Merriam Webster defines the noun femininity as "the quality or nature of the female sex" and the adjective feminine as the "characteristic of or appropriate or unique to women." Thus femininity refers to traits, roles and behaviors associated with women and girls, not just female biological attributes, but also social and cultural behaviors such as empathy, sensitivity and gentleness. Social perceptions of femininity can sometimes be considered artificial constructions, even to support a patriarchy. It might suit men to think that being feminine means being weak and submissive. However, views of femininity can vary from culture to culture, as well as at different periods in time. Also, some male definitions of femininity can vary from those of women -- especially those of feminists.

To divide and define human behavior and characteristics into masculine and feminine means that one must rely on the accepted preeminent culture of the society and accept the binary notion of man and woman. The Western tradition has generally divided feminine traits into two categories: behavioral and psychological differences and physical differences. Psychological attributes include empathy, sympathy, verbal skills and concern for relationships. Physical attributes are narrower face and shoulders, wider hips, less body hair, warmer skin, as well as the obvious sexual characteristics. Femininity can be about feeling free; to be feminine can be classified as being free: free to love and be loved, free to be oneself and free to want the best for oneself and for others. By some definitions of femininity, a woman wants the freedom to lead and not to follow, the freedom to care, the freedom to judge, among other freedoms. As a result of this perspective, a woman who does not feel free to express her feelings and emotions may become depressed or avoid the company of others. A woman who is feminine and free displays and emits exuberance and positive energy.

According to traditional Western thinking, femininity is not only demonstrated in outward appearance, although that can be important, but also in the things women do and the way they conduct themselves. In this tradition, femininity can manifest itself in the way a woman cares about humanity. It can be noticed in the psychology of a woman: in her delicate, soft, subtle and kind way of thinking and expressing feelings.

Femininity can manifest itself in the way that a woman understands the concept of traditional duties and values of being a wife and mother. In some cultures, a woman will aim to be an invaluable partner to her husband, although both have differing jobs, and will seek to build an everlasting alliance with her husband. A woman will often attempt to support her husband's endeavors in order to help him succeed and prosper. Femininity can, in some cultures, manifest itself in the fact that a woman permits herself to be vulnerable, a trait which can be used wisely to exert a very strong and influential effect.

A woman's femininity can also be evidenced through her motherly instincts. She may show deep care for her young and sometimes helpless babies and children and stay with them for as long as necessary until they are well-equipped to face life on their own.

Femininity can manifest itself in the fact that a woman considers herself unique and also recognizes the uniqueness of the man. A woman can be admired and revered for her strengths, abilities, intellects and talents without asserting herself as manly.

In most cultures, part of femininity is the outward appearance of a woman. Being feminine can mean walking and moving beautifully and gracefully. Generally, it is considered feminine for a woman to try and make herself beautiful and attractive although how that is achieved varies from culture to culture. The type of makeup, the colors, the styling of hair and even clothing all are culturally determined factors of femininity.

Femininity: Selected full-text books and articles

Gender, Nature, and Nurture By Richard A. Lippa Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Especially Chap. 2 "Masculinity and Femininity: Gender within Gender"
Feminism and the Female Body: Liberating the Amazon Within By Shirley Castelnuovo; Sharon R. Guthrie Lynne Rienner, 1998
Beyond Bifurcation: Femininity and Professional Success in a Changing World By Tink, Rebecca Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Vol. 3, No. 1-2, Fall 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Measurement of Masculinity and Femininity: Historical Perspective and Implications for Counseling. (Assessment & Diagnosis) By Hoffman, Rose Marie Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Vol. 79, No. 4, Fall 2001
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Chinese Femininities, Chinese Masculinities: A Reader By Susan Brownell; Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom University of California Press, 2002
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Author Advanced search


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.