The Forgotten Strength of Traditional Femininity

There are two other events at Anime Midwest which gave me pause, making me reflect on my feminist ideals and the concept of gender equality. At first glance, these events may seem to oppose each other, but further reflection tells me they are both spawns of the same system.

The first event happened during the first panel I choose to attend: Equality in Anime. Despite the fact that the original panelists were no-shows, the audience gathered was eager to engage in discussion. Interesting questions were asked, such as how the conversation would be different if women were the dominate ones and men seen as the weaker sex. We also discussed the lack of ‘strong’ females in anime, although I made the argument that a mother, healer or other female stereotypes should still be seen as strong.

There was one woman who, like myself, always had a strong opinion to state. She lamented that women were more typically seen in roles that didn’t require physical strength. That seemed to be her whole argument. It was if she blamed men instead of patriarchy. I walked out of that room thinking I had just witnessed the sort of feminist people frown upon. Ironically, it seemed to me she wanted more women to adopt masculine traits in order to be seen as equal to men. Isn’t that just like patriarchy, though, valuing masculinity over femininity? While I would love to see more kick ass women brandishing swords, I also want to see feminine characters (be they male or female) who are strong in ways that aren’t physical. A strong female character does not necessarily have to be physically strong.

The next day, walking down the halls in my awesome Tifa cosplay, I accepted many requests to have my photo taken. Other cried ‘hey Tifa,” and were happy with a wave as I passed by. At one point, I passed by a group of people sitting on the ground. When the first called me, I thought they wanted a wave (and I had an event I was running to, anyway). Walking by, I realized one of the men sitting down wanted a high-five. Again, I was more than happy to grant his request.

After the high-five, I continued on my way, and heard one man in the group whisper to the other, “get a picture of her butt.”

There was something in the way he spoke those words that unsettled me. They weren’t words that praised my cosplay or even words that admired my beauty. Those words made me want to run or disappear into a shadow. They painted me as an object and I was instantly offended.

When I expressed my discomfort at the mans words, most of my friends didn’t see the problem. One friend said she wished someone would say something like that about her. The words that were said weren’t the real problem, though. My offense came from the tone in which the words were spoken. I didn’t feel like the man was admiring a person; he admired an object.

All I have is that impression, but for the purposes of the following questions, I’m going to assume my impression of that man’s words is correct. Why did he see me as an object? Is the answer simply that I was wearing a miniskirt? Would my butt have looked any less attractive in a long dress or in jeans? Is that the point of ‘proper’ women’s clothing, to hide feminine curves?

This photo, “Chapas Ladyfest” is copyright (c) 2014 gaelx on Flickr and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Generic license
This photo, “Chapas Ladyfest” is copyright (c) 2014 gaelx on Flickr and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Generic license

The same questions can be asked of any woman who faces objectification. Should they hide their curves? Is their feminine physique the reason for their objectification? Is it impossible to admire a woman for her beauty and also admire her for being a person?

This brings me to same same point I made during the first event. The real issue is not physical strength vs. physical weakness, nor is it curves vs. lines. In both of these cases, feminine traits were disrespected. In the first, feminine traits were seen as the same as weakness. In the second, feminine traits were seen as an excuse to objectify.

I’ve been of the opinion that we don’t need to discuss women as mothers, nurses or maids because society readily accepts those as ‘correct’ choices for women. Perhaps that was wrong of me. We need to talk about women who love fashion and make-up, women who desire a relationship of traditional gender roles and girls who want nothing more than to grow up to be house wives. All those women deserve just as much equality. They are not anti-feminist by possessing feminine traits or by desiring to play a role in society that has traditionally been assigned to their gender. Their choices should not and, I like to think in most cases, do not reduce their equality.

The point of feminism is not what a woman does, but whether or not that woman has a choice is what she does. Choice is the issue, not what is chosen. Feminism is not about everyone becoming masculine, it’s about being equal, regardless of how feminine or masculine a person (of any gender) chooses to be.

Can you find a person attractive without objectifying them? Why is it more common for women to be objectified instead of men? Is the answer to the problem no objectification or equal objectification? Can equal objectification be considered equal? How would you react if someone said, “get a picture of her/his butt” as you walked by? How much would the tone of that statement affect how you took the words?


