Value the Feminine
It is difficult to say much about gender in our current culture without invoking strong reactions in people. The intent here is not to reinforce limiting stereotypes, nor to promote a feminist agenda. It cannot be stressed enough that these are only ideas, singular possible interpretations among many, and there is no one right perspective. Given the emotional baggage many of us carry around gender, it would be helpful to invent or arrive at a different term to describe the ideas which follow, but “feminine” is what seems to fit best for the time being.
It should be made clear first that every human being can embody whatever mode of being they wish, and we are each free to experiment with trying on other ways of being. It is not only natural to play with these energies, it also helps us to figure out who we are and how we understand the world. Women are not necessarily always feminine, nor men purely masculine. The modes of being described here are feminine and masculine essences – simplified, extreme forms – and it is rare that anyone exemplifies such an absolute extreme of either pattern. Most people express a mix of feminine and masculine energies, and the balance of these energies within a person naturally shifts in different contexts (people act differently with their children than they do in business dealings, for example) and in different phases of their life (as a teenager versus later as a parent, for example). Just because a particular way of being is masculine doesn’t mean women are inherently excluded from it (likewise for femininity and men). Also, it is important that we play with masculine and feminine energies in order to figure out what mode of being comes most naturally and feels most nourishing to us. By consciously changing our energy, we discover what our essence is. Again, we each embody a changing mix of masculine and feminine modalities, we can intentionally shift our energy at any time, and all of us are heavily influenced by our cultural training which informs how we feel we should act and what traits and behaviors we favor.
In general, our current culture favors a masculine way of being. This is reflected in our cultural emphasis on production, utility, efficiency, accomplishments, independence, and individual freedom. The masculine mode is one of external striving toward a goal. The masculine essence is energized by the pursuit of freedom gained through striving for a desired result or toward a desired destination. It seeks challenge through action in the world, and enjoys a test of physical and mental strength. There is nothing wrong with this way of being – indeed it is one half of the sacred balance of energies! It is the masculine which delivers the spark of life to conceive children, connecting spirit with earth. It also brings the gift of taking action to provide for our needs, without which we could not survive. When mature, it is also a protecting energy, setting clear boundaries and holding safe space. This aspect of protection enables us to nurture the feminine life-giving forces and let go of aspects of ourselves and our lives that don’t serve us.
Masculine energy is essential for human development. It pushes us to define the edges of who we are, to create and defend a sense of self or ego. The main concern of our ego is safety – how to pursue our desires and needs while remaining socially respectable. It is important that we develop a sense of self and pride because it gives us a direction to go, a way to be in life which is accepted by our kinship group. From there, our learning journey can begin, as we encounter the limits and shortcomings of the identity we have created.
The masculine enables us to protect, provide, and pursue. Without it, we might never get anything done, even when we really need to. But the masculine is most helpful to us when complemented by the equally valuable feminine qualities of inner knowing, self-care, and nurture. Indeed, the masculine gifts of inception and provision, when offered in service to life and love, can deeply nourish the feminine. In return, the feminine provides support and a safe place to rest and replenish.
Our current culture’s obsession with taking and destroying indicates an excess of immature masculine. We bring new technologies and inventions into the world (inception) with little concern for whether they serve the balance of life on earth or help to sustain joy and harmony in our lives. Likewise, we demolish and bulldoze landscapes faster than they can recover while working ourselves to dis-ease and exhaustion. These are examples of immature masculine energy which do not nourish the abundance and balance of life. It is only the immature masculine who neglects the true priorities health, well-being, balance, joyful living, and right relations with all the community of life. As a result of our culture’s excessive immature masculine tendencies, we see a lot of dis-ease, degradation, and disharmony. The short-term financial and status rewards in our culture are so great for anyone who embodies this imbalance that it is easy for men and women alike to make decisions that reflect the immature masculine.
Author David Deida illustrates our cultural bias well when he asks: How often do you see people in business clothes rushing down the street to their next meeting or appointment? In contrast, how often do you see people dancing together, singing in harmony, wearing beautiful bright colors, or touching each other kindly on the street? In the first scenario, people are focused on getting somewhere and getting something done, they are independent entities striving against each other to compete. (Or they are striving in competitive teams against one another, as in most games played in our culture or in the business world.) This is the masculine. In the second scenario, there is more emphasis on the quality of existence in the moment, embodying beauty, connection and interrelationship, and nurture. This is the feminine.
Again, there is no rule requiring people to be masculine or feminine. There is plenty of room in the spectrum of human expression for feminine men, masculine women, and neutrality. Likewise, there is far more variation in human sexuality than the stereotypical masculine man + feminine woman combination. And yet most people tend more toward either a masculine or a feminine essence in romantic relationship. In fact, as Deida explains, it serves us well to embody more one extreme or the other, because the polarity stimulates attraction. Deida explains that in his experience counseling, many people find their romantic relationships unsatisfying because of the loss of polarity between partners. Women in the post-feminist era are striving for career goals and tending to be more results-oriented and masculine, while men trying to be sensitive to this new age of women’s rights tend to suppress masculinity in the effort to avoid offending anyone. Women’s rights movements have encouraged the softening of cultural restrictions on what qualities and behaviors are acceptable in men and women. Yet despite these liberating effects of the feminist movement, the broader culture continues to value the masculine, and the result is that we have increasingly masculine women and men who repress their essence in relationships in order to be sensitive to feminist concerns. There is nothing wrong with women pursuing careers or men being sensitive about sexism. There is no rule against masculine women being with feminine men, as long as both people are living true to their essence. Nor is it impossible for feminine women to pursue careers. Deida’s observations merely suggest that in the realm of relationships, polarity generates attraction.
