On 2nd Novermber, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev gave a wonderful talk on ‘Empowering the feminine’ at an event organised by the Young FICCI Ladies Organisation (YFLO) in Delhi. It is a topic that’s close to my heart and I feel even more called to the cause after hearing Sadhguru speak about it.
Firstly, it is important to clarify, as Sadhguru did, that the feminine does not mean female. Each one of us has both the masculine and feminine inside of us that requires a fine balancing if we are to attain to the peak of what it is to be human.
So what exactly is the feminine? Creative expression like art, dance and music, focus on aesthetics, caring, nurturing, compassion, empathy, love – these are all generally thought of as the hallmarks of femininity. Unfortunately, especially in Western societies, these traits are considered to represent weakness or a certain inability to handle the intensity of life. But as Sadhguru pointed out, in Indian culture, the feminine force has traditionally been strong, even fierce. It represented that aspect of human life without which life would not be worth living and without which we would have a world where “everything works but nothing works”. Sadly, strong feminine role models are few and far between today. But this was not always so.
In India, ancient seals over 3,000 years old, from the Indus valley civilisation show that the worship of the Mother Goddess was deeply entrenched. Shakti or Durga worship is an important part of Indian culture to this day with the 9 days of Navratri falling twice a year, treated as one of the biggest celebrations in the country. What I find striking though is that if one looks at the great Indian epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, one finds a common thread – in both epics, war is waged to protect the feminine. In the Ramayana, Ram fights Ravana to bring back his wife Sita who was taken away by Ravana and in the Mahabharata, the Pandavas fight for the honour of Draupadi who was insulted by the Kauravas. It seems quite apparent that one of the important messages of these epics, symbolically represented through the stories, is that a society is in trouble when the feminine is lost and can only be saved when the society fights for the feminine.
No other culture embodies such a deep tradition of respect for the feminine. In fact in many other cultures, the feminine is grossly suppressed and treated as inferior.
In modern societies, it is quite easy to see that we are stifling the feminine. Today, even women must display masculine characteristics to be successful. Having attended business school and worked in the high intensity environments of investment banking and management consulting, I can certainly attest to that. There is much talk about women’s empowerment but that’s only about encouraging females to be more masculine – demanding more masculine rights, in a masculine way. In my opinion, it is a disservice to women when women’s organisations demand that women also be given an equal opportunity to be offered as fuel to the masculine economic engine we have created. The economic engine is all about efficiency, productivity and money. As Sadhguru said in his talk, the feminine is like the flower in a society but if we destroy the flowers because they are useless and instead grow vegetables because they are more useful, we will soon find a planet which we would not find worth living on. In fact with our ambition, greed and need to compete, we are slowly killing the planet and leading our societies into depression.
A lot needs to be done to rescue the feminine in our world today. And it is not about women’s rights. It is about reforming our education so that those who want to pursue art and music are not looked down upon as those who lack the intellectual capacity for mathematics or science. It is about reforming the economic structure so that those who want to pursue nurturing careers or simply express their creative talents by opening a small cake shop, are not looked down upon for not earning the big bucks. It is about reforming society so that women or men who want to stay home to ensure that story-time for children is not a stress-producing compulsion but a joyous, loving event, are not looked down upon for not having a career.
“It’s a man’s world”, one senior female banking colleague had once told me, many years ago. While I didn’t admit it then, I have come to realise the truth in her statement now. Only I would like to make a small correction, it’s not a man’s world per se, but it is a masculine world.