The customary rising temperatures of March saw the arrival of Bangkok’s very first Le Festival du Feminin. Hosted at the iconic Anantara Riverside Resort and Spa, it drew a whole host of international experts and practitioners in everything from dance, ethnography, to sexology and shamanism; all geared at exploring the enigmatic depths of the feminine identity.
Why is it that the idea of telling a man to ‘tone down his masculinity’ in order to make it to the CEO position would be a laughable matter but, without hesitation, we tell women that if they want to make it to the top and be taken seriously, they must tone down their femininity? And then, when they do take our advice, we label them, umm… Queen B’s. It’s a lose-lose situation!
So I suppose the question is, can we retain our essential femininity and still be taken seriously in this male dominated world? The answer is unequivocally yes! For so long we have been told that it’s one or the other. Lose your femininity to make it in the business world or stay at home and take care of the kids to retain it. Those of us who struggled to keep a balance between the two often feel trapped by an unattainable ideal and find ourselves in an inner struggle -being pulled by two extremes. I know only a few women who balance both beautifully and they are my sheroes. But their success has always evaded me.
I have a theory that only when all of us women agree to embrace our femininity while encouraging each other to reach for the top positions in our chosen careers without having to de-femme ourselves is when we will begin to see a shift.
If men don’t take us seriously, we will kindly and patiently demand it of them. And in order to do that we must first embrace the power, beauty and wisdom inherent in femininity.
It is now universally recognized that women’s input in business and politics is essential to the progress of every nation. We women owe it to the next generation as a whole to participate fully in the affairs delegated solely to men for too long and we also owe it to the next generation of women to do so while maintaining our feminine identity.
And if this dilemma still persists in western societies (several former first ladies of the US come to mind!) then it must resonate more resolutely for the leading business women of Southeast Asia. Which is why I was rather intrigued by the organizer of the first Bangkok event, Sylvie Baradel’s ultimate intention to hand this project over to Thai women to organize future events for and within their own communities. What an amazing idea and an inspirational endeavour. Although this year’s attendance consisted mostly of expat ladies -mainly due to the fact that the hard working organizers were expats- it was obvious that the Thai and Asian ladies who attended were not only enjoying the experience but were eager to spread the word within their own communities for future events.
There has been for several years now a rapid rise in female entrepreneurship and in the number of female executives as well as gainfully employed women in Thailand. Even so, Thai society remains male dominated which is why it’s crucial to participate in events such as Festival du Feminin which are focused on reminding us all of the value of retaining our femininity while asserting ourselves and -as my favourite feminist, Sheryl Sandberg, puts it- leaning in. That’s what I call true feminism!
Everywhere I look, there are conventions, exhibitions, and a seemingly never-ending array of art shows. Bangkok is drunk on it. As a 20-something year old, still somewhat shiny in my wrapper, still yearning for new and eye-opening experiences, I’m forever getting swept up in it all. Yet as the days grew closer to the festival, I shocked myself by just how uneasy I was becoming…
As a self-titled tomboy, I’ve spent the better half of my life embracing the ‘rougher edges’ of my personality. Call it the zeitgeist of our times, but when I look around me, I see very few women who are truly ‘feminine’.
Hyper-Sexualised? Yes. Obsequious? Perhaps.
But for as long as I can remember, the whole notion of what it means to be feminine has somehow taken a hop, a tumble and eventually careened down the motorway of our consciousness; only to land on the side of negativity. Like most of my friends and, to the chagrin of my dear mother, I built up my identity by doing everything humanly possible to do away with all that ‘girly nonsense’. Luckily my personal appearance has long since evolved passed jeans and t-shirts, but for the most part, I’d shudder if anyone associated me with ‘that sort’. Knowing this, it is not hard to see why I reserved some initial uneasiness, at the thought of spending two days in a festival that celebrated femininity – in the company of women and only women.
Would I be able to fit in?
