Monday, December 28, 2009

What does it mean to be feminine?

A new YW Personal Progress Program will be coming out soon. The new books will be pink. The color choice is very deliberate. Sister Dalton explains:
We are excited about the color of pink, because we think these young women are pink. They resonate to the softness and the femininity of that color. We want them to understand that they are soft, they are unique, they are feminine and that they don't have to be like the boys, to focus on femininity, on the softness of young women.
That word "soft" is bugging some people. And yet, I think there is meaning we can get from mulling over it a bit. Here are some of my thoughts.

Even though I think sometimes it's hard to talk about what femininity is (language is limited, or at least can be (very) charged, as seen sometimes when the topic of femininity is discussed and frustration is expressed about some teachings on the subject). And yet, femininity is valued and talked about by our leaders. (Sis. Dalton definitely isn't the first one to address this subject of femininity. See, for example, here, here, here, and here.)

FWIW, I grew up a tomboy (e.g., only girl in shop class, twice (sooo fun!); very active in sports growing up (including only girl playing basketball with the boys for recess way back when); had hobbies that were more masculine, like doing models; etc.). I studied a field that had an 80/20 ratio of men to women in the classroom, and ratios more on the male side professionally as well. I'm more naturally suited to a board room than a kitchen or nursery or Primary class. I am not instinctively a huge fan of pink (my baby blankie was blue...maybe that has something to do with it - hehe), and I don't particularly care for frills and trendy or girly stuff. And sometimes I can have a hard time processing what "feminine" should mean for me.

But I have found value in pondering how I might be able to be more feminine. I feel I can embrace that concept while still embracing my personality and interests. I don't know that I will ever be a "typical" female in some ways (whatever we think that may mean), but I do believe that there is power in rejoicing in the concept of femininity -- whatever God may guide each of us to discern what that means for us individually, magnifying unique gifts, talents, and strengths, not necessarily taking away from them.

I think sometimes these kinds of ideas (such as what it means to be feminine) are rejected outright because they either feel too vague, or because they may feel like cookie-cutters to some -- that somehow it's all about molds and stereotypes and expectations that we can't or don't fulfill. I think, rather, we can think of them as guideposts to carefully consider and prayerfully apply, as guided through the Spirit. Something may not seem to "fit" at first, but I think time and patience can sometimes show that even principles that didn't click initially can yield impiortant fruit.

As I think about it, I think the new youth theme ("Be strong and of a good courage") and the concept of femininity can actually go hand in hand. I say this because I believe there is power in womanhood. I've been pondering this concept for years, and although I can't fully articulate it all, I can say that I have felt very strongly the reality that women bring something unique and important to the plan of God -- both collectively and individually. And I think the more we can seek guidance in how to be more "feminine" the better instruments in God's hands we women can be.

So, as I ponder the word "soft," I think of things like the following:

Soft can be a soft answer (Prov 15:1) and soft words (Job 41:3) or a 'soft tongue' (Prov 25:15). (The Spirit's voice is sometimes described as soft, such as here or here.)

It can include a soft heart. (e.g., Job 23:16)

Or "lead[ing] on softly" (Gen. 33:14).

Or being a soft place for others to fall.

It could tie into being soft-spoken (hard for someone as opinionated and vocal as I can be).

I think it also has something to do with being (or seeking to be) nurturers. Think of the "soft" sciences, for example -- they have to do more with people and relationships. (I'm NOT saying that those fields are the only ones women should pursue -- I'm just mulling over the word "soft" and how it is sometimes used.)

More thoughts, anyone?


Grandma Honey said...

I had no idea about the new Personal Progress program so I thank you for sharing being I'm a counselor in our ward YWs. I love the pink!

jendoop said...

I commented on the original post that sparked your post. Thanks for the thoughts.

ji said...

There is no absolute definition of feminine, and this is good because it allows beautiful women to express their feminity in different ways. And there is no absolute definition of masculine, either, and that's good, too. I'm a man, and I consider myself fully masculine in every way, but I wouldn't want to be defined by someone else's definition of masculine.

