I did, once upon a time, read Ulysses by James Joyce. And I did, once upon a Mediterranean cruise, enjoy parts of it along with some quotes I saved. Seeings it is Bloomsday, June 16, the singular day on which all 265,000 words and 18 episodes of the novel canonically take place, I can hardly miss this opportunity to share one of those quotes.
One of these is not like the others.
Ulysses was written a hundred years ago this year, and somehow the issues that Joyce presents in it are still largely relevant today, including this passing reference to feminism and how it was seen. Recently I watched a well-thought-out and entertainingly presented video essay/diatribe/reflection by Galatea of The Authentic Observer YouTube channel on how trivializing and erasing femininity has become normalized and even celebrated. (Albeit long, episodic, and sometimes meandering, much like Joyce’s masterpiece, Galatea’s video is full of valuable insights and humour.) Ironically, and perversely, a lot of this anti-femininity has somehow slipped into our culture under the guise of “feminism.” Apparently saying that women who want equality actually just want to be men has been going on a while, probably originally used as a method of discrediting the movement, but now this view seems to have been genuinely espoused by a lot of the “woke” feminism these days.
Now before we get all off on the wrong foot here, women can be masculine to varying degrees, the same as men can be more or less feminine. But when did we collectively decide that women (or men, frankly) had to display predominantly masculine traits to be treated fairly, taken seriously, or valued? When did being “manly” become the rallying cry of the feminist? It’s nonsensical. It’s a bad deal for the women who are naturally more feminine, and it’s definitely a bad deal for society that it is not reaping the benefits that appreciated and valued femininity (whether contributed by a man or woman) can offer it. Because we do know that femininity isn’t just frilly skirts and delicacy, right? Things like, I don’t know, gentleness? Beauty? Fine skills? Art? Nurturing? Diplomacy? Comforting? Insight? Balance?
And before you go all, “but men can demonstrate those things, too!” yes, I know, I added that parenthetical statement in the last paragraph for a reason. Because, yes, men can have feminine qualities and still be men, same as women can have masculine qualities and still be women; neither sex is a monolith, and people have varying degrees of masculine and feminine traits. The point is, both the masculine and feminine have real positive value and should be represented and appreciated, not pitted against each other or one valued more highly than the otherr. There’s a reason they both exist—to complement and harmonize with one another, yet provide different aspects needed to cover a whole range of life conditions.
So go off, be a feminist who is masculine like in Ulysses. Or be a feminist who is feminine. Or don’t be a feminist, but support equality and appreciate people’s positive traits no matter what box they seem to check anyway.