So, you have found this oppressive mainstream culture to be a load of BS, so you get into new age belief systems (that have always resonated with you anyway) and you find the 'Divine Feminine' and a load of people who seem pretty chill and are channelling that divine gendered stuff all over the place too with a mixture of yoga retreats, incense, and avocados. Good for you! But - something about the ‘Divine Feminine’ makes you feel a bit suspicious and uneasy. A bit uncomfortable. Well, what if I was to tell you that those feelings make absolute sense as often, mainstreamed notions of the 'Divine Feminine' seem to be not only inaccurate but are also really damaging and contributing to oppression? I know - terrible!
One of the problems is that, as one person put it, it stops certain privileged new age groups - let's call them hippies - from questioning these concepts and areas (SP 2018). That the ‘Divine feminine’ is age old misogyny 'shrouded in hippie terminology' (SL 2018). If the ‘Divine Feminine’ is used in a way that really works to address oppression and to liberate trans and queer people than I 100% support that. But that is not how I have seen it being used. Of course, I'm not saying that we should totally erase notions of the 'feminine' and 'masculine' - that actually would be wrong. I don't advise a culture where the feminine / masculine don't exist at all. Many queer and trans people rightly feel liberating being within these areas. But I is a separate area to mainstreamed notions of the Divine Feminine and Masculine
What I am critiquing in this piece is the mainstramed usually cis-themed applications of the 'Divine Feminine'. And long as we split these spaces into these kind of gendered binary categories only and don't give any space to thinking beyond this, we are never going to actually address the damaging power dynamics going on in and around them. And whatever people insist, when you challenge them about it, it is often defined in opposition to the 'Divine Masculine'. Whatever the fuck that means (tell me, what does it mean?). These divisions, which are often heavily sexualised, are based on a heterosexual, cis assuming framework which is damaging AF and outdated. A quick google of the 'Divine Feminine' on google says 'love, compassion, wisdom, beauty, gentleness, patience, accepting, forgiving, nurturing, welcoming, accessible, kind, intuitive and healing' *shivers*. Yeah. Because that is MAINLY female. OH I'm sorry I mean 'feminine'. Let's of course pretend the ‘Divine Feminine’ has no connection to ideas associated with the old school notions of the 'traditional woman'.
It is also so reductive to quantify these spiritual spaces as only within traditional sexist notions of binary gender. Especially if nothing beyond that is considered. Referring to the 'Divine Masculine/Feminine' at the very least, needs to be done with thorough thought and delicately, as if done badly, there is a lot at stake. Remember, these are in communities whereby they are supposed to be critical and challenging oppression, but many people find traditional gendering of characteristics pretty oppressive. At the same time as acknowledging binary notions of gender, we need to acknowledge thinking beyond that as well. One of the (many) problems - and probably the most obvious - of the ‘Divine Feminine’ is that it is casting certain characteristics as 'feminine'. Such as, oh i don't know, deep emotional awareness, empathy, caring qualities. You know, those feminine qualities that only 'the feminine' possesses. You don't think so? I know - exactly. If so-called 'masculine' qualities also reflect this (which of course they do) then - why have the distinction?
If someone did think these were just the 'natural' qualities of the 'feminine', these have obviously initially been created from old notions of ‘womenhood’. If that is what people really think, I personally think is so fucking rude towards anyone who doesn't identify with 'the feminine' or 'their feminine side' or even people who do but not most of the time. So are they not empathetic creatures? Of course they are. I don't identify with the feminine any more than I absolutely have to. You could say that I'm forced to because of being a AFAB but I'd rather not have to think about the feminine too much. Kind of makes me feel queasy. What does that make my 'Feminine' or 'Divine Feminine' percentage? Probably below 50%? What, so anything / anyone outside of the divine feminine - is an uncaring knob-head? No. Exactly. That's because humans naturally are empathetic. And caring. And anyone who has been conditioned otherwise has been, in my opinion, mistreated.
The 'Divine Feminine' comes from a history which tries to promote ideas of some sort of strong and innate bio-psychological differences between men/women - and that is literally scientifically inaccurate. Differences in the brain are as a result of the conditioning we put people through as the brain is incredibly malleable (check out ‘Neurofeminism’ and ‘No More boys and Girls’ for more information). So, for example, when we give boys building-related toys, they are actually developing the part of the brain to do with spacial awareness and things that contribute to maths and physics. Not something developed as much with barbies as toys (as highlighted in No More Boys and GIrls).
The forced gendered conditioning is something we are realising can often be experienced as limiting and oppressive. We are now trying to move away from that because we realise that's a mistake. Those things are not a feminine or masculine quality, the fact that we relate things like empathy as a gendered characteristic is an echo of our failures as a society. As we well know by now, certain genders have been encouraged/discouraged from certain behaviours in a way that is so strongly gendered that many people don't know who they are authentically. Now it is the time we need to address that balance - not create even more inaccurate differences for the sake of it (for the sake of control technically). And that means less created differences in terms of the assume bio-psychological differences between genders and pushing them into so Divine spaces. This forced gendering is a result of patriarchy, sexism and toxic masculinity.
