The Masculinization of Women

Rebecca Rickett has a very interesting article in the new Square Two publication ( http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleRickettGender.html ) regarding how society is forcing women towards androgyny. (and if I misrepresent what she’s written, I apologize in advance).

She suggests that the current feminist movement is wrong in the methods used to achieve good goals. Unintentionally, they seek to make women into men, which they can never really succeed at becoming.  We are not talking about women getting equal pay for equal work, but at the concept that women’s natural capabilities (reproduction, etc) are viewed negatively, while the competitive nature of men in business is now what is expected of liberated women.

The disdain that many have towards natural gender differences has been a major cause of shrinking birth rates in industrialized nations, as women hold off on having children until they are older (or never have them), seeing it as a hidden tax on their ability to be like men.

A secondary problem is that it confuses gender roles for men and children as well.  Having more competition, men must either become more masculine in order to compete against androgynous women, or more feminine in order to find a less competitive place that many women have walked away from. Neither of which is beneficial to society nor the norms of gender.

There are ways for women to have greater rights and responsibilities. However, Rickett notes that it is not by making men out of women, nor is it by confusing roles.  She compares it to a race among three nations, where the winning group has both men and women running as best each can, and carrying the weak along with them.

I can see how her theory can affect issues:

abortion: women’s Biblical and natural role is to have children, not to destroy life in order to be able to achieve a man’s ideals

natural roles: recently we heard a liberal speaker say that Ann Romney has not worked a day in her life.  Does demeaning child rearing make such women feel more like successful men?

Does this affect natural/traditional family roles: encouraging single parent families, SSA parenting, men becoming more effeminate?

Your thoughts?  And I would really like to hear thoughts from conservatives and liberals on this one.  Joanna Brooks, etc, are definitely welcome to respond, as I’d like to hear thoughts on this, as well.

9 thoughts on “The Masculinization of Women

  1. I think the idea of the masculinization of women is a little behind the curve. Back in the 70s and 80s, women started wearing pants, power suits, going to work, giving their kids latch keys, rolling up their sleeves, and competing with men in their world.

    But times have changed. Now women wear dresses to work, the sexier the better, and the feminine traits they bring to the workplace are celebrated as superior to the traditional masculine approach to leadership.

    Women used to try to prove there was no difference between men and women, and they should be treated equally. Now feminists and scientists highlight the differences between men and women and use those differences to try to prove that a feminine approach is actually superior or can give a hitherto ignored dimension to the workplace.

    A woman’s looks, her figure, her weight, her youth, all these things have never been so important. Out with Margret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton, in with Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. Women are viewed as feminine objects as never before.

    And “mothering” has become much more valued in society than it was in the 70s and 80s. In fact, it’s become so out of control that tiger moms are the new ideal, and women who have full time jobs are spending as much time with their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 70s, leaving them more stressed and harried than ever before. Even today’s stay-at-home moms are more harried and stressed because children are perceived to require much more personal attention and hovering than they did in the 70s, when all children were free-range. So motherhood has become overvalued, not undervalued in today’s society. Moms, give your children some space!

    This is now creating yet another backlash so now “French mom” who ignores her child and lives a calm but stimulating life with her adult friends is the new ideal. So soon we will be back to “the ladies who lunch” from the 50s. In fact, the whole “Mad Men” attraction, and “Real Housewives of…” is part of a broader cultural trend that is increasingly attracted to the idea of sexy, stay at home moms.

    The comment about Ann Romney “never working a day in her life” was so extraordinary, because it is so rare. Those are attitudes from decades ago. They revived all the tired culture wars from the 60s and 70s, and gave ammunition to all those people who have been straining to see a “war on moms” when there has been none for decades.

  2. Oops, I think I just usurped your blog posting. Not a good sign, when the 1st comment is larger than posting itself. Sorry about that:)

  3. Nate, I just have to point out how interesting it is that you associate being feminine with being a sexual object. Being sexy is NOT a feminine trait.

    And then you outline all the ways in which society scrutinizes and criticizes moms, followed up with a claim that there has been no war on motherhood for decades.

    Even the OP brings up child bearing as the only concrete example of feminine qualities. What of a natural inclination to sacrifice for the group welfare? What of the natural ability to multitask? What of empathy and social connectivity? All things which woman’s biology inclines her a little more towards, things which are shaping the way work is done.

