A Feminine Way Forward

I will be spending the year immersed in the work of Marion Woodman and Emily Dickinson. They are calling me to them as I continue my journey On the Gaia Path. So they will share space with my contemplative and creative writing, and, I’m sure, infuse all my writing adventures with distinctive feminine energy. And an awareness of how the feminine has been subsumed by the masculine in ways I had never even realized.

With that in mind, below is an essay I wrote for an assignment on rhetorical analysis in my University of Arizona English class. The piece is, of course, an academic paper constructed within the masculine formatting that drives a college education in today’s world. My intent in sharing it is, however, a way of sharing–and showing–how I am doing my best to retain the feminine principle even within the patriarchal constructs and overwhelming masculine precepts around me.

Before reading, please watch the three-minute video clip of the hour-long speech being analyzed: HERE. You won’t regret making the time to do so! Ms. Woodman is fabulous! A transcript of the entire speech is available HERE.

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The Way of the Feminine Principle

Governments and corporations continue using a masculine, domination model to control people. However, there is a growing movement in various cultural circles toward the realization that we need a conscious re-emergence of the feminine principle if our world is to survive. Marion Woodman, an author and “groundbreaking [Jungian] analyst with a rare understanding of the role of the feminine in bringing about personal and cultural transformation,” spoke with a passionate grace about this very shift in ideology at the 3rd Annual Women & Power Conference in 2004 (Feminist.com). Through the use of personal representation, shared cultural experiences, terminology perception, and the flow of her presentation, Ms. Woodman both defines the feminine principle and points out how it is absent in our culture. Ms. Woodman’s speech makes it clear that fixing the imbalance in our societies using masculine energy as the primary force—the same energy that has created most of our problems—is not going to be possible; feminine energy must be an equal partner for a healing transformation to occur.

While most conference attendees are already aligned with feminism—generically defined as equality of the sexes—this morphing cultural concept is quite varied in its adherents’ interpretation of what the terms feminine and masculine mean. Quite simply, feminism is not the same as the psychological feminine to which Ms. Woodman refers, and the feminine is not the same as female or woman. Therefore, Ms. Woodman exposits upon her own interpretation of the feminine (receptive, heart-centered) and the masculine (active, mind-focused). She invites the audience to view these terms, not as gender or external issues, but as energies or principles that are found within both women and men. Ms. Woodman gives cultural examples and says that “the feminine principle would attempt to relate. Instead of breaking things off into parts, it would say, where are we alike? How can we connect? Where is the love?” She points out in how, in these situations, there is little, if any, attempt to relate to one another. Thus, Ms. Woodman seeks to persuade her listeners into a realization that the feminine principle within both genders has been deeply submerged in our culture and further clarifies her definition when she says that, “when we’re talking about that feminine that’s missing, we’re talking about the heart energy.” Throughout her speech, Ms. Woodman remains steady in her referral to the feminine as she understands it to be, and uses that energy often in order to connect with her audience.

Ms. Woodman relates to the conference attendees through her words and manner to draw them closer to her circle of perception so that they will identify with what she is saying. She does this to establish common ground and create a felt sense of communal belonging to be shared between speaker and listeners. Ms. Woodman connects with her audience through several means. First, she acknowledges the personal significance of the day when she says:

I come to you this time, also, as I was sitting in my room this morning and looking out over the towers of New York, I was so glad to be here on this day. And to think, you know, of the innocence with which those towers were standing in the sunlight, as it turned golden on them and then thinking what happened within minutes three years ago today. (Woodman)

Because the conference was held in New York City on the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center towers, Ms. Woodman’s statement above brilliantly juxtaposes “innocence” with the violence that followed, showing a tragic yet memorable example of what happens when the feminine principle is absent from world culture. The towers represented the innocence of the average American in a similar way to how children and teenagers feel immortal, as if nothing could touch them. And yet, without a strong feminine presence in the world, without a receptive and interrelated global community, masculine aggression takes over because it has nothing create a counter-balance. The way in which she relates to the audience through this shared experiences is through poignancy, through the feminine. To then ensure an ethical connection with her audience, which is a masculine approach, she relies upon her reputation when she reminds the audience that, “many of you have heard me over the years” (Woodman). She is a respected elder who has been open about her views and experiences for decades, sharing her own journey to reconnect with her inner feminine principle. Her brief prompt, while probably unnecessary, solidifies the connection between her and the conference attendees.

