Feminism: The Mother of All Voices


Being a woman is not yet

a way of being a human being.

- Catharine MacKinnon

We have never escaped

a certain male cultural desire

for women’s silence.

- Mary Beard

eminism remains fraught. The word itself has about the same effect on dinner-party conversations as do the words “vegan” and “existentialism.” Feminism. Most of us feel, shamefully, that we should enact more of what that word represents, but too few of us have sufficient understanding of or comfort with this construct to be able to speak about it confidently. And the awkwardness of ignorance – even partial ignorance – tends to dissuade us from approaching a topic in order to learn more. We back away from the front lines where the battles rage and we avoid those people who want us to engage in heartfelt discussions. We are rendered incurious.

My goals in this article are to opine on the current state of feminist affairs, to touch on the concepts of gender and femininity, and then to connect what I consider to be the female attachment hemisphere to the male existential hemisphere to complete the model of self-construction that underlies this website.


What does this word mean? The underlying ideology of feminism tends to be most specifically defined at the extremes by those who are either very pro or very con. As a result, we can be led to believe that the movement is peopled by either saintly gynocentric goddess worshippers or proto-lesbian man-haters, humorless and chip-shouldered women who are probably unattractive. These fringe-driven definitions allow many people to simply dismiss the movement as either cartoonish or abhorrent. While the feminist movement does absolutely contain many people with extreme ideas, for the most part members of this community are working globally to advance the rights of women to participate fully in the running of the human project. That’s all. Feminists just want women to be half of the discussion. They don’t want to eliminate men, they simply need men to move over and give us women our half of the bench. Every bench.

It can be as tempting to dismiss what feminists want as it has been to toss off Freud’s patronizing question “What do women want?” It is also tempting to pretend that we are in a post-feminist era, with women’s rights having been, for the most part, neatly met. But who is to say where we are in terms of women’s access to power, to self-determination and to safety? (For a compelling summary of the status of feminism see this in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) In the middle of the peristaltic push-pull of change, amid lurches forward and furious lashes back, we may recognize an upward trajectory. But, I would say that, both globally and locally, women are still way, way, way underrepresented in the decision-making processes that create the cultures of humanity.

To my mind, the overarching concept of feminism is a willingness to be vigilant in identifying and eradicating the coercive nature of the masculine bias that exists in every aspect of human endeavor. That corrective effort can succeed only when males and females both find the female bias interesting enough to seek it out and utilize it as an equal and important complement to the male bias.

In order to go further in our thinking, we need to understand the concepts of masculine bias and feminine bias. The word “bias” is being used here to alert us to a tendency for humans to hold a partial perspective that both drives their choices and feeds their confirmatory selection of information. When you view the world in a particular way, you will watch for data that support that view. The opposite view becomes more and more distal and less and less relevant. One such dichotomy of viewpoint is the split between how women and men tend to approach becoming human.

Over and over on this website I have demonstrated that every human trait has an equal and opposite trait, and that these two traits can be situated in an orthogonal orientation to one another. The clever reader will have already noticed that these pairings can invariably be perceived as having a masculine/feminine overtone. Narcissistic and empathic, deductive and inductive, instrumental and affective, audacious and conforming will align in the average mind into “more typically male” and “more typically female” categories. And, also invariably, there will be a clear “better” option of the two, which will be (perhaps unless the topic under discussion is specifically relationships) the “more typically male” option. This pattern of difference equals gendered equals hierarchy permeates every action of every human, with the male option being considered the better option. This is the coercive nature of the male bias – men’s typical ways simply dominate. There are pilots and there are women pilots.

The idea of nearly eight billion people each enacting relentless gender hierarchy hundreds of time a day staggers me. (And don’t get me started on the cunning current backlash seeking to remarginalize women by yoking traditional female roles with piety and patriotism yet again!) The obvious result of this very deeply ingrained favoritism is a pervasive dismissal of the feminine side of being human. This institutionalized male entitlement is what law professor Catharine MacKinnon was referring to when she said that being a woman doesn’t yet rise to the level of being a human.

Does anyone doubt that something needs to be done about this? Can anyone say that dismissing women’s ways of being isn’t actionable? The ongoing injustice of privileging the male bias is well captured in just two excerpts from feminist writers. Again from Catharine MacKinnon:

This mainstream approach gives women two alternative routes to equality. One, be the same as men. This is the leading rule, termed “gender neutrality” or “the single standard.” The alternative is to ask for recognition of our differences, termed the “special benefit rule” or the “double standard.” The sameness standard gets women, when they are like men, access to what men already have; the differences rule seeks to cushion the impact of women’s distinctiveness or value women as they are under existing conditions.

