Models of Femininity

Talking about psychology, there is a young contestant from Moldova on Project Runway, and she’s so totally like me that it’s hilarious. Not physically, obviously. Moldovans are a different ethnic group and look very differently. But in the way her post-soviet femininity is so different from the North American version.

There’s also the constant feeling that everybody around her is too slow, the capacity to do everything faster than everybody else, the irritability, the entitlement, the self-assurance.

I’m glad to see that the Soviet femininity is alive even for women born since 1991. Everything about the USSR was horrible. But it’s a lot easier to be a woman when you are from a post-soviet country. It’s much much harder to be a man but a lot easier to be a woman.

It’s a lot easier to live as a woman in the US but it’s a lot harder to carry the burden of North American femininity. Many women don’t understand that the discomfort and the pain they experience don’t come from any external circumstances. They try to project the problems caused by this defective model of femininity into all sorts of invented boogaloos like the ‘toxic masculinity’ or the equally non-existent epidemic of sexual harassment in academia (just to give a couple of examples).

But the real cause of the pain is the heavy weight of the North American way of being a woman that would defeat Goliath. Like Hasidic Jews who thank G-d for not making them a woman, I thank God for not making me a North American woman. Not because there’s anything wrong with them – they are definitely nicer than we are. But because it’s so damn hard.

18 thoughts on “Models of Femininity”

  1. // the heavy weight of the North American way of being a woman that would defeat Goliath.

    What is so heavy about it? Is it trying to be ‘nice’ all the time and put others first? Is it viewing a husband as having more important career than one’s own? Nowadays, most women work, so it can’t be being a housewife.

    In FSU, many women worked, supported their families and did everything in the house, while suffering even abuse from husbands.

    Btw, I am not practicing the version of FSU femininity that you describe here. May be, it’s because leaving at a young age, or probably not all FSU practice it either since personal characteristics influence a lot too.

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  2. It’s not the general model but the late, great Florence King described the massive cognitive dissonance required in (white) US Southern femininity..
    The Southern woman is expected to be “frigid, passionate, sweet, bitchy, and scatterbrained–all at the same time. Her problems spring from the fact that she succeeds.”

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    1. // The Southern woman is expected to be “frigid, passionate, sweet, bitchy, and scatterbrained–all at the same time. Her problems spring from the fact that she succeeds.”

      Contradictory demands cannot limited to Southern femininity since Polish Wislawa Szymborska wrote about it too:

      Wislawa Szymborska – Portrait Of A Woman
      Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

      She must be a variety.
      Change so that nothing will change.
      It’s easy, impossible, tough going, worth a shot.
      Her eyes are, as required, deep, blue, gray,
      dark merry, full of pointless tears.
      She sleeps with him as if she’s first in line or the only one on earth.
      She’ll bear him four children, no children, one.
      Naive, but gives the best advice.
      Weak, but takes on anything.
      A screw loose and tough as nails.
      Curls up with Jasper or Ladies’Home Journal.
      Can’t figure out this bolt and builds a bridge.
      Young, young as ever, still looking young.
      Holds in her hand a baby sparrow with a broken wing,
      her own money for some trip far away,
      a meat cleaver, a compress, a glass of vodka.
      Where’s she running, isn’t she exhausted.
      Not a bit, a little, to death, it doesn’t matter.
      She must love him, or she’s just plain stubborn.
      For better, for worse, for heaven’s sake.

      This one and another translation are here:

      http://inwardboundpoetry.blogspot.com/2012/02/787-portrait-of-woman-wislawa.html

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      1. I can simplify it dramatically. You either spend your life fixated on what others will think of you, paralyzed with fear whenever you need to say or do something, or you don’t. That’s it.

        This is, for example, why North American women professors honestly think they get low student evaluations because they have vaginas. But it’s not about physiology. They don’t think they are brilliant. So students don’t think they are brilliant. Because people tend to think about you exactly what you think about yourself.

        And it’s all like that. If there’s a last piece of [whatever food everybody in the family loves] and it’s not easy to get more for whatever reason. Who’ll get the last piece?

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  3. Response to Models of Femininity

    Note on obscure point of English grammar: “…look very differently” should be “…look very different”. Using the adverb ‘differently’ here means that the act of looking [at something] is performed in a different manner, whereas using the adjective ‘different’ means that the people in question appear different [to others].

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    1. I do not know, you criticize a lot of things anyway… so maybe elaborating on the American model of femininity (does such a thing even exist?) is not that bad?

      I personally do not have a very positive opinion about the post-Soviet model of femininity. My primary association is dressing up or sexier couple levels more than appropriate. But jokes aside – life in the FSU was pretty traumatic. We can debate if “toxic masculinity” still exists in USA, but in the FSU it definitely exists. And traumatic life, especially traumatic childhood, often (not always) makes people either abusive or codependent. And, like many other scales (like political left/right), it is not a line, but actually a ring, with opposite ends often merging together.

