How I Found My Place as a Female in Today’s World, Part 3: Coming Into My Own as a Woman

This is the last part of my three-part series on my struggles finding my identity as a female and how I eventually found my place as a female in this world. If you haven’t read the earlier parts, do so here: Part 1: Growing Up with a Repressed Femininity and Part 2: The Dichotomy Between Masculinity and Femininity.

Empowered girl

For years, I struggled with an inferiority surrounding my lack of femininity, or at least, what I thought was a lack of femininity. It was only recently when I came into my own, as a woman, through a series of self-realizations.

1. Recognizing my (womanly) beauty

One of the reasons I kept feeling I wasn’t feminine (enough) was that I felt I wasn’t beautiful enough as a woman. I kept feeling that I couldn’t be recognized as a woman until I achieved my ideal vision of beauty. This was especially so as beauty has always been a heavy marker of a woman’s worth, even in today’s world.

However, when I was in U.S. in 2011, I realized that beauty doesn’t come in one form, shape, color, or even size. Beauty exists everywhere, in all forms, shapes, colors, and sizes. I had just been so fixated on seeing beauty in one form that I was unable to recognize beauty in other forms.

(For more on my revelations on beauty: The Beauty of Self – How I Used To Feel Inferior about My Looks.)

So it turned out that I’ve been perfectly beautiful all along–I had just been unable to see it because I was blind-sided. Sure, I may still want to look nice, dress nice, lose weight, etc. today, but these desires are now driven by my desire for self-betterment rather than self-hate (which used to be my motivator).

Recognizing my individual beauty was my first step to building my self-worth as a woman.

2. Realizing the femininity that has always been in me

My second blockage was my inferiority over having male-associated traits like drivenness, ambition, assertiveness, resilience, competitiveness, and decisiveness. Since traditional (Asian) culture defines femininity as having feminine traits like being sweet, coy, dainty, etc., and masculinity as having masculine traits like being driven, assertive, resilient, outspoken, etc., I felt like a non-female for embodying so many “male” traits–much less in such a strong manner.

There were two conversations I had with my friends which broke me out of this self-belittling belief.

“Everything you think is masculine about you is actually feminine”

The first conversation was ten years ago, with my then-best-friend K. (I was in my late teens then.) At that time, I often lamented to K that I was afraid of repelling men because I was tough, critical, passive aggressive, and so on.

Interestingly, K always thought that I was completely off base. He often said that I was 100% feminine the way I was, and what I thought were masculine about myself were actually expressions of femininity.

For example, he saw my toughness as feminine–it is strength embodied in a feminine way, not in a masculine, body-builder manner. My criticalness was feminine as well–only a female, not a male, would be so attentive to and emotionally invested in details. He also saw my (passive) aggressiveness as feminine–guys act in a open and direct manner rather than a roundabout, passive aggressive way like I sometimes do.

Thinking

Hearing K’s words comforted me, for I had never seen my situation that way before. But because most people I know wouldn’t think that way and because I felt he might be saying that to appease me, I disregarded his words. I would revisit his words of wisdom ten years later.

Having masculine traits doesn’t make me any less feminine

Fast forward ten years later to 2013, when I was chatting with my friend W on a random evening.

While we were talking about relationships and gender roles, W mentioned that he has never been a masculine type of guy, especially when compared with his guy friends. Rather, he has always been regarded as a guy with high feminine energy .

When I heard that, I was surprised, for I have never once thought of W as “feminine.” If anything, he’s quite masculine–strong character, self-aware, self-directed, and articulate. Even though he does have traits that are more feminine than masculine, such as preferring to follow than lead, these traits don’t make him any less of a male–they are probably what makes him a great guy and a great friend. If he isn’t the way he is today, I probably would never have gotten so close to him as a friend.

“Wait a minute,” I thought. “If W has feminine traits but it doesn’t stop him from being masculine, shouldn’t that mean that my masculine traits shouldn’t stop me from being feminine as well?”

Suddenly I realized that my worries about being masculine have been unfounded. If W can have feminine traits but still be masculine, that means my masculine traits shouldn’t stop me from being feminine. It’s just that my femininity wouldn’t be your coy, blush-blush female archetype advocated in traditional Asian culture (though I’m capable of that)–it’s a Celestine-Chua, assertive, self-directed, bold, driven type of femininity.

This was what K was trying to tell me all this while. Realizing the wisdom behind his words, suddenly, I could see femininity in me which I’ve never seen before. This femininity exists in every part of me, from my day-to-day thoughts and feelings, the way I express myself, the way I carry myself, and the traits I embody–including the masculine traits.

