Femininity (also called womanliness) refers to qualities and behaviors judged by a particular culture to be ideally associated with or especially appropriate to women and girls.
Distinct from femaleness, which is a biological and physiological classification concerned with the reproductive system, femininity principally refers to secondary sex characteristics and other behaviors and features generally regarded as being more prevalent and better suited to women, whether inborn or socialized. In traditional Western culture, such features include gentleness, patience, and kindness.
Femininity should not be confused with feminism, which is the belief that women deserve political and economic rights equal to men.
These are often perceived as being associated with personality traits such as nurturing, life-giving qualities, creativity, and an openness, or yielding, to other people. The modern social stereotype of a woman is perceived as the complementary opposite of a man. A feminine woman may have physical attributes different from those of a masculine male. These attributes result from the relationship between an individual's biology and the socialization she receives as a result of that biology. However, theories of femininity explored in the field of Gender Studies propose that femininity and masculinity are essentially constructed or 'performed' through a process of social construction.
Feminine physical attributes
Some research has indicated that heterosexual men may be aroused by child-like smooth skin, big eyes, and small noses and chins, though there are cultural differences in those preferences. Research has also indicated that a 0.7 waist-hip ratio arouses most heterosexual men.
These studies have led the media to speculate that these are evolutionary indicators of feminine fertility, although such speculation has yet to be proven. Long eyelashes or high-pitched voices may also be considered feminine by some heterosexual men in the West.[not in citation given]
Femininity in men
Femininity in men, as masculinity in women, is often considered to be negative due to its contradiction of traditional roles. It is a stereotype that homosexual men tend to be very effeminate, although this is not always the case. Drag culture, often associated with homosexuality, makes a virtue of male femininity.
Although feminism is widely divergent, generally feminists believe that there are positive and negative characteristics of femininity. Many believe women should be able to dress and look as they wish and not be harassed for dressing in certain ways, or for showing anger. Some advocate female ownership of the 'masculine' trait of assertiveness. Others argue that men should take on nurturing roles.
Feminine appearance is a matter of preference. Some women like to exercise, yet others prefer only to diet. Men also are not all the same in their preferences about appearance. Many men and women suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) by feeling insecure about their body image. However, Naomi Wolf argues in The Beauty Myth that there is particular external pressure on women, regarding appearance, from the media and advertising.
Notwithstanding the personality gulf between men and women, the sex urge is sufficient to insure their coming together for the reproduction of the species. This instinct operated effectively long before humans experienced much of what was later called love, devotion, and marital loyalty. Mating is an innate propensity, and marriage is its evolutionary social repercussion.
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