Oh, but proponents say, we all have 'feminine' and 'masculine' bits within us! Okay well in that case - tell me. What the fuck is the point in always having those forms of categorization then with no question? Because if it is in everyone - then the feminine / masculine characterization is just (at the very least) - two bits of a whole. So, why the resistance to the whole? Can't we acknowledge that whole more where relevant? Such as in Divine space? In an era when we know there is gender variance. Why always make the distinction? If everyone is a mix of both then... why are we always dichotomising them? Why not sometimes acknowledge thinking beyond that divide, acknowledge these unique and complex spaces instead. And i'm not saying that to erase people who are in the binary. I believe in people being who they are - who they choose to be. Be that woman and/or man and/or beyond that. What I’m referring to is new age believers quantifying a divine space carelessly in this manor without thinking about these complex dynamics. Quantifying divine space in a manor that has often been based on a damaging historical context. There has been nothing divine about that process, quite the opposite in fact. Another reason why it shouldn’t be used – perhaps?
This area is exceedingly complex. It is, by the very nature of gender studies, paradoxical. Absolutely. Because (both cis and trans) people are men, women, and we actually HAVE created a cultures that strongly casts certain things and characteristics as 'feminine' and 'masculine' (including interests, clothes, objects, everything really) so in some senses, we are at the limits of language when we are trying to describe things and ourselves and the same time as challenging them. Wap. Mind blown. *take a beta blocker* And although this culture and language is changing, the gender binary is still used by everyone. What I'm arguing against here is biological essentialism implied in conventional uses of the ‘Divine Feminine’. To blindly call Divine space 'feminine' without question, without recognising that there are some problematic aspects of doing so based on our history, would be a of great error. I don't feel that people that talk about the 'Divine Feminine' are often thinking about these areas, they seem to be operating in spaces that don't really understand that complexity, its paradoxical nature or any negative impact of the concept.
More thought about the damaging aspects of gendering entire types of spiritual spaces like this is needed. I mean, it is usually referring to esoteric spaces. Often, I have seen it in spaces where there isn't a real challenge or mention of patriarchy, sexism and/or colonialism. Which is very central to the concept, and historically why traditionally ‘feminine’ areas have been oppressed. It also often sexualised in opposition to the masculine, which may exclude some queer people and also (stop sexualising everything new agers! Get over yourselves). But being serious now, historically, reductive and simplistic oppositional binary thinking is what causes inequality in the first place. Plumwood's Master Model is one way to see how Anglo-American's culture of oppositionally dichotomising categories has led to the 'feminised' and therefore devalued categories becoming viewed as subhuman and exploitable. Here is a little segment of what I mean:
So, there you can see some issues with dichotomising things so much without creating some space for the transformation of how we think about these things. Indeed, theorists such as Mies & Shiva (1993, 266) believe that this method of devaluing the ‘Other’ exercises tremendous influence over, and is a central and integral part of globalised capitalism and colonialism. The theory argues that it is through dichotomisation – in this case gendered binary thinking and perceiving – that allows the process of valuing one over the other. You can see that this kind of thinking shows that we are not easily going to get beyond oppression by glorifying, over promoting and sometimes over-sexualising this 'divine feminine'. The spaces that I've been in that have done that have been incredibly patriarchal and oppressive. If you really need to refer to old-school notions of the feminine, use the phrase 'traditionally feminine' as that already makes space for different approaches to femininity.
It's understandable if you have found the concept of the 'Divine Feminine' attractive, but please know there are issues with old-school notions of the ‘Divine Feminine’ and ‘femininity’. It, at the very least, needs to allow space for critical thinking and identities beyond and in-between the ‘feminine’ and the ‘masculine’. To assume that certain characteristics as put into the 'feminine' bubble - such as compassion - is very problematic because whose to say that is not a quality of most people? There needs to be a space to think outside of this sometimes reductive division. As I've noted, the Divine Feminine has often been used in an essentialist, cis-centric and heterosexual manor, which also comes from our patriarchal culture. I'm not advocating not having these categories, that would NOT be okay as people have the right to be who they want to be. And if we all have 'feminine' and 'masculine' qualities within in us, why always make that distinction? Can't we in many cases fuse that together then? I have shown above how oppositional dichotomy has been used problematically in the past and why it is important to - at the same time as acknowledging binary thinking as it is a huge part of our culture - go beyond that as well. As it we continue with this reductive thinking, it only contributes to oppression. It does not address the very oppression that some proponents of the Divine Feminine might be trying to address.
Lastly, as a non-binary person who struggles with simplistic and pressurised aspects of the feminine and see's all the above in relation to this concept - I just want to add that I fucking hate how it has been used thus far in the mainstream. :)
Here's to an advanced understanding of gender and power dynamics in spiritual spaces!