Our sixteen-year-old recently berated a male friend for listening to “misogynist-crap rap.” He retaliated, calling her “such a feminine bitch.” “That would be feminist, loser!” she hooted. “lol!”
The exchange got me thinking about the perceived difference between the two words.
“Feminine” comes from the Latin femina meaning woman, and is defined by my Compact Oxford dictionary as “having qualities traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness.”
Oh my. And here I was thinking that the qualities traditionally associated with women were things like breast-feeding (Rose of Sharon’s gift to a starving man in The Grapes of Wrath), intelligence (ala Jane Austen’s heroines), maternal love (the anguish of Sophie’s Choice), and resourcefulness (Scarlett O’Hara making a ballgown out of curtains). And that’s without going into those skills too often denied to the male of the species, like the ability to multi-task, or indeed, find the minced garlic in the refrigerator.
Beauty too, belongs on the list, for its full-throated roar at the titters of prettiness. So does sexiness, which my gorgeous husband believes is found in the lush bounty of hips and thighs, not in the delicate bonyness of the fashionably emaciated. Oh, and let’s not forget my own guilty pleasure when it comes to feminine qualities: bitchiness. I’ve been a sucker for the deadly riposte ever since Margot Asquith corrected Jean Harlow’s mispronunciation of her christian name: “The ‘t’ is silent, as in Harlow.”
My traitorous dictionary doesn’t quote the latin root for feminist, merely citing it as a derivative of feminism: “a movement or theory supporting women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes.”
Sounds neither pretty, nor delicate. Worthy, yes, but about as appealing as orthodics when everyone else is wearing those cute little peep-toes, kitten heels or stilettos.
But the good thing about being a writer is that we can help build a new understanding of feminism and femininity.
I have never ascribed to the Shakespearean “Frailty, thy name is woman,” bless my feminist heart, but I do have a soft spot for the feminine, albeit, under my own terms.
So let’s hear it for the broad church of feminine beauty over the narrow bigotry of mass media images, the strength of the female mind and heart over outdated beliefs about oestrogen-induced delicacy.
That’s how I like my feminine bitches and that’s how I like to write them. Full of complexity and vulnerability and the redemptive power of our sex.