3. Redefining femininity

Empowerment

Following point #2, a revisiting of the definition of femininity was in order.

Traditional Asian culture defines femininity as being saccharine sweet, demure, quiet, submissive, abiding, and so on. This was why I kept feeling that I was too masculine and I lacked femininity.

However, when I look at inspiring women figures today like Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks, and Ivanka Trump, they all have very masculine qualities like being driven, ambitious, competent, talented, opportunistic, sharp, tough, independent, and intellectual. Yet, they don’t come across as unfeminine at all.

For example, Ellen DeGeneres is witty, even sarcastic sometimes, but she does her jokes in a teasing, good-natured manner, never belittling to others. Oprah Winfrey is firm in the way she speaks, but she comes across as a big mother who just wants the best for you. Tyra Banks is strong, successful, and career-minded, but she has this girly, womanly, va-va-voom appeal about her all at the same time. Ivanka Trump is tough, smart, business-savvy and extremely no nonsense just like her dad (Donald Trump), but that doesn’t stop her from projecting a feminine demeanor.

Even the same applies for Hua Mulan, an inspirational legendary figure from ancient China. She was a female who–due to filial piety and love for her father–took her aged father’s place to fight in the army for twelve years. Mulan is an exemplification of a strong woman who maintains her feminine allure despite taking on a clearly male role like fighting in the army.

For all these women, their masculine qualities do not take away their feminine allure–in fact, they enhance it.

Clearly, femininity comes in many more forms than just the one-template definition in traditional Asian culture (or any culture for that matter). Having masculine traits wouldn’t take away my femininity because femininity doesn’t just exist in the form of a traditional Disney Princess or a submissive court lady in traditional Asia; it’s womanhood that can come in all forms, mannerisms, demeanors, attitudes, and beliefs.

To further illustrate my point, do you know that all of us are a mix of male (testosterone) and female (estrogen and progesterone) hormones? None of us have 100% male or female hormones. What varies between the male and female gender is the proportion of male to female hormones we have; even then, each of us from the same gender have a different proportion of hormones too.

Understanding that was critical in helping me embrace my natural self and my natural traits. No more feeling ashamed of my masculine traits; these are a natural part of me. No more concealing of my forward self, my ambition, and my opinions; this is simply who I am.

4. Not subjecting myself to what guys think/want

My third and last blockage was my constant attempts to conform to men in my culture.

I often felt that I lacked femininity is because I tend to overpower, at times intimidate, men in my culture without trying to do so. My culture is one where people tend to be more reserved, hold back their opinions, and conform rather than stand out–a stark contrast with my openness, forwardness, and preference for individuality. So combine this with my culture’s archetype for a feminine female and I stick out like a sore thumb among both guys and girls in my country.

So I thought I was broken as a woman. “Why are some men antagonistic towards me? Why do some men seem scared of me? Why do some men treat me with resistance compared to some females? Am I that scary as a woman?” I thought.

But I realized earlier this year (which I’ve written about here) that just because men seem scared of me doesn’t mean that I’m not feminine. It just means that they can’t stomach my true personality and their personas are not a match with mine (be it as a friend or lover). Rather than beat myself down for overpowering certain men, I should instead meet/hang around men who have big-enough personalities that match mine.

And that I did. I have very good guy friends today who are accomplished in their own right and celebrate my success with me. My fiance loves that I’m an accomplished, self-directed woman who is intellectual and upfront about her opinions. The best thing is that I’m 100% my natural self around them–I do not need to suppress myself; neither do they feel intimidated by me at all. If anything, I’m encouraged to grow and reach for higher grounds thanks to their support and encouragement.

More on guy intimidation: How I Used to Be Afraid of Intimidating Men and Why It Does Not Faze Me Anymore

5. Developing my feminine self (without suppressing my masculine side)

My final step in coming into my womanhood is about embracing my natural, feminine traits.

All these years, I have honed my masculine side well. From drivenness, to resilience, to articulateness, to assertiveness, to self-confidence, to competency, to adaptability, to sharpness, these are traits I have developed, built, and refined.

In fact, my masculine side is so developed that the “Emperor” card appeared during a (highly accurate) tarot card reading I did in Spain in 2011; it represented my “masculine” traits which have carried me this far in life and have been key building blocks to my success. (This reading also alluded to Ken’s arrival in my life; this would be a separate article for a separate day.)

Tarot Card: Emperor

Having developed my masculine side, my next step is to hone my feminine side. This comprises of traits like gentleness, kindness, compassion, nurturing quality, empathy, and lovingness.

