The parameters of gender have undergone a dramatic expansion through the efforts of Science and enlightened feminists such as Nancy Mairs. Their contributions allow a multitude of genders and new definitions that account for the richness of human sexuality. As a result, femininity can be defined in the broadest and richest terms as a set of psychological traits unconstrained by classically masculine and feminine boundaries.
"Femininity" is best defined as sensitivity and awareness, a firm set of psychological traits that is not reflected in behavior. Actions are not masculine or feminine, but approaches to them are masculine or feminine. The classically oppressive confinement of "normal" gender to male and female is no longer viable, for humanity exists in a far greater array of sexual characteristics than genitals can distinguish or dictate. Anne Fausto-Sterling offers many examples of Science's growing acceptance of broad gender range, reaching back to biblical times and through the year 2000 to illustrate the five genders of male, female, hermaphrodite, male pseudo hermaphrodite and female pseudo hermaphrodite in the 1993 portion of her work (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 1), then expanding to nearly every gender possibility in the 2000 portion of her work (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, pp. 11-12). Fausto-Sterling's 1993 work was seminal in its ready acknowledgment of 5 genders and its illustration of the systematic suppression of all but two genders. Furthermore, Fausto-Sterling's knowledge of human sexuality expanded considerably between 1993 and 2000. Through her own continual study and empirical data, Fausto-Sterling determined that criticism of her initial estimation of merely 5 genders is well-founded (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 12). Secondly, Fausto-Sterling found that transgender births, while lower than her initial estimate of 4% of the population, held firm at 1.7% of the population and, therefore a significant portion of the population (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 9). Finally, Fausto-Sterling found that other researchers had stunningly outstripped her own research with astounding conclusions regarding the multitude of possible genders (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, pp. 11-12). Given the numerous possibilities of gender within human sexuality, feminism is open to a broader and more fluid definition according to psychological traits.
Nancy Mairs also supports the broader concept of femininity, particularly regarding the psychological traits of sensitivity and awareness in calling for both from her son in "A Letter to Matthew" (Mairs, 1986, pp. 55-61). Acknowledging the social influences eliciting classically American male and female behaviors, Mairs states, "Women have long been schooled in this sensitivity to others; but men have been raised to hold themselves aloof, to leave the emotional business of life to their mothers and sisters and wives." (Mairs, 1986, p. 56). Nevertheless, Mairs cites clear instances of sensitivity and awareness in her 14-year-old son (Mairs, 1986, p. 56), and strongly encourages the blossoming of those feminine characteristics in him. For Mairs, the feminine psychological traits of sensitivity and awareness are naturally found in her undoubtedly male son and should be cultivated rather than quashed.
Opposition to this concept is deep-seated, particularly by those who deem femininity to be the opposite of masculinity and those who believe there are certain behaviors that are essentially feminine, and other behaviors that are not. These confining ideas can be at least partially attributed to circumstances and experiences so narrow that certain individuals cannot entertain the broader concepts of gender and psychological traits (Mairs, 1986, p. 55). For example, Mairs points to William F. Buckley, a staunch conservative, as an older, fully-formed and complete man whose limited experience would make him unreceptive to Mairs' ideas of femininity, sensitivity and awareness (Mairs, 1986, p. 55). Yet another reason for opposition to the broader concept of femininity may be the empowerment of men by classifying, subjugating and dividing individuals and groups by gender and other labels (Mairs, 1986, p. 56). As Mairs states, this is the patterned response of men who refuse to experience and explore ambiguities (Mairs, 1986, p. 56). A third reason illustrated by Mairs is the projection of one's own feelings onto another. Mairs wittily uses Freud's theory of "penis envy" to expose Freud's projection of his own "womb envy" to denigrate and lessen women (Mairs, 1986, p. 57). Worse yet, as Mairs points out in a fourth reason, women buy into and perpetuate these concepts, deeming themselves "less than" and therefore worthy of only "any job" or "any partner" or "any roof over her head" (Mairs, 1986, p. 57). Finally, and perhaps most institutionally damaging of all, the legal and medical professions have pursued courses that are antithetical to the broader concept of femininity and significantly influence the layman's understanding of sexuality. Despite greater or at least renewed awareness about sexual complexity in the late 20th Century, the legal system and medical community have acted to suppress the variety of sexual systems and confine them to male/female constructs. Legal issues of paternity, inheritance and legitimacy, among other legal aspects, require registration of humans as only male or female, according to current Anglo-Saxon legal systems (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 4). Also, the medical community developed and supported "interventions" chemically and surgically altering the "deformity" of hermaphrodites and pseudo hermaphrodites to only two possible genders: male or female (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 5). In a disturbing display of medical hubris, doctors systematically and unilaterally altered intersexual newborns, notifying parents after the fact and in terms that left no room for intersexuality (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 5). Furthermore, "success" in such interventions was defined as acting within heterosexual boundaries of the assigned gender, for example by a sexually assigned woman marrying a man (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 11). Absurdly, as science was exploring and rediscovering the variety of genders, the legal and medical communities were militating against them.
Fortunately, along with Mairs' human refutation of the layman's opposition to broad concepts of femininity, sensitivity and awareness, the scientific community disproves the classically oppressive and confining notions of masculinity and femininity. By 1993, some experts accepted the scientific "fact" that sexuality falls along a continuum (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 2). For example, in addition to the "classic" so-called genders of male and female, Fausto-Sterling cited standard medical literature supporting the intersexuality of humanity, consisting of: hermaphrodites, who possess 1 testis and 1 ovary; male pseudo hermaphrodites, who possess testes and female characteristics but no ovaries; female pseudo hermaphrodites, who possess ovaries and male characteristics but no testes (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 1). Clearly, by the late 20th Century, some researchers were rediscovering the array of genders acknowledged as early as biblical times. By 2000, due to a greater sensitivity and more open-minded research into sexuality, experts widened the concept of genders. Deeming genders "points in a multidimensional space" (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 11), science maintained that sexuality is a combination of genetic/cellular sexuality, hormonal sexuality and anatomical sexuality, with gender resulting from the interplay of all these aspects in conjunction with experience and the environment. As a result of these many variables, levels of femininity and masculinity have been found in nearly every gender possibility (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, pp. 11-12) and fall within broad parameters of "normal" sexuality. Owing to the enlightened contributions of Mairs and Science, gender parameters have been significantly widened, such that femininity can be logically defined as sensitivity and awareness, a firm set of psychological traits that is not reflected in behavior.
"Femininity" is best defined as sensitivity and awareness, a firm set of psychological traits that is not reflected in behavior. Actions are not masculine or feminine, but approaches to them are masculine or feminine. Humanity exists in a great array of sexual characteristics neither distinguished nor dictated by genitals. Anne Fausto-Sterling supports this concept in explaining the broad spectrum of genders. In Fausto-Sterling's 1993 work, she cites the acknowledgment of several genders as long ago as biblical times and defines the five genders along a continuum of male, female, hermaphrodite, male pseudo hermaphrodite and…
Sources Used in Document:
Fausto-Sterling, A. (2000). The five sexes: Why male and female are not enough. Retrieved on February 19, 2013 from www.uta.edu Web site: http://www.uta.edu/english/timothyr/Fausto-Sterling.pdf
Mairs, N. (1986). Plaintext essays by Nancy Mairs. Tucson, AZ: University of Airzona Press.