Using the word ‘feminine’ in the title of my blog has not come easily. In fact, in the way the word is generally used, even hearing myself say it still makes me cringe. I remind myself this is a reclamation, a rising up of the real deal from a barren, dry landscape of forgetting.
In fact, it took a journey into darkness, a journey that turned my understanding of life upside-down, in order to re-discover the word ‘feminine’ and its significance in our times. This journey is about how a pissed off, white woman found her humanity and a profound sense of purpose in the heart of shitty, crazy times in our country. The story of that journey, and the dots I have connected subsequently are chronicled in a series of essays (some complete, some pending) about the inner work of citizenship, about post-patriarchal values, relationships, and an emerging, devotional love of our World.
We are not just a skin-encapsulated ego, a soul encased in flesh. We are each other and we are the world.
― Charles Eisenstein
The first essay shares an account of how Donald Trump had everything and nothing to do with all this – how he perfectly, though inadvertently, catalyzed in my mind and heart a whole new frontier for Citizenship.
But, first, something more about that troublesome word feminine…
Like many other women, prescriptions from childhood to be “this” or “that” kind of girl live painfully in my cellular memory, goading me to be ‘nice,’ accommodating, thoughtful and kind. Growing into puberty, I learned to define the fledgling power and potential of my sexuality and embodiment in terms of what was pleasing to men, assigning my value to my appearance and how it measured up in their imagined gaze. This was fun in the beginning until the disturbingly run-of-the-mill bulimia and date-rape kicked in.
In college, my resistance to the word feminine grew when I was born into feminism relatively late in the second wave, off the pages of Betty Friedan’s foundational tome, “The Feminine Mystique.” Pointing to the psychologically and physically crippling ways (white), post-war women abandoned their vitality, capacity, and pleasure in deference to (domesticated) expectations of femininity, Friedan’s writing forged a compact amongst women that has lasted generations: Avoid this territory of the ‘feminine’ at all costs.
In the years that followed, as a queer activist, I then became aware of how the word feminine trilled half of the patriarchal gender binary, something valiantly challenged by the trans/non-binary movement in support of more embodied authenticity and cultural flexiblity. Using the word seemed to unavoidably invoke it’s polarized opposite – masculine – reifying the idea that one can and must only be either a masculine man or a feminine women.
Finally, there was the new-age problem and the “divine feminine”. Visions of women in flowy clothes prancing around imaginary temples, disturbed and, frankly, threatened me. I wanted nothing to do with what felt like a hyper-heterosexual, (largely white), airy party of giggling women. I had been raised to prove myself just as intelligent and capable in academia as any man. Why I would want to take off my credentials to run around in the wind hailing Gaia was beyond me. (Oy. Any internalized patriarchy here!?)
By adulthood, (married, now, to a straight (cis) man), ‘feminine’ came to feel like a pair of underwear I didn’t want to meet, a fringe, somewhat un-hinged spiritual movement or, in darker corners, a chamber of horrors I desperately wanted to escape from. With all this built up sentiment, I responded to a workshop questionnaire when asked about my associations with the word feminine in the following way: “Feminine feels like a self-abdication in the service of men. Being out of touch with the realities of life, weak.” I also remember, at the moment I was writing, feeling haunted by the voice of that nagging inner critic, forged in my childhood telling me that the real issue at hand, (and surely I knew this), was that I wasn’t and had never been feminine enough.
To anyone who has an aversion to the word “feminine” then – whatever your reason – I probably feel it too. In fact, over the past several months in preparing to release a blog with that word in its title, I’ve asked myself again and again if I really needed to use this word. Friends I’ve spoken to have politely shared their own doubts. “Really? Are you sure you want to use that word? Feminine?” Hearing this, and in response to my own doubts, I have gone back several times to the drawing board searching for something else.
But, time and again, I’ve been unable to do so. The surgical removal of this word from our vocabulary just doesn’t feel like an adequate solution.
The Patriarchal Hijack and a Tell-Tale Longing
For one, as I recount in my second essay, I didn’t find this word, it found me. I didn’t really want it. But I’m also not sure I would have had the courage, energy or love to write a word on this blog if it hadn’t. It was a bit like what it felt like to come out of the closet when I was 19 – I didn’t want to experience the shame of coming out as ‘lesbian’ but – even at a cost – I couldn’t shake something that felt essential to explore and express in myself. (Now married to a man, you could now call me a ‘has-bean’, (cis) female who champions the gender (r)evolution.)
