Femininity – What do you think it means in 2012?

Back in the day, if you were a woman and you played or were associated with sport, everyone assumed you were gay, because in order to play sport and be good at it, you were seen as having masculine characteristics – and, of course, there was no way you could be feminine and gay. Sadly I don’t think this has changed much over the years, in fact I think it has become worse as more women are in the sporting limelight. I believe there is pressure on women, in sport in particular, from society, to present as feminine – which in turn highlights the still very rife institutional homophobia.

This time round, I have immersed myself in the Olympics, watching everything from athletics to water polo, beach volleyball to judo. I even managed a glimpse of the women’s boxing, but had to switch over, I don’t like men’s boxing; I’m definitely not doing to watch women in a sport I really don’t enjoy.

During all of my viewing, and there have been many hours, what I have noticed is that so many sportswomen – whether in the pool or on the field, in a boat or on a horse – wear make up, often loads of make up and jewellery, their nails painted in extraordinary colours, some with the emblems of their national flags, others in florescent greens and pinks. I have commented on this many times. Women swimmers, with their swimmer’s shoulders and incredibly fit bodies, have no qualms about showing smudged mascara when their goggles are removed. I worried about their earrings, whether they would come off mid lap and be lost in Olympic chlorine. So I find myself wondering if the choice to wear so much make up and bling has anything to do with the need to present as feminine? Because those are the obvious attributes and accessories that society considers as feminine, because maybe they, the sportswomen, are worried people will think they are gay, because so often people assume that to be unfeminine is to be gay, and deep down they don’t want to risk being seen as gay. Because they have a problem with it. Because we have a problem with it.

Every dictionary I have looked through describes femininity as pertaining to womanly traits, although they don’t go on to say what those traits are. To be feminine is sited as someone who shows female characteristics, ‘peculiar or appropriate to, women or the female sex.’ People often use the adjective unfeminine to describe women who don’t wear makeup, ungainly women, women with short hair, women who are super fit or have well worked out bodies, women who enjoy technology, women who ride motorbikes, women who have short nails, or prefer trousers to dresses or skirts. And the list goes on. Do we therefore assume that to be feminine is everything that is opposite to the above? I don’t think so. Surely femininity is in the eye of the beholder? Some men and women love women who wear casual, sporty clothes with not a hint of make up, while others adore women in high heels, faces painted and wearing the most revealing of clothes. But does the latter way of presenting oneself really make a woman more feminine?

I know loads of women who would consider themselves feminine because they wear make up, paint their nails, wear all the accoutrements that society associates with femininity – and yet there is very little I would consider feminine about them. Personally I think it’s about a lot more than the way you look. I don’t think you can make yourself feminine, you either are or you’re not. Loads of straight women are not feminine, many gay women are, the worry for me, in relation to the sports world, is that heterosexual sportswomen feel pressured by a society that is often homophobic, and so need to prove they are straight – and therefore more acceptable. And the way to do so is by presenting as ‘feminine’ – made up and bejewelled. At least that’s the message I’m getting, specifically in relation to women and sport. I have watched male athletes ‘bumping’ bodies, rather than hugging. I can only assume that male athletes hugging might be seen as effeminate, and lead people to question whether they are gay. Then again, maybe it’s a cool and contemporary athlete’s body bump, and what they all do these days.

When I look at gay women in sport, Martina Navratilova, Billy Jean King, Amelie Mauresmo (I can’t name any in other sports, but I am sure they exist) or British actors, stand ups and presenters – Heather Peace, Susan Calman, Clare Balding, I applaud them, people love them for who they are not what they are, they are all professional and brilliant at their jobs, that they are gay is of no relevance to most viewers. Are they feminine? I know what I think, but your opinion may differ to mine and you may have subconsciously decided that because they are gay, they can’t be feminine.

Whenever I watch I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here, I often find the women who choose not to wear make up are the most attractive in the jungle. There’s something very earthy and real about them and they all look younger without layers of foundation and mascara and bright red lipstick. Then again when my wife returns from having been on the TV, caked in makeup, I love how she looks! So is femininity about more than the way you look? What constitutes femininity in 2012?

I only wear make up if I am going out to events/dinners etc, it’s not much fun putting it on only to sit in front of a computer all day, and then taking it off hours later (which is very tedious!). I love dresses but they are not always appropriate. I used to have long nails, but they are short now, because I can’t write with long nails. I prefer minimal jewellery, my hair is shoulder length because I like to have the choice to tie it up. I am not super fit, but I am fit, and I do enjoy sport. I love love love technology. I used to ride a motorbike, when I was much younger, but I couldn’t wear the skirts and shorts I wanted to, had one accident and sold it. I prefer cars, I love cars, I am at my happiest driving. I love being a woman, but I don’t feel the need to dress myself up, make myself up, in order to prove I am what society might call feminine. When I was younger, I was so worried about being labelled, concerned about people seeing me as a stereotype, that I went out of my way to look ‘feminine’. As I have grown older, that pressure has gone, and I am happy to look like and wear what I choose to on any given day.

I’m not for one moment suggesting that what sportswomen wear, or how they present themselves, is wrong. Ultimately, I really hope all of them, as amazing as they are, and they are amazing, wear what they want to, with or without make up, with or without jewels. I hope what they wear isn’t determined by societal pressure, because perhaps while we’re happy to see men sweating and messy and dirty and purely engaged in physical work, we all too often want our women, working as hard as the men, working at the same peak of fitness, to look pretty too?


I apologise for the awful ad links that WordPress controls on blogs. I have tried to block them, but cannot. Loads of people have complained, so anyone who is in the know, please tell me!

5 thoughts on “Femininity – What do you think it means in 2012?

  1. Do you think you can know and recognise a gay woman, after meeting her of course? You would recognise my youngest daughter as being gay because she has never made any attempt to look feminine but I am told ‘one knows another’!! I don’t think you know, but I had a gay brother and also have a gay grandson who is nearly 21-which probably explains why I never have had a problem – just a large gay family – most of us don’t have a problem – one of my daughter’s two children only have gay godparents but I feel desperately sad for those with parents who disapprove- it’s very tough for them and that makes me a bit cross!

    1. Hi Jane

      Delighted you commented, thank you. Personally, I can’t tell, probably because I’m not looking out for it, but other women might be more switched on than me! I suppose also because I live in a community (friends and family) who are a mix of everything and everyone, I just fit in. There are gay women who live separatist lives, as much as that is possible, but that is not what I want or do. I’ve gone off on a tangent now. I remember a friend’s mother (who has three gay daughters) once said to us that she wished one of her daughters looked like us…make up, dresses…heels etc. You be cross, that’s when change happens, not that you need to change! xx

  2. Obviously, I don’t talk about my family on Twitter – my son is the only one who follows me and he doesn’t much anyway, but I respect that they would not want it and anyway it’s none of my business but I did want to tell you why I am so supportive of gay rights etc etc and don’t have any problems with anyone! Phew!!

  3. Being a bloke, of course I’m going to ask what motorbike it was.
    Male athletes do hug, though you’re right, not much in the Olympics. There is a lot of non-essential stuff on show, male and female: sunglasses, necklaces, rings, earrings, hair-dos, tattoos, makeup (female only so far). All kinda irrelevant to the sport. It doesn’t bother me, but I wouldn’t miss it. And I think many fit & strong women look sexy because they’re fit and strong. May be in the male minority here 🙂

    1. Great response, thanks Mark. I had a Honda 50 first, the a Suzuki 125. Yeah, I think they’re all damn sexy, the men and the women, with or without make up or bling, I think it’s also because they work so hard, I have nothing but respect for them. X

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