Feminity is beautiful and powerful. Masculinity is beautiful and powerful. Together they can complement each other perfectly.

In some endeavors, those with masculine traits are generally (but not exclusively) more likely to succeed. In other endeavors, those with feminine traits are generally (but not exclusively) more likely to succeed.

It takes both to be truly godly. God created us in his (don't fret about the gender) own image, male and female. Feminity is godly. Masculinity is godly.

BookwormMama said...

Hmm... I grew up with 5 brothers... I was a tomboy myself. So was my mother. I had a hard time figuring out what was "feminine" for myself.
As for soft...that word brings nice memories to my mind... Mom's squishy hugs as a little girl, Grandma in her apron baking cookies or pie. Yum. Soft reminds me of a mother nursing her baby. Soft reminds me of my father sitting down with me and talking with me about my day, lovingly and kindly. Soft is my mom sitting on the bed talking to me when I am upset and having a hard day... trying to help me feel better. Soft is my younger brother telling me as I prepared to run away from home, "Please don't leave, Steph. I need you." Soft is my Mom apologizing for hurting my feelings when I was a teenager. Soft is my parents hugging my new husband in the sealing room and welcoming him as their new son-in-law. Soft is being the first touch a baby feels as she/he enters the world. Soft is holding my screaming, colicky baby for hours in the hallway in the middle of the night. Soft is holding my new baby for the first time. Soft is my Grandma saying to me every time I call, "Oh, Hi, Stephanie!" Soft is my Dad opening the car door for my Mom every time they go out. Soft is feeling my husband's strong hands on my head as he blesses me while I lay sick in bed. Soft is walking, crippled and doubled over in pain, to my baby's NICU incubator to see her for the first time. Soft is holding my baby for the first time and singing to her as she drinks her breastmilk from a bottle after refusing to eat for 3 days from a tube. Soft is reading scriptures with my 6 year old who is learning how to read. Soft is teaching my 3 year old how to pray. Soft is praying for my children and husband. Soft is holding my friends hand while having an ultrasound confirm that her baby has died inside of her. Soft is running up the stairs to save my daughter from falling out the window while 8 months pregnant. Soft is taking all my children to church me alone every Sunday while dealing with a chronic illness and keeping a joyful spirit. Soft is staying with my son in the nursery because of his terror of being alone. Soft is admitting my weaknesses and learning from them. Soft is going to my priesthood leaders for counsel and help when I need it. Soft is taking care of my children when I would rather sleep. Soft is sending a difficult to love family member a memorable gift with pictures and a story book. Soft is making a memory book of my children's lives. Soft is saying I Love You everyday. Soft is welcoming my husband home at the door whenever he comes home.

Anyways... I could go on... :}

m_and_m said...

I'm not sure what is happening, but I no longer get email updates for comments, so sorry that some of these sat for a while! Thanks for your thoughts.

Jill, you are welcome. I look forward to looking through the new book.

ji, thanks for your thoughts. I agree with you that there are no absolute definitions of feminine or masculine, and that godliness really includes both. That in and of itself is something to ponder, imo. The highest degree of glory and exaltation includes both a man and a woman. That to me is significant at many levels.

Stephanie, love your thoughts about soft. I love how you capture how the characteristics that may be 'soft' can cross genders. In another discussion on this topic, someone felt that my thoughts on 'soft' limited these traits (such as being soft-spoken) only to females. That is NOT what I intended. I think that ultimately, we are all to strive for Christlike characteristics, which I think Stephanie's list captures really well. Still, I think that God made male and female and that we are different in some ways--not in fully generalizable ways, but still, in ways that are meant to complement, not compete.

I get the sense that Sister Dalton wants to remind us that we don't have to compete with males. We don't have to be "equal" in the way the world sometimes will measure equality -- by position, promotions, or paychecks. Women and men, each with some unique roles, responsibilities, and characteristics brings important things to the plan of God.

Whitney said...

Michelle --

Great post! This is certainly a question that I grapple with. I want to be feminine, and I know what it isn't, but am never quite sure exactly what feminine is. Here's a post that I wrote that is my current thinking.