The Feminine Mystique: an Addendum.
I am tired of people treating feminine rage like some sort of radical phase in the post-adolescent female, burning off as she matures and softens into society.
Feminine anger, the most unattractive of traits, is a buzzkill. It’s sophomoric and worn-out. It’s a bit too touchy.
The post-1970’s white feminist may have poured over the pages of Friedan and Hooks in college, but at some point she is expected to move on to other subjects.
She may keep her Bikini Kill T-shirt in the back of the bottom drawer along with other keepsakes from her college days, she may blast Ani DiFranco when driving alone, or quote Audre Lorde on social media just so long as she can retire her tirade against patriarchy for underwire and mascara for the business meeting where 80% of the attendees are male.
Just as long as she can hold her tongue when her husband’s colleague tows the line with innuendo, and conjure a thin smile at the misogynistic undertones during dinner party banter. While we’ve demystified the feminine mystique, gaslighting has become a new form of subjugation. They don’t really mean it. You are too sensitive, too uptight. Come on, don’t ruin the party.
After all, it’s not so bad here in our First World nation. Look at how far we’ve come. Women are autonomous, sexually liberated and politically powerful.
Except we aren’t.
We are just white women.
If she is fortunate, her education happens young. For most, it’s not until adolescence or early adulthood that we become aware of the misogyny soup we all are wading in.
Stage One of awakening occurs the moment she sees through new eyes what we are born into and conditioned to accept: thinly veiled male entitlement, even less disguised expectation that women be satisfied with less compensation, less respect, less accolades, less support, less recognition, a whole lot more work and all along maintaining a body like a centerfold.
She begins to see how she herself has slut-shamed and victim-blamed. She sees the subtle and overt messaging that her smiles belong to men and so does her body. When she begins to unpack her own story, she sees the story of all women, one that is raw and jarring.
When she awakens, she sees that rape culture is what has allowed our country to devastate entire populations, turned flesh and bone into a statistic, demographics which we speak about in classrooms and on film and at fundraiser dinners.
The daily infliction of violence upon ourselves through every act of ignorance and blind dollar spent to support the destruction of our natural habitat is mental illness, is soul-death, is sickness of the spirit. And she gets angry.
In her youthful twenties, maybe she attends rallies and marches, gets involved in organizations mobilizing for social change and environmental justice, engages in meaningful debate, makes art, refuses to conform.
But the extent to which the masses continue to operate under illusion is so staggering, so maddening, that she becomes exhausted. Living year in and year out with this reality becomes too painful to bear. She burns with anger until it burns her out.
Then there are college loans to repay. Or maybe she falls in love. Maybe she’s anxious about getting older. Maybe motherhood catches her off guard, or maybe she lands a good job in a field she loves and decides its time to grow up. At some point, she slowly begins to put down her arms. Tired of fighting the war that her culture is hell-bent on telling her doesn’t exist, she trades in her picket signs for stability.
After all, maybe she still can’t walk down the street without maintaining 360-degree awareness at all times, but she can vote. She can do her job as well as any man, just watch her prove it. She can balance motherhood and a career and a marriage and her figure and her mental health, just watch her go.
She’s been emancipated from the days spent barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, never mind that it is still women by leaps and bounds who perform the majority of childcare and household chores within two-parent households. Never mind that she still makes 60 cents to every man’s dollar. She is still an empowered woman, and she has good health insurance.
When she settles down or domesticates, enrolls in grad school, takes a decent job or finds a financially stable man, her family and friends breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe she tells herself she is still the same wild, liberated woman, but instead of civil disobedience, she plans play dates and business lunches.
She might have a moment when she catches herself filling out paperwork, trading her last name for his, when she pauses and remembers her former self in contrast to her life now: combat boots and angry poetry stowed for the safety and comfort of the daily grind. But for the most part, the history she’s read no longer moves her.
She still gets angry from time to time when she reads an article online, but motherhood is all-consuming and her career is finally taking off. Or maybe it’s taking everything she has just to get by. So she chooses instead to be grateful for all that she has.
She reduces her use of plastics, buys local, practices Yoga, meditates, supports environmental causes, represents at the polling booth. She embraces being a mom raising kids who will not perpetuate bigotry and ignorance she sees in the world, even while she accepts that she will always be the parent who misses work when the kid is sick.
She turns off the news when it becomes too intense, because she doesn’t need that negativity in her life. She is content with activism in smaller, quieter ways that don’t cost her friends, jobs, a marriage or financial security.
And then somewhere near middle age, though the trajectories vary, may come a second awakening. For some, it may even be the first. Often accompanied by a loss, the dissolution of the illusion of security. The proverbial rug is pulled. She is shaken awake by betrayal, death, illness or her body being thrown into the tumult of the change of life. There comes some catalyst for her undoing.
She may wake up one morning having devoted years to her children, to her husband and his career, to sacrificing her work and her passion to put her family first and feel anger.
Raw, ugly, unacceptable anger at the world, at those who have chosen differently or have had different opportunities, at the very inhabitants of her own home, those whom she loves the most and for whom her mother’s heart would be bled dry. Anger that comes from deep inside, and is directed everywhere and nowhere at once.
Anger toward the partner or a boss who has taken her for granted, the children (or lovers) with endless needs, over the years of forfeited self-care and sacrificing her deepest desires. Anger over all of the things she’s given up that she should not be tracking but she does. She doesn’t want to feel this way. She should be grateful.
