Thursday, November 30, 2006

What is the feminine?

“To redeem the father meant finding the feminine spirit in myself!
Linda S. Leonard, The Wounded Woman, Healing the Father Daughter Relationship

Talking with a close friend recently about her lack of fathering, and how this lead to difficulties in her relationships, I suggested she read The Wounded Woman by Linda Schierse Leonard. That made me open up the book again, and dive into the quandary of what feminine means. I don’t know what it means except what has been conditioned in me. In my case I felt a rejection of anything that smacked of the brainless, hysterical stereotype of the feminine that I had absorbed. In the 60’s, this involved make-up, pointy heels, sexy skirts and hair do’s every Friday, or for mothers, having a perfectly kept house, and cooking with an apron on. I was not going to be one of those women.

If I patterned my idea of the feminine and masculine on my parents, and most psychologists would say this was true, then whatever my mom did was feminine, and whatever my dad did was masculine. She was not a perfect sample of femininity by the time I was conscious of this however. My mother was married to the house as a house-wife. My father left the house with his briefcase and suit every morning, and returned exhausted every evening in time for supper and a nap in his big armchair. When he was home, that chair was strictly reserved for the king of the household. (Mom had a chair too, a gold swivel rocker, but she preferred one end of the couch near a good reading lamp).

She hated housework, yet cooked meals that were practical and economical, due to eight children and a tight budget. She preferred her books to doing volunteer work at church. My dad worked in the larger corporate world of electronics and engineering, and later in a government trade department. He dressed like a business man, brought the newspaper home, cut out articles he wanted me to learn about, urged me to excel academically, and saved for me to go to university. He seemed successful. He got angry when things at home were not running smoothly, and that made my mother weep in her room. My dad was the disciplinarian, the authority figure, my mother was the emoter.

Rejecting the role of housewife was a part of the 60’s women’s liberation; we were moving into the masculine world of university and work, moving up, or so we thought. But what had we left behind? What was never taught us about being a woman because our mother’s wishes and desires and dreams were subordinated to her husband’s and father’s? What about her stories, her life beyond the house-wife role? I knew little of that side of her.

If, traditionally, the feminine side also represents feelings, sentiments, sensitivity, spontaneity, and the masculine, authority, rigidity, discipline, and obedience, and these were aligned with female and male behaviours respectively, we can understand why there is difficulty in human relations. No man or woman is all feminine or all masculine.

So back to the million-dollar question: how does a woman find the balance of feminine and masculine in herself? And if we don’t even know what the feminine is, because it’s only been seen through masculine eyes and ideals, how to even begin to imagine it?

Wearing men’s clothing, adopting masculine emotional habits, may have been a necessary part of the liberation of women, but Leonard feels that “now the time has come for women to wear their own clothing and to speak out of their feminine wisdom and strength. The feminine – what is it? I don’t think we can define it. But we can experience it and out of that experience try to express it via symbols and images, art forms through which we can be in the mystery of that experience and yet somehow articulate it too. ...One of the challenges women have today is not only to be open to the experience of the feminine but also to try to express it in their own way.”

Often, Leonard adds, we don’t feel we can use our mother as a model… “men have been defining femininity through their conscious expectations of what women can and cannot do and through their unconscious projections on women. …Ultimately women have to tell their own stories out of their own personal experience and feeling...”

…“If a woman really values herself and acts out of the unique realm of her needs, feelings, and intuitions, creates in a way that is hers, and experiences her own authority, she is then able really to dialogue with the masculine. Neither is she subservient to the masculine, nor does she imitate it.”

What would happen if one woman told
the truth about her life? The world
would split open..

from poem Kathe Kollwitz by Muriel Rukeyser

When you find out, let me know.



Anne C. said...

Testing, one, two, three!

musemother said...

that's good - it's working. But I wonder what you think about 'what is feminine?' or does it even matter. I don't know why I am so obsessed with the idea that we need an image of 'feminine' that combines softness and strength, receptivity and activity, kindness and ruthlessness....

Rhomboèdre said...

Dear MuseMother,

Would you believe that as you say in your commentary, “…we need an image of 'feminine' that combines softness and strength, receptivity and activity, kindness and ruthlessness....”, this is exactly the image that Mata Parvati or Shiva projects in Indian mythology.

As a man practicing meditation, I have a very close relationship with the feminine in me. Often do I behold the woman inside: she is the one that regenerates my Self, she is my Soul and the one that allows me to manifest sensitivity in the outside world. Without her I would be nothing but a zombie. Only because of her am I a man.

Best regards,