Ms. Woodman seems confident that she can maintain the state of consubstantiality she attained through her introductory comments. When watching the video clip of her speech, we also see that she personally and visually depicts the union of masculine and feminine (Omega). Ms. Woodman speaks with intense focus and determination, and she leans toward her audience. These are characteristics usually associated with the masculine principle and likely derive in part from decades of teaching. However, she also flows gracefully from citing facts to expressing insights to showing what she feels through the constantly changing expressions upon her face. This ease she has with transition is like the ocean tide, which is an elemental process intimately related to the feminine principle. Ms. Woodman emanates power through her regal bearing, her hair drawn up on top of her head whereupon one could almost imagine a crown. She is both queen and king presiding over court. Further, Ms. Woodman wears clothing of a deep wine-red color—a color that balances the red of passion and masculine vigor with the purple of royalty and feminine sensuality—set off by a richly sparkling scarf. She is a captivating speaker who is comfortable with revealing both sides of her psyche, and is, therefore, presenting a tangible example of what feminine and masculine principles working together can be like.

The feminine principle is rooted in the emotions and Ms. Woodman uses real life examples to relate to her listeners through sadness, grief, and frustration. She speaks of despair and suffering individually as well as culturally, and says in relation to the loss of farming communities that, “I’m trying not to be too dark about it. But I am really alarmed” (Woodman). Her sincere concern is palpable. Specifically, Ms. Woodman creates a rapport through the lens of compassion when she talks of the disconnection experienced by Canadian and American farmers, and that, “the farmer never gets to know his pigs”—thus, the natural cycle of relationship is lost (Woodman). This lack of relationship and community creates a situation where there is “no recognition of soul or heart” (Woodman). She cites watching on TV the angry citizens in Bolivia who have had their water rights taken away and asks: “How can you take the heart out of people? Just exactly that way. Don’t recognize them” (Woodman). She makes clear here the pain of being unseen and the repercussions of that invisibility. She comments on the “horrific” Chechnyan rebellion situated in a theater where hundreds of people died and those causing the deaths showed “no feeling at all” (Woodman). This lack of feeling occurs when humans separate themselves from other people and from the natural world that sustains us. Ultimately, we need to feel—we need the feminine principle. Therefore, Ms. Woodman isn’t inflaming the audience to act out of anger, aggression, or violence. Rather, she is reaching deeply to use the despair and poignancy elicited by these situations to motivate her audience toward retrieving the love, the heart, the soul that is the feminine principle.

It isn’t until after Ms. Woodman has firmly connected with her audience through related experiences and emotions that she gets to the heart of her message:

So what I would like to focus on this morning is the loss of the feminine where the heart is no longer recognized. The individuality is no longer realized. The soul is not even thought about. And how that reverberates right through our culture. (Woodman)

These comments directly call attention to the purpose of the conference in that “it is not enough for women to merely develop self-empowerment … we must lead from our core female values and deepest wisdom” (Feminist.com). Ms. Woodman refers to the loss of the feminine principle, that which women experience as “core female values,” throughout her speech using many examples as if they are tributaries that all flow into the great ocean of heart and soul.

Ms. Woodman continues to elucidate her understanding of the feminine and masculine principles. She says that, “I don’t think patriarchy has anything to do with masculinity. It is a power principle that becomes a parody of itself” (Woodman). Her goal is to help the audience see the feminine in a new way, to see that it’s not about gender or men. Ms. Woodman wants her listeners to understand that our ideology is based upon a domination model we call patriarchy that is damaging to all genders, all species, and our very planet because it devalues, minimizes, and even negates the feminine principle. She goes on to say:

I’m talking about the masculine as a creative energy, that fire, that air, that is just so powerful when it comes in … the feminine is the receptive side of that. The loving, the heart side, the soul side.That is balancing the — the feminine being the water and the earth. (Woodman)

Here, Ms. Woodman beautifully differentiates between the feminine principle and gender, and is thereby allowing the audience to understand her more clearly and to envision how the feminine is missing in society.

