March of the female warriors: Beyond feminism

I feel uncomfortable saying I am a ‘feminist’, although I agree with the fundamental premise of feminism, which according to the Cambridge English dictionary is “the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way.”

Of course they should be. And of course, women in many parts of the world are appallingly still seen and treated like lesser beings. Women’s rights movements need to go full throttle until equality is achieved.

But that definition doesn’t go far enough. It focuses on external equality (which is important and should be a foundation), but it doesn’t touch what’s possible. I am more than a feminist. And I don’t hate men (in fact I know some men who are more supportive of women’s opportunities than some women I know are). So what’s beyond the feminism of external equality and power suits? And who do we need in these emerging global narratives?

After the women’s Heptathlon 800m in the Rio 2016 Olympics this summer, the female competitors came together as they crossed the finish line. The commentator remarked on this ‘march of the female warriors’, as they walked together, some arm in arm. There was such powerful togetherness, like I hadn’t seen after any other event. It was moving; these individual heroines, who’d been racing for themselves and their country, transitioning effortlessly to become part of a whole. And I think it’s that whole that will move feminism forwards. The whole is the space for community, for conversation, for diversity, and for individual heroines (and heroes) to work together to ask questions, challenge status quos, and use individual strengths as part of a collective.

We need heroines who remind us of female strength and power and opportunity, and who drive the feminism story in an obvious way (think Beyonce, Emma Thompson and co). But more than that, we need heroines who are not in it for individual glory, but who seek and encourage collective wholeness and progression. Unlike the power ballad, I think We DO need another hero(ines), who create powerful communities of men and women doing much more than aiming for outward equality. These communities will aim for inner understanding, common questions and solutions, wellbeing, conscience and consciousness.

So who should we look to? Which heroines could helpfully develop our feminist narrative today? The goddesses and archetypes of Greek mythology offer an interesting lens, beyond warrior Olympians:

Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. Well-loved and manipulated by the Hollywood and fashion industries. Sometimes inspiring, sometimes unhelpful. Much of this archetype needs reclaiming from men, and redefining by women.

Artemis, the goddess of wilderness and the hunt. My favourite goddess! This archetype feels to be on the rise, with companies, activities and natural spaces catering for brave, bold, solo women who want to lead their own lives.

Athena, goddess of war and wisdom. Athenas can bring wisdom to board rooms, wars and beyond.

Demeter, goddess of growing and of the harvest. The rise of the ecological movement feels linked to Demeter, and there are many women pioneering this movement. Understanding and prioritising what our planet needs in order to heal, grow and provide is an important role. We need holistically-minded heroines to lead here — heroines who see the interconnected whole.

Gaia, ancient earth mother. We hear Gaia’s influence when we listen to ancient ways of life, and when we realise that human health and planet health are inextricably linked. The rise of the ecological movement is opening up the stage for Gaia heroines in our narrative. Women who can skillfuly nurture the things that benefit both people and planet, and infuse these into all of our lives, from economy to conservation.

Eirenne, goddess of peace and prosperity. During peacetime, people can work and sell their goods and services, whilst war leads to famine. We need more Eirennes, who hold space for peace talks and subsequently act as prosperity pioneers. Perhaps they combine peacebuilding with social entrepreneurship and community enterprise. Like Demeter, our Eirenne heroines need to see the whole, and hold together diversity, celebrating difference and finding common space and common questions amongst this.

Hebe, goddess of youth. Another well-loved goddess of Hollywood and the media. But parts of Hollywood are rebelling, advocating for respect and opportunity for older female actresses. A friend and colleague of mine who has recently turned 70 says that he learns most from young people, and has a 35-year old coach. Hebe-heroines will positively influence and engage with older generations, and will in return channel experience and wisdom from older generations back into their networks and peers. They could pioneer intergenerational dialogue.

Hestia, goddess of the hearth and home. The pre-feminism masculine world understood the female homekeeper role well, but thanks to pioneering women of the past 100 years, opportunity has emerged for many women in the world. We need post-Hestia heroines. Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In, discusses how women can choose to sit at the board room table as well as the dining table. Post-Hestia heroines will show us not how to have it all, but instead, how to create a life that honours and chooses both home and ambition.

Emerging heroine figures in today’s narrative need to be able to inspire belief and action, like those collective female ‘warriors’ in the Olympics. Women sitting in an executive board room, being paid the same as a man, is a good start. But if that’s the end point of feminism, then feminism has failed us. Beyond feminism we find collective understanding, inner wellbeing, and men and women who nurture individual potential for its ability to create fully realised people who in turn, cultivate collective transformation.

So I am a feminist, but I’m more than a feminist. I’m whatever we call full humans working to understand each other, lift each other up, and collaboratively promote conscious common life.