For the past three months, the same genre of TikToks has been circulating on my For You page. Even after I hit the “not interested” button, I continue to see content promoting the idea that success, power, happiness and everything one might desire can be achieved by conforming to traditional gender norms. These subtle forces present themselves in a new social media trend: Being “In your feminine.”
Conservative modern media has lulled us into a false sense of security that feminism has reached its goal. The “boss-bitch” character archetypes and empowering tampon commercials seem to be enough for the masses to throw the towel in on feminist efforts. However, sexism has shifted from overt messages to more subtle forms, which are more deceitful and dangerous than ever. Spirituality serves as one of these subtle vessels for perpetuating sexism. Misapplications of spirituality have created severe conflicts with the feminist movement. As influencers continue to covertly push traditional gender values onto teenagers and young adults, sexism morphs and grows.
The media is no stranger to the perpetuation of sexism through subtle messaging and portrayals of negative female stereotypes. Outright “women-hating” has been deemed inappropriate and immoral in modern society, but misogynistic bias has yet to be eradicated as a whole. Only 39% of film directors are women. Given that men already dominate the majority of the entertainment industry and are likely to continue hiring men over women, a cycle is created. Without female voices, the subtle forms of misogyny in media will go unchecked, and the public will unknowingly absorb these biases.
The “in your feminine” trend has inexorable ties to the concept of the divine feminine, which is the feminine half of the divine power that is thought to maintain the earth. This goddess quality has been worshiped throughout history, traced from the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians to some of the most prominent world religions today, such as Hinduism, Buddhism and even Catholicism in the Virgin Mary.
Yet, the concept of femininity, in this context, is not communicated in an empowering way in the slightest. In reality, “being in your feminine” severely conflicts with true feminist ideologies, especially those regarding financial independence and freedom from traditional gender roles. Content creators continue to use the trend in a perverse way to twist the concept of female empowerment to reinstitute values that historically oppressed women.
Content creators that try to educate about this topic frame traditional feminine qualities as the only way to gain male attention, a stable relationship and overall happiness. One video urges women to stop discussing their success, dominating conversations and interrupting men while they speak to improve their dating lives. Another video expressed that anytime a woman feels “needy” or “pushy,” she is in her masculine energy and will be unable to attract men. Thousands of videos, from tips to radiate feminine energy to letting go of masculine traits, all preach an end goal of attracting men to feel fulfilled — a problem within itself.
Deceitfully invoking goals of fulfillment to promote historically sexist values has the potential to leave a huge impact on impressionable young audiences, especially teenagers and college students. People aged 16 to 24 spend over seven hours a day on the internet. As a consequence, they are more susceptible to media influence. Content creators contributing to this trend are either extremely uneducated or deliberately trying to promote sexist values into a new era.
The way that this trend, and also sexism today, presents itself as a real way to improve quality of life is angering as well as threatening to women all around the world. The implications of discouraging women from engaging in traditionally “masculine” behaviors, such as taking initiative, indirectly inhibit women from continuing on paths that would put them in positions of leadership and independence. This not only hinders career aspirations but puts women in positions to potentially experience financial dependence and even abuse. When a woman must rely on their male partner for income, an unbalanced power dynamic is created, and money can be used to manipulate the reliant individual. The sacrifices early feminists made were to protect women and to promote their well-being. Even though it presents itself as a way for women to achieve happiness and peace, “feminine energy” media has done the exact opposite of feminism’s original goals.
Tying the idea behind reinstituting traditional gender roles in relationships and spirituality also limits the development of healthy relationships. Interpersonal relationships must be created on foundations of trust, respect and communication. If a woman is constantly being told to not speak up to avoid being “masculine,” they will sit in silence and resentment, potentially harming their relationship further. This is counterproductive to the relationship as a whole. In adolescence, when a person’s individuality is developing the most, one can easily lose themselves and their values trying to please societal standards regarding their relationship with their partner.
Educational institutions also possess the ability to seriously influence the promotion of true gender equality and empowerment of all students. This practice of misuse of spirituality to further sexist values needs to be recognized and tools to fight against it need to be developed.
There is still a larger issue that prevents forward movement of gender equality. Many people with basic media literacy skills have the capacity to think critically about what they consume. They just chose not to. Getting people to care about issues that seem to deserve innate attention is more difficult than most think. People tend to lean on their empathy when deciphering which causes deserve attention. However, this is not productive. People should instead rely on their critical thinking skills to understand why an issue matters and how it can help improve the world. Empathy can deceive us, while reasoning can move us forward. Critical reasoning shows us that a good life cannot be achieved through aligning with feminine traits. It also shows us that feminism is still a relevant tool to use against deceitful sexism in online culture.
Utilizing distorted spiritual ideas in a way that promotes values that have historically contributed to the oppression of women is both disgusting and incredibly harmful. Awareness surrounding the intersection of misrepresented spirituality, feminism and media is critical to protecting women and promoting their well-being. As sexism continues to reinvent itself, we must continue to realize and restrict its presence.
Rachelle Evans is an Opinion Columnist. She writes about healthcare and wellness in American politics and culture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.