Alternative Editorial: Where Is The Feminine?
By Indra Adnan, co-initiator of The Alternative UK
What does feminine mean to you? 100 years after women got the vote in the UK, the F word has become much more difficult to define. According to mainstream narrative, the feminine used to reside at home, where the children were or where privacy was possible. Where the internal life of contemplation found its space. It spoke instantly of nurturance, supportive structures and the right to play.
Feminine language allowed feelings, intuition, wisdom – capabilities not measured for their efficacy, but valued highly as the thing that Mum brought, different from what Dad brought. Though both Men and Women, boys and girls valued them, needed them. They came home for them. Not because they were an end in themselves, but because they were the gateway to children becoming individuals – their full selves – whatever form that might take.
But after only a few lines of exploring this question, I’m hesitating. Because we know so much more now than we did then: that Mum was often working outside the home, already subject to the values and structures created for industry and economic growth. The idealized relationship between the Mother and the Feminine was already under strain. And it became increasingly challenged by women themselves, as they fought for equality in what was once a Man’s world. The right to be an agentic self, not tied to the home, with access to power and greater resources that should surely belong to everyone?
In the future, history – or herstory - will show the transformation better than any one of us can describe it, looking from the eye of the storm. But the phenomenon of women moving out of the home into public life – whether that began with, or was simply accelerated by, the vote, the contraceptive pill, feminism – has left us without anywhere clear to locate the Feminine spirit, values or ways of being and doing. And as a result, it is harder to find and grow when the need for it is becoming increasingly clear.
What happened to the Feminine?
Women did not move into the public spaces of work, institutional life, politics and bring their particular feminine qualities and capabilities with them. They had to ‘fit into’ public life as it had been constructed over centuries, even millennia. In this world, what women might have bought specifically was demeaned: softness, the ability to empathise, the attentiveness to emotion were all seen as weaknesses that got in the way of action. So they were marginalised.
This overly masculine culture also left men disconnected from their inner lives – there was so much demand on their physical and material capabilities. Because men, as well as women, had a feminine - more “feeling”- self that needed attention and care. These selves also yearned for more complex understanding and relationships, within which they could be confirmed and grow, but also co-operate better. If they were lucky, and could afford mothers to stay at home, they had somewhere to go and find repair, become whole again in their homes. If not, there was little respite from the endlessly performative demands of public life.
Is the suppression of the feminine why we have the multiple crises of depression, addiction and suicide in our society? When our daily lives do not support the need for self-development, full expression and holistic vision - through offering enough time, space and reward - where can we get it?
So while it was both necessary and much to be desired for women to move into public life, that move has not provided a simple counter-balance to masculine domains of power and industry. Instead it has robbed men – and all of us – of somewhere to go and easily find that wholeness. This is not a call to go backwards, but a commitment to actively re-locate the feminine in the public space in ways that provide sustenance for all of us. That is not a small task.
Our difficult challenge.
In public life, it is difficult to make a call on modern women in ways that emphasise the feminine, without suggesting a return to the old divisions of labour. Instead there are many calls – for equality, for entrepreneurship, for sexual identity - each of which are vital for the advance of women, both physically and socially, but that rarely question what is feminine.
Consequently, modern female success has largely been measured on the same terms that men set for themselves -through achievement of status and financial reward; through hard power – the ability to lead and force others to act; through measurable impact (most often meaning economic growth). Where are the prizes for most integral, most magical, most loving acts? To advance, women have been required to downgrade the genius of their own femininity.
And the dominance of masculinity in the public space has only increased as women have legitimized those values. They have played by those rules, celebrated the wins in that game, and thus intensified the feedback loop.
What are the knock-on effects of masculine values of growth through hard power – now ‘owned’ by both men and women in the public space – on our society and planet? We can point to much evidence for a loss of balance - the continued logic of militarism, unsustainable growth, mass incarceration, mental illness epidemics, the persistence of a work ethic that leaves 60% of people unhappy in their jobs, the growth of violent crime on our streets and on the internet.
We are living in a global story of self-destruction, in which only those at the very tip of this arrow - those who know how to profit from the instrumentalisation of others - can win. Male suicide is on an ever-steeper curve upwards. Young women choose early not to have children because it would only add to the unsustainability of a planet burning. Nuclear warheads – the weapons of mass destruction – are given spending priority over solving the crisis issues of food and water across the planet. And too many of us in are thrall to the speed and excitement of the “daily news agenda” as it scrolls down our devices, rarely stopping to notice our collective drive towards the cliff.
