While the defining characteristics of femininity are not universally identical, some patterns exist: gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, caring, sweetness, compassion, tolerance, nurturance, deference, and succorance are traits that have traditionally been cited as feminine.
An oil painting of a young woman dressed in a flowing, white dress sitting on a chair with a red drape. An easel rests on her knees and she is evidently drawing. She is gazing directly at the observer.
Young Woman Drawing (1801, Metropolitan Museum of Art) painted by Marie-Denise Villers (possibly a self-portrait), depicts an independent feminine spirit.
Femininity is sometimes linked with sexual objectification and sexual appeal.Sexual passiveness, or sexual receptivity, is sometimes considered feminine while sexual assertiveness and sexual desire is sometimes considered masculine.
People who exhibit a combination of both masculine and feminine characteristics are considered androgynous, and feminist philosophers have argued that gender ambiguity may blur gender classification.Modern conceptualizations of femininity also rely not just upon social constructions, but upon the individualized choices made by women.
Ann Oakley’s sex/gender dichotomy has had a considerable influence on sociologists defining masculine and feminine behavior as regulated, policed, and reproduced in our society, as well as the power structures relating to the concepts.
An ongoing debate with regards to sex and psychology concerns the extent to which gender identity and gender-specific behavior is due to socialization versus inborn factors. According to Diane F. Halpern, both factors play a role, but the relative importance of each must still be investigated. The nature versus nurture question, for example, is extensively debated and is continually revitalized by new research findings.Some hold that feminine identity is partly a ‘given’ and partly a goal to be sought.
In 1959, researchers such as John Money and Anke Erhardt proposed the prenatal hormone theory. Their research argues that sexual organs bathe the embryo with hormones in the womb, resulting in the birth of an individual with a distinctively male or female brain; this was suggested by some to “predict future behavioral development in a masculine or feminine direction”.This theory, however, has been criticized on theoretical and empirical grounds and remains controversia. In 2005, scientific research investigating sex and psychology showed that gender expectations and stereotype threat affect behavior, and a person’s gender identity can develop as early as three years of age. Money also argued that gender identity is formed during a child’s first three years.
Mary Vetterling-Braggin argues that all characteristics associated with femininity arose from early human sexual encounters which were mainly male-forced and female-unwilling, because of male and female anatomical . Others, such as Carole Pateman, Ria Kloppenborg, and Wouter J. Hanegraaff, argue that the definition of femininity is the result of how females must behave in order to maintain a patriarchal social system.
In his 1998 book Masculinity and Femininity: the Taboo Dimension of National Cultures, Dutch psychologist and researcher Geert Hofstede wrote that only behaviors directly connected with procreation can, strictly speaking, be described as feminine or masculine, and yet every society worldwide recognizes many additional behaviors as more suitable to females than males, and vice versa. He describes these as relatively arbitrary choices mediated by cultural norms and traditions, identifying “masculinity versus femininity” as one of five basic dimensions in his theory of cultural dimensions. Hofstede describes as feminine behaviors such as “service”, “permissiveness”, and “benevolence”, and describes as feminine those countries stressing equality, solidarity, quality of work-life, and the resolution of conflicts by compromise and negotiation.
In Carl Jung’s school of analytical psychology, the anima and animus are the two primary anthropomorphic archetypes of the unconscious mind. The anima and animus are described by Jung as elements of his theory of the collective unconscious, a domain of the unconscious that transcends the personal psyche. In the unconscious of the male, it finds expression as a feminine inner personality: anima; equivalently, in the unconscious of the female, it is expressed as a masculine inner personality: animus.