The Power that Lies in Femininity
By Keti Akhalbedashvili
What does it take to be a girl? What does it mean to be unequivocally feminine?
I was looking for copies of my summer reading in my grandma’s library, when I came across a book with “FOR LADIES ONLY” in large bold lettering on the leather spine. Of course, I let my curiosity get the best of me; I grabbed the book and completely forgot about my summer reading. It turned out to be a book from the mid-20th century filled with rules for young girls, essentially teaching them how to be women. It covered everything, from how to properly hold a book to how to talk to boys. It even described the best technique for smoking a cigarette so that you could make the “manly” habit look elegant and feminine. At that moment, I felt utterly cheated. All this time, there was a manual telling everyone about the secret rules of womanhood that I did not know about. And these rules felt suffocating. For a book claiming to make young women’s lives easier by familiarizing themselves with simple social conventions, it did a horrible job. Defining womanhood, that it did. It trapped the experience of all women into a short, static list of rules and expectations—that I was convinced I had to live up to in order to be a girl.
In fifth grade, I proclaimed to my aunt that I needed a bra. She took me to the mall and got me a training bra. I was disappointed, since it wasn’t a real bra. A few months later, shaving became my new obsession, then came plucking my eyebrows and doing my makeup. I made sure that I was ready for everything that could possibly go wrong. What if I accidentally fell down a flight of stairs and people surrounded me and saw I hadn’t shaved my legs? Or if I appeared in the background of a stranger’s photo? Or if a boy at school sat near me and noticed I hadn’t done my nails—wouldn’t that be tragic?
Only years later did I truly realize the power that lies in femininity. And how it is almost synonymous with beauty. I no longer dressed up and painted my face to be a girl, but to be a pretty girl. There was no point in me trying to be a girl if I was not going to be pretty. I spent my adolescence observing my girlfriends—how they dressed, spoke, did their hair, walked. I was fascinated by how everything came naturally to them. It did not seem like they had to read an instruction manual; they were just born as girls. Something my grandma’s etiquette book failed to mention was the severity of the crime that is to look like you are performing womanhood. Yes, you have to wear makeup, but just the right amount so you look like you were born with mascara and eyeliner. No razor bumps. God forbid men find out that we grow hair on our bodies.
Femininity to me became a weapon as well as a performance. I came to notice how hated I was for over-performing it. Boys fear femininity—another thing that wasn’t mentioned in my grandma’s rule book. It did not teach me the importance of hiding and mystifying my actual self because to be truly feminine is to accept the limitations and trappings that make you perfect.
To stop my performance was not an option either, because I was never born a girl, I had to learn to be one, and to stop my performance meant to stop being palatable. I learned this during my early adolescence. It was the last day of fifth grade. I was seated next to a boy, in front of another boy with two more boys sitting in the row in front of mine. This seating arrangement was my teacher’s last resort after I spent the entirety of the school year chatting with every person that was seated next to me. She thought that surrounding me with boys was the way to go, thinking I wouldn’t wish to speak to them or that maybe the boys would not be interested in hearing my gossip. It turns out she was wrong. The boys were more than happy to spend the rest of the semester discussing YouTube drama and Minecraft mods with me. They were so pleased that on the last day, one of them turned around and said to me, “You know, you can become a boy now.”
I do not know what he meant; I’m not even sure he knew what he meant, but those words started my never-ending quest of being perceived as unequivocally feminine. I took offense at his generous offer to be a boy. I did not want to be a boy. I still don’t want to be a boy. All I know is that I am a human, and a person. But to be recognized as one, every day I have to put on makeup, walk elegantly with my shoulders back and chest forward, smile and roll the ashes off a cigarette instead of flicking it.
This essay was inspired by my daily routine of getting up in the morning, getting dressed and putting on makeup. When I essentially felt like I had to put on a costume to get ready for my performance as a woman.
Keti is a young New York-based Georgian-American writer. She can most frequently be found writing in her journal, filling the pages with anecdotes from her life. Keti's writing explores her experience growing up between two cultures. Through the medium of essay writing, she deals with themes of identity and self-discovery. Taking inspiration from different art forms such as film and literature her work serves as reflections and responses to the great works of the creators she admires.