Femininity and Feminism Coexist for Most Women, but "Girl Things" Bring Confidence

Article excerpt

Most women (60%) don't view femininity as being in conflict with equal rights for women, and many combine attitudes characteristic of feminism with habits and hobbies considered traditionally feminine, according to a study of women by the University of Michigan's Institute for Research on Women and Gender, commissioned by Tampax Pearl.

The study examines American women's attitudes toward traditional women's roles, feminism, and ideas regarding femininity. Women were asked to describe both their personal priorities and their feelings about women's roles in work and society.

The sample includes women in three age groups: age 18-24, 33-40, and 48-55; the age groups were chosen to represent women who entered adulthood during the feminist movement of the 1970s (48-55), during a backlash against this movement in the 1980s (33-40), and during the "girlpower" feminism of the 1990s (18-24). The study divides women into four groups: Traditional Self-Assured, Stylish Self-Assured, Sincerely Sensitive, and Progressive Non-Traditionalist.

Traditional Self-Assured

* Defined as those who rate themselves highly on both feminine style and feminine personality traits.

* Six in 10 (62%) are married or live with a partner.

* Nearly seven in 10 (69%) are mothers.

* Two in 10 (20%) are African American.

* Believe there's a conflict between femininity and equal rights for women.

* Believe it's dangerous for mothers to leave children in the care of others.

Women in this group have traditionally feminine interests, style, and personalities; e.g., these women feel it's important to wear makeup and feminine clothes, and to make their homes attractive. They also describe themselves as having traditionally feminine personality traits such as gentleness and sensitivity to the needs of others.

These women endorse traditional gender roles and beliefs, such as "Women are happiest making a home," and "Men are more qualified for jobs with great responsibility." As girls, they believed that women and men should hold different roles in the family and the workplace. Nevertheless, it's important to women in this group to perform well at their own jobs.

Despite their traditionally feminine personality traits, women in this group also rate themselves highly on some traits traditionally considered masculine: e.g., confidence and decisiveness.

Closer examination reveals that Traditional Self-Assured women define confidence as being certain of their own beliefs. While women in this group are more likely than other women to describe themselves as passive, they define passivity as being "laid back," rather than allowing oneself to be taken advantage of.

Stylish Self-Assured

* Defined as those who rate themselves highly on feminine style and interests but not on feminine personality traits.

* Almost two thirds (64%) are married or live with a partner.

* Sixty-five percent are mothers; 14% are African American.

* Makeup, feminine clothing, and making their homes attractive are important to women in this group.

* Give themselves relatively low ratings on traditionally feminine traits such as sensitivity, gentleness, and passivity.

* Describe themselves as confident, assertive, and independent.

* Say it's important to them to do very well at work.

Women in this group see no conflict between femininity and equal rights for women, and have felt this way since they were girls. Their views on gender roles vary from traditional to feminist. While growing up, most believed women and men should play different roles.

Stylish Self-Assured women define independence as "having one's own point of view," and confidence as being "certain of my beliefs." They are more likely than women who rate themselves highly on feminine personality traits to define passive as "letting other people take advantage of me. …