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      1. I obviously detest the USSR. However, for the ease and comfort of being a woman in the world, it makes a huge difference whether you grew up seeing women get things done, be effective, be self-reliant, speak out in class and at work, assert authority. It makes a gigantic difference whether you are the first to do that or whether there are 3 generations of women before you who did all that a million times over.

        But yes, we have completely fucked up family structures and outlandish intra-familial abuse. Why else would I be in analysis at all?.

        So yes, we are completely messed up but at least when I need to get things done at work, I get them done. When I want to say no, I just say it. When I want to show off (which is always), I show off. And when I speak, everybody listens because I grew up seeing how my mother, grandmother, great grandmother open their mouths and everybody shuts up.

        And here I have 26 women and two men in a class. And who do you think talks 85% of the time? Obviously, the two men. And it’s not because they are so much more knowledgeable but because, as one female student explained, “I don’t feel comfortable talking when there are boys in the room.”

        I constantly hire guys as my RAs in a heavily female program because female students don’t apply unless they are from another country. They don’t think they are good enough! Even when they are amazing.

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  4. What do you think Americans do wrong in this regard? What do we do that produces women so lacking in confidence compared to women in other societies? You might enjoy reading Meghan Daum, who in her latest book argues that Generation X women were actually raised with fewer stereotypes and more confidence than millennial women.

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    1. It’s definitely worse in younger generations than women in their 50s and 60s, definitely. So there must have been something generational that happened. And I don’t know what it was but I see the effects.

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      1. My mama grew up in America and now teaches high schoolers. She’s in her 50s. About 10 years ago she said that high school girls now are much more assertive and willing to stand up for themselves than they were when she was in high school. So perhaps things were even worse among her generation when they were the same age as millennials. Women in this country definitely become much more assertive and outspoken with age (I’d assumed this was universal, but I only know America, really.)

        I cannot speak for Gen X, which lies in between. I also think my mama may have said that high school girls now (Gen Z) are becoming quieter/more straitlaced and boring. I’d have to ask her; I forget exactly what she said.

        The North American model of femininity seems to have been rejected by the loud, assertive women in my family. It’s a foreign way of being to them. In retrospect, this is probably part of why my sisters were considered “weird” or “eccentric” both in high school and now (but in a good way, at least in our minds.) In my mind the sister near to my age is more on the passive/”nice” side, but that’s only in comparison to other women in our family. She’s actually unusually assertive and forceful for a woman in America. The more I’m thinking about this topic, the more I just can’t imagine how the average American woman lives that kind of constrained life.

        I wonder if there may be a class based difference. Nobody had the luxury of being a wilting housewife in any generation of my family. In general I see more “quietness” (not just auditory, it’s a whole way of being) from middle class and higher women than I do from my working class female friends and coworkers. There are racial differences as well, which you’ll hear many sexist black men whining about.

        Final note: going to all girls schools seems to help some girls become more outspoken in class. This may carry over past high school, even though college classrooms have men. This is just vague stuff I’ve heard. Fwiw, I have a young friend who went to an all girls’ private school and she doesn’t hesitate to talk in class, or in general.

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  5. My controversial opinion of the day is that two (off-duty) policemen shooting two Ethiopian-Jewish youths in a year has nothing to do with their color. It is natural for grieving parents to blame everybody else, but it doesn’t mean one has to accept their narrative uncritically. What do you think?

    The article is here:
    https://www.ynetnews.com/magazine/article/S1JT5vQZL

    The activists claim Ethiopian young men are overrepresented in jail. But if a specific group – like Muslims in Europe – commits more crimes, shouldn’t more of them be in jail too?

    Rather than think of supposed racism of the officer, I started wondering whether the young shot man received sufficient (if any) mental health treatment. Why weren’t his parents fighting for his health till he started threatening people with a knife?

    Btw, regarding having a good place to live, Ethiopian Jews were the only immigrant group who received free flats for life from the government. Were they supposed to receive them in the middle of Tel Aviv too? FSU Jews got help for a few months of rent only, and hardly arrived with money. We sold our flat in Ukraine for 2000 dollars – exactly the price of a few months of rent in Israel.

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  6. “There’s also the constant feeling that everybody around her is too slow, the capacity to do everything faster than everybody else, the irritability, the entitlement, the self-assurance.”

    As little interest as I have in fashion or reality TV, I ended up watching an episode just based on this description. And yup, we’re (still) all like that.

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  7. I would also love to hear more about what North American femininity entails. In some ways it sounds similar to your description of the negative father complex, but perhaps this is just coincidental?

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