Finding My Femininity

Rosie the Riveter.

Recently, I was at a retreat for the Rising Voices Fellowship in Boston. At one point I was helping our mentor carry food and supplies from the hotel to another staff member’s car. On the walk, she noted my strength—at the time I was carrying a box of water bottles in one hand and a bag of supplies in the other. Now, I didn’t take this comment as anything other than a compliment. I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I’m a physically strong woman, but this wasn’t always the case.

Later that week I was at a lacrosse game, helping two of my teammates push a goal post across the field to its designated spot. As I pushed the posts to align with the painted lines, I heard one of the other girls say: “Ilana has always been, like, weirdly strong.” It wasn’t said with judgment, but it still flicked a switch in my mind, reminding me of all the moments people have commented on my strength. There was the time I was helping some guys stack chairs and the girls standing off to the side clapped. There was the time in Israel when I and two others girls piled all the girls’ suitcases below the bus instead of asking the boys to do it. The word, “weird,” struck me, because that’s how I always used to feel when people pointed out my strength.

I was weird for being strong. “Weird” because physical strength is not often an attribute associated with women. “Weird” because I wasn’t like other girls, because I wasn’t “feminine.” Though I value my strength today, I still have to contend with the fact that I live in a society that sees my strength as inherently un-feminine.

A “feminine” girl should play with dolls. They should wear dresses. Their favorite color has to be pink. They don’t like pirates or superheroes. They like princesses and being damsels in distress. They have to be smaller, cuter, dumber, nicer, and weaker than their stereotypical male counterparts. For a long time I felt I wasn’t “girly” enough because I didn’t check off every box on this imagined list.

Because I felt that I wasn’t a feminine girl, I pushed myself into the role of tomboy. I refused to wear dresses and rejected the color pink. In doing so, I also rejected a piece of myself. I would not have admitted it to anybody in middle school, but I actually loved princess movies and found pirates boring.

I hid these parts of myself because I didn’t see how I could fall into multiple categories. I had to either be a girly girl or a tomboy. I didn’t understand at the time that these two ideas are horribly flawed and simplistic ways to label people. I know that now, though.

“Feminine” was and is still used to describe an antiquated image of what it means to be a woman. But today, women are defying these norms and stereotypes more and more boldly each day. We fight by simply living our lives outside of expectations. Women tear down these antiquated ideas of femininity by living their own types of feminine. I am committed to reclaiming and reshaping the idea of femininity in my own life by embracing both my physical strength and my love of dresses and princess movies.

For me, at the end of the day the word “feminine” can’t suggest that women are weak, or else it must be a meaningless term. The one unifying factor, for all women, is that we’re strong.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Jacobs, Ilana. "Finding My Femininity." 7 June 2019. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 22, 2023) <>.

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