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November 7, 2009

I'm Not a Feminine-ist

A recent article from Oprah.com called "Are You a Feminist or a Feminine-ist?" is starting to get a little bit of attention. (We found it thanks to mollyfye on twitter, and Girldrive has a great post about it too.)

Here's the teaser:

Being a strong, powerful woman doesn't mean you have to be tough, overworked and unattractive. Karen Salmansohn explains how power and success come from being in touch with your feminine, sexy and loving side.
Oh, I can't wait to hear the rest of this one. Strap in, cause we're going to take on the whole piece. It opens with a charming anecdote.

True story: My friend David got mugged at a bank machine by a beautiful, leggy, sexy woman.

"Actually, it might have been a transvestite," David corrected himself.

"It's okay if you were mugged by a woman," I told him, smiling.

Now embarrassed, David said, "The more I think about it, the more I'm sure he was a transvestite."

I laughed but was also intrigued by why David would be so embarrassed to be mugged by a beautiful, leggy, sexy woman, but not a man.

So she's trying to start a new social movement for women based on the fact that one of her male friends is kind of a jerk?

The story represents what I view as an ongoing problem for women today. There's still a disconnect between a woman being "beautiful, leggy, sexy" and being powerful—even in a low-level career like mugger.
Okay, there's something to this - we've all heard nonsense at one time or another about how beautiful women can't possibly also be smart or how successful career women must have gotten to the top by using their looks, flirting, sleeping with the boss, etc. Let's see where Salmansohn is going with it...
Almost from the introduction of the word "feminism" into our world, the definition has become corroded to mean something less than complimentary than its original intent. Somewhere along the line, to be a feminist started to mean a woman who's basically unattractive both in looks and spirit.

I find this negative connotation to be shameful and highly unhelpful. Women could truly benefit from finding a more inspiring word than "feminism" to stand by, as well as stand for, when seeking to become our most powerful and successful selves. We don't have to make a choice between feminine or powerful and successful. We can be all those things.

With this in mind, I'd like to put forth that starting today, the word "feminism" be updated to become the new word "feminine-ism."
And now she's completely lost me. So the solution to the sexist "disconnect" that she just described is to blame feminism and buy into every negative myth and stereotype about feminists? Feminism is not about choosing between "feminine" and "powerful", and the word feminist doesn't and never did mean "a woman who's basically unattractive both in looks and spirit". Obviously it's not very "inspiring" to buy into the worst anti-feminist misconceptions and lies about feminism, but don't act like the misconception is the definition and use that as an excuse to just ditch feminism altogether.

In the next section, Salmansohn explains what it means to be feminine-ist (and no, I'm not getting tired of typing that silly word at all):

My goal is to inspire women to embrace being their fullest potential selves—feminine, sexy, warm, loving—everything the word "feminine" stands for, alongside strong qualities like powerful and successful.

It's a personal mission of mine—evident in a range of my books—to help empower women to live their most fulfilling, self-loving and happiest lives. And so it especially excites me to help get this word "feminine-ism" into the vernacular.

And I feel this word's arrival is coming just in time.
Yes, ladies, you can live your happiest and most fulfilling life and embrace your fullest potential self by buying into Karen Salmansohn's definition of traditional femininity! Considering that most basic definitions of femininity are along the lines of "associated with women" or "the trait of behaving in ways considered typical for women", it's interesting that Salmansohn has decided that this doesn't include strength, power, or success, and that there's really no room for women to define their own femininity.

I see too many women these days rushing around trying to do it all, but meanwhile they're not being it all! They're not being their fullest, best feminine selves. Instead, they're being tougher than they'd like to be as well as more exhausted, strident and irritable, thereby feeling unattractive inside and out. All while suffering from guilt over the stuff they did not manage to squeeze into their over-booked schedules.
So in case you missed this subtle point the first time, feminists are ugly and bitchy! If we could just learn to be more feminine, all of our problems would melt away.

I know this firsthand because I've personally experienced this over-emphasis on doing, doing, doing so I might become my most powerful writer-girl self. Which is why my firsthand knowledge is an unmanicured hand and a lot of the time I feel exhausted, emotionally depleted, and not my most sexy or feminine self and therefore not my most powerful self either.

