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Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405168908.2010.x


A term with a dual meaning, “femininity” refers first to the ensemble of cultural forms, meanings, and values conventionally associated with women. Thus certain forms of adornment (dress and makeup) or personal qualities (passivity, mystery, sexual allure) have functioned traditionally as cultural markers of femininity. Secondly, “femininity” refers to gender identity, to the sense of self that enables social subjects to say “I” as a woman. It is common in many areas of biological and medical science to root distinctions between women and men in biological differences. In this account, femininity appears as a natural essence which is both tied exclusively to women (thus so-called effeminate men appear abnormal or deviant), and whose influence is felt directly in all areas of social life (thus women are deemed “biologically” unsuited to certain types of work, artistic activity, etc.; Gunew, 1990 , p. 207). This biological E ssentialism has been a focus of debate in numerous disciplines, from social science to philosophy and L iterary criticism . The main impulse for a critique of essentialist versions of femininity has come, however, from feminism. Here, the argument that a woman's biology is her destiny is seen as a source of women's subordination; for if women are “naturally” (anatomically, genetically, hormonally) inferior, then feminist demands for women's equality, or for ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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