Posts Tagged ‘soft’

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For The Braintrust

January 20, 2014

She was a lunch lady. And she was as butch as they come. Every day she wore a regulation polo shirt tucked into high waisted, dark blue dickies, even when the other ladies wore floral prints or simple jeans or maybe even skirts under their uniform aprons. Her hair was buzzed within an inch of its life, while still arguably presenting as “hair” and not “bald.”  She had a deep, gravelly voice, and a hearty smoker’s laugh. She was heavy.  She was boxy. You would not hesitate to call her mannish… if it weren’t for those damn nails.

Her nails were impeccably manicured and impossibly long. She must have spent hours on them every night, for the shape and polish to remain so flawless despite working in a high school kitchen. It was clearly an aspect of herself for which she had great pride, and which was a part of her identity.

As a teenager, I was confused by what I thought of as a highly feminine adornment on an otherwise manly human. To this day, honestly, it still throws me a bit. Did they make her feel sexy? Did they make her feel beautiful? Was she even going for beautiful? But then I find myself a bit confused by what defines femininity in general.

At least as far as the news was concerned, womanhood was not celebrated in my home. I’m ashamed to say to this day when I hear the names Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi, the words “banshee” and “bitch” pop into my head, because that’s how my father referred to them. Regrettably, It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I began to learn about what accomplished, remarkable women they are. My dad would make cracks about the “shrewishness” of these particular women or about women in general who can’t drive or about women failing at something or other in the public eye, and it was always said as if I were something other than those creatures. Over time I came to see myself as some outsider looking in to my gender. I knew he valued my abilities and believed in my future, but regularly dismissed women in the world, so I must be something other than this thing he despises.

I was never given the tools to understand womanhood and femininity from a place of power, only from a place of weakness. Instead, over the years I developed other tools for survival – I learned how to use logic and reason, I learned how to use timing and comedy, I honed a low, clear voice with a definitive edge; I’ve been called “authoritative” more than once, rarely meant in praise. And as a result, there is a softness within me that I have trouble letting people see, still harboring old beliefs about what releasing that vulnerability would mean.

Sometimes I wonder, when I get my weekly(ish) manicure, if people are looking at me the same way I looked at that lunch lady – why does she bother? How does one feel both soft and strong without tipping into accommodating or overbearing? What on earth is femininity?

From just a quick search online, I’ve read a few great responses to this question, so instead of writing more about my own confusion, I thought I’d try something different and pose the question to my brainstrust of powerful women out there. How do you define your femininity? How do you define your womanhood? What makes you feel strong? What makes you feel weak? How do you see yourself in the world as a part of this great sisterhood? And does anyone out there, ever feel as bewildered as I do?

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