…This approach has not allowed women to question the phallocentricity of knowledge, competition as the point of sports and careers, domination as the model and means of power, or war as a peculiarly ejaculatory means of conflict resolution.

…If men don’t need it, women don’t get it.

And philosopher Martha Nussbaum:

Women in much of the world lose out by being women. Their human powers of choice and sociability are frequently thwarted by societies in which they must live as the adjuncts and servants of the ends of others, and in which their sociability is deformed by fear and hierarchy. But they are bearers of human capabilities, basic powers of choice that make a moral claim for opportunities to be realized and to flourish. Women’s unequal failure to attain a higher level of capability, at which the choice of central human functions is really open to them, is therefore a problem of justice.

What needs to be authoritatively, institutionally, globally recognized is this: The perspective likely held by half the world’s population must be added to every discourse with equal voice in order for the human race to become whole. Life is difficult. Why not advance the species by harnessing women’s ways of knowing equally with those of the men?


Women's Growth In Connection

- Judith V. Jordan, Alexandra G. Kaplan, Jean Baker Miller, Irene P. Striver, Janet L. Surrey

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women

- Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead

- Susan J. Douglas

Dance of Intimacy

- Harriet Lerner

Women's Growth In Diversity

- Judith V. Jordan, Editor

Reviving Ophelia

- Mary Pipher

Mother Daughter Revolution: From Betrayal to Power

- Elizabeth Debold, Marie Wilson and Idelisse Malave

Feminist Theories and Feminist Psychotherapies

- Carolyn Zerbe Enns

Real Boys

- William Pollack

Raising Cain

Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson


The Startup Wife

- Tahmima Anam

In The Field

- Rachel Pastan

A Spindle Splintered

- Alix E. Harrow



Difference is good. It challenges a status quo, which encourages change. It generates synergy, which often precipitates novelty. And because it allows for a fuller range of options, it forces reaction, which encourages growth. In the two-heads-are-better-than-one tradition, two genders are a definite asset to humanity. There are several factors, however, which complicate the process of synergy between the genders – the male bias, the confounding of gender with sex and the pressure from dominant cultures for everyone to be cisgender.

The male bias, as I described above, occurs when the way men tend to do things is seen as superior to the way women tend to do things. Small humans, aka children, pick up very quickly where the power resides in a hierarchical system and will eschew with alacrity any trait that precipitates disdain from their peers. Thus the male bias gets socialized into all little humans as they strive to become big humans. By the time they get big, the male way of doing things is the correct way.

The confounding with sex concerns the birth curse that occurs when a person is trapped societally by her or his outward sex into behavior acceptable to one gender or the other. Every culture uses gender signifiers (such as our horrid blue/pink coding) that assign an individual into one category or another. Then gender performativity is trained into the labeled individual. Boys do this and girls do that. The FAWBOTS on this topic are terrific, so if you want to read more about this hamstringing process, see the box to the right.

Cultures want their citizens to be both similar and simple in their thinking because those characteristics enhance compliance and ease of government. While still hugely statistically dominant, cisgender is but one of many ways to be fully human. Those last two sentences reflect the battleground on which we currently stand in relation to gender identity. The outcome of that battle remains unclear, but at least at this point many people have been introduced to the limitations of a binary gender model of human experience. Many brave individuals are making public their unique process of gender self-creation, which allows each of us to deepen our understanding of our own gender identity.

If we consider gender identity as biologically seeded then culturally influenced, BUT extremely fluid and sovereign to each individual, we can then see that the extent to which any singular person manifests traditionally characterized masculinity or femininity or both should be a personal choice.

Having said that, I want to state that I also believe in a rich and valid female collective experience that can be, and should be, qualified, valued and integrated into the ways of the world. Therefore, for the remainder of the article I will be using a traditional cisgender binary model for the purposes of capturing the extant dominant power struggles that exist between the male and female biases.


What is the difference between feminism and femininity?

Feminism, as I described briefly above, is a collection of political, sociological, financial, legal and philosophical movements that are focused on establishing the belief that women are as interesting as men.

Femininity is one of those nature-nurture philosophical combat zones where folks feel the need to choose, then defend, either-or. There is even much effort made to place the origins of femininity in historical periods as proof of its nurture-only status. Who can say (and who cares, truly) when the first woman gave the first man a coquettish look? Or whether or not this was a “natural” behavior on her part. Due to simple laziness, I’m going to state that femininity is just the current societal view of what makes a person appear female. Each generation in each culture gets to define this for themselves.

