Barbara McNally’s ‘The Four Faces of Femininity’ Explores The Ways Women Have Changed The Course Of History

Four Faces of Femininity

By Barbara McNally

“When she stopped conforming to the conventional picture of femininity she finally began to enjoy being a woman.”  —Betty Friedan   

We all want to be ourselves, but in order to be ourselves we need to know ourselves and we have to see ourselves. We can’t become what we can’t see. Women’s stories are mirrors to hold up to ourselves and see which characteristic’s we have within us too. Remember the quote “Know thyself.”  —The Oracle at Delphi. That’s the beginning to following our dreams.

As modern complex women this involves balancing and integrating different parts of ourselves and different roles we play. Four Faces of Femininity divides women’s stories into four categories mothers, lovers, warriors and sages.

I met a woman I recognized instantly as a Soul Sister. Have you had that experience? You strike up a conversation and although you’ve never spoken with that person before, it’s as if you’ve known each other all your lives.

Moments like this are absolutely magical in so many ways. Although this woman and I only spent a few short hours together, I knew we were forging a long-term friendship. And when I emailed her to tell her how much I’d enjoyed connecting, she replied, “It felt so good to be seen and understood by you!

That phrase really struck a chord with me. It made me think about how human beings have a deep-seated need to express ourselves, but more than that, we want to be heard, seen, and known. It’s one of our most primal emotional instincts. Yet many of us struggle to make ourselves known to others because it’s hard enough to truly know ourselves.

Four Faces of Femininity | Anne Sullivan

We’ve got a handle on the basics: our likes and dislikes, the roles we fill in our relationships, the skills we’ve honed. But at one time or another, most of us wonder what we could be like if we had the freedom to fully and authentically be ourselves.

As women, we often learn to manage our lives by compartmentalizing our multiple personas. We take on one persona or another when we connect with our lovers, our children, our different circles of friends, or our colleagues. It’s only natural. Most of us keep a few of our personas in the closet, and we know which one to grab when we face certain situations. Or maybe some of those faces stay tucked away, waiting a lifetime to make their public debut. This juggling act can exhaust us and create stress, resentment, and even pain in our lives. The confusion of crossing faces can spill over into our relationships and our life’s work. And sometimes, in the shuffle, we leave vital parts of ourselves unfulfilled.

You probably feel that one or two or these archetypes—Mother, Lover, Warrior, Sage—resonate with you more than the others. You may believe you’re simply wired that way. Maybe you are, and if you feel like you’re a through-and-through Warrior or a straight-up Sage, embrace that!

Four Faces of Femininity | Madonna

But as you take stock of your personality, your accomplishments, your desires, and your dreams for the future, ask if you’ve denied yourself a connection with some facet of yourself you may have unknowingly—or timidly, or even guiltily—concealed. As we get our footing in life, all manner of feelings can come between us and the women we want to be, or the women we already are, deep down. Impostor syndrome tells us our talents and accomplishments aren’t real, that we’ll be “found out.” And if you’ve ever tried to nurture or reveal a new side of yourself, you’ve likely met with plenty of people—whether parents, partners, or peers, well-meaning or not—all too ready to flood your mind with “shoulds” or self-doubt.

We all aspire to achieve life “balance” of some sort, and, in the modern era at least, women have often struggled harder to find it. Truth is, for most of us, that balance—or at least our notion of it—remains elusive, ever a work in progress. That’s how life is meant to be, after all: we shape our identities throughout our lives, learning new things, embracing new priorities, tapping new strengths. 

I wrote this book to celebrate the stories of trailblazing women, who in shaping our past and present, have pushed the boundaries of what women can be in the world.   Some belong to history, some to Hollywood, and some myth. Some of these women relied on their intelligence and ingenuity to succeed, while others leveraged their creativity, curiosity and talent. They tapped the gifts they were born with and worked hard to cultivate skills. They listened to their hearts and demolished obstacles. They harnessed their inner fire to step up as leaders and stand out as individuals.

Their milestone accomplishments and contributions have forever etched these women’s names into history books and halls of fame. Yet I also find their life stories remarkable for their ordinariness—for what they share in common with the lives of women everywhere. My life has taken many unexpected turns, but I’m always astonished to discover that while no two women are the same, the paths we walk so often feel deeply familiar.

That’s why I’ve chosen to render the stories of the heroic women in these pages as expressions of four ancient archetypes all women carry within ourselves—qualities that in different measure make all our lives heroic: Mother, Lover, Warrior, Sage. I see these figures everywhere: in art and culture, in entertainment and politics, and in my own life and the lives of those around me. Like all archetypes in what Jung called our collective unconscious, they are present in our psyches and lurk in our imaginations.

Four Faces of Femininity | Malala Yousafzai

You may not have thought of yourself in these specific terms before—Mother, Lover, Warrior, Sage—but they resonate, don’t they? At one time or another in our lives, we’re likely to embody each of them—or two or more of them at once.

Ann Sullivan’s book about working with Helen Keller inspired me to pursue a degree in physical therapy. As a nurturer and a healer, I relate to the teacher within her. Oprah’s Leadership Academy for Girls inspired me to start a foundation. Madonna in the lover chapter inspired me to keep reinventing myself. Tammy Duckworth in the warrior chapter motivated me to speak up for the causes I find important, such as the #metoo movement and Malala, inspired me to listen to my inner wisdom.

By developing strong connections to all the important aspects of ourselves, we can give ourselves richer, more fulfilled lives. We can tap new levels of self-knowledge and confidence and draw from different dynamics depending on the situation and circumstances. We can evolve more and achieve more as we embrace all our dimensions. The trouble starts when striving for “balance” becomes just one more demand, when we begin to imagine there’s a perfect balance we’re supposed to strike. 

As you reflect on the exemplary women in The Four Faces of Femininity, I invite you to acknowledge all the faces you wear—and the ones you may keep tucked away—as the facets of a diamond. But as you’ve learned from these women’s exhilarating adventures, that means celebrating the imperfect along with the perfect, the becoming along with the accomplishing, the unlikely along with the likely. It means acceptance of all our life events: traumas, hardships, and shortcomings included. You may never find balance—at least not for long. But you can integrate new chapters into your own story. Or you might blow the dust off some old forgotten pages here and there, the ones just waiting to be published.

However you choose to fold your Mother, Lover, Warrior, and Sage into your life’s callings and convictions, I hope these inspiring women move you to honor your heroic woman within.

Four Faces of Femininity | Senator Tammy Duckworth

Image credit: JT McMillan

Barbara McNally is the author of ‘Unbridled’, a soulful memoir of personal liberation, and ‘Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife’, firsthand accounts of woman thrust into the role of caregiver when their spouses return from the battlefield with major wounds. These stories inspired the launch of the Barbara McNally Foundation, which offers seminars, scholarships, and workshops dedicated to enhancing the lives of women. Her Latest book is ‘The Four Faces of Femininity’ released April 7th, 2020.  Barbara is a Physical Therapist who makes her home in Southern California, where she juggles the responsibilities of being a mother, lover, warrior, and sage. 
Connect with Barbara on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and her website.

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