I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day where we explored several crucial ideas regarding the intersection of patriarchal norms and the pursuit of romantic love.

While we didn’t think the concept that life is incomplete without romantic love is inherently patriarchal – but has been long enough that it could be viewed as such – it definitely becomes problematic when presented as the sole or most important means to achieve fulfilment and success in life (Little Women, anyone?).

Young girls are often taught or signalled to that their desirability is their most significant asset, with the aim of securing a marriage.

This message is perpetuated by patriarchal norms and gender stereotypes that place a disproportionate emphasis on women’s appearance and perceived desirability, particularly within the context of heteronormative romantic relationships.

People make money off our insecurities.

The messaging that a woman’s worth is primarily determined by her ability to attract and maintain male attention is tied to the patriarchal, capitalist machine that profits off of women’s anxieties and insecurities.

It perpetuates the idea that women must constantly strive to meet certain beauty standards and adhere to gender norms in order to be considered valuable and desirable to men (and in general).

This societal pressure creates a market for beauty products, fashion, and other industries that profit off of women’s anxieties around their appearance and social status.

Women are sold the idea that they need to invest in products or services to enhance their appearance or increase their perceived desirability in order to achieve happiness and success.

And then charged more for the pleasure of conforming.

This reinforces patriarchal power structures with the idea that women’s primary role in society is to be objectified and desired by men.

Which perpetuates the notion that men are the ones in power and control, and women must meet their expectations and desires in order to achieve social and economic success.

This narrow focus on women’s desirability is limiting and harmful.

It creates a sense of pressure and anxiety around dating and relationships, as women feel they must constantly meet certain expectations to be considered attractive or desirable to men.

It also restricts women’s sense of self-worth and perpetuates the notion that their primary role in life is to be an object of desire for men.

It also means women face constant questions about when they’re getting married and having children.

To counter these harmful societal messages we must challenge patriarchal norms and promote the fact that women are complete and valuable in and of themselves, regardless of their relationship status or appearance.

Performing femininity refers to the ways in which individuals, typically women, conform to societal expectations and norms regarding femininity.

This can include behaviours, mannerisms, and appearance choices that are traditionally associated with femininity, such as wearing makeup, dressing in feminine clothing, and displaying emotional expressiveness.

Performing femininity is a result of societal pressures to conform to gender norms.

Women are often socialized from a young age to perform femininity in order to fit into societal expectations of what it means to be a woman.

We need to create a culture that values women for their talents, skills, and abilities, rather than solely on their appearance or ability to attract male attention.

Performing femininity is harmful in a number of ways.

Particularly in reinforcing gender stereotypes and expectations that limit the experiences and opportunities of women and those who identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Performing femininity reinforces societal expectations of what it means to be a woman, such as being nurturing, emotional, and passive.

This limits women’s experiences and opportunities, such as being taken seriously in the workplace or in positions of leadership, as these traits are often seen as less desirable or valuable.

It also lead to the devaluation of traits that are traditionally associated with masculinity, such as assertiveness or ambition.

Performing femininity is harmful to individuals who don’t conform to traditional gender norms.

This can be non-binary or gender non-conforming individuals who may feel pressure to perform femininity in order to fit into societal expectations of what it means to be a woman, which can lead to a sense of discomfort or dysphoria, as they may not feel fully aligned with their gender identity.

Performing femininity is particularly harmful for people who face discrimination and prejudice, as it can reinforce gender stereotypes and expectations that are used to justify such discrimination, such as:

  1. Women in the workplace may feel pressure to conform to traditional feminine stereotypes, such as being nurturing and emotional, which can lead to them being overlooked for leadership positions or being seen as less competent than their male colleagues.
  2. Transgender individuals may face discrimination and prejudice for not conforming to traditional gender norms, which can lead to social isolation, harassment, and violence.
  3. People of colour may face intersectional discrimination based on both their race and gender, which can lead to them being stereotyped as submissive or exoticised.
  4. Queer people who perform femininity may face discrimination from both the LGBTQ+ community and society at large, as their expression may be seen as reinforcing harmful stereotypes.

It’s vital to challenge these stereotypes and promote gender as a spectrum, and that individuals should be free to express their gender in ways that feel authentic to their own identities.

Romantic love is just one way to find meaning and purpose in life.

Romantic love is often portrayed as the ultimate source of happiness and fulfilment, but it’s important to recognise that it’s not the only way to find meaning and purpose in life.

You can find fulfilment and purpose through your work, hobbies, friendships, spirituality, volunteering, and personal growth.

While romantic relationships can bring joy and support, they are also challenging and can’t always provide you with everything you need.

And neither should they!

It’s unrealistic to expect that any single relationship, romantic or not, should give you everything you need.

It’s essential to cultivate a sense of self-worth and independence, focus on your relationship with yourself.

This way, you can grow as an individual and avoid relying solely on external factors to define your happiness and sense of self-worth.

Individuals are complete and valuable in and of themselves, irrespective of their relationship status.

Our worth as human beings does not depend on whether we are in a relationship or not, and we should never base our sense of self-worth on our relationship status.

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