What does surrender look like to you? This is the question I have been grappling with during a year defined by uncertainty. What I did not expect, is that my idea of surrender in 2020 would involve a feminine reframe of an old narrative.
The first time I was exposed to the idea of surrender was playing tug of war in the courtyard with my school friends: boys against girls. When the boys were pulling too hard and getting aggressive, the girls surrendered. Often we would get teased by them for being weak.
Weakness held hands with surrender as I walked into my teenage years.
This vision got stronger as I began to observe the narratives around surrender in movies and media. I started to notice that most kissing scenes in movies portrayed men insisting, and imposing their (usually larger) bodies on a woman – here is a good example- and finally, the woman surrendering to their seduction.
The more I observed, the more I recognised how surrender played different roles in male and female narratives. In the male narrative, men would often endure an incredibly harrowing fight and then choose surrender instead of death – a good example here. In a female narrative women surrendered to the forceful approaches of men, at first resisting, but then surrendering to “love”.
This idea of surrender was perpetuated in the narrative of conquest. Growing up I was often advised that I should “play hard to get” if I wanted to attract boys, or even get a job. It seemed to me that for a man surrender meant defeat, whilst for a woman it often meant avoiding a dangerous situation or further violence.
I was also curious to understand how Surrender is approached today. I found out that in India for example, it was only in July last year that the Kerala court recognised that surrender (or resignation) did not mean consent when it came to sexual assault. After losing the election, Donald Trump, who was voted by 70 million people, had an extremely difficult time admitting that he had lost the election, and for weeks used language to create a dangerous narrative around this topic that incited violence. Here is a video of him talking about the concept.
I felt that something about this narrative did not serve my presence as a woman in this society, and I wanted to see if there was another way I could understand the concept of surrender. Being with other women and seeing them accept and love their vulnerability, I noticed that Surrender becomes easier when women are able to advocate for themselves in whichever way is possible to them.
Any step, no matter how small, towards unlearning and any action towards reclaiming our own narratives brings us closer to not fearing what is next and thus surrendering to it.
What does this have to do with a feminine approach? Well, this type of surrender is rooted in introspection and exploration in a world that is defined by hierarchies of power and linear structures. I particularly like how Audre Lorde describes the deeply female and spiritual plane in her essay Uses of the Erotic: “firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.”
This approach to surrender comes from the interior, the poetic and the beautiful, and the celebration of poetry is radically political in our society. As Audre Lorde said, “For women then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our experience for living structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings were not meant to survive” she continues.
Reclaiming our spiritual and female power is necessary to change narratives around women. Seeing the work of inspiring women and listening to beautiful strangers exploring introspection, agency and our power within is a political act.
Maria Popova from Brain Pickings depicts sensuous (of the senses) surrender perfectly when she says: “Paradoxical as it may sound, to stop resisting that which we cannot control is the only choice we have, but it is also one we must actively make in order to transcend our limits”. So, in a way, reclaiming the narrative around women and surrender is a way to transcend society’s limits; it is politically relevant.
As Yomi Abiola said: “I don’t forget my way, I just discover roads anew.” This is an approach to knowledge that feminist theorist Minna Salami calls Sensuous Knowledge, and it opposes the Euro-centric and patriarchal approach knowledge we all are familiar with.
There is still a lot of work to do, and it starts within ourselves, questioning the structures that we have been exposed to both physically, mentally and spiritually. Then, we can gently explore ways to explore these set narratives in ways that make us feel in our power.
With hindsight’s wisdom, and I still have so much to learn, I see that what I have been exposed to is also what I can choose to change and reframe. Whenever you can and feel comfortable, I invite you to do the same.