56 thoughts on “The Forgotten Strength of Traditional Femininity”

  1. I remember a commercial that was on years ago about the “Diet Coke Break” where a group of female office works stopped for the Diet Coke break. It turns out it wasn’t their break, they were watching a hunky construction worker drinking his Coke. My first response was, “He has rocks in his head and is most likely gay.” Then I laughed at myself. It was role reversal pure and simple. What made this commercial work wasn’t just the eye candy for the ladies, it was because woman are objectified in so many commercials that it is (or was in the 1990s) almost shocking to see the roles reversed.

    A lot of men objectify women and our society gives a nod of approval through TV shows, movies and advertising. A lot of people are trying to tell us this problem doesn’t exist anymore, but you saw firsthand it does. I think it is a problem our society needs to adress and not be afraid to have a dialog on. I think you bring up some very good points for this discussion.

    1. I think it starts with understanding what objectification is and is not. Unfortunately, I don’t think I know enough to really answer that. I just see a lot of confused people who aren’t sure where the line between appreciating someone’s attractiveness and objectifying them is.

      I once read this great blog on objectification that covered studies on how men and women see each other. From childhood, boy are largely taught to objectify women whereas most women are not taught to objectify men. Many women try to objectify men if only to give them a taste of their own medicine, but it doesn’t usually work. As you pointed out, a role reversed man, near naked, ripped and put on display is likely to be considered a ‘gay’ image, turning off straight women. Studies show women find men dressed in suits the most attractive. On some level, I think women have been taught to want a successful man and maybe men have been taught to want a beautiful woman.

      I’m just speculating here. I just found it really interesting that you saw that image of a man being objectified and your first thought was ‘he must be gay.’ That might say something about how the LGBT community is treated by society as well.

      1. I tend to agree with most of what you are saying. You bring up a very interesting question in the last paragraph. Although I have a lot of gay friends I don’t know the culture enough to answer. I do know it is still the stereotype, even amongst many gays, that handsome, buff models are all gay. It might be an interesting question to bring up.

  2. Tk you have raised so many things.if i got it correctly proper dressing yaa it surely is one thing and again i believe if a man sees a women naked he can either cover her with clothes or do something is how a man sees.then muscularity i think god has gifted man for doing hard physical tasks right?Here in south India i have seen women driving is absolutely not easy i know that.but being feminine means keeping a home nurse to watch a 6 month old baby because wife has to go for job i cannot agree as i guess babies need mothers care for some years right?And since you are a well educated person you know both genders think and behave differently.males have testosterone and females estrogen.i still don’t know why i cannot speak or rate females the same intelligence as i do like with male friend.maybe DNA.but i think you are competing really well to change my thinkings and yaa you write well 🙂 only males think bad about females?

    1. “i believe if a man sees a women naked he can either cover her with clothes or do something else.”

      By ‘something else’ do you mean some sort of violent act such as rape? I don’t believe that men are animals, incapable of recognizing the humanity of another person if they are unclothed. People are people, regardless of sex or sexuality and they deserve to be treated as such no matter what they wear. There is nothing biological which prevents a man from recognizing another person’s humanity. Given that issues of rape and violence against women are far more common in countries with strict rules of dress for females, it goes without saying that covering a woman up doesn’t solve anything. It’s just another sign that women are not seen as equals.

      While some generalizations can be made about what most men or most women do, that is by no means law. There are female body builders, female military personal and female construction workers. The female body is just as capable of hard labor as a mans if the woman chooses to work her body that way. On the reverse, a man is just as capable of compassion, nurturing and caring as a woman. As such, a man is just as capable of being home makers and stay at home father to his children.

      Just because most men and woman don’t choose those options does not mean they shouldn’t have the choice to do so if they want.

