What is woman?
She is woman.
She is not an imitation of man.
She is not made from man.
She is unique unto herself.
She isn’t perfect, yet she is sacred.
She is the vessel from which life is born.
She isn’t superior to man, nor is she inferior.
She is the female human being.
To denigrate women is to spit in the face of God. ~ Desmond Tutu
We live in a culture that has, for centuries, maybe millennium, denigrated the Feminine…and as walking embodiments of the Feminine, women and girls are living, breathing targets of this fear and hatred of the Feminine – also known as misogyny.
Allan G. Johnson writes inÂ The Gender Knot:
“Misogyny plays a complex role in patriarchy. It fuels men’s sense of superiority, justifies male aggression against women, and works to keep women on the defensive and in their place. Misogyny is especially powerful in encouraging women to hate their own femaleness, an example of internalized oppression. The more women internalize misogynist images and attitudes, the harder it is to challenge male privilege or patriarchy as a system. In fact,Â women won’t tend to see patriarchy as even problematic since the essence of self-hatred is to focus on the self as the sole cause of misery, including the self-hatred.” Â (italics mine)
Allan Johnson also writes,
…patriarchy is not simply another way of saying “men.” Patriarchy is a kind of society, and a society is more than a collection of people. It also involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women.”
Patriarchy is NOT men. It’s a system. It’s a system we are born into.Â It’s a system we all hold up, and continue to breath life into, when we don’t question the assumptions we hold about men, women, and power, and about how we are in the world with each other.
It’s a system we give power to when we don’t question how we value ourselves as women, and how we value womanhood.
It’s a system we help to keep in place when we ‘hate our own femaleness’.
It’s a system that continues to control how we view ourselves when we don’t question theseÂ internalized misogynist images.
This isn’t about men vs. women.
Not at all. We often think when one attempts to have a conversation about this subject matter that we are blaming men, but if you read further into Johnson’s book (which I hope you will!), you will see that attempts to subvert these discussions are ways to keep this kind of system alive and well.
And if we focus on the self-hate, we are doing exactly what Johnson mentions – not seeing the mechanism of patriarchy at work.
This post IS about…
…the images we, women and men, carry around within ourselves of the Feminine, women, and the value of women.
This post IS about…
…the places within us that are outside of the realm of patriarchy.
We are all, men and women, given images when we are young of what a woman is and what a man is. In a world (for the most part – some indigenous cultures do not do this) that has denigrated the Feminine for centuries, it would make sense that our images of the Feminine would be less than helpful at best, and downright misogynist at worst; and our images of men would be championed (although as we’ve explored coming to terms with equality for women over the past decades, there’s been a lot of mud slinging both ways.)
Of course, as I’ve been writing this over the past few days, the writing has been working on me. What initially began as a more cerebral exploration and post, soon became very personal and emotional for me. As I sat with, something I try to do when I am writing a post, these images that I hold of myself, these misogynistic images I’ve ingested over my lifetime, I began to truly grasp the depth of this programming by a system that is misogynistic to its core.
Some of the images I see in my own psyche about myself are deeply misogynistic. Of course they are. I’ve been swimming in this system my entire life. I’ve been ingesting these images from the time I began to be conscious of what was around me. We wonder why it is so hard for women to love themselves. We don’t have to look far. We just have to be willing to look inside, into the depths of what we’ve come to believe, and feel, about our womanhood, and about our female bodies.
And, men do not escape the pain of this culture. Not at all. The Feminine is within them. And, their mothers, sisters, daughters, friends are women. When they hold these misogynistic images within their psyches, they must deaden the pain of knowing that the women they love deeply are walking, breathing, embodiments of this Feminine that is so feared and so hated.
Instead, if we are willing…
What we can is come to know the images of what it is to be female that lay outside the realm of patriarchal conditioning. These images come to us as we honestly, and wholly, ask the question, “What is it to be female?”
We can question what we’ve believed to be true. We can look directly at the images we hold of ourselves as women, of other women, and of the Feminine itself.
Inquire into the images of the Feminine that YOU are carrying around within you. Look inside. What images are YOU holding of woman? What images do you believe to be true about you and your femaleness?
This is what matters, because when we hold images, and we all do, they are the images we offer to others about ourselves. They are the images we give to others, mostly unconsciously, that tell others about who we believe ourselves to be, how much worth we believe we have, and how the people in our lives should treat us.
The images of self and gender we hold that speak to self-hatredÂ are not natural. They are not native to us.
Images of self-hatred are not native to us. Images of self-hatred are not native to that place within us that has never been under the control of patriarchal thought and conditioning.Â
We are love. Â And, we can be fierce love. When we begin to hold images of ourselves as women worthy of dignity, respect, and love, we begin to view ourselves differently. I’m not talking band-aid images – I’m talking a real and true transformation of the images we hold about ourselves, other women, and the Feminine. When we find these places of dignity, respect, and love within ourselves, we begin to know something new, something real, something sacredly creative.
Anne Baring writes,
“The recovery of the feminine principle is the key to the transformation of our world culture from decay and disintegration and progressive regression into uniformity, banality and brutality, into something longed for and extraordinary.
Woman’s own awakening to the realisation of her value is part of the recovery of the feminine principle. It is as if a momentous birth is taking place in the collective psyche of woman. This birth may be experienced as something that is deeply perplexing and difficult as well as something exciting and challenging. As woman gives birth to herself, to her unique individuality, to the emerging awareness of her value as woman (not an imitation of man), the feminine principle will also emerge in the consciousness of humanity which for so long has suffered from its repression and rejection.
Woman, whose essential nature is to respond to suffering and need, is now responding to life’s own need and is experiencing herself as the vessel of transformation in which a new consciousness is being born.”
A woman is reborn as she gives birth “to her unique individuality, to the emerging awareness of her value as woman (not an imitation of man).“
We are reborn when we ask the question (with a longing to listen so we truly hear the answer),Â What is it to be female? We are reborn in the space from which we listen. This isn’t woman as imitation of man, or woman born from man’s rib.Â This is, as Rilke wrote, “the female human being.”
Â As Woman
When I come to know myself as Woman,
as sacredly female outside of patriarchal control,
I am held in the lap of Love,
I am back in the garden of Earth,
I breathe in the fragrance of Life,
I eat of the fruit of Wisdom,
I am no longer a stranger in the holy land,
the only land in which I am truly alive,
the land of my own body,
the realm of my own Soul.