How Patriarchy Shows up in Spirituality
One of the areas where this is rampant is in the realm of spirituality where people are talking about the divine masculine and divine feminine, teaching tantra and sexual polarity, or facilitating gender-based healing and personal development workshops.
Problematic spiritual dating and relationship coaches, neotantra teachers, and spiritual influencers/healers who use their teachings to promote the concept that the ideal woman is submissive or adhere to any of the traditional societal definitions of femininity are complicit in perpetuating patriarchal oppression. Full stop.
You’ve seen them: the people who tell you that masculine men don’t want masculine women, that you need to embody more feminine qualities if you want to attract a high-value masculine man, or that a woman who wants a masculine man should always “let him lead.” What’s really happening here is that toxic masculinity is being put on a pedestal and instead of asking women to question their societal programming and figure out why they are attracted to that in the first place, it’s simply reinforcing the same patriarchal conditioning.
Some of the most guilty parties of engaging in and upholding patriarchy and misogyny are women themselves. Many of these influencers constantly talk about the Divine Feminine as though it’s explicitly connected to women, which is false. They also idealize only the culturally accepted aspects of the feminine: softness, nurturing, beauty, sensuality, and birth. Rarely do they champion the full depth of the feminine archetype, which also includes rage, destruction, and death itself. They’ve taken the Goddess in us all and stripped her of her real power, leaving only that which is desirable to men who want to dominate and control.
You also have the white feminist boss girls of hustle culture who shit on other women for being that half of the archetype–stay-at-home moms doing traditionally “female” things. They are also participating in patriarchal oppression because patriarchal oppression is not just about oppressing female bodies, it’s also about oppressing the archetypal feminine in everyone, including men and women and trans people and nonbinary people. Additionally, those people are also embodying the patriarchal belief that one’s inherent value is equated with one’s status, which is how men have been pigeon-holed by patriarchy.
Many women are still engulfed in patriarchal ideology. Some of them have tried to label it feminism. First wave feminism sought to make women equal to men in society by “elevating” them to this same toxic standards instead of dismantling their internalized patriarchy. As a result, it upheld both toxic masculinity and capitalistic wealth inequality in the process, and became something new:
Girl boss feminism is just patriarchy and capitalism in a pantsuit.
Another big rally cry of girl boss feminism – and of the “spiritual” business coach – is “women shouldn’t tear one another down.” “Women support women” is another variant of this, which often masks deeper problematic beliefs. Women who are using this phrase are frequently confusing manufactured jealousy with with intellectual discourse and accountability. Anyone using “women don’t tear each other down,” to avoid being held accountable by other women for harm they’ve perpetrated, especially if and when the ideas they are perpetuating are mired in patriarchy, transphobia, or racism, is just perpetuating existing systems of oppression rather than helping to tear them down.
The source of this is “pick me” behaviors and it has nothing to do with social discourse and everything to do with vying for male attention.
A pick me is a woman that is willing to do anything for male approval. She will embarrass or throw other women under the bus to achieve this goal.
In modern feminism, this is most often identified as women who tear other women down by calling them sluts, bimbos, or otherwise attacking their character to prove themselves as more desirable as a potential partner, but pick-me behaviors extend beyond purity culture into the sex positive movement as well. A pick-me behavior may manifest as “Pick me. I’m pure,” or “Pick me because I’m your sexual fantasy,” depending on the type of validation one is attempting to attract and how women have been taught to engage in people-pleasing and fawning as a means of earning love, attention, or connection.
You’ll often see these two opposites tearing one another down. That’s what’s meant by “patriarchy pits women against each other.” This phrase is often co-opted by girl boss feminists who are engaging in other behaviors also rooted in toxic masculinity, such as using sexuality as a means of status and validation.
The bottom line is: not every woman should be celebrated.
History is full of women who aided and abetted racists, misogynists, and other bigots. Women are just as capable of engaging in toxic behavior and spreading toxic ideas as men. We need to be able to have constructive critical conversations among ourselves about what benefits us as a group and what does not, and that sometimes requires us to call out other women for their problematic ideas and actions. Attempting to shut down that discourse with “women don’t tear down other women” is a control mechanism that enables patriarchy and its brethren, capitalism and racism, to continue unchallenged.
The Psychology Behind “Pick Me”
This pick-me-ism is precisely what those dating coaches and tantra teachers I mentioned above are perpetuating when they tell women that they need to be submissive to be desirable. They are also reinforcing gender roles and stereotypes which are tools of oppression because they create expectations that for people to be valid, they must fit the mold.
Anyone – female, woman-identifying or not – who engages in “pick me” behaviors, whether they be based in purity culture or using sex appeal as a means of validation and control, are also acting from patriarchal conditioning. Sometimes this comes from attachment trauma linked to having cold, critical, or authoritarian parents. In other words, parents who also embodied toxic masculinity (low empathy, high control, domineering). These are the same behaviors that create narcissists and covert narcissists, this is just how covert narcissism shows up as fawning as covert manipulation in women due to patriarchal constructs and gender roles.
