One of the greatest losses humans have historically suffered is the rejection of the feminine. This loss negatively affects both sexes since both are forced to deny essential parts of themselves.
For far too long we’ve been experiencing a global pandemic of objectification and vilification of the feminine. There is little doubt that the denigration of one sex over another has created a great imbalance socially, fiscally, environmentally and spiritually — affecting women, men and entire cultures.
Truthfully, the denial goes both ways. Patriarchal systems vilify the feminine, as women are conditioned to see their feminine attributes in a negative light while also forced to deny their masculine qualities. Men, meanwhile, are conditioned to view hyper-masculinity as an ideal and deny characteristics considered overtly feminine by western society. We see this conditioning at the highest corporate levels as well as in our own homes.
And while these issues have been a topic of conversation for decades, we’ve yet to see significant movement toward creating a greater balance at home, at work or in societies around the world. There seems to be an agreement among our male leaders that as long as it’s working for them, there’s no real need to change. And the little bit of change that there has been for women has come at enormous cost.
Race and Gender
For example, it took more than 70 years (1848-1920) for the Women’s Suffrage Movement to win (white) women the right to vote. It took another 45 years (1965 via the Voting Rights Act) for Black women to win that same right!
I was disappointed to discover that the major reason for the disparity between White & Black women winning the vote was, in a nutshell, a nod to racist and gender-based discrimination and the perverse power of southern states to grant any woman the right to vote. Instead of supporting a Black woman’s right to vote, White suffragists kicked them under the bus in an effort to garner the support of white southern males.
A lifelong peacemaker and healer, I have been interested in healing the centuries-long disparity between the sexes, hoping against hope that more women would embrace their naturally occurring, more masculine assertive energy while men would embrace their caring, i.e., more feminine energy.
Now, in the United States, and elsewhere around the world, toxic masculinity and its demeaning of all things feminine (except sex, physical objectification and abuse) is most obviously taking its toll, environmentally, fiscally and socially. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, we witness male leaders who blatantly and willingly risk the lives of their fellow citizens with shows of bravado and denial—all in an attempt to remain in power.
At the same time, we have female world leaders whose decisiveness in the face of the pandemic demonstrates a melding of the best qualities of the feminine and masculine. Rather than denial, the women leading Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Denmark share the distinction of having both enough compassion (feminine) and belief in science (masculine) that their countries have had the lowest incidence of COVID-19 in the entire world!
Making their citizens’ health their first priority, they have successfully limited both the number of people infected and the number of deaths—with a resulting minimal cost to their economies!
In this supposed ‘man’s world’ in which we live, it’s not hard to see the cost of toxic masculinity. When we consider the price of war (masculine) over diplomacy (feminine) that can result in compromise or collaboration, we recognize the disparity between power and relationship. In a world where winning is everything, where competition is no longer friendly, where someone has to be a loser, there’s little room for true relationship. (I realize, as I reread what I just wrote, that it sounds pretty black and white. Such is the problem with generalizations. Obviously, not every man or every woman fits them.)
Ultimately, masculine and feminine are simply labels. Labels are useful for separating and distinguishing things for counting and other uses. Beyond that, what are they really good for? At our peril, they have been used to separate and denigrate anyone seen by the patriarchy as ‘other’.
If nothing else comes out of it, the COVID-19 pandemic has an important message for us. We are living in a world of imbalance; an imbalance that has consequences that are visible today if we’re willing to be honest: global warming, systemic racism, the wealth gap and toxic masculinity to name just a few.
Power-Over vs. Power-With
Decades ago, as I discovered the more spiritual aspects of the women’s movement, I read a book by Starhawk, a leader within the effort to give voice to the feminine principle. In her book, Truth or Dare, she suggests that there are three different kinds of power: “power-over,” referring to domination and control (masculine); “power-from-within,” meaning personal ability and spiritual integrity (feminine); and “power-with,” (feminine, i.e., relational) pertaining to social power or influence among equals.” (Words in italics are mine.)
Here’s part of a quote by Starhawk from Wikipedia regarding ‘power-with’: “For a woman, it is the power to be fertile either in terms of having babies or writing books or dancing or baking bread or being a great organizer. It is the kind of power that doesn’t depend on depriving someone else.”