      1. Just because i posted a lengthy comment there was no need for you to reply in the same manner 🙂 just kidding.i don’t know about all the things you said.All i know is this i want my wife to be my best friend 🙂

  3. TK, you have posed many questions. I’d like to answer your first and last questions. Good looks might attract a person at first sight but a person’s character is what makes a person really attractive. I think that an emotionally mature person does not objectify another, and feeling physically attracted to someone else is different to objectifying someone and not seeing past their sexual appeal. And like you a comment of that nature when I was much younger, it used to make me feel uncomfortable, only because I would feel like you, devalued as a human being. Now I will not like it or welcome it but I do not allow it to make me feel unsettled or uncomfortable, and that is because I know very well what constitutes the person that is ME.

    1. Maybe I’ll get to the point where it won’t bother me either. I just don’t get rude comments like that often. I agree that I don’t think mature people objectify, at least not intentionally. It’s possible certain aspects of society teach people to objectify so that people do so without thinking they are. That’s probably a blog for another day, though.

    1. Thanks. I still proudly call myself feminist because feminism is gender equality. That said, it is not a movement above criticism and I am not blind to the areas where is falters.

  4. After your previous post, I was really hoping that something like this didn’t happen. But a part of me was all “This was a convention, of course something like that happened.” Sorry it did :/

    1. Compared to some of the stories I heard, this was pretty benign. A part of me hopes I won’t get those comments in the cosplay I want to do next because I’ll be more covered, but that also makes me sad. Why should the level of respect I get differ depending on the tightness of my clothing?

  5. Hi TK. I liked your post, you obviously can see the issues clearly.
    For instance I was a career woman, then I chose to stay at home and look after my three children. BUT still I was a feminist. Once they started school I resumed my studies, including Women’s Studies which included all the stages of Feminism, (some of which do seem to have gone off the point). Now with a first class degree and a Master’s degree I am still a feminist, but hopefully not one who rushes to judge others who may have their own way of expressing themselves as women.
    My point is that you must look at the whole of a person’s life and not take parts out of context.
    Thank you for liking my post Cognitive Bias or Brainwashing, I also have some more Feminist opinions in past posts if you’re interested.
    Keep up the good work. Sheila . .

    1. whoa! I’m sure you know far more about feminism than I do at this point. All I got behind my belt is the human rights focus of my International Studies degree. I agree that you have to look at the whole of a person, but at the same time, you don’t really need to go that far. A person, regardless of gender, should have the freedom to choose their own path in life without facing discrimination for their choices. A girly-girl deserves just as much respect as anyone else and is not weaker because she is ‘girly.’

  6. Thanks for this thought provoking post. A couple thoughts of my own. I quite agree with you regarding the strength inherent in women’s nurturing qualities, and how that seems to get dissed in some feminist forums. I recall reading a review of the first Hunger Games movie, in which the reviewer was pissed off that Katniss wept after Rue’s death, thus showing her “weakness.” Horse…., I thought. She has just seen her friend killed, and then killed another person herself. What else would she do, but cry. To me, Katniss’ strongest moment in the movie was when she stepped up for her sister, not when she was shooting arrows into people.
    Now, as to the picture of your butt….what struck me was that guys who would recognize you for being shapely would probably not recognize you for your articulate expression of your views at the conference. I agree with you that the problem is not physical attraction, but disrespect for women’s intelligence and opinions.
    Actually, I posted an article about women being ignored when they speak up, and made a few comments of my own (since it accorded with my own observations at law school). “Could you have a male repeat that suggestion?” You may like it.

    1. It’s endlessly frustrating because women are told they should be beautiful. We’re supposed to look attractive. When we do, suddenly our opinions are worth less. I’m sorry, but any person can be both beautiful and intelligent. Even if they aren’t intelligent, they still deserve respect.

      I actually just spoke with someone about this. A customer had called to complain at work for something they couldn’t prove. She apologized, admitting that the behavior, had it happened, was completely uncalled for. She found out later he had called again, this time to her superior who happened to be male. He said the same thing, and he thanked him for apologizing and hung up. I didn’t think something like that could still happen in America these days, but I was sadly mistaken. I admire her for her composure, though. I would have been livid if I thought the only reason why my words weren’t worth listening to was because of my gender.