What is meant by “the feminine” here is a feminine way of being. In contrast to the masculine mode of doing, the feminine is the energy of being. It is the rise and fall of tides and emotions, the abundant and nurturing earth, the nourishing womb, and the intuitive inner knowing aspect. The feminine modality tunes in first to what feels right in the moment, and is energized by feeling loved. A very feminine person expresses emotion in the moment vibrantly, through gestures, facial expression, and tone of voice. The feminine moves at its own pace, stopping and starting to follow inner cues, taking time to experience and appreciate beauty, and allowing space for distractions and breaks. Yet the feminine is also productive, in its own way. After all, tending to our own needs is the most productive activity there is! In our culture, however, daily caretaking is simply not considered work, or at least not very valuable work. (For example, many of us rush through our morning routine of self-care in order to get to the “real work” of making money.) Feminine people and feminine work in our current culture are considered frivolous, weak, aimless, or second priority – for not only does our culture favor the masculine, it also devalues the feminine. It is still an insult on many elementary school playgrounds to be considered “girly”. Even the modern feminist movement in its effect has mainly opened the door for women to succeed in a masculine world. The result is that many mothers now take on double duty, pursuing ambitious careers while also taking care of home and hearth. Many young women would be ashamed to take on a full-time job as a homemaker, since their mothers and grandmothers struggled so hard so that they could go out in the world and pursue a real money-making career. But will it really be gender equality when women are paid the same as men for the same work, even though everyone is equally striving toward the immature masculine goal of outcompeting others to acquire more power?
Each of us is brought into this world through the feminine ways of nurturing oneself and others, appreciating and creating beauty, and embodying natural rhythms. These are important and productive qualities for everyone, regardless of which polarity they tend to embody. People who cultivate these habits create an inviting glow around them, a magic which can be felt by other people and also by plants and animals. This magic might best be described as radiance – the brightness of being which, like a blooming flower, invites joy, passion, wonder, and connection. Radiance draws other beings in toward the warmth of a person’s existence, and this quality brings many benefits which our culture doesn’t often acknowledge. Radiance attracts friends and lovers, and can even bring extra support and resources from other people who appreciate the glow. (For example, two friends at an event met a wealthy landowner who liked their brightness and energy so much that he offered to give them 200 acres to live on. He saw their glow and wanted to support them because of it.)
Cultivating a more feminine-positive outlook changes the way we view the world. When we encounter plants and animals with a feminine approach, we appreciate their gentle or vibrant way of being in the world rather than seeing them mainly for their objective use to us. Both aspects of our relationship with them are important, but the feminine approach acknowledges the sentience of all beings and the medicine they offer us rather than objectifying them and viewing them as tools to be used for our ends. When we let go of our agenda and open to experiencing the world, the medicine in everything and every creature around us becomes more potent.
To relate to ourselves in a more feminine-positive way, we honor our innermost feelings and intuitive senses. Everything we “do” (masculine) is done in service for love, life, and good relations (feminine) – with ourselves, with each other, and with the world. We allow ourselves to experience and express our emotions, understanding that our personal energy is more peaceful and loving if we do so. We take time to rest, stretch, reflect, and live in balance, which strengthens our inner knowing and guidance. We treat ourselves kindly, just as we treat other humans and other beings kindly.
When we value the feminine, we free ourselves to cry, laugh, or sing. When we value the feminine, we consider it of utmost importance to live beautifully – for why bother to do anything if not to make beauty in the world? When we value the feminine, we approach other creatures in the community of life as our true kin and our teachers, equally as valuable as human life. When we value the feminine, all of our society is working to maintain harmonious relations, support mothers and children, and nurture life.
It is important to note that the balance of masculine and feminine occurs on many levels. The polarity of energies exists within us, although most of us tend more toward one essence or the other. In our romantic relationships, the polarity between two individuals’ essences generates attraction. And more broadly, the harmonious blending of masculine and feminine can be applied to a household or a tribe. More masculine individuals will naturally strive to protect the group and pursue large provisions, while the more feminine individuals will naturally gravitate toward more of the daily maintenance of physical and social harmony. That is partly why in many “prehistoric” societies women gathered roots and staples and cared for children while men went on more dangerous and erratic hunting missions. Both aspects are productive, both valuable, and the simple gendered division of labor ensures a more varied diet and a sense of belonging and purpose for all people. As long as we value each aspect equally, their differences become strengths. That is why at this time in our culture it is so important for us to remember to value the feminine.