Where does the Feminine show up?
Yet the Feminine is not something that can be eliminated. While it no longer has a clear location - nor even a gender - to guarantee its attention in the media, it persists and grows in ways we don’t readily acknowledge: waiting for its moment to regroup and become visible again. Like Nature itself, its greenery almost disappearing for all to see during Winter, but gathering its forces for Spring. And while we may lose the sensibility of all that is verdant and beautiful in the cold months, the cyclical logic of Nature persists and the yearning for it increases.
Here at The Alternative UK we are committed to the re-balancing of feminine with masculine values in the public space because that is how the new politics can arise – a politics that has as its goal the flourishing of people and planet. And here is what we see: for at least the past twenty years, what we understand to be feminine forms and behaviours have been making their mark, largely unrecognized as feminine per se.
Within this framing we see that we have moved from a logic of hierarchies to one of networks – the same way that women always worked in their circles and communities. We talk increasingly about soft skills and soft power – the powers of attraction and connection - as the missing factors in our strategies for flourishing. Our self-awareness has massively grown through the use of social media – even if we don’t yet know how to create value for others with that knowledge. In our public services, we are beginning to prioritize relational over transactional practices – slowly understanding that the logic of economizing costs lives rather than saves them.
Publishing is always a clue to where the public imagination is drifting. We are reading more and more about how to regain our humanity in the face of our soulless workplaces - and even beginning to restructure them for better work-life balance. On-line we are giving increasing attention to our emotional needs – for intimacy, self-development, community – and becoming slowly more literate as we watch ourselves and others perform.
In a public sphere where most of which counts as news was constructed by men, these developments are too often missed. Sometimes they are actively dismissed as soft and fluffy, or self-indulgent – which still follows the logic that human beings are most useful when robotic and efficient, rather than complex and in service to personal and social development.
But once you have trained your eye on the development of feminine practices within our institutions, civic life, education systems, and begun to appreciate them – and actively frame them – as signs of a public space coming back to life, the sap begins to rise.
Just try switching off the mainstream media for a few days, and read from the human growth perspective we offer in our Daily Alternative – along with others like Atlas of the Future, Resurgence, Positive News (are there others?) – and your life will change.
So will the feminine slowly assert its logic and burst forth alongside the masculine, bringing us back into balance as if by magic? Sadly, there’s no guarantee of that. This is the Anthropocene – Nature is not in charge. It’s entirely possible that the sheer force of masculine values, guaranteed by men dominating leadership positions and women leaving the feminine to fend for itself, will lead us to self-annihilation in the history of a planet which continues with or without us.
Steps towards a more feminine - more balanced - politics
So those of us who are actively interested in feminine values, who are invested in the fully connected human as the basis of a society where public and private life can be coherent, need to step up. We see a lot of signs – some of which are described above – which we doggedly pick up and blog on The Daily Alternative. From the persistent (if gentle) growth of movements such as Transition Towns, Co-operatives, Permaculture to the more recent appearance of green innovations, spiritual gatherings, arts activism and community organising – the possibilities of global networks to propel what is called the Great Transition are coming into view.
To provide an incubator for all these initiatives, we champion the rise of localism and municipalism. Here is where every citizen is offered the chance of participation – where they can bring their authentic selves to the decisions to be made about their own communities. Highlighting the growing popularity of community in all its forms – whether Facebook or Mumsnet, festivals or football, grand causes or interest clubs, co-housing or food and energy projects – we aim to big up human connection as the rationale of any future politics.
But like the glowing embers of a fire, they can flare up to create the warmth we need, or die out – according to how much attention they get. If we want feminine values to gain more energy, we have to spot those sparks and fan the flames. The important work of FemmeQ for example (review here soon) has to be energetically supported for the new logic of change that it brings.
For this reason, The Alternative UK will be organizing meet-ups in the future to look specifically at feminine values, culture and practices; how to understand them and enhance them, for the sake of our common humanity and the survival of the planet. If we can understand the past as a journey for the Feminine – in which it was marginalised by 20th Century life but is now resurfacing – we can use the future as a canvas to paint a much more colourful, vibrant future.
What needs to change in both the private and public space, that can radically re-balance the Masculine with the Feminine energies in ways that return us to our most imaginative, energetic and potentialised selves? From shorter working weeks and shared leadership positions to automated cleaning and a play ethic to succeed the work ethic.. bring it on.
And of course, all genders will be welcome.
If you want to know more, or would like to offer tools and practices to help these meetings dance, contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.