  7. 1: Yes. 2: Maybe because women have been called the beautiful/weak sex for a long time? I don’t know. 3: None, I guess? Apart from volountary self-objectification. If someone is turned on by being objectified it’s their right, why not. 4/5: If someone talked behind my back about taking a picture of my butt I’d turn around and glare at them, no matter in what tone they said that! Depending of their tone I might also threaten them to either report them or to take a picture of their face and put it on the internet with something not so nice written underneath (I know, totally inappropriate if really done, but makes a good threat).

    1. hahahaha. I’ll remember those reactions next time. It’s comforting to hear I’m not the only one who would take offense to those words.

  8. That same proverbial “Man objectifying females” ( Plural) put their lives on the line everyday in combat zones alongside women objectifying men, all displaying natural observational instincts. Some in the foxholes and behind bunkers have thin skins on issues that others couldn’t care about. Some people love to be objectified. I for one. But on my specialty I will compete to the death againts male, female and everything in between. That should be the only isssue for everyone. Stay focused! Compete to triumph, not interpretion of someone perception.

    1. I don’t really understand what you’re getting at here. Are you saying women objectify military men? Or that being the best is what’s most important?

      I highly doubt anyone loves to be objectified. People like to be adored, to be lusted for, to be desired. None of those things strip a person of their humanity. Admiring someone’s physical attractiveness is not the same thing as dehumanizing them.

  9. If I heard someone say, “get a picture of her butt.” as I walked by I’d turn around and be like, “you got $5? No? Then you’re not getting a picture of shit.” Middle fingers to the sky and walk backwards until you’re out of view. Remember TK, you’re a star! Shine on girl 🙂

  10. “Ironically, it seemed to me she wanted more women to adopt masculine traits in order to be seen as equal to men.” Yes, this is something that I often think about. Even in academia, this issue is sometimes forgotten. Of course, being a feminist does not necessarily mean adopting masculine traits. But at the same time, some feminist–and other– female scholars (and all sorts of professionals) Do deport themselves in ways that are traditionally masculine. There is nothing wrong with that, and the demeanor does seem to command respect. But personally, I am not comfortable adopting traditionally masculine mannerisms and ways of communicating. I am usually seen as shy and in some ways “traditionally feminine,” which creates this uncomfortable dynamic when I reveal myself to be something other than what’s expected–namely, a feminist who doesn’t let herself get stepped on. This is something I regularly grapple with. People should be themselves, but different ways of communicating should be accepted, and acting “manly” shouldn’t be the only way to access power or respect. Your post reminds me of this article:

    1. But I think it’s important that femininity be valued as equal to masculinity. The future should not pressure men or women to be exclusively one or the other. All people of all genders should be able to sit where ever they feel comfortable in that spectrum.

  11. What happened there was a lack of empathy. He didn’t know you, and couldn’t know what your situation felt like (because he has little experience being objectified himself). You might be a great cook with a degree in economics, but all he can see is that you look good.
    For the strong female roles, couldn’t agree more. I’m writing a female lead who follows her dreams (to join the theatre) and doesn’t give up. She also couldn’t fight her way out of a paper bag. That doesn’t mean she needs rescuing all the time, because she’s smart enough to take care of herself.

    1. Just because he doesn’t know me doesn’t mean I’m any less human. I do get what you’re saying. It’s easier for him to objectify a person he doesn’t know. But I think it’s important to point out. People should be more aware of others and never forget, no matter how much or little they know them, that people are human first.

      I like the idea of your female lead. I like female warriors, too, but men and women don’t need to by physically strong to be strong leads.

      1. Definitely, and I couldn’t agree with you more. Just reminded me of the type of guys who struggle to get laid on their merits.
        Thank you. I read an annoying review of the Dangerous Women short story compilation the other day that made me think of this point: too many of the complaints seemed to be that the characters depicted weren’t all dangerous, just because they didn’t actually wield the sword/fist/ball-of-energy themselves. By that definition most of James Bond’s nemesi weren’t dangerous either…

        1. You know what changed my opinions on this – a YA series called Bloodlines. Richelle Mead is my favorite author and I first discovered her through a series called Vampire Academy in high school. The main character in that book was a butt kicking, rebellious girl. She was a warrior. That was her whole life. Half way through that series, we met another girl who wasn’t physically strong, but was crazy smart. For one reason or another, I really didn’t care for her.