I think it’s wonderful that we have a masculine and a feminine style of encountering the world. If there was no shame for either orientation (or, obviously for any blend of the two), and if we could be comfortable with either orientation showing up in a female or a male body, then the human race could simply benefit from having two strengths to choose between.

I’m not saying there is a stable and exclusive sense of femininity, I’m saying there is a current sense of collective experiences and values among women. To the extent a woman enjoys and thus personifies typically female ways of being, she is seen as more or less feminine.

In general, women are more interested in the insides of people and men are more interested in the outsides. The insides of people contain intimate process data about how an individual is going about her or his life with the accompanying full range of vulnerable emotional responses. The outsides of people tend to reflect information about the location and behavior of a person with perhaps a few eruptive emotions of the mad/glad/sad/bad variety.

You will find this gender difference at most gatherings of human adults.

The men will tend to cluster in one area talking to each other about the facts of their worlds. Men are interested in collecting information from experiences or media that furthers their competitive edge relative to their world of work, their hobbies and their standing in the political realm. They want information they can use to privately compare themselves to others in order to assess their status and to identify any threats to their person or their potency or their domain. Vulnerability to them means a flank may become exposed leaving themselves and their dependents at risk. They have to be stoic, careful and brave. Even their conversations can be seen as competitive – each man wanting to have the best story about the most impressive accomplishment. They ask questions reluctantly, preferring, instead, to listen, nod knowingly and learn stealthily.

The women will tend to cluster in another area talking with each other about the narratives of their lives. Women, like men, are interested in collecting information from the world around them that enhances their ability to perform their jobs, engage in sports and hobbies, and participate in the politics of their communities. But in addition, they see vulnerable interpersonal interactions as invaluable. When two women relate, they work to dissolve as many barriers to intimacy between them as possible by working to self-disclose genuinely and transparently. Often the depth of the intimacy increases rapidly as each woman responds to the thrill of sinking deeper and deeper into open communication.

Because most women have practiced sharing confidences and vulnerabilities from the time they learned to talk, they understand quite well both the risks and the payoffs. The risks are seen as the tuition that they willingly pay for the education that only interpersonal intimacy provides. When she has seen how countless others think their way through life, she has a rich database to access as she thinks her way through her life (or supports her children and her friends as they do so). When the cost of vulnerability is too high and she is met with stoicism or ugliness, however, a woman can close herself off from the other and return to her disconnected state. Otherwise, she is free to revel in the experience of joining with another woman and sharing her being-in-the-world.

So women collect millions of snapshots of the interior lives of others, which allow them to develop a highly collaborative view of life. As a result, women are extraordinarily skilled at empathy, have lots of data to use to consider the process of being human, and are grounded in the need for community and growth in connection. The significant amount of data that women collect experientially also powers the female skill of intuition. The data-rich minds of women are capable of assembling dozens of tiny clues into blazing insight at the speed of electricity.

As a generality, then, it can be said that women’s brains have evolved to simultaneously handle much diverse input. Over two hundred millennia, these minds have been socialized into a communal orientation toward the world that privileges emotional and empathic fluency, fostering the development of others, seeing cruelty as both unnecessary and unacceptable, and privileging the honesty required for authentic sharing. Due to their ongoing role as caregiver, women are extraordinarily capable of proactively providing others with necessities. Women pride themselves in their ability to prevent mishaps with excellent planning and provisioning. And finally, because of their relentless interest in relationships, women’s brains are also currently quite able to demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence. These characteristics create in women an unabashed propensity for collecting, remembering and deciphering data about the interpersonal realm.

It would stand to reason, then, that if we seek wisdom about what it means to be human, we would be well advised to listen to the voices of women.

Self-construct model

At this point we have a definition of feminism which suggests that an appropriate focus for the movement is on institutionalizing an egalitarian relationship between the aspects of being human that are interesting to most women with those aspects of being human that are interesting to most men. We also have an understanding that there are women’s ways of knowing that are reflected in delightfully feminine voices. We are now in a position to integrate these views into our model of self-construction by joining it with the perspective of the existential (read: male) thinkers.

There are two aspects of the feminist/feminine viewpoint that are woven through the theory of self-construction. The first is the overarching commitment to acknowledge and remediate political influences on personal distress. The second is the role of the feminine in managing a relationship with the five givens delineated by the construct of existential time. Let’s discuss them one at a time even though there is much overlap between the two.

The personal is political.

