Femininity has gone through the ringer.
I asked a group of Christian college students from the University of Boulder to explain femininity. They used words like catty, submissive, quiet, modest, emotional, weaker and lesser. With such a definition would you rush to claim your feminine identity? Even women like my grandmother who can out-tailor, knit, embroider, cook, clean, hostess, decorate, and shop most women don't like being called "feminine." When I asked her why, she said, "That word reminds me of feminine products." Oh dear.
I remember learning to act feminine. Like when my first grade P.E. teacher told me stop hanging upside down on the monkey bars: "If you are not wearing shorts under your skirt, everyone can see your underwear."
"I don't mind," I told her.
"You need to act feminine, Jonalyn."
The benefits of modesty aside, femininity became a new way to behave, a role I played, a corset I wrapped around my soul and tightened down to get approval. Femininity quickly became something I did to get what I needed or wanted in life. It was something to use, not something I owned.
I don't think this is what God intended when he created Woman. In Genesis 1 God wanted to splash more of the Trinity onto Earth. So God made Man and Woman to mirror his image (Gen 1:27). Femininity in its truest, original sense was one way God's image appeared, and this image was not weak, catty, emotionally crazy, or inferior because God is none of these things. Femininity wasn't a role Eve played to get what she needed; femininity was part of who she was. Even after Eden, as broken image bearers, we reflect God. If a child is humble, she mirrors her God. If a man is gentle, he mirrors his God. If women are feminine in the original sense, we reflect our God.
I've been writing about femininity for five years. I've been studying and watching women because I want to see how deep femininity goes. Hearing from readers I've been surprised by two things. The first is that few women know what it means to be, not just act, feminine. The second, few women feel free to go to God with a blank journal page asking the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to inform their womanhood. We are too easily pleased, too quick to assign ourselves someone else's checklist of so-called Biblical Womanhood and congratulate ourselves when we can check a majority of the categories. We grasp at words like "captivating" and "beauty," forgetting to pause and ask if these are true of all women or unique from all men. Or, we might try to be "as good as a man" as if fallen men are the standard for woman. Many women doubt the value of their femininity, fearful that it isn't a badge of honor, or a mark of the Creator on their soul.