          Then Richelle Mead had the audacity to make that smart girl the main character of her spin off. I avoided the books for a while because I didn’t want to accept it. Now, I’m in the middle of an obsession with that series. There are some, but few, physical confrontations between characters in the Bloodlines series, but there’s still a lot of action and suspense. I now love that character. She’s engaging, smart and crazy strong even though she’s not a physical fighter. How I’ve defined strong character has been forever changed since I started that series.

          1. I think this epiphany moment is one of the factors in me getting bored with Anime (along with the masses and masses of recycled material and filler). Every second female character has the ability to blast holes in the sun, but can hardly string a sentence together without the word “boobs”.
            I haven’t completely gone off it however, because, well… those things are still pretty cool.
            I need to have a look at some YA again, as I have a plan for a series sitting on the backburner. So Richelle Mead = good?
            Cheers! And great original post.

            1. I do love me some anime, but not all anime. I need something good and complex. Ghost in a Shell and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood top my list.

              I adore Richelle Mead. Her writing would probably attract more women then men. The first two series she wrote were adult novels and had their share of sex scenes (I mean, her first book is about a succubus, so what can you expect?). If you enjoy reading YA, I do think her Vampire Academy series is great. She based her idea of the world off of Russion mythology on vampires and, while there is romance, it often takes a back seat to the political and societal drama going on. What I’ve discovered as an adult, though, is that the first few books of a YA series always seem childish to me. After, they become more complex. Vampire Academy fits that. Don’t just the book based on it’s movie. It hardly lined up with the book at all.

              1. GITS is always good. Appleseed too. I love Cowboy Bebop, Photon, anything Miyazaki.
                Should be fine about judging books by the film: I have a theory (after Harry Potter) that everything good about a story will be discarded immediately upon the decision to make a film adaptation. I liked LOTR, but the new hobbit is testing me pretty sorely…

  12. I don’t read enough posts like this — and thoughtful comments.

    Question for you: When is naming something on someone as beautiful, handsome, attractive, sexy not objectification?

    Finding beauty in something is to see the surface. Finding beauty in someone is the beginning of defining the someone under that surface.

    When one is in cosplay the individual within is at least one more layer removed. Anyone commenting on a piece of your person isn’t commenting on you unless you chose to take it that way. That person who spoke loudly and discourteously should be chided for lacking decorum but not criticized noticing what’s there.

    1. “When is naming something on someone as beautiful, handsome, attractive, sexy not objectification?”

      This sort of depends what you mean. If you look at a person and think they are beautiful, you don’t automatically disregard their humanity. Yes, it’s a shallow observation, but it’s only objectification if the person in question is treated as an object instead of a human being. You can think someone is all those things while still recognizing their humanity.

      But you question is not about the someone, but the something. So, when some sees another person as nothing more than a butt, a penis or a couple of breast, then they are objectified because they are not being seen as people.

      “That person who spoke loudly and discourteously should be chided for lacking decorum but not criticized noticing what’s there.”

      I am not criticizing him for noticing what’s there. I am criticizing him for seeing me as a butt – as an object – instead of a person.

      it is a bit of a grey area, but I firmly believe a person can be attracted and even lustful for another person without objectifying them. To objectify is not to lust, it’s to reduce to an object.

      1. Your feelings (in that situation) came from putting yourself in the mind of The Other. There is simply no way to know what another thinks. Even when trying to describe it there is a gap between one person’s words and another’s understanding. In the example you stated it is more correct to say that you felt objectified rather than he objectified you. That’s an important distinction.

        A related idea is that no one can make another person feel anything.

        Think about that for a second, the knee jerk reaction might make you disregard it. Ten beautiful people. Exact same incident. Each one will feel differently about it. Their feelings will arise from their individual histories. Now here is the kicker. As each person forms their opinion (from ignore, appreciate, despise) they have the potential of objectifying that other.

        You might have felt objectified but you definitely turned him into an object in turn.

        There’s no right or wrong here. He should have had tact and you had the potential to think about it differently.