I think it’s important here to review the underlying premise of self-construction. To wit: Every childhood falls victim to some limitations in the caregivers. The range of these limitations is both wide and deep. (If you have not already done so, please read the three articles that take you on a self-guided tour of your childhood which addresses the origins as well as the scope of caregiver shortcomings.) If the limitations are not honestly revealed and corrected, the child is launched into adulthood with some wobble. The more the deceit in the childhood, the greater the wobble. And, like a rocket striving to reach the moon, the greater the wobble, the less likely it will be that the mission (reaching powerful adulthood) will be successful.

The greatest single source of caretaker mistakes is the coercion of the male bias. This false perspective on what constitutes human values corrodes the upbringing of all children, not just female children. The corrosion is caused by the two shortcomings of this pervasive influence of the male bias – the denial of the value of the feminine and the disastrous loss of training in how to navigate a dialectical antinomy.

As described previously, the coercion of the male bias causes children to learn that only one way of being has value and that is the male way. And further, because the male bias glorifies competition, the best way of being is reflected in the ideal ambitious and aggressive male. A child will determine its own worth by deciding within its little, developing brain how well she or he matches that ideal.

It’s hard to imagine becoming one’s absolute best if one doesn’t fit perfectly into the male bias mold.

It’s hard to imagine substantially developing indispensable empathic skills if only one way of being is valued.

It’s hard to imagine not feeling like an oppressor to the extent your good fit with the masculine ideal vaults you over the heads of others.

It’s hard to imagine a whole host of beneficent things missing in the life of a child brought up seeing only half the sky.

Since we were all raised in this world, we must all be beyond vigilant in detecting and negating the multitude of coercive default settings within ourselves. I have tried to do this with every concept on the website and I invite your assistance in that endeavor. When you find pockets of blindness anywhere in my writing, please bring it to my attention so that it can be corrected. The more eyes on the job, the better!

And in terms of the lessons to be learned by navigating a dialectical antinomy, let me say this: one of the most powerful concepts on this website is that of the orthogonal relationship. Rather than seeing two disparate characteristics as mutually exclusive, it is much more adaptive to cultivate both, leaving us able to choose which characteristics to privilege by judging each situation as it comes. Additionally, the only route to maturity is one that leads us to respect and eagerly explore the gnarly grey areas that exist everywhere around us when seemingly incompatible truths coexist. Again, I have tried throughout this website to identify the male bias, value it for what it can accomplish and balance it with the equal and opposite female bias. If you see where I have missed in this effort, please let me know.

I want to emphasize that these descriptions are of extant men and women in general. I am hopeful that future generations will have a much easier time avoiding the pressure to emulate only the male expectations or to engage in stereotypical gender-binary behaviors.

The feminine power in existential intelligence

Existential intelligence is the over-arching theory I use to support both my work with clients and the articles on this website. It was created by joining the foundational strength of existential philosophy with the balancing nature of feminist thought. We are existentially intelligent to the extent that we are able to simultaneously navigate all five dimensions of time as we face the five givens of human existence using both female and male attributes and attitudes. Existential intelligence greatly facilitates self-construction.

Existential time: Let me remind you that, existentially, time has five dimensions: past, present, future, death and energy. If we hark back to the existential stance, we can see how it encourages us to stand consciously in the present with a well-digested past flowing behind us, an authentically selected future beckoning us forward and accompanied by our two parental outriders, death and energy.

Death, who I consider our paternal sidekick, reminds us of the urgency of existence and is well characterized by the verve men bring to life. The fear of death is kept at a bearable, and thus serviceable, distance from us when our vitality is guarded by both bravery and autonomy. In combination, courage and independence create a near perfect defensive balance that holds us in a healthy degree of openness to the imperative of facing our death. Our relationship with death as a component of time connects us to the larger issue that is the given of Fate. Bravery allows us to face the nearly unbearable indifference of Fate with some élan, while autonomy allows us to remember to blink away from the dread with enough moments of nonchalance to unfreeze us. Men, by both nature and nurture, are usually quite capable of maintaining a swashbuckling stance toward Fate in general and death specifically.

Energy, who I see as our maternal sidekick, reminds us that we can only be effective at any point in time if we have the energy to do something with that time. Women, again as a function of both nature and nurture, have a full range of skills that enables them to skillfully manage the energy dimension of time. What this maternal dimension represents is provisioning in preparation for the choices we are ready to make in life. As I said, it does us no good to show up with time to engage in an important endeavor if we lack the resources to support our implementation of it. Provisioning can take many forms – from emotional support to fostering physical health to teaching to lunch money.

