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  • Writer's pictureZenho Chad Bennett

Feminism, spirituality, beyond equality

I am a man with the consistent intent to evolve a conversation… not to begin one or end one, but to continue exploring our shared interest in greater truth and freedom. For some, it may be hard to imagine how a white and surely privileged masculine man would have the balls to write about feminine nature. And to be clear, the intent here isn’t to systematically oppose or “mansplain” the matriarchy. It is to first define and distinguish feminine energy from masculine energy; then I’ll propose some context for what may have happened to our feminine energies and examine the consequences of the feminine being overlooked from both spiritual and mundane points of view. I assume the reader agrees that individuals of all genders have both masculine and feminine energies and examples using “men” and “women” are simply employed as generalizations to exemplify masculine and feminine energy, respectively. I also understand that this article addresses the feminine from a masculine perspective- I’m using structure and definitions- so I’m already inviting trouble.

Let’s begin with a dive into definitions: From the point of view of spiritual awakening, the masculine path of attainment is through releasing consciousness from the entire world of form, gross and subtle. The Absolute masculine is one with the primordial void, Emptiness, pure untainted Witnessing Awareness. It is the formless. The feminine path of attainment is through receiving the nature and fullness of all forms gross and subtle which is ultimately oneness with Pure Light, or Selfless Love. It is the manifestation of whole world of form. In cultivating the masculine pole we develop wisdom and in cultivating the feminine pole we develop love and compassion. The end goal in most mystical traditions, east and west, is defined as the non-dual resolution of (or seeing beyond and through) this polarity; “emptiness is form, form is emptiness”, or our feminine form “becoming One with the Father”. From this perspective- that is, beyond all perspectives-masculine and feminine are one and the same.

However, when this is not clarified and a view is taken up through the narrowed sense of an ego identified self, masculine energy is expressed as disconnection, or an “up and out” often harsh objectification of form while constricted feminine energy is expressed as the error of conflating selfless compassion with selfish, often merged, “love” due to over identification with form. So yes, there is at least some kernel of wisdom to be garnered from the pathologizing stereotypes; unawakened masculine men over-think and are objectifying assholes while unawakened feminine women over-feel and are hysterical drama queens!

Feminine paths of spiritualty are often based in cultivating love, devotion, feeling, and receiving one’s own divinity. This is in juxtaposition to a masculine path of cultivating concentration, stillness and meditation geared to releasing one’s consciousness from identifying with anything whatsoever. For most of us, the journey of awakening is a combination of cultivating both poles to some degree though we should be aware that modern culture has a bias toward masculine energy which creates strong prejudice on how we view the awakening process in the West; this is especially true of undertaking traditional eastern forms of spirituality which were imported into modern and post-modern cultures in the West. (I anticipate a future article on this topic alone and for this conversation it suffices to understand that the collective bias toward a masculine view on many spiritual practices can have a stifling effect on the spiritual development of feminine energy and more feminine individuals).

Let’s back up here to provide some necessary evolutionary context. In the traditional wave of development which emerged 5000 years ago (and still exists in a major percentage of the world’s population as ethnocentric, rule oriented, socialized belongingness, religious), the masculine and feminine poles are represented as more distinguished and balanced than later modern and postmodern waves. Obviously the traditional wave of development also includes a great deal of repressing women and feminine energy (especially sexuality), but traditional collectives across the world do pay regard to the receptive and divine feminine. This is exemplified by the sacred architecture in most traditional cultures as inherently designed to allow one to receive the Divine when entering a sanctuary space. This is as true of a cathedral as it is of an ashram or a sweat lodge. In more mundane terms, the masculine-feminine balance in the traditional wave is expressed as a distinction in male and female roles. Rather than reducing this to something men did to women, it is more accurate to say there is an evolutionary agreement at the traditional level that the feminine qualities of nurturance, compassion, receptivity, and communality are essential for our cultural well-being. In short, because the masculine-feminine polarity is more clearly distinguished in the traditional, regard for the feminine is arguably higher in this wave than later waves despite its limitations as ethnocentric, misogynistic and homophobic.

