Saturday, January 22, 2011

Being Womanly?

Saturday 01/22
Happy Saturday! I hadn't planned on doing a lot of weekend posts now that I'm not participating in some sort of challenge, but I'll be honest, I have some time to kill today. I'm currently having my piano tuned (well, my Grandpa's early 1970's-era Baldwin, which currently resides with me).  And if you've ever witnessed a piano tuning, you might know that it's a couple of the most boring hours ever. But I can't leave.  And Fella took Jude to the groomers to get him out of the house, since he thinks everyone who comes to our apartment wants to play with him.  He would, no doubt, be jealous of all the attention the piano is receiving.  Thus far this morning, I've had some virtual coffee with La Historiadora de Moda and Style Underdog, completed my taxes (yeah, I'm a nerd about doing that early), found a good blondies recipe to make for tomorrow's football party, and bought tickets for Fella and I to see Arcade Fire and the National in April.  Pretty productive for a Saturday morning!

Yesterday I received a compliment from one of my co-workers that's been stuck in my head. I wasn't even dressed all that nicely, but she said to me "Some days I look at you, and I think to myself 'Someday I hope I'm a real woman too.'"  She went on to say that it's because I'm always so put together, and because of all the cute accessories I wear. I find this comment so interesting on a few levels.  It's interesting that she ties my style and accessorizing with being womanly.  And it's interesting to me from an age standpoint too.  I started at my company when I was 23, and most of the women I work with are at least 10 years older than me (many old enough to be my mom), so I never considered that they perceive me as being anything but a kid.

So all of this made me think: what does it mean to be a real woman womanly*?  I think it's definitely subjective and different for all of us.  For me, I think a lot of it is tied to the way I present myself, but I also feel like it's related to my friendships with other women. Last night, I had a great girls night, and interacting with my girlfriends definitely makes me feel womanly.  And hanging out with all of the women in my family at a bridal shower last weekend felt pretty womanly too.

So, what does it mean to you to be a real woman womanly?
*Edited to add: Charlotte brings up a good point in the comments about the qualifier of "real" in this whole post. I guess I didn't see the original remark to be that way, but I think Charlotte has some good thoughts about it. I'm not implying that any woman isn't "real" and I hope my co-worker wasn't either. I truly think the original intent was to say that my co-worker feels that I'm "womanly," rather than "real" versus "not real," "unreal" or "false." I apologize if this offends.

Saturday 01/22
Cardigan, Pants and shoes: Loft
Tee: Target

15 comments:

  1. I'm surprised this post has been up for 3 hours & you haven't had a comment yet, since it seems like a pretty sparky question.

    "A real woman"? You're asking what the term means to me, and I think I have to reject it outright because to do otherwise means I have to accept that there are also "unreal" or "false" women because they have or don't have particular traits or attributes, and I can't imagine what the tipping attribute might be. Sometimes "real" doesn't look the way we want it to look, but that doesn't mean it's invalid.

    "You are not a real woman" used to be said as a criticism to women who didn't have children, or who hadn't had sexual relations, or who didn't have buxom breasts, or who had had a hysterectomy.... And yet those women were, in fact, completely "real."

    If you asked me how I'd define a "real man," probably I'd say, "A man who's gentle, who's not afraid to show his emotions but knows how to keep them in check as well, who's faithful as a son, brother, father, friend and lover, who is dependable, and kind to other people." I think these are traits that an adult woman would also ideally have. But to say that someone who doesn't possess these traits is not "real" doesn't quite compute.

    Does this make sense at all?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Charlotte, that makes a lot of sense to me, and I can't believe I didn't realize that earlier. Like, say, when I was posting this. I truly think the connotation there was "womanly," not to say that some women aren't "real women."

