We should all be more feminine


Anumita Jain, Managing Web Editor

In 2011, my family went to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate my dad’s birthday (although, in India, “Chinese” restaurants really serve Indian interpretations of Chinese food). My parents, for a reason beyond my memory, scolded our waiter. I expressed my embarrassment to my mother about her behavior and she laughed, telling me that I had to learn how to be more assertive; she and my father were trying to raise me as a Strong, Independent Woman. She later relayed the story to my aunt and uncle when they arrived, and they similarly laughed. They too were on the path to raising their daughter, one-and-a-half at the time, to be a Strong, Independent Woman. As a meek 10-year-old, I accepted what she said, blushed at her and my aunt and uncle’s laughter and moved on with life. Today, I wonder why instead of raising me to be more assertive, they weren’t raising my brother to be less assertive and entitled.

Don’t get me wrong — I am a bleeding-heart feminist, and I absolutely despise gender roles. I also definitely find my parents’ decision to raise me as a Strong, Independent Woman valiant, considering they were raised in India with an inherently patriarchal and misogynistic culture. However, I believe that there is something wrong with the way feminism attacks the issue of gender inequality.

My parents are not the only ones raising a girl to be a Strong, Independent Woman — and, on the surface, it isn’t wrong at all to do that (at this point, I feel it is important to note that I have no problem with women being strong and independent — I love the idea of it. My use of the phrase “Strong, Independent Woman” refers to the way girls today are often raised to be as aggressive and entitled as their male counterparts). My parents, along with countless others, are simply equipping their daughter to survive in a world that seems to be built for men to thrive in. But one thing I believe is important to note is that my parents are also the parents of a boy and therefore have the power to redefine his world.

A little over a year ago, shortly after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “p***y” comments became public, I was in a car with a friend, her mother and her much younger brother. Because 2016 was the year when everyone and their mother became political, these comments were a natural talking point. This friend’s mother defended the comments, dismissing them as “how boys talk.” I was shocked — her son was in the car, actively being taught that he too should act entitled to refer to women and their bodies like this in order to be a “boy.”

A few weeks ago, I was at a relative’s house, and my eight-year-old cousin (the same one who was one-and-a-half in 2011), put on her favorite Bollywood movie for us to watch, a thriller about an 18-year-old girl who was gang-raped by a group of boys, one of whom was a boy from her class who was frustrated about her rejections of his advances. Aside from being immensely proud of my cousin for picking a movie with such an important topic as her favorite, I was reminded  how it is traditionally masculine to feel entitled to nearly everything, including a woman’s body.

(This idea is definitely more prevalent in Indian culture than in American culture, but it is still present in less extreme ways. This isn’t to say all men are necessarily entitled — I’m just pointing out that entitlement is closer to traditional masculinity than traditional femininity.)

A few months ago, at a summer program, I encountered a male student who, although smart, constantly gave unsolicited advice — “mansplaining”, if you will — as if he was unquestionably an expert on the topic of concern. Although I only spent two weeks with him, I truly do think that he believed himself to be an indisputable expert on anything and everything. On the other hand, there were many of my female peers who were intelligent, based on my interactions with them, who kept their mouths shut. This phenomenon was explained to me a month or two later in a TED Talk by Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani, discussing how girls are more fearful of being less than perfect than boys. Her message, like that of much of modern feminism, was that women should be taught to be more brave (i.e. masculine), but the TED Talk left me wondering why she found the traditionally masculine side of the issue to be more appealing; I saw no problem with being careful about one’s work rather than assuming that it is correct.

Through these incidents, I realized that I don’t like traditional masculinity, nor would I like to be traditionally masculine. Feminism is supposed to be empowering, yet much of it encourages women and girls to, instead of embracing their femininity, become more masculine. I understand the reasoning for this rhetoric — it is hard for relatively submissive women to survive in a world dominated by assertive and aggressive men.

However, in order to counter this problem, feminism should teach boys to be less aggressive and entitled and more careful and considerate; feminism prides itself on supporting all genders, yet too often it finds itself only speaking to one. If we are living in a world where only one mindset — traditional masculinity or traditional femininity — can prevail, then why are we picking the former? Not enough time seems to have passed for the effects of modern third-wave feminism to be seen in the workplace, seeing as most girls raised with third-wave feminism’s ideas are not yet in the workforce. I can’t imagine how nightmarish it would be to have the entire population, rather than just around half of it, be assertive, brazen, overconfident and entitled all the time.

Instead of raising our girls to be more masculine, I believe that we should raise our boys to be more careful, considerate, thoughtful and humble. In other words, I believe that we should all be more feminine.