About 500 years ago when the modern (scientific, individualistic, hierarchical, capitalistic) wave of individuals and cultures emerged, we saw a dramatic swing toward a masculine orientation. To follow our architecture paradigm, rather than sacred sanctuaries of being and receiving, we crafted buildings of grand functionality for all of our thinking and doing. The emphasis in the modern wave is no longer on what the God or Goddess can build but on what the intelligence of the individual spirit of “man” can muster. Receptivity is largely thrown out of the top windows of the skyscrapers, doing and rationality become significantly emphasized, and those who do the most or think the best are the most rewarded. Feminine values of compassion, receptivity, and nurturance along with the rest of our feminine divinity went largely into collective shadow where it continues to cry out from today.

We should surely not deny the progress of modernity as it continues to pull billions up and out of poverty, innovate technological solutions beyond imagination, and increase the quality and duration of our lifespans. But in our pursuit of materialism- scientific, intellectual, consumer- it appears we may have settled for the masculine half of the truth. Perhaps the biggest crime against feminine nature is not that it has been abused, oppressed and persecuted but that it continues to be overlooked. It is no wonder that women often report that they experience themselves as unseen but modern men are not the only culprits here; how many women have transcended the collective modern belief system and fully received for themselves their own feminine natures? The truth is that very few of us of all genders have learned to receive the feminine, and we’ve overlooked this at a price.

The currently emerging wave of postmodernism (pluralistic, multi-cultural, feminist) has accurately identified and intended to address the pains of ignoring the feminine, largely intertwined with our reckoning with the brink of environmental, economic, cultural and political collapse. Emerging in full force in the 1960s, most would agree that postmodernism has done much to bring feminine energy back online as exemplified in liberal values, connection to the environment, equality, communalism and social justice. Women in postmodern and modern waves are making significant gains and, in the United States, currently have a better prognosis than men in areas such as physical health, mental health and education level.

But similarly to the traditional and modern waves, postmodernism is not all healthy good news. The sad irony is that much feminism is unconsciously still being done from a largely masculine perspective. In the noble endeavor to reclaim feminine values, our postmodern collective, rather than actually transmitting the profoundly beautiful, sensual, nurturing , and receptive half of the universe, is often professing it. And a large error in the postmodern view is that it doesn’t consciously distinguish masculine from men and feminine from women so it sets up a culture war. In its pathological collective form, postmodernism thoroughly oppresses itself in a masculine ultimatum of “equality for all… except ,of course, for anyone who does not believe in equality” which is a scarcely more refined form of all the “isms” that postmodernism seeks to correct.

Is equality the best we can do? The damage of a righteous and rigid philosophy of equality, governed by “feminine” values goes much deeper than we may have seen. A major side effect of looking at a culture’s success primarily through the lens of equality is that the significance and expression of both masculine and feminine energies has become neutralized. In other words, it’s no longer okay to be overly masculine or feminine (the bias is toward “balance”) and in the feminism of equality women often are being trained to be more masculine (ie. assertive) and men are being trained to be more feminine (ie. sensitive). Though this is not 100% misguided, the current result does not appear to be healthy for culture long term- in the US, for example, young women are not only making gains in the masculine world but young men are backsliding in virtually every measure of health.

As we become more “equal” we’re also cultivating less nurturing women and more spineless men. Yes, the runaway bias of the masculine in the modern wave of development does need to be questioned and corrected, but in the long run of healthy culture, the feminine needs the masculine just as the masculine needs the feminine. Neutralization under the guise of equality is not going to take us much further and I suggest that our culture will be stronger when we show mutual regard for the differences of healthy masculine and feminine energies in addition to seeking equality.

All said, the postmodern collective does have it right that feminine energy will need to be reclaimed for healthy evolution to continue. As many people of all genders continue to transcend the limitations of a philosophy of equality and neutralization, we can be on the lookout for significant expressions of truly healthy, receptive feminine energies. One hallmark of this healthy expression is that it not particularly against the masculine, or attempting to take down the patriarchy, but powerfully and unapologetically differentiated from it.

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