    I guess what I was getting at more wasn't so much what we think women should be, but what makes each of us - individually - feel like one. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hmmm.... I have to admit that I don't associate myself much at all with the term "womanly." While I am an avowed feminist, I see in myself so many qualities that many in our society would consider masculine that I have a hard time buying the concept that I fit into one gendered category. Provocative question, Anne, even after the edit! I will be thinking about it for a while.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The whole "real versus unreal woman" issue reminds me of the "authentic" vs. "non-authentic" life issue from FBFF yesterday. Presumably your co-worker just sees some kind of ideal she has in her head and you measure up to it on those days.

    I don't really think of myself as "womanly" either, because that is all tied up with being some soft bounteous-breasted nurturing being in our culture. I'm fierce and intrepid and smart and independent, which just aren't "womanly" qualities according to stereotype. Here in the South I definitely feel my failure to (as LHdM would put it) "perform gender" correctly more keenly. I can put on girl costume but somehow it doesn't hide my essential androgyny.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Interesting comment. I've been mulling over this to figure out what to say in response. I think "real woman" is an interesting, but double edged comment. Because when then someone out there doesn't fit that mold, are they artificial? Are they a pseudo woman?
    I do think of you as a woman with feminine style preferences, and I agree that you are well put together. You have a good eye for looking polished even when casual. I think I understand what your colleague is saying, although I disagree with her choice of words.
    I don't think of myself as womanly, but I may not be perceived this way. I was told by a good lesbian friend that I am the "straightest girl" she and her partner know (in common) which was weird to hear. I guess to them I am hyper heteronormative, even though I don't wear jewelry, don't don make up regularly and I love androgynous elements in my clothing, just like Cynthia. I always thought I wasn't very feminine compared to the dolled up girls at Korean church, but when I was in Germany about 5 y ears ago, the young man I was briefly dating told me I was "very much like a woman." It's all about perspective, I suppose.

    ReplyDelete
  6. LHdM: Between your comments, and other women I know that consider themselves to be feminists, it's interesting to me that the ideas of a feminist and being womanly are mutually exclusive for a lot of women. I definitely consider myself a feminist, but I know that society has a certain perception of ladies who are girly or womanly, and it seems to contradict with the perception of a woman who is a feminist. Can't we be both?

    Cynthia: I guess I feel like being womanly could have a more broad definition. I never considered being nurturing to be womanly of me, just kind of the way I am. I definitely get that you're fierce, intrepid, smart and independent, but why can't those be womanly qualities? (rhetorical question, of course). Or, can't one be feminine while also possessing those traits? I think I'm feminine, but also pretty smart and independent too.

    Rad: Yep, I'd say it definitely comes down to perspective. And I'm glad you brought up different cultures too. My co-worker isn't American, so her views are undoubtedly shaped by her culture and upbringing.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm interested in this, Anne--because like Cynthia, I am both "FISI" (great acronym!) and nurturing, warm, supportive, and soft. Is it possible to be both fierce and nurturing? Absolutely. Soft and intrepid? Sure. Smart and warm? Of course. Independent and supportive? Yep, that, too, is possible.

    My mom taught me how to re-wire a lamp and balance my checkbook and my dad taught me to love the arts, but my parents adhered closely to the traditional gender roles.

    It's hard for me to pinpoint what "womanly" really means. If we're talking about it in relation to clear-cut "butch" and "femme" styles, that's an easy fashion categorization, not a statement about a complex personality operating in the wider world.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think Cynthia is on to something. The woman's comment may tell us more about HER than it does about you. Perhaps she is making a simple observation about a woman who CARES about her appearance. Perhaps in her mind she is contrasting it with women who's appearance confuses her.

    I know that as I have aged in the workplace that I ENJOY wearing skirts. I have proven myself to all my colleagues, male and female, alike, professionally. Somehow I am "free" to wear what I like.

    And, Rad, I have twice shaved my head...leading some on campus to believe that I am lesbian, wheras there was an entirely different emotional message in it.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh, and I absolutely believe that women who would describe themselves as "womanly" can be and often are feminists. I know many who are. It's just that I myself don't necessarily fit that "womanly" mold.

