The Summertime Femininity Challenge

July 8, 2011

“There is something inherently fascinating about pretty young women leading lives shaped around romance and sexuality instead of power and ambition. A generation is hungry for these stories, which have come to represent—who would have guessed it?—a kind of feminine arcadia.”

Caitlin Flanagan, Stewardesses and Bunnies of Yore, Wall St. Journal

 

Americans are on a nostalgia binge, and they’re particularly fascinated with portrayals of glamorous women – pre-feminism, pre-Friedan gals. It’s not just those of us who came of age in the 60s, either. Mad Men parties have been all the rage on college campuses for the last couple of years, and the Playboy bunny Halloween costume is always a best seller.

This fall, two new nostalgia series will debut on TV, and they too will undoubtedly pull a scrim over the past, romanticizing the 60s in much the same way Mad Men has done. Pan Am centers on the lives of stewardesses during the golden age of jet travel, when people still got very dressed up to fly and expected beautiful, sexy women to serve their coffee. Caitlin Flanagan, writing Stewardesses and Bunnies of Yore in the WSJ:

“We’ve reached a new cultural moment. There is something naughtily alluring now about these young women who don’t need to spend a second fretting over that scourge of the contemporary female: work/life balance.

Like millions of other women of their proximate age and social class in that era, the stewardesses of “Pan Am” move through a series of airtight compartments: the college education, the fun and adventurous career, the betrothal that ends in the transformation to homemaker.

That this sequence is no longer regarded as a bullet train to what Ms. Friedan called “the problem that has no name,” but rather as the substance of dreamy, wish-fulfillment television, tells us just how far behind we’ve left the old battles and barricades. What once looked like oppression now seems heavenly.”

There’s also The Playboy Club, a sleazy show about the same era. Flanagan:

“What both [shows] share is an absence of judgment about jobs that were once at the very center of the feminist critique of women’s roles and prospects.”

If Sex and the City was the realization of feminist goals for female sexuality, then Pan Am and The Playboy Club must be considered a backlash of sorts. My theory is that both sexes are missing the sense of feminine and masculine energies in direct contrast with each other, something that has essentially been bred out of the culture. As Stuart Schneiderman says:

Women are having difficulty finding good men because they themselves are the good men they are looking for.

Is there a way to get femininity back? For women and men to work productively side by side without sublimating their natural differences? If women return to acting feminine, and ultimately being feminine, will men respond positively?

Let’s find out. Six months ago I wrote The Essence of Femininity in an effort to define it. Based largely on feedback from male HUS readers, I published the following 6 key aspects of femininity:

1. Nurturing

Men respond to women who convey warmth and affection. Women have a natural predisposition towards taking care of others – most importantly, family.

Men crave a nurturing and tender touch from women, and women enjoy bestowing it. Several men mentioned looking for clues that a woman will be a good mother. A nurturing personality is the number one cue for that.

2. Playful

Men love to be teased. One requested coyness and another coquettishness, which is defined as “teasing sexual or romantic overtures; flirtation.” Playfulness is one of the things that has been discouraged by feminism, as it was considered a sure-fire way not to be taken seriously. I believe that a sense of playfulness, humor, and good-natured teasing is almost always appropriate, and men value this quality in a woman. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

3. Subtle

Women have been taught that “you get what you ask for,” and “you can do anything you want if you fight for it.” Consequently, we have gotten rather obvious and aggressive in the last couple of generations. This has served us well in some ways, but it doesn’t translate very well to relationships. We have made seduction artless, which is pitiably a lot less fun for everyone. It is impossible to be intriguing when one is obvious. It is impossible to be curious about someone when they are an open book, displaying their wares as if for sale. One man described subtlety as communicating “class and elegance.” Another described the appeal of mystery, advising women “Show, don’t tell.”

4. Emotionally Intelligent

Men perceive that women are good at emotions, that they can be sensitive and tactful. Men crave empathy, understanding and appreciation from women. They need the support of women, and they appreciate good listening skills. They also enjoy a woman’s emotional vulnerability as a proxy for her emotional health and ability to bond. One man said that he wants a woman to have sex like a woman, and that means emotional intimacy. Men will avoid committing to a woman who does not “have eyes only for them.”

5. Taking pride in feminine appearance

Both men and women value good grooming and careful attention to dressing. Men like skirts and dresses more than pants, tailored pants more than sweats. Emphasize what makes you female!

Not surprisingly, men and young women are tuned in to maximizing those features that also serve as cues for fertility: skin, physical health and fitness, and the ever-present preference for long hair. Several guys mentioned loving polished fingers and toes. Modesty was mentioned as having more allure than brash display of physical assets.

6. Displaying female physicality

One reader shared her grandmother’s advice that a woman needs to walk like a woman. This was echoed repeatedly by the males. They notice and appreciate female posture, body language, facial expressions, and eye contact. Men strongly prefer a feminine tone of voice, and love the sound of a woman’s laugh.

 

Summer is a good time to experiment with changing things up a bit. Try to be aware of how you interact with men. Don’t slip into androgyny, even in the workplace. It’s entirely possible to be feminine and professional. My best mentors were all male, and they never would have called me “one of the guys.”

Try adopting more feminine mannerisms, and observe how men respond. Show a bit of vulnerability – you’ll trigger the protective instinct in males, rather than the competitive one.

Americans are in search of the feminine. Give yourself permission to be a woman. You know you want to.