DISCUSSION

New Femininity Forum

As this discussion of Miss Nightwind's New Femininity Interview is rather Tellurian-based, we have decided to give it its own forum apart from the Femmeworld Common Room. If you want to contribute, please make the subject "New Feminity".

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Maths, Femininity and Stereotypes
From Laura Helen

I'm interested in mathematics, I majored in math in college and am thinkingof going to grad school in math. I didn't like reading about how much less gifted women are in math; I see the same stuff on the Net a lot.I don't think it's true; I see a lot of social pressures against womendoing math, lack of support, etc.

It is kind of painful being a woman in a male-dominated field -- you have to spend a lot of time around men, and men are not much fun to be around -- often pushy, interrupt women a lot, etc. You also encountera lot scepticism about your abilities, comments about how you must havebeen hired for your looks, etc. A woman in a male-dominated field ispushed towards being a pseudo-man to fit in, while at the same timeoften playing feminine roles of supporting men. Women in male-dominated environments become alienated from their own woman-ness.

But the answer that you propose doesn't do anything for that problem.I come from the very male environment that I spend a lot of time in,feeling often that there is prejudice against me, that I am invisible.I looked up your web page thinking that sounds like fun, and run intomore of the same stereotyping that I found from the men.

Suppose one is oriented towards math -- does seeking the company ofwomen mean being around a lot of people who just say "Oh, I'm nogood at that". Many women have low self-esteem about theirmathematical skills, and the idea that as women they're not good at math. So does this mean that if you seek out the companyof your own gender, you'll be exposed to other women's prejudiceagainst women?

I agree wholeheartedly that the world is unbalanced, sick with anoverdose of male ways of doing things. Actually I think what happensis that the energy of women goes towards supporting the men in theirmale way of doing things. Female energy, from wives and mothers,lovers and secretaries, goes to buttress male self-images. And Iwonder, why is that female energy enslaved? What would happen ifit were freed? This female energy is the invisible breath of theworld that keeps it all moving; the men would not last a generation without the emotional support and love of the women. What if this female energy were free?

I'm kind of an eco-feminist -- I empathize on a deep level with Natureand I think that what happens to women -- their low self-image, theirentrapment in seeking the approval of men, their terrorization in a world that's not safe for women -- is analogous to the rape of Nature. I don't know when this enslavement of women and Nature is>going to end. Is it possible that we'll just get tired of being used?

But your opposite stereotype is not the answer. No sort of image ofwho to be is the answer; the only person to be is that message frominside; whether it tells you to do math or to express compassion orto wear pink. I think that the only liberation for women and men will be to have no expectations of what they will be.

You seem to be going for the male/female divisions that have been setup by patriarchal society. I think they are false divisions. I'vewondered for example what women's mathematics would be like; what wouldhappen if we managed to integrate the heart and the mind?

Are women and men inherently different? Maybe. I know that the socialization goes very deep, that there are whole different nonverbalmessages given to girls and boys from infancy. I know that the sexistpressure on women from society is very intense. I know that men are often very violent, rude and egotistical. Maybe the two sexes woulddo better in different nations. Women would do better, maybe men would learn to be whole human beings if they didn't have that invisible support of female energy. But one thing I know for sureis, we'd all be better off if we did not have expectations of anysort of who people will be.

A lot of femininity is something that was constructed to keep men happy and supported in their male power, and to keep men sexuallystimulated and satisfied. For example, "femininity" as beingemotionally nurturing to a powerful man, but not asking power foroneself.

I totally agree with the need to liberate female power, but I thinkyou have subscribed to a stereotyped notion of what female power is.Where for example do the old women fit in your world? Thecrotchety spinsters? :) Why are they crotchety?

Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote a novel called "Herland" about anall-female world; it is a utopia and pretty perceptive about thenature of women, I think. She made the interesting observation about the women in her world, that they were very intelligent butas calm as cows, that this seemed unusual to the man who hadstumbled on this world, because the intelligent women he'd knownwere nervous.