The irony? Whenever I do take the time to tap into "feminine-ism"—this energy of simply being by indulging in a meditative and self-nurturing manicure, a facial or a hot bubble bath—that's when I feel my most powerful.
So because feminists are ugly and bitchy, they don't know how to tap into real feminine power, which comes from being pretty and nice and relaxed. And women have work/family/life balance issues not because our society is sexist and because many things that are traditionally considered "women's work" aren't always valued the way they should be, but because misguided feminists don't understand the value of a self-nurturing manicure. Got it.

As a card-carrying "feminine-ist," I am here to tell you that feeling sexy is what helps me to be my most powerful and successful self, and being powerful and successful also helps me feel damn sexy! As "feminine-ists," we definitely don't need to make the choice between feminine or powerful and successful. We should and must try to embrace both choices simultaneously.

With this in mind, I've got to say, I love the idea of bringing the words "feminine-ist" and "feminine-ism" into our common parlance. Hopefully they open up an important dialog about how to consciously tap into our true feminine energies as we strive to succeed in accomplishing our goals and dreams.
Listen, it's great that Salmansohn embraces her sexuality and sees it as a source of power. Many women feel that way, even some of those dreaded feminists. But again she's pushing this false claim that feminism is about some big choice between power and femininity, or between success and sexuality. She's so busy working on that anti-feminist fairy tale that she's apparently missed the memo that all women are different and we all define our femininity, our sexuality, and our power differently. And shockingly enough, meditative manicures and self-nurturing facials don't actually make the cut for every woman.

But wait, there's more to love about feminineismishness!
Another good thing about bandying about words like "feminine-ist" and "feminine-ism"? Men can join in the bandying!

With the word "feminism," it might have been embarrassing for a man to say he was a supporter because it might sound like he was admitting to supporting of a group of controlling, bitchy women. But with new pro-sexiness, pro-sweetness, pro-balance words like "feminine-ist" and "feminine-ism," what's not for a man to love?

Plus, these are words men can and should stand by, and stand for, in their own lives. I can definitely envision my fiancé proudly calling himself a "feminine-ist" because he's in touch with both his feminine and masculine sides, and he loves when I am able to tap into this dynamic duo of sexiness and powerfulness in myself.
Ah, here we go. The really great thing about feminine-ism is that men will like it better than feminism! Because feminine-ists are sexy and sweet, and "pro-balance" in a generic way without really working towards any specific women's rights and equality issues, unlike those controlling and bitchy (she forgot ugly this time!) feminists. Why fight against lies and misunderstandings about feminism when this is so much easier, and better for men too? Now I can finally stop losing sleep at night worrying about whether men might be too "embarrassed" to say that they support feminism.

The last section is called "Why it's important to be in touch with your feminine side":

It seems that America has been fighting against the perception of being feminine for a while now—wanting to appear tough and strong, and afraid of appearing weak by admitting a need for help. If you compare America to countries in the East, you'll see what I mean. If America were to be personified, it would definitely be a real guy's guy—running around, talking loudly, smacking you on the back in greeting, occasionally belching—a lovable, rambunctious guy's guy.
Well, at least now she's throwing in some broad, silly stereotypes about men and masculinity to go along with all of the generalizations and misconceptions about femininity and feminism that she's been throwing around.

Now, imagine a country like India personified. It would embrace more feminine qualities like stillness, meditativeness and spirituality.
Okay, what the hell is she talking about? Now we're dragging India and Indian culture into this tortured argument. I notice that she says that America would be a guy, but stops short of saying that India would be a woman. She also doesn't address the question of whether things are actually better for women in the more "feminine" country.

My point? All of us—both men and women—need to consciously try to get in better touch with our feminine energies. When we deny the existence and the benefits of either our male or female sides, we exhaust our spirits since each side is the shadow of the other. As the Taoists say, "When you pick up one end of the stick, the other end comes up with it."

Any attempts to fight against or ignore either our male or female sides wastes as much energy as a cat chasing after its shadow on a wall. We need to stop thinking about picking an either/or when it comes to "doing" versus "being" and learn to accept and develop both these actions.
My spirit is exhausted trying to make sense of those last two paragraphs. There's a valuable argument to be made that our society values the masculine over the feminine and that creates a lot of imbalances and issues worth exploring. But you're not really making a worthwhile contribution to that discussion when your conclusion is that it's all feminism's fault.

The truth is, it's both possible and highly rewarding to be a "feminine-ist" and embrace both feminine energies and masculine energies at the same time— like walking while chewing gum and checking your BlackBerry.

