The Feminine, An Unknown in Literature

1:27 AM



Femininity is a rare commodity for a book character. 

As I re-engage with the reading world, I am surprised anew at the sheer lack of femininity in many supposed "female" characters. Many blog writers have already written about the over-presence of "kick-butt" female characters, so I believe a restatement of that is pointless. What I want to address, however, is the erasing of the "truly feminine" and how it affects portrayals of women in literature and art. 

In older novels, we see no shortage of likeable, good feminine characters. I think this has to do with the fact that femininity was respected and practiced among general society. But as feminism took mothers out of the home, very suddenly the feminine role model disappeared. The feminine journey of success - which is usually tied intrinsically to the family or to sanctity - was altered forever. Feminine attributes, such as we find in role models like the Blessed Virgin, simply were forgotten. In a sense, second and third wave feminism have contributed greatly not just to the absent mother syndrome but also to the explosion of choleric, kick-butt females that are more masculine than anything. 

That being said, there has been some pushback from the Christian market. Recently, I came across a book called Chivalrous by Dina L. Sleiman in my local discount store. I had read Sleiman's work before and had been curious about this one...and the price was right. 



Through the first third of the book, I wanted to shake both the author and the protagonist. Lady Gwendolyn wants to become a knight in order to escape being forced by an abusive father into a marriage to a toxic male brute. This was a classic case of feminist thinking in a medieval setting - unfortunately a common fantasy trope. I was quite annoyed at the lack of femininity, not just from an emotional standpoint but also of historical accuracy.   

However, Sleiman did something unexpected. She made it clear that Gwen was, in fact, ignorant of what the feminine role was. What she had was bad example from her parents, as well as a lack of spiritual education. In Gwen's case, Sleiman drew out an arc of (partially) discovering the feminine role through Scripture and a book of sermons. While I hesitate to recommend this book as pleasure reading material (especially to my Catholic friends, as it has some rather dubious spiritual messages in it), this "ignorance of femininity" is a fascinating concept and one that bears more exploring  

It is also a concept that I relate to. As a convert into traditional Catholicism, I had legitimately no clue as to act in a feminine manner. I was a tomboy then (which was rather inevitable, considering I had four brothers). Years of study later, I claim to be no expert. Yet, I am a person that is better led by example. Hence, seeing the dump of feminist-like lead female characters, really drives me nuts sometimes. 

Therefore, my goal is to create truly feminine characters - starting with my protagonist in my upcoming debut novel, The White Rose. As I look to revise Janina's arc I have been looking at the Hero's Journey method of character plotting. And in my research, I came across this video by a YouTuber called Professor Geek, which talks about femininity and story-telling in the context of a cartoon character named She-Ra. 


The comments about emphasizing the gender distinctions and the recognition of the feminine hero's journey as "taming the masculine" are two points that I would emphasize highly. But the Professor's last comments about the societal effects of femininst branded media really shook me at the core.  

I want to stress that to us Christian and especially Catholic writers, the need to explore femininity and apply it to our characters is paramount. Piggy-backing from my last post about Archbishop Vigano's words on the subject, we have a duty to write feminine characters into our stories, as a means of preserving the feminine role in society. 

That will mean studying femininity. That will mean studying Proverbs 31. That will mean looking up saints like St. Zita, St. Louise Martin, St. Therese Lisieux among countless others. That will mean imitating Mother Mary and her virtues. 

It's important that we get this right. Because if we do, then chivalrous male characters are sure to follow. 

And now, tell me your thoughts! What do you think about feminine portrayals in literature? What are some good examples of feminine characters? Tell me in the comments below! 

Scribbingly yours, 

Catherine 

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8 comments

  1. I agree that we need better female role models in lit and more diverse female characters.
    But I think authors should be careful when deciding what traits to use. For example, if you just pull up a list of Feminine and Masculine traits and then only select from the Feminine traits so your character isn't "too masculine" you'd end up with a fairly unbalanced character (psychologically). After all, "masculine traits" include decisiveness, logic, focus, and clarity and a well balanced person should pull from both sets of traits. After all, men should be compassionate and loving too.