The women-the-same-as-men feminism does run into problems becausewomen try to act like the stereotypical man. But the stereotypicalman is himself a pretty sick creature. The problems that women runinto when they try to take part in male cultures are not problemswith the feminist philosophy, they are problems with the maleculture, due to men's contempt for women and men's warped way of interacting. Women end up with sort of a hole inside where theirself-image as women is supposed to be. But the existence of thiswound doesn't mean that the answer is to go off and decide to be"feminine", i.e. non-scientific, non-mathematical, emotional, etc.The real answer would be to integrate woman-ness with the maleculture, to transform it and heal that split inside women. Whena woman can wear a dress, lipstick if she likes, and go off to a lab and do a chemical experiment or a mathematical proof, that's when we'll be better off. When being sexual doesn't put one intoa little tiny compartment that men have made. And when a man can do the same, or stay at home & take care of the babies.

Like a lot of women I've experienced this: I put on a dress, I have a lot of fun swishing around, I feel sensual. Then, I goout into the world. The world does not go along with my fun.I get sexually harassed on the street. I get men at work deciding I must be the secretary, also thinking I'm not very bright. Dresses seem dangerous, you get treated pretty badly when in femaledrag. People assume you are some stereotype. I think I likeandrogyny, in the sense of either sex being exactly who they want,femmy mathematical dykes in dresses and all. Androgyny is difficult to express in a world jam-packed with stereotyped messages about who you must be.

I had a short honeymoon from stereotyping when I was a kid. I was very gifted mathematically -- I learned algebra when I was seven and calculus by the time I was nine years old. I don't remember hearing anything about how as a girl I shouldn't do this, my sex wasn't an issue.I think little girls have less sex-role expectations than women. WhenI hit puberty, I ran into the patriarchy, the whole sexual assault ofrandom men on women, the huge machine of oppression and fear that keeps women down.

Having grown up all I run into are sex-role clashes, lots ofprejudice, a very male-dominated environment. Almost, it seems thatthe time when I was a kid must support me against all the assaults ofthe world on my mathematical self-confidence.

Laura, wishing to be free female energy herself!


Annalinde Nightwind Replies

Thank you for taking the time to give such a thoughtful and sensitive response to the New Femininity interview.I agree that to say "women are less gifted in maths" is an ambiguous statement that must be treated with great caution. Many women are very good at it and should be encouraged to develop their talents. What the scientific evidence shows is that women on average are less gifted at maths, just as men, on average are less gifted in communcation abilities.

This does not mean that no men are good communicators or that no women are good mathematicians. It does not mean that the best mathematician in the world might not be a woman. When male colleagues cast doubt on your mathematical abilities because you are a woman, I do not know if they are basing their attitudes on the scientific evidence, but if they are, they have entirely misunderstood it.

Indeed, much of the evidence presented in my interview was taken from Dr. Anne Moir who has a Ph.D. in genetics and possesses a fine mathematical mind.

Nonetheless, the idea that women's tendency toward the humanities is caused by social conditioning does not stand up to investigation. These tendencies (towards words rather than figures, people rather than things) manifest themselves from a very early age, and althouygh boys are later developers than girls, that does not affect the kinds of things the two sexes tend to be interested in.

What I am saying is that women can be and are good at mathematics, but the fact that most are not should not be written off as mere "social conditioning".

There is more to it than this. Men who are good at communication, particulary emotional comunication -- poets, for example -- have often tended to be somewhat "feminine" in nature. These men have contributed a great deal to our culture.Your point about "a female mathematics" is a deeply interesting one. It would be, in a sense, the opposite of the male poet who creatively employs his "feminine" nature. So far Tellurian culture has not made such exploration easy.

This is one part of what we are trying to do -- to accept our femininity and see what can be done with it: things that have not been possible in a patriarchal world.

Now the cardinal question is: is our adoption of a (somewhat) conventional feminine image merely an adoption of a patriarchal stereotype, as you say: "something that was constructed to keep men happy and supported in their male power, and to keep men sexually stimulated and satisfied. For example, 'femininity' as being emotionally nurturing to a powerful man, but not asking power for oneself"?I do not believe it is. I am not saying that men have not used our femininity in these ways, but I am denying that they invented it and even that they had as much influence as the stock modern argument supposes on the forms it took before the 1960s.

