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Femininity refers to qualities and behaviors judged by a particular culture to be ideally associated with or especially appropriate to women and girls. Distinct from femaleness, which is a biological and physiological classification concerned with the reproductive system, femininity principally refers to socially acquired traits and secondary sex characteristics. In Western culture femininity has traditionally included features such as gentleness and patience.
To categorize human characteristics and behaviors into "feminine" or "masculine" is to rely on the current dominant culture of any society, as well as to rely on the essentialist notions of the binary woman/man. Traits that are traditionally considered feminine may be categorized into biologically-based physical differences (such as narrower faces and shoulders, larger breasts, wider hips in relation to body size, less body hair, warmer skin, larger amounts of body fat, longer legs, shorter waists, better sense of smell, etc.); psychological and behavioral differences (such as a concern for relationships, empathy, sympathy, better verbal skills), which result from an interaction between biology and social environment; and purely social differences (such as ornamentation of home and person; career choices, and leisure pursuits).
Feminine physical attributes
Research has shown that some heterosexual men are aroused by child-like smooth skin, big eyes, small noses and chins, though there are cultural differences in those preferences. Another found that a 0.7 waist-hip ratio arouses some heterosexual men. These studies led the media to speculate that these are evolutionary indicators of feminine fertility. Long eyelashes or high-pitched voices may also be considered feminine by some heterosexual men. [How to reference and link to summary or text]
Women sometimes go to extremes to meet such exacting cultural dictates of what they ought to be. These dictates of physical femininity include standards that are time-consuming, unnatural, and even dangerous to achieve. These standards nearly always serve to weaken women physically, leaving them dependent on, and subordinate to, men. For centuries in China, foot binding produced small, unnatural, useless, and feminine feet. In the early 20th-century United States and Europe, women wore corsets that restricted their movement and sometimes made them lose consciousness in order to achieve an unnaturally small, "feminine," waist. Modern women often wear high-heeled shoes that limit their ability to walk long distances or run in ways similar to foot binding.
In parts of Africa and Asia, neck rings still signify femininity, sometimes leaving their wearers crippled and dependent on their husbands. In the modern United States, film, television, newspapers and magazines promote dieting, clothing, makeup and hair products, as well as cosmetic surgery,, and drugs,,, as a way to achieve feminine beauty.
Femininity in men
- Main article: Effeminacy
Femininity in men (heterosexy), as masculinity in women, is often considered to be negative due to its contradiction of traditional roles. However, this varies by location and culture. Certain traits and behaviors, such as wearing make up and elaborate hair grooming, may be seen by some as feminine. A common stereotype of homosexual men is that they are effeminate, with exaggerated feminine traits. In reality, gay men, like all men, range from very feminine to very masculine. Drag culture, often associated with homosexuality, makes a virtue of male femininity.
- Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, 1996, p. 708.
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