    Sometimes you can write a better role model by mixing it up. I know some people don't like the new Aladdin because its "too feminist" but personally, I prefer the Jasmine in the live action Aladdin. She respects her parent (which is easier to do in the new version since he's less of a old fool...) and carries herself with poise and grace, handles situations tactfully and is kind and protective of her family and those close to her. And her friend also is very feminine (and the movie ends with her being married and wanting to have kids?! Unheard of!)And they're about to throw the whole thing out simply because she takes over after her father (As if Aladdin knows how to run a country? And after the yam jam incident he's not really someone you want in a high stress diplomatic discussion.)

    So I agree. Don't simply pull random traits, look at feminine role models and think about their traits and then decide what traits you want your character to have. You can also write characters who don't have the trait (like tact and grace) and show scenes were things go poorly because of it.

    And I think its easier to find characters with feminine traits in contemporary novels...To All The Boys I Loved Before, etc. But Cress and Winter from The Lunar Chronicles and Creel from Dragon Slippers comes to mind!

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    Replies
    1. Excellent points, MK! It is quite easy to swing the other way of course, so your thoughts of a well based psychosis are well founded.

      I like Jasmine better in the live action than the cartoon for the same reasons (even though I do have some opinions on the whole taking over for her father thing, but that is a discussion for another day). I like Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman for similar reasons too - she actually has feminine characteristics (like her cooing over a baby!).

      What I would like to see is more "normal" feminine orientation - a character that is happy with being married and having kids, for instance. Or one that wants to be a nun. One that is confident in her feminine nature and knows how to use it, I guess. The ones that make us proud that we are female. Certainly conflicts can rise from that.

      Great suggestions!

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  2. Good stuff in the Catherine. However, I would be leery of 'studying' femininity whether it's for application in your own life or in your writing. Femininity and masculinity is the innate hardwiring which God worked into our hearts. We don't study it, we uncover it unconciously as we try to do God's will, please Our Lady and become saints.
    Since God is the greatest artist, within this framework he adds some shading for greater beauty and variety in his creation - hence a girl may be more 'girly' or more rough and tumble, but they are not defectively feminine.
    We see this in the Communion of saints - there is a huge range and variety of personalities and missions among the female saints, from Our Queen, to St Teresa of Avila (choleric or what?!) to St Therese of Liseux, St Genevieve, Cecilia, Joan of Arc and Ven Nano Nagle.
    There is no shortage of differing approaches and personalities, yet they were all in possession of the elusive femininity...why? Because they were serving God, just as he had designed them, in the mission he had planned for them.
    "Be who God created you to be, and you will set the world on fire," (St Catherine of Sienna...another who deserves a look in! :)

    In turns of modern pseudo-feminism...it drives me up the wall. How is it remotely empowering to tell girls they only have worth if they act like men?? That implies women intrinsically have no worth. *grinds teeth*

    For a magnificent book on medieval, Catholic created, REAL feminism I reccommend the book 'Women in the Days of the Cathedrals' by Regine Pernoud.
    (And it reveals the 'middle ages oppressive with forced marriages and paterfamilias' narrative for the lies it is. That stuff came in after the re-discovery of Ancient Roman law during the Rennaissance...attention all modern YA hist fic authors: it was NOT medieval!!)

    I shall now bow out.
    Lucia :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I beg to differ on the studying, because traditional femininity is made of examples and thought processes that are unheard of in the modern era. Even the hardwiring of the soul towards heaven can be so marred by sin that it short-circuits. Books such as The Valiant Woman and The Privilege of Being a Woman are excellent resources. I would not have been able to uncover my femininity unconsciously, as you put it, without those resources guiding me through it. I do agree with the different personalities and the serving God aspects, but those didn't happen by themselves - God used different tangible and spiritual means to guide these souls towards heavenly perfection.

      I will definitely look into that book though - I love reading topics like that!

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  3. I have been missing seeing feminine characters. Ones that are allowed to be without being mocked for it I guess. I have noticed that the "strong" female character troupe is calming down a bit. So that seems like we might be heading in a better direction.

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    Replies
    1. I miss those too, and I have noticed that. Maybe as femininity becomes more mainstream, we'll get more characters like that.

      Delete
  4. YES, YES, AND YES! We need good feminine female characters to return to fiction.

    ReplyDelete

How are you, dear friend? Come closer to the fire, and make yourself comfortable! I'd love to hear what you've been thinking about, even if it's an old post! I only ask that proper decorum be observed.

I always try to reply to my correspondence! Have a blessed day!
~ Catherine

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