Understanding the Androgyny of 21st Century Women
Women must display attributes of care, attributes of femininity, and yet be assertive and independent.
Eva Illouz is a cultural sociologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In her new book, Why Love Hurts, she argues that while love has always had the capacity to hurt, since the advent of modernity it has hurt in new ways as so much more of ourselves is invested in the choice of a partner. And in recent years that choice has expanded exponentially with the emergence of internet dating.
Women today have been asked to take on different identities and different roles. On the one hand, we have through the media, a hyper sexualization of the woman’s body and a hyper-feminization of womanhood.
In other words, ideals of femininity have never been as powerful as they have been throughout the 20th century, because they seem to be rooted in the body and the body seems always the most unavoidable part of our identity. So showing the right body contours and beauty demands in an imperative way that women constantly produce signs of femininity as defined or emphasized by media culture.
On the other hand, feminism, and the entry of women in the workplace, has tended to make women align themselves more along models of masculinity. Of course, I am aware that within feminism there has been a debate on whether women should be liberated along the lines of a woman’s culture or along the lines of a male culture. But by and large, I would say that if you look at the dress code of women in the workplace, or if you look at the demand of assertiveness that is exerted upon women in the workplace, I would say that by and large women have followed the male code in order to assert themselves and to claim an equal status to that of men.
So you have these two lines where women must still display attributes of care, attributes of femininity, and yet be assertive and independent. So care and independence, autonomy and a form of submissiveness that is often associated with femininity, went together and very much developed together, which is why many women are confused. They feel both of these conflicting imperatives.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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