The entire flow of Ms. Woodman’s speech—its arrangement—is itself an example of the feminine principle. She portrays the embodiment of that which she speaks: “I’ve given up trying to use logic … I think with my heart. And so [my speech] goes in spirals” (Woodman). With less linear structure and more spiraling creativity, Ms. Woodman easily moves between personal, communal, and cultural experiences to reveal how the feminine principle is missing in those situations. As a further example of how she uses heart instead of logic, we also see Ms. Woodman’s opening and closing references to a poem. She references T.S. Elliot’s Four Quartets in the beginning of her speech and at the end to point out the futility of all the “fire” in our culture without the soft touch of the “rose” (Woodman). She directs us to see that these energies—the rose (heart, feminine, soul) and the fire (spiritual suffering)—need to be balanced. Metaphor and poetry with their imagery arise from the feminine principle, and Ms. Woodman uses them to touch our hearts in a subtle, heart-felt manner.

Ms. Woodman is quite persuasive when watching the video of her speech. While there is strength within her written words via the transcript, Ms. Woodman’s real motivational power lies in her ability to capture the attention of her audience with not only incisive meter, but through each pregnant pause and swelling lilt in her voice that exposes her emotional conviction. The greatest strength of Ms. Woodman’s speech is in her personal advocacy and representation of the mingling of masculine and feminine. She walks her talk, showing how “the suffering of the loss brings through the transformation” in her own life compares to the examples she mentions that support her dedication to this perspective (Woodman). Sharing these many cultural situations is beneficial, but, ultimately, they are made truly empowering and energizing because of Ms. Woodman’s personal journey and how she weaves them together. One slight weakness in an otherwise glorious speech is that Ms. Woodman doesn’t clearly define her use of the word “feminine” until half-way through her presentation. While the reason for this is probably because she knows her primary audience, for the benefit of any secondary audience later on, defining the term earlier might have been better. Nevertheless, by show-casing relatively current world events Ms. Woodman unites her audience and brings archetypal theory into the realm of realism.

Ms. Woodman is successful in convincing her audience that the feminine principle is missing from men as well as from women, and that it is desperately needed in today’s culture because “the feminine principle would attempt to relate” rather than fight and compete (Woodman). Thus, she leads her listeners to conclude that it will only be through the rebirth of the feminine, and subsequently through the union of masculine and feminine principles in every person, that the world’s cultures can emerge into global healing.


Works Cited

Omega Institute. “Marion Woodman ‘Can you see me?’” Vimeo, LLC. 12 Jun. 2009. Web Video. 12 Feb. 2014. <http://vimeo.com/5127493>.

Feminist.com. “Women & Power: Speeches from the 2004 Women & Power Conference.” Feminist.com. n.p. n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2014. <http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/womenandpower.html>

Woodman, Marion. “Conscious Femininity.” Feminist.com. n.p. n.d. n. pag. Web. 11 Feb. 2014. <http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/conscious.html>.


2 thoughts on “A Feminine Way Forward

  1. Loved the wonderful clip of MW and your reflections. We so badly need to create a culture that holds us firmly in the feminine energy of connecting, relating, and caring. I couldn’t agree more.

    But lately I’ve actually been wondering quite a bit about the masculine and what a healthy, balanced version of that might look like… what its role might be in these perilous times… MW says: “I don’t think patriarchy has anything to do with masculinity. It is a power principle that becomes a parody of itself.” Yes. But what is the expression of masculine energy that we need at this time?

    • I’ve been wondering something similar, which is part of my interest in exploring MW’s work further. However, my perception is that patriarchy was birthed from the explosion of excessive masculine principle (not men, but the masculine principle), and then devolved/mutated into the power principle…it didn’t come from the feminine principle. That said, I’m exploring how to express these principles without using masculine/feminine…perhaps from an elemental framework because the m/f is a trigger misunderstood or unrealized by so many of us, and it’s perhaps a metaphor whose time has passed, as has the light/dark:m/f metaphor which can be misleading and misunderstood. I’m sure MW’s books an audios will help me to find my *own* space using terms and concepts with which I am more comfortable. MW also couches a lot of her work in the Judeo-Christian verbiage, or uses references in literature established by the patriarchy; I can move *through* those to find the core that resonates within me, but I often have to re-read, pause, regain equilibrium, before continuing. Thank you for your valuable comments and excellent questions. Blessings!

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