For two, what I’ve been led to see is that the feminine I have resisted all these years is just not the real deal. It’s the patriarchal heist of something so profound, mystical, powerful and beautiful that much of Western Civilization has been built to defend against our knowing this.
Finally, as much as I’ve wanted to push the word feminine away, the charge around it feels like it belies a deep wound. The way it has become a proverbial hot-plate that either no one wants to touch or everyone has an opinion about seems points to something both precious and pained that says “see me.”
I’ve always been intrigued by our relationship to the things we reject. The things we keep at a distance are often (not always) the very things we need to spend time with in order to become more (honest with) ourselves. Yes, like many women today, I’ve developed plenty of capacity to do almost anything a man can do (barring some heavier lifting!). But, if I am to be honest – really honest, squirmingly honest – I have to cop to the fact that something feels missing. Now…many women like me know how hard it is to even say this. There is that much of a fresh wound, still, around being taken advantage of, misunderstood, diminished, mocked, assaulted even. But this longing, this sense of something missing as I say this, has nothing to do with not being thin enough, supplicant enough, or with wishing I could just be less argumentative or more receptive, charming and appealing. Rather, somewhere in the places in my life where my heart has softened, where time slows down and where I can feel the need for openness and vulnerability – both in myself or in others (men, too!)– I have felt an ache, a low-grade anxiety and a nagging sense of loss and separation. I believe these aches point in the direction of what Charles Eisenstein has called “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible,” something a bit elusive, but within reach, something precious, un-ruly and unknown that’s become lost to us and to the prevailing culture we live in.
A Series of Essays
In the following essays, then, I write about the journey that led me to a very different understanding of the word feminine, something that has felt (r)evolutionary. The first essay lays out the context of Trump’s election and how I felt its impact given childhood exposure to patriarchal, malignant narcissism. (See my memoir essay here.) I write about how the first six months of Trump’s presidency amounted to a wake-up-call that catapulted me into despair and hopelessness and how this drove me towards a process of personal reckoning that felt, nonetheless, like the hard, good work of deep citizenship.
In the second essay, I write about the process of waking up, (while a good moniker to describe the experience of people beginning to see the light on white privilege and sexism, ‘woke’ it is not a point of arrival, it is a process.) For me, this process was a deep, wild and mad story that built on years of therapy and spiritual practice, but was undeniably catalyzed by the ‘gift’ of Donald Trump’s presidency. In fact, framing Trump’s real value as a kind of a divine intervention to mobilize the hell out of us here on earth starts to gives it some tangible meaning! My own Trump-induced process of awakening is not intended to be prescriptive, but rather, illustrative. It is one of many stories that I hope will be written alongside mine articulating the deeper current of evolution unfolding in these times.
The working titles for these essays, (in various stages of completion), are below. The series aims to provide, in the end, a proactive account of the values and actions arising from “a new notion of self” in our times. I join the voice of many others who have suggested that only a new experience of selfhood can inform a truly post-patriarchal citizenship fit for our/a future. It is a citizenship that draws on the wisdom of deep feminine principles to bring the balance we need for a livable and lovable future.
The territory I hope to cover in these essays is ambitious, drawing together today’s political context with deep, transformational, personal experience and a resulting set of reflections on how we might define citizenship for a new era. I have undertaken this task – which has felt completely mad at different turns!- because the current, broken mess of today’s polarized America will require more than new policies and a shift in the dominant party in the White House. It will demand more than outer-activism, new post-modern theories or crafty social-media strategies. These are all essential, but in order for a sustainable change to take place, we need broader, cultural change. And for that, we have to change.
The story begins, then, with how the current political climate took me down – way down – and how in that space of hopelessness and despair, I made an honest and pivotal choice to trust what I was feeling and follow where it took me…
PART 1: The Political Just Got A Whole Lot More Personal: One Woman, Post- Trump Stress Disorder and the Whole Catastrophe
PART 2.1: The Inward Turn: Women and Madness in the Trump Era – Spiritual Transformation Healing from Patriarchal Trauma
Part 2.2: Separation and Reconnection
Part 2.3: Strength: The Essence of Anger
Part 2.4: Power: The Essence of Hatred
Part 2.5: Homecoming: Living at a Deeper Octave
Part 3: The Truth and Falsehoods of Spiritual Memoir
Part 4: Why Not Feminine? The Gains and Limitations of 2nd and 3rd Wave feminism.
Part 5: The Patriarchal Hijack of the Feminine and the Masculinity Crisis
Part 6: A “New Notion of Self”: The Values, Visions and Practices of a New Citizenship in a New “State of Nature”