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The Mysterious and Threatened Reality Known as Femininity.

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.



On this day, International Women’s Day, a day in which we celebrate our gender and all of the wonderful things it embodies, with the help of Simone De Beauvoir, I want to dive into the very concept of female itself.

Today is a day of celebration of this thing we call “woman” and woman herself is seemingly rooted in the concept of femininity. So if feminity is such an integral part of how the society defines woman, why has it become on of the most patrolled and oppressed human characteristics that exists in our world?  “If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through “the eternal feminine,” and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question: what is a woman?” (Beauvoir ,12)


There’s no denying the various points of discourse surrounding femininity, both within the feminist movement and outside of it.  If a woman is too feminine, she is probably vain and conceited, she is giving into the binary, she is supporting gender roles. If a woman is too feminine she is doing it to please men, to attract a partner, she is too oversexualized.  If a woman is too feminine, she is not a true feminist. On the flip side, there are narratives like; if a woman doesn’t shave, doesn’t wear makeup, doesn’t care about fashion, then she’s not feminine enough. If a man displays feminine characteristics he is brutally scrutinized. This means that femininity itself, is often what’s under attack, from all angles. There’s only one, very specific and restricting way “to do” femininity, and even then it’s criticized.  The very thing by which society uses to define how much of a “woman” you are, is also the thing it works the hardest to control.


This effort to cage femininity and the concept of woman results in a non symmetrical binary (Beauvoir ,13) in which woman is the negative, and man is both positive and neutral. Simultaneously, while these two concepts are positioned as opposites, there also exists a mutual dependency on one another through things like offspring and economy. SO why are women not liberated, despite this mutual necessity?


Women have a relationship to their oppression that is unlike any other relationship, because there is no set event that can set women up for inequality. It’s also very hard to picture any one event that will counteract the discrimination and inequality women experience. Mainly because women are so tied to their bonds to men, and visa versa, they cannot form as tight of bonds to other women. Entering into public space is a crucial way for women to encounter other women and stop this pattern of women living dispersed among men.


Now when it comes to woman, as she exists, as she is perceived, society operates off of a single feminine ideal. You must be pure, not a prude, you must be smart but can’t threaten the intelligence of men, you must be heterosexual, you must want children (and have the physical ability to give birth) and on and on and on. So the real question is, if woman is such a simple and finite category, and is only one of two genders, then why is there constant pressure on women to be women.  In addition, how can you automatically be presumed to be a woman, and then still be asked to be a woman.  “It would appear….that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. “ (pg 11)


In this analysis, Simone De Beauvoir is not asking us to define woman, but to observe just how much incoherence exists within the “definitions” of woman.  So ask yourself, if there is only one set way to be a “woman” then why does society work SO hard to make us fit into that definition.


On this International Women’s Day, remember, no matter who you are, your womanhood is valid. The world does not define woman, you do.


Source: Simone De Beauvoir → “Introduction” to the Second Sex – 1949



Lauren is currently majoring in Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences and minoring in Business in the Leeds School of Business, Leadership in the LSM Program, and Women and Gender Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at The University of Colorado Boulder. On campus Lauren currently holds the position of Her Campus CU Boulder's Chapter President and Campus Correspondent. She also acts as an Aerie Real on campus ambassador, held the position of  Victoria's Secret PINK Campus Rep for CU for the previous two years, and acts as the social media chairman and event coordinator for the PSICHI Psychology Honors Club within CU's Psychology department.  Outside of school Lauren founded and owns Empyreal Photography. When she's not looking through a camera lens or somewhere drinking chai, you can probably find her in a yoga class, petting a dog, or daydreaming about New York City.