Too Feminine?

Posted By on May 6, 2012

In his parenting manual, Emile, the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that men and women are made differently and therefore require different types of upbringing. He espoused what today many people call a “complementarian” view of gender, which refers to the idea that the differences between men and women complement and enhance each other.
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Rousseau’s representation of gender falls along the typical polarities, with man being active and woman being passive; man being strong, woman being weak; man being bold, woman being bashful and reserved, etc. While some of Rousseau’s distinctions are exaggerated and stereotypical, we must give him credit for understanding an important point: men and women are different. As he put it, “where sex is concerned man and woman are unlike; each is the complement of the other…”
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Many female thinkers in the 18th and 19th century accepted this complementarian framework, even while offering appropriate challenges to our picture of what constituted “feminine” attributes. Female writers see themselves defending their sex precisely through maintaining gender distinctions. For example, the Victorian writer Elizabeth Wordsworth once noted that “In an ideal state of society, we never lose sight of the womanliness of women…why should it be considered a compliment to any woman to be told she writes, paints, sings, talks, or even thinks, like a man?”
.Enter 20th century feminism. Now feminist writers see themselves as defending women through attempting to do away with the gender divide. The womanliness of women is no longer a fit object for praise; but neither is it uplifting to explicitly praise women for being like men. Rather, under the feminist androgyny and egalitarianism of the 20th century, the greatest gift we can give to women is by questioning the very category of masculine and feminine.
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Zooey Deschanel. Too Feminine?

Under the canopy of the new stereotype of gender neutrality, the greatest censure comes against women who are too womanly. Just look at all the nasty things that Third Wave feminists have said against actress and musician Zooey Deschanel for being too feminine.
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Zooey is a bad example for young women, feminists argue, because she is too “girly,” thus solidifying the impression that women are more attractive to men when they embody girly characteristics. The icing on the cake was when Zooey announced in Twitter that she enjoys baking and board games. Ugg – how feminine!
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One of the reasons Zooey is criticized so heavily is because she allegedly conforms to gender stereotypes. But the real problem is that she is unusual among contemporary actresses in that she does not conform to the new stereotype of gender neutrality.

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About The Author

Robin Phillips is the author of Saints and Scoundrels and writes for a variety of publications, including Salvo Magazine and Touchstone and the Colson Center. He is currently working on a PhD in historical theology through Kings College, London. He lives in North Idaho with his wife, Esther, where they run the Nature's Essential Oils website. Robin's personal blog is Robin's Readings and Reflections.

Comments

2 Responses to “Too Feminine?”

  1. Jenn84 says:

    No, Roussea does not get credit for simply saying that men and women are “different”. Everyone knew that back then, but he, like so many, was brashly insulting in his definitions.

  2. LVH says:

    Interesting article, Mr. Phillips! :-) You bring up an interesting situation in which this female actress is made fun of for her “traditional” feminine qualities.

    I find the topics of gender and sex to be quite intriguing. The (stereotypical) traits that define masculinity and femininity in America are quite different than those that I find in my parent’s culture.My father, for example, displays traits that don’t necessarily fall in line with what I call “American masculinity.” He is very quiet, reserved and passive. He is very nurturing and I would say equally as nurturing as my mother was.

    I wonder if the real lesson here is that we, as a society, should focus on accepting a person for who they are and not make their differences an issue in which to discriminate or bully or make fun of…

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