Faces of the Active Feminine

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

A friend asked me if the character of Lisbeth in the Dragon Tattoo trilogy is an example of the Active Feminine.

I hadn’t contemplated examples, and probably wouldn’t have thought of Lisbeth on my own, but when asked, I realized – yeah, she’s almost perfect. Especially the aspect of the Active Feminine that Lilith represents.

Like Lilith, she’s pissed, yes. Willing and able to do what is necessary to liberate herself from anyone’s victimizing, willing to take on any power that tries to limit her – even if it means death. In other words, willing only to live life on her own terms, surrendering to no-one.

And powerful. Able to take on anyone, on any front – able to bring down great powers.

Sexual, but utterly for herself, not on anyone else’s behalf, only on her own terms. Sexuality not in service of relationship/affection/security, but in service of something else that she defines in the moment (the needs in her body, managing rage, proving something to someone – her sexuality serves herself, and perhaps something larger than herself, but not the partner in any way other than incidentally).

She is transformative in her direct attack on the status quo & in her destructive capacity (no, I know that destruction doesn’t equal transformation – but it’s usually a necessary precursor – you have to empty the cup before you can fill it).

Magical/masterful/brilliant – her hacking is superhuman (it’s the modern version of sorcery – gives her supernatural knowledge & insight, enables her to trick & defeat the bad guys, took years of study into dark/secret arts). She’s covered with symbols (another form of magic), she identifies with the dragon (a flying snake), a symbol of transformation, regeneration, healing – an ancient goddess religion deity. She herself seems to have nine lives.

Solitary and completely self-directed – not to be restrained, pinned down, not controlled even by lovers.

Intuitive – her instincts and reactions are both preternatural and animal. Her last name even sounds very like a mini-dragonish animal – salamander.

The only thing one might want for Lisbeth is some beauty in her life. Beauty is part of the Active Feminine (as well as the passive). But, it’s there, just hidden away in the back-story, not floating around her.

The popularity of the novels & her character are evidence of a yearning for the active feminine that we see in the world today. I’m sure I’m not the only Lisbeth wanna-be.

But the violence associated with her (both as inflicted upon her, and as necessary in her self-assertion) is also an indication of how difficult it is for the Active Feminine to be present. The Active Feminine is not washing gently ashore like Aphrodite, it is bursting on the scene, encountering violence and resistance, and kicking the shit out of people.

This is what I keep grappling with in my own life. How to keep the kicking as minimal as possible, but as much as necessary. In other words – how to make room for her and bust through the resistance (even in myself), without just perpetuating a war. That is my constant question.

In thinking about Lisbeth, the aspects of the Active Feminine that don’t get to show up in the midst of all the onscreen drama:

Openness and receptivity – an ability to receive.

Beauty and sensuality – nature and music and color and texture – and live animals.

Creativity – new life emerging from all those deaths.

Erotic expression – Eros isn’t just sex, but also flow and expression and responsiveness.

Connection to the sacred – hard to see that in the midst of all that dramatic action.

None of these is possible in the context of constant violence and repression – thus she has to kick ass before she can get to her softer side – in a more supportive environment, she probably could skip that step.

Lisbeth is closer to the Lilith side of the Active Feminine, which gets it’s power from repression and resistance, than to the Sacred Whore side, whose power comes from love and the erotic – but she’s young. We can hope she has those things off-screen, between adventures, or that she develops them after the action in the novels is over – once she has created a place for herself where she can let down her vigilance and relax.

Bonnie Raitt

Contemplating this post, and those perhaps-hibernating qualities in Lisbeth, while in the car a couple days ago, an interview with Bonnie Raitt came on the radio. And suddenly I had another model for the Active Feminine.

I don’t know if this is an accurate picture of the real person Bonnie Raitt, but it fits the celebrity persona I’ve always thought of her as.

She’s independent and strong, but still erotic and sensual. In touch with her body and it’s wisdom. Deeply connected to her emotions, and able to expresses them fully. She lives on a farm, is close to nature and animals, is creative, open, and vulnerable.

Bonnie Raitt was always an image of a self-assured, fully-expressive, life-on-her-own-terms, woman – and yet, her heart is always visible.

She’s the side of the Active Feminine that has not had to fight constantly just to survive, who has always remained intimately and lovingly connected to the masculine – her father, her brothers, her lovers – but never subordinate.

And her songs connect us all to our own deep yearning for communion, to our own eroticism, to our emotions – her voice is a vehicle for the magic and the sacredness of the Sacred Whore side of the Active Feminine.

Those are two examples I can think of. Who would you propose for an example of the Active Feminine, and why?

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"For a woman to explore and express the fullness of her sexuality, her emotional and intellectual capacities, would entail who knows what risks and who knows what truly revolutionary alteration of the social conditions that demean and constrain her."

-Louise J. Kaplan - Female Perversions