On the Nature of Challenges

The bookshelf in the house I grew up in was long dominated by a set of children’s books my Mom picked for me from a monthly book club thing. It was a whole series about historically significant people that gave me the firmest grasp on historical biographies I’ve ever had. Among the books on Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur- who for some reason was my favorite- was the biography of Jackie Robinson.

Even to my 5 year old mind, Jackie Robinson was impressive. The simply narrated book said that even from a very young age, Jackie Robinson always challenged himself. Since I was a young age, I took this to be directly applicable to me and started setting challenges for myself immediately. Yeah but I was 5, so these challenges were more like never again stepping on a crack in the sidewalk and things like that, they weren’t targeted to affect real growth in any way. I like to think that now the challenges I set for myself are targeted and do contribute to personal growth, but is an inner monologue of constant challenge the most effective way to think?

Though the compulsive challenge setting made me a great student during high school and university, I’ve also consistently struggled with anxiety. How much challenge is the right amount? And does anxiety result more from inwardly set challenges than outwardly imposed ones? 


I was recently part of a conversation involving someone who hadn’t heard of hyper-masculinity before. My partner is very involved in anti-sexism and especially hyper-masculinity awareness. After he and I had both put forth the aspects and behaviors that we think define hyper masculinity, the question of whether hyper-femininity exists was brought up. I immediately said there must be- it didn’t make sense to think that extreme gender expression could or would only be performed by those identifying as male.

But how would this be characterized? Is there something so intrinsically institutionalized and part of patriarchal socialization that makes hyper gender expression only a phenomenon of masculinity?

In subsequent conversations, people have put forth different viewpoints that fall into a couple of categories:

1.       Hyper-femininity does not exist because there is no violent aspect to acting as females “should” in the eyes of society.

2.       Hyper-femininity exists and is defined by the actions and activities sanctioned by society that have violent consequences or externalities.

The stance that hyper-femininity doesn’t exist is supported by the many domestic type pursuits wrapped up in the societal conception of femininity. Who is hurt or getting upset when men are cooked for and cleaned up after? Really though, the feminine stereotype conforming people are. Does expression of gender have to be outwardly violent in order to be labeled “hyper?” There is so much internalized oppression that isn’t covered by this- which brings me to the second viewpoint, the one which I believe may be closer to grasping the situation.

Hyper-femininity does exist, and is seen through outward actions such as bullying others for not conforming to societally induced grooming standards, but also through internalized oppression like feeling anxiety about what is considered “proper” sexual behavior or the ever-present concern over physical appearance.

This led me to the much more radical thought that concepts of masculinity and femininity as sets of behaviors with any kind of borders are inherently violent- forcing people to define themselves by other’s standards and constantly being rated on their compliance or non-compliance with this imposed structure. Which especially makes sense when considering gender non-conforming people and trans individuals.

The concept of hyper-femininity also concerns me because I find myself unconsciously fitting into many, many of the feminine stereotypes, especially the domestically based ones like cooking- and knitting- and baking- and sewing…okay so most of the things. I’m not going to reject these pursuits because society tells me they’re inherently feminine, that would be a return to the rejection of craft committed by first wave feminists. So how does hyper-femininity fit into the equation- and what can be done about it?