Femininity: The quality of being female; womanliness.
Feminism: The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
– Oxford Dictionary
” My notions of femininity and feminism have always existed in the interstices between race and class. Growing up in rural California in the 80s, and like so many of my peers at the time, I had the sky-high, hair-sprayed hair (thank you Aqua Net) and the ringlet perm that was so typical of the era. I wore some serious war paint for a few years….until I got serious about my future. Then it became clear that I would have to leave some things behind if I wanted to be taken seriously and, in my own mind, if I wanted to live true to the principles of feminism.
While my own mother wore no make-up, and god bless her, was and continues to be naturally beautiful (I know we all say this about our mothers, but in my case it really is true!), the image of the ruby-red lipstick wearing Latina was something Hollywood always made sure I was aware of. Not wanting to be that spitfire stereotype, by the time I fulfilled my childhood dream of going to UC Berkeley, I quickly learned that there were a few no-no´s about my look:
Make-up? In the bin. Wearing it was succumbing to patriarchal notions of femininity. Besides, people should love you for what you have on the inside and not on the outside.
Beautiful high heels? Toss ´em, another symbol of female subjugation. I became all about the Birkenstocks, flats, and sports shoes (though I didn’t exercise)
Frilly dresses that gave any hint of the female form? Jeans were best but sweats a close runner-up. At one point, I had about 15 pairs of jeans. Dresses? No way. All of us, male and female, were the same and dressed only accentuated societal notions of gender. (And I will never forget a friend offering me a change of clothes when I showed up in my flowery dress…I can only laugh now!)
shaved legs and armpits? Natural was the only way to go.
Interesting enough, the only class I took while at UC Berkeley that supported the idea that femininity and feminism could perfectly co-exist was one on Gender! But everything else about being at CAL made clear that my version of femininity was too backward. So I adjusted.
By the time I hit law school, my dress code was set in stone. I occasionally wore a dress if the situation merited it, and I immediately felt uncomfortable. So it became permanent: I couldn´t shake the notion that my notion of femininity, as I had experienced it, equated weakness.
In the subsequent 15-20 odd years, I married, moved countries, had two children. During that period, my workplaces reflected my attitudes about femininity: jeans acceptable, little if any makeup, plain hair.
And amidst all this, in my early 40s, my husband and I had faced a serious crisis. After several years where the highs were incredibly high, and the lows incredibly low, we had become roommates…without benefits. We lived in stone cold silences, only to reconcile with the sweetest of whisperings, with my husband asking me why I was hiding that diamond inside. Only to find ourselves feeling alone and lonely again a few days later. After seriously considering a divorce, we re-committed to one another. And each of us set on a path of self-discovery in order to get that spark back (you can read about it on my website here).
The result of that emotional re-commitment made each of us face some hard truths about ourselves and about each other. One element for me was discovering that I had, indeed, squelched and smothered a diamond inside. That everything that made me wonderful was there, waiting to be discovered…not by anyone else, but by me. So it was that in my 40s, I began wearing make-up again. I learned how to walk in heels again. I got my first waxing treatment (I can still hear the hair removal specialist’s yelp…that’s another story). I got my ears pierced at a jewelry store in Indischebuurt, where my very girly friend Ileana was only too happy to hold my hand. (I will forever be grateful to her).
Of course, wearing make-up and heels did not make me more feminine: I am a woman, I am feminine (see Oxford definition). I believe in equal rights for woman. I am feminist. But through the entire process, I learned that I don’t need to hide what makes me feel happy and feminine…and that includes rejoicing in my female form. Even Alicia Keys, a supporter of the no makeup movement, said on the Today show, an American morning show, that she has nothing against make-up. “I love make-up too…“It’s about how you feel. It’s about who you are. It’s about being who you are and not being told who you should be. This conversation shows our obsession with the standard we hold women and beauty.” Alicia and I are at the same time having reached the same conclusion. And I no longer buy my story that only makeup-free women are taken seriously. It simply is no longer my story, and I feel liberated. Free. My story is rejoicing in my newfound notions of femininity. And relishing in each and every one of them, high heels (well…2-inch platforms max) and all! And part of that was participating in Cristina Stoian’s amazing project.
That said, I also don’t let it all hang out. But even if I did, the decision to do so would be mine. And that is feminism and femininity at its best.” Leticia Vasquez
Leticia Vasquez is a relationship coach. She loves helping women to find lifelong romance without repeating themselves incessantly, whether by crying in rage, sulking, silently seething or fighting. Her approach is rooted in mindfulness and consists of six tools that can help any relationship be rooted in calm, peace…and passion. www.leticia-vasquez.com