While I used to feel conflicted when trying to hone my femininity in the past, that was because I saw feminine traits as mutually exclusive with masculine traits. The fact is that masculine traits can coexist with feminine traits; it’s probably the co-existence of masculine and feminine traits that allows one to get the best of both worlds.

This is similar to the notion of yin-yang (female-male) in Chinese philosophy, which describes how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are actually interconnected and interdependent in the natural world. Many dualities (such as male and female, light and dark, high and low, hot and cold, water and fire, life and death, and so on) are actually tied to the yin-yang concept.

I’ve developed a comprehensive 30-day program on character development–how to identify your ideal self, build your desired traits, removed undesirable traits, among other exciting character-development tasks. Read more: Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program.

Final Words

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m happy to finally be in tune with my natural femininity today. It’s not femininity as traditional culture defines it, but femininity in my terms and my definition. And I’m proud of it.

Originally I wanted to write a fourth part on finding  your natural femininity, but then I realize that this part on my femininity revelations actually covers what I would want to say in a fourth part. I hope you have found my experience useful in finding your own femininity.

Ultimately, I enjoy being female and that’s why I wanted to find my femininity. It’s part of embracing my natural self, such as being Singaporean, Chinese, and Asian, while staying true to my values.

Thanks for reading this series. I appreciate your kind comments to part one and part two, and I look forward to reading your comments about part three. :) 

Here are some related pieces, of which #1 and #3 were referenced above:

  1. The Beauty of Self – How I Used To Feel Inferior about My Looks
  2. Developing a Positive Body Image: Your Gentle Guide to Loving Your Body
  3. How I Used to Be Afraid of Intimidating Men and Why It Does Not Faze Me Anymore

Being a woman is more challenging than ever in today’s world, where a woman is expected to don many roles, from being a mother, to a wife/girlfriend, to a daughter, to a career woman, to a great friend, to a charismatic individual, to a beautiful face.

Yet, I think that’s what makes being a woman exciting, because more than ever, we are now given the space to be the person we can truly be, vs. in the past when women were typecast into domestic and low-capacity roles.

I’ll leave you with this quote:

Inspirational Quote: "Women are always being tested … but ultimately, each of us has to define who we are individually and then do the very best job we can to grow into it." ~ Hillary Clinton

 More self-love quotes at Personal Excellence Quotes

Thanks everyone (both guys and girls); let’s keep rocking. :)

This is the last part of my three-part series on my struggles finding my identity as a female and how I eventually found my place as a female in this world. If you haven’t read the earlier parts, do so here: Part 1: Growing Up with a Repressed Femininity and Part 2: The Dichotomy Between Masculinity and Femininity.

Images: Female looking down, Girl strutting

  • Celestine King

    That is the best thing ever, that can happen in one’s life. Self-discovery, am happy for u dear.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Thanks Celestine! :)

  • http://hackmyheart.com/ Calae

    I found your fourth point to be the most important: not caring about what guys think. If you have to repress yourself to get a guy’s attention, you’re not being your real self and so what’s the point of pursuing that relationship? So you can continue to lie about who you are in exchange for attention?

    I wish I could easily say “no thanks” to that situation, but I’m still learning. As a whole, I tend to be a people-pleaser and get upset if someone doesn’t like me. I’m working on changing this, which should greatly help me in general, but life-long traits are quite hard to break!

    I also like your point on bettering your feminine traits rather than suppressing/removing your masculine ones; personally I see this less as feminine versus masculine and more of a general act of increasing the positive traits of oneself, but whatever you call it, the point is you’re still bettering yourself and that’s what counts!

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Hi Calae, thank you! I agree that bettering one’s feminine traits can be seen as overall self-improvement vs. specifically increasing one’s femininity. I would say that I was unconsciously improving my femininity when I began working on becoming a kinder and more compassionate person since 4-5 years ago. (I share more about my character improvement journey in 30BBM, which you already have a copy of.)

      Regarding “people pleasing”, I think it might help to know that the people with the greatest critics in the world are actually the most accomplished leaders. Get comfortable with having people “dislike” you; in fact, I will go as far as to say that be excited when people dislike you, because that means you are really starting to make a dent in this world.

      I have received a variety of stiff and flaming feedback before which I celebrate, because that tells me that people are paying attention to what I’m writing. I’ve written more about dealing with criticism / alternate opinions before here: 9 Reasons Why Criticism Rocks (and Some of the Worst Comments I’ve Ever Received in Running my Blog). (And I recall you responding to the piece before too, Calae!)

