Femininity (also called womanliness or womanhood) is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with girls and women. Femininity is socially constructed, but made up of both socially-defined and biologically-created factors. This makes it distinct from the definition of the biological female sex, as women, men, and transgender people can all exhibit feminine traits.
Behavioral traits generally considered feminine include gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity, though traits associated with femininity often vary depending on location and context, and include a variety of social and cultural factors. The counterpart to femininity is masculinity.
Modern notions of femininity began during the English medieval period at the time of the bubonic plague in the 1300s. Women in the Middle Ages were referred to simply as maiden, wife, or widow. After the Black Death in England wiped out approximately half of the population, traditional gender roles of wife and mother changed, and opportunities opened up for women in society. The concept of "woman" changed in a number of ways and new language had to be created to describe these roles, with words like femininity and womanhood.
Behavior and personality 
While the defining characteristics of femininity are not universally identical, some patterns exist. Gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, caring, sweetness, compassion, tolerance, nurturance, deference, and succorance are behaviors generally considered feminine.
Femininity is sometimes linked with sexual objectification and sexual appeal. Sexual passiveness, or sexual reception, is sometimes considered feminine while sexual assertiveness and sexual desire is sometimes considered masculine.
Ann Oakley's sex/gender dichotomy has had a considerable influence on sociologists defining masculine and feminine behavior as regulated, policed, and reproduced in our society, as well as the power structures relating to the concepts. Some queer theorists and other postmodernists, however, have rejected the sex (biology)/gender (culture) dichotomy as a "dangerous simplification".
An ongoing debate with regards to sex and psychology concerns the extent to which gender identity and gender-specific behavior is due to socialization versus inborn factors. According to Diane F. Halpern, both factors play a role, but the relative importance of each must still be investigated. The nature versus nurture question, for example, is extensively debated and is continually revitalized by new research findings. Some hold that feminine identity is partly a 'given' and partly a goal to be sought.
In 1959, researchers such as John Money and Anke Erhardt proposed the prenatal hormone theory. Their research argues that sexual organs bathe the embryo with hormones in the womb, resulting in the birth of an individual with a distinctively male or female brain; this was suggested by some to "predict future behavioral development in a masculine or feminine direction". This theory, however, has been criticized on theoretical and empirical grounds and remains controversial. In 2005, scientific research investigating sex and psychology showed that gender expectations and stereotype threat affect behavior, and a person's gender identity can develop as early as three years of age. Money also argued that gender identity is formed during a child's first three years.
Mary Vetterling-Braggin argues that all characteristics associated with femininity arose from early human sexual encounters which were mainly male-forced and female-unwilling, because of male and female anatomical differences. Others, such as Carole Pateman, Ria Kloppenborg, and Wouter J. Hanegraaff, argue that the definition of femininity is the result of how females must behave in order to maintain a patriarchal social system.
In Carl Jung's school of analytical psychology, the anima and animus are the two primary anthropomorphic archetypes of the unconscious mind. The anima and animus are described by Jung as elements of his theory of the collective unconscious, a domain of the unconscious that transcends the personal psyche. In the unconscious of the male it finds expression as a feminine inner personality: anima; equivalently, in the unconscious of the female it is expressed as a masculine inner personality: animus.
Clothing and appearance 
In Western cultures, the ideal of feminine appearance has traditionally included long, flowing hair, light skin, a narrow waist, and little or no body hair or facial hair. In other cultures, however, these standards may vary. For example, in many parts of the world, underarm hair is not considered unfeminine.
These feminine ideals of beauty have been criticized by some feminists and others as restrictive, unhealthy, and discriminatory. In particular, the prevalence of anorexia and other eating disorders in Western countries has frequently been blamed on the feminine ideal of thinness.
In history 
Cultural standards vary a great deal on what is considered feminine. For example, in 16th century France, high heels were considered a distinctly masculine type of shoe, though they are currently considered feminine.
