What does femininity mean to you? Is it the image of a nurturing woman who fills a house with love? Is it softness, gentleness, goodness? Is it someone who worships God and raises multitudes of children to follow Him? Or does femininity manifest as strength and resiliency through decades of oppression and patriarchy?
The divine feminine is a concept that has come into mainstream over the past few years through books such as Women Who Run With Wolves that teach women to embrace their inner wildness and divinity, that the outflow of their divine feminine would create pools of strength from which others could bathe and be reborn. Of course, the divine feminine isn’t restricted to women; men can embrace their divine feminine and become more balanced. Each individual’s divinity holds the masculine and the feminine; too much of either can skew behaviors and create instability in the self if not checked. Out with the idea that men should only exude strength (hello toxic masculinity) and women should be quiet. Instead we should seek balance in ourselves and in our relationships with others. Opening the divine feminine (and masculine) to every gender is perhaps how we have become more accepting of relationships outside of the heterosexual “norm”, because seeking the balance of external genitalia has always been a flawed ideal. Balance doesn’t come from physical attributes; balance comes from our divine within.
I struggle with my femininity immensely when I look at the picture society has painted of the perfect female. I was raised in the Deep South so gender norms were very prevalent. I was taught to be quiet, to not speak unless spoken to, to be a child of God (which somehow also meant to squash any self-expression), to cook, clean, have babies…to be demure in every way. Not all lessons were audible. My shoulders couldn’t be exposed, my shorts couldn’t show too much leg…I was supposed to wear hats in church. None of that was actually me, so when I grew up and became something completely unlike how I was raised, I experienced cognitive dissonance between my reality and what I perceived as normal femininity (trust me, this goes beyond clothing disparity). This continues to be a struggle of mine as a female in a male-dominated field; just last week I was told to be “kinder” when I had been assertive, when I am almost 100% positive I wouldn’t have been told to be kinder had I been a man. What is feminine? Because I won’t be a doormat to help someone uphold an antiquated view of how a female should act.
When I look at those around me who scream “feminine” in the traditional sense, I don’t feel that their qualities resonate with me. This led me to begin asking what being feminine means in modern times, and how do I best exude femininity? Because as a country-raised tomboy, then a United States Marine, my general stance has been to be hardened and firm. I am not soft, I don’t have feathers in my hair, the scene in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood where the girls freely dance around the bonfire as young witchy women makes me uncomfortable…I look around these free women with their fairies and their constant kindness and I yearn to be like that, to be so feminine that I would be…wanted. And oh, how I have tried to assimilate into what society has deemed feminine. I have done the spiritual soul searching, I have chanted over a bonfire into the moon, I have taught yoga, I have a child, I cook, I clean, I create a loving home…but none of this taps into my wildness as a woman. And I wonder how much of the mainstream feminine movement of stones and herbs and witching and the Instagram-worthy Burning Man trope is simply a capitalist exploitation of what we think we need to be accepted as feminine.
The expansion of non-binary and trans persons has made the need for divine masculine and feminine to be open to everyone so important. Inclusion of every gender is important. There was a post on Instagram that said “women don’t get pregnant, people do.” And I had to take a long hard look at why the push to say “he is pregnant” bothered me so much. A woman doesn’t need to have a child to be considered feminine, but the womb has been a feminine symbol of nurturing and strength. Does a womb make a woman? I want every person, regardless of their genitalia, to live their life in the best way. Can trans men carry children? Yes, of course. So perhaps this weird feeling in my stomach is me having redefine the nouns “man” and “woman” and not feel like my femininity is getting attacked because a man can have a baby. There is enough femininity for all of us, just as there is enough masculinity to go around. (While writing this I finally understood why the terms “womXn” and “mXn” are necessary).
When I look at what I consider my most feminine moments, they are mixed with fire and slow heat, creating a wildness that the capitalist femininity can never capture. Holding my baby as he fed from my breast, standing up for someone by physically placing myself between them and their oppressor, melting in the arms of a lover that made me so vulnerable I sobbed. I shouldn’t need to be that wild-haired and dancing free woman to be seen as feminine; I am not a modern pixie dream girl here to further a masculine plot. Now if I could only convince myself that I am divine enough…