Monday, October 17, 2011

another altered meaning…

feminine… mid-14c., "of the female sex," from O.Fr. femenin (12c.) "feminine, female; with feminine qualities, effeminate," from L. femininus "feminine" (in the grammatical sense at first), from femina "woman, female," lit. "she who suckles," from base of felare "to suck, suckle" (see fecund). Sense of "woman-like, proper to or characteristic of women" is recorded from mid-15c. The interplay of meanings now represented in female, feminine, and effeminate, and the attempt to make them clear and separate, has led to many coinages: feminitude (1878); feminile “feminine” (1640s); feminility “womanliness” (1838); femality (17c., “effeminacy;” 1754 “female nature”). Also feminality (1640s, “quality or state of being female”), from rare adj. feminal (late 14c.), from O.Fr. feminal. And femineity “quality or state of being feminine,” from L. femineus “of a woman, pertaining to a woman.” ... from online etymology dictionary

definitely a female word - ‘of the female sex’ - therefore you would assume that no womon can fail to be feminine, no matter what she looks like, how she dresses or how she asserts herself…

so when did it become 'watered down' and interchangeable with ‘ladylike’ (a word i don't 'subscribe' to - you can read my post ‘this womon ain’t no lady’ here) – hmm, it appears to have started changing in the 15th century when we see the words "proper to .. women" creep into the definition... a time when womyn's worth and their roles were being redefined by a misogynistic, patriarchal culture to keep them subservient and silent - you know, seen but not heard… 

because if you were heard, that meant you had opinions of your own - you may just have been a strong womon... and strong womyn were to be feared...

yes, you may have picked up that the 'shift' in the meaning appears to coincide with the growing fervour of the european witch hunts and hatred of all things female, the gathering momentum with the publication of the malleus malificarum in 1487 and the spreading of fear into england...

and henry (yeah, that one - the 8th!!) 'fed the growing fear' when he accused anne boleyn of witchcraft, infidelity and incest - as adultery was considered treason for a queen it was also a very expedient way to dispose of a womon who'd only 'produced' a daughter - elizabeth - but no sons!... 6 years after her execution henry passed the witchcraft act of 1542 against 'conjurations and wichescraftes and sorcery and enchantmentes.'... the act was repealed in 1547 under edward's reign (but he was only 9 so the regency council was making all the decisions at this time!)

alas, repeal only lasted until the elizabethan witchcraft act was passed during elizabeth's reign in 1562 - sad considering her own mother had been accused of being a witch... but then lizzie had very powerful men with vested interests surrounding and advising her, and she inherited (and maintained) an extremely misogynistic 'kingdom'...  "during the Elizabethan era men were all-powerful. Women had few rights and were expected to obey men. Elizabethan women totally relied on the male members of the family. Society and the culture of England was changing. The convents had been closed. The number of poor was increasing and people were far less charitable. Old, poor, unprotected women needed to be supported - and this was resented by other Elizabethans."

so womyn were either witch - non-submissive, old, poor or without male support in a male dominant society - or submissive - totally downtrodden in a male dominant society - the new vision of feminine...

"the english language has been literally man made and it is still primarily under male control, this monopoly over language is one the means by which males have ensured their own primacy, and consequently have ensured the invisibility or 'other' nature of females, and this primacy is perpetuated while women continue to use, unchanged, the language we have inherited" ... excerpt from dale spender's 'man made language'

what's sad now is when I hear womyn labelling themselves with this diminished patriarchal sense of the word as though being a submissive ‘decoration’ is something to aspire to... and then there's the judgement of others - i'm sure you've all heard someone comment on the perceived feminine or unfeminine 'quality' of someone  - maybe you've heard something similar to "she's as rough as ..., so unfeminine" - or the seal of approval that goes along the lines of "doesn't she look feminine in that"?

perhaps next time you hear that you might think 'hey, she's female - she can't be anything but feminine!' - because to be feminine is to be female... to be female is to be feminine - and strong, and loud and proud - it's a womon-centred word... it's a word worth reclaiming...


2 comments:

Sailor Lily said...

great blog. In one of the other most revered and studied eras of literature after the Elizabethan women continuned to be portrayed as witches, however the romantics focussed on women's sexuality and capacity for sexual pleasure as evidence of their non-human (serpentine, animalsitic or satanic) self. The orgiastic/orgasmic woman was the Lamia, Serpent or Witch. I've always believed this period to be to be where then notion of the witch as 'seductive bitch' came to surpass the witch as hag. It's a period that has interesting implications for an historically ongoing fascination with and condemantion of women's capacity to be wild in sex.

lily.

Proud Womon said...

great comment lil...

yes - sensuality was another trait that marked womon as witch - sensual, sensuous, sexual womyn were equated with 'evil' and debauchery... and that view took us into the repressive victorian era where womyn were labelled either 'damned whores or gods police' - to be whole, complete, thinking, intelligent, creative, sensual, sexual womyn is to be 'dissuaded' in this patriarchal world...