A Modern Gal’s Guide To Femininity! (Alternate Title: Do I Have To Wear High Heels To Feel Like A “Woman”?)


Hey there Gala,
I was listening to Love & Sequins #1 yesterday and started to think about some of my limiting beliefs. One of mine is definitely that I’m not a feminine person. Sometimes I feel more manly than a man (although I am in fact a girl)! I live in Dunedin, New Zealand and go to Uni down here. I’m studying Law which is a profession dedicated to “masculine” traits, and I prefer to spend my time reading Tolstoy than gossiping about boyfriends. I know that is a huge over-generalization, but I seriously feel that a lot of the prettiest, most feminine girls I know spend a lot of their time talking about “He said, then she was like, and she said!”. I hang out with them to have a light-hearted break from life, but I can not imagine being the type of girl who thinks in these terms normally.
So how is a modern gal, who is smart, determined and ballsy also meant to retain her feminine side? I look at Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe as role models but I just can’t imagine channelling them in real life without a serious dose of giggling, eyelash battering (time consuming) stuff on the side.
Thanks for your time Gala,
Yours femininely, Olivia.

Dear Olivia,

Kudos for examining your limiting beliefs! If you don’t mind, I’m going to take what you’ve said a step further & start dismantling some of your other beliefs!

From your email, it sounds like you believe that being more feminine is something you should aspire to. This is not necessarily so! The traditional gender roles are just that — traditional — & these days, things are a lot more fluid. If you’d prefer to read Tolstoy & knock back a pint than get a manicure & talk about how your boyfriend is in bed, that is entirely up to you! There are oodles of women who have fully embraced their masculine side, & the majority of them seem quite okay with it.

Sure, mainstream society will have their views. No matter how massive the strides made by the feminist movement, some people will always think that women belong in the kitchen & men belong in the boardroom. There will forever be people who are slow to catch up. But we all have different values, & it’s not your job to cater to anyone else’s view of who, or what, you should be!


I have plenty of typically “masculine” traits. I’m ambitious & driven, & I would prefer to offer solutions than listen to someone talk about their problems. These are all things that we are told are the domain of men. But at the same time, I place a high value on being “feminine”: I love wearing dresses & high heels, I’m creative & sensitive to other people’s feelings, I try (though am not always successful!) to be graceful, & I’ve made no secret of how much I love having hair extensions! These are all things we are typically told women “should be”. The truth is that most of us fall somewhere in the middle of these two ideas.

I posed your question on Twitter & the responses which rolled in were really interesting.

Haelseatsworms said, “I embody both femininity and masculinity! I care about my hair, nails, make-up, fashion and shoes.. But I love cars and football!”

Fasshonaburu said, “a “boy” trait I have is when people complain I try to figure out a solution to the problem instead of being empathetic.”

Teresa Jusino said, “It bothers me when personality traits are deemed masculine/feminine & think that’s the source of unnecessary probs.”

I received a reply from another law student, Frecklemint, who said, “As one myself I’ve noticed a real cookie-cutter femininity expected – makeup & nice hair, but no strong opinions/ambitions.”

Juliette Maxwell added, “I’m an engineer and I have somewhat “boy” tastes like video games, computers, comics, etc but I also love to play with my hair, my make up. I try to eat healthy and I like being treated like a lady.”

(Being “treated like a lady” is another topic unto itself!)

Tank Girl

From your email, your view of femininity seems to be more about aesthetics or appearances. It might help to expand your vision of what it means to be a woman.

When I think of typically female traits, it’s not all about false eyelashes or obsessive shoe-shopping. It also brings to mind empathy, sensitivity, curiosity, a desire to help, a hardcore work ethic & a fierce drive to protect what you care about most. I think of passion, intuition, communication, wisdom & creativity.

Marie Curie

Who are some female role models that you really identify with, or aspire to be like? Maybe you are more Marie Curie than Marie Antoinette; a touch more Kelly Cutrone than Kelly Bundy — & that’s awesome! Think about what a yawn life would be if we were all the same! There is only room for one Paris Hilton in this world, after all.

You mentioned Audrey Hepburn & Marilyn Monroe, but it doesn’t sound like they inspire you any more than just being stereotypical visions of femininity. If you put some thought into it, you may be surprised to discover that your feminine role models might not even be famous or historical figures. Perhaps you’ve been more inspired in your life by your mother, aunt or high school science teacher.

Make a list of those women who have ignited your spark for learning, your drive to learn the law, & your passion for Tolstoy. What made them wonderful, strong women? What was it about them that enraptured you, that provoked your imagination or enthusiasm? Take some time to write down their most stellar qualities. Was it their commitment to furthering themselves, their savage love for their family, their devotion to helping others?

If you want to groom your feminine side, perhaps it would be a good idea to concentrate on embracing some of these traits; the positive things you associate with womanhood. How can you embody these characteristics?


The truth is that all women are different. Wearing high heels doesn’t make you weak or stupid, & wearing combat boots doesn’t make you tough or smart. Making the choice to pursue education doesn’t make you a more valuable or productive member of society than choosing to have a family. Yes, some women love to talk about their boyfriends (guilty as charged!), but plenty of those same women also enjoy discussing literature, business, ethics & social issues (also, guilty as charged!).

If you’d rather ride dirt-bikes than get dolled up, that is okay! Conversely, if you’d go shopping than work on your car, that’s fine too! The majority of what we view as “feminine behaviour” is a social construct. (You can read more way more about this on social construction of gender difference.) Whether you buy into it or not is your choice!

No one is asking you to don 6″ heels in a quest to be feminine. Nor are you expected to behave like a parody of Carrie Bradshaw to be validated as a woman. Femininity doesn’t have to be soft or sweet, just like masculinity doesn’t have to be rough & tough. It’s a huge sliding scale, & only you can know where you want to place yourself. Furthermore, only you can put yourself there. It is something that you control, entirely.

Expand your view a little bit. No one is 100% masculine or 100% feminine, no matter what they may claim! One only has to consider the supersonic rise of Andrej Pejic, the first & last word in androgyny, to see this! Check out Girls Will Be Boys, a photo documentary following people “who live within a spectrum of gender identities including butch, tomboy, aggressive, gender queer & transgender”, & if you want to discover a variety of rad tomboy icons, have a read of Tomboy Style (great blog!). Further to that, you don’t have to be queer to appreciate the plethora of amazing lesbian heroines in our culture. Dorothy Surrenders is an excellent place to start!

If all else fails, why not take a lesson from your boy Leo?


Picture sources: 1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6 [unknown]