Everything You Know About 'Feminine Energy' Isn't Wrong, But It Isn't Quite Right

Everything You Know About 'Feminine Energy' Isn't Wrong, But It Isn't Quite Right

Take a scroll through Instagram or TikTok, and you’ll see plenty of posts about what it means to have “feminine energy.” One video offers a three-step guide on “how to radiate feminine energy,” while another post explains why yours is blocked. More posts share “signs a woman is integrated into her feminine energy” or list out the differences between the “divine feminine” and “wounded feminine.”

But the complex concept of feminine energy can’t be confined to proscriptive text posts on baby pink backgrounds or videos about “living the soft girl life.” Though the topic’s provided plenty of fodder for social media, I’m not convinced that anyone actually knows what feminine energy is. I even posed the question “How do you define feminine energy?” on my own Instagram, and the only response I received was from another woman who had “nothing to add this second,” but was excited to read this story.

While the virtual jury of our peers may be out, long-held cultural associations persist. “Traditionally, people think of it as energy that's sort of nurturing, motherly, and softer,” says Nicole Davis, LCSW, psychotherapist and clinical director of The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York. “But I also think feminine energy should be thought of as something that's very powerful.”

In lieu of demystifying the definition once and for all, the best I can offer is an expert-informed exploration of what feminine energy is, how its meaning is influenced by culture, where the concept originates, and how to celebrate it in an empowering way.

What is feminine energy?

It should come as no surprise that even the simplest definition of feminine energy is still open to interpretation. “It's something spiritual [and] a little bit ephemeral,” says Hamsa Rajan, PhD, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford who researches gender relations, sociology, and feminist theory. Basically, you know it when you feel it, and everyone feels it differently. One person might feel like they're tapping into their feminine energy by going on a camping trip with a group of close female friends, while someone else might associate this energy with the confidence they feel after getting a new haircut.

Masculine energy is similar: While people tend to associate it with assertiveness and toughness, it’s really a subjective and personal feeling, more than anything else. In fact, there are so many ways for a person, regardless of their gender identity, to exhibit feminine and/or masculine energy that “to define certain traits, proclivities, or tendencies as masculine or feminine can often very quickly and very easily lead into gender oppression and sexism,” says Rajan. (By the way, that oppression doesn’t just limit women’s and people with marginalized gender identities’ roles in society—it inhibits cisgender men’s, too.)

Even though people of all genders can resonate with and experience feminine energy and/or masculine energy, some experts, like Davis, believe that the terms themselves can be a slippery slope into binary thinking. Today, many people don’t subscribe to the outdated idea that there are just two genders, and that each comes with prescribed, associated traits. By contrasting feminine energy with masculine energy, it’s easy to fall into the trap of envisioning gender as a female-or-male binary. That’s why Davis doesn’t do it. “I try not to define feminine energy too much because it's really difficult not to do that in a very binary way,” she says.

It's also important to take these ideas of feminine energy and masculine energy seriously because saying these energies don’t exist would essentially mean we’re all non-binary, negating the lived experiences of people with that gender identity, says Rajan.

How did the concepts of feminine and masculine energies originate?

While Rajan affirms “that much of this idea of feminine energy and masculine energy is in our heads,” she’s also quick to acknowledge that, at the same time, society has an undeniable impact on our behavior—how we talk, think, interact.

The dichotomy between feminine and masculine exists across cultures: In traditional Chinese culture, yin is feminine and yang is masculine. In Hinduism, the sun tends to be masculine, while the moon tends to be feminine. In Western society, Venus is associated with femininity, represented by the female symbol ♀, while Mars is associated with masculinity and represented by the male symbol ♂.

“We have a long history of over-essentializing the differences between men and women and separating out the roles that men and women are seen to kind of normatively occupy,” says Rajan. “Those of us who identify as women or identify as men, we have been socialized to a certain degree into those differences, and we identify with them and we take on those differences. That's the idea of performing gender.”

Still, it's likely that differences between the masculine and feminine existed long before society came and imposed its meanings upon them, says Rajan. She theorizes that there is “something innate that we can feel and identify with,” especially if you view the idea of feminine energy through the lens of a trans woman, for example. “All of society is putting all their pressure on that woman to not act, look, and be a woman, and yet, she is a woman,” says Rajan.

But even this interpretation of feminine energy nonetheless requires nuance, too. “There certainly are lots of trans-identified folks who maybe were assigned male at birth and then feel strongly identified with things that we think of as traditionally female and feminine. But not everybody who's trans also identifies in a binary way,” says Davis. “There's also lots of people who identify as trans who don't identify with a binary, or who identify with both masculinity and femininity and want to be able to embrace either energies or expressions of gender as they're feeling in any one day.”

The desire to have a flexible relationship with gender expression—to tap into feminine energy one moment and masculine energy the next—isn’t just a phenomenon among trans and non-binary folks. People who are cisgender can relate, too. Many people don’t identify strongly with femininity or masculinity, and “that isn't necessarily about even identifying as gender non-conforming or non-binary,” says Davis. “It's really just about breaking the molds of what it's supposed to mean to be masculine or feminine, and allowing a lot more fluidity of that.”