Many skills underlie the successful quartermaster. She must be capable of resource gathering, safe and effective storage of provisions, maintenance of all systems, scouting for new sources, experimenting with new raw materials, eliminating unnecessary losses, anticipating risks to stakeholders, training members of the supply chains, and so on. This role is, by necessity, extremely proactive in that many resources must be gathered well in advance of the need. It is also critical that providers recognize when limits must be set. There will be many instances when a provider must triage resource allocation, curb resource use or withhold support entirely. Women understand that it is very helpful when making these difficult assessments to consult with many other experienced providers.

Women take this set of tasks very, very seriously because they understand that the lives that are important to them depend on them. They dedicate serious study and practice to elevating their skills accordingly. Senior women advise junior women. Junior women cooperate with each other as they learn contemporary versions of the skills that create order out of chaos.

The energy component of time alerts us to the state of our attachments to the world, since they are the source of our replenishment. Because attachment is such an enormous component of the feminine world, it will be discussed in much greater detail below.

Like oxen yoked to a heavy wagon, death and energy will pull us steadily forward only if the two are closely balanced in size and strength. If not, the wagoner (that would be us) will find him or herself going in wide circles. Part of self-construction, then, means tending to our oxen. We cannot be potent in life if unaware of any imbalance. The social status quo does neither gender any good when it comes to balancing the input of death and energy. Men are given too much training in dealing with death and women are not allowed enough. The reverse is true for energy. As a result of this schooling bias, men become lonely soldiers and women become lonely quartermasters. And so, far too many of us are wandering in despairing circles.

(Aside: Marriage is, in theory, designed to yoke two people with their differing training together to allow for both members to move forward in life. Too often the male maintains his courage and linear focus on his goals and success while the female donates a big hunk of her resourcing to the male. I would guess that this dynamic contributes greatly to the statistics that continue to find that married men are much happier than are married women.)

That, in brief, is the thrust of the website in terms of the feminine power in the existential stance relative to time. There is also a pervasive feminine power added to all of the strategies on this website that deal with our challenges relative to the existential givens.

Existential givens: Each and every one of us is destined to live a difficult life confronting the immutable truths that every human has faced throughout time – our lives are completely unique projects (meaning we can’t copy anyone else); we are responsible for ourselves at every moment (since we choose our every commission and omission); only we can decide what is meaningful to us (and then we have to act on that guess with bold choices); Fate is going to mess with us and with those around us (requiring us to choose a type of faith with which to make sense of things); and we are not able to completely merge with anyone else (which means we have to guess what is happening in every interaction with another person). The existentialists rally our courage to expect ourselves to handle these truths. The feminists encourage us to use women’s ways of being to support ourselves while we do so.

Here is a brief review of the five givens and the contributions of the female and the male biases supporting our ongoing battle with them.

Uniqueness: We can only understand our uniqueness by how it shows up in our past. (You may need to give that last sentence a moment to land.) The female bias encourages us to regard our past as a wealth of examples of our personal resilience through triumphs and losses. It strives to keep an up-to-date inventory of our strengths and passions. It sees weaknesses as areas for further study and is eager to assist us in obtaining the training needed. The male bias demands that we tally all the errors of omission and commission. It believes in the validity of learning through the “agony of defeat.” It sees weaknesses as aspects of ourselves to be overcome through true grit. Together these two perspectives should paint an accurate picture of where we are so far in life in terms of creating our essence.

Responsibility: As we stand in the present, we stand starkly alone in the truth that how we spend that moment is up to us. We may try to believe that we have no choices, but we do, even if they are limited. Our female bias will inventory our resources and inform us of our level of preparedness. It provides the voice of cheerleading. Our male bias is impatient for us to just get a move on. It is the voice of constant urging for us to make a bold move. Together they optimize our forward movement. Get ready, get set, go!

Meaning: Only we can decide which of our dreams are best pursued. Again, there may be more limitations on us than we would like in terms of seeking the life we yearn for, but there are unquestionably fewer obstacles than we pretend there are. The female bias reminds us that it is often wise to seek help from others. Partnership, mentorship, internship are all appropriate states to pursue. The male bias wants you to rely on yourself in the pursuit of a grand life. He believes you can handle the truth. When heard together, these voices can create a motivating environment of choice, chance and cheerleading.

Fate: Our death is only one manifestation of the way Fate controls our life. Fate can, with no warning, escort us gallantly to the next most glorious stage of our life or it can drop us indifferently into a well so deep we become hope blind. Men train for the challenge of accepting helplessness in the face of Fate by doing everything they can to toughen up. Using competition over just about everything, young males master the art of stoicism. Older men roughen their interactions with younger men in order to assist with this forbearance training. The silly “just rub dirt on it” strategy men recommend to boys serves as a minor example. Sadly, competition tends to support a winner-take-all culture, which creates a lot of folks who feel like losers. Women prepare for handling Fate by building networks that will support them as they navigate through good news and bad. Older women demonstrate the advantages of intimacy as they share their stories with younger women. Young girls are encouraged to share their lives with their female peers in order to learn the art of building a community of nurturing women. And all the emotional intelligence skills that women cultivate so painstakingly are always at the ready to comfort and support. The strategies for resilience forwarded by both voices are effective – especially when combined.

