There's Strength in Softness: How Femininity Can Dictate the Rules in A Boy's Game

Do you ever wonder why it is that there's a stigma attached to a man being effeminate, yet women are allowed to explore their masculinity? The tomboy is a perfectly acceptable version of femininity but a sissy is a derogatory label for men.

It might seem that there's more leeway granted to a female in her self expression. Examined more closely, could it be that she's encouraged to explore her masculinity because it's considered an identification with the stronger sex, implying a rejection of her femininity? When a man identifies closely to femininity, it's assumed that he's "weakened" himself through emasculation.

In utero, there are two distinct stages in which our sex and gender are developed. First, androgen activity determine our physical sex. In a later window, androgens develop gender in the brain. This was initially discovered by Robert Goy in his experiments with baby rhesus monkeys. What this points to is two distinct stages in which our sex can be influenced. Then we have all the gender expectations that result from nurture as well, later in life.

These are all windows of opportunity that determine our gender -- the boundaries between are permeable and transient. Only in society are binaries established so firmly, and then one gender assumes more advantages than the other.

I have trouble with this. I realize I'm young, but I know there are very palpable seeds of radical feminism residing in me -- we'll see what this blossoms into in later years after I secure my Ph.D. Personal narrative aside, let's take a look the definition of feminism: the idea that genders should be equal.

I agree with this statement from an idealistic standpoint. Men and women should be equal. However, if we accept this notion, then we're overlooking the hard fact that there are innate and extreme differences between the sexes on a biological level. They should be equal, but that doesn't mean they are, nor ever will be- and that's not a bad thing.

Women bear children, have menstrual cycles, different anatomy and higher levels of estrogen and oxytocin. Women bond differently, select their mates differently and communicate differently. Women are women and not men, for a reason.

Nothing is going to change these truths no matter how much more ideologically equal we become. What might be a healthier approach as women is to embrace what makes us different rather than seeing these qualities as inherently problematic and weak. Often, we unconsciously disengage from what makes us more feminine in favor of masculine characteristics, or at least characteristics that are easily comprehendible by the masculine mindset- that make us "stronger" and more impenetrable within patriarchy. To play the boy's game, you have to act like a boy, right? Successful business women often wear their masculinity proudly, as if it alone is what drove them to success.

Traditionally feminine traits are seen so negatively. We're dismissed as being "crazy" when we're emotional so we learn to adopt a more rational (masculine) approach. Let's look at the root of the "craziness"- our hormones are rapidly cycling every month and that's why we get emotional in the ways that we do, it's not because we are neurologically damaged. Our instincts to nurture and be guided by that famous "feminine intuition" are seen as too soft and irrational and are instead replaced by a cutthroat, logical attitude. We've even learned to favor a physique that undercuts our own natural curves.

We have to examine who's actually setting standards for what is an acceptable version of femininity. The patriarchy reaffirms this ideal of acceptable femininity to better conceptualize, understand, and control the fairer sex. By abiding by these standards that we don't set, we're automatically rejecting our own assets, all of which give us power (why do you think these qualities make men so uncomfortable? The more discomfort elicited, the closer we are to change). We need to set our own standard, one that is so true to femininity that it allows women to set the rules for the boy's game instead of having to play in it when the rules are rigged against us.

Think about the prototypical symbol for harmonious gender relations: the yin-yang. There's no way to qualify whether black is equal to white, but the two exist in extremes. As a function of the polarity, they keep each other in check and create a peaceful co-existence.

The good thing about the idea of femininity is that within it is a wide subjective spectrum. Heighten whatever femininity may mean to you and be the most of it you can be. What I'm saying is don't be ashamed. Ultimately, there's strength in softness. Embrace your intuition, your emotions, your ability to nurture, your curves and anything else you were taught to hide because it made you "such a girl". These qualities are what make women strong and we need to realize that instead of throwing our power away. Maybe it's not outside judgment that is affecting us; maybe it's our own rejection and fear of how powerful we can be within the feminine.