The "traditional" image of femininity was created by women, not men. Sometimes it worked to men's advantage, sometimes it didn't. But the analysis accepted by the entire mass-media establishment today, that "femininity was an exploitative masculine concept" is false, and damaging to us as women.

It is based on the Marxist notion that the ethos of any age is merely a reflection of the self-interest of its ruling class (in this case men). The theory was first devised by Marxists although it has since become mainstream. And it is as false as the Marxist construct as a whole.

The traditional concept of femininity is a very close and highly sophisticated social expression of what biological research has shown to be the feminine character, both in humans and in animals, both in "socially conditioned" adults and in children too young to speak. We observe also that women who have an excess of female hormones are inevitably "ultra-feminine" in exactly the ways that "conventional social conditioning" has always defined femininity.

The idea that "conventional femininity" is a social construct invented merely to serve male self-interest might have been tenable thirty years ago. It is not tenable now, because we know a great deal more about it, and we know that femininity is a real and inalienable part of the female nature.

But of course this does not mean that men have not a) used femininity to their own advantage and b) undervalued femininity and its importance, trivialising and belittling it.

Our way of dealing with these problems at Femmeworld is to re-enter our femininity within an all-female environment in which there are no men to exploit or belittle. This may not be an overall solution, but it is a worthwhile experiment we feel, and may lead to many interesting developments.

You raise very sensitively the question of stereotyping. I do not think stereotypes really come into question here. There can be enormous flexibility within the feminine image, and the concept of blonde and brunette allows for a very positive and (if one may use the expression) entirely feminine androgyny!

But we do need guiding images of femininity, and any cultural threat that 1950 or 1930s femininity may once have posed is entirely neutralised by the fact that a) it is completely dead in the modern world, therefore it has become ours to make of what we will and b) it is being done entirely within an all-female environment.

I hope we can learn a lot by creating this virtual feminine universe and have a lot of fun at the same time.

[Don't forget, by the way that this is all being done with traditionally "masculine" high-technics, so there is an interesting and creative ambiguity incorporated in the entire project. And don't think your mathematical propensities will ever be belittled in Femmeworld. They won't.]

With much love
ANNALINDE NIGHTWIND


"Drag" and the Attack on Femininity

Laura Helen writes: "Dresses seem dangerous. You get treated pretty badly when in female drag."

This seems to sum up the whole terrible situation women have been forced into in the late 20th century by a combination of their enemies and their "friends".

People talk about women being forced into stereotyped female roles, but such people are twenty years behind the times, fighting the dead dragons that are still propped up by the mass-media as bogeymen to scare us all into male-conformity and blind us to the real problem.

The real problem is that women are forced into stereotyped male roles. To such an extent that to many women dressing as feminine women quite literally seems like "drag" and has been made to feel dangerous and be dangerous.

We desperately need a place where we can be ourselves and not be intimidated into masculine or semi-masculine stereotypes. Femmewold as a Feminine Vitrual Reality is an inspiration. Is there a real-world equivalent?

The eradication of femininity from the world which Annalinde Nightwind talks of is a very real thing. We are facing the prospect of a world without the beauty, gentleness and motherliness that only femininity can give. It doesn't help to talk about every one being just what she wants to be, because if you lose the truly feminine image (what the propagandists call a stereotype), you have lost something terribly precious: one of whe fundamental props about which this play could take place. It is all very wel to talk about "femmy dykes in dresses", but if no one is seriously dressing -- and living -- in a feminine way we are simply expending a dwindling heritage from the past; we are draining the icons of femininity without putting anything back. To future generations they will mean almost nothing, and something of inestimable value will have been lost to us.

And it is completely one-sided. No one is destroying the masculine image; only the feminine image. No man feels as if he is cross-dressing when he wears trousers.

Femininity is our heritage and we must not be tricked out of it.
MISS ALICE LUCY TRENT

A Male View

I just read your interview of Annalinde Nightwind regarding the New Femininity and I must say that I couldn't agree more.

We do have "an increasingly violent, materialistic, greedy and ultimately self-destructive society," and I believe that the new feminine sensibility actually is the thing our society needs above all else if it is going to survive.

I sincerely hope that you will succeed. Men can benefit from survival too!
RICK MARTIN



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