Attachment: The healthful state for humans is one of connection. We seek to be linked to people, places and things that anchor us emotionally in this scary world while simultaneously giving us the energy to carry on. Men are comfortable attaching to ideas, comrades and arenas in which they can exhibit their potency. Women have a magnificent ability to attach to many more aspects of life. In addition to ideas, comrades and arenas, they demonstrate a willingness to embrace and care for a huge range of things in both the interpersonal world and the natural world – homes, pets, plants, traditions, cast iron frying pans – you name it. Unfortunately, this is an area where the two biases are currently not well balanced. In the interpersonal domain, the energy flow continues to move from the female to the male. This has the unfortunate result of women tending to react to the lack of energy coming their way by pouring more energy into the relationship, obviously increasing the lopsidedness. A wise woman will notice the disproportionate resource allocation, bring it to the attention of the male she is interacting with and stand still at the halfway point between the two people to see if the other can step forward with appropriate energy contribution. This is an ongoing project in most female-male relationships and in institutions as well.

Because the energy component of time as mediated in relationship is the most negatively affected by the cultural male bias, I want to spend more time on it.

A feminist view of attachment

When the dominant culture exalts men’s ways of being and disparages women’s, women unquestionably and concretely suffer. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the dichotomy of autonomy versus attachment. Because men are encouraged to move through life with self-determination and independence as primary goals, they injure women in two ways. First, by remaining untrained in the skills that underlie a sound relationship, skills that would allow each member of a dyad to benefit equally from the relationship. And second, by happily syphoning off the energy provided by the female as he motors off into the world to make his mark, leaving her too weak to pursue her dream. It’s no joke to hear “Behind every great man is a great woman.” It’s more likely true that behind every great man is a lonely and depleted woman.

What follows in this section are three aspects of this dilemma: an ode to the ability of women to attach; the elegance of the alternating current between women which so often provides each member of the dyad the necessary energy at the necessary time; and the unfairness of the direct current that flows from women to men, leaving men resourced and women spent.

An ode to joy: Women come early to the understanding that energy is created by the expression of intimacy – attachment. Attachment is a form of love and involves a willingness to be vulnerable. If the definition of love is:

an act of will to reliably extend oneself toward a significant other in order to create intimacy across difference for the purpose of facilitating both comfort and the allocation of resources

attachment is love absent the expectation of equal allocation of resources. I attach to something, pour my energy into it, and hope that I will receive energy back. Often, however, I attach to something and use energy I’ve received elsewhere to keep the relationship going. This last little bit is extremely important because, as provisioners, women understand that they must sip, hummingbird like, from the world of attachment to collect sufficient energy to support the asymmetrical relationships in their lives. A sage woman creates and maintains many sources of energy to charge her batteries. So, the net positive amount of energy received when she feeds her tail-wagging dog, cuts splendid flowers from her garden or finds a glorious new song for her running playlist all add incrementally to her energy balance. These small contributions gather alongside larger net gains such as winning a case in court, taking a client to the next level of insight or watching your child graduate from college with distinction.

How does attachment love create energy? Well, first of all, it doesn’t always. A virus can kill your gladiolas just before they bloom, and you can lose your court case because opposing counsel caught all the breaks. With these losses of the attachment item, the energy spent creating the attachment is lost. But, when the attachment does pay off, why does it feel so energizing?

The simple answer is that reciprocity in attachment is a dose of cosmic stipulation. When the bouquet of glads sits in its breathtaking beauty on your dining room table, the universe has stipulated that your efforts were fertile. When you win your legal case despite the luckier opponent, the known world is telling you that you’re potent.

A more complicated answer is that attachment is energizing because it connects you to the cosmos and that connection is a conduit for an inflow of energy. This is a function of the parts of the human brain that are designed to experience awe. The vastness of awe-inspiring occurrences – the very remarkableness of something like Yosemite or a piece of music you love – serves to activate a soothing sense that the universe has tons of energy to spare and will happily resource you on demand.

Additionally, with interpersonal attachment, the I-Thou experience deactivates the sentry part of our brain for a moment’s rest as we relax our vigilance in the presence of a safe other. An emotional bond, no matter how brief, contains an element of camaraderie that allows us to take a break from our lonely existential vigil.

