Does A Woman Need To Act ‘Masculine’ To Prove She Is ‘Powerful’?

Posted: May 6, 2014

We call a woman powerful when she does something that is traditionally ‘masculine’. What does this say about Power and how we perceive it?

Power and its derivation Powerful, in the real world are often inadvertently equated with dominance. More or less, it is used synonymous-ly with aggression, influence and even, strength.

In the real (patriarchal) world that we live in, it is more often than not, used for men. So ingrained is this definition in our mind that even the positive analogies sometimes come in not-so-good taste.

In the new age of third-wave feminism, we are fighting against the conformity of gender roles and social stereotyping. We want to look towards an inclusive tomorrow for women and men minus their sexual orientations and beliefs thereupon.

“According to Dr. Benjamin Spock, people are likely to appreciate girls’ cuteness and boys’ achievements. For example, a girl may receive the comment, “You look so pretty!” for the outfit she is wearing. While this compliment isn’t harmful in itself, repeated over and over the message the girl gets is that she is most appreciated for her looks, not for what she can do. Boys, on the other hand, are praised for what they can do–” “Aren’t you a big boy, standing up by yourself!” Many parents encourage and expect boys to be more active, to be more rough-and-tumble in their play than girls. A boy who does not like rough play (and so goes against the gender role he has been assigned) may be labeled a “sissy.” A girl who prefers active play to more passive pursuits may be called a ‘tomboy.’” (faqs.org)

So, while a girl doing traditionally defined macho stuff might be “labelled” tomboy and boy who cries at a particularly emotional film is perceived sassy or girly; we are out there today breaking these gender conformity and stereotypes.

Nonetheless, there isn’t a set rule-book or guidebook for people (nor even ‘feminists’) to go out fighting against this social battle. The common ground is an openness to debate. Though, usually I do not ‘conform’ to any label, whether feminist or humanist or whatever that the new fad may be, I do identify with most of what a ‘woman’ narrates.

I happen to fall upon this tweet recently that has (I admit) lead to this entire debate.

Yes, Gul Panag is breaking a common stereotype. Yes, not only with this act but most of what she does is a beautiful change from a conventional’ woman (I refrain to use the term heroine’ because again, Gul has time and again proved, she’s much more than just that and in  my earnest belief, being a woman is above any other ‘role’ that we play.) At the same time, the use of ‘powerful’ is in not-so-good taste since in the process, it likens ‘power’ with ‘macho-quotient’.

Does a woman need to perform macho or masculine acts to prove her ‘power’ or break out the stereotype?

Power sets the agenda for patriarchy. But, conflating it with abuse or masculinity is problematic and we need a more complex analysis of the typical power and control explanations. Feminism, which is about women claiming their rights to self-determination and equality, confronts gender conformity and aims to replace relationships of power with relationships of meaning. (Source:http://www.apiidv.org/violence/patriarchy-power.php)

With this, I do not wish to denigrate or undermine the women performing traditionally-defined masculine actions. Instead, question whether it is necessary for a woman to do so to claim herself out of the mold of gender stereotype?

I have known a girl who loved to ride a bike, a car and had a drive for adrenaline and yet, she wasn’t the strongest woman I knew or powerful. She is emotionally one of the weakest ones I ever met and no, that is in no way meant to belittle her. She is also one of the smartest people I know.

On the other side, I know of this girl (now a woman) who is (in your typical sense) beautifully feminine and inherits most of the (traditionally defined) nurturing, protecting traits and is one of the strongest (some would say powerful) women I have had the privilege of knowing. Losing her mother early on, with a younger sibling to take care of and a detached father to nurse, she’s an academician working woman of today who’s brave, assertive and intelligent. It’s no wonder she stands by her beliefs firmly irrespective of the familial pressures to marry.

The bottom-line is that we are all people, we are not masculine or feminine entities and so let us not be defined by our masculine or feminine quotient and let that not define our power, strength or will.

Now, let me get back to fist-fighting my brother.

This post was originally published at The W(Rite) Journey.

Pic credits: courtesy dunechaser (Used under a CC license)

About the Author: Arpita Bhagat calls herself a "lost hyperactive hypercritical confused ambitious overly sensitive sensible self proclaimed proactive procrastinator." She blogs at The (W)Rite Journey

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Comments

2 Comments


  1. Thank you for this well written article. The construction of our mind is much on the ground of the patriarchal society that we often do staffs we don’t even think so deep about. Maybe because we are so used with the conventional dimensions of our sexual orientation. It has been really helpful for me to recheck and question my practice.

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