Let’s talk about the 4 types of power, feminism, feminine self-care, & how it all comes together in this gasping breath moment of patriarchal demise to save us as individuals & collectively.
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I believe we are in a last stand moment for the old ways that prioritized a masculine approach. This has led to many dangerous strong men leaders around the world in recent years rising up & practicing a power that dominates through fear.
Brené Brown says, “I think we are seeing the last stand of ‘power over.’ ‘Power over’ is about believing that power is finite, like pizza–you have to hoard it and you don’t want people who are different from you to have it.”
I had the pleasure of working for a lean, impactful grassroots organization called JASS in my early international affairs career in DC. Founders Lisa Veneklasen & Valerie Miller are the authors of A New Weave of Power, People & Politics, which breaks down the 4 types of power in a guidebook for social activists and policy makers. They describe Power Over as the taking of power from others, often associated with strong arming, coercion, or force. The other 3 types are alternatives to this most commonly recognized model of power, and include Power With, Power To, and Power Within.
Many have described these 3 alternatives as a feminist approach to power, meaning more equitable, circular, and non-hierarchical. Power With, of course, is collaborating across identities and viewpoints to build an expansive power which is more inclusive. Power To is the ability of each individual to make an impact, and is necessary for the other two. Power within is about self-empowerment, finding hope and agency within oneself in order to effect change in their lives and in the world. When these three powers are woven together, they give us a feminist and more feminine form of power, built upon strength and resilience. Of course when we talk about masculine and feminine, we are talking about potential qualities within all of us, regardless of where we fall on the gender spectrum.
When power is not fear-based, then, it must follow that it is the type of power rooted in courage. And what is courage, wagers Brené Brown, than sheer vulnerability? The ability to be soft, open, & authentic in the face of great fear is definitely what feminine power is all about. And if this is the death rattle of the old ways – exploitative capitalism, white supremacy, & the patriarchy – then may the world we imagine into & birth be a world that recognizes this type of power.
I believe we all have inner & outer work to do to bring this about. We must never grow stagnant in our external activist work, the work of the Black Lives Matter movement, of protecting our environment, of defending women’s rights, LGBTQI rights, & any group that falls outside of the white cisgender straight Christian American male archetype. And self-care should not be viewed as an alternative to this activism, but rather a parallel sustainer & expander of that vital work.
And we must do the inner work of softening, of rewiring our perception of strength from the traditional, masculine “Power Over” model to one of new, feminine “Power With,” “Power To,” & “Power Within.” This includes the discomfort of challenging everything we’ve been handed – not only by a faceless evil patriarchal society, but by parents and a spiritual community we may love. And continuing to challenge “Power Over” wherever it pops up – from commercials to conversations with dear friends to our own deeply embedded beliefs.
A masculine approach to wellness may be one that views the body as a product, a tool for wooing a mate (aka resources), asserting dominance, or out-competing others, whether through the attainment of beauty standards or physical strength. It may bring a logical thought-based approach to achieving optimal health in order to live a long, productive life, while ignoring an embodied presence which lives for intrinsic pleasure & experiencing of what’s right here.
I define feminine self-care, on the other hand, as one that prioritizes acceptance of what is while shamelessly pursuing rest, community, & pleasure. It’s an approach to wellness which says, I’m going to care for myself in this moment because it feels good & I am worthy. It rejects the claim that you need to buy another product, wait till you’re more perfect, or do it all on your own. It inherently welcomes a diversity of perspectives and connects care of the earth to care of the body. It intrinsically connects an individual’s self-care to the peace and wellbeing of all beings everywhere. Let’s break this definition down, piece by piece…
A traditional “Power Over” approach operates out of the fear that what is isn’t enough, which is a lack mentality. There isn’t enough time, there isn’t enough resources, there isn’t enough of whatever is going to save us, so I’d better cheat, lie, & intimidate my way to the top of the food chain, making everyone I step on along the way less than & a “bad other”.
The feminine powers – “Power With,” “Power To,” & “Power Within” – operate from an abundance mindset instead. They break the spell of not enough-ness like the famous Gandhi quote, “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed.” They propose we instead work together by first taking stock of what is, what’s here, what’s true. And then developing strategies from there.
One of the biggest learnings from my Buddhist meditation training is to accept what is true. Resistance doesn’t get us anywhere but stuck in delusions, setting us further from reality and possibility. Start with presence, start with accepting all visitors in your house – whether it’s difficult thoughts, emotions, or sensations. Only then can you soften and relax into more spaciousness, ease, and watch your suffering begin to dissipate or change shape.
This is key to feminine form self-care. Shame is used as a tool to control, oppress, and bring us into submission. As Audre Lorde said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” We need to trade in masculine shame for feminine belonging and worthiness. We can feel it deep in our bones – that this is true and more effective if our underlying intention is to be at peace, free from suffering.
Extractive capitalism and masculine models of wellness go hand in hand. They say that productivity is the beginning, middle and end of our lives, the purpose and underlying intention of any aspiration we could possibly have. That our productivity, efficiency, and sweat are in direct proportion to our value and worth as human beings. Feminine self care on the other hand, says that rest for rest’s sake feels good and matters. When we step off the 24/7 productivity conveyer belt to rest, we reclaim our lives as our own. We reject the lies that say we must consume until we die, and we heal internalized capitalism.
The masculine approach to the world goes hand in hand with rugged individualism. It says we’ve got to do it all on our own, we can never ask for help, and that it’s better to die alone on the hill of our pride than to reveal a moment of weakness (i.e. vulnerability or need). It’s one in the same with the American ideals of settler, colonizer, and dominator. The one versus the many can prevail. It’s the egos favorite game, and it’s bullshit. The truth is – we humans are pack animals. There can be no shame in needing each other and craving belonging, because these are the life-giving forces that ensured our survival thus far. And yet we’ve internalized this lie that to need is to be weak. Feminine self-care flips this on its head and proclaims, to know what you need and to speak it out loud by asking for it is the most courageous thing one can do! To bravely weave a community to not only hold you in your time of need, but one where you actively show up and participate in caring for others, is what we all long for. Maybe we should start listening to our longings, for they are the blueprints of our shared destiny.
Feeling good is underrated. Guilty pleasures are what first come to mind, things we should feel bad about craving or finding release within. There’s that master’s tool of shame again, trying to control our experience. Feminine self-care says that pleasure is profound, for it shows us the way to best love ourselves and build a thriving life. When we allow ourselves to feel rather than numb, the flipside of suffering might surprise us. Not only do we allow ourselves to actually feel our difficult feelings – the anxiety, fear, and discomfort – but we also open ourselves to experiencing pleasure! To numb or escape or stuff down is human, to feel is divine. Over time, we can shift how we relate to feeling overall. We can allow both the discomfort and the pleasure, recognizing both as ever-changing experiences here one moment, gone the next. We cease equating our pleasure with shame, and begin to step into and claim our abundance.
To go deeper with feminine self-care – to begin dismantling the ways you’ve internalized the patriarchy, white supremacy, and extractive capitalism – join me inside RESILIENT! The FREE 5-day challenge starts November 9th, and it’s going to be so much fun, so much real, so much full-body YES!
I’ll see you there, Dear One.
Tell me – which aspect of feminine self-care are you most excited to begin embodying today? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Until next time, take gentle self-care!