Stipulation, awe and safety, then, all release the biochemistry of joy into our brains because all provide massive reassurance. Stipulation reassures us that we’ve done something impressive, awe reassures us that the natural world is abundant and the I-Thou encounter reassures us that we can share our burdens with others. The transcendent somatic experience that results from reassurance is caused by a combination of the biochemistry of both glee and serenity. The glee juice in our brains appears as a quick squirt of euphoria. The serenity juice is a more subtle and longer lasting peace of mind. The one-two punch of these two molecules causes a cascade of chemistry to surge throughout our bodies enabling us to convert adenosine triphosphate into actual energy at a cellular level. So that summer bouquet of gladiolas or a spectacular aria or a heartfelt interaction with a total stranger causes your muscles to literally have more energy to access. Mind/body. Pretty cool combo.

(Note: Addictive behavior reflects an attachment to something that is not stipulation, awe or safety. The positive biochemistry that underlies every single addiction is not the same as the biochemistry of the three attachment benefits. Rather than a cascade of movement biochemistry, the mechanics of addictive biochemistry just lead back to yearning for more of the problematic behavior. This is because addictive elements do not connect you to anything outside of yourself but only to the internal state of intoxication. Intoxication isn’t problematic in itself, it is just not something you want to organize your life around.)

Back to our ode to joy. Women move through their worlds sipping on all available sources of energy to ready themselves to energize others. So when their small sources of attachment joy are belittled, it is the height of empathic failure and disrespect. And when men routinely drain the women around them of any attachment energy, it is the height of predatory behavior. Young children are allowed to take women’s generosity for granted. Adult men, no.

Attachment brings with it an almost paralyzing vulnerability. Just look at the face of any woman who has lost her precious home and the memories therein in a fire. And attachment to people is even more terrifying. These are the attachments that keep you awake at night with ruminations of worry unto terror. But connections to people, of course, are the greatest source of energy. Since they are also the greatest source of agony, however, a willingness to love people is commendable. The generosity and courage women demonstrate in their indefatigable efforts to create bilateral attachments are damn impressive, especially given that – because of the relentlessness of the male bias – they are forced to view the world through hosed-colored glasses.

Women are the glue that holds the world together through their courageous attachment and generous gifts of energy. It just kills me that this truth is so trivialized and unrewarded.

Alternating current: Because women develop a tremendous capacity for connection, they tend to be very aware of the cost/benefit analysis that must be a part of any thoughtful attachment. What this means is that they are sensitive to the energy balance in their relationships. They will try to ensure that adequate resources are dedicated to valuable endeavors, for if the flowers don’t get fertilized in the fall or if the legal case doesn’t get enough preparation, the returning energy level will be compromised. And interpersonally, women are extra attentive to reciprocity. They understand that if they are being chosen to receive the precious elements that occur in the tailor-made relationship between two people (empathy, stipulation, positive feedback, helpful critique, specific provisions and assistance) they are simultaneously incurring a responsibility to pay into the relationship with currency of equal value. The co-op culture of women runs on mutuality of customized thought and effort. And, because they are capable of quick and deep attachment, women are excellent sources of recharge for each other.

(Yes, yes, yes. Men can and do engage in many of these relationship-building behaviors. Please remember that I am talking in general here to clarify the reasons that so many women exist in emotional poverty when in relationships with men.)

(And yes, yes, yes. Women can be cold and detached. Or greedy and entitled. But, on the whole, women tend to tend to attachments and relationships.)

Caveats aside, women experience first hand how energy can be transformed in interchanges that are mutual and dependent. When attentiveness and responsivity and the brilliant creativity of empathy are further enhanced by mutual need balancing, both women in a relationship are moved toward greater well-being.

Attachment feeds an ongoing development of the self through self-in-relationship. Ego strength is only created between people. For men, this usually takes the form of status comparison and the resulting competition. Rules are created that describe the appropriate type of stoic behavior for every rung on the pack status ladder. For women, ego strength is created with mutual valuing, witnessing, concern and support. The communal ethic is less rule based and more focused on the need state of both participants. Need states of all participants are assessed over time and across situations. In general, women do an excellent job of maintaining healthy, equitable relationships among themselves. Thus, in relationship, women lead with support while men lead with solutions.

Finally, women are capable of extraordinary continuity of thought regarding the things to which they attach. When women attach they become emotionally tethered. This constant awareness of people, places and plants takes energy. At any point in time, the average woman is connected to what supplies she has in her kitchen cupboards, which neighbor is distressed, when her houseplants were last watered, where the main people in her life are and what they need. She also maintains both a history and a calendar describing the past and future of those for whom she cares. When you are tuned in to the need state of others, part of you is continually occupied with the processing of the other’s problems and needs. The saying: “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child.” is reflective of this ongoing connectedness.

