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The Venus symbol stands for femininity
Venus of Willendorf , around 25,000 BC Chr.

Femininity , less often femininity or femininity or femininity ( adjective : feminine ), includes culturally and socially attributed characteristics of women .

Word origin

The word 'femininity' has been attested since the 15th century (late mhd. Wîplicheit ) and in its original meaning according to Grimm "character, quality as a woman", synonymous with an even older old high German wîbheit 'feminine nature', both for the word woman , the original general concept of woman. In the course of the Middle Ages, the latter was increasingly pejorated in the high-level language (but not in many dialects), while the characteristic '-like' formation retained its neutral character overall. 'Fraulichkeit' is a more recent substitute, and the more upscale 'feminine' style from the French féminin (from Latin femina 'woman') was only adopted into German via the fashion language of the previous century.

More about the conceptual field

Femininity as a term (or catchphrase ) contrasts with the pole “ masculinity ”; either contrary (then there are intermediate forms) or contradictory (then one thing excludes the other: what is “non-female” is always “male”), cf. also yin and yang . Femininity, like masculinity, is a culturally and ideologically condensed understanding (in contrast to “being woman”, which represents the diversity actually lived). The characteristics attributed to “women” through femininity are, among other things, subject to cultural and social change; sometimes they are seen as related to the biologically feminine traits (see females ).

Attributions to gender-specific feminine characteristics, tasks and inclinations (and the associated economic and political gender relations) were historically widespread in many, especially in ancient androcratic societies, and explained through philosophies that characteristics defined under femininity are natural (or even "divinely willed") according to gender ). While these old constructions in the western cultural area of ​​the 20th century were initially opposed to the fact that gender-specific properties and dispositions were developed as a result of socialization , today biological femininity ( sex ) is contrasted with the new construction of social femininity as a socially constituted gender in the gender relationship ( gender ).

Gender studies

Different religions, world views and socio-scientific positions nonetheless assume a wide variety of gender models ; different political systems justified their political drafts on social gender orders and relationships according to their respective normative (legislative and judicial) attribution of female duties and female rights (cf. for example for Germany the National Socialist , the GDR , the feminist "genderism in Europe", current androcentric or gender democratic gender politics ). The sociology of gender and gender studies of various social science disciplines dealing with these feminist embossed questions.


In biology , “femininity” is understood as “belonging to the female gender ” in the sense of one of two sexes, which are based on physicalities, flower shapes, etc. a. were historically defined by biology itself and some of its representatives, or by the production of female gametes , which in multicellular animals is usually associated with the laying of eggs or the birth of offspring. Zoologically cf. Females .

Biology has long been known to be bisexual (see hermaphroditism ), non-bipolar gender assignments, etc. Some behavior seen as female or male can be traced back to hormonal differences in men and women under biological interpretations. A meta study by the University of California found that people and animals under stress release oxytocin , which has a calming, relationship-promoting effect. The female hormone estrogen enhances this effect, while the male hormone testosterone weakens the oxytocin effect, which in men tends to lead to the typical stress reactions such as aggressiveness or flight, while women tend to strengthen caring functions or social bonds under stress.

Sociology and Social Psychology

From a sociological or socio-psychological point of view, biological and social gender factors are at least equally important, with a great influence being attached to social expectations of gender role conformity (see: social role ). As a female, womanly , or feminine , and only the - - women to apply ideas meet the particular socio-cultural environment of "femininity". In this way paradoxes such as the attribute "unfeminine woman" or the term "man-woman" arise. Since it is difficult for some people to understand that people cannot be divided into this binary grid, explanations for non-conforming women (and men) are sought in biology. The gender non-conformity with the biological sex is mostly rated negatively. One example is the idea of ​​the “ Virago ”, with which women are defamed who, physically or through their behavior, do not correspond to the “norm of femininity”.

"Femininity" also means the projection of a bundle of norms that are set by society or groups of a society for girls and women. Like other norms, you can, for example, define them differently for yourself , even identify with them completely or reject them entirely.

These norms regarding femininity relate to appearance, behavior, skills, needs, rights and functions in society etc. and are derived from gender models, in the case of people of the female sex the image of women etc.

“Femininity” is subject to social change - just as the ideas of masculinity are subject to change (cf. Zeitgeist ). In the last decades since the 1968 movement, so-called androgynous expressions and behaviors have been tolerated and partially recognized by women in the western world.

The sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies , who welcomed the women's movement , recorded the observation in community and society in 1887 that especially in his time, but also in many other cultures, the " feminine " of the " community ", the " masculine " of the " society " is assigned. Early German sociology largely avoided the subject, regardless of subtle contributions such as B. by Georg Simmel .

In the early 1960s, Betty Friedan (USA) examined the production and reproduction of traditional female and mother roles, for example through advertising, in her work: The Feminine Mania .

In his work The Male Rule , the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu describes the long-term process of socializing the biological and the biologization of the social in the bodies and in the minds . Accordingly, the sexes are socialized habitus . Femininity is constructed and is perpetuated through symbolic ways of communication and exercise of power as well as through recognition of male dominance .

Cultural conception of "femininity"

Femininity in the Western cultural area

As an aftereffect of the women's movement , one can only speak of a “determining role model” to a limited extent. As an overview, the following views in the cultural area of ​​Central Europe can be cited as widespread prejudices about what is "particularly feminine":

In contrast to most other cultures, “fertility” has been on the decline since the 20th century.

