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What Does It Mean to Be a 'Girly' Feminist? Can a Woman Be Macho and Feminine?

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In a recent feature on BBC radio, opinions were sought on Natalie Portman's recent comments in a magazine feature, in which she challenges the image of the MACHO FEMINIST and makes a differentiation between being macho and being a feminist. This immediately captured my attention at first; she is young and has a contemporary experience and worldview.

I have also personally contemplated this association many times over, and continue to do so. Natalie focuses on the portrayal of feminism in the movies. Although very critical to impacting social behavior, I'd like to bring in some realities on the ground. A major part of my work and passion is centered on the empowerment of women economically and through education; I therefore grapple with this imagery and expectation continually. What does it mean to be a strong, independent, smart, goal-oriented woman, who is responsible for her own choices? This may mean different things to different people.

As an African woman, this conversation is even more eminent and sensitive to my daily life. A number of years ago, I had a radio interview in Ghana and one of the first comments from the male interviewer accused me of 'being too ambitious, and treading into areas reserved for men.' This comment surprised me a bit, as I was on a relatively youthful show and the interviewer was a young, and I would say, modern man. Nevertheless, he represented the voice of a culture. A culture that is grappling with the empowered woman who perchance is also still seeking to find her place in the community.

I love to cook and keep house. My culture tells me that I must give all respect to my husband or partner, and that he should take care of me financially and in other ways. The days when the financial care held true, have obviously sailed far into the sea! I therefore find that we are living in a paradoxical era. But, it is equally interesting how deep rooted the culture of male superiority is still embedded in the psyche of many more people than we may realize.

I am a relatively highly educated and independent woman, by all standards. Yet, at school in the United States, I was always shocked when it was expected that I pay for my own meal on a date with a gentleman. It took time getting used to. I do truly respect that as an independent woman with equal rights, I should pay for my meal (after all, I probably did earn more money really, than a number of my dates!), but it just is not part of my culture, and a gentleman's chance of getting another date with me, drops a notch after I take out my card! Many of my girl friends think cooking is not the job of a woman, and yet, I do love to cook and do want to cook for my man and family; but I will bulk at the idea of a man who 'expects' me to cook!

I do imagine that this must be confusing for many people as well. Are the ideas mutually exclusive? Do they threaten each other? Therein lies the confusion. I have this conversation with my girlfriends pretty frequently, as we all struggle with it in many different ways. I don't have an answer. It is unacceptable to be in a relationship that makes you feel inferior and denies you the right of an independent adult who has rights. At the same time, does it mean that a woman should be 'macho?' The word does connote a few things, including 'brave, bold, fearless and courageous,' that I am happy to associate with; but how about ' manly, chauvinist etc?'

To be feminine, may include the right to want to be 'girly,' to behave, feel and look beautiful. Does our modern rhetoric make room for this? Or are we steadily progressing to the point of scorning women who want to, and do behave and look 'girly?' can I teach my daughter how to cook and keep the home; as I was taught by my parents to do, without undermining her future as an independent, strong, smart woman? As woman, how do we continue to raise our hands at the table and be represented, without compromising our 'femininity'? Do we have to look and behave like men to have our place at the table? Is this the best strategy in our effort to gain the 'equal' statues? I find it unfair, that we even have to have this conversation. Certainly, men don't! .

There are many things that are unique to women and remain the core of our strength. The female instinct can be very spot-on; the female way of doing business might bring more humanity and motivation into the work place. Research shows that women CEOs show relatively more emotional intelligence, which can be a critical advantage in the work place. Individuals, who pay more attention to the way they look, generally fare better in social environments. Off course, being overt may not be very tasteful; however the question is, should you not explore your looks and strengths as a woman? And why should you be made to feel guilty when you do? Men do explore their strengths, so why not women? For instance, men may be judged to have more physical strength and sharp focus, with an ability to zoom in on a problem. This is very helpful in the work place. Women though, have been noted to have better endurance and may be more loyal. As an employer or friend, these are key values that are invaluable assets in the work place.

There is strength in my femininity. I would never wish to be a man! I am smart, I am independent, I am empowered, but I love to cook, to listen, to have a family and be a mother, whiles remaining a CEO and entrepreneur. I discuss my difficulties with my partner and expect that he understands my need for support, but at the same time, he must appreciate my ability and capacity to handle it. Showing vulnerability should not be considered a weakness. I have earned my way legitimately and I don't have to continuously have to prove it, just because i am a woman, nor should I be made to feel that I have to be manly to earn the right of respect in my abilities. When I am sure of it, I do and will raise my hand at the table and will not allow anyone else to take the credit for my work, unless off course, it doesn't matter to me anyhow. I do like a man to walk with me in the dark, for perchance, I can sense the danger, but he has the physical strength to fight it... I am a woman, no question! Or is there...