Some Notes on the Problem of Equating Feminine and Feminist, and on “Embracing the Feminine”

April 19, 2021

 Here are some notes I wrote in advance of Lauren Elizabeth’s and my open conversation on “Feminine Vs. Feminist”. These were also part of what I shared on Instagram in March of 2021.
I have a full-on hour-long workshop presentation that goes into these issues in more detail, that’s part of my longer workshop: Feminism for Business: Foundational Concepts in Feminism 1 (aka Feminism 101). If you’d like to learn more about the Feminine vs Feminist conversation, please email me and I’d be happy to talk through the ideas together.

Also, look forward to Robin Joy’s podcast conversation with me on this topic, coming up in July.


Don’t get caught in the white, western, patriarchal essentialist, misleading and inappropriately popular construction of “feminine” and “masculine”.

Consider that:

•       Most “feminine” models are sexist.

•       They reinforce a false binary

•       They are nearly always essentialist.

•       They force people into categories that are designed to be limiting and partial,
rather than expansive and whole.

•       They exclude transpeople.

•       They make GNC people “wrong”.

•       Most feminine models are also inherently racist and imperialist

•       They’re build on patriarchal beliefs of White Western culture about what’s appropriate and desirable.

•       They are imposed on people of other cultures against their will and counter to their own indigenous values and organizing systems.

When we exalt Femininity, we are embracing the (false) binary as well as the essentialism that feminists are trying to transcend.

 Embracing “Femininity” blocks us from claiming qualities that are currently coded blue or ‘masculine’.

 We need to separate “female” and “femininity”.

 We need to celebrate what is female and female bodied, and do this without resorting to the rhetoric of femininity.   We can reclaim the power and the status of the female body without relying on the determinism & and the exclusivity of essentialism that “femininity” creates.

 We need to sort out what qualities in “feminine” are the ones related to

·        Female bodies

·        Qualities that are dismissed in patriarchal culture but sorely needed, e.g., Care and nurturing, Nature

·        Qualities that are part of being submissive and obedient (which includes those qualities about being “white” because these are the qualities used to suppress folks)

 We need to keep space for Trans and Femme people, as well as GNC people, to continue to use “femininity” while they figure out collectively how they can be “seen” as women without having to present themselves in stereotypically feminine and thus oppressive ways.

Why do so many well-intentioned people promote these models?

Why do so many purportedly feminist people fall for them?

 I feel like I’ve been ranting on this topic since forever.

 There are so. many. people. who are trying to do good things for women by promoting the idea that FEMININE THINGS ARE GREAT! It’s not that feminine things aren’t valuable, and it’s certainly important to ‘reclaim’ and ‘revalue’ all things that have been devalued (or falsely ‘valorized) as being related to all that is natural, normal, and necessary about “women” (usually meaning ‘female-sexed people’) (in the old-fashioned, old-timey patriarchal way). There is no reason why nurturing, for example, shouldn’t be important, and valued. And there is no reason why nurturing shouldn’t be something we expect from and celebrate about people of any sex, any gender, any sexuality.

The problem is that too many people fail to ‘unpack’ what is really going on when we use concepts like feminine… and by using these concepts invoke the entire conceptual assemblage that generated them and supports them as systems of oppressive power. Yeah, that.

 You can check out a big example of why “feminine-ization” is such a misguided strategy of liberation… scan my blog post about “Transforming to a Feminist Economy”, a talk I gave a year ago at the SheEO World Summit. Also, check out the fabulous skirt I’m wearing in the video.

There are more problems we bring in when we misuse “Feminine” as a way to promote the equality and agency of womxn, females, people of all bodes, and people of all presentations. … Including:

This construction — the whole categorization system– reinforces a false binary! We only get two choices– masculine or feminine — and as with all binaries, one half is ‘better’ than the other.

Making it worse: These models are essentialist! You have to have a uterus and/ or a vulva to be ‘feminine’. So if you are a trans woman or transman, you are excluded from every really ‘being’ feminine or masculine. And, if you’re GNC– gender non-conforming, well the name says it, right?

This shit’s racist! Look at the list of qualities that count as feminine! (see page 35 of my book! Yes, that’s a plug!). Those qualities only work to define delicate WHITE LADIES. In WHITE WESTERN CULTURE. If you are an indigenous woman on turtle island, you can’t be “feminine” in the “right, White” ways. If you are a descendant of an enslaved African, sorry you can’t be feminine in the “right, White” ways either. Because that’s how ‘femininity’ works.

Like so many dominant frameworks, it never carries the ‘markers’ of the culture or worldview it comes from or supports, yet the Feminine/ Masculine system that most folks accept as ‘human’ is actually an IMPERIALIST framework that tells us to treat it as if it’s universal. When it isn’t. These imposed White Western categories of masculine and feminine push out whatever descriptions and idealized goals that indigenous cultures might have for their own styles of being.

Which brings me to the impact-oriented section:

◦                Why do so many people promote “feminine” leadership, “feminine” economies”, the “eternal Feminine goddess stuff available only to those who have vulvas”, and any other use of feminine???

 ◦                Why are there so many people out there who think they are helping the feminist cause, when all they are doing is reinforcing WITHOUT EXAMINING this system?

 I believe it’s because (preliminary hypotheses):

 §  We have been diminished in society because we have these qualities. We know them to be valuable, and when we reclaim them we are at the same time reclaiming and proclaiming our own value as women and/or as female people.

§  So many of these qualities are simply lovely to perform and lovely to experience from others. We want that loveliness back in our lives and our businesses… and we want it in the light and not in the shadow.

§  We want these qualities valued for the work they take, the work they perform, and the value they generate for all of us.

§  We generally don’t have a sophisticated-enough analysis to recognize when this ‘reclaiming of’ and ‘returning to’ femininity becomes reinforcing of larger patriarchal and oppressive patterns.

§  We haven’t learned how to reclaim these features because they’ve been female-ized and women-sized while at the same time embracing them as irrelevant to female-ness and woman-ness. … we don’t know how to detach them and value them outside the gender binary and outside the gender hierarchy.


Originally published June 2020