I've been reading this book. The author is a trans woman, Julia Serano. While she briefly talks about her transition and some things that are different for her now that she is physically female, the book is primarily about identity, trans politics, and how misogyny is applied to trans women or anyone on the MTF spectrum in particular. I can't express how helpful this book was to me in understanding trans issues, which I have been embarrassingly ignorant of. But as an interesting side effect, it has also made me realize that, despite how much work I've done to uproot it, I still have some internalized misogyny left directed toward myself.
In short, Serano believes both sides of the nature/nurture argument regarding femininity are wrong. That is, she does not believe femininity is either entirely biological or entirely socially constructed, but somewhere in the middle. She goes on to state that she believes gender and sex identity can be split into three separate categories which are determined independently of one other: physical sex (genitals, chromosomes, hormones, or secondary sex characteristics like facial hair – it's more in dispute than we realize, she points out); identified gender (which gender we "feel like" we are, which cis people often don't notice they even have); and gender expression (feeling comfortable expressing traits considered "feminine" or "masculine"). Since these three aspects are determined completely unrelated to one another, it's possible to have any combination of the three, and she points out that those who suffer the greatest amount of discrimination are those (of either gender) who are atypical in an obvious way. This is because of what she calls "oppositional sexism" – that is, the idea that "male" and "female" are somehow opposites of one another, like "hot/cold" or "strong/weak." Obviously, a subtext of oppositional sexism is that being female/feminine is inferior to being male/masculine. This explains the fear and voyeurism surrounding MTF spectrum trans people in particular, she says – since they are the only people who voluntarily choose to become or live as female, a category we believe to be less desirable, they are considered either pathetic or dangerous (because of their potential to threaten or subvert male heterosexual desire).
What struck me, personally, about this is Serano's concept of oppositional sexism. I can't remember a time when I didn't understand and believe that "male" and "female" are opposites, with "female" coming up short. Throughout my life this has led to an intense anger, which I have directed equally at myself and the unfair world that didn't allow me to choose to be a member of the gender that has all the power. Because I am not passive, and I was taught that all women should be passive. I have no desire to give my personal power away, and I was taught that I had no choice. And I acted passive and relinquished my power for a time, because I believed that was the only way I could ever earn the love of men. Men could at least give me approval, which was in my mind the closest I could come to real agency. When I discovered feminism, and in particular the concept that femininity was socially constructed to take away women's power, it felt like I was finally free of the shackles that had held me my whole life.
And yet. Rejecting femininity as socially constructed meant I also felt like I had to deny the parts of myself that do fit gender expectations. That I had to pretend not to like lace and fairies and pink, and not to be far more interested in "feminine" pursuits like art and crafts and dance than in "masculine" ones like sports and video games. I had to learn to value "masculine" jobs, like those in STEM fields, over the things I'm drawn to, like nonprofit work and liberal arts. Many times in the past few years I have said something to the effect of, "Everything I'm good at is worthless." But that isn't true. As Serano points out, we have been taught that femininity is "artificial" and inferior when it isn't any more artificial, shallow, frivolous or useless than things associated with masculinity. People of both genders are drawn to things that are considered, stereotypically, as part of feminine gender expression. Our problem is in assuming that femininity is somehow less valuable than masculinity, or that it's even limited to women.
This might be obvious to many of you, but to me it was an epiphany. I think my self-hatred of my femininity has been reinforced by so many situations in my life that I didn't even realize it was there. But I'm done hating a part of myself. Neither being female nor being feminine makes me lesser, and the more wholeheartedly I reject those lies, the more others around me will be forced to reject them as well.
So from this day forward, I will celebrate all the aspects of myself, even the ones that are more typically feminine. I will not be ashamed of my childhood bedroom that was decorated with pink roses, lace and teacups – it is not more silly than a room decorated with cars or dinosaurs. I will not pretend that I wish I had gone into a field that made more money and is more prestigious, because the world needs people to question our media, and it needs people to help those who are hurting, just as much as it needs scientists and managers and accountants. I will not hide my love for creating beautiful things, including clothing, even though aesthetics is considered feminine and frivolous by our culture. Beautiful things make everyone smile, and that is not inferior to "masculine" hobbies. No part of me, and no part of you, is inferior by virtue of being "feminine" or "masculine."
Celebrate your femininity with me! Whether you are female or male bodied, share something about yourself that is "feminine" and why you love that part of yourself. We might not be able to change everything we hate about the world as fast as we want to, or maybe even ever, but we can change ourselves. And that's a good start.