Tag womanhood

2 posts

On Femininity

Good Homeschooled Girls are supposed to be perfect. They’re supposed to be Pollyanna, Elsie Dinsmore, and Jane Bennet.  They’re supposed to be completely innocent, unnoticed, modest, graceful, but still look beautiful and unblemished (while not thinking too hard about it).

Good Homeschooled Girls are impossible. All of us are wearing masks, we’re all acting feminine, we’re all hiding ourselves, because none of us are that perfect.


Instead, we are berated – we are told we are never enough, that we’ll never be good enough, that we don’t measure up. We’re told we need to fix our hair and only wear makeup to cover our acne, we’re told we need to look just so – but not focus on it. Our appearance and personalities are shamed, muted. We are turned into china dolls – empty, silent, porcelain – while we die slowly inside. Our unique identities are stripped – told to be sinful – our independence denied, and to fight for it is to abandon all that we were raised to be.


Our dreams – if they exist outside the chosen path – are cast aside, scoffed at, or allowed under very specific circumstances and made to end upon marriage and/or pregnancy. And if we abandon this dream, or if we seem to have a particularly hard time measuring up to this standard? We are broken, and there is something wrong with us. To base our worth in who we are instead of when our uterus is used flies in the face of this ideal.


Elsie DinsmoreBeautiful Girlhood, and Jane Austen are the books that are handed to us as examples of femininity and how we should conduct ourselves. Good Homeschooled Girls are supposed to be quiet, demure, masters in the art of domesticity – never raising their voices or asserting themselves, never doing heavy lifting (unless it’s babies or laundry baskets), always walking with poise, always graceful, always innocent and perfect, never loud.


The first two emphasize the devaluing of self as godly and feminine. I can’t speak to Jane Austen because I’ve never been able to make it past the first chapter.


Innocent, all with Hayley Mills and a yellow house in Maine and everything, harmless. Right? If we leave it at the movie, sure(?). I didn’t know at the time, but the outdated standards they sing about – is something that is invisibly expected of all Good Homeschooled Girls.
The line: hide the real you while it was probably meant to be funny and absurd was essentially my way of life.


I’ve always been stubborn, strong-willed, and independent – when it worked in my parents favor, this was a good thing, otherwise it was something to be squelched.


I was never really a tom-boy, sports bored me and seemed pointless – which, I suppose naturally meant I was a good candidate for the social experiment of super-girly-femininity. I was given books – Elsie Dinsmore, Beautiful Girlhood, Pride and Prejudice or Emma or Northanger Abbey (I don’t remember which ended up in our collection), and etiquette 101 for tweens (I can’t remember the name). I had to learn to be hospitable and submissive, though my parents never (or rarely) used the word feminine. Submissive and feminine are often synonymous here.


I read them, dutifully, internalizing the expectations (well except Austen. I just couldn’t, but that comes in later). My parents never really talked with me about this, they had a tendency to just give me the books and expect I learn from them. Elsie is less fiction and more a not-so-subtle way of giving young girls impossible and unhealthy expectations and telling them they’re worthless if they can’t master it as Elsie did.
It didn’t take long for me to realize Elsie is an impossible set of standards that I was never going to meet. Though the real line was when she married her father’s best friend. I couldn’t bring myself to do it anymore, arranged marriages to a man who’s old enough to be your father who was creepy as hell to you when you were 8, AND you’re too perfect and ideal to even exist or be relatable. Just, no.


The appeal of the civil war/regency era vanished – because I saw through what they were trying to do and I think it was my own secret form of rebellion, sort of. Good Homeschooled Girls are given these books as guidelines – Beautiful Girlhood literally is a guideline for femininity and social conduct.

As much as I tried to mask my nature, to hide the real me, I was never able to do it well enough to be the pinnacle of femininity that I felt I was supposed to be.


Austen bored me, because I couldn’t get into the obsession with ribbons and dresses and who’s-courting-who. Elsie and Beautiful girlhood just made me more painfully aware of the inadequacies I was already painfully aware of.


