Have you wrestled with the idea of feminism: what it really is and if it is even necessary anymore? As a woman who grew up in the '60s and lived through several waves of feminism, I want to share with you a way of looking at feminism that is both real and sacred. Perhaps it can help you in your own wondering.
Feminism is not just a personal longing. It is a movement born out of the impulse for life to come into wholeness. It is a longing for life itself to be honored in all its forms, regardless of gender, skin color, class, age, beliefs about God, or any other ways we might separate ourselves from each other.
Can you relate? Do you also experience this longing for wholeness?
In my life, this natural impulse to come to know wholeness came out of a heart broken open. My heart broke in 1964 when my mother suddenly became a single mom. I was 8 and the second wave of feminism was about to be born.
Our “normal” family suddenly became abnormal, shameful, and different—because my father left. My mother was now a woman no longer wanted by a man, a woman who through no fault of her own was now a threat to many of her married women friends and terrified of how she would make ends meet. There was a very strong cultural message (still in place to this day) that a woman without a man was somehow of less value. While she experienced compassion and support from a few women friends, she experienced far more judgment and harshness—very real effects of living in patriarchy.
I remember her heartbreak—not only the heartbreak of being left, but also that of being cast out. I was angry at the injustice, for sure, but more heartbroken for her. To this day, it brings sadness.
Looking back, I see the impulse to be free and valued and given equal status under the law was at the heart of the feminist movement. Feminism arose from the desire of women to live in dignity, to be able to choose for their own bodies, and to see self and other as valuable and worthy of equality. It is this honoring of life that is at the heart of what is often referred to as the sacred feminine.
Like any movement that challenges the status quo, the rise of feminism was messy. The status quo doesn’t like to be challenged. And, as with any movement of oppressed peoples, attempts to become free are met with opposition. Buried anger, fear, and hate rise to the surface, causing what initially were clear waters of a desire to be free to turn muddy and painful. This was, and is, the process of coming to wholeness. We cannot realize our wholeness without acknowledging what we have not wanted to see, feel, or honor. Whether it is internal to our own personal experience or the collective experience, whatever is buried must be felt, acknowledged, and healed. In the ’70s and early ’80s, we didn’t have a healthy way of dealing with what was happening. We still are not so skilled at this collectively.
In 1982, when the Equal Rights Amendment failed ratification, falling three states short of the 38 required to add it to the Constitution, I remember being dumbfounded and, yes, heartbroken, that through all of that pain and struggle, our country’s Constitution would still not hold that women and men are persons of equal status. I was naïve. I believed that what was touted as the fundamental backbone of our country, freedom and equality for all, would be granted. I was a young mother of two daughters, and I deeply grieved such entrenched devaluation of women and of the feminine itself.
Out of this heartbreak birthed an even stronger desire for wholeness. When we begin to feel, we begin to wake up to what we’ve denied in ourselves and in others. When the heart breaks open, what longs to be born begins to flourish in the heart—a deep and abiding love for all of life.
Take a moment to remember a time of your own heartbreak and any sensations you felt. Along with the pain and grief, can you also remember feeling this awakening love blossoming in your own heart?
There are forces in us that keep what is trying to be born at bay—a desire to be comfortable, or a holding back out of fear, or even just feeling way too vulnerable. Yet, as women, we also contain forces that can help birth what is new. Living the feminine is living from the heart. And when we live from our hearts and feel what is happening, we must be willing to feel it all—even the anger, for anger is a direct expression of this longing for wholeness. As we more fully feel these difficult emotions, the important qualities of our life force—such as real compassion, creative joy, and constructive anger—become available. What I am describing is all of us—women and men—coming into a lived experience of wholeness.
At the core, feminism came out of a longing to be whole in a world where many people continue to refuse to acknowledge or value the feminine aspects of life. Feminism is for all: men, women, children, and life, because it is an acknowledgement of the inherent value of the sacred feminine, which is part of all of us, even if we have refused to acknowledge it. Refusing to see it doesn’t mean it does not exist.
I am a daughter, sister, mother, and grandmother. I have experienced an incredible life. You and I have something to live in this world that is not yet fully alive. All women do. When our hearts break open, not just over cruelty, but also in joy, we begin to live what we are here to live: an embodied expression of the sacred feminine. It is our wholeness, the feminine alongside the masculine—in other words, our full humanity.
I hope you will join me in living this wholeness. And I hope you will be tender with yourself along the way.
Photo by Bibbie Friman