Are Feminine Women Manipulative?
Paulina Porizkova’s essay, “America Made Me a Feminist,” has stirred a conversation about not only feminism, but femininity
In a brilliant essay in the New York Times recently, “America Made Me a Feminist,” former supermodel Paulina Porizkova wrote about how women are treated around the world, or at least the countries she’s lived in, and in America.
Moving to France after living in Sweden for a number of years, where women and men are equal, she was disturbed by how men treated her — even though opening doors and offering to pay for dinner seem innocent enough:
They seemed to think I was too delicate, or too stupid, to take care of myself. Instead of feeling celebrated, I felt patronized. I claimed my power the way I had learned in Sweden: by being sexually assertive. But Frenchmen don’t work this way. In discos, I’d set my eye on an attractive stranger, and then dance my way over to let him know he was a chosen one. More often than not, he fled. And when he didn’t run, he asked how much I charged.
American men, we are led to believe, are similar — they’re turned off by women who own their sexuality. Their loss!
But what struck me most in Porizkova’s article was an interpretation of female empowerment that I find disturbing — while French women promote wearing lingerie and acting like mistresses to keep their romances alive, there’s an ulterior motive:
In France, women did have power, but a secret one, like a hidden stiletto knife. It was all about manipulation: the sexy vixen luring the man to do her bidding.
It caught my eye because in Jo Piazza’s book How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage, she also talks about how women manipulate men, sometimes because they were living in machismo societies but not always.
Gals, boost that male ego
More than a few women in Chile, France and elsewhere told her that wives need to boost men’s egos and be softer, if not quite submissive — a message American women hear a lot from conservative writers (I’m thinking of you, Suzanne Venker) and that’s overwhelmingly upsetting to feminists. But, as Piazza notes, those women had the power and influenced their — presumably unknowing — husband’s behavior.
“The word submission sucks. I will say at least right now, the male ego, it’s still a real thing despite the fact that I’m married to a feminist man,” she told me. “I think we can look at it in a different way. Everyone, whether a man or a woman, wants to feel needed in a relationship.”
Sure, everyone wants to feel needed in a relationship. Men have egos and so do women. But must stroking them be so manipulative? Is this really what women want to do, or think they should do? Wouldn’t we prefer to be honest (in a kind and loving way) instead of putting on some sort of act to boost our partner’s ego and get our needs met? Wouldn’t our partners prefer that as well? Or is this somehow a win-win proposition?
And that’s where it seems to get confusing.
Femininity and feminism are incompatible, writes Laura Kipnis in The Female Thing: Dirt, Envy, Sex, Vulnerability. But, interestingly enough, she writes that femininity itself is as much of an “empowerment program for women” as “you go, girl” feminism is (and a case has been made that the sexual manipulation perfected by the femme fatale may be the most feminist move of all):
Appearances to the contrary, femininity was never about being some kind of delicate flower; it was tactical: a way of securing resources and positioning women as advantageously as possible on an uneven playing field, given the historical inequalities and anatomical disparities that make up the wonderful female condition. Femininity was the method for creatively transforming female disadvantages into advantages, basically by doing what it took to form strategic alliances with men: enhancing women’s appeal and sexual attractiveness with time-honored stratagems like ritual displays of female incompetence aimed at subtly propping up men’s (occasionally less than secure) sense of masculine prowess. Thus, lacking body mass, women made a virtue out of delicacy (often a rather steely delicacy); stuck with not just bearing but also raising the children, women promoted the sanctity of motherhood; deprived of upper-body strength, women made men carry things; afflicted by capricious hormonal fluctuations, women used crying as a form of interpersonal leverage; restricted from the public sphere, women commandeered domestic life; shut out of decent employment, gals adopted a “pay-to-play” strategy-men had to pay for sex, with dinners, rings, and homes. Men are also required to kill spiders. All this took some considerable effort: achieving what looks like a passive aim often requires large amounts of activity, as someone once said. (Okay, it was Freud.) The point is that femininity assumes that the world isn’t going to change and endeavors to secure advantages for women on that basis.
That seems kind of sucky, too. (Kipnis laments the fact that today’s femininity is always about women somehow being deficient, thus the never-ending advice on how we can be better.)
But, as Julia Serano writes in Ms. magazine, femininity doesn’t always — or even ever — have anything to do with men. Why can’t women be feminine because it pleases them and no one else?
I consider myself to be feminine — I love being a woman — but I’m also a feminist; what frees women frees men. I don’t believe I’ve ever taken part in the “pay-to-play” strategy; I’ve even killed some spiders on my own (or, more likely, released them into the wild)! At midlife, I date because I enjoy male company and sex — I’m not looking for anything more. Is my femininity manipulative?
But it is true that men do seem to value femininity. According to one study, “Men who perceived female partners as more responsive also perceived them as more feminine, and more attractive.” And, as I’ve written before, many men seem to prefer women who do what most women do well — nurture.
Some men — often the MGTOW guys — lament a perceived belief that American women aren’t feminine anymore (that darn feminism!); some say they prefer women from countries like Asia or Russia, believing they’re easier to please and more submissive. Honestly, guys, I’d been really concerned about that kind of femininity.
So my question is, is being feminine today somehow manipulative? And would men happily accept that manipulation if they got what they wanted out of the relationship — a sexy, giving, ego-boosting, nurturing “looks and acts like a woman” woman?