She knows she is privileged, but somehow the life that was so safe and comfortable becomes unbearable. And now everything she knows and loves is at stake. No one likes an angry woman; no one wants a bitter, middle-aged, nasty woman. She is forced to choose whether to stay where she is and wither, or whether to risk it all to reclaim the self she abandoned long ago.
She may stay or she may take a leap into the unknown. Or she may live many years in between, half-alive, with the insidious symptomatic haunting of her own liberation.
Then there is a man on her television screen.
Suddenly all of the traumas, all of the abuses inflicted upon our sisterhood are embodied in one man standing behind a podium in front of the whole country. The basic rights of human beings, of women, of all disenfranchised people are besieged.
Here a man is saying out loud all the things we have held in our bodies for years in silence, the things we were told when we were young were exaggeration, fabrication, misconception. Suddenly, now we are staring into the face of oppression and exploitation of the most vulnerable, against anyone lesser than the almighty white man.
And there are people clapping, cheering, giving him money, saying he will make things right again.
If we are shocked, if we are reeling, it is because we have had the privilege of not being aware. If we are overwhelmed and dumbfounded with rage, it is because we have been lucky enough to live in ignorance. This is not news to millions of our marginalized neighbors. This is the day they have lived in fear of daily, and hoped would never come. If it is a revelation to anyone, it is to white people.
Suddenly, we feel there is so much at stake. But not everything that has been at stake for our sisters of color or their black brothers and neighbors dying in the streets. Not all that has been at stake for transgender, queer, gay, and lesbian fellow Americans, and not for our immigrant or First Nations families. We are shaken awake from our white-person cocoon to a truth that millions have lived with every day.
The history we’ve heard and it no longer moved us. Until now.
Silence is not longer an option. Our silence has been complicit.
And now She will not be held back. She will no longer acquiesce. The Lioness is unleashed.
And so, inevitably, is our grief.
Grief over what has been done to all of womankind, to daughters and mothers, and to the sons born to generations of battered women.
Grief over what we have been party to and what has been perpetuated by ignorance or apathy. Grief that begins with a little girl, the grown men she had to fight off as a child, and the shame about her body, but one that predates her own birth by five thousand years.
Grief over the pillage and rape of our life-sustaining resources, and the arrogance at which we have gone in again and again to take from the Earth what we want and leave Her torn open and bleeding.
Grief for the tribes that we have either destroyed or have relinquished to the most desolate and forsaken places so that we could build our empire upon their bones. The earth Herself under our feet trembles with our history.
And this grief threatens to bury us under mountains.
Are you awake?
Are you angry?
This is a call to arms. We enter the stage where we are willing to risk unapologetic open rebellion. The time has arrived for the Phoenix to rise and bring forth Her holy anger in service of Truth. This time, anger will not burn us out. It will catalyze us. It will burn from within, unify us, and fuel righteous and indignant action.
We will not be silent in our relationships. We will not be silent in our communities, in our workplaces or in our synagogues. But we will not meet hate with hate, we will speak with the kind of ferocious love and compassion that penetrates deep and ignites a flame inside those who hear us roar.
Our fire will ignite and burn through invisible walls, it will burn up division, it will burn through layers of self-deception and it will set us free.
Now we discover a new embodiment of our previous incarnations. One who is willing to be present with painful Truth, and dares to do the brave healing work of her own soul and become the force She was meant to be. One who has the courage to confront the areas in her life where she has been silent out of fear or in order to keep the peace.
One who understands that while, as women, we all have felt objectified and violated, some women will have experienced this on a level we cannot comprehend and we must listen to her stories. One who understands that while we have all felt traumatized, there are some who have lived entire lives of trauma and we must be quiet and listen to them.
One who knows that while we have encountered injustice, there are those whose lives illustrate injustice in a way we cannot comprehend.
For this is not a new revolution we are creating, this where we join ranks with our sisters who have been fighting all along. We must listen to the war-cries of women who have been marching and singing and praying long before we arrived.
Our new embodiment of feminism will require the unflinching examination of our privilege in order to dismantle inequality. It requires us to come together in a new kind of solidarity with our sisters who know this fight, and stand side by side with them, equal but not the same. This new feminist embodiment calls for One who understands that Her power alone is tremendous but our collective power is unstoppable.
This stage requires undaunted passion, courage and commitment to transformation. It demands undaunted examination, personal accountability and humility to see how we may begin healing the unspeakable wounds against ourselves, each other and our nation.
For every step a woman takes toward her own liberation is a radical act on behalf of women everywhere. And every act of compliance with structures of her oppression is an act of violence against herself and consent toward the oppression of women everywhere. Her fight is every woman’s. This time, we will not burn out. We will fight with ferocity of love in the service of Truth. And we will not be silenced.
Lace up your combat boots, sisters. And fall in step.
Annabele Grace is foremost a truth-seeker and a truth-teller. She is captivated by making art as spiritual process. Additionally, she is a mother, Yoga instructor, community activist, artist, writer, woods-dweller and shore-wanderer. She is passionate about supporting women in all facets, and co-leads women’s circles in her community that meet to share and empower one another in the individual and collective spiritual work of healing ourselves and the world. Annabele lives in Northern California with her young son. She blogs at Uncharted Ground, and you can learn more about her other offerings at Delphina Yoga.