My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor
Eating in the Light of the Moon by Anita Johnson
I know. All the alternative women's magazines, especially Bitch, fight it. "Feminist" doesn't necessarily mean hairy hippie lesbians, but it CERTAINLY doesn't mean make-up or high heels." This, they imply, is "feminine" as opposed to "feminist." But I wonder, where has the deeper meaning of "feminine" gone?
From Chogyam Trungpa, sent out this week on "Ocean of Dharma":
"Feminine inspiration projects a world which it can regard as workable and friendly since it is its own creation.....An aspect of feminine inspiration is regarding what you have created as sacred. You have created Buddhism, Christianity, Sufism -- it is your production. Since it is fully yours, respect it, work with it. These teachings did not come from somewhere else; your own openness gave birth to them. Moreover, you gave birth to pleasure and pain. You built Paris, London, New York City. You produced the president of the United States. These things are the product of feminine inspiration."
From "Femininity," in THE COLLECTED WORKS OF CHOGYAM TRUNGPA, Volume Six, page 564.
Recently I have read two books which really opened me to the other. One was the super popular current book My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (TED talk here in case you haven't seen it) and the other was a student recommendation, an older book, called Eating in the Light of the Moon by Anita Johnson. On the surface, these books aren't that similar. Taylor is a neuroscientist, who had the mis/fortune to have a massive stroke, and be aware enough to notice it as it was happening, then learn an awful lot about the brain and humanity throughout her recovery. Johnson writes about helping folks (especially women) who have problems with "disordered eating" (all the standards: bulimia, anorexia and overeating, but also anything related to a dissociated relationship with eating, which means, well, most of us). Her main approach is to use myths and stories so we can enter into healing through non-linearily connecting with our actual feelings, instead of stuffing or starving them.
What both women do, through this language or not, is accentuate and elaborate on the "feminine" in the deeper sense - non-linear, creative, round and not straight, circular, spiral-y nature of those traits associated with the feminine. Both point out, REGARDLESS OF GENDER that all of us, men and women, often suffer at the hands of linear judgment, both inside our own minds and also in society. Bolte spends a lot of time emphasizing that we need our orderly mind (her left brain, the home of the critic and also the necessary part of you that knows you put socks on before shoes, is what she lost in the stroke) as much as we need our creative mind, but the right brain (organic, cyclical and associative) goes vastly underutilized and offers a chance to access our own sense of grace, appreciation and creativity every moment, if we just tap into it.
In using stories and myths for healing, Johnson emphasizes just this point. As Chogyam Trungpa says in the excerpt above: "Feminine inspiration projects a world which it can regard as workable and friendly since it is its own creation." Knowing that nothing has true order, in the left brain sense, that though putting one's socks on before one's shoes is most beneficial, one need not, say, write a book or even run one's entire life in that kind of order, is of more than therapeutic value. Both authors point to "dysfunction" or "disruption" as a learning place, where the system breaks down (because of medical or social reasons) we can rebuild, and in doing so, appreciate that our lives are far more sustainable if they are organic, feminine and follow the order of creation (small c).
I have often had a bit of a hard spot for "feminine-ity." Though I wear skirts and occasionally even put on make-up (see social definition), my gut reaction isn't against the exterior manifestation, rather my internal self-judgment that letting things go, allowing the flow to take me along is both weak and passive. Both are bad, by the way, in case you weren't sure, according to my left brain.
Dictionary.com defines "feminine" in six ways, most of which refer to dress and gender appearances. But these two point to where the trouble truly has been for me, and I think, for many others:
|2.||having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness.|
|3.||effeminate; womanish: a man with a feminine walk.|
Because it isn't. Because it's socialized out of everyone as being weak. Because the second definition begins to point to a division in gender, and the deep automatic values: what is male is good, what is woman isn't. What is male is strong, what is feminine isn't. What is orderly and masculine is good, what is creative and feminine isn't. Unfortunately that last bit really isn't that much of a leap.
I described this to the student who loaned me Eating in the Light of the Moon as the following example, the way "gender" makes this kind of problem scratch under our radar without notice, followed by another example I thought of since:
It took me years of dating to realize that line from the Police song: "Every (woman) I go out with becomes my mother in the end" is true for me - but not just for the women I date - also for the MEN I have dated. How could that be? In fact, I'd have to say most of my old girlfriends were less like my mother than my boyfriends. Huh? I only figured this out in the last couple of years looking at one particular male ex, through therapy, who was - still is - highly narcissistic. My therapist pointed out that my mother was this way as well, and all of a sudden my surface level associations - carefully constructed out of left brain logic - fell apart in the muddy river of organic right brain world and I realized he was right. Gender doesn't matter, not when it comes to this level of energy.
On a slightly more surface level, how is it that I can feel like I am in DRAG when I dress up? Not in a skirt - I do that often enough, but say, putting on a bridesmaid gown or fancy dress. Heels. Make-up. Hairdo. The whole nine. I am a woman, why is this a "problem," because that is sure what it feels like. As if someone is going to see the real me AND IT IS NOT GOING TO BE PRETTY. My inner masculine energy rails against all that femininity - in the alternative feminist sense - it's not ok to wear these things because they are associated with the "bad" parts of women.
Tell you what. There are no bad parts. To any of us. Even that logical order has its function, but neither brain side nor feminine/masculine energy works for everything. Like anything else, skillful application is necessary. And full recognition of our entire toolbox enables that skillful application. So go read yourself some guidebooks for how to work with our entire mind and spirits - Taylor and Johnson lead the way.