In total there were twenty classes, ten a day, held concurrently, which the two of us attended individually. Here are our own thoughts and reflections
Feminine without Taboo with Delphine LHuillier
www.tribal-tarot.fr The day started with an enlightening workshop delving into our relationships with our mothers and grandmothers and their relationship with their femininity as well as becoming aware of the taboos we picked up from them. Such as: a lady always keeps her emotions in check or, it’s not ladylike to confront people. Otherwise suggesting that sweeping unexpressed emotions and frustrations under the rug was more ladylike, and preferred, to causing even momentary discomfort for anyone other than yourself. This begs the question: Why? It was a simple message which triggered huge revelations for many!
Wutao Dance with Delphine LHuillier
www.wutao.fr Created by two dancers, it’s a form of dance therapy that balances the flow of chi in the body. In this class we learned to move our bodies in a meditative wave like movement to release stiffness in the body… ‘A sensual feminine body flows effortlessly’ we were told –which evoked images of sexy Brazilian women whose bodies seem to sway seductively with every step. Where do I sign up?
The Pathways to Femininity with Sylvie Berube & Natalie Picard
www.femininsacre.com Next came a course on understanding the developmental stages of the feminine –each stage important in its own right and being aware that if we have missed the lessons particular to any stage we must make an effort to ‘relive’ that stage and rekindle our inner feminine power.
Seeds of Heroines -A Playful Game with Christine Gatineau
www.zephyr-ludens.com A spirited workshop where with the use of metaphorical association cards, called Persona by Oh Cards, we fashioned stories about heroines and their struggles and their triumphs based on imagery and words on cards we had selected. The point of the project was to remain playful all while staying aware of the associations we were making. I was amazed at the level of creativity that emerged out of such a simple exercise. Tip: I highly recommend this form of play for all parents too. Not only is it a great tool for inspiring creative imagination in kids, it encourages cooperation and can be very revealing about your children’s state of mind. To purchase Oh Cards Personita for children or Persona for adults, as well as other fun games, please visit www.oh-cards.com.
Dance, Express, Let Go, Vibrate with Gisele Baradel
www.calordanse.org And it was exactly that! A workshop that began with some ladies hesitatingly joining in and others dutifully following instructions but culminated in all of us ‘letting go’ and just plain having fun. The energy of the room was palpable by the end of the class and I dare say that none of us wanted it to end. And far more fascinating was the fact that yours truly was fully participating –and without a care! If you know me, you know my trepidations around dancing and the dance floor. It took some coercing by another participant so I caved in and by the end, I was unrecognizable. We clapped, frolicked and stomped our feet to the rhythm of primal sounds and had an absolute blast! Even as I write this today, some days after the event, I still feel my soul soar with joy at the thought of the exercise. You simply must attend this class next March to know what I mean. If only Gisele lived and taught in Bangkok! What I found most fascinating about this form of dance therapy is that these same techniques are very successfully being employed to help patients who suffer from depression, Alzheimer and Parkinson’s diseases to, as Gisele put it succinctly, ‘animate and awaken the soul’. She further explained that throughout the ages women have used rituals to heal and it’s time we salvaged that sage practice.
EFT-Tuning in the Art of Daily Self Care with Shalimi J. Yamdagni
This day started with a workshop the lessons from which I will use for the rest of my life. Shalimi started by explaining how she came to be an EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique, facilitator. With the help of this technique Shalimi was able to cure herself from debilitating chronic pain and, as a result, is a passionate, empathetic and skilful coach. She explained that it was through her excruciating experience that she learned that pain was not her enemy and that it was just a message from her body to pay attention to her emotions. She explained the connection between emotion and physical pain with a simple example: “Let’s say” she explained “that you were to get a call from your child’s school that your child has been in an accident and has been taken to the hospital. You might immediately feel nauseous from the anxiety. Here, the emotion named ‘anxiety’ has manifested in the physical form as ‘nausea’.” She went on to explain that most physical pain has a connection to one or other neglected emotion and that most often the pain will persist or worsen until we deal with it. And unfortunately, in this day and age, more often than not we resort immediately to medication to alleviate the symptom.
