While he was in China, Brandon Ferdig found a totally different type of femininity than what he was used to.
Over a recent three month period, a series of interactions and experiences taught me much about the concept of power—specifically, how it is defined and manifested differently between the masculine and the feminine.
[Note: in my usage, the term masculine is not synonymous with male; and feminine is not synonymous with female.]
This idea of a bi-dimensional quality to power was a strange one at first. Previously, when hearing it spoke of as a motivator or a corrupter, it was never mentioned that there are different types of power. All my life I had assumed the notion of power simply being about dominance and brute strength. Even “brain” power had this connotation.
But more than just coming to see an alternative, feminine form, I realized that how we embody power also determines what we deem as important and how we define success. This is monumental stuff.
It has allowed for a deeper understanding of all people. Obviously, identifying feminine power helps me
understand feminine people—usually, but not always, women—and by defining its complement, I also gained a much better grasp on masculinity as well.
This is part of the reason why this article of feminine power discovery is on this website (rather than, say, on the Good Women Project). Other reasons for its inclusion will reveal themselves as you read on.
It began in Minneapolis at a neighborhood art fair. I was walking around with my buddy, Mark, when something caught our eye: nudity.
“Well, looks like we’ll have to mosey on over there, eh Mark?”
Soon, however, boyish curiosity was replaced with genuine inquisition. We were taken aback by the power and gravity of this work: black and white photos shot with care, focus, and purpose. Each featured one nude female subject. Each woman’s face was serene and strong as her body lay calmly or stood firmly or stretched elegantly along a backdrop of various scenes in nature.
She blended with them in the way only a female can—with a oneness that truly made her belong to nature, or perhaps more accurately, that made nature belong to her. Bend for bend, curve for curve, nature complemented her figure and accentuated the statements being made with this art.
But what was the statement? I wasn’t sure, yet I knew what it wasn’t. Not smutty. Not cheap. Not light. Not classic. This was something new and was having parts of my brain firing that hadn’t fired before. Artists have always appreciated the beauty of the female form—the angles and symmetry, the contortions and shapes, the subtle mixed with the obvious. And though these efforts had always been a deeper appreciation than simply stating “she’s hot”, perhaps it, too, fell short of the truth: that there’s more than just beauty embodied in the feminine form. These black and whites revealed this.
After a few minutes, an average-sized white man with white hair approached me and Mark. He was the photographer. I expressed my appreciation and asked immediately afterwards: what is your art trying to say?
“My pictures are about revealing the power of women.”
(All right, I have to admit I had a bit of an eye-rolling moment here. I assumed phrases like “power of women” to be attempts by historically-discriminated groups to feel good about themselves. But despite this knee-jerk reaction, I listened. The art had me. I never took seriously the idea that perhaps there is a real, different power at work in the world. And just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.)
“Think of it this way”, he started, “we commonly recognize a mountain as being the essence of ‘power’. It’s steady; it’s enormous; it’s daunting and hard to conquer. But now consider the flowing river. It’s not sturdy, it’s not so daunting, so it’s not ‘powerful’ to us. But in 10,000 years, the river has carved that mountain. That’s feminine power.”
He went on that we in America have only really appreciated masculine, “mountain” power. We haven’t recognized the power of women.
I then gave the expected retort, “Yeah, but look at Hillary Clinton or other female governors or CEO’s such a Meg Whitman.”
“Yes”, he responded, “but they got to the top not because of their feminine power; they got there because they got balls.”
Hmm, that was interesting; even women recognized for their strength and power may not necessarily be figures of feminine power. Are we that blind to this notion, that our culture blankets the nation? This is what turned a flicker of light into a glow, realizing the possibility of there being a whole other force at work in humanity—perhaps even the world. This was exciting.
I shelved this experience and let the wisdom bake in the back of my head. I would soon be off to live in China. Little did I know that my time there would open my eyes to this power in action and have me experience it within myself.
[Note: China has a traditional, male-head-of-the-household, male-dominated domestic and business climate. Nonetheless, femininity is enhanced throughout the country and culture.]
Right away in China, I got the sense that the gauge that read the feminine/masculine-o-meter was more in the center. Things that seemed blatantly or typically, if not stereotypically, feminine were abundant.
First, I came to see that citizens there feel a closeness with one another that doesn’t usually exist back in the U.S. What’s more, this is evident top to bottom as laws are made to protect the culture and the unit (less concerned about, and at times at the expense of, the individual). Looking upward, most citizens will defend their leadership, and individuals there are less willing to stick their neck out and be an original. Unity is preferred; no need to rock the boat.
Amongst each other, the interaction and expression also seem more feminine. Regularly you’ll see two friends walking hand-in-hand:
A couple of women in this manner in America get the label of “lesbian” pretty quick—not to mention the speed at which “gay” is tossed over to two dudes clasping palms. Men don’t do this as often, but it’s not rare to see a couple straight-laced fellas walking around with arms around each other:
Expectantly, it was the men who stuck out when femininity is stronger—especially when compared with the masculine men of America. In China, many men carry themselves with a more delicate walk, prettied hair, and some sport lengthy, manicured fingernails. Fisherman and other figures of masculinity commonly pull their shirts up over their midriffs.