  4. Nate, don’t worry. We’re used to you taking over posts like this. :)

    SR, great points. Not being a women, and struggling with my own femininity, (VBG) I realize I may not realize all the key things that make a woman a woman.

    As it is, I do think that we still put women in a precarious position. The fact that women feel they must wear short skirts in order to get promoted is just another factor in our misogynistic society. We are forcing women to either be men, or be what men expect them to be: sex objects. Sadly, when men expect women to be our sex toys, or women think they must be men in order to compete, we all lose. In either case, we are making women into cartoon caricatures of what they really are or should be. As SR notes, there is more to women than just child bearing. But there is much more than being a slinky skirt, too.

    That many working women now celebrate that they are b*tches, or are considered wh*res if they flirt to get ahead (as many men want), shows just where women’s and men’s mindsets currently are.

    We turn women either into Jessica Rabbit or into Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

    Last week, I listened to Juan Williams (a liberal) on the Laura Ingraham radio show. He noted that his SAHM wife is often looked down upon by liberal people they meet at functions. They will walk up to her, ask her what she does, and when told, they quickly wander off and ignore her the rest of the evening.

    Republicans often do not do much better. Women often seem to be token entities for them. They clamber around Sarah Palin, not because she is a smart and energetic woman, but because she’s a masculine “grizzly hockey mom”. There are exceptions, such as Condoleeza Rice, but then, she’s not a mother either. And the Bush Administration often ignored her and listened to Cheney and Rumsfeld instead. See where that got us? She was the token brilliant woman in the Cabinet.

  5. Rame, it is true that our culture has sexualized a certain kind of aggression and athleticism in women today. So you could say that a certain kind of masculinity in women that has become valued by society. But it’s the kind of masculinity women go to the gym to get. But I wouldn’t call Sarah Palin’s “grizzly” aspect a masculine trait. Men like women who are strong and athletic for biological reasons. They can better protect and defend their children. Condie Rice is good looking, but she lacks the tiger-mom instincts that could have helped her protect her country the way Sarah Palin protects her children.

    SR, you are absolutely right that women have become objectified sexually as never before. But you are also right that they’ve become objectified as mothers as well. Just as women today get breast implants because they feel perpetually unworthy sexually, they also go overboard in mothering because they feel perpetually unworthy of their precious children, who always need more than they can give. Society judges mothers, not for being mothers, but for not being good enough mothers.

  6. In my opinion masculinization proceeds apace on the terrain of sexuality. Women are being pressured towards a more “male” version of sexuality with multiple partners, less commitment, less emotional or relationship context. Abortion and the depreciation of reproduction are part of that.

  7. The original article is very good. I’m glad you brought it out and summarized it. It is interesting to see how the pressures of women to be more like men to try and compete have largely ignored working to change men to be better in caring for, rather than just providing for, their families. The allegory used in the conclusion is very helpful in showing how both men and women need to change to make the world better for both genders

    Folbre discusses an allegory of three nations that pit their citizens against the other groups in a race. One nation had their citizens simply run as fast as they could, each man for himself; they all eventually fell to fatigue, injury, or illness, because none took the time to care for another. The second nation had its men run in front and its women walk at the back, taking care of those who could not run; this led men and women to fight against one another because the women discovered they could run just as fast when they were not required to carry the dependents. The third nation had all of its citizens run while carrying those who could not; they made slow but steady progress and eventually won (Folbre 2001, 22-23).

    I am very encouraged by the recent shift in General Conference talks (or at least my perception of them), in that to strengthen families, men need to take on more of the role of parent and homemaker. Not in just providing the funds for others to do the work (and expect rewards for only making money), but in contributing to the work that makes a house a home. Single parent families have twice the load, and should be aided by the community, rather than left on the side of the road, having been beaten up by life and passed and ignored by those who feel they have better things to do.

  8. I don’t feel anybody’s trying to masculinize me.

    I was thinking that a woman can call another woman sexy but if a man calls another man sexy, unless he’s gay, it’s kind of strange. I can’t even get Bill to say he thinks another man is attractive.

    But I’m all over other womens’ figures; women covet each others body parts. So I look with longing, like “oh Kim (Kardashian) I wish I had your derriere.”

    I probably missed the whole point of this post.

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