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Marcia Reynolds

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What Is Femininity?

Posted: 10/06/10 08:00 AM ET

Since I launched my book, "Wander Woman," this year, I have been asked to speak and write for many groups that tout feminine power. When I look into the message that forms the foundation of each group, they define this power very differently. Some of them stand for ideals I can align with. Others make my unwanted hair stand on end.

Does accepting my femininity mean I like wearing nice shoes and getting my nails done? I do like this. Does it mean I like to nurture others? To be honest, I don't ... I like to challenge people more than nurture them. Does expressing my femininity mean I will make a better leader in today's interconnected, collaborative workplace? This is possible, but in most cases my success would still be determined by patriarchal men. So I work for myself and include no one in my work decisions.

Am I feminine? Am I too much like a man? Should I care?

In a recent interview by The Women's Media Center VP Jamia Wilson, musician and activist Ani DiFranco said feminism could be a tool for men to move our country away from violence and inequality. In DiFranco's view, feminism is the expression of connection, inclusion and the sense that "we are one." Masculinity is steeped in autonomy and independence. DiFranco said, "More and more I realize feminism will save the world." Was she talking about women rising up in power or a mindset both men and women can hold?

I equate this view of feminism as my preferred definition of femininity. I think it paints a strong picture of a perspective anyone, including men, can cultivate and cherish. And the flip side -- the self-reliance, self-sufficiency and personal success fueled by a masculine drive -- can coexist with the ability to value and include everyone who desires to contribute to a common goal.

In short, I like the definition of femininity as a mindset that venerates both the individual and the community.

What I don't like is anything that says women are better than men. We may have tendencies to see a bigger picture than men, as Sally Helgesen discovered in her research for the "The Female Vision." Yet men tend to focus better. We may create a stronger communal foundation than men. Yet men have a strong loyalty to "the team" and may be more steadfast than women. We may have a better ear for emotions, making us more empathetic and possibly more persuasive when we tie emotional need to the goal. Yet men are seen as more willing to take the time to build critical business alliances.

As our tendencies seem to shift with each new generation, with women being more decisive and and men being more empathetic, the "who does what better" arguments will and should fall away.

In the end, I'm inclined to say that being feminine means I am okay with who I am, no matter what type of girl I am, what clothes I like to wear, or what life path I choose. I am inclusive of myself as well as others, including what appears to be my masculine side.

Being feminine then also means I respect the choices other people make for themselves. No one should define femininity for me. I should not define it for them. If expressing my femininity means I am being inclusive, then I accept others for who they are and the choices they make as long as they aren't blocking mine.

Therefore, any politician who calls herself a feminist but is working to block choice and inequality is a farce in my eyes. They may be women, but they are not standing for feminine principles. And any man who stands for choice, equality and inclusion is using feminism to help save the world. BRAVO.

What does femininity mean to you?

Does being feminine relate to feminism in your mind? Or are the two concepts totally different to you?

I do think it is good that women are rising in power in the world. As women gain in economic and political power, there are corresponding increases in world health and education. Companies who promote their top talent women do financially better than those who don't. Is this about femininity or equality, or are they intertwined?

My desire is that we look each other in the eyes and with a lovely sense of curiosity, seeking to know the person standing in front of you. Who is the person beyond the labels? What strengths, gifts, talents and perspectives does he or she bring to this moment right now? When we truly honor each other as humans, we are feminine in the sense of community and masculine in the sense of creating one human tribe. In this world, no one is better. We are one.

So I guess I'm feminine after all.

Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D., is president of Covisioning, a leadership coaching and training organization working with a variety of people and organizations around the world to increase emotional intelligence and collaboration.

 
 
 

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