In Ancient Egypt, sheath and beaded net dresses were considered female clothing, while wraparound dresses, perfumes, cosmetics, and elaborate jewelry were worn by both men and women. In Ancient Persia, clothing was generally unisex, though women wore veils and headscarves. Women in Ancient Greece wore himations; and in Ancient Rome women wore the palla, a rectangular mantle, and the maphorion.
Body alteration 
Body alteration is the deliberate altering of the human body for aesthetic or non-medical purpose. One such purpose has been to induce perceived feminine characteristics in women.
For centuries in Imperial China, smaller feet were considered to be a more aristocratic characteristic in women. The practice of foot binding was intended to enhance this characteristic, though it often made walking difficult and painful.
In a few parts of Africa and Asia, neck rings are worn in order to elongate the neck. In these cultures, a long neck characterizes feminine beauty. The Padaung of Burma and Tutsi women of Burundi, for instance, practice this form of body modification.
In China until the twentieth century, tiny, bound feet for women were considered aristocratic and feminine
Ideal feminine 
What is considered as the ideal feminine is defined by each individual culture based on what that culture considers valuable, and is often the subject of heated debate.
In men's view 
Men's perceptions of feminine beauty range widely among different cultures. In 1883, Francis Galton first noticed that averageness or koinophilia is a strong indicator of physical beauty. Today, a multi-billion-dollar industry exists around what men find feminine.
Studies show that men in Indo-European cultures find ideal feminine proportions that fit a 0.7 waist–hip ratio as most attractive. Physiologists have shown that women with hourglass figures are more fertile than other women due to higher levels of certain female hormones, a fact that may subconsciously condition males choosing mates.
In Japan, the term "yamato nadeshiko", meaning the "personification of an idealized Japanese woman", or "the epitome of pure, feminine beauty"., is often used referring to a girl or shy young woman  and, in a contemporary context, nostalgically of women with "good" traits which are perceived as being increasingly rare.
In popular culture 
In 1959, the Barbie fashion doll was introduced as a feminine ideal of modern aesthetic beauty by Mattel, in the United States. While there are those who hold Barbie to be the feminine ideal, Barbie's anatomical proportions are exaggerated and do not, for example, meet the aesthetic proportions that men in Indo-European cultures find most attractive. This icon of femininity, in the views of some, attracts a wide international audience of women and men. She has been used as a teaching tool for femininity. One of the most common criticisms of Barbie is that she promotes an unrealistic and unattainable idea of feminine beauty and fits the weight criteria for anorexia.
In China, female consumers rejected Barbie's ideal of feminine beauty and its image for women as extraneously sexy. In Iran, the feminine ideals and independent lifestyle represented by Barbie are considered a threat to Iranian values, "more harmful than an American missile." In Saudi Arabia Barbie was banned for the same reason, by the religious police as a moral threat to Islam.
Traditional roles 
Gender stereotypes influence traditional feminine occupations, resulting in microaggression toward women who break traditional gender roles. These stereotypes include that women have a caring nature, have skill at household-related work, have greater manual dexterity than men, are more honest than men, and have a more attractive physical appearance. Occupational roles associated with these stereotypes include: midwife, teacher, accountant, data entry clerk, cashier, salesperson, receptionist, housekeeper, cook, maid, social worker, and nurse. Occupational segregation maintains gender inequality and gender pay gap.
These associations are now considered outdated in much of the world, although certain specializations, such as surgery and emergency medicine, are dominated by a masculine culture and have a higher salary.
Leadership is associated with masculinity in Western cultures, and women are perceived less favorably as potential leaders. However, some people have argued that the "feminine"-style leadership, which is associated with leadership that focuses on help and cooperation, is advantageous over "masculine" leadership, which is associated with focusing on tasks and control. Female leaders are more often described by Western media using characteristics associated with femininity, such as emotion. Role Congruity Theory, which proposes that people tend to view deviations from expected gender roles negatively, is sometimes used to explain why people have a tendency to evaluate behavior that fulfills the prescriptions of a leader role less favorably when it is enacted by a woman.
Explanations for occupational imbalance 
It has been argued that primary sex characteristics of men and women, such as the ability to bear children, caused a historical sexual division of labor and gender stereotypes evolved culturally to perpetuate this division.
