Something has bothered me for a while, but I was never able to put it into words until recently. To be completely honest, I also never really spent that much time focused on it. While it’s harmful and destructive, it’s got a veil of empowerment and dignity and therefore is highly deceptive.
I’ll admit that people talking about “good/bad energy” and “good/bad vibes” and the like has often made me roll my eyes. I put these sentiments in the same category as belief in the power of crystals, astrology, and other New Age beliefs and pseudoscience. I hardly consider myself any more “spiritual” than I am religious, and I’m not religious.
Now that I’ve offered that caveat, it has often bothered me on a visceral level when I have heard people (often women, often feminists) say something along the lines of “embracing your feminine energy” or “unleashing your feminine goddess” or any of the other multitude variations in which I have read/heard this sentiment. Although I obviously believe in the empowerment and equality of women, I do not believe these sentiments achieve that. I also find this verbiage to be slightly condescending and patronizing. This can also be seen in statements such as “A real man never…” or “A real woman always…” In actuality, the only masculine and feminine traits are those that can be seen with the naked eye and/or measured, such as the differing genitals, pronounced breast tissue and wider hips on women, and greater muscle mass and amounts of hair in men. And even these are not always necessarily true in every case, without even touching on the subject of trans individuals.
Ideal feminine traits are often considered those that would inehrently be considered weak, while ideal masculine traits are those that most people would consider strong traits. For example, the following traits are often considered “feminine”: soft, forgiving, sweet, gentle, submissive, and humble. On the contrary, the following traits are often considered “masculine”: in control, confident, intelligent, assertive, strong, brave, and independent. If nothing else, a quick Google search can confirm this.
These are not simply descriptive words. They also serve prescriptive purposes, which make them much more sinister. And while after thousands of years of the patriarchy and misogyny being normalized and considered “simply the way things are supposed to be”, it is easy for many people (including women) to confuse certain longstanding social norms, expectations, standards, and roles as actually being natural or biological, “simply the way things are”. In a world dominated by the patriarchy, men who do not live up to these ideal masculine traits might be mocked or even shunned socially, whereas women who step outside these bounds can and do face consequences ranging from discrimination in the workplace all the way up to their lives being taken.
Although those who talk about “feminine energy” are almost always full of good intentions and attempting to uplift women, this verbiage instead ensures women continue to be shackled in the same chains misogynists put them in in the first place. Ideal traits for human beings should include traits such as self-love, empathy, bravery, self-awareness, honor, and discipline, among other attributes. As an outflow of the accepted current duality, when a man comes up with a solution, he is praised for being logical, while a woman might easily be criticized as being bossy for having done the same thing. When a woman is (even very understandably) upset, she is said to be “moody” or “hysterical”, when a man who was feeling the same way would much more likely have his concerns taken seriously and discussed. Only when we undo the system of gendered speech that hold the sexes to different standards can we free both women and men of limiting biases.
I understand that the prevailing belief is that both men and women have both feminine and masculine traits. However, this is still problematic, as we are still defining (and deeming) certain traits as ideal when found in a man and certain traits as ideal when found in a woman. The fact remains that traits accepted as being masculine are less self-debasing and “feminine” traits much more so. Instead of attempting to sell the belief that societally-engineered “female” traits are inspirational and should be embraced by women, let’s question the very assertion that certain traits are feminine and certain traits masculine.