What it Means to Be a Woman and Reclaiming Femininity

Sandro Botticelli’s painting, titled “Young Woman.” Thought to be Simonetta Vespucci in mythological guise, c. 1480/1485, tempera on panel. (Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main)

According to Merriam-Webster, femininity is the quality or nature of the female sex. The quality, state or degree of being feminine or womanly.

Oxford’s definition alludes you don’t have to be a woman to be feminine. Of course, we have seen the feminine expressed in a multitude of ways in society.

Most notably, the expression of womanhood and femininity in fine art has traditionally been one of beauty, harmony, and gentleness. Throughout history, classical beauties have been depicted imbued with emotion and a glimpse of the divine, often in an ethereal and heavenly manner.

As for women’s roles throughout history, their bodies have been great determiners in deciding the roles they’ve played, almost as much as inherited trades, businesses, bloodlines, or economic status have been. That is, until modern times.

During World War II and after, there was the beginning of a great shift in what American women’s roles would grow to be. Feminism had slowly changed from working to give the underserved equal rights, to a push for more female representation in traditionally male fields; much to the detriment of women.

Listen to find out the origins of American feminism and how it has links to communist Soviet Russia and more.

Detail of a scene in the bowl of the letter ‘P’ with a woman with a set-square and dividers; using a compass to measure distances on a diagram. In her left hand, she holds a square, an implement for testing or drawing right angles. She is watched by a group of students. In the Middle Ages, it is unusual to see women represented as teachers, in particular when the students appear to be monks. She is most likely the personification of Geometry, based on Martianus Capella’s famous book De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, [5th c.] a standard source for allegorical imagery of the seven liberal arts. Illustration at the beginning of Euclid’s Elementa, in the translation, attributed to Adelard of Bath. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Birth of Venus is a painting by the Italian artist Sandro Botticelli, probably made in the mid 1480s. It depicts the Roman goddess Venus arriving at the shore after her birth, when she had emerged from the sea fully-grown. (Wikimedia Commons)