None of this is considered strange or shameful in the least. It’s normal, completely acceptable, and apparently women don’t mind it, maybe even are attracted to it.
[Note: I don’t claim this to reflect all Chinese men. I spent most of my time in the southern region. It very well might be that those in the south differ from other Chinese in this manner.]
The whole organization and operation of China, though, seems to be threaded with this different, feminine fabric. But if China was running on more feminine power, I was still just seeing the signs and not yet understanding what the middle-aged artist meant by feminine power.
But I would. Because after seeing this live performance in China for some weeks, it was my turn to get on stage and experience this power myself.
I had been a member of an athletic club since arriving in China and had been on board with the yoga classes. One day I came to class ready to stretch and pose. I looked around, though, and realized that my classmates were all different and were all women. Then again, most yoga classmates were women, so I didn’t think too much of it.
Soon one woman who knew a bit of English introduced herself to me in such a way as to reveal some surprise at me being there—more surprise than normal to see an American guy in their yoga class. I gave another cautious look around and wondered. When the instructor arrived, they told me this was “balance class”.
All right, well, it’s not yoga, but whatever. Balance sounds cool. So I decided to stay put.
Then the music started.
After the first beat of the first song, I knew this was far beyond the gender-neutral territory of yoga and over to the land of the Lifetime Channel. The music was slow, light, and passionate; the dance moves were smooth and methodic: light touches, limp wrists, and weightless limbs.
It was so feminine.
In the room of 25 Chinese women, my 6’1” thin, pale frame moved awkwardly. I was self-conscious, but something about being away from home allowed me the freedom to not care so much. I gave it my light-footed best with sweeping leg moves and such.
And you know what? I felt something. I first felt it in my hands, then torso, then mind and heart.
Whatever that something was, the dance leader exuded it, and it was the same something in the black and white pictures at the art fair. All that grace and delicacy was unfrozen, moving right before my eyes. Her example and my humble attempts had me feeling the power of the river the photographer mentioned a few months prior.
One move was a lifting of the hands—wrists touching—raising in front of the chest, then face, then the sky. It let you feel the air like your limbs were moving through water.
Only there was no water. The substance explored was life.
And I think that’s just the point.
I had become intimately aware of my life, of life in general; and no doubt the sensation I felt was a powerful one.
It hit me: Feminine power is the praise of life: growth, potential, hope, expression. This opposed aspects of the power I had previously only known. Yes, there was still some element of “fight” in this power, but even this is a passionate battle that moves delicately—not physically aggressive. It’s a patient power and a persistent one that nurtures and soaks in every moment. It honors and expresses the joy of the freedom to live life.
How beautiful, how important, how…powerful!
A respect and a separate-but-equal understanding dawned on me. Feminine power is real, and to recognize its presence is to better respect and appreciate femininity—and those who embody it.
Immersing myself and not holding back to this energy, if even for just this class, opened my eyes by escaping the arena I had known and heralded as a typical, American guy—or just a typical American for that matter. Like a fish leaping out of water, I could now see the “water” I had been surrounded by my whole life. Thus, I had a new grasp on masculine power.
Heck, it was visible right on the other side of the window from the yoga room! As we were lifting our hands, men were over by the weights lifting plates of metal.
Domination, competition, proving yourself, demonstrating your worth by defeating or conquering something—an opponent, a barbell, a goal, a calculus problem, a trophy buck, a competing business, another country. Making it to the top—this is what gets masculine power fired up, and it explains a lot: from why men try to appear intimidating, to why they impress others with a flashy, head-turning car.
Then when comparing the influence of these two types of power back in the U.S., the sentiment from the middle-aged artist sunk in a bit deeper. I saw how America is defined by masculine power.
It boasts extraordinary accomplishments spurred on by extraordinary competitiveness. (At the same time, we see how this power-drive can occur with little regard for the well-being of others.)
Drama is defined by these terms: the idea of the comeback, winning the game after falling way behind, the small-market team that defeats the big-city squad. This is all shaped from the masculine-power point of view of defeating something. Seeing it done in such a drawn-out fashion keeps our intense attention.
Even feminism, the activism of equaling the playing field, has in large part been practiced on a masculine-power plain by advocating that women are as good at masculine power as men, rather than advocating for equal appreciation of feminine strengths.
This bias has colored the whole discussion within our culture. The consequence is that we miss out on the life-enhancing, life-giving beauty of feminine power.
Recognize femininity as a unique power rather than a lack thereof.
Otherwise, our idea of feminine power looks something like this:
And we continue to under-appreciate and choke it off.
To conclude, I found a new meaning of “strength”. This strength is a measure of the muscles that femininity uniquely flexes. It’s a strength of finding the beauty and importance in the life that’s happening right before you each moment and then the passion to nourish what you see.
If you don’t care to experience this strength, at least acknowledge that it’s there. The recognition of it will increase understanding and respect for the feminine folk in your life as well as the societies that embrace it. And if you do absorb some of these strengths then you are opening yourself up to new experiences, to a new type of power. After all, feminism and feminine power are not monopolized by women.
In this piece, we identified feminine power. Part two of this article series will address the need to implement it in America. We live in a different world today that requires a holistic approach to moving ahead, to adding feminine strengths to the developed, masculine-power muscles already flexed in America. It’ll take “Good Men” to do so.