlfriend works in the call center of a tech company, and was promoted to be a team lead. She just came back from a retreat with the other team leads, and said it was kind of funny that all of the team leads were either male, or lesbian. (Two of the three lesbians, including her, were “masculine of center” or “butch” lesbians.)

I thought that was interesting, because it’s something I’ve sort of heard before. One of my friends did research with one of the few female physics professors at MIT, and my friend pointed out to me “Many people think it’s particularly great that she’s become a professor while being a fairly masculine lesbian, but I wonder if the fact that she was a masculine woman made it easier for her male colleagues to accept her.”

When I started discussing this with my girlfriend last night, I read her reaction as a little defensive – like, maybe she thought I was privilege shaming her for her gender expression? That was not my intention, I have no strong emotional attachment to the sexuality or gender expression of women who enter tech. In fact, I have  no strong attachment to the number of women in tech. Given that I didn’t particularly enjoy my life as a programmer, I’m not inclined to encourage women to live a life they don’t enjoy in an effort to hit an arbitrary metric for the “ideal” number of women.

Yet, I think there’s something *there* – something important drifting around the fact that femininity itself is a marker for “non technical.”

Personally, I think the one true failing of feminism is that traditionally female roles did not gain in prestige after the movement. We freed up women to express masculinity, which was really wonderful for some women, but we did not learn to respect the work women used to do. So now, no one does that work – at least, no one I know. I think I have one friend who stays home to take care of her kids, and I’m nearly 30. This is always a tricky point, because sometimes people will read this as “women should stay home and take care of the kids,” which isn’t want I intend to convey.

I have often wondered is why did women want to take on masculine roles, but why are men so reluctant to take on feminine ones? Is it because it is worse, because raising children is a far more terrible task than being a middle manager? I suspect not.

I think that for many people (dare I say, most people? Myself included) prestige is very important. And, women’s work does not have prestige, but, it’s necessary. Sometimes, I despair because the world seems so cold now. People my age are expected to work these 50, 60, 70 hour weeks, with no concern for our own enjoyment or pleasure in life. And we’ll do it! Why? Why are people my age willing to work so hard to make someone else rich? Why do we put so much effort into producing material goods, and making money?

Do you work more than 40 hours a week? If so, why?

The traditional “feminine” role was a dependent one, dependent on children for fulfillment, on a husband for material support. I’ve heard an accusation that “women act like they don’t need men anymore,” but sometimes, I think the reverse is true. I think men act like they don’t need women. I’ve met so many men in tech willing to sacrifice their personal relationships for their career, to work such long hours they have no time to date. And, even if they are dating, they often view their main contribution to the relationship to be money, not love.

I wish traditionally feminine roles were more valued, not so we could force women to get back in the kitchen, but so that anyone who chose to pursue them – male or female – would not be ashamed of their choice. Men could say, without shame, “My connections with those I love are more important to me than the money I make, and so I will not put the best part of myself into my job. I will save it for my friends, and family, and lovers.”

Traditional femininity (as I understand it) was about nurturing the family, and maintaining social relationships within the community. Traditional masculinity was about making things manifest in the physical world – and it’s no coincidence that as we’ve lost femininity, our consumerism and materialism has skyrocketed. But, how can we start to respect something? How can a culture change its own values?

I don’t know.

3 thoughts on “Being Female or Being Feminine

  1. Thank you for the excellent post and I enjoyed reading it. I always try to honor traditional role for both men and women although that has become difficult to do in todays society. And Yes I agree with you, many men act and sincerely believe their only contributions to a relationship (and after a relationship has ended) is money.

    Men have been going their own way now for quite awhile, any alternative for men is seen as a no win situation.

  2. I think more and more men are becoming more feminine and more women are becoming more manly (at least that’s what I’ve noticed in here). I know guys that would do the housework with ease (than some women I know) and wouldn’t mind looking after children, while there are also some women, who’d prefer to have a career to doing the housework.
    I believe you can be both “female and feminine”-the truth is that the world’s changing and so are we. You can still have the family you describe but that doesn’t mean you cannot have a career as well. I say “be happy” and stand your ground and the person meant for you will love you the way you are, even though you may think you are confused (which I think you are not, but that’s my opinion).
    I personally want both so I’m working hard to achieve it. have in mind that I’m 18 so there’s still a lot to learn but time will show how things would end up. Life’s definitely not a constant thing 🙂

  3. A culture is just a group of people, so it changes when they do. It’s not clear that *you* respect ‘traditional femininity’; if you do, you could express that. You seem more indifferent than anything.

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