    In general, I try very hard not to define elements of my style (or anyone else's) in essentialist gendered terms. Many elements that we consider "feminine" - such as ruffles and pink - were once prominent elements of men's attire.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Charlotte: Wow, that's interesting about your parents teaching you various things, despite sticking to more traditional gender roles. And I agree that saying what might be "womanly" in terms of fashion and style is pretty simple, but I see it as something deeper than just how we look or dress.

    Terri: I feel the same way about having proven myself at work (we have fairly high turnover, so someone with nearly 7 years tenure is seen as experienced around here), so I feel like wearing skirts and dresses isn't going to make people doubt my abilities. And wow, you've shaved your head twice? I don't know if I could ever be so bold.

    LHdM: Very good point on things that were once associated with men's fashion now being considered feminine! Even jewelry used to be very prominent for men (which I definitely saw while watching the Tudors).

    ReplyDelete
  11. "Womanly" might also convey a mature sense of female / feminine style, as opposed to "girlish."
    Am I womanly? My style is somewhat but not entirely femme, but I'm a mommy. I certainly consider myself a woman rather than a girl, and absolutely completely entirely a feminist.
    I feel like I could go on and on. Interesting turn of phrase!

    ReplyDelete
  12. An interesting comment, indeed. Like K., I read this connotation of this comment more as a "real woman" like "adult woman," not girlish, a woman with a presence, a fully actualized woman (although I think, of all things on the list, a "fully actualized woman" is the least likely to = a "real" woman, since we never stop growing).

    And, sparked into thought by Charlotte, I had to ask myself why I was more willing to accept a laundry list of qualities possessed by a "real man," or even why I didn't reject that term as readily as "real woman" (and Charlotte, I acknowledge your use of quotation marks, and that you questioned these terms). If I were to use the phrase "real man," I think I would be trying to express what characteristics a mature, more fully actualized (there's that word again) male ought to have in opposition to the rather poorer stereotypes/expectations that society sets up.

    Why, then, am I unwilling/unable to pinpoint a definition for the same for the female? Is it because the gender stereotype is less rigid than for males? Is it because I perceive more diversity within my own sex? I'm not sure.

    Thoughts? Hope I've made some sense, anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  13. LHdM: Between your comments, and other women I know that consider themselves to be feminists, it's interesting to me that the ideas of a feminist and being womanly are mutually exclusive for a lot of women. I definitely consider myself a feminist, but I know that society has a certain perception of ladies who are girly or womanly, and it seems to contradict with the perception of a woman who is a feminist. Can't we be both?

    Cynthia: I guess I feel like being womanly could have a more broad definition. I never considered being nurturing to be womanly of me, just kind of the way I am. I definitely get that you're fierce, intrepid, smart and independent, but why can't those be womanly qualities? (rhetorical question, of course). Or, can't one be feminine while also possessing those traits? I think I'm feminine, but also pretty smart and independent too.

    Rad: Yep, I'd say it definitely comes down to perspective. And I'm glad you brought up different cultures too. My co-worker isn't American, so her views are undoubtedly shaped by her culture and upbringing.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Interesting comment. I've been mulling over this to figure out what to say in response. I think "real woman" is an interesting, but double edged comment. Because when then someone out there doesn't fit that mold, are they artificial? Are they a pseudo woman?
    I do think of you as a woman with feminine style preferences, and I agree that you are well put together. You have a good eye for looking polished even when casual. I think I understand what your colleague is saying, although I disagree with her choice of words.
    I don't think of myself as womanly, but I may not be perceived this way. I was told by a good lesbian friend that I am the "straightest girl" she and her partner know (in common) which was weird to hear. I guess to them I am hyper heteronormative, even though I don't wear jewelry, don't don make up regularly and I love androgynous elements in my clothing, just like Cynthia. I always thought I wasn't very feminine compared to the dolled up girls at Korean church, but when I was in Germany about 5 y ears ago, the young man I was briefly dating told me I was "very much like a woman." It's all about perspective, I suppose.

    ReplyDelete