Discovering the Truth About Femininity and Flowers

Have you ever wondered why women and flowers became so inextricably linked? Read this Bookstr Trivia to find out!

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Muted background with lightly drawn flowers and a large butterfly next to the silhouette of a woman with her hair blowing in the wind.

Have you ever wondered why paintings of goddesses in ancient mythology worldwide are shown with flowers adorned in their hair, regardless the culture or religion they represent? Or when giving women flowers for graduations, birthdays, and anniversaries became customary? The same cannot be said for men, who often appear in mythology, paintings, stories, and real life without flowers in their hands or in their hair.

For so long, flowers have been tied to femininity that they have become an unquestioned aspect of society, something that feels so natural that it is as if nature itself bound the two elements together. Let’s look deeper into the time-honored tradition that tethers femininity with flowers. 

Ancient Beginnings and Modern Disaster

Though it would be impossible to pinpoint the exact moment that someone associated flowers with femininity, multiple cultures have used the tradition of flower crowns as adornment for the purpose of celebration and love. Ancient Greeks wore flower crowns in ceremonies and religious celebrations as a sign of devotion to their gods. To this day, Ukrainian and Chinese societies have deeply developed traditions of flower crowns for celebrations such as weddings and holidays. 

Some modern pagans believe that the feminine power accentuated by traditional flower decoration has been lost to modern American society because of the separation of humanity from the natural world. The condemnation of witches — or women who used herbs and flowers to connect with the earth’s natural energies — led to the destruction of these traditions and was an attack on matriarchal values believed to be threatening by modern patriarchal societies.

The Artistic Connection

However, since at least the Middle Ages, floral analogies have been commonly used in art, literature, and philosophy to celebrate femininity. Even the Bible has been interpreted to conclude the deep connection between flowers and women, using a white lily to represent the Virgin Mary and sexual purity.

Nineteenth century painting of a woman sitting in a garden looking lovingly at her flowers. She is wearing a classic looking yellow skirted dress.
IMAGE VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ROBERT LEWIS REID

This was the beginning of the modern trend of using flowers to represent feminine nature, with Renaissance painters including a single bloom or bouquet of flowers to represent beauty and fertility. Then, in the nineteenth century, painters upgraded to visualizing women in gardens and flower fields, blending the women with the flowers as much as possible to create unity between the two forces. 

Flowers and Female Anatomy

Flowers are not simply associated with women for the sake of decoration but also because of the commonalities between floral anatomy and female anatomy. In fact, Georgia O’Keefe was known for painting flowers that were often confused for provocatively painted female genitalia.  

The confusion was not unfounded due to the sexually reproductive nature of flowers. Like human reproduction, the plant’s female part requires germination by a (male-oriented) pollen grain to fertilize the ovum (an actual part of the flower), which will then swell and produce seeds and fruit. Though it is undoubtedly a less loud and painful process than human childbirth, flowers and females have more in common than initially meets the eye — at least when it comes to their progeny. 

Beauty in the Individual

It is natural, then, for women to feel drawn to flowers, as they so often do, adoring the sight, the color, and the smell of this marvelous creation of the earth. It is no wonder that most women feel drawn to specific types of flowers. Each variation of the flower has its own unique symbolism, from the previously mentioned calla lilies, which symbolize purity, to carnations, which stand for pride, and roses and tulips, which declare romantic love.

Book cover shows the book title, Floral Poetry and the Language of Flowers in ornate script against a solid yellow background with flowers encircling the title.
IMAGE VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The list of flower symbolism is so extensive that in the Victorian Era, flowers were used by women to encode secret messages to friends, enemies, and lovers. This language of flowers enforced the idea that just as each flower is unique and singular, so too are the women who choose to utilize them. 

Flowers in Literature

There are numerous examples of floral symbols in literature, like in art. In William Shakespeare’s most famous work, Romeo and Juliet, a rose represents the passion of the star-crossed lovers who are doomed to die for their love. The rose is also associated with the feminine goddess of sexual love, Aphrodite, in Greek mythology.

Alice in Wonderland book cover of an illustration of the white rabbit and Alice following with flowers and card surrounding them.
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP

Alternatively, in Lewis Carroll’s children’s story Alice in Wonderland, a daisy chain made by Alice represents her innocence and purity. A daisy is also used in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as the primary love interest of the titular protagonist, Daisy Buchanan.

These metaphors for femininity and innocence provide a visual effect for each reader who imagines the characters as the flowers themselves. While Alice’s daisy chain reflects her virtuousness, the image evoked by a daisy for Daisy Buchanan provides the reader with a visual façade that hides her true, less-than-amazing nature.

A world without flowers — like a world without women — would be a dull, grey, unremarkable place, without the innate beauty and color that both the feminine and the flower endeavor to share. In literature and art, floral symbolism adds a layer of imagery, meaning, and color to represent uniquely feminine subjects in unforgettable ways.


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