By Linda Devereaux
It’s no secret that nature as well as culture have defined femininity since the beginning of time. Nature has had the upper hand, of course, as most woman’s physical feminine attributes cannot be denied. However, the psychological characteristics of femininity along with the physical characteristics are currently being reshaped by today’s culture. But is today’s society offering an accurate depiction of who women really are? How do they really feel? How do they want to be portrayed? Or is this a movement designed to have us accept a norm that prohibits the natural qualities of femininity.
Looking back to antiquity, Cleopatra is a genuine example of femininity: “from every ancient source, we have a testimony to Cleopatra’s irresistible charm,” says essayist, Stacy Schiff. Cleopatra’s feminine allure is a historical fact. Only, it’s just as important to note that Cleopatra is the definition of a true feminist as well. As Greek philosopher, Plutarch puts it, ‘her ability to speak many languages including the language of flattery and, essentially, to be able to turn people to her will is great political genius, in that respect.’”
No doubt about it, the woman was a stunner, but her femaleness was also defined by her strong presence, her witty character, her powerful tone, and her persuasive speech; and because she possessed innate beauty, she wasn’t afraid to use her feminine wiles to assist her in achieving her goal: to be the sole leader of Egypt. Nice job, Cleo!
Over the course of the last 60+ years, the unraveling of what defines femininity has been eye opening for sure. In less than a lifetime we’ve witnessed the category evolve from classy, soft, and sexy to powerful, strong and, interestingly, gender-neutral, losing the twist of gentleness and enticement that has always encompassed how we categorize the classic feminine woman.
For example, you can track feminine traits and the psychological differences in old black and white TV shows of the late 1950’s early 1960’s. One of my all-time favorites is Perry Mason. I love Perry’s debonaire private detective, Paul Drake’s style. Whenever Paul enters Mason’s law office and finds Perry diligently collaborating with his assistant, the classy Miss Della Street, Drake addresses Della with his signature flirty declaration “Hello beautiful.” Whoa! Wait a minute! What? Try that in today’s office environment… off to HR with you!
But Della is the epitome of femininity for the time. Always in a smart suit and high heels, she accepts having doors opened, chairs pulled out, and recognizes comments like Paul’s as flattery. She’s an attractive, smart woman, a 1950’s classic lady who oozes style and grace and knows her role as Perry and Paul’s associate in the law practice is a critical one. And they know it too! Della’s intelligence and femininity merge to create an attractive persona that both men and women of that era found respectable and irresistible. Paul Drake was a man’s man. Della, a lady’s lady.
Fast forward to the 1970’s. My how things change! Feminism and femininity exist side by side! While woman fight for their rights, they become even more confident in their femininity. And it was never more apparent than in the fashion trends of the day.
Feminine style takes a giant leap and now includes wearing pants in the workplace, liberating women from the strangle of pantyhose! Casualwear is hip-hugger blue jeans and belly baring halter tops. And let’s not forget 70’s nightlife fashion; a slinky Danskin dress worn with platform shoes making women visions of loveliness on the disco dance floor.
During this radical period, women embrace their new fashion identity; the fresh persona created, exposing them in an entirely new way…particularly when the feminist movement urges them to burn their bras!
All kidding aside, femininity over time has not only been about style and fashion, but it’s style and fashion that alludes to women feeling like women. Thank you, Shania Twain, for expressing that so well in 1997!
The feminine ideal is quickly evolving and approaching a new and different phase. Bye-bye Victoria Secret Angels, hello gender equity. But is it important to redefine femininity… moving from what men really want to what woman really want? By all indications, the answer is a resounding…maybe. Culture may be changing, but some things cannot change
Stereotypical femininity has its flaws, but the natural characteristics of a woman’s identity won’t be altered no matter what society tells her. The fact is a woman’s inherent feminine characteristics haven’t shifted at all. Women are confident, mentally strong, and creative. Every one of us is a Cleopatra, a Della Street, and continues to have the mindset of the unconventional woman of the 1970’s. Women are intrinsically nurturers, sensitive, and tender, with an enthusiastic sexuality put forth in a soft, cool voice; a feminine voice that says I am beautiful in all my ways, and I am strong in heart. So, to answer the question: Can femininity be regained? The truth is…it can never be lost.