It is She: Women's empowerment
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Today I take on the question no one asked: What does it mean to be an empowered woman? Is it a woman who is perfectly feminine? Empowerment can mean many different things for different women, obviously. Let's dig in.
What is Femininity?
Masculinity and femininity are not always clearly defined. What is most universally accepted is the definition of them being traits, behaviors, and characteristics associated with the corresponding sex. I like to take the positives of both and refer to those such things as masculine and feminine. (I'll touch more on that in "traits").
In researching this, I found a helpful break down of gender roles in four groups. These categories align with the definition of femininity and masculinity.
To be feminine is to have the personality traits of being intuitive, caring, empathetic, tactful, social, etc. To be masculine is to be self-assured, courageous, protective, certain, etc. These are the virtuous traits of both sexes, but any virtue can be pushed to the point of vice. For example, the toxic altruism that could be associated with extreme femininity, and extreme aggression in reference to toxic masculinity. When I refer to femininity and masculinity, I mean the virtuous and healthy expression of both. (I'll just focus on femininity from here on out).
The site specified domestic behavior, but I'll use behavior as a whole for this point. A Feminine behavior is acting in relation to those feminine traits. Women act on intuition, act on carefulness, act on empathy, etc.
Choosing an occupation complementary to those traits. Stay at home mom, nurse, teacher. A person-oriented occupation.
This one is pretty obvious. To look and dress womanly, have the physical attributes associated with that of a healthy woman. A womanly figure/style.
With femininity and masculinity, there is an ongoing debate of nature versus nurture argument, meaning how much associated with men and women is a result of biology, and how much is a result of society. I think there is more nuance with behavior and occupation, (though it has been shown gender differences skyrocket in countries who prize equality and individualism), however with traits and physical appearance, I believe that is more biologically rooted.
What is a "strong/empowered" woman?
Traditional View: People who have traditional views don't typically say "strong" or "empowered". It's usually more along the lines of the "ideal exercise of femininity", or the "ideal ways to act as a woman". This takes the approach of Feminist Care Ethics. An empowered woman is a woman that owns her naturally caring nature. She is strong in her character of femininity.
This assumes that for ANY woman to be strong in character she must embody all the traits of femininity. This obviously neglects a large portion of women who are lacking femininity in some or all of the four categories, but perhaps excel in masculinity.
Progressive View: The progressive view typically idolizes women who embody masculine traits, but do not call them masculine. It will be said from the traditional side that the progressive stance wants women to be men. This is not the case, but the progressive approach handles this accusation poorly. Instead of saying they don't want women to be men and just admire women with more masculine traits (typically relating to behavior and occupation), they deny that what the women are displaying are masculine traits at all. This biologically and socially is not true.
Progressive views pride themselves on the choice of women. It is true this definition appeals to more women than the traditional one, however, progressive rhetoric on the matter often gets caught up in combating stereotypes to a fault. This can be hurtful to women who voluntarily conform to that feminine stereotype and find fulfillment in that.
What is the Ideal Woman?
Both approaches are wrapped up in the ideas of the "ideal woman". The traditional with its firm stance on traditional femininity being correct, and the progressive with its opposition to stereotypes.
Femininity and masculinity should be descriptors for the good and healthy traits, behaviors, etc you possess. They shouldn't be some unattainable thing you must embody to be the ideal form of your gender.
The ideal woman is an individual who owns her virtuous traits and behaviors, be they masculine or feminine. It is she who is empowered. It is she who is virtuous. It is she who is strong in character. It is she who is the ideal woman.