Femininity and the Divine Feminine are fashionable topics these days. Traditional Tantra and indigenous shamanic traditions are often invoked as the source of deep revelations about femininity and spirituality.
What is being taught and promoted, however, often differs at a fundamental level from the notion of femininity in these source traditions. One major cause of this distortion is the influence of patriarchal cultures at the point where oral traditions are committed to written form.
Let’s have a look at just a few of the myths about femininity that have been introduced by writers from patriarchal cultures.
Feminine = Soft and Gentle
The myth that the feminine is soft and gentle can be immediately exposed simply by remembering that the feminine includes “Mother Nature,” so famously described by Tennyson as “Nature, red in tooth and claw …”
In traditional Tantric and shamanic cultures, the Universe is feminine. It is the feminine who provides food and shelter, yes, but it is also the feminine who provides natural disasters, famine and illness, and, ultimately, it is the feminine that will kill us.
In the Tantric tradition, the most widespread representation of the feminine is Kali, goddess of time. She is described as “fearsome,” and is represented wearing a necklace of skulls and dancing on the corpse of Shiva.
While Kali can be beneficial – she will guide her devotees through rapid spiritual transformation, and can grant instant enlightenment, for example, the manner in which she grants these boons is anything but gentle!
Feminine = Submissive
There is a widespread misconception in Western Tantric circles that for women to be “feminine”, they must give up trying to control things in their lives and allow a man to lead them.
The confusion between “surrender” and “submission” is an article in itself, as is the error of assuming that people in female bodies should display the feminine polarity, while people in male bodies should display the masculine.
However, for our purposes in this article, a simple glance at some of the earliest known pagan goddesses will dispel this myth.
Inanna was a Sumerian goddess. Her worship reached its peak around 4000 B.C., so she is one of the earliest documented goddesses. Her responsibilities: love, fertility and … war!
Ishtar was the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess. Her worship spread to the Semitic ad Aramean areas, where she was known as Astarte. Her domain; love, fertility, sex … and war.
And in the Hindu tradition, Shiva’s consort, Parvati, along with her responsibility for fertility, love, and devotion, represents divine power and strength. In her Durga form, she slew a demon that none of the male gods could kill.
Nobody would dare accuse any of these goddesses of being “submissive”, but they are definitely feminine!
In the shamanic traditions, there is no conflict between being feminine and being powerful.
The Feminine Shouldn’t Intimidate Men
There is a line of argument in some Western Tantric schools which asserts that Western culture forces women to be masculine in order to survive. To pass exams, hold down a job, manage finances for retirement, and so on. And that women need to snap out of this masculine mode of operation in their private lives because it intimidates men.
At the same time, women are told that they should tone down displays of anger and other unpleasant emotions, because this also intimidates men.
Let’s cut straight to the bottom line here.
A man will only be intimidated by a competent, assertive woman to the extent that he lacks confidence in his own masculine aspect.
A man will only be intimidated by an emotionally-aware, expressive woman to the extent that he is uncomfortable with his own feminine aspect.
Patriarchy cripples men by cutting them off from their emotions, which are the driving force for all action and accomplishment. Exhausted from trying to meet unrealistic standards of masculinity, cut off from both internal and external sources of support, and struggling with the mismatch between the images of success broadcast in our consumer culture and the yearnings of his soul, is it any wonder that the average man feels reluctant to deal with a challenging woman?
When we attempt to solve this problem by altering the behavior of women, we create what I call “The Bonsai Woman”.
The Bonsai Woman
Carefully shaped from birth to fit patriarchal male expectations, the Bonsai woman is small enough to be tucked away on a shelf and ignored when Important Man Things need to be done.
She is manicured, plucked, painted, scented and decorated, to make her a pleasing object to the senses.
She is accomplished in the arts that are pleasing to men – dancing, blow jobs, cooking, and so on, and she demands nothing, asking politely only for those things she knows he is willing to give her at any moment. She is sexy, but only in the ways, he likes, at the times he wants.
The Bonsai woman is “feminine” enough that no man is intimidated by her.
While the Bonsai woman is an exaggeration, she is only a slight exaggeration. Many people will recognize aspects of their unconscious ideal of femininity in this description, and those unconscious ideals still drive the expectations, rewards, and punishments for the behavior of women.
The Alternative – The Empowered Man
We can see that the traditional concept of the feminine was powerful and awe-inspiring, and that, traditionally, strength and power were inseparable from love, sex, and fertility.
Instead of shrinking the female so that she doesn’t intimidate the crippled patriarchal man, why don’t we, instead, uplift the man?
We need to stand together, those in female bodies and those in male bodies, and encourage one another to fully develop all the aspects of our beings. Only then can we embrace the raw, wild, beautiful power of the uninhibited feminine.
How can you take action right now?
1. Whatever your gender, give yourself permission to be a full human being.
There is no aspect of being human that is wrong, unsuitable for your body type, “too much”, or in any other way unacceptable. People have been suppressing you because they are uncomfortable in their own skins – it is not you that is the problem; it is them. You can set yourself free.
2. Feel into all your “forbidden” corners.
It is both safe and acceptable to explore the parts of yourself that have been suppressed. Make yourself a safe, nurturing space – clear the room, block out some time in your calendar, turn off the phone and the notifications on the computer, and possibly invite a support person to take care of you – and take a look at the person you haven’t been allowed to be.
3. Embrace your strangeness, your darkness, your suppressed aspects, and the immensity of the being that dwells within you.
Any part of yourself that you push away or try to disown will form a barrier to personal growth and intimacy. We may not enjoy the process of reclaiming our suppressed parts, but we always enjoy the resulting freedom.
4. Roll out the red carpet for the suppressed aspects of others.
Anything you suppress in yourself, you will be forced to suppress in others, because it will make you uncomfortable. Learning to allow others to express all aspects of themselves will help you to embrace all aspects of yourself, too.