Photography: Emma –www.instagram.com/eima.photography
Model and Text by Unsocial Radioactive Kid (aka Katerina) www.instagram.com/negniluha
“One is not born, but rather becomes a woman,” said Simone de Beauvoir in her famous book “The Second Sex”. But what is being a woman? And what is femininity? These questions have been present in the back of my mind since I noticed ‘I am turning into a woman’ myself in my 16-17s.
Cambridge dictionary defines femininity as the fact or quality of having characteristics that are traditionally thought to be typical of or suitable for a woman. Characteristics- from biological to psychoanalytic. And as we cannot deny the obvious biological differences between the 2 sexes, I have always been bothered by the subject of femininity from the psychoanalysis point of view, or even from its understanding in ontology, as I refer to the existentialists as Sartre and de Beauvoir in this very text.
In my eyes, Emma’s works are representing this exquisite femininity and beauty, that is discovered naturally and isn’t made up; they aren’t an image of a pre-given role. Emma is the one who makes me think and dig deeper into the topic, as every session we’ve done so far projects femininity (that’s how I feel about it).
Generally, for existentialists like Sartre or de Beauvoir, one is not born being anyone or anything: everything we are is supposed to be the result of our conscious choices, as we build ourselves out of our own resources and those which we find or acquire within society. I took this idea while being very young and thus have been always aware of it. As a product of the post-soviet background: a child of an extremely strong (mentally and physically) emancipated mother, a father who fled the family early, a pioneer attitude school, and harsh sports I used to rather find and define femininity as a weakness. I would deny it, deny that I consist it in any form. And that was easy having a child sport-shaped body, that was still far from being seen as a subject of any sexual appeal.
“…. we humans tend to seek comfort in conformist behavior. We often choose to give up the ultimate freedom we may have, as it holds certain responsibilities and risks that often cannot be predicted in advance.”
Sartre observed that whatever we perceive, including other people, is rendered as an ‘object’ to our gaze and is defined by us. De Beauvoir takes up this idea and applies it to men’s perception of women. The very concept of a ‘woman’, de Beauvoir sees as it’s actually a male concept: a woman is always ‘other’ because the male is the ‘seer’: he is the subject and she the object – the meaning of what it is to be a woman is given by men in society. Or as we say ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’?
It is, in general, challenging to find your niche in society regardless be it the parenthesis of gender or gender-based social role, as the pressure put by the social stigmas and stereotypes never seems to fade away, and keeps pointing at already pre-arranged or pre-given roles or paths one is to take in life. In this turmoil, it is common to fall into the oblivion of self-consciousness and personal wants and ambitions. Also, not to neglect the fact, that we humans tend to seek comfort in conformist behavior. We often choose to give up the ultimate freedom we may have, as it holds certain responsibilities and risks that often cannot be predicted in advance. As Sartre claimed “We are condemned to be free”, as freedom in his meaning is tightly related to making choices (as not making any decision or choice can be defined as a choice made by design).
“It is about truly owning your life, staying self-conscious at full, and being brave by taking a responsibility for every single action taken…”
De Beauvoir’s existential ethics holds freedom as universal. Yet our temptation is to actually shy away from the responsibilities of our freedom, even to the point of wanting to be more like an object than a human being. An object to a pre-given role, social status, political views or regime, etc.
My favorite Disney animation is Mulan, and it’s fascinating what a great example it carries when it comes to “utilizing” femininity and adapting its pros and cons to the reality of a men ruled world back then in China. But it isn’t only about that. It is about truly owning your life, staying self-conscious at full, and being brave by taking a responsibility for every single action taken. It is significant and captivating not because she IS a woman who saved the whole country by breaking one of its most traditional and patriarchal laws, but because while “I’ll make a man out of you” was playing in the background, Mulan was owning her life and proving it every day, hence defining who she is herself, rather than leaving this to the crowd.
Research credits: Philosophy Now