Last week, I met a new friend, a friend with a voice and a vehicle and an audience, all in one glorious, enviable package. She was intimidating in that way that women can be when they own any of their power. But what was different about her was that she didn't just own her power - she was also incredibly connected to her intuition.
Throughout the course of the evening we chatted about everything from hormones to sexuality to career, and she shared how a recent interview she'd done had left her feeling like she couldn't really inhabit her intuition, her femininity, in a male-dominated industry, and more specifically, during this interview with two guys for a show with a male-heavy audience.
The truth is that in our modern world, women have been invited to the table, yet we routinely feel like we have to check our feminine energy at the door to be able to have our ideas or our work or our presence valued.
I haven't stopped thinking about this since. In fact, I've realized that my entire adult life, and probably even most of my adolescence, has been lived from a masculine energy. The strategic, go-getter, competitive, ambitious, aggressive-when-needed person in me gets all of the screen time. I'm hoping it doesn't even need to be said that these are clearly positive traits. And I'm fantastic at them - I'm known for them. I've successfully used these to build a life and career and a family.
But what have they cost me? If we oversimplify and say that all of these things come from a masculine energy, then what has operating from this place my whole life truly cost? And what does embracing femininity look like for me?
Turns out, I have no real idea because it's so foreign to me.
My heart tells me that it's about intuition. Connectedness. I get the feeling that it involves not worrying about projections or followers or hours since the last feeding.
I also have the scary feeling that it might be the final piece in actually learning to love and advocate for my body. My own body, rippled with strength and suffering and rifted memories.
I know I can't turn off this other part of me, this part that has carried me through so much. I'll always have the instincts of a strategist, a driver. I know that I had to develop these skills to find my way through life. They have served me well in so many ways, and will yet again.
I am known (and possibly widely) as someone who lives to give people "what for". This means that I love a good confrontation with institutional representatives and that one of my favorite words to use in email is "unacceptable". I may have mentioned before that I am known for this.
I experimented with something on the weekend. I ran into a situation where a mistake had been made that affected me, and my typical instinct to remedy it by being forceful was ready to go. I literally had no idea what I was doing, but decided to make an attempt to resolve the issue through a kind and empathetic exchange with the company's representative. It just so happened to work - how surprising. Best of all, the chemicals running through my body at the end of the experience were oh so lovely and different.
It reminds me of one of the convictions I had after reading Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly - to stay off of my phone in stores and restaurants, especially while interacting with service workers, and to actually engage them. I'm a friendly, outgoing person, but I'm not always warm or gracious to strangers. As I'm re-processing all of this over the last few days, I can see how this tendency also comes from that masculine energy. I'm not suggesting that to be feminine is to be kind/warm and to be masculine is to be cold/removed, but that, for me, the desire to be strong, productive, and capable and to be seen that way overrides my sense of empathy and connection.
For all that is next for me, I want to learn to live more from my feminine energy.
I want to sleep and eat and exercise when my body tells me to. I want to shave my legs more often, but also not when I don't feel like it. I want to understand my sexuality. I want to think of all my tender, vulnerable parts as desirable - not just my strength and my accomplishments. I want to choose work that nourishes me and my relationships. I want to really listen to my children. I want to learn to say yes more. I want to learn to say no, too.
I am a boxer. Not a pro boxer by any means, but I love it and I'm good enough at it. It gives me a lot of energy, a lot of confidence. I have always thought of myself as physically strong, and anything I've ever pursued has had that goal in mind. I am suddenly possessed with the unnerving desire to learn to do something feminine with my body... something soothing and gentle and graceful. Like yoga. Or ballet (but probably not ballet).
What if I believed that I was graceful? That I was intuitive? That being strong all the time maybe wasn't so great?
What would it be like to raise kids from that place? To build a business? To be a wife? A writer?
My new friend asked me a question that keeps running through my head, "In a Lean In culture, what does it look like to Lean Back?" I asked her if I could use that phrase and she said sure, but I don't think it's mine either. Looking it up, I can see that she and I weren't the first to have this kind of conversation - women everywhere are wondering how to pursue their dreams and battle the institutions of patriarchy and gender inequality while also staying true to who they are as women. Of course we've thought all along that to play on the men's field we'd have to dress and act just like them. That's what it's like to be the first to lean in, to break in - you have to be sneaky, you have to not stand out.
But maybe we're not the first, and maybe we have so much more to bring to our brave new world, whether we're stay at home moms, small business owners, nightshifters or corporate superstars. Maybe our intuition, our tenderness, our empathy - our femininity - isn't just for us.
This is all completely new to me.
And this is why I'm giving up being strong.