This is possibly a first for me. This month OWLS chose a topic I was a bit stumped by. Usually I’ll find a way to just prattle on about any given subject with very little difficulty but this one…it was a doozy. Do you like my attempt at burying the lead? As if it’s not the end of the month and you’ve already read a whole bunch of OWLS posts. (I hope you didn’t miss out!)
As you know by now, this month’s topic is Femininity.
3rd Monthly Topic Deadline: March 1, 2019
In honor of Women’s History Month, the OWLS bloggers will explore the concepts of femininity and feminism. We each have our own definition of these two terms and we will explore our definitions using “feminine” characters from various pop culture fandoms. We will discuss how these characters are “feminine” or show signs of a feminist agenda. We will also share our personal stories about the amazing women that supported us in our lives as well as sharing experiences involving women’s rights, oppression within the patriarchy, and/or issues of growing up as a woman or having a feminine persona.
- Sailor Moon
- Cardcaptor Sakura
- Sex in the City
- Female Musicians
And I was at a loss. Not because I have any difficulty writing about women and issues that are of particular concern to my gender. Also not because Natsume has any lack of great female characters to choose from. Between Taki and Touko not to even start with the Yokai, there’s plenty to go on. Rather because when I sat down and thought about it carefully, I’m no longer certain what femininity means. At least to me…
The dictionary defines the word femininity as such: qualities and attributes regarded as characteristic of women. Don’t you hate writers who use the old dictionary definition trick??? Except what is characteristic of women anymore? It use to be simple right? Rigid gender norms may have done a lot of harm but at least they were clear. Pink ribbons, ornate dresses, soft colours and delicate touches.. Jewelry, makeup, dolls… Sugar and spice and everything nice. Girls were one thing, and we all knew what that was.
Thankfully, our vision of what women are has evolved in time and with it, the definition of femininity has gotten wider and wider to the point that it could be just about anything now. And that’s truly wonderful, but how do I write about it? I grabbed on to several ideas while going over Natsume’s Book of Friends. Motherhood is certainly a prevailing theme as is grace. But none of them seemed quite right for me.
Finally, I turned to the past. To those harsher and more defined times to find my example of femininity. Natsume Reiko. It’s no secret that I tend to be attracted to women with a certain strength of character. Meek and pleasant is just not my type. But for a little while there, having a strong independent spirit and the backbone to stand up for yourself was considered distinctly “unfeminine”. In fact, for a while female characters with that type of behavior were purposefully written as tomboyish. It was all or nothing. If one trait wasn’t traditionally feminine then everything had to be thrown out.
This has always bothered me. Why can’t you be a badass and still feminine. The answer of course is: you can!
Reiko is a character shrouded in mystery. The information we do have on her comes from rather unreliable sources and it isn’t much. But we can infer a lot from context. As far as the Yokai world is concerned she was a troublemaker and a bit of a bully but she also seemed often beloved. Her brash manner was a form of kindness to Yokai who often felt abandoned by the world. Her aggressive strength, the perfect excuse to put aside their pride and interact with a human despite deep rooted distrust.
On the other side, it seemed that Reiko was largely ignored by her own kind. Reports almost always paint her as very pretty but a little odd and always alone. We do know that she lived in a quiet little rural village and eventually had a family despite her difficulty in connecting with people. But we never hear about that family. She died young. She left behind a child and yet that’s never mentioned either. Almost if that child was unknown to people. As if it had been taken away at birth as use to be common for young unwed mothers.
We don’t actually know any of this. The fact is Reiko wasn’t close to anyone, and the people still around may simply not remember that part of her life. But we can speculate. We know how the world has treated the feminine.
Ok, that was a cheap shot to get back on topic. But I had never really strayed despite appearances. You see this superficial picture of Reiko is the outline of what femininity means to me. It means being a brute while showing tenderness. Being harsh out of sentiment. Being wild and free and a mother bound by responsibility and imposed social expectations. It means laughing in the face of convention and longing for traditional connection. It sounds like gibberish doesn’t it? It’s not an easy question. Moreover it doesn’t have a right answer.
To be honest, it’s a question I’ve actively struggled with at several points in my life. What is femininity and what doesn’t mean to me. How does it shape and impact my life. How do I wish to accept it? If you’ve ever had identity issues or been faced by any form of sexism, I’m sure you’ve gone through that same thought journey. It’s not an issue Natsume’s Book of Friends has ever addressed though.
But that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an answer. At least for me. Reiko was feminine because she wasn’t limited by descriptions. To me femininity is embracing with pride those aspects of yourself that make you feel like a queen or a goddess, regardless what they are in practice or whatever gender you happen to be. A deceptively simple answer to a plain yet complex question.
We’ve already had many wonderful Owlers give their own views on this intricate subject. For instance Megan’s great take through Resident Evil and next up we have Lyn that will surely surprise us all. But what do you think makes up femininity these days? This isn’t just a closing statement. I do want to know your answers. I honestly think they could help people, like me!