When Siya asked me to come and speak about femininity I forgot to ask her what made her think I am a worthy female to speak about such a topic. Of course what I didn’t tell Siya is that I have always had problems with pronouncing this word, but none the less its meaning applies to me and all of us here today, by virtue of being female. Often when I hear the word femininity I think of society’s definition of what it means to be a woman. Unfortunately the first and foremost identity of a person is their sexuality.
Society has placed a very heavy burden on the female species. From the moment a girl is born into a family there are many expectations put on her, by everyone in her community. As soon as a woman’s sexuality has been determined, your role gets defined. There are certain acceptable attributes that are associated with femininity in the African community, stuff that not everyone can fully satisfy because each of us was born differently. Much of what our families expect us to be is not who we really are.
As a young girl growing up in Limpopo my older brother was my first friend. I was the kid and he was made to do chores that I couldn’t handle because he was older. As years went by and the child grew into a girl, washing the dishes and sweeping chores were responsibilities shifted onto me. Suddenly I was made to stay behind and do chores while my brother went to the field to play soccer. As time went by, I was told how a woman is not supposed to sit; I was taught that it’s not polite to hand over anything to a man while standing, I had to learn to reduce direct eye contact with males. Those mannerism acts are what is consider feminine in my culture. The biggest change came when pants were replaced by skirts and dresses. Subconsciously I was being promoted to into femininity.
A major lesson given at the young age is that you stop playing with boys- so no soccer! That was an outrage and went against the standards of femininity. Girls had to stop doing what the really love doing; leave what feels natural for them to do because it doesn’t conform to societal norms of what is considered feminine. How many of us here today have heard the phrase “that’s not how a woman is supposed to behave”? When we are genuinely being ourselves? I always urged anyone around me who cares to listen that the one supreme rule of your life should be about being yourself no matter what.
Femininity is indeed an abstract word. And I have on many occasions found it to be used as a tool to say what women can and cannot be. It’s up to us as women to shatter those myths and we can only achieve that by embracing who we are- and that’s the person that stares back at you when you look in the mirror. Many times the word will be used to judge us based on how we are dress and not the kind person you are. People will say because you like wearing hats you are not feminine. They will say because you prefer pants over dresses you are not womanly, the type of hairstyle you choose will also be used to weigh your femininity. Don’t allow that type of thinking to deny you a chance of embracing yourself. Now that feminine, the love you have for you. There is nothing I find more feminine that a woman who is comfortable with herself. Let self-acceptance and comfort for with who you are lead you to the path of womanly worth. And I don’t mean acceptance into a social class, but me saying I am Masutane, I am going to wear that skirt because I like it and I love myself.
The very generic meaning of femininity is stuff that we are normally confronted with of TV, the lifestyles and fashion dedicated shows that mean guide us on how to be- as if there is something wrong with what we are already are. There is nothing wrong with subscribing to a certain show for advice and wanting to improve your sense of style. You just have to want it for yourself not the pressure to please. Much of what is wrong with our communities today are the masks we as women have to wear and hide behind trying pleasing others at the expenses of ourselves.
Our femininity comes through when we are not even trying at all- when we are being true to ourselves in all our sincerity and loving ourselves including people around us. We can all achieve that. I am happy to see many people here at Free Gender standing proud in their own bodies- that’s the essence of femininity. My wish for us women is not to allow society to place you in a labeled box and remain there. South Africa is one of the not so many countries in the world were women and men are declared equally under the constitution. Simply put, we are all free to be who we want to be, how we want to live our lives, and how we dress. I am a firm believer that only when a woman is true to herself, can she claim the title of femininity. To steal a line from Publisher Cheryl Roberts, there is nothing more feminine that marching to the rhythm of your own beat as a sister, mother, and lover and just as a woman. Femininity is yours to claim by being the person you are meant to be, the person you want to be. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.