The practice of bearing children tends to interrupt the continuity of employment. According to human capital theory, this retracts from the female investment in higher education and employment training. Richard Anker of the International Labour Office argues human capital theory does not explain the sexual division of labor because many occupations tied to feminine roles, such as administrative assistance, require more knowledge, experience, and continuity of employment than unskilled masculinized occupations, such as truck driving. Anker argues the feminization of certain occupations limits employment options for women.
Role Congruity Theory, which proposes that people tend to view deviations from expected roles negatively, supports the empirical evidence that gender discrimination exists in areas traditionally associated with one gender or the other.
Asian religions 
Shamanism may have originated as early as the paleolithic period, predating all organized religions. Archeological finds have suggested that the earliest known shamans were female, and contemporary shamanic roles such as the Korean mudang continue to be filled primarily by women.
In Hindu traditions, Devi is the female aspect of the divine. Shakti is the divine feminine creative power, the sacred force that moves through the entire universe and the agent of change. She is the female counterpart without whom the male aspect, which represents consciousness or discrimination, remains impotent and void. As the female manifestation of the supreme lord, she is also called Prakriti, the basic nature of intelligence by which the Universe exists and functions. In Hinduism, the universal creative force Yoni is feminine, with inspiration being the life force of creation.
In Taoism, the concept of yin represents the primary force of the female half of yin and yang. The yin is also present, to a smaller proportion, in the male half. The yin can be characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive.
In Judeo-Christian theology 
Although the Judeo-Christian God is typically described in masculine terms—such as father, king, warrior—many theologians argue that this is not meant to indicate the gender of God. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, God "is neither man nor woman: he is God." Several recent writers, such as Sally McFague, have explored the idea of "God as mother", examining the feminine qualities attributed to God. For example, in the Book of Isaiah, God is compared to a mother comforting her child, while in the Book of Deuteronomy, God is said to have given birth to Israel.
The Book of Genesis describes divine creation of the world out of nothing or ex nihilo. In Wisdom literature and in the wisdom tradition, wisdom is described as feminine. In many books of the Old Testament, including Wisdom and Sirach, wisdom is personified and called "she." According to David Winston, because wisdom is God's "creative agent," she must be intimately identified with God.
The Wisdom of God is feminine in Hebrew: Chokhmah, in Arabic: Hikmah, in Greek: Sophia, and in Latin: Sapientia. In Hebrew, both Shekhinah (the Holy Spirit and divine presence of God) and Ruach HaKodesh (divine inspiration) are feminine.
In the Jewish Kabbalah, Chokhmah (wisdom and intuition) is the force in the creative process that God used to create the heavens and the earth. Binah (understanding and perception) is the great mother, the feminine receiver of energy and giver of form. Binah receives the intuitive insight from Chokhmah and dwells on it in the same way that a mother receives the seed from the father, and keeps it within her until it's time to give birth. The intuition, once received and contemplated with perception, leads to the Creation of the Universe.
Femininity in men 
Men who behave in ways associated with femininity may be called effeminate. Men who wear clothing associated with femininity are cross-dressers. A drag queen is a man who wears women's clothing and behaves in an extremely feminine manner for entertainment purposes.
Feminist views 
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Feminist philosophers such as Judith Butler and Simone de Beauvoir contend that femininity and masculinity are created through repeated performances of gender; these performances reproduce and define the traditional categories of sex and/or gender.
Many second-wave feminists reject what they regard as constricting standards of female beauty, created for the subordination and objectifying of women and self-perpetuated by reproductive competition and women's own aesthetics.
Others, such as third-wave feminists and lipstick feminists, argue that feminism shouldn't devalue feminine culture and identity, and that symbols of feminine identity such as make-up, suggestive clothing and having a sexual allure can be valid and empowering personal choices for both sexes.
See also 
- Feminine psychology
- Feminization (sociology)
- Gender studies
- Gender role
- Nature versus nurture
- Sociology of gender
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