Femininity as performance, or, why women have it so hard.

So yesterday I posted a kind of silly blog about my gender bending dogs, and today I’d like to tackle the issue of gender politics from a slightly more serious and thought-provoking angle. I recently discovered two amazing articles on two of my favorite sites. The first one on Sociological Images is about the delicate balancing act that girls go through just getting dressed in the morning. The second, from SourceFed, features a guy posing as hypersexualized female characters on book covers. Both are excellent.

The Balancing Act of Being Female; Or, Why We Have So Many Clothes » Sociological Images.

Author Poses as Sexy Vixens for Charity – SourceFed.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on here before, but I actually wrote about female sexuality for my thesis, and it’s an issue I still care deeply about despite never having actually studied it at all (which, in retrospect, would have made writing my thesis so much easier).

The thing I found deeply interesting about both of these articles is their differing methods of pointing out how femininity can be seen as a performance. As a culture (and here I’m speaking to Western culture because it’s my area of knowledge), we expect certain things from women. First and foremost, we expect beauty. After that comes an overwhelming slough of traits in no particular order – submission, charm, grace, tact, emotion, motherliness, the ability to cook, to clean, and to appear both sexually liberated and sexually innocent at the same time.

In the first article, author Lisa Wade points out the “space” women must occupy between being a prude social pariah and a slut. In recent generations, this spectrum keeps getting pushed up because of what is termed by noted feminist Ariel Levy as “raunch culture”, the new trend in female society towards shorter skirts, flashing their genitalia on shows such as Girls Gone Wild, and having a carefree or even flippant attitude towards sex. Raunch culture uses sexuality as a form of empowerment.

Fact - the less clothing they have on, the more empowered women feel.

Fact – the less clothing they have on, the more empowered women feel.

For twenty-somethings in the 21st century, raunch has almost always been out in the open. This pornographic influence was never really merely as an object of interest on the web or as a black covered magazine, but has always been present as an undercurrent of popular culture. It’s true that raunch culture has its demands of both men AND women of my generation, but it has been overwhelming played out more as a patriarchic, or male, demand towards the sexual appearance and actions of women.

This is where the brilliant second article comes in as a lighthearted demonstration of how ridiculous this trend towards sexualization can be. Sci-Fi author Jim C. Hines decided to pose as sexualized female characters to raise money for charity. He describes the whole process as a backbreaking, shoulder dislocating, and frankly, ridiculous.


Simple, charming, and brutally effective. Why is it that “strong female characters” have to pose in such awkward and revealing poses? Why is it that I have to have everything in my closet from a pantsuit to a catsuit? How did I suddenly start feeling like I need to know which bar I’m going out to in advance so I don’t end up wearing the wrong thing?

I love that there are a wide range of ways in which I can act and dress and behave as a woman. Believe me, I have absolutely gone out in fishnets and a boob shirt, and I’ve gone out in torn old jeans and a lumberjack shirt, and felt perfectly fine in both. However, perhaps it’s time to start a conversation about how extreme the sexualization of women is getting, and really delve into the pros and cons of what’s happening, before it’s too late to do anything about it.

What are your thoughts, internet?


  1. Caroline Tindal

    Excellent article and well discussed. I describe myself as a modern day Feminist. I am at one with my ability to dress how I want and go where I want dressed like it. I am active IRL and social media in equality and use my writing and art to represent the injustice that is still prevalent. Yet I am still a stay a married stay at home mum. It should not be an either or situation but we should be looking at inclusion for all on a level playing field. Equality for women cannot be achieved until society realises that inequality also stretches to men and how they are also expected to perform a certain way as dictated to by the same fairy tale attitude that is guilty of enslaving women, supported by Government and reinforced by mass media.

  2. Pingback: More or Less?: Navigating the Confusion of Sex and Culture. | ModTheology
  3. Pingback: Performance of Gender revisited. « her name was cassandra

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