Masculinity and Femininity: More than male and female.
Bijgewerkt: 6 apr 2020
The terms masculinity and femininity are thrown around us since the rise of feminism. Particularly, the terms feminism and femininity get mixed up and confused with one another. Where arguably feminism stands for a movement of equal rights, attempting to straighten out the difference between gender-based roles in society, femininity is a term used to describe what is considered “feminine”. And that’s where for me, it becomes interesting.
This is by no means an exact science, and even in the world of psychology opinions differ. I find this a fascinating, if not a useful aspect in creating and developing an archetype or character for a story. The default is that men are (expected to be) masculine, and women are (supposedly) feminine. If you put a bit more of a loop over personality trades any gender can have, then you may find it’s not so black and white.
There are different fields that define feminine and masculine, fields like Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, gender studies, even Astrology that focuses on character trades in the zodiac sign. In the details, they have different theories about the why and the how, but on a very general level they all agree on the rough definition of femininity and masculinity.
What makes Masculinity and Femininity? The initial mental image with the word masculine is often the puffed-up chest, big-armed, chin-up kind of character. While femininity is seen as graceful, beautiful and caring. This is stereotypical, but not necessarily completely untrue. See here some examples opposite trades that could be seen as masculine – feminine.
Builder – Creator Relying on sight - Relying on touch Protective - Nourishing Leading - Guiding Detail orientated - Organised Boxed thinking – web thinking
Now, these are just examples and do not present a complete list. Masculinity equals the ability to build, construct, see potential to create something from nothing. Masculinity involves seeing beauty in images, surroundings, finding what could be rather than what is. Masculine means being able to create a flow by leading, recognising and remembering all the little things, being able to separate them. Masculinity is protective rather than nourishing, still caring, still soft, still loving, but rather in a shielding matter than a feeding matter. Femininity is different, but not necessarily all babies, butterflies and clouds as what the word suggests to some. Where masculinity builds from scratch, femininity creates, decorates and flourishes. Seeing blue and knowing that green matches with it. Masculine constructs a wall, femininity sees it needs a picture. Femininity sees connections, sees consequences, therefore can create order out of chaos. Femininity grooms, organises, lists up, remembers not by seeing a total but by going from A to Z. Some of the stereotypes are true, masculine energy sees potential and therefore has an easier time setting up new systems, businesses, building a project from the ground up. While feminine energy likes to organise, create, therefore likes to clean, cook, sees beauty in nearly anything and loves to be touched. Feminine sees how to oversee chaos, and thus can be good at paperwork, untangling issues, finding the right or wrong in situations, being more emphatic. I could go on and on about it.
But here comes the crux of the matter. These two sets of characteristics nearly seem like two different entities, but everyone has a level of femininity and masculinity in them. Everyone, men, women, gay, straight or non-binary. If you dismiss the misconception that feminine is the same as girly and masculine is the same as manly, you will see that the dynamics of these aspects are a lot more colourful. A man wearing a perfectly pressed tie and suit still looks “manly”, but this grooming can be considered feminine. In the last few years some may have wrinkled their nose at the idea of a “feminine man” who behaves “metro-sexual”, but the man who blow-dries his hair, shaves his cheeks, shapes his eyebrows and makes sure his tie, belt, shoes and socks match, definitely holds feminine trades.. On the other hand, while using make-up is considered “girly”, there is a clear group of females that do not prefer make-up or even don’t truly know how to work with it. A disproved stereotype is that men are better at sports and being competitive could be considered a masculine trade, but we know women can be plenty competitive, and in this day and age, it shows!
Is it as simple as having masculine men, masculine women, feminine men, feminine women? No, these are just trades that contribute to your personal, unique, dynamic personality that shows what you like, what you think and how you see the world. Everyone has a level of each side, but how intense each side is in a person, is different per person. And being in touch with both sides of you can have a tremendous amount of benefits. It can help you to understand yourself and others. This way the terms feminine and masculine are easier to separate from their associated genders, and offer a lot more dynamic to what a person is.
Masculinity and Femininity in writing. There are a lot of things to keep in mind while creating a character for a story, or creating an archetype for a character, and this balance can help put some method to the madness. Where your character is on the spectrum between masculine and feminine can determine so much for them and forms a fantastic base to explore the rest of the character’s trades, and what they would do
As a writer, you “feel” your character very quickly, and who they are and what they do often begins with a little bit of guesswork. Sometimes you will sit and think “What would my character do?” when you’re not sure how to proceed in a situation. The initial character creation can be a little up in the air, but in moments like that, it can be grounding to sit and think about their levels of femininity and masculinity. Most writers will form their character’s personality based on their past, while it is often their character trades that determine how they handle their past. You can quickly find yourself in a circle between a character’s responses and their trades, where you try to pin down their trades based on their responses and their responses based on their trades.
If you interfere this circle with the question “is it feminine or masculine?” you can get an idea of where their balance lies. It will help you "unblur" the initial idea you have for your character, bring them in sharper focus, and it will allow you to correct how you want them to be by tweaking their balance.
In the example above, I assumed the character is in a situation where he must decide if he can find a solution to a problem or should move on. The character is hesitant to act, hesitation occurs when the character feels there is still something left to think about, still a connection to be seen, still a reason to stick around. Completing the circle, the character is pictured high on the femininity, while that may not suit your initial idea of the character. Perhaps you pictured your character highly masculine, and so you might conclude that he should respond more head-on instead of hesitant. Or, you would conclude that your character is more feminine than you thought! Mind you, -I- believe that thinking twice about something could be considered a feminine trade, but obviously this is something that is up for debate. That said, arguably the problem with this method is that some would say that what is masculine and what is feminine is subjective. Let methods like these not be overused and making the process too rigid, but rather serve as a way to ground yourself if you're running in circles in figuring out what your character thinks, feels, and how they perceive the world. If you talk to other people, or go across different philosophies that think about this, the set of answers will always be different. But as a writer you try to create your own definitions, your own "list of trades" and if you build your character right, the fine details of their construction won’t be fished up by your readers; like a finished painting no longer showing the brush strokes. The not-to-be-forgotten upside of constructing your own process of character creation with the help of predetermined trades like these, is that it makes your world consistent, and can prevent characters or situations from standing out when they’re not meant to. Do you have your own insights on how to proceed in developing a character? Do you recognise any of this in your own work? Maybe you completely disagree! Love, Terri x