The Era of Women’s Empowerment?
Looking back, a lot of people might say that the past few years have been huge for women’s empowerment. Politically, figures like Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have regularly made headlines. Regarding business, although female CEOs are still a small minority, more attention has been given to female entrepreneurs than ever before. And in pop-culture, butt-kicking heroines like Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman have been front and center in action films, another previously male-dominated domain.
What Qualifies As Strength
While women (and men for that matter) succeeding in their fields is always something to be celebrated, I’ve noticed that somewhere along the line, our culture has decided that women have to follow a pretty specific path in order to be recognized as powerful and independent. It seems like we only celebrate women for being strong when they’re acting like men, or at least when they’re conforming to traditionally masculine traits and preferences.
It seems like we only celebrate women for being strong when they’re acting like men.
And don’t get me wrong, I, of course, recognize that historically, it was extremely challenging (and sometimes even illegal or impossible) for women to break into majority male professions. But in today’s egalitarian society, is a woman who chooses to be a CEO really any more empowered than a woman who chooses to be a homemaker? And if so, why? Is it possible for a woman to be considered “strong” while embodying feminine archetypes, not masculine ones?
Men and Women: There IS a Difference
To explore this issue, it’s important first to clarify what exactly differentiates femininity from masculinity. Nowadays, sociologists are quick to embrace relativism and the prevalence of social constructs and might tell you that there’s no meaningful, objective difference between these traits at all. However, especially when it comes to the separation of tasks, there are clear differences between what’s considered masculine and feminine.
Throughout history, for example, cultures spanning the globe have identified masculine traits as those necessary for survival and protection. Hunting, warfare, and building have all been traditionally male-dominated, and although some might say those stereotypes are antiquated, these fields remain overwhelmingly male.
While masculinity focuses on surviving, femininity is about thriving.
Femininity, on the other hand, has always been associated with nurturing. While masculinity focuses on surviving, femininity is about thriving. Homemaking and caregiving, whether it’s for children, the sick, or the elderly, is a way that women have historically been the backbone of both families and entire societies. In terms of modern-day professions, people like nurses, teachers, and childcare providers, in addition to a countless number of stay-at-home parents, are still majority female and provide people with much-needed care.
The Strength of Femininity
Recognizing these differences between stereotypically masculine and feminine roles, it should be clear that neither group is more important to our society than the other. And it should also be obvious that every job, whether it’s predominantly male or female, has its own unique set of challenges. So with that being said, modern feminism’s overall failure to acknowledge the contribution and strength of women who choose to fulfill majority female roles is disappointing, particularly for a movement that tries to paint itself as being pro-woman...
If real empowerment means a woman is able to choose whatever career path she believes is best for both herself and her family, why should that apply more to a woman who decides to work in politics or business, than it does a woman who wishes to be a stay-at-home mom? Or work in childcare? Or heck, even be a part-time Avon sales representative? And if feminism does believe that these other women are just as empowered, then why are they so often ignored?
The glorification of all things masculine as the road to empowerment is frankly an insult to femininity.
And as mentioned, the current idea that masculine archetypes are superior or “stronger” than feminine ones also extends to pop-culture. When we think of badass, dependable women, so many of us will think of any number of action heroines who embody typically masculine strength. Few people might think to mention someone like Mary Poppins, whose character got a reboot last year, or Evelyn, the mother from the surprise hit A Quiet Place. She, despite living in a post-apocalyptic world plagued with man-eating monsters, still managed to cook and clean for her family, as well as homeschool her children. Seriously, if that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.
But still, our society clings to the idea that proficiency in masculine traits is somehow better than being skilled in feminine ones. And although the intentions may be to assure women and young girls that it’s OK not to be quintessentially feminine (which it absolutely is!), the glorification of all things masculine as the road to empowerment is frankly an insult to femininity. Countless women around the globe are serving their communities in ways that are no less impressive and empowering simply because other women before them, not men, have done the same.
Ultimately, trying to turn women into men isn’t empowering them. And neither is encouraging a narrative that says that femininity is anything less than equal to masculinity.