A starting place on this topic, would be to ask, what do we mean by femininity? Where does it come from, what does it entail and who can apply it? The origins of the word feminine come from the Latin word ‘feminus’, which means all that is characteristic of the female. This is what we would like to focus on today. Not feminine biology or physical elements but feminine characteristics. What are they? When we talk about feminine characteristics we generally mean compassion, love and creativity. These are attributes. These are attributes over which women have no monopoly. Let’s take social and cultural programming out of this. Let’s zoom in on the attributes in isolation. These are attributes that all human beings can nurture, should want to nurture actually, just as we could say that we want to be more focused.
Some women exude love, compassion and creativity and some men do also. They are attributes that all human beings can aspire towards nurturing. In some cultures these attributes are stamped out in childhood. Why? Why should a boy, a man not cry? Why should aunties drive boys out of the kitchen when they want to help out as a sign of compassion. "This is no place for a man", one sometimes hears this refrain. Why not? Who said that in terms of expressing emotions and compassion each gender needs to stick to a particular side of the court.
This is where certain assumptions come in. Because there are biological differences, people decide to select various attributes and characteristics and put some in the basket labelled female and others in the basket labelled male. Is this not the classic, simplistic generalisation that so many of us are guilty of in our daily lives? Life is nuanced and detailed. No quick fix. Analysis of many factors and the context are required. Let’s treat people as the individuals that they are with the potential that they have. Let’s stop boxing people in.
By the same token there are some attributes that are generally characterised as masculine: assertiveness etc. There are situations in which we all need to demonstrate this quality even if it is not in our nature. When things need to get done, one does what one needs to do as long as it within our ethical parameters. Let us not limit ourselves by these gender stereotypes that strip us of our potential as human beings. How wonderful things could be if we all aspire to have both the attributes classified as masculine and feminine and thus explore the potential of our character development.
For now, if we stick to nurturing our feminine attributes. Let’s take the nurturing of more compassion for a start. The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Compassion requires empathy for others and also triggers positive action. The world would not be where it is today without the compassion of those that were here before us. Without compassion, Mother Theresa would not have done what she did, nor Martin Luther King, nor Nelson Mandela. The list goes on. People we know millions of anonymous but great people that showed compassion and took action that changed lives.
Compassion is not just about showing it to others mind you, it’s also about showing compassion to oneself. Cut yourself some slack. Make sure you re-energise when you need to and don’t be too hard on yourself when you don’t deliver. The negative talk in your mind is not who you are it’s just the way the brain is wired. To critique, to judge. Don't take it too personally. If you exercise self-compassion it’s easier to exercise compassion when dealing with others. So start there.
And what about creativity? Creativity enables us to think about things from a different perspective. It enables us to problem solve. One could say that where some emotional muscles need training to get them stronger, creativity is more akin to training to become more flexible. Flexible minds have an increased ability to look at things from different directions and thus find solutions that may work and even understand things that cannot be understood from just one angle. Creativity requires good listening skills, asking more questions and tapping into different perspectives. Through creativity, innovation and ideas are born. Creativity and compassion are connected.
The third feminine attribute we referred to above is love. Love and compassion are also very closely connected. Love however is a deep feeling of affection towards someone. The beauty of love is that it helps to reduce so many of the feelings of lack of worthiness. The feeling of lack of worthiness that so many human beings feel that incentivises them to do superficial and often negative things in order to achieve a short-term sense of worth. Love neutralises this. It gives people a sense of centredness and balance from a deep place. As a result, the actions they take when they are feeling a deep sense of love and worthiness emanate from a good place and result in good outcomes.
It is women’s month and we need to take this time to fully embrace who we are, who we can be holistically. We need to collaborate more and challenge ourselves to be truer to each other. The feminine traits, often underestimated, are very much needed in society. Embrace them.