Women at work

Philip Brooker, McClatchy Tribune

Elaine Gale

Elaine Gale


Elaine Gale: Breaking up with feminism

  • Article by: ELAINE GALE
  • December 14, 2010 - 1:49 PM


"The eternal Feminine draws us ever upward." -- Goethe

Thinking back on it, I hadn't been happy in our relationship for a while, but my rift with Feminism started after the miscarriage.

You know how it is when you start to act like someone after spending so much time together? Perhaps I had started to pick up on some of her not-so-great qualities: She was sometimes too shrill, too rigid.

Feminism and I had been together since I was a teenager. Back then, she seemed sexy and in control -- powerful, energetic and eloquent. She always sounded good with her talk about social justice, equal pay for equal work.

I really fell for Feminism when I left the Midwest for college in Boston at age 18. At that time, the Third Wave had crested and was splashing down all over the country.

Like our mothers, we were going to be liberated from oppressive women's traditions. We weren't going to just have babies and stay home. We would do it differently than our mothers and have even more choices.

I loved all the things Feminism whispered to me at night when I couldn't sleep:

"You deserve the world on your own terms."

"I will take care of you and make sure that things are fair."

"You can have it all!"

I was so loyal that I would have rebuked and dismissed anyone who spoke ill of my newfound soulmate.

Meanwhile, my life had a repeating narrative: professional success, romantic mess. There was Mr. Right Now, Mr. Adorable Slacker, Mr. Too Bland, Mr. Has Potential, Mr. Too Old For Me, and then Mr. Artistic But Unstable.

I always thought that I had plenty of time to get married and crank out some children. Women can do anything they want when they want, right? That's what feminism was always whispering in my ear.

Then, one day in my early thirties, I found him: Mr. Exactly Right, a guy I loved beyond anything I thought possible -- and one who was OK living with me and Feminism. When we got married he was 30 and I was 36.

As the years ticked by in my 30s, I wasn't too concerned about trying to have children. My mother had three children in her 30s with only one ovary, so I figured my fertility was just as robust.

I should have been more aware and alarmed. I hadn't paid attention to statistics about how most women tick-tock their way into reproductive oblivion by somewhere around 40.

My husband and I started trying to get pregnant right away, but it took 18 months. At that point, I was still on the fast track, still living to work, face down in my own ambition and achievement.

We decided that we wanted to have a child, although at the time, I partly saw it as another box to check off. After the miscarriage, Feminism and I had our falling out.

The high of "pregnancy achievement" -- even conceiving new life gets tangled up in the language of achievement -- was too quickly followed by the low of that awful day when spotting led to bleeding that led to my broken heart.

"I'm not special anymore," I said to my husband, surprisingly and out-of-nowhere, exhausted after the whole ordeal.

Being pregnant had felt more special than a good job. Better than an inspiring project at work. Suddenly, you were part of the mystery of life, a container for the life force, a vessel for a being you created with the person you love the most.

I now had the experience of my own biological power as a female. I knew I would likely trade my two decades of focused toiling on a successful career for the ability to carry a healthy baby to term and raise a biological child with my beloved husband.

I knew, for sure, that I wanted to be a mother. And not just to check it off some list.

Instead, I was faced with the inability to do the one thing I was genetically built to do as a woman.

Feminism was always going on and on about the importance of having choices. But I found that my biological choice to have a child was snatched away from me while I was being liberated.

I had been told that I could have my career first and have children second. That it wasn't an either/or. I thought that it was going to be better for us than it was for our mothers. But my mom ended up with a wonderful career as a university professor and had three children.

Confused, I rued the day I fell under Feminism's sway. How could I have been so naïve? How could I have put off having children so late that I have possibly missed the opportunity to have children at all?

Into this confusion came the Feminine. That powerful nurturing force in the universe, which had been sorely missing from my life, came to console me after the miscarriage.

Wanting to understand more about  the Feminine, and still deeply grieving our loss, I went on a trip last summer deep into the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.

We spent the night with the Achuar, an indigenous tribe, and learned about plant spirit medicine. The Achuar guide talked about the concept of arutum, which means the energy of life itself evoked by Pachamama, or "Mother Earth," a goddess of the indigenous Andes people.

At one point in the jungle, the guide described a rainforest plant that only men were allowed to partake of in a sacred ritual. Automatically, my hackles were raised. Why didn't women get to participate? I thought immediately. It isn't fair!

The guide explained that I was missing something: the Achuar women don't take this plant medicine because they don't need it. Women already have the arutum inside of them; we are the containers for the power of life itself.

Creation dwells in our wombs, in the center of our being. It is men who try to get closer to the arutum through ingesting the plants because they don't have that power on their own.

The shaman in the village told me to go home and work on my garden, learn to feed my husband and myself, and ground myself in the fertility and magic of Mother Earth.

So, I returned home, and to the energy of my heart, to nurturing and to my kitchen, chopping and preparing the vegetables and fruits we now grow in our back yard. I am taking cooking classes, grinding spices and making homemade chicken stock.

I have slowed down.

I am more invested in getting to know this new softer, sweeter side of myself than going after the proverbial carrot on the career treadmill. And we still want a child.

But now, after finding a state of acceptance and peace about my life and my choices, I can consider adoption with a joyful heart and not as a consolation prize.

The Feminine is teaching me so many things about life that I never learned from Feminism.

My husband and I planted many trays of seeds this year, carefully tending to them. You can't force anything with a seed. You take good care of it and let it be. Some of the seeds just don't make it. Too much sun, too little water, too much movement.

You often don't know the reason.

The Feminine is grounded and nurturing. Her energy is compassionate, creative, always present. Now, my heart belongs to her.

And I have made up with Feminism.

After the miscarriage, I walked away in a huff. But Feminism has so many amazing qualities: I love her strength, her commitment to fairness, her passion for equality and social justice. I know I wouldn't be where I am today without her.

Can you be devoted to Feminism and the Feminine at the same time? I guess you could say I've become a Feminine-ist. That extra syllable changed everything.

When women get pregnant, it is the Feminine nurturing us and connecting us with the essential life force on the planet. But when we take a maternity leave, it is because of Feminism's hard work that we have that opportunity.

They work toward the same principle -- valuing the worth and uniqueness of women.

Feminism works from the outside in, chipping away at old paradigms in our brains and our culture. The Feminine works from the inside out, going deep and realigning your relationship with yourself and with Earth's natural energies. They are both a contribution to women, to our essential selves and living our lives authentically, without constraints.

Trying to "have it all" feels like a conceptual unicorn that has galloped through the course of my adult life, distracting me from being present and a sense of balance.

Maybe the next generation of women will understand that we don't have unlimited reproductive choices that last forever. Maybe they will stay grounded in feminine energies and wisdom as they live their lives and do their work in the world.

My husband and I haven't taken any concrete action yet to adopt a child, but are letting the idea silently grow, the way any new life does.

My feelings toward Feminism have softened, and I see how I made her into the villain. I see that while Feminism didn't really understand me, I didn't really understand her either. We were both young and spunky, ready to take on anything. Now we're ready to become good friends again.

Still, the Feminine is more fun to be around.

Elaine Gale is an assistant professor of Communication Studies and Journalism at California State University, Sacramento, a former religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times and a former pop culture reporter and advice columnist for the Star Tribune. Reach her at


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