In distinguishing between these kinds of power, it’s easy to see the difference between the more masculine and the more feminine approaches. An easy enough way to see which you prefer, is to ask yourself: Which one feels better? In which would you like to participate?
I imagine we’ve all witnessed or experienced the difference between feeling dominated or controlled vs. having a sense of freedom or respect.
As a teenager brought up in a seemingly Christian nation, I remember being confused about God. On one hand, the Lutheran church we attended spoke of God as being loving and caring. On the other hand, we were also told that that same God was jealous, judging and to be feared.
Thinking about this dichotomy today, my confusion dissipates somewhat as I realize that the dual qualities of feminine and masculine are represented equally in this same God. It’s like the duality of good cop, bad cop; right and wrong; of the loving parent who responds with fear and anger when their child darts out into the street without looking both ways.
Support vs. Punishment
I see this dichotomy now as simply part of the duality in which we live. Heaven and earth, good and bad, black and white, masculine and feminine. Like in a good marriage, the two create a balance when they have equal power. They need each other.
The very different approaches between the feminine and masculine have real world consequences as represented in the following scenarios. Whether we’re considering criminal behavior or simply illegal activities, in more westernized civilizations, we tend to isolate wrong-doers by tossing them in jail or prison, setting them apart; punishing them by removing their sense of belonging to the larger community. This is the punishing, angry male god approach.
I remember reading about the Babemba tribe of South Africa, where “if a person acts irresponsibly or criminally, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual.”
“Each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his/her lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All their positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days.”
“At the end, rather than isolating and shaming the person who has done something wrong, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.” To my mind, this is the more feminine or caring approach.
Why do we as human beings find it so hard to allow ourselves and others to express both their feminine and masculine qualities? Why do we find it challenging to be vulnerable, to allow ourselves and each other to be fully human? What kind of world could we create if we were to err on the side of compassion and inclusion as the people of the Babemba tribe seem to do?
Fear vs. Love
I’m afraid that I’ve now come to the dreaded F word: Fear. In psychological terms, there are two fundamental emotions: love and fear. We see that in how we’ve come to think about God and what we’ve felt in terms of power; power-over vs. power-with. Power-over — the need to dominate or control another is the opposite of what it means to love. Power-over is an expression of fear, of the need to control so that nothing unexpected or hurtful happens to the one holding the power.
The opposite of fear is love. To truly love another means to support and allow them to grow. Power-with recognizes the sanctity and beauty of each individual and respects their choices without a need to control or limit them.
Referencing again the time in my life when I discovered the feminine principle, I learned that there was a time, long ago in ancient Greece, in particular, when the feminine was honored. During that period, Mother Earth was respected and her abundant offerings of food and material for clothing and shelter were met with gratitude. Her generosity was praised through ritual and celebration. It was seen as a precious gift and never taken for granted.
Women, as expressions of the feminine principle, were seen as the carriers of life and respected for their skills at gathering food for their people with whom they generously shared. When it came time for the men to go on the hunt, prayers were sent out that their skill would match that of their prey and the spirit of the animal they killed thanked for its sacrifice on behalf of the community.
While I’m not suggesting that we return to those times, I do wonder what kind of world we might create if everyone was respected equally, with no one considered higher or lower in value than anyone else. Where gender was no longer used as a judgment of our worth but simply a descriptor of physical form.
Creating Heaven on Earth
We are here to be fully human, to drop the labels that divide us, and see through the seeming duality. In doing so, we can live into our highest potential — which is to create heaven on earth. We do that when we allow ourselves to be guided by Spirit. When the truth and beauty inside us is seen, felt and lived. It is this spirit that sees through human eyes and feels through the human heart, as the very spirit that enlivens this body and mind.
With the understanding that God is love and that each of us is an expression of that God— that we are made in the image of the God of our understanding, with no one or no thing left out, how can we do anything but love and value each other?
I hope you will ponder this question . . . and perhaps discover, as you explore, that there are so many more reasons to love than there are to fear. When we open our hearts and realize the possibility that every single one of us is here for a reason, we can encourage everyone to realize their fullest potential; to make of this world a Heaven, right here on Earth.
P.S. Feel free to leave respectful comments in response. Disrespectful or demeaning comments will be promptly removed. Thank you.