the Divine Feminine
For a brief moment in time, I was an aspiring social worker. Which probably speaks for my utilitarian tendencies and confidence in our ability as individuals to save the world. Specifically, I wanted to go into foster care reform, but my year as a sociology major required courses covering all sorts of social problems, from foster care to the prison system to education. There was even a course for it, which was (creatively) called Social Problems. I had a lot of “aha” moments in this class regarding race, religion, poverty, education, basically any political hot topic you can think of. But for me, the class was mostly about feminism.
Because I grew up in a very traditional Mormon household, I never really identified as feminist. I understood (and still do understand, but don't always agree with) all the arguments as to why the movement is irrelevant, why it hurts men, why those feminist marchers were nothing at all like me. It took some nuance and a kick-ass educator (thanks, Lance) to make me realize that strong feminist theory advocates for a true balance of feminine and masculine characteristics in society.
First and foremost,
SEX ≠ GENDER
In sociology, sex refers to a label given at birth to an individual’s genitalia and genetic makeup that distinguishes them as either male or female. Gender, on the other hand, is much more complex. For the purposes of this sociological exploration, we'll define gender as the makeup of behaviors and characteristics typically associated with traditional, conforming genders (i.e male or female) based on a society's standards and expectations.
Sex identification is (or would be, if individuals were respected for their own) quite simple.Identifying gender is not so easy. While most of us choose to follow social norms regarding our gender, very few of us identify with every attribute regularly assigned to our sex.
ATTRIBUTES COMMONLY ASSOCIATED WITH FEMININITY
ATTRIBUTES COMMONLY ASSOCIATED WITH MASCULINITY
To explore this a little bit, let’s look at the symbolic example of skirts (traditionally feminine) and pants (traditionally masculine). Early feminism allowed women to move from wearing skirts to wearing pants, progressively giving women access to attributes outside of what's traditionally associated with their sex. But does it really make sense that we landed there? After all, women can now wear pants, but if a man wanted to wear a skirt to work, he wouldn’t meet the social expectation. Moreover, a woman who wants to wear a skirt to work may be taken less seriously for being too girly and therefore not as capable as a woman who wears a pantsuit. If we were truly meeting our progressive potential, wouldn't people of either sex feel comfortable choosing whichever gender attribute suits their fancy? More frankly, can we not just trust people to dress/work/behave in the way that's best for them personally?
While talking about skirts and pants, this seems insignificant. But how does this represent our larger societal circumstance? You may notice that the feminine characteristics listed are generally considered to be very righteous or humanitarian, whereas the masculine characteristics are considered to be worldly and practical. But does it really make sense to move women into the workplace and receive a woman’s point of view if we’re going to expect them to act like men? Why can’t a sympathy and grace be qualities that lead to social and commercial success?
In reality, we’re all probably very character androgynous, naturally possessing characteristics from both lists. If we felt able to display both without fear of societal shaming, it would free men and women alike. In early feminist movements, women were given the power to begin displaying characteristics on the masculine list, but perhaps at the cost of those characteristics on the feminine list. Correspondingly, men could not even begin to consider moving into the feminine category. What if the discussion on feminism had nothing to do with females at all, but much more to do with a balance of feminine characteristics within the workplace and society as a whole?
"The Divine Feminine" is a hot term. For most people, it stirs up a mystical aesthetic popular with college kids who read their horoscopes and have galaxy tapestries hung from the ceiling. But the actual precept of the Divine Feminine suggests that consciousness is divided into masculine and feminine, and we need both to achieve our highest creative potential.
I can’t cook. I can’t sew. Little kids are usually scared of me but probably not as scared as I am of them. I can’t braid hair and I don’t know very much about make-up. I never bothered with prom and I don’t really have visions for a perfect wedding. The thought of cute underwear is still kind of weird to me, and I don’t even know when I last painted my nails.
On the other hand, I have a pretty serious Pinterest addiction, and I’m embarrassed to tell people that. Not because of the addiction part, but because Pinterest is so… girly. And maybe I’m just paranoid, but I’ve definitely had people roll their eyes as I pull up my latest Pin. You’re such a girl, they tease.
And that’s dumb. Because Pinterest is literally just a visual search engine.
It’s the same reason that I don’t listen to a lot of Ingrid Michaelson, even though that’s my favorite thing to do when I’m sad. It’s why I don’t take a lot of baths or wear as many dresses as I’d like to. It’s why I don’t put on red lipstick. I just want to be taken seriously.
Despite all this, I was lucky to escape the "big girls don't cry" trope. I never associated crying with women, and I definitely didn’t associate it with weakness. I’ve seen my Dad cry more times than I can count, and it never seemed like such a big deal. I don’t know when I realized that crying was something people were scared of. Like, if anyone starts crying at work, at school, they’re sensitive at best and emotionally unstable at worst. If you’re a woman, you might get some slack, for a while. If you’re a man, you probably won't.
But by some miracle (my parents can take most of the credit), I was unscathed by social demands to hold back tears. I cry more than anyone I've ever met. I cried the first time I attended a Catholic Mass. I cried watching Lizzo on NPR's Tiny Desk concert. I can pretty cry and hold a conversation at the same time, but I prefer to sob uncontrollably when I get the chance.
I’m just not sure what about the act of tears springing from your eyes makes you any less capable of completing a task. I can cry while I drive or write or do jumping jacks or anything that you can do not crying. It’s just something that says, “Look, I have emotions, we all have emotions. Okay?”
Because sensitivity is a miraculous thing. Just to feel and be torn to pieces by the wonder of it all. To embrace your divine feminine and be open. Strength is also a miraculous thing, and the vigor that defines the masculine creates capability and progress, pushes boundaries, and empowers all those who choose to embrace it. And when we can balance both these dispositions, we earn peace by knowing we are embracing the full spectrum of our human experience.
I think the Divine Feminine has more truth to it than it's new-age reputation suggests. Could these precepts guide the next wave of feminist theory? Could we allow this awareness to fuel progressive change in the economy, the education system, the world of professional sports?
Balancing gender attributes is good for women. It’s good for men. It’s especially good for queer individuals. It leaves the difficult questions (think: rape culture, abortion, maternity rights, etc) to be answered, but gives us a common playing ground so we could discuss these things in a less polarized environment. And I think that’s something worth fighting for.