This is the last part of my 3-part series on my struggles finding my identity as a female and how I found my place as a female in today’s world. If you are new to this series, read part 1 first.
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 – Why 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.
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
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 personalities are not a match with mine (be it as a friend or romantic interest). 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: Why 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.)
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.
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.
Thank you for reading this series and I appreciate all your kind comments and feedback. 🙂 Here are some related pieces:
- The Beauty of Self – How I Used To Feel Inferior about My Looks
- How to Have a Positive Body Image: Complete Guide
- Why I Used to Be Afraid of Intimidating Men and Why It Does Not Faze Me Anymore
- Why I Used to Hate My Feet
Being a woman is more challenging than ever in today’s world, where a woman is expected to don on 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:
Thanks everyone (both guys and girls); let’s keep rocking. 🙂
This is the last part of my 3-part series on my struggles finding my identity as a female and how I found my place as a female in today’s world.