So gum-chewing is feminine and Blackberry-checking is masculine? Man, this is confusing, I sure hope she's going to write a feminine-ism guidebook for all of us to read in a nice bubble bath.

Nah, fuck that. I'm going to stick with feminism - a word that I find strong, powerful, sexy, bitchy, feminine, complicated, fulfilling, beautiful, self-nurturing, and inspiring.


a said...

Oh man. Thank you for deconstructing this, line-by-line. The "India" thing is so stupid, it would be funny, if it weren't that the country she is calling feminine has also been devastated by colonialism from the more "manly" countries in the West.

Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight: to stop myself from getting exhausted, I now have to worry about my hair, nails, clothing and skin, and probably body size and landscaping no doubt, in addition to keeping in touch with my powerful self. Right. Think I'll just have a bubble bath with a martini held high in my unmanicured hand. If the menz don't like it they can stay home.

Elizabeth Kissling said...

wow. Maybe it's just me, but this "feminine-ism" stuff sounds a lot like ANTI-FEMINISM!!

Tangoing with Evita said...

I took that shit down in my own personal blog (http://maynardsong.livejournal.com/174774.html) but I like your takedown better still.

Anonymous said...

wow. Yeah, nothing would make me feel more powerful than wasting my already scarce time and money living up to society's shallow standards of female beauty. I mean, if your goal in life is to score a rich husband, I guess that's all the "power" you need.

I notice that there's absolutely no discussion of the "ism" part of "feminine-ism," just the "feminine" part. So what's the "ism?" where's the power coming from? How on earth does anything this crazy woman wrote have anything to do with women's rights? The whole thing was pure fluff, clearly she has no concept of anything about the "sad old feminism" she's trying to recreate, and no idea what "power" actually means. Feeling self-satisfied and smug because you look prettier than the next girl over is not the same thing as feeling powerful.

Lauren O said...

I have nothing against being warm and sweet. Those are good qualities. They're just not qualities that I happen to possess, and they're not qualities that happen to be important to me. I think I'll pass on making myself pretty and palatable and pretending that makes me powerful and happy.

Anonymous said...

This rant reminds me of why women don't make it in the literary world. It's almost as if they think that anyone is interested in reading anything that they think of.

Summarize. Should have learned it in 8th grade.


Well, Anonymous Pro-feminine-ism Dude, if you're not interested in reading anything that we think of, please feel free to not read our blog, and/or to get your own blog and do a better job there.

mollyfye said...

here's karen on twitter: http://twitter.com/Notsalmon

be sure to let her know what you think of the article!

Ivy Hedera said...

I'm always puzzled by these women who think that acting in a traditionally "feminine" way is automatically going to empower every woman who does it, or that every woman secretly has a "feminine" side.

I didn't like playing with dolls when I was a little girl. I generally don't like wearing dresses. I wear make-up on occasion, but I've found wearing it every day to be uncomfortable and a waste of time. I play stringed instruments where long, manicured nails just get in the way, so styling them to be "my best feminine self" would actually make my life worse, not better. I'm extremely socially-awkward and have AS, so I have trouble with empathy - and thus being "nurturing" is NOT a natural instinct for me (kindness is natural, but self-sacrifice and motherly behavior are not, so much).

I suppose some women who like all those things might not really understand feminism and think being a feminist means they have give up the part of them that likes make-up and shopping. And I know women with powerful positions the work world who are more "feminine" often don't achieve as much as more "masculine" women, since our patriarchal society doesn't see feminine values or attributes as "serious." However, don't assume, because of your negative experiences, that every woman has a "feminine side" and that she's only hiding it to fit in better with feminists or for material success. Some women have personalities that just don't fit well into the prescribed gender roles. Double-X chromosomes do not come equipped with a shoe obsession. Perhaps us "masculine" women get an unfair advantage in the work world; believe me, we have an unfair disadvantage in many other spheres in most other spheres when compared to "feminine" women. And the solution isn't to demonize non-feminine women by insisting they're suppressing some "natural feminine instincts" that they don't have; it's to do a Carol Gilligan and promote the idea that traditionally "feminine" values are just as valuable, and just as "serious," as "masculine" ones. That seems like what the author's getting at, but she seems too small-minded to get there, still stuck on the assumption that women are all made from the same mold. We're not.

liyanat said...


Feminista! I wonder if she actually understands what feminism means?? Feminine-ist? HAHAHAHAHA WTF?!