      At the end of the day, just remember: “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” (Eleanor Roosevelt). Winston Churchill’s “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” is also my personal favorite.

      • http://hackmyheart.com/ Calae

        I thought I replied to this, but I guess it didn’t go through!

        I think that’s great advice, Celes! It’s hard for me to put it into practice, but I know that the reality is I can’t please everyone.

        Those are two great quotes though, I should really keep them in mind!

        • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

          You are welcome, Calae! Just remember that you can’t get far in anything you want to do in life (that includes your passion) until you have broken past this barrier. Too many people get stuck in the zone of trying to please people and it gets them stuck in the stage of mediocrity. This actually also applies to blogging as well. (I mentioned an important point about this in Module 5 on how to create advocacy for your blog.)

          • http://hackmyheart.com/ Calae

            Celes, your words right now are really striking a chord with me. I’m going to take the time to really think your words over, thank you so, so much. =)

            In regards to blogging…I think I have to start new with that. I’m not sure what to do, or what I really have to say that would be worth sharing with the world. Another thing I have to give some serious thought to!

  • Anusooya Gosai

    Hi there! Thank you for the interesting articles that you posted for this series. It was amazing to read about your experience, reminded me of a lot of experiences that I went through myself. I am glad to know that you have come to terms with your femininity, it also gives me the courage to stick with the decisions that I have made as well. Thank you! Looking forward to reading your other articles.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Hi Anusooya, thanks for your kind words! I’m glad you can relate to my experience; I wasn’t sure if this series would be relevant to you guys so I just kept it at three parts. I look forward to sharing more writings here on PE! :)

  • Christina Mattschei

    Hi Celes! I remember seeing you comment before in blog posts that you didn’t feel that you were that feminine a few years ago, but I found you to be very feminine when I met you in person :)

    It’s interesting what you mentioned about femininity and masculinity not being mutually exclusive. I actually read that this is true scientifically. People can have a mix of both (most likely to different parts of the brain having different masculine and feminine strengths regardless of whether it’s biology or from society). Researchers originally thought people would be one or the other and that they might fall along a spectrum where each person would find themselves across a line (masculine on one end and feminine on the other), but this is not the case! While some people may identify with one more than the other, we all have different amounts of both. it’s so awesome that you noticed that just by observation!

    By the way, I would love to hear more about your tarot card reading (maybe in a future post?)

    ~Christina

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Hey Christina! That’s such a great point you mentioned about femininity and masculinity being supposed in scientific studies. Actually, I realized I didn’t include this information in the final version of my post (I’ve since added it in) — biologically, all of us are a mix of male (testosterone) and female (estrogen and progesterone) hormones too. People might think that females would have 100% female hormones and males would have 100% male hormones, but it’s not true at all. What varies between both genders is the proportion of male to female hormones; even then, each of us from the same gender have a different proportion of hormones too.

      Thank you so much on your kind words by the way! :) I realize that I had been subjecting myself to the traditional viewpoints from my culture as well as trying to cater to the less confident and less assured men, which resulted in me feeling that I lacked femininity while I was growing up. I know better now though.

      On the tarot card reading, yes I would love to share it at some point! I have an idea of what would be a good time to share that — probably in a course or post when I delve deeper into my relationship with Ken and how we met. (Because the reading alluded to us meeting in this life.)

      • Christina Mattschei

        Thanks Celes–I’m looking forward to hearing more! :)

  • Rachel Rowe

    Thanks for posting this – it has helped me. I thought for a long time I was the only one to have been so cut down by their own mother. You are the Singaporean version of me. I am from Britain but am actually the same age as you it appears and I went through a similar journey even down to the hair cutting which I was also forced into – I thought my dad was to blame because he was often the one who took us for these unwanted hair-cuts but reading what your mother said which was also what I was told about why I ‘needed it done’ now I wonder was she the one behind it? Thank God it was only until age 7 in my case when they got fed up of me arguing.

    However she has continued belittling me throughout life for my attempt to ‘own myself’ and look pretty saying ”you are trying to be something you are not”. I have felt very alone and unwanted and for my own sanity I have had to cut contact with her completely now. My guess is she was envious of me, envy in mothers of their own daughters I think is prevalent even though no-one likes to recognise it; but really there is this resentment a lot of mothers seem to have for their daughers once their daughters are no longer cute kids and become young women – that the daughers are ‘stealing the mother’s beauty’. Mental I know…

    Thanks for posting. It made my day. I am in the process of rediscovering my femininity but I am still not there yet (currently 30 years old) and I was worried that I may never ‘get there’ but maybe after reading your story I am a little closer :).

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