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Feminism must reclaim the feminine

Rather than being true feminists, women have de-feminized themselves by imitatating masculine behavior and becoming a cog in the machine of a masculine structure, argues Susan Ory Powers.

I wrote this article as a response to this piece in the Huffington Post by Marcus Buckingham, on what's happening to women's happiness.

It's a big subject and not one for which I welcome a male telling me how to alter.

First, the study described in this article is skewed to a male perspective, using a choice of from 1 to 3 for expressing happiness.  Women are much more aware of how they feel. How many words do Eskimos have for snow while the rest of us have only one?  A 1 to 10 happiness rating would allow a much more precise value for the feminine mind, a detail more specific to the way women think. 

The study is skewed by the question of asking a woman based on only three choices to indicate her level of happiness.  That alone would be enough to depress most women, especially those mature enough to understand subtle differentiations in happiness.

Second, women are by nature, more often than not, interested in relationship, nurturing and the details. Those interests are hard-wired.  We entered a male structured realm when we entered the work force. It is by and large based on a male way of doing things: competition and the bottom line. 

Women are more verbal. We use 50,000 words a day, while men use about 30,000. Women are more interested in relatedness and nurturing than in competition and viewing our fellow-workers as people with whom we must compete.  Supporting the group is part of our nature, not struggling to be better than the other.  Women are more about the "we" than the "me," not the "us against them." 

It is a masculine assumption that war between countries or the smaller wars of us against them, of me competing against him or her, are our only choices.  Wars, large and small, are the opposite of nurturing, the opposite of our internal wiring.  Wars kill our children both collectively and individually.  Wars disfigure the adult bodies which we so carefully cherished and caressed when in infant form. 

The material has strong relationship to “mother.”  “Material” is derived from mater, that is derived from “mother.”  Wars destroy not only lives, but the material that has a direct connection to the archetypal concept of the maternal. 

The male template for the work place and global interaction is just that, a male template.  Whether it is the liberal notion that women can do just as well as men in their masculine work places or the radical conservative view that a woman's place is in the home serving their males' world, the result is the same.  Real feminism is reduced.

These are broad generalizations, of course.  But back in the 70s, feminism became, not real feminism in the work place, nor even a place where a meeting of the masculine and feminine could begin, but instead the masculization of feminine workers.  Most women who have been successful have done so by imitating their male colleagues, fitting our round selves into square holes.

The happiness factor is a symptom of a larger systemic flaw in our personal lives, careers and the macrocosm of our planet.  We have left the feminine in June Cleaver's living room as we entered both masculine corporate boardrooms, office cubicles and the world stage.   Rather than being true feminists, we have de-feminized ourselves as we imitated masculine behavior and became a cog in the machine of a masculine structure. 

With the march of civilization, the worshiped feminine that nurtured our species and its survival has been reduced to little more than an occasional nod.  Since the metaphorical story, when Athena removed the curse on Orestes and made the final judgment of pardoning him for killing his mother, society has denigrated the feminine below the masculine.  But Athena was birthed out of the head of her father.  She had no mother.  The details of this myth and its metaphorical reference to our contemporary lives are scary.

Today, only the pure virgin has status in a few Christian religions, the rest concentrate on a very masculine god.  From Catholicism to the Southern Baptists, the hierarchical  structure is masculine.  Other cultures have followed this Western European ideal as competition has progressed, if not through their theology, certainly through their behavior.  In America, witch burnings are part of our history as our predominantly Protestant culture limited our religion to a totally masculine deity. 

Since the 70s, world masculization has continued even as we women have thrown ourselves into participation in it. 

My perspective is primarily Jungian and an offering to explain the mystery of female unhappiness.  Just seems to me that our unhappiness has resulted from ignoring the archetypal images of our collective unconscious and selling out the feminine to a male dominated prototype.  Our biology supports this view as physical differences in the structure of female and male brains have been discovered. 

My view is about broad generalities and not specific individuals who may or may not be mothers, nurturers, and who relish participating in a male structured template.

It is simply my opinion that the feelings of women that we interpret as unhappiness is perhaps our mourning for that real feminism.  It is our intuitive sense of loss of something far deeper, something for which, without it, the world is a poorer place.  And it is my hope that at least we still possess—somewhere in the recesses of our souls--the good sense to be unhappy about it. 

Susan Ory Powers is a freelance writer and blogger. She blogs at Open Salon.



0 #1 Alex Melonas 2009-12-09 10:16
I think you have a deeply problematic essentialist tendency in your reasoning here. What patriarchy, and other relations of power, is successful at doing, I believe, is naturalizing conceptual dichotomies, and "normalizing" or elevating one side while necessarily devaluing the other. Man, the "masculine", is one side; Woman, the "feminine", is the devalued Other.

Your argument re-establishes this power relationship by simply inverting it, or rather, reversing the evaluation: the "masculine" becomes the Other -- that which is "wrong", or "abnormal" is the implication of this kind of reasoning. Radical feminists of the second wave seemed to rely on this conceptual move, as do thinkers in the "ethic of care" tradition.

But one has to wonder two things. First, is it possible that what you call "hard wiring" is merely socialization into hegemonic discourses, and therefore, by naturalizing the hegemonic gender roles as you appear to be doing, you are complicit in the problem you've diagnosed? And second, as feminist thinkers have argued, this kind of dichotomous world-view is male-oriented for it has been reified time and again in Western, male, philosophy. There may be an evolutionary motive to "group", and set-up "ether/or's", but around gender, I don't believe so.

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