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  • Writer's pictureAlex Rathbun

Femininity as strength

Following my birth series, I am creating a two-part mini series on women. It's an ode to women, really.

I have always been what a lot of people would describe as a "girly girl". As a young girl, I loved dressing up, shopping, cooking, singing, having my picture taken and making up dances at recess rather than playing sports. I mostly didn't think much about this as a kid. In my mind, there were girly girls, tomboys, and boys, and I fit pretty neatly into one of those three categories.

I followed a pretty "girly" script as I started dating my now-husband at age 16, letting him do the boy things like drive and pay for stuff (this was obviously convenient), then moved into a fairly "girly" profession after studying Advertising/graphic design in college, where I wore flower headbands and tulle skirts and polka dots.

It wasn't until I entered the working world that I started to doubt that being super feminine was the best route for me. I felt myself shift. I started consciously not speaking in a high tone of voice when I gave input in meetings. I wore darker colors and button-up shirts. I realized I really didn't like being seen as a cute little thing, but instead deeply desired for my voice to be heard and my work to be respected. In hindsight, I guess I thought I had to become less overtly feminine to be taken seriously.

When I decided to have a baby shortly after I had quit my full-time job to do freelance work, I was afraid of how people would perceive my decision. I didn't want to be seen as somehow weak, giving up the career I had begun to build, and instead reducing myself to "only" a wife and mother.

But here's the crazy truth: Now that I am a wife and a mother and a designer and photographer, I feel stronger than I ever have. Women are fierce, and in ways I didn't even know were possible before this season. We're strong, not just as it compares to men, but in our own, glorious, literally life-giving, protective, feminine ways. I like to picture a mamma bear: she fiercely and loyally protects her young out of innate love and care for them.

There are qualities of strength that are uniquely feminine, physically, like being able to endure the most intense human pain in order to reproduce. And there are traits of strength that have taken me a while to put words, but that I think are uniquely feminine: standing up for others, creating and nourishing community, feeling deep empathy, protecting one's environment and people, cultivating beauty, accepting help and care, and being a loyal friend.

I am not saying that everyone cannot possess these traits. Just as women can hold traditionally masculine traits, men can possess traditionally feminine traits, and everything in between.

I am beginning to stop seeing my femininity as something that needs to be "trained out of me" in order to be strong and have depth. Strength and femininity are not mutually exclusive. No, instead my femininity is a source of strength in me as a person.

To further explore this concept, I created these photos of my friend Christine, who is an example in my life of what it looks like to be proud of being a woman. She is strong and an advocate for others, and she is beautifully feminine:

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