How does feminine energy differ from masculine energy?

While many try to define feminine energy by highlighting how it differs from masculine energy, this also misses the mark. “It's hard to put that difference into words [because] when you do put it into words, you end up exaggerating, over-essentializing, and solidifying the differences in a way that isn't quite right,” says Rajan.

Because our culture and society tends to over-exaggerate the differences between feminine and masculine energy, “we've learned to think of ourselves as quite dichotomized in ways that are just not accurate,” says Rajan. “Even when a man and a woman are engaging in the same behaviors, we might interpret it differently because we're so socialized and so indoctrinated in this way of thinking.” Research on different communication styles has shown that women are judged more harshly than men if they act arrogant or speak a little bit too assertively, Rajan explains.

The other problem with comparing masculine and feminine energy to each other is that, in doing so, society has created “a clear hierarchy” that lauds masculinity and devalues femininity, says Rajan. “Even when the rhetoric is 'different but equal,' it's actually not equal. That's just the rhetoric.”

Take something as “different but equal” as women’s and men’s clothes, for example. “It's become much more acceptable for people who identify as women or girls to express something that we think of as masculinity, more so than people who identify as boys or men to express something that's considered femininity,” Davis says. “If someone who identifies as male tries to embrace something that's considered a kind of feminine energy, that person could become an object of ridicule.” For example, a woman can wear a suit to work, and no one bats an eye; but if a man wears a skirt to the office, he’ll likely be mocked. “What ends up happening is that it's almost shameful for men to take on feminine traits,” says Rajan.

To counteract centuries of indoctrination, it’s necessary for people to challenge themselves “to not think of masculine or feminine as weak or strong in any sort of context,” says Davis. “That is a big way that that binary plays out: Anything that's labeled feminine is somehow about softness and weakness, and the idea that those things equate with each other. But soft doesn't mean weak, and hard doesn't mean strong.”

How can I celebrate feminine energy in my own life?

1. Create your own definition of feminine energy.

You know what they say: If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself. The beauty of no agreed-upon definition of feminine energy is that you can customize your understanding of this concept so tapping into it becomes a source of empowerment.

“Different women understand their femininity differently and embody that femininity differently,” says Rajan. “It goes back to that idea of spirituality and being true to yourself and living your truth.” For example, if you feel that what is most central to your identity is your role as a mother and your caretaking capabilities, think about an activity that allows you to exhibit those traits, like nurturing your creativity by starting a passion project. Or if you feel a strong feminine connection to the moon, you might get together with other women and do a ritual under the glowing night sky.

“When people are able to express themselves in their femininity the way that is most natural to them—and then are celebrated and accepted for it by others—that is empowering,” says Rajan. Remember: It's important not to impose any preconceived ideas about gender identity or expression onto others. Allow them to forge their own version of femininity, the way you have.

2. Valorize traditionally feminine traits.

Turns out, the DIY approach also applies to dismantling the gender binary hierarchy (who knew?). Start by taking those traditionally feminine traits—nurturing, sensitive, compassionate—and consider them of higher value than they historically have been. “A lot of these things are actually way better than society tends to see it as,” says Rajan. “We don't need to live in a hypermasculine or a masculine-celebrating world, in which aggression, assertiveness, and a certain kind of decisiveness is what's considered best for everyone.”

This has benefits beyond an individual tapping into their own feminine energy—it can also allow them to recognize and appreciate the feminine energy in others, especially men. With the traditional male-female hierarchy, “it's almost shameful for men to take on feminine traits,” says Rajan. “And that's another kind of oppression that men face.” Embracing men who are more nurturing and more relational is another way to valorize feminine traits because if these traits are seen as desirable by individuals of any gender, the hope is that they will start to be more valued by society as a whole.

3. Expand the meaning of power.

Due to masculinity’s traditional associations with dominance and assertiveness, “we've gotten into this way of thinking that masculinity equals power,” says Davis. “But power can look and come from all sorts of different places.” Power can look like emotional strength, she explains, a trait oft-associated with femininity.

She also notes that while a connection tends to be drawn between the power in feminine energy and motherhood (due to both the physical strength of giving birth and the emotional strength of caretaking), not everyone who identifies with femininity identifies with motherhood.

To find the source of your power, first consider your definition of feminine energy and the feminine traits you’ve valorized. Ask yourself: Are these qualities in myself that I value or that I want to value? Are these qualities that I feel like I exhibit in my life, my relationships, my work, my hobbies, etc.? If not, are there ways that I would like to bring more of those qualities in, and what stands in the way of me being able to do that?

As with the concept of gender itself, “it's never about something being better or worse, right or wrong,” says Davis. “It’s about what's working for you, what's not working for you.” Basically, take what you want from the concept of feminine energy, leave what you don’t, and feel powerful in your conviction to stay true to yourself.

Meet the Experts: Nicole Davis, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and the clinical director of The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York. Hamsa Rajan, PhD, is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford who researches gender relations, sociology, and feminist theory. Her research focuses on gender relations in Tibetan families, including dynamics of abuse, how household economic production impacts women’s vulnerability to maltreatment in the home, and the intersections of gender relations and ethnic minority politics.

You Might Also Like