Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Re: Femininity in NZ

I wrote an opinion piece that appeared in the SST on Sunday 27th November.  The published title was 'In Defence of Femininity'.

It was also republished on under the unfortunate title 'Are NZ Women Slobs'.  This was their title, not mine, and was not what the article was really about.

Many people who read the article in the Sunday Star Times took it in the way it was meant.  Others took a slightly different inference from it and took great offence.

It has been said that in my article I suggested that domestic violence against women was their own fault for not being more feminine. And that if women wore dresses and high heels more often this would not happen.

This was not what I wrote at all.  Nor is it what I think.

I talked to a cross-section of people around the country; many think that femininity is about MORE than what we wear, but they can't quite say what they think it might be. Perhaps it's our attitude as women, perhaps 'how we carry ourselves', people said. Traits such as compassion, empathy, understanding and creativity were mentioned too.

I feel that femininity is about how I embrace all that it means to be a woman.  Women and men are different, and our differences are something to be celebrated, not ignored. There was a general opinion that a lot of Kiwi women are 'blokey' - not simply in the way they dress, but how they behave.   There is a sense that women are attempting to deny our differences and be like men.

Women are generally more nurturing and empathetic, we tend to communicate verbally better than men. We are usually the primary carers of our children.  We are passionate and expressive.  

We have horrific issues with domestic violence, depression and suicide here in New Zealand.  As John Kirwan says on the TV ads for the Ministry of Health depression helpline, "hardening up is not what you need to do."  Social problems begin with how we raise our children and how we operate as families and thus as a society.  In New Zealand there is a general tendency to be seen to be 'tough'.  Mucking in,  digging deep and ‘getting on with it’ are Kiwi traits.  But every human being is also vulnerable, experiences sadness, disappointment, frustration.  The ability to feel and express this side is, I think, a more feminine trait. 

To be wholly in touch with who we are as people, and to be truly strong, I think it is vital that we embrace our vulnerability, that we allow our children, male and female, to express their sadnesses, their confusion, to talk about how they feel. It is vital that as a society we value connection to our emotional sides as a strength, and not a weakness.  It's vital to teach this to our girls and boys as they grow up, encouraging it in school and throughout their lives.

On this level boys get the bum deal.  Even more than women they are expected to 'get on with it', not to cry, not to express or emote.  If we feel we are not listened to, not heard, not understood, what is the result?  Anger and misery.  Violence and depression.  I’m not suggesting that repressed emotion is the sole cause of violence and depression, but I do believe that it is a significant contributing factor.

I believe that as women, we owe it to ourselves and others to embrace and own our femininity and hold it up as strong. We need to value our intrinsic nature, and hold onto it as something to be admired and valued. We need our society to value what women have to offer, our differences from men. If we don’t value our gifts first, but deny and ignore them, what chance that anyone else will?  

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