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Where feminism failed me.
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Where feminism failed me.
on re-feminizing myself
I grew up in a feminist home. Single working mother, head of household. I witnessed her professional struggles in the workplace from a young age and how she doggedly patched together a career that took off later in life. Success came, but it wasn’t early.
When I was launching into the world post-college I dove into a similar professional environment - but I was armed. I had learned by osmosis what I needed to do, how to navigate a corporate environment. It was pretty simple. Act and think like a man. Don’t let any vulnerability show. Emit decisiveness even when you’re still processing. Emotion has no place here, speak with assuredness.
And absolutely do not refer to any biological need, which would be perceived as a weakness. You do not have a uterus in the workplace. It doesn’t shed because it doesn’t exist, like a tree falling in an empty forest. Your uterus is a ghost.
This approach worked well. I rose quickly. I had big jobs at a young age, in part because I projected a certain professionalism. I led teams, departments. I was responsible for the P&L of facets of a publicly-traded media conglomerate, reporting directly to the C-suite. I had succeeded, and I was miserable. This apex delivered a cocktail of dread and profound boredom.
Dejected, I reinvented myself as an entrepreneur, grinding away 24/7. I built out a dynamic communications and marketing boutique that would culminate a decade-plus later in 15 people on payroll. Again at the top of a perceived heap. And guess what? Yup, le miz.
In those years I mostly treated my body like a dog - sit, stay, run, fetch. I didn’t listen to its signals. In retrospect, it’s not shocking that ended up with breast cancer at 31. I was utterly disconnected from my most basic nature, ignoring cues that something was awry.
Growth was the only business model, the sole objective. Everything was timely. There was no break from technology. (I remember one particular fashion week - representing 8 designers showing in 7 days - when I was so overworked that the only time I had to cry was in the shower.) My level of professionalism didn’t allow for failure. It simply wasn’t part of my paradigm.
Two business structures. Two different environments. But the commonality was that I was pursuing a goal that wasn’t innate or true to my nature. I
had internalized this narrative somewhere along the way:
Work is war. Everything is at stake.
We “slay” in meetings. We “killed it” at presentations.
We work so hard we’d “leave blood on the floor.”
We conquer, we acquire, we excel and amass earnings and accolades in the process. This is success.
To which I can now say with confidence and relief, that is a broken, sad and sick system that only exists to perpetuate itself. And it sucked the femininity right out of me.
The hard-won gift that feminism yielded is our ability to participate in a patriarchal system as equals with men. It was a hugely necessary step in the right direction. To my feminist fore-mothers I say THANK YOU ad infinitum. I am standing on your shoulders. I’m beyond grateful to all of you who fought so hard for the women of future generations (including mine) to have opportunities, freedoms and voice.
But what about the impact and quality of these opportunities? What about evaluating the system itself? That’s where feminism stopped short for me, and where I have had to reorient in order to re-feminize.
I am not talking about going back to the 1950’s Betty Crocker-era prison of an apron in the suburbs. What I’m referring to is connecting to an essential womanliness - this fruitful, lush experience that I had no awareness of. Valuing our subtle knowledge and creative impulses. Rather than the masculine archetype of external striving, embodying the dignity of discernment, and the exquisite presence of stillness - like the ovum.
Equal? Hell, yes. And profoundly different. That’s the real source of dynamic power, not in trying to operate as a man, participating in a woefully broken system. But in disrupting the whole enchilada by tapping into all the juicy goodness of the feminine. Okay, but how?
New York City is a phallic town - just look at the skyline. It runs on a masculine flavor of ambition. In order to feminize, I had to move zip codes. Hello, California. First unconsciously, then by choice, I’ve spent almost a decade on the other coast gradually detoxing from my former ways, noticing operating systems that aren’t predicated on feeding the “quarterly earnings” model of supposed productivity.
I didn’t move to Topanga and become a doula (and thank goodness for doulas, but that is not my calling). I’m still me. I wear heels. I’m occasionally acerbic. And I like men a lot. I actually feel tremendous sympathy for the guys. They’ve been wholly indoctrinated into a system that doesn’t serve any of us - and men have fewer perceived alternatives. The capitalistic, post-colonial complex is just so…damaged and damaging for all of us (including the planet). Nobody wins. But the cultural price for opting out is even higher for the dudes.
My repatterning process has been gradual. In my experience the most profound, lasting shifts tend to take time. It’s not one Ayahuasca ceremony and BAM, I now embody infinite feminine wisdom. Nope, I’ve been slowly bringing my polarities into balance. Discovering / inventing new ways to simply be.
What I value has changed significantly. And this has impacted how I construct my work week, run my business, evaluate my finances, prioritize my health and creativity, participate in my interpersonal relationships - my entire, gorgeous life. Some examples:
Time in nature is non-negotiable rather than something that only happens on holidays.
I block an entire day each week just to focus on the creative aspect of my work rather than trying to fit it in between zooms.
If I don’t feel well instead of pushing through it I take a beat and try to identify why, then look to resource myself.
I’m a recovering, chronic over-scheduler so I'm still learning how to do less, but now I understand that this extroverted introvert needs solo time and takes it.
Profitability is not the only metric by which I judge the success of my business. Positive impact and quality of life are just as important to me.
I’m not in hot pursuit any more. I am here. I continue to explore life and welcome what’s around the bend but it isn’t about some external achievement or accolade. It’s because I’m curious. “Let’s see what this looks like.”
What comes after feminism? It’s now up to us to fill that void. It’s undeniably easier to identify these (internal and external) patterns from my isolated turret up in north Malibu, but I’m not ready to opt out entirely.
A few years ago I realized I’d become too slow for the rapid-fire pace of NYC, but I was still too quick for quiet L.A. I know the middle-ground wasn’t somewhere in the geographical middle. So I’m trying out Sag Harbor, instead. East Coast, but outside the fray. Lower skyline, more nature. As I pack my belongings into boxes and prepare to point my four wheels back east, it’s going to be interesting to see how this new awareness will make the trip with me. Watch this space. I’ll report back from the not-front lines of Sag Harbor, NY.
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