Femininity, Sexuality, and Being a Woman:
I don’t claim to have the answer to what it means to be a woman, but here is what I’ve figured out so far: I am complicated.
I climb, I teach, I write, I run (sometimes), I climb big mountains, I love getting dirty and spending days in the field, and I love dresses and being looked at ‘cause I’m pretty when I wear them.
I sound balanced, right? Wrong. Internally I struggle with being taken seriously, the desire to be respected for who I am and what I can contribute, and the fact that I didn’t really value a lot of the attributes that are native to me. Growing up I saw emotions as something that would lead me astray. They should be ignored in favor of rational thought. I joined Civil Air Patrol when I was 12. There I learned to be assertive and how to make little boys cry. I valued authority and the chain of command. I felt powerful but incomplete.
I grew up and began giving in to the oh-so-strong urge to be “girly.” I cautiously added pink to my wardrobe and started smiling more. It felt good, but I also felt like I was letting myself down. Like I was being weak. To me being feminine meant being weak. This internal incongruence made me feel guilty for wanting to be me. Because of that I judged myself pretty harshly.
My moment of awakening came when I realized that my values and judgements were relative. I could change them. I could learn to accept myself - all of myself - and that would make my life a happier and more fulfilling one. Instead of weakness, femininity could be my strength. Being able to captivate people with my smile and enthusiasm is a gift, and using that gift isn’t manipulation by any means. I enjoy dressing attractively, wearing pink and letting my vast range of emotions wash over me. I also enjoy climbing, mountaineering, leading groups and debating. Not everyone is this way, and I revel in my uniqueness.
Applying this to society in general is a bit harder. I saw the new “Women of Climbing” calendar and wanted to puke. The image of a skilled female climber in tight shorts and a low cut bra being photographed from the top (better view of the goods, you know) seems to degrade her skill in the sport. Contrastingly is the ThoughtYouKnew.us project, where skilled cyclists come to be photographed as attractive pin-ups. What’s the difference?
One is to sell, the other is to empower.
Sex sells, we all know that. That’s not a healthy thing to strive for. Denying a part of us for the sake of “respect and recognition” isn’t healthy either. If I walk into a situation wearing a tiny skirt with the purpose of using it to my advantage, I’m guilty of manipulation and of “selling” myself. On the other hand, if I never wear skirts at all because I’m so worried about being taken seriously, I’m repressing a very large part of myself, and I’ll likely be an unhappy Aleya.
There are some pretty strong feelings out there about being sexual and being accomplished. It almost seems as though they are mutually exclusive. Do they need to be? If a classically beautiful woman is CEO, should she downplay her beauty, or do we assume she used it to get to the top? I don’t think either view is fair. Why can’t an accomplished female athlete be photographed in a bikini one day and win a comp the next? Her body should be celebrated for being beautiful and being skilled. Some might say that she will only be seen as a sex symbol, and that it downplays her abilities. Again, that’s an extremely narrow view. Masculine sexuality, (images of sweaty ripped athletes) is rarely relegated to a corner, mainly because we associate it with power and success. Why is feminine sexuality not associated with achievement, success and confidence?
As for me, I don’t get angry when I see a woman posing with a flirty look on her face, especially when it was her choice. She feels beautiful at that moment, and I give her points for being authentic. I do have a problem with the chick on the men’s deodorant commercial who is only there to make them want to buy... but then again, that’s still her choice.
Hello, my name is Aleya. I’m a girl, and everything that comes with being a girl. Love it, I do!