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The Sins of the Modern Feminist

There's as much magic in the little violet as in the greatest pine tree.

(from my current work-in-progress)

I recently participated in a conversation about womanhood, during which we got to confess our sins as modern feminists. Several women admitted to still shaving legs and armpits. Others said they liked prettiness. I said, amongst other things (for I have many sins) that I liked old-fashioned gentlemanly respect towards women, wearing dresses, romantic stories, motherhood, tea cups; that, in short, I liked being feminine, and was tired of apologising for it.

Another woman added that she thought the sadness of modern womanhood was how so often we are made to feel ashamed for being womanly. Of course, we have always been made to feel that way - it has been enshrined in laws and cultures for centuries. But sad indeed that now women have more freedom and equality (note the qualifying "more") we still carry within ourselves that sense of shame. So many of us try to develop the qualities traditionally held by men in order to succeed and be acceptable in the world. I'm talking about the Western world, of course. I can't speak informatively on the serious issues facing women in other cultures.

There's nothing wrong with a woman being manly if that's what she wants. But there's also nothing wrong with a woman being womanly.

I believe womanliness can be all kinds of wonderful things from fierceness to softness, from warrior to pearl-crowned princess. To clarify, what I'm talking about today is the concept of femininity which can also reside in men. The nurturing, the love of beauty over functionality, the opening-up and drawing-in, the hand rather than the sword. I personally think that one of the greatest misunderstandings of our time is that being a proper feminist excludes women from being feminine. And I think it's sad how the spirit of femininity, even considered separately from gender, is dwindling from our culture, and I think that's a shame because it's about shame - same old, same old, the belittling of the gentle feminine force, even in women's goddess spirituality, even in feminist circles.

For example : today a friend got on a bus but couldn't sit down because everyone had taken the aisle seats and left the window seats unoccupied, so that a person had to ask them to move if they wanted to be seated. The spirit of femininity, the womb-spirit if you like, welcomes others in. But more and more people are becoming closed down, which I think may be attributed to the increasinly ill health of our culture, the lack of nurturing, the loss of civility, the loss of community. So many people are too busy working outside the community, making money, serving the economy, to tend to its soul needs (except if they're being paid to do it).

I wish that anyone who is drawn to femininity may feel confident and comfortable in being that, and expressing it ... to have a soft voice, a quietness, to be a violet in the forest where everyone's reaching for the sky, to be nurturing and gently magical ... although I know in many societies it takes courage now to do so. We need it so much.

paintings by albert lynch


  1. The sad thing with mild, gentle creatures of various denominations is that many ("toxic males") think they are fair game for exploiting, bullying, cheating etc. And I think that is why many women have chosen to culture the badassery side of independence instead. Not because they admire maleness, but because so far it's the only way to be heard and reckoned with. And then of course there are all the shades in between. I personally get annoyed when having to pick sides. I have masculine and feminine traits but in some ways prefer to see myself as asexual in the way that I am a person who likes this and that and I don't care to label which side they belong to. But perhaps in that I show a feminine side after all, being tired of all the hustle to prove oneself one thing or another, comparing and competing.

    1. I think you may be right about masculine energy being protective. Its a positive way of thinking about it, so thank you for that perspective.

      I do believe most people have feminine and masculine traits, I just personally see in the culture which surrounds me that the feminine traits are devalued, as they have been throughout history, only now by women as well as men. It may be different elsewhere of course. I hope you're having a beautiful day.

  2. these days, it's perfectly possible to be a feminist and be feminine, like pretty things, wear make-up, shave, enjoy romances, prefer floral frocks to trousers and shirt, love a pink rosy tea set, and value motherhood to the skies. i do all of these things, and i am a loud and proud feminist. indeed, i would argue that one of the main points of feminism, along with making this world a safer and more equal place for everyone, is to give freedom for personal expression full play, so people may simply be/do what they individually are/love, instead of being limited by previous concepts of femininity and masculinity.

    i think the problem is more that the cultures we exist in still prioritise being male; as women, we still work harder for less compensation, still aren't safe, still do most of the parenting/caregiving/housekeeping even if we also work outside the home, and still aren't respected or accepted as equals in any sphere. from workplaces to traditional religions to politics, women remain under-represented and perceived as less than men. our bodies and behaviours are still publicly policed and co-opted and marketed; the female body still subject to male gaze and stereotypes of beauty. one feels disproportionately burdened under this, and rightly so. traditional feminine roles are disrespected, but women in traditionally masculine roles are also disrespected. most of us navigate in both realms to some extent, and the disconnect between what we know to be true (we are valuable, the work we do whether paid or not is critical to all, we deserve to be safe and free), and what we see every day in the world (our work and ways of being are devalued, we are anything but safe and free often) causes a feeling of oppressive weight and cognitive dissonance daily.

    truly, if we could all get to a place where we could just be ourselves, without threat or denigration, where a spectrum of expression was normal, what a happier and more interesting world that would be.

    1. It is perfectly possible indeed, and yet I wonder why so many women feel guilty about shaving their legs, wearing lace, reading romance novels, wishing men would hold the door open for them, wanting an "alpha male" boyfriend, wearing makeup, liking prettiness and cuteness, feeling entirely fulfilled by motherhood, etc etc. Because I hear this from so many women. (Of course I can imagine any man who feels these things has an even greater burden of guilt or embarrassment).

      Our prime minister, a new mother, is a good example of how the male paradigm reigns strong. Here's an article which sums it up better than I could: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12092382

      I do see that things are slowly starting to change, but I also see that we may reach an open acceptance of transgender and gay men before we even have an open acceptance of womanhood. (Caveat: naturally of course I want to see an open acceptance of transgender and gay people)

    2. good article about the PM. which is exactly what i was blithering on about in the second paragraph, less articulately than could be wished; it so often seems that women just do more, and more like (traditional) men's work, on top of their own (traditional) work, instead of a transformation of roles or beliefs which would value what women have done and do equally. and the culture provides very little real positivity to women/femininity generally, except where it soothes male ego or indicates tractability. sigh.

      and i figure you are dead right about the seeing open acceptance of transgender and gay men before we see real, true acceptance of traditional or other expressions of womanhood and femininity. sigh, again.

  3. Doesn't it really come down to we women working through our own guilt/negative experiences/feelings of shyness and tentativeness? I haven't felt any of these for so, so long, but do understand that confidence in our own path is the key to so much. And that is much easier to work with than society at large, but society at large will be changed as we all become more steady and sure about being as feminine and feminist as we wish.

    Some of us had supportive enough rosebud and rose-in-bloom years that it hasn't been so much of an issue...the conflict. But you will find-I hope-that the rosehip years will bring the support you may not have found before...to just be yourself, no matter what is going on around you. Tho' there will always be wobbly moments. xo


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