The Feminine Project

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  • We forget that 'feminine' and 'masculine' are social constructs. We treat them as if they are biological truths and ignore the ancient beliefs and cultural taboos that taint them.
    My own journey with these words began when I realized I was afraid to apply the term "feminine" to both myself and my mother. So I began talking to the men and women in my life to see if I was alone.
    For many women, to identify as feminine is to risk objectification as if society has reserved this word for sexily clad models in advertisements. To be a man and be labeled "feminine" is to risk embarrassment and exclusion.
    I realized I wanted to create a public space for both sexes to redefine and reclaim this word. And so this project was born. Each photo is accompanied by the words of each person and their own efforts to reclaim or come to terms with the word 'feminine.'

  • Sarah Hart from
    “'Feminine' for me as a female growing up was something to strive to be. Something the 'cool' girls were in school.
    "'Feminine' was a style I never wore. An attitude I never had.
    "'Feminine' meant skinny, nice boobs, long hair, pretty makeup, girly clothes, nails done, jewelry on, and eyelashes curled.
    "'Feminine' girls were scared of mice, didn't get dirty, and when they stood with both their knees together their thighs didn't touch because their long legs were slender.
    "I used to be ashamed of not being traditionally 'feminine', not realizing that I had my definition of it all wrong. I came to embrace my own style and personality, but still maintained my own skewed idea of what 'feminine' meant and I turned my back on it and judged it myself. Girly girls. Ick.
    "In other words, I, a girl, used to see femininity as superficial and flakey and gross, like Meagan Fox's opening scene in Transformers, which isn't accurate or fair of me, and I didn't really think about that until you told me about this project.
    "Redefining femininity really hits home for me.
    "My outdated definition of feminine = weak.
    "But there's SO much femininity in strength.”
    “What 'feminine' means to me.
    “It is curious that, although I have on many occasions discussed this topic, I have never turned my attention to myself. Now that I do, the most interesting thing that I have found is how my thinking has changed.
    “As a young adult, I always saw my feminine side as being weak. I worked very hard to remove all aspects of it from my life. I fought to have the right to do everything the boys were doing. I would never be caught crying in front of someone and damn it, I could open my own doors. I actually worked at lowering the tone of my voice so I didn’t sound like a girly girl.
    “The most hilarious memory I have is when I had a job in Lake Louise and we had to move tables around. Some of the girls were 'too weak' to move tables. Not me. I actually hurt myself sometimes just to prove I could do it. Then, I thought of those girls as weak. Now, I think they were smart. 
    “When I turned 30, something changed. I was in Thailand for 5 months and met some wonderful women as I traveled around. I am not sure if they saw themselves as teachers but I viewed them as such. I started to see the feminine as a wonderful gift and powerful tool. I looked at these women who were comfortable with their feminine side and I had a burning desire to obtain what they had. The flow of their bodies, how they interacted with other people, how they would bring warmth into every room they entered — and how they would manage to achieve their goals without fighting for them. 
    “This was something I aspired to attain, and still do. It is a lot easier to turn something off than to turn it back on. I grew up pushing away my feminine side, and welcoming it back is still a struggle. The tricky part is how to find a balance, as I like my masculine strength. To stand my ground without being too pushy. To be bold but not overbearing. To own my beliefs and opinions as my own without seeming to force them onto others. To dance, hug, laugh, and play without losing the respect that I have worked so hard to receive. 
    “One easy example is the hug. I was not really a hugger unless it was from a really good friend, and even then they were the quick back-slappers. I have a friend who, I would joke, gives inappropriately long hugs. When we first met, it made me very uncomfortable — he would still be hugging 30 seconds after I was done. If he was a woman I would have thought, 'Oh, she loves her hugs,' but this was not the case, and it was quite awkward. Now I look forward to seeing him as it is a really nice greeting to receive. However, I am still not comfortable doing this with everyone. 
    “People sort human traits into masculine and feminine, and I find it quite bizarre where some traits get put. But if you put it to a test and asked people where they would place these words I would put money on the fact most people would answer close to this:
    “Masculine vs. Feminine 
    handshake vs. hug
    wood vs. cushion
    coffee vs. tea
    baseball vs. yoga
    hockey vs. figure skating
    breakdancing vs. ballet
    sandwiches vs. salad
    steak vs. sushi
    garage vs. kitchen
    golf vs. knitting
    business vs. gossip
    stud vs. slut
    wink vs. flutter
    action vs. patience
    logic vs. emotion
    construction vs. cashier
    doctor vs. teacher
    lawyer vs. dancer
    muscle vs. heart
    carnivore vs. vegetarian
    “Even though men and women do all of these things, if a person’s passion takes them too far into the 'wrong' row they get judged. 
    “I also find it quite interesting that there are so many insults that males throw at each other that are by definition one of the most sensual parts of the female body. Or the female as a whole: 'You’re such a girl.' 
    “These days I try to embrace the girl in me and listen to the woman in me. I am trying to find a more playful side as well as respect the wise words of women in my life who have shared their stories. 
    “Whenever I have ended up in a sticky situation in the past I have drawn on my masculine side to pull me out, often leaving many battle scars. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had let the feminine side have control. I also wonder if I will ever have the courage to let her try. 

    “I do think every person has masculine and feminine qualities inside them. That is what makes us all unique and diverse. We all need to see, accept and embrace all aspects of ourselves, even the ones we think are not helpful. Because it is only when we love ourselves completely can we be truly happy.”

  • I am Feminine is a project about starting conversations on exploring and reclaiming the word 'feminine'.
    "Some have questioned my right to explore this word. Others have applauded my efforts. I want to reiterate that this is not about me defining something for others. This is about creating a public space for these conversations to happen.
    "This whole project started when I realized I was hesitant to refer to my own mother as feminine. She is the strongest, most powerful, kind, and feminine force of nature that I know. What does it say about me and our society that I was unable to apply a word referring to womanly traits to the woman who brought me into this world?
    "I wanted to find out if I was alone. I wasn't. Each of the people I photographed has been a bit surprised to realize that this word carries such hidden weight for them. 
    "To me, the word 'feminine' was about shame — not only as it relates to my mother, but also to myself. My early years were spent trying to hide everything feminine about what I felt or desired. By now this is so automatic that I repeatedly surprise even myself when I admit I am as gay as they come.
    "Thanks to all the wonderful people who have participated in these conversations with me, my life is no longer about hiding my feminine traits. It is about finding and freeing the feminine, loving, proud-of-his-feminine-mother boy trapped inside my heart.”
  • Jasmin Cheng of
    “This concept started with a conversation with my uncle in Shanghai last year, who is very much a staunch Maoist. He said that during the Cultural Revolution, women were treated exactly like men: both had to go to school, and stay equally fit and strong. Not only were men and women supposed to behave as equals, they were expected to look the same too - in plain green uniforms, nothing to set them apart besides braided pig tails for the girls.
    "In a weird twisted way, the Cultural Revolution achieved gender equality by negating gender differences, which you could say made it the epitome of feminism.
    "During the shoot, my mind focused on the women I was representing - and specifically my grandmother, who at the age of 18, led a family of elders and children across China to escape from Japanese soldiers. She loved beautiful, pretty things as much as any woman, but when left with nothing else, she had her feminine strength.
    "In military garb and stance in this photo, I still felt very feminine. Powerfully so.”