For my column last week, I wanted to use a photo of myself that was ultra feminine and sexy, for rebuttal purposes. But that got me thinking about femininity and feminism. I have been a feminine person all of my life. In fact, I wish I had adult-sized versions of some of my childhood pink dresses. Speaking of childhood; a girlhood obsession with Barbies has lead me to a current obsession with fashion, and I proudly have every issue of Cosmo and Glamour produced in the last year archived on my bookshelf. I own pink-and cheetah print luggage, and I have more clothes in my dorm room than any college student should. I wear a short skirt almost every day, I cannot go into a drugstore without cruising the beauty aisle, I am currently sporting a faux-blonde hairstyle, and if I had to do the math, I have probably spent a year of my life doing my hair. In short, my name is Justine, and I’m feminine.
However, sometimes I feel like my ultra feminine presentation does not match my identity as a strong feminist. As a feminist, I know that my very feminine appearance fits perfectly with social-constructs that determine what a woman should look like. When I find myself being looked at through the “male gaze,” I’m pretty sure they like what they see. As a feminist, I also know that magazines like Cosmo and Glamour present information almost exclusively for cis-gendered, straight women. I also know that my decision to wear things like short skirts and makeup opens me up to critics who think that I dress the way I do to “please men.” At Mount Holyoke, I’ve certainly had my fair share of criticism.
I love Mount Holyoke because it’s a place where we can have discussions about things like gender and sexuality and their place in our society. However, my normative presentation often makes me an “odd duck” when I express my views on gender and sexuality. People are surprised that I embrace feminist assertions like the social construction of gender and sexuality. I am a person of overwhelming privilege because my gender presentation and sexuality are considered “normal” and “acceptable” in even the most conservative of western societies. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see problems like that one gender presentation or sexual identity is considered “better” than another. Perhaps the most difficult part of being both very feminine and very feminist is when people are surprised that I’m a good student. Since I’ve been at college, it has happened more than once. As a feminist, it makes me so angry that people would assume that femininity cannot equal intellect. An anonymous person once wrote to me on the Mount Holyoke Compliments page, and they mentioned that they know that has been a difficult part of my college experience.
Sometimes though, I do manage to stop wrestling with my feminine/feminist identity. I remind myself that while Cosmo is a largely heteronormative magazine, it works to fight the issue of campus rape, quite the feminist cause. I browse the feminist tag on tumblr, and remember that there are feminists out there of all different identities. And I remember that my own personal interpretation of feminism is that all people, of all different sexual identities and gender presentations and races, and religions and everything, should have the ability to be themselves, regardless of societal constructions.