I felt broken. I felt broken because I didn’t live up to this idealized standard of godly womanhood (or girlhood). I felt broken because I am not delicate, and no amount of silencing myself was going to re-write the core of my DNA. I come from a line of stubborn women, you can’t demure you’re way out of it. Or maybe you can, but I couldn’t. I felt like that meant I was less desirable (the end-goal of being female being married and having kids).


Being born female meant that I had my entire life and code of conduct set in front of me, no personality required. I was required to follow the program. I felt wrong because the very fiber of my being was in direct opposition to it.
It still is. 


I remember when I was 11 or 12 trying painfully to write fiction about an edwardian-era girl (instead of my book about the secret society of women who fought in the Revolution via spying because the Quartering Act) who sat in a garden in her frilly dresses and waited for suitors. I think I got maybe 4 paragraphs and then became frustrated because it was impossible for me to even write about that without getting bored.

The idea of being locked up, spending my life in waiting for someone to whisk me away, and then to spend the rest of my life locked up birthing and raising children horrified me. No matter how hard I tried to make it not, or how hard I tried to make it seem…as ultimate as people were telling me, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself it wasn’t certain death.

I couldn’t escape the feeling of the futility and meaninglessness of my life if all I was allowed to do was wait, and then have kids, and hope that one day they’d grow up to do the great things that I wanted to spend my life doing.


That meant something was wrong with me. I was too independent and god wouldn’t like that.

I remember being told, on several occasions, when I chose to fight for my autonomy, “independence is bad [for a woman], how do you think GOD feels about that [me being autonomous]?”


I was wrong and broken because I was not, am not, could not be demure, quiet, and feminine. I would never live up to the standards that good homeschooled girls are supposed to live up to – no matter how many masks I put on, or how hard I tried to hide myself.
I may never have been a tom-boy, but I was never the epitome of girlishness either.


Masks could only cover so much. I found ways to let myself be stubborn in subtle and approved ways. I was compliant to a point.
The things is, I know now that those books are poison to my rose-soul, but I still feel the need to embody all that is wispy delicate and feminine. I still feel broken because I don’t fit  the mold when other people project it onto me. Because it is impossible for me. It would require giving up my autonomy and a complete change of taste.


I can’t watch Pride and Prejudice without raging, I generally hate dramas (there are exceptions to this), I’d rather read a good fantasy or scifi novel or comic than a book about amish courtship (don’t get me fucking started), I love a good action movie – Give me robots fighting monsters any day.


None of my most basic preferences are even considered in the world of godly womanhood and good homeschooled girls. It is assumed that I LOOOOOOOVE anything by Austen, that cooking, courtship, and children appeal to all of my tastes and interests, that robots and monsters and other-worlds are boring and unnecessary, and action movies are for boys. When I express otherwise, it’s all but laughed at or ignored.



I watched the Lizzie Bennet Diaries without raging (loved it, even). I know Austen was groundbreaking for her time (a woman author? *gasp*), but I can’t read her – not just because I find it dry, but because of homeschool culture.


Good Homeschooled Girls are supposed to be looking waiting for their Mr. Darcy (an asshole, really?). Good Homeschooled Girls are supposed to be Jane Bennet (Lizzie is far too independent) which doesn’t make sense because Jane marries Mr. Bingley? I know too many people who are trying to hack the 21st century into a Jane Austen novel and it frightens and sickens me.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were balls and you married the person you danced with? I feel like that can’t be the point of Pride and Prejudice, but you wouldn’t know it in this particular subculture.
^ Don’t start thinking about it too hard, it’ll hurt your brain.

It is the obsession with denying women humanity – autonomy – and worth that pervades this whole idea. Good Homeschooled Girls have no needs.

Good Homeschooled Girls are whatever they are told to be.

Good Homeschooled Girls must gracefully and perfectly meet and fulfill contradictory requirements (look perfect, but don’t obsess about it! learn things, but don’t use your brain!), while never having a bad day or a human moment.

Good Homeschooled Girls aren’t allowed to be.
All in the name of femininity.