Patriarchy and its rigid constructs inflict wounds on both men and women by forcing them to express their identity a certain way – the way society says men and women should be – and causes them to suppress aspects of themselves. Patriarchy asks men to dissociate from most of their feminine essence: their emotions, and their ability to nurture and care both for themselves and others. Instead, patriarchy tells men that they must be successful to be of value and this is associated with their ability to be providers of a physical nature. This often results in men believing they need to work long hours to give their families food and shelter, and leaves an emotional hole of absenteeism and abandonment with their children. This is the father wound.
As for women, they are expected to sacrifice their own needs and desires to cater to literally everyone but themselves: their children, their husbands, and society at large. They are taught that their value lies in the approval of others and their ability to make those people happy. This leaves a wound of resentment and self-abandonment: the mother wound.
This conditioning is still experienced by members of the LGBTQ community, but places them in an even more precarious position because they often deviate even further from the prescribed gender roles due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. For cisgendered, heteronormative people, it leaves women jockeying against each other to vie for the attentions of the most successful males and breeds codependent relationships where women have little personal power, financial autonomy, or independence from their male counterparts.
For women, disengaging from pick-me behaviors, whether they be based in purity culture or a need for validation via sexuality, hinges on self-awareness and healing trauma that revolves around codependency, people-pleasing and fawning. If you don’t know your authentic self and sense of worth as a human being, you will continue to mold yourself into whatever you think other people desire, whether that’s a sultry vixen or wholesome and virginal. The reality is that you are both and this is a binary construct. A split identity created by patriarchy. The Madonna and the Whore.
The way forward with all of this is obviously making society safe and accepting of archetypal femininity in all of its forms – the return of the Divine Feminine – which is what modern feminism is supposed to try to do, but as I mentioned before, many women (and men) who wear the feminist label still inhabit internalized patriarchal constructs around gender identity and expression of femininity – which means patriarchal ideas aren’t being dismantled, they’re just hiding under labels that make you believe they are.
I’ve seen more than one spiritual coach out there clinging to the title of Divine Feminine and feminist while simultaneously advertising total personal and sexual submission to male partners as the ideal way to embody the feminine. They believe that giving their male partner total control over them is somehow tied to the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine because they saw some tantra teacher tell them that the feminine is submissive and the masculine is supposed to lead them.
This is a grossly misunderstood interpretation of tantric teachings filtered through benevolent sexism, patriarchal gender roles, power imbalances, and traumatized sexuality.
In the context of sexual polarity, anyone fully embodying the entirety of their feminine archetype does not submit to demands for dominance and control. The true Divine Feminine is that which cannot be controlled. Feminine energy does not submit to anyone, particularly someone who demands obedience. By its very nature, the feminine is untamable.
Benevolent Sexism:Benevolent sexism refers to attitudes about women that seem positive in tone (e.g. women should be cherished) but nonetheless connote inferiority to men based on fragility, lack of competence, or need of help and protection (Glick & Fiske, 1996)Benevolent sexism includes valuing feminine-stereotyped attributes in females (e.g. nurturance) and a belief that traditional gender roles are necessary to complement one another. Benevolent sexism also includes the view known as paternalism that females need to be protected by males. Benevolent sexism contributes to gender inequality by limiting women’s roles. Thus, in the ambivalent sexism model, girls and women are punished for violating traditional gender norms (hostile sexism) and are reinforced for adopting traditional roles (benevolent sexism).
Benevolent sexism infantilizes women by making them dependent on men for survival. It treats women as another child to be provided for, instead of a sovereign being and this plays out in adult relationships as a “daddy/little girl” dynamic. A transaction where a woman gives up her sovereignty and engages in fawning for the sake of safety and being cared for. That’s trauma and patriarchy. The real “Divine Masculine” creates a structured container for the feminine or yin/shakti energy to exist in her full power–regardless of the gender of the partner. In that container, the partner embodying feminine energy in that moment surrenders not to their partner, but to themselves and their own true nature – which in this context is pure, unadulterated pleasure. It is one’s own inner-masculine or yang/shiva energy relinquishing control to be able to sit in fully embodied receptivity.
Dominance and submission as idealized relationship roles is fetishized patriarchy, and it’s the antithesis of the fully embodied, balanced Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine.[Disclaimer: I’m not saying that two healthy, consenting partners who want to explore these dynamics are out of balance. I am talking about those who can’t or won’t live without it, and are perpetuating the idea that this is the ideal or natural way for men and women to be. Its most likely due to internalized patriarchy and unhealed relational or sexual trauma. Autonomy and being free to make your own decisions about your sexuality doesn’t mean shit if you’re still conditioned to actively choose the cage.]
To truly dismantle patriarchy, not only do we have to make all healthy expressions of femininity safe for everyone, we also have to be willing to examine where our current expressions of femininity, and by extension, sexuality, are based in patriarchal programming, just like the example I gave above. That involves healing the mother and father wounds we all have as a result of living in a patriarchal society.
This means that people in spiritual circles also have to realize how they have misunderstood the concepts of Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine and filtered them through their own patriarchal understandings, as well as their own childhood trauma.
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