English 103/Definition Essay
28 Feb 2015
Feminine-But not Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice
“What are little girls made of, what are little girls made of, sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of?” A nursery rhyme often sung as a child on the playground had a very definitive message; the act of being a girl should equal being sweet and nice. The rest of the nursery rhyme describes boys as made of “snips and snails and puppy dog tails”. The nursery rhyme implies girls are supposed to be sweet as sugar and also nice. “Feminine” in The Merriam-Webster Dictionary is defined as qualities characteristic of or appropriate or peculiar to women. However, current society does not necessarily associate the definition of feminine as based on gender. Even with that nursery rhyme echoing in the back of my mind and having the knowledge that I was female, I didn’t associate the word feminine with only wearing dresses, fixing my hair, or wearing make-up but also associated it with digging for worms, riding motorcycles and loving toads. I wasn’t being feminine. I was being me. Feminine or female meant being capable of independent, intelligent opinions, the choice to pursue any interest or hobby, all accompanied by human traits, rather than female traits, such as sensitivity, love, compassion, strength, and integrity with the confidence to shout yes; I love all of these things and I am female.
My early experience and awareness of the word feminine would begin in my teenage years. Feminine would begin to mean a girl who is “girly”. A “girly girl” could not get their hands dirty for fear of breaking a nail. Couldn’t get sweaty and have their hair out of place. The “girly girls” always laughed at anything a man said, even if it was not funny. These girls never had an opinion of their own but repeatedly adopted the opinion of others.
This definition personally takes on the negative connotations of the word feminine for me. I grew up in the 1970’s during monumental social changes such as Roe V. Wade, The Civil Rights Movement and The Equal Rights Amendment. My household was governed by a strong single mother of three children and I had two very strong television female role models such as Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman. Both role models were strong, capable, and confident women whose attractive outer appearance was representative of femininity during the 1970’s. Jennifer Ball, assistant Professor of History at Clarkson University in her article, “The Wonder of Wonder Woman” applauds the definition of feminine that her show portrays, “Wonder Woman reacted with surprise and dismay at traits, such as deviousness, dishonesty, or using feminine wiles to manipulate others, in her adversaries. She often hoped these women would ‘learn from their unwomanly mistakes’. Her view provided a very strong challenge to the widely accepted view that these behaviors were typical of women” (Ball). These two characters didn’t concern themselves with being feminine but with integrity and justice. In my mind as a child, these characters taught me that there were no boundaries because I was female. Having grown up in rural Pennsylvania, I was not reared with the mindset that girls didn’t get dirty or were weaker than boys. As a result, I was playing football with my male cousins, fishing, riding motorcycles, horses, and skateboards and still wearing a dress to school most days.
Most of the traits listed in regards to feminine should be defined as human traits rather than exclusively pertaining to a woman. All humans can share feminine and masculine traits regardless of whether or not they are female or male. Specific traits that can only be considered female and gender specific are maternal and child-bearing. In the quest to find out what feminine means to today’s popular culture I chose to interview close friends and family on what the definition of feminine means to them and their answers gave me a clearer