Femininity in Islam

To the theological foundation

The Qur'an recognizes the difference between men and women ( your task is indeed different. Sura 92 : 4) and emphasizes the subordination of women to men ( men are responsible for women, because Allah is the one before has distinguished others and because they give of their wealth ( sura 4:34 , but men are one step above them ( sura 2: 228)). One of the differences is that it is the woman's job to give birth to offspring ( your wives are a seed field for you; therefore cultivate your seed field as you want. Sura 2 : 223), while the man is responsible for the maintenance. Social sanctions against wives are justified ( and those whose rebelliousness you fear: exhort them, avoid them in the marriage bed and beat them! Sura 4:34).

Current interpretations of the Koran and the relevant explanatory hadiths are more feminist, even if they do not equate women and men. Thus, according to the new interpretation , the word ḍaraba in Sura 4:34 is no longer only translated as "to beat", but also, for example, as "go away", "separate" or "painlessly clap". In addition, hadiths with a feminist message are particularly emphasized. ("Paradise is at the feet of the mothers")

Real cultural differences

In the reality of largely Islamic societies there are quite different roles for women , if one compares e.g. B. Algeria, the northern part of Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Indonesia. Even within individual states - such as Egypt - there are major differences between a cosmopolitan city like Cairo and the Bedouins of the desert. These differences can also be found in other cultures , such as Northern Europe or China, albeit with different social differentiations.

Critique of Islamic Feminism on Western Feminism

The main criticism of Islamic feminism of Western feminism is its postulation of an equality between men and women, which does not exist at all and which in practice only leads to women being measured by male standards (e.g. success at work and career ). Such criticism is similar to some Christian or conservative viewpoints in the 'West'.

See also


  • Simone de Beauvoir : The opposite sex . Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1988, ISBN 3-499-16621-6 .
  • Silvia Bovenschen : The imagined femininity. Exemplary studies on cultural-historical and literary forms of presentation of the feminine . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1980.
  • Pierre Bourdieu : The male rule . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2005.
  • Judith Butler : Body of Weight . The discursive boundaries of gender . Berlin 1995.
  • Judith Butler: The Discomfort of the Sexes . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1991.
  • Hélène Cixous : Femininity in Scripture . Merve, Berlin 1980.
  • Jacques Derrida : Gender. Sexual difference, ontological difference . Vienna 1988.
  • Jacques Derrida: The law of the species. In: Jacques Derrida: Shores . Passagen, Vienna 1994, pp. 245ff.
  • Sarah Diehl: Images of Femininity. A conversation with Sarah Diehl. In: Mammopolis. Edited by Marvin Chlada , Alibri-Verlag: Aschaffenburg 2006, p. 3ff.
  • Franz X. Eder: The historicization of the sexual subject. In: Austrian Journal of History. 5th year. Issue 3/1994, p. 311 ff.
  • Ute Frevert : Man and woman, and woman and man. Gender differences in modern times . Munich 1995.
  • Ute Frevert: women's story. Between civil improvement and new femininity . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1991.
  • Betty Friedan : The mania for femininity or the self-liberation of women . Rowohlt, Reinbek 1988.
  • Elke Frietsch: "The cultural problem of women". Images of Femininity in the Art of National Socialism . Böhlau, Vienna 2006, ISBN 978-3-412-35505-0 .
  • Roger Garaudy : The weaker sex . Munich 1985.
  • Donna Haraway: Reinventing Nature. Primates, cyborgs and women . Frankfurt am Main 1995.
  • Luce Irigaray : Ethics of Sexual Difference . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1991.
  • Luce Irigaray: The gender that is not one . Merve, Berlin 1979.
  • Luce Irigaray: Speculum. Mirror of the opposite sex . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1990.
  • Barbara Johnson: My Monster - My Self. In: Barbara Vinken (Ed.): Deconstructive Feminism . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1992, pp. 130ff.
  • Frank Keller, Sabine August (ed.): Weibs-Bilder. Texts and pictures . Bankruptcy book, Tübingen 2008
  • Bettine Menke: Deconstruction of the gender opposition. In: Erika Haas (Ed.): Confusion of the sexes . Munich 1995, p. 35ff.
  • Fatima Mernissi : The political harem. Mohammed and the women. ISBN 3-451-04104-9 .
  • Kate Millett : Sex and Domination . 1970, ISBN 0-86068-029-0 .
  • George L. Mosse: The image of the man. To the construction of modern masculinity . Frankfurt am Main 1997.
  • Ulrike Prokop : Female context in life. From the limitations of strategies and the inappropriateness of desires. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1976
  • Edith Saurer : Love, Gender Relations and Feminism. In: L'Homme. Journal of Feminist History . 8th year. Issue 1, 1997, p. 6ff.
  • Bettina Schmitz: Femininity in Psychoanalysis . Passagen, Vienna 1996.
  • Ruth Seifert: Military, Culture, Identity. Individualization, gender relations and the social construction of the soldier man . Bremen 1996.
  • Klaus Theweleit : Male fantasies . Red Star, Frankfurt am Main 1995.
  • Nicole Wachter: Interferences. Gender research . Passagen, Vienna 2001, ISBN 3-85165-506-0 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Femininity  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


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  2. FEMALE, f. In: Jacob Grimm , Wilhelm Grimm (Hrsg.): German dictionary . 16 volumes in 32 sub-volumes, 1854–1960. S. Hirzel, Leipzig ( woerterbuchnetz.de ).
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