Embodied Feminism

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By Kendra Tanner

I’ve never identified as a feminist, a women’s rights advocate, priestess, or any other title for those who stand for the feminine. Growing up, I bought into the idea that the way to succeed, survive, and be loved, was to mimic the men. I idolized the guys who would chant army cadences on runs. I thought if I could do the same amount of pushups, have a defined 6 pack, and wear baggy sweatshirts, then I would be loved and accepted by men.

As a teenager and in my early 20s, I was highly disconnected from my feminine self. While I loved wearing one-of-a-kind heels and occasionally showed a bit of leg in a skirt, this attempt at being feminine was reserved for times when I was desperate enough to put myself on display. A last-ditch attempt to make the men turn their heads.

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Fast forward 20 years and I surprisingly find myself part of the emerging wave of women actively supporting the reclaiming of our voice. I teach a movement class for those who identify as women, designed to connect us to our pleasure, play, and emotional range. This has been edgy for me. My identity always relied on pushing through, tolerating pain, bagging more achievements, and a physical strength and emotional stoicism that got applauded by others.

I’ve come to realize that while these more masculine traits are necessary and helpful at times, by relying on them solely for my value and worth, I am only valuing, loving, and therefore operating with, a fraction of me. It is not a wholly authentic or embodied version of me.

That doesn’t feel good; neither does seeing this same pattern in others. I don’t think it’s what previous generations of women wanted for us, and it’s not what I want for myself or for you. While I am not a scholar of women’s history and how we got to this point, my sense is that in trying to achieve equality with men, we thought we had to master the masculine energy. Perhaps this was necessary at the time in order to get their attention; prove that, “Hey! We can do this too!”

However, in proving ourselves, we also lost part of ourselves. We’ve idealized a muscular body, and the masculine energy that sustains consistent output for long periods of time, without balancing this with our innate feminine energy. The result: uptight, rigid, workaholic women. (It takes one to know one.)

I am grateful and have reverence for the women who forged the way for us to be seen as equal, and I have the same respect for women who are currently championing initiatives for our pain to be seen and our concerns to be heard. I also believe that if we don’t do this with an embodied feminine voice, we will end up pushing away and alienating the very people and parties that we want to listen to us and co-create change with us.

We can wear the power suits and have our hair and nails perfectly manicured, or grow our body hair and burn our bra; whatever expression of womanhood floats your boat. However, our outward expression loses its impact if at our core we are operating from a need to control, perform, achieve, and are disconnected from the desires of our feminine hearts.

I’ve lived that way long enough, and it’s not who I want to be.

In teaching Embody dance classes, I’ve come to understand the importance of feminine energy, specifically our pleasure, emotional range, and play.

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Here’s what they have taught me.

We vilify men and the shadow of the masculine that will do anything to gain power. Yet, we have our own version of an unembodied masculine power-play. It’s called your control freak. When we are disconnected from what feels good in our bodies and our souls, we also disconnect from our divine desires; for our lives, our families, and our world. Our bodies become contracted and closed up. Physically and spiritually, we’re no longer open and receptive to those desires coming to fruition without us micromanaging every single detail. We lose faith that an embodied masculine energy (coming either from men, a higher power, or ourselves), will be attracted to the beauty of vulnerable expression our desires. We stop trusting that embodied masculine strength will do everything it can to see feminine desires through to fruition. However, permission for pleasure translates into open receptivity, which magnetizes desires towards us. This feminine posture means we let go of the reins and get out of our own way.

In trying to compete with men for a seat at the boardroom table, we’ve been told to rein in our emotions. Too many tears and you’re too soft. Too many times disagreeing with the status quo and you’re a cold hard bitch. And forget about nurturing our children. Too much time off for the school run, soccer games, or your kid’s chickenpox, and you’re not committed. We are asked to do it all, but without our secret weapon: Flow. It’s our emotional range that keeps us in synch with the energy that sustains us.

Our feminine energy is cyclical each month and each year. We are consistently inconsistent. Which means it’s unlikely you’ll sustain peak performance for 21 days straight, but you will definitely cycle through seasons where your creativity, organizational skills, communication prowess, and intuitive decision-making become your superpower. Ask yourself to do any, or all, of these things day-in and day-out and you will turn into a depleted, tired, and most likely cranky, woman. Yes, you will be working really hard to try and hold it all together, but the kudos only comes when you embody your true strength: saying ‘No’ when it’s not the right time, so that your ‘Yes’ in the aligned season has exponential impact.

Picture this scenario: You just got home from a long day at work. The breakfast dishes still need to be washed. It’s laundry day. The kids have their science fair projects due tomorrow. Your sister left you 4 messages which means you’re overdue a catch-up. It’s also a beautiful spring evening, with the air that perfect temperature where you don’t need a jacket to stay warm outside. Your man walks in with the kids after soccer practice. “Hey babe! We were thinking, picnic dinner in the park, family frisbee and ice-cream. What do you say?” All you can think about is the massive to-do list, so you shoot down the idea. “There isn’t enough time. I’ve got too much to do.” And then you wonder why he’d rather sit in front of the TV than spend quality time with you. When we do not leave room for joy in our life, joy has a way of finding somewhere else to play.

You’ve probably heard about this thing called projection. When we don’t like a part of ourselves, it’s easier to point the finger at someone else exhibiting the same behaviour. The rejection of our shadow, and it’s accompanying light, gets displaced onto the person next to us, and so we reject them instead.

We are at a stage where it is easier to blame and shame the obvious grievances of the masculine, than accept how we as women, have disconnected from the core of who we are in the name of equality.

In trying to be equal to men, we’ve attempted to adopt the masculine qualities of provision, consistency, and achievement. In doing so we’ve forgotten to balance that with our receptivity, fluid range, and spirit of play.

In the same way that, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” (from Marianne Williamson’s, A Return to Love), when we disconnect from the core of who we are, we give permission for the person next to us to be disconnected too.

Perhaps the next generation of feminism needs to view our feminine qualities as worthy and as equal in value to masculine qualities, so that we aren’t our worst perpetrator, disowning and discrediting the essential parts of our feminine power.

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We can accept our light, and accept the ripple effect we’ve created by drifting too far into the masculine shadow.

When we are disembodied in both our feminine and masculine, we experience burn-out. When we’re burned-out and stressed-out, what do we do? Try to control; mostly men. And then blame and shame them when they don’t succeed in filling the necessary shoes that we’ve deserted.

This is where we can call upon our inner Wise Woman. She ensures our emotional range doesn’t go too far. Yes, destructive chaos is necessary and a natural part of life cycles; you see Mother Nature do this all the time in order to bring about new life. However, we have to be careful that we don’t just recklessly unleash our anger, rage, and wrath, especially towards men. If we don’t also call upon the part of ourselves that gravitates towards connection, community, and putting the pieces back together in the order of Love, we will end up leaving a path of destruction in our wake us that no one will want to follow.

We can not shame men and the masculine in the process of reclaiming our feminine. We have to uplift both.

Lifting up and loving that which has harmed us can feel monumentally impossible. It starts with acceptance of the part we’ve played, forgiving ourselves and the other, finding gratitude for what has gotten us to where we are; planting seeds of Love.

It requires intuitive and spirit-led leadership, guiding us all out from the shaming mud-pits, into cleansing waters, and onto solid ground where together we can build families, communities, and organizations founded on mutual respect and appreciation for the differences in the masculine and feminine; with encouragement for each to fulfill their unique and equal part.