Here is one explanation for it and here are some visual examples.
Perhaps you’ve already seen some examples of weaponized femininity, mostly through sayings such as: “Eyeliner so sharp it could kill a man,” or with figurative references to red lipstick as the blood of the female wearer’s enemies, or women referring to their lipstick as a weapon. Other examples would be women and teenaged girls having a belief in the idea that femininity is power and that it grants them power over men.
Some feminist criticisms of it is that this perspective (i.e.: that femininity is about power) contradicts the oppressive construction of femininity. What femininity actually is in a male-dominated culture and society is vulnerability and submission for men’s benefit and that it is a sexualizing and infantilizing diminution of female people.
For research and analytical purposes I would recommend, for anyone interested, reading*:
The links provided are to summaries and previews*
Femininity, by Susan Brownmiller summary and preview.
Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression, Sandra Bartky preview.
Beauty and Misogyny, by Sheila Jeffreys preview.
What feminists are arguing is that for females to be feminine is not something inherent to us. Feminists are, in most factions, primarily social determinists who are of the opinion that male and female patterns of behavior are the result of cultural conditioning and social factors, what we call socialization. When applied to an analysis of gender, in this case femininity, women and girls conforming to femininity is criticized as the result of the psychological impacts of growing up in a society where there is an incredible amount of emphasis on female people removing the physical (and behavioral) markers of maturity.
In the West and in Westernizing cultures, this results in women waxing and shaving away body hair, tweezing, trimming, and plucking away facial hair, trying to remove indicators of them getting older by buying anti-aging creams and gels, undergoing skin-tightening “rejuvenation” laser surgery treatments, applying make-up to cover the appearance of wrinkles, receiving botox injections to remove facial lines such as glabella “frown lines”, engaging in unhealthy dieting and obsessively exercising to reduce body fat, and more. The flip side of women striving to achieve a standard of appearance that results in them taking up less space and looking younger than they actually are is the sexualizing of teenaged and adolescent girls who are expected to compete with the idealized body shape of adult women while maintaining an air and reputation of “innocence.” It is a sexist, impractical and unrealistic standard of conduct that no one can constantly live up to and growing up in a society that promotes these ideals has many negative effects.
For documentaries presenting this perspective you might want to watch:
Sexy Inc. (2007) (full documentary)
Miss Representation (2011) (8 minute trailer)
Sexy Baby (2012) (official trailer) - The segments on the girl Winnifred explores the impact of growing up female in a sexually explicit culture that is influencing younger and younger girls.
The lessons of femininity is that women and girls are encouraged to self-objectify and constantly compare themselves to one another. This fuels girl-hate or women-hate where we envy and hate another woman or girl because she more closely measures up to a standard of femininity that attracts [more] male attention. When all is said and done, after the facial contouring, after downing the diet pills or that SlimFast shake, after squeezing into those high heels or tight dress or mini-skirt, or after strapping on that push-up bra, men benefit the most from women and girls being feminine. We, the women and girls, end up with the higher rates of body image disorders, eating disorders, and mental health issues because we internalize femininity and our sense of self and value is deeply entangled with this oppressive construct.
For more on this you can watch:
The Sexy Lie, Caroline Heldman at TEDxYouth@SanDiego
And the documentary:
THIN (2006) (full documentary)
The point is: “weaponized femininity” gives women and girls the false impression that femininity is empowering to us rather than disempowering. It tells us that us spending thousands of dollars in our lifetime trying to reach an oppressive standard of appearance is edgy, feminist, sexy, or good for our mental health and physical well-being despite the evidence to the contrary. It also ignores the aspect of femininity that is about putting us back in our place so that men can remain comfortable with the more softly spoken, uncomfortable, insecure, plasticized, infantilized woman (who could also be experiencing physical pain because of the feminizing practices she’s subjecting herself to) by their side. The expectation that the feminine woman is supposed to accommodate the masculine man is also a part of society. It is not just patriarchal, it is also heteronormative.
To want to address female femininity in this way is controversial. In today’s liberal Third Wave of feminism (particularly in the West), femininity is treated as if sacred and is put on a pedestal where to criticize femininity is “femphobic” or “femmephobic”. It is perceived in liberal feminist discourse as something that cannot be negatively analyzed as destructive to the self-esteem of women and girls and limiting to not only their mobility but also their self-concept.