Direct current: By and large, men are very willing to partake of relationship but are rarely interested in heightening their skills relative to that participation. Why would they? Men who are used to getting their energy needs met at little cost to themselves have no motivation to grow or change. When women routinely over-function in a relationship, men will naturally and understandably under-function. As a result, a very uneasy status quo gets established. Elements of that status quo might include:

• His relationship naïveté is viewed by the male as expected and humorous

• No willingness on his part to examine the energy balance between the couple

• Extraordinary emotional stinginess on his part

• A tendency on her part to then enact more emotion than is natural to her (aka the hysterical female)

• No stretching of the boundaries of the self in either member allowing for personal growth

• A truce is gained when he agrees to do what she “asks” for

o Putting her in the subordinate role of supplicant

o Putting her at risk for being seen as a nag

o Forcing her to choose what needs have a chance of being met

o Allowing him to take himself off the hook for further emotional growth because "He's done what she asked."

o Causing many men to learn to shut out women’s voices because they call for interdependency and emotional risk-taking.

Many relationships between men and women (romantic and platonic and familial) end up arrested at this level of development. The old adage derived from couples therapy – “what we have here is a failure to communicate” – could be better stated as – “what we have here is a failure to want to communicate.”

Here is a perfect example of how privileging the male bias hurts all humans. Because the culture has little interest in women’s ways of being, the power grid involved in attachment remains unexamined. If the biochemistry of attachment was better understood by people, there might be greater interest in energy reciprocity. Men are completely capable of understanding how to balance an equation and could come to see how much more rich their lives could be if the women in their lives – mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, friends, lovers – weren’t ridiculed for their attachments but were seen as deserving of some attachment energy coming back at them.

But men tend to only tend to those aspects of a woman’s life that make sense to them, so often even “attentive” men are providing only a fraction of what women need to feel supported. And, even more sadly, men can easily remove themselves from the discourse needed to resolve the energy imbalance because they have been trained to not care about women’s thinking enough to stay and fight.

Men, of course, aren’t monsters. Men do feel love, but men feel loyalty love while women feel attachment love. Loyalty love can be described as standing shoulder to shoulder with someone on your same team. You are both engaged in reaching whatever goal has been agreed upon. You trust each other to handle their part of the battle. And, again generally, the male is the soldier and the female is the quartermaster – meaning he acts and she supports. Attachment love is a face-to-face interaction that involves an empathic connection fostered by a willingness to allow transparency to create intimacy between the two participants. Each member is strengthened by the mutuality of the caring and is therefore readied to face outside challenges. Sometimes those challenges involve teamwork, and when this is true, the emotional tether between the two means that part of the focus of the team is always on supporting each other.

I can imagine that some of you are thinking that we should just appreciate the contributions men make to women’s lives and not pressure them to change. But I believe that acceptance of the status quo in the world of human interactions is not appropriate because the status quo does not represent a neutral starting point from which everyone can grow and flourish. It represents a one or two or three down position for women when in relationships with men.

Beyond her sexual and caregiving capacities – a woman needs to be valued. When you value something deeply you put energy into it. This isn’t a big ask. Especially since it creates a win-win energy allocation because women are so well poised to return energy.

We are asking that men expand their conceptions of relationship to include an energy assessment and to look beyond the traditional paycheck and lawn-mowing contributions. Listen to the women in your life and see if you can capture all the ways they donate energy to you. And then check your behavior and attitude. If you are not, on average, as invested in energizing her as she is in energizing you, you may want to give that fact a long think.


Are women free to move lithely in the world? No.

Women need to collectively intervene in the phallocentric distortion of social reality. Don’t you just love that sentence? It may sound violent, but all we need to do to correct the distortion is for a culture to embrace the power and beauty of women’s ways of being. We are the provisioners, the energizers and the conduits of intimate recharging. If you can learn to be more like us, that’s great. You will undoubtedly benefit from that growth as you develop a shared zest for kindness and mutual growth. This is as close as humans get to one another. And it is terrifically energizing!

But at the very least, respect us for how we keep the world running, stop ridiculing our gifts and, for god’s sake, listen to us.

To the extent people can come to understand the damage created by the bias imbalance, they will have taken one giant step toward being a full participant in the feminist movement. They will no longer be rendered incurious.

© Copyright 2024 Jan Iversen. All rights reserved.