Currently, there’s a lot of writing and talking about the “Divine Feminine” or “Sacred Feminine.” Not just in academia, but in the popular press and blog posts. This term pops up in Jungian writings, New Age missives, Dan Brown’s novels, and even, TED talks. These terms can be found among Goddess advocates, in women’s spirituality programs, and in new editions of Joseph Campbell’s writings. “Divine Feminine” and “Sacred Feminine” seem all the rage.
And yet, for me, these terms really miss the mark. I don’t use them in my writings, my classes, or when describing humanity’s incredibly long adoration of female deities. For me, these terms are highly patriarchal, problematic, and just plain misleading.
Here are 9 reasons why I am not a fan of the terms “Divine Feminine” or “Sacred Feminine” and why I won’t get on board with using them:
1. Feminine is such a loaded term. The bulk of the load feminine carries is comprised of connotations that signal negativity, silliness, passivity, and weakness. Familiar associations include delicacy, helplessness, superficiality, foolishness, simple-mindedness, docility, obedience, malleability, emotionality, hysterics, moodiness, nervousness, anxiety, etc.
2. Because of patriarchy, feminine has been and is used deliberately to diminish, limit, belittle, and block women and girls from being themselves. Feminine has and is used as a social and cultural corset to squeeze women and girls into prescribed, approved gender roles, looks, and actions. Just one example of these prescribed gender roles can be seen in fixing the color pink as the predominant color for baby girls and young girls. Also, calling a woman or girl unfeminine in any way is a common social tactic to shame and denigrate females.
3. Because of its extensive patriarchal baggage, it’s difficult for me to see feminine as positive and powerful. Read the words associated with being feminine in number 1 again. Those words don’t define who I am or nearly all of the women I know. Additionally, some men and boys use terms like feminine, girl or girly, sissy, effeminate, etc. specifically as slurs or taunts toward other men and boys as way of making the bullied appear as thought they are weaker, smaller, wrong, or less than.
4. There are grave issues with using the word feminine then to describe something holy, divine. or sacred. The Virgin Mary is a great and oft-used example of the “divine or sacred feminine.” However, historically (re: patriarchally) she is portrayed as passive, benign, obedient, and virginal (meaning chaste!⎯meaning no sexuality or sex allowed). Motherhood is her only legitimate blessed state and she is mainly defined by her relationship to the males in her life. Her holiness is conferred by a male god and had to be confirmed by the male leadership of the Catholic Church. [Note: Yes, there is welcome feminist scholarship that is helping to reconnect the Virgin Mary to more ancient and powerful goddesses. However, their reclaimed Virgin Mary is not yet widely accepted and certainly not by the Catholic Church.]
5. The “sacred or divine feminine” sets up an image or images of the female divine as needing to somehow be feminine. What!? Does that mean that the female divine needs to molded from and into patriarchal constraints? Does it mean that the female divine needs to shed her power, her potency, her sovereignty, her dignity, and her agency to be considered feminine? Looking at the patriarchal handcuffs placed on feminine, my answer to these questions is, yes.
6. Because, as an entire culture, we would need to reclaim the term feminine from patriarchal definitions by re-visioning it as well as doing the same for the term masculine. While there has been progress on this front, the onus of patriarchy still leans heavily on our perceptions and usage of both feminine and masculine. Removing patriarchy as our social structure seems to be the only way to truly divest feminine and masculine from their narrow and rigid definitions. That goal is what many people are working toward. May I live to see that day.
7. Besides reclaiming these difficult terms, they are still binary in nature, unlike the sliding scale of human gender. Again, progress is being made, but not in regard to these particular terms. The way I see it, right now, regarding human gender, these terms remain stuck in the problematic stage.
8. Because the monotheistic God has been portrayed and is portrayed as “male.” Not masculine, and certainly, not feminine. How would the perceptions, rituals, and worship change if God/Allah/Jehovah were seen as simply masculine? Likewise, if He were viewed as feminine? And, finally, how would a major transgender deity be perceived? I have my doubts that feminine, in the manner it is used now, would be so solidly affixed to a transgender deity were we so enlightened to have one.
9. Because, in actuality, the human species worshipped a Divine or Sacred Female.
The truth is naked goddesses, both pregnant or menstrual, have been the predominant icon for our human worship for tens of thousands of years. All of this iconic artwork is not depicting a feminine form, but a female form in all its glory and variation. So, factually and historically, there is no divine or sacred feminine. Rather, there is the Holy Female. Simply put, our femaleness is loaded with miracles. (Just to mention a few: creating, birthing, and feeding new life from our female body; invisible estrus; bleeding regularly without being wounded and thus, not dying from it; the clitoris–the only organ simple designed for pleasure; and, the capacity and ability for multiple, continuous orgasms.) This is why we humans perceived the Divine Female as Wonder- full as well as Awe-full.
This is why, for me, the Sacred Female, the Divine Female, the Holy Female are the terms I use and will continue to us to describe the female deities that cultures all over the world have imagined, portrayed, and worshipped for eons. Please let me know what you think and if my list has sparked anything for you!