        1. I admit that, and I believe I mentioned in the post that part of this discussion hinges on my assumption, which may very well be incorrect.

          I am curious of how I turned him into an object. I mean, I certainly did not appreciate his comment and I’m discussing the rights, wrongs and grey area of his words here. However, I don’t believe I ever saw him as an object instead of a person.

          Now, I am just interpreting my thoughts here. I guess what I’m really saying is that I don’t feel like I objectified him. I think a lot of people who do objectify others don’t always recognize their thoughts or actions as objectifying. That’s why this kind of discussion is important. Out of my own desire to learn, in what way do you see me turning that man into an object?

          1. By referring to him with the proper pronoun several times you’ve not gotten any closer to him as an individual. He still is the person who catcalled, just as you’re the person with a fabulous booty to him. You have no idea to what degree he has thought about you. He could very well have talked about your as a person and cosplayer admiring your style — it’s something you can not know, just as he can not know that you’ve thought about him after. You picked an action he made to define him. That is part of how you objectified him.

            Objectification is human, just as prejudice is. Neither word is pretty, but it’s how we function in the world.

            Take a baby for example. Baby’s don’t love their parents. The parents fill a need. The baby wants, it cries, the parents come, it’s satisfied. (There’s some very good work showing that love is born from this interplay.) The parents are the object for the babies needs and desires.

            You have a desire to learn about yourself. In a similar way to the baby above this man has fulfilled that function. You can’t know him. You can’t truly care about him. He simply is the villain in your story, the means of self-discovery. That is objectifying him. It’s not a bad thing. It simply is.

  13. Yes, I agree! Feminism equals choice.
    I have no idea how I would have reacted to that guy, but I hope the comment won’t stop you from cosplaying Tifa again in the future. Your photos of it looked great!

    1. I agree. it’s not always about agreeing, but coming to an understanding, especially with objectification. I think a lot of people misunderstand what that word means.

  14. A man can be physically strong and emotionally strong, helping to keep a group or a family alive and together. A woman can (generally) not be as physically strong but she can (and often is) emotionally strong. I’ve always felt that many women throughout history have bested the men in their lives at helping to hold the family together. I was very much influenced by the stories I read of pioneer women (I had an interest in the push west from way back). Those women relied upon men to be there for them, physically. Things just couldn’t get done without a strong man. But there was no point in doing any of it without a strong woman to form the backbone for the family and make up for some of their men’s weaknesses. Well defined roles. Now in our modern society the lines are fuzzy. Roles aren’t well defined. Both men and women have lost something in this process, and it’s caused some of this hand-wringing. But what can you say? It’s change, and it’s come with some very good things too (like the vote for women, more equality in pay, right to choose, etc.) But I don’t think such fundamental things change without some pain and uncertainty. We must find a way to deal with it and not always be at each other’s throats. We have to give each other a break now and then and realize we’re in it together. Men and women need each other, maybe not as overtly as they used to, but they still do need each other. By the way, the guy was just showing off to his buddy and was extremely immature. You either ignore knuckleheads like that or you make a little scene and tell them off. I don’t think he was worth it though.

    1. I disagree that anything has been lost. We’ve only gained. Women have just as much potential as men to be physically strong. Put a woman in a gym and have her lift weights and she’ll become just as strong as a man. I mean, we have female body builders. Nothing biological prevents a woman from being physically strong. Humans have two types of muscles, ones for strength and ones for endurance. Now, it’s true that if a man and woman did nothing but sit their whole lives that the man would be a bit stronger and the woman would have a bit more endurance. However, both have the ability to work on their fitness and become just as strong in both areas as the other. Men went out hunting because women were baring the children. It’s a little hard to fight when you’re 7 months pregnant. That said, I saw some bad ass pregnant women working out in a crossfit gym with weights twice as heavy as what half the men in the room were lifting. I guess it’s not so dangerous, even when pregnant, when you don’t have to worry about being chased down by an animal.

      All that said, there is nothing wrong with a woman who is not psychically strong just like there’s nothing wrong with a man who is not physically strong. We should all be allowed to be who we are. We don’t have to feel obligated to fit into some cookie cutter gender role.

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