Photo Work in Blue tones
Nancy Frohlick

Whatever Happened to Femininity?

Oct. 24, 2008
Maggie Fraser

Back in the bad old days when men were men and women were women the social roles for each sex were very clearly defined. Defined also were the psychological roles. Men were the hunters, fighters, thinkers, adventurers. Women were the nurturers, the receptive ones, the emotional connectors. The qualities assigned to men were generally considered the superior ones, especially to the men, but everyone certainly valued the traditionally feminine qualities in women.

It seems to me that while in the last decades women have made great strides in entering into the traditionally male world the shift has not gone both ways. Women have naturally leapt at the opportunity to expand their limited traditional roles and embrace the more prestigious "male" roles. Unfortunately the men, with a few brave exceptions, have not been falling over themselves to embrace the traditionally feminine lifestyles and qualities. This has left us with a societal imbalance where men and women both are embracing the traditionally male values of drive, ambition and the ability to focus intently on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. These are valuable qualities but they are not the only valuable qualities and they lose their value unless they are placed in the context of other, more traditionally feminine values.

What about receptivity? What about having someone there to care about the small details of your daily life; the nuances that wouldn't show up on paper but of which your life is largely comprised? What about cooking and cleaning, the largely unpaid drudge work that someone has to do in order for us to live even a semblance of a civilized lifestyle? What about the care of those who are not for one reason or another able to care for themselves? What about manners, those carefully intuited smoothers of the path of human interaction? None of these call particularly for drive, ambition or extreme focus, yet they are just as important as any other facet of life. Why are they so undervalued?

Eminent psychoanalytic theorist D.W. Winnicott had a theory on the roots of misogyny, the hatred of women. During infancy we are entirely at the mercy of our mothers. Winnicott believed that the memory of this utter helplessness is so terrifying to us that we repress it and feel instead that there is something innately terrible about women. Perhaps that is why women's traditional roles are shunned. They bring us closer to an awareness of our very real vulnerability in the grand scheme of things. If we focus on winning one little battle we can feel strong. If we are entrusted with the care of a child we can feel the shifting tides of life's uncertainty beneath our feet. Traditional women's work is scary and boring but it also can be deeply rewarding.

Until we have restored the balance between the 'masculine' and "feminine" qualities in our civilization we perhaps ought not be surprised when we find that other more traditional cultures which still retain a strict division in gender roles are not terribly eager to leap ahead into Western ways. Don't get me wrong. I think forward is the only way to go. I just think we are only half way there.

Maggie Fraser is a songwriter and artist living in Toronto.
Listen to some of "Songs of Maggie", her newly released CD - a collaboration with singer and musician Colleen Hodgson - by clicking on to Colleen's myspace page:
myspace.com/colleen hodgson