While we waited in line at the Comcast store, my roommate told me all about her life as an engineering student – the classes she was taking, the jobs she had been offered, etc. The woman in front of us overheard, and very excitedly jumped into the conversation. “I think female engineers are fascinating,” she told my roommate right before asking me if I was an engineering student as well. When I told her I was an English major, she responded with a quiet and apathetic “Oh.” Suddenly I felt empty and in pain, as if my pride and hard work had been ripped right out of me.
Considering the low percentage of female engineering students (roughly 20%) and the stigma attached to them, it makes sense that the woman would be impressed with my roommate. What bothers me is that she devalued English most likely because it is female-dominated and commonly known as a “soft” major. This woman, and many others, need to realize that letting women into “masculine” fields does not solve gender inequality on its own. It only reinforces that “men’s work” is more valuable than “women’s work,” and more generally, that masculinity is more valuable than femininity. We need to ask ourselves why it is okay for women to move into the realm of masculinity, but it is not okay for either men or women to stay in the realm of femininity. Once we realize that there is no justifiable answer to this question – that femininity is just as valuable as masculinity – we’ll be another step closer to truly reaching gender equality.
Masculinity is a sign of power and femininity is a sign of weakness. These ideas are so deeply ingrained in our culture that many of us don’t realize how much damage they are doing. Some of us are completely unaware that these ideas exist at all because we use them subconsciously to determine someone’s value. We need to become more mindful of our attitudes toward others. We shouldn’t look down on someone- whether they identify as female or not – for exhibiting a characteristic or doing a task that is arbitrarily classified as feminine. Too often, stay-at-home moms are portrayed as underachievers when in reality they are making good use of “feminine” qualities like compassion and patience to form necessary bonds with their children. Too many men are physically or verbally abused for crying, even though it reduces stress and prevents infections. In these examples, and many more, femininity is not a weakness at all, but rather gives people strength to handle everyday life.
Some people devalue femininity because they think it undercuts the feminist movement. One of the aims of feminism is to include and destigmatize women in male-dominated spaces, but that does not mean it also aims to remove all women from female-dominated spaces. Remember, feminism exists so that you can choose your lifestyle without your gender getting in the way. You can choose to work in “masculine” fields like engineering, but don’t feel like you have to become “one of the guys.” Wearing makeup and being sentimental help you express who you are. They don’t necessarily determine how well you do your job. You can also choose to be a nurse or stay-at-home mom. Maybe you’re someone who enjoys taking care of others, and that’s perfectly fine. As long as you value what you do and what others do equally, you can be both feminine and feminist.
This article is an op-ed and does not necessarily reflect Her Campus.