I have seen a recent trend of feminism bashing on social media that has me rather perplexed because it's coming from women I've considered strong and independent that had a high level of respect for over the years. The narrative goes a little something like this: the feminist movement has brought us to a point where women are taking on a more "masculine" role, thus causing an imbalance in personal relationships.
I strongly disagree with this sentiment. Although I do see an imbalance in what our culture deems "feminine" and "masculine," I don't see feminism as the problem - in fact, I believe we need feminism to keep evolving to bring us closer to a state of balance.
Before I get into my thoughts on this, I should clarify what I mean by feminism, and what I don't. To put it in it's simplest terms, Merriam Webster defines Feminism as: "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." I also believe that as feminism has evolved, we must take into account intersectionality, which means "the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups." So as I learn more about feminism, it's from an intersectional feminism lens, including people all across the gender spectrum.
With that in mind, to me feminism is NOT:
- A push for women to gain more power by "acting like men."
- Restricting women from being themselves or doing what they want because it's "not feminist."
- Putting women first at all costs.
- Focusing on the needs of white women without taking into account the differing needs of other marginalized individuals or groups.
Feminism, at it's core, is about equality across sex and gender.
Seems pretty basic, so what's the problem?
Feminism brought light to the imbalance, it did not cause it. Just as I have heard people blaming the Obama Presidency for being "divisive" when it really just brought to light the division and inequality that already existed, feminism brings our attention to something that was already out of balance. People seem to think that the civil rights movement and feminism were a one and done kind of thing - "oh we already went through that, now it's not an issue." But both are an ongoing process, and our current political situation has made that clear.
We have been imbalanced for centuries towards what we consider the "masculine." I might agree that rigid old school feminism that sees men as "the enemy" while at the same time tries to push women to emulate them definitely is an issue. Feminism has evolved quite a bit from that point though and I believe is gradually coming to a place of better balance. I still think though that what "turns us off" about men we see as more sensitive or emotional is still driven by our societies expectation that that's not OK for men to express emotions and for that reason we need still feminism. From my experience, my relationship works best when we can both flow in and out of both energies. It feels good to express both sides.
We confuse cultural conditioning with biological differences. I am not going to say that there are zero biological differences between sexes and genders, but I will say that I believe that the biological differences are vastly overstated. I've heard stories from people transitioning where trans women suddenly felt more connected to others, and trans men suddenly felt more aggressive when they started taking hormones. But our biological wiring is complicated and we do not fall on a strict binary. Culturally, we are given the narrative that men should be "alphas," when in fact there are many cultures where that is not the case. The more we learn about the non binary variance of gender, the more we see that we are not defined by our genitals, or even by our hormones alone.
I was recently asked why I focus primarily on women in my work, though there are men who relate to it. I expressed that while I know that men deal with similar issues around intensity and excitability, it often manifests itself differently. This led to a great conversation on an upcoming episode of the Fringy Bit Podcast (that I can't wait to share) where we got talking about the different ways men and women process intense feelings in our western culture. We recognized that men seem to compartmentalize their feelings more - which led to a whole conversation about how they to leak out when feelings are suppressed for too long. We also talked about the differences between American male friendships and those in Europe - both my husband and Jon the cohost being from Europe, we observed that close male friendship in the US seem to be more rare. So I guess my point is that men and women all have the same feelings, and deal with similar issues, but our cultural conditioning tells us how it's OK to process and how it's not.
Our culture idealizes what we think of as "masculine." I believe our culture still idolizes what we view as "masculine" traits over "feminine" ones and sees the latter as weak. I do believe that as women we should not feel forced to take on a stereotypical "masculine" role that does not feel natural to us. On the other hand, the problem is not that women are taking on this role too much, so much as that we don't accept men who take on the complementary role. The answer is not for women to "submit," but for us to not force ourselves into roles that aren't comfortable for us - although there is certainly room to play with and experiment with those roles. I know I, for example, have always been attracted to men who are more what our culture deems as "feminine." The problem I have often found is that many of those men are so deeply injured because they could not express that side in a healthy way, so it manifests in ways that are not productive for them. I can't speak outside of my own cultural experience but I will say my husband is German born and my last boyfriend's parents were Thai immigrants and I feel like they both were more comfortable with their softer side. Then again, my husband is a breed of his own so I have no idea how much of his differences are cultural and how much is just him being him. I'd venture to say in some ways that men need feminism even more in our culture than women in this day and age. At least I, as a woman, could got to my local grocery store in a suit if I wanted without worry of assault, while my husband could not wear a skirt without that worry. It seems that in the beginning of feminism, we started reacting to toxic masculinity in our culture not by bringing balance but by idealizing the masculine to the point where we became even more off balance. I do see that changing though - I think slowly we are starting to accept the "feminine" more in our culture, but it's a slow process.
Some women find peace when they let go a little. I can definitely see how women who have felt forced into a "masculine" role would benefit from letting someone else take the lead. There is definitely an ease to that, and sometimes when we are super in control in one area of our lives, it is nice to let go in another. I just don't think it's as simple as the binary that says all women should be this way and all men should be that. It's not that simple - we are complicated beings. I've also heard a lot of intense women who felt like they had to become "hard" in order to protect themselves, so finding ways to connect with their softer side has been immensely helpful. The problem I find is when people start saying that we have to be "soft," "feminine," or "submissive" in order to keep balance in relationships. The only thing we have to do, is connect with what resonates for us (well we don't have to do that, but it does help us connect with others when we are deeply connected to our selves.)
I see "dating experts" encouraging strong women to "get in touch with their feminine side" and "letting go of control" so they can attract a mate. If these strategies work, it's because in the process they are connecting with more of themselves and not forcing things as much. In my experience, finding a solid relationship is not about taking on a specific gender or stereotypical role, but in embodying yourself fully and not pushing against reality. I fear though, that if in trying to be more "feminine" we are actually suppressing our wholeness that any relationship we attract will not be balanced after all.
Some idealize a mythical past that never existed. I feel like by blaming feminism for the existing "masculine/feminine" imbalance, it romanticizes some mythical past before feminism when relationships were great. If such a time existed it was way before our current culture as we know it. Marrying for love is a fairly recent thing, so if we are having more divorces it's because people used to stay in bad marriages because they had to and we are currently still navigating the work it takes to stay "in love" with a partner. I'm not saying it should feel forced, but it does take ongoing conscious action many are not willing to put in.
Additionally, our western history has never really left room for relationships that fall outside of the traditional binary. Only very recently have we even started to accept that this is OK, and we have along way to go on that! "Equality of the sexes" does not truly exist if is limited to the binary. True equality is being able to express ourselves fully without being limited by our sex or gender.
In this week's Embracing Intensity Podcast episode with Thais Sky we explore intersectional feminism further, and I will be continuing to more deeply explore the way our culture tells us to "tone ourselves down" over future episodes. In order to truly embrace our own intensity, I find it important to look at the broader cultural contexts that tell us that we are "too much."