Will Femininity and Power Ever Get Along?

It’s not easy identifying as a woman in this world. To paraphrase Liz Lemon, being a woman can be the worst because of society. There are strict social standards by which women must be measured at some point; it’s impossible not to be. And boy, do those standards start early. Just thinking back to when I was kid, I remember so many princesses! Disney princesses, mostly. Beautiful, thin, graceful princesses. Princess culture can easily dominate a young girl’s life.

Artist David Trumble has something to say about it. Back when there was a flap about how Merida, the heroine from the animated film Brave, was revamped, Trumble responded by producing drawings of 10 female role models in a very Disney princess mold. (Don’t worry; he’s not calling Anne Frank the “Holocaust Princess,” thank goodness.)

Trumble’s point was to show how unnecessary it is to flatten our heroines so they fit some narrow, prescribed form. As reported in Women You Should Know, Trumble writes:

“My experience of female role models both in culture and in life has shown me that there is no mold for what makes someone a role model, and the whole point of Merida was that she was a step in the right direction, providing girls with an alternative kind of princess. Then they took two steps back, and painted her with the same glossy brush as the rest. So I decided to take 10 real-life female role models, from diverse experiences and backgrounds, and filter them through the Disney princess assembly line.

Fiction is the lens through which young children first perceive role models, so we have a responsibility to provide them with a diverse and eclectic selection of female archetypes. Now, I’m not even saying that girls shouldn’t have princesses in their lives, the archetype in and of itself is not innately wrong, but there should be more options to choose from. So that was my intent, to demonstrate how ridiculous it is to paint an entire gender of heroes with one superficial brush.”

That’s definitely something I can get behind. (Plus, his drawings are kind of adorable, don’t you think? I wonder if he would draw me as a princess.)

However, it didn’t take very long for me to realize that, despite the artist’s good intentions, not everyone enjoyed these drawings. I had several friends admit that they were a little insulted by the pictures. They felt that depicting such powerful and influential women in such a way diminished their accomplishments. I have to admit, a part of me felt the same way. However, I think this type of thinking is problematic.

Let’s examine for a second why someone might be insulted by the drawings and why someone might feel that they diminish the accomplishments of these impressive women. I think it comes down to our definition of power and what we as a society consider weak. Weak, in our culture, tends to mean feminine.

Search your feelings, Lord Vader. You know it to be true. We see it in young kids as well as adults. There’s nothing worse you can call a boy than a girl. Hell, almost any derogatory name you can call a man refers to something feminine; that’s rarely the case for women. (Yes, there are insults you can hurl at women that degrade men, but they don’t carry the social weight that the feminine names can. Even women are hurt when you call them a bitch.) The fact that this and this and this exist should be an indication that women can’t just be themselves in the workplace. Our definition of power rewards traits we have defined as masculine and, evidently, women don’t wear them well. Men are assertive, women are aggressive. When a woman takes care of her child, she’s doing her womanly duty. When a man does the same thing, he’s babysitting.

Do you see what I’m getting at, here? We are inundated from day one with messages that being a woman or at all feminine is not desirable. It’s hard for everyone to avoid the trap.

Which brings me back to Trumble’s drawings and some of the reactions to it. Why should Ruth Bader Ginsberg be considered less of a BAMF because she’s wearing a sparkly dress? Are Marie Curie’s discoveries any less groundbreaking because she’s wearing impractical shoes? Is Malala Yousafzai any less inspiring because she’s wearing a tiara? I don’t think so. Femininity doesn’t demean any of their accomplishments, only our perception of them.

I don’t want anyone to come away with the idea that I think the princessification of real life female role models is something we should strive for. I don’t. Nor do I think it’s a good idea for young girls to be accosted with messages that, in order to be happy, they must act in a certain way. Trumble is absolutely right that there is no need to cram all of these strong and intelligent women into one bland archetype. What I am saying is that femininity should not be a bar to power and success, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jerome S
Jerome S2 years ago


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Rekha S5 years ago

Yes we need female heroes that are not a raving beauty.

Joan E.
Joan E5 years ago

As I see it, a woman's looks should be considered as irrelevant to her accomplishments in the world as a man's looks are considered irrelevant to his accomplishments in the world. Some of us happen to be considered by some to be or more or less pleasing to the eye than others. But whatever you happen to look like, you also have a brain. You also have a heart. You also have interests. There is something each one of us can do to contribute to the world in some way that will show who we really are and what makes us matter to those around us. This, to me, is deeper and more lasting than what we happen to look like.

Keith H.
Keith H5 years ago

Thank you

Carole R.
Carole R5 years ago

Of course famine women can be powerful. Famine does not mean weak and helpless.

Nikolas Karman
Nikolas K5 years ago

True femininity is power.

Deborah J.
Deborah J5 years ago

Honestly - associating leadership and accomplishment with typically masculine characteristics has resulted in the promotion of underqualified men and the suppression of otherwise qualified women.

What I hope is that gains in familiarity with and acceptance of nontraditional gender orientation and identity will help all people get along according to their abilities. Those who want to work for the common good are welcome. All others, take your gameplaying elsewhere.

Joanna W.
Joanna W5 years ago

lets hope yes!!

Bridget Robertson

I knew about Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, and others as a child. There pictures were probably shown once to me. They and others became role models. I had a lot of strong women in my family. My very German Catholic grandmother divorced her first husband in 1933 for being unfaithful. And both grandmothers worked, my mom worked and held chief of nursing positions. The problem with Farytales is we don't have the real tale. Older versions are very complex with some very good role models. I get that he wanted "Merida" to have a different image. And it was more out of the box for Disney than most of their tales or renderings. And yes women struggle endlessly to fit in. Some of the most beautiful images I have of women are indigenous, over sixty and zero any Western trappings. I fight everyday for women. As women we have to see the stereotype and then make a very firm stance of NO!! My grandmothers were not influenced by media. They were the two most beautiful women I knew. And they did not struggle with body issues. They struggled to keep food on the table. Something that has returned in very serious ways.