Back in 1792, British firebrand, philosopher and writer Mary Wollstonecraft shook the English-speaking world with her book, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” which was the start of a conversation about the essence of feminine vs. masculine as a social and NOT biological construct. For the most part, it’s been the initiative of women to challenge so-called gender norms; norms that are impossible to live up to and equally impossible to ignore. Finally there’s a public discourse that includes more than simply women’s studies geeks. … Hallelujah!
There are currently massive conversations around “toxic masculinity,” partially because of the cascade effects of #metoo, #timesup, the Kavanaugh hearings and the recent Gillette ad campaign “The Best Men Can Be.” Some men are reacting to all this by whining like little boys: their delicate egos are offended as their “god-like” societal status is finally being widely challenged. A fringe of men who value hyper-masculinity does not appreciate being called to account for behaviors that hurt others, while regular men who value relationships, family and the more elegant aspects of life have used this time to reflect.
On the other end of the spectrum is hyper-femininity, which I assert, in its most extreme expression, is also toxic. In my book, “Beauty Bites Beast,” I describe the extremes of masculinity and femininity as “pathological.” According to the Collins Dictionary, pathological refers to people who behave in extreme and unacceptable ways and have very powerful feelings which they cannot control.
Does anyone really want to be around an out-of-control macho male or a femme fatale? Both extremes are weird, OK? They aren’t good for anyone, including the “practitioners” themselves. For example, the guy who constantly bloviates and only does “manly” things, and the hyper-feminine female whose life is focused almost entirely on her looks, her weight, and her mania for the perfect home. All that fussing leaves very little room for their humanity.
No wonder there’s a growing awareness of gender fluidity. And who judges whom in this circus of feminine and masculine? Who are the arbiters of whether one is “enough,” from a rigid gender scope? I have behaviors that for me are simply human and yet are considered to be masculine, like my right to set and maintain boundaries. The important men in my life have all been artists of one type or another and didn’t belong to the “Men’s Club,” preferring to actually relate to others as humans. They had enough self-esteem to allow me to shine, like a goddess.
Speaking of that term, I recently redefined “goddess” since I’ve been invited to be a “Goddess Guide” at a retreat in Mexico. Me? A goddess? “More like the Goddess of Fat Chance,” I mutter. I, however, accepted the challenge as a call to action. I want women to embrace their birthright and their ancient heritage as expressions of the divine in a thousand aspects, not simply beauty. We need women to step forward and say, “Enough!” and bring their bigger game to the world
Say the word “goddess” and many of us experience mostly negative reactions, especially if we fall outside the narrow window of the conventional wisdom of what a goddess is or isn’t. Not white? Not blonde? Not cisgender? Not “feminine” enough? Not commercially or conventionally beautiful? Not young or too young? That leaves out a lot of us! Not surprisingly, even the women who others would call a “goddess” rarely relate to themselves that way, focusing on their deficiencies instead of their divinity.
Thanks to my hubby’s research, he found me the perfect goddess role-model: Elli. She’s in the Norse pantheon of gods and goddesses, and like most of the goddesses that aren’t pathologically feminine Elli has been hidden from view to most of us.
Elli is the Norse Goddess of Age and Wisdom, two qualities that American women often feel they are supposed to hide! Elli rose to prominence in the Norse myths by — drum roll, please — wrestling Thor to the ground! Yes, Thor was dominated by an older and stronger woman. Let that sink in, then allow yourself to ponder why Elli has been historically invisible for so long.
Elli is the perfect role model for me: as a Norwegian-American, my childhood nickname was Ellie! At this age, I’m supposed to go to pasture by most traditional standards of female power. I genuinely have grappled with gender norms for decades now, and I’m clear that I don’t want to damage or maim men; I do want to wrestle archaic notions of so-called male superiority and unhealthy “maleness” to the ground until they yell “Aunt!” instead of “Uncle!”
Ellen Snortland can be reached at beautybitesbeast.com.