Graphic by Mina Jang
Feminism Needs to Fight for Femininity as well as Females
Feminism is often credited with the fight for gender equality, yet rarely does it equally campaign for it.
The modern fight for gender equality more or less began with first-wave feminism in the late 19th and early 20th century. Originally characterized by a push for voting and property rights, the movement developed into a fight for reproductive health care and the end of sexism as second-wave feminism began to take hold in the 1960s.
Those movements were progressive and important in their own time but they set a standard which has yet to adapt to today’s world.
While many feminists during the first and second wave of feminism fought for “gender equality,” what they really meant was “equality of the two genders” — reaffirming the established gender binary. Sometimes even they meant “equality of the two sexes.” This is clearly exemplified through many of the campaign points of second-wave feminism such as access to birth control and abortion, both of which are based on biological rather than gender characteristics.
Those campaigns were and are very important, but it’s also crucial to recognize that these are issues of sexual equality rather than gender equality. Feminism that defines itself by the biological characteristics of women only narrows its support base. It excludes trans and gender fluid groups who would otherwise champion gender equality.
Take for instance the 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches: Many protesters could be seen with signs defining their feminity by their sexual organs. While likely not made with a harmful intent, these signs excluded transgender or gender fluid individuals who may express as effeminate but do not have the biological organs to match.
One may point out that movements such as the Women’s March and #MeToo are a response to rampant misogyny recently come to light and therefore should not be accountable for the issues of gender fluid and transgender persons. This assumption rides on the conclusion that misogyny does not equally affect trans women and gender fluid individuals.
And that is simply not true.
Misogyny not only targets the female but femininity itself.
Feminity is often considered inferior to masculinity as it is often associated with frailty, idleness, and artificiality, while masculinity is associated with stoicism, strength, and leadership.
When someone perpetuates misogyny, not only is one oppressing women, but also reinforcing those negative assumptions about femininity. And femininity includes many more victims than womanhood — it also includes any person of any gender who expresses in a stereotypically feminine way, including cisgendered men. In fact, many trans women and gender fluid individuals receive the most forceful brunt of misogyny because they have to face discrimination from both the patriarchy and cisgender women.
The crusade against femininity has become so entrenched in society that even cisgender women have started to attack it in its various forms. This development is called transmisogyny, and it refers to discrimination against transgender women either based on transphobic or misogynistic prejudices.
So if femininity is just as much the cause for misogynistic discrimination as being female is, then feminism needs to campaign for the rights of both. And fighting for femininity means fighting for gender equality.
Feminism should represent the freedom to exist at any point on the gender spectrum; only then will femininity be safe in all its forms. The current depiction of femininity reinforces patriarchal stereotypes that greatly, and frankly more severely, hurt effeminate men, trans individuals, and gender fluid people.
The root of the problem here is that the current feminist movement has yet to understand that gender isn’t anchored to sex. If feminism begins to understand the boundlessness of gender then it will have a better time representing all its supporters.
This is not the first time feminism has had to change with the times but it might be its most transformative. Not only does feminism need to be gender inclusive, it also needs to acknowledge the diversity of its members. This extends toward males expressing feminine as much as females expressing masculine — and any combination in between.
Equality must truly mean equal in today’s age, including more than just the two genders of yore.