Women are less

Growing up in a religious conservative circle taught me this ever so explicitly. They would try to water it down and say “no you’re equal, but different” the place of women is in the home, in the kitchen, pregnant or raising children. Not in the “world”, not working, not doing anything that would in any way put her in equal standing with men.
This article makes me sad – no, angry because it’s true.
People very close to me believe, truly, that women are in some way stupid and need men for guidance. I was taught that women are “easily mislead” and thus need men to teach them and “lead” them the right way. Like we are animals to be trained, or horses to be broken. It follows that women, once they reach adulthood, should not be listened to – that it’s okay to completely write them off as “emotional”, “misguided”, or “hormonal” – it’s all too easy to take anything anyone with a vagina has to say and instead of taking them seriously, say they’re just whining, not happy, or one of those evil feminists not worth listening to.
It’s taken me years to come to terms with my womanhood, with the fact that I have the horrible ability to reproduce within my body. It’s taken longer to accept the fact that I am human, and that as a human I have value – that isn’t reliant on whether or not I have a penis on my body.
Unfortunately, I still find myself in circles, exposed to the lies of my youth – who believe that women are for reproducing, teaching, cooking, cleaning, and if you’re lucky, making things and maybe having an in-home business selling house-wifely things like sewn goods, jewelry, or food.
I take issue with the god I grew up with. The god who decided that as part of “the curse” women will be in horrible pain during their reproductive cycle, while men just have the “curse” of pulling weeds or  “hard labor”, and the snake lost its legs. I can’t separate the misogyny of the religion of my youth, with what may or may not be true about christianity. I can not see god as loving when he inflicts half the population with a lower status, half a life of pain, and sets them up for being written off and told they’re stupid until the end of the earth.  People say Jesus raised the status of women, which, in the culture of his day may be true, but people who are supposed to be “like Jesus” massively fail and take the easy way of misogyny as written in the apostles over the example of the deity they claim to love and serve with all their heart and soul.
Women are “equal” in the sense that they are “people”, complete the largest chunk of reproduction, and in christianity have “equal access to god”. But in practice? Women are less, women are challenged and put down when they say things or step outside of the box, they’re labeled and personally attacked when they “make a crack in the glass ceiling”. Because  women being assertive is not allowed, still. Women having a voice, or control over their own body is still frowned upon.
Things I thought were resolved with the suffrage movement and the right to vote are resurfacing in this election and it hurts. It makes me feel ashamed to be a woman (scared, even), having been born with boobs and without a penis makes me feel trapped. I feel like everywhere I turn I hear old men, and some women trying to fit me into a box – the box I worked so hard, and wrestled with and tore myself apart over to escape. The box I’m still trying to completely escape – because completely leaving a gender box is more than just one process – it’s many, over a lifetime.
I don’t talk about feminism, womanhood, or anything like that very much, because a large part of myself has rejected the idea of gender. Because gender does. not. matter. At the very least, it should not matter. We are all human. We are all entitled to the same rights and opinions and control over our own bodies. We all have the right to say no – we do not deserve to be stepped on and half of the population does not deserve to be stripped of their rights just because their genitalia is different. Women are not more prone to misguidance or stupidity than men, nor vice versa. People are prone to flaws. People ARE flawed and we all have traits that are unique to our personalities, not our gender.
I’m tired of being subtly told I’m less, of being subtly hinted to that I should live in a box. I’m tired of watching men in power debate over whether or not I am smart enough to decide what happens to my body and when. I’m tired of people protecting the embryos that my body painfully destroys on a monthly basis, to the extent that it lessens my value and my rights as a fully existing person. I’m tired of people telling me that I’ll “get over it” and want to reproduce, I’m tired of people frowning at and judging me because I’m different and do not fit in the box I was supposed to belong to. I’m tired of people treating me as though I am the same clone, as though I’ll come around and find my rightful place in the stifling box of conservative womanhood. I’m tired of people thinking that they can speak, act and think for me because I cannot think for myself.
I’m tired of people lessening my value as a human being because I have decided not to have children – or trying to justify it because I’m young and I’ll “change my mind”.
All these messages, all the subtext just continue to beat me down, to tell me that my past was right, I am less because I am woman, I am even more less because I reject that being female dictates the way I live my life. It doesn’t matter how much you verbally affirm “women are equal (but different)” when you say, believe, and act in a way that demonstrates otherwise. Women are equal when they live in a box, but that is not equality at all, and I thought we were past that.