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Femininity (also called womanliness) 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 secondary sex characteristics and other behaviors and features generally regarded as being more prevalent and better suited to women, whether inborn or socialized. In traditional Western culture, such features include gentleness, patience, and kindness.

Femininity should not be confused with feminism, which is the belief that women deserve political and economic rights equal to men.

Feminine attributes

These are often perceived as being associated with personality traits such as nurturing, life-giving qualities, creativity, and an openness, or yielding, to other people. The modern social stereotype of a woman is perceived as the complementary opposite of a man. A feminine woman may have physical attributes different from those of a masculine male. These attributes result from the relationship between an individual's biology and the socialization she receives as a result of that biology. However, theories of femininity explored in the field of Gender Studies propose that femininity and masculinity are essentially constructed or 'performed' through a process of social construction.

Feminine physical attributes

Some research has indicated that heterosexual men may be aroused by child-like smooth skin, big eyes, and small noses and chins, though there are cultural differences in those preferences. Research has also indicated that a 0.7 waist-hip ratio arouses most heterosexual men.

These studies have led the media to speculate that these are evolutionary indicators of feminine fertility, although such speculation has yet to be proven. Long eyelashes or high-pitched voices may also be considered feminine by some heterosexual men in the West.

Women throughout history have sometimes gone to extremes to meet exacting cultural standards of what is considered attractive.


Larger breast size, a trait considered feminine, is suggested by visual clues, such as the cleavage between the breasts. Many women in western culture will emphasize cleavage to enhance femininity. They may do so by means of the cut of the outer wear, and by brassieres (bras) that push the breasts upwards and together. Special pads and inserts in the bra can also be used to aid in the positioning of the breasts higher.


In the early twentieth-century United Statesmarker and Europe, women wore corsets that restricted their movement and caused a variety of health problems, including shortness of breath, malformed organs, atrophied back muscles, and difficulty in labor.

Foot binding

For centuries in Imperial China, foot binding produced unnaturally small and deformed feet, where toes often rotted due to lack of circulation.

High heels

Modern women often wear high-heeled shoes. The discomfort commonly associated with high-heeled shoes is endured for the visual effect of elongated legs.

Eating disorders

Many women in the West also restrict their food intake in an effort to achieve what they consider an attractively thin body, which in extreme cases can lead to eating disorders.

Many people criticize the fashion and entertainment industries for promoting underweight, unrealistic, and arguably unhealthy ideals of feminine beauty.

Neck rings

In parts of Africa and Asia, neck rings still signify femininity, in rare cases leaving their wearers crippled and dependent on their husbands.

Genital mutilation

In great parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, traditional femininity is linked to a painful and unhealthy chirurgical operation of reduction of outer sexual organs, denominated infibulation.

United States

In the United Statesmarker, film, television, newspapers, and magazines have promoted dieting, clothing, makeup, and hair products, as well as cosmetic surgery and drugs as ways to achieve feminine beauty.

Femininity in women

Image:Bound feet (X-ray).jpg|In China until 1911, tiny, unnatural feet were aristocratic, lady like.Image:Kayan woman with neck rings.jpg|The Kayan people of Northern Thailand associate the wearing of neck rings with aristocratic femininity.Image:High_Heel_Shoe.jpg|High-heeled shoes.Image:Corset1878taille46_300gram.png|Corsets.

Femininity in men

Femininity in men, as masculinity in women, is often considered to be negative due to its contradiction of traditional roles. It is a stereotype that homosexual men tend to be very effeminate, although this is not always the case. Drag culture, often associated with homosexuality, makes a virtue of male femininity.

Feminist views

Although feminism is widely divergent, generally feminists believe that there are positive and negative characteristics of femininity. Many believe women should be able to dress and look as they wish and not be harassed for dressing in certain ways, or for showing anger. Some advocate female ownership of the 'masculine' trait of assertiveness. Others argue that men should take on nurturing roles.

Feminine appearance is a matter of preference. Some women like to exercise, yet others prefer only to diet. Men also are not all the same in their preferences about appearance. Many men and women suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) by feeling insecure about their body image. However, Naomi Wolf argues in The Beauty Myth that there is particular external pressure on women, regarding appearance, from the media and advertising.

See also


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