But if you want to get to the root and heal, Shalimi suggests that you try her method of EFT. Instead of ignoring the pain and its associated emotion, her method probes you to tune-in to it. Then as in all EFT practices, her method involves tapping on meridian points on your face and chest. This practice is then followed by asserting affirmations on what you want to replace the painful emotion with. Her method is aptly called Tune In, Tap Out, Turn On. An effective exercise to tune in to your subconscious and intuitive self to listen to its call and then make the right choices and take the proper actions that suit and satisfy your intuitive yearnings and what your soul knows is best for you. An exercise that will put you in charge of your emotions and your life. I wholeheartedly recommend that you give it a try.
Connecting with your Inner Goddess with Anne Amelia
www.amedelumiere.com.sg This course taught us a series of meditative moves with a partner followed by a guided meditation aimed at connecting us to our inner feminine power aka Goddess. I’ll admit that some of the exercises were uncomfortable but mainly because they involved bonding with a fellow participant (not a friend). The aim of this workshop was to connect our inner self and our outer persona in order to live a more authentic life – to make us more comfortable with making deep connections even with strangers and allowing ourselves to be more vulnerable. I’ll admit this is not my forte. But I had a lovely partner and am grateful to her for being as uncomfortable as I was. We were a perfect match! But in the end I got it. When in a boardroom full of intimidating people, I have to be able to stick with it and not fall apart or surrender to the urge of running out of the room… A good exercise for all those who find themselves running from uncomfortable situations rather than leaning in… which is the only way to grow.
Shakti Yoga with Lydia Petetin
www.laroseetlecalice.com These were very powerful and invigorating yoga movements aimed at awakening the root and sacral chakras. Again, another workshop I found myself a little uncomfortable in at the start. But again, I decided to participate fully and found myself appreciating the release of tension as well as the physical and mental flexibility afforded by the poses. Once a little more at ease, I got to thinking: ‘If I’m not comfortable performing certain yoga movements in a room full of women then surely I have a problem’. I only dropped my inhibitions following a quick scan of the room when I realized that everyone was focused on her own practice anyways. Once I was fully engrossed in the practice the benefits of the simple poses became evident. It was yet another truly enlightening experience.
Womb Purification with Yveline Hebront-Baubau
www.grainesdhommes.com www.uneterresdesfemmes.fr This introspective course consisted of, as Yveline put it, “a meditation aimed at transforming and liberating memories ingrained in our subconscious to eliminate any barriers in the expression of our sexuality and our creativity as well as gaining full possession of the power we hold over our own lives.” We started with therapeutic tribal chants and concluded the session with a guided meditation exercise to further ingrain our power and confidence. It was a moving exercise and we all left the room a little more aware of how our experiences are related to our mothers, our grandmothers and our ancestors’ experiences of life.
Connecting a Beautiful Sacred Space with Patricia Menetrey
www.meditationsfrance.com The aim of this last meditation was to bring the whole experience of the last two days together. I personally love guided meditations. I have a ton of them saved in my phone and listen to them on a regular basis. So I lapped up this last workshop experience and found Patricia’s guided meditation soothing and calming and left the affair in an elated state of mind. This left me pondering, had I been primed for two days for this last workshop or was it this workshop that packaged and beautifully wrapped up the last two days? No matter, it was the perfect cherry topping to the cake.
Contact, Experience Feminine Softness with Marie –Hélène Sourd
http://mariehelenesourd.fr Marie –Hélène’s class is a warm, down to earth, exploration into how movement affects our consciousness and our thoughts of the nature femininity. It was a sincere and relaxing introduction, which immediately disarmed all of my anxieties and worries about the coming classes. Through movement and sounds, this introspective glance at what true ‘softness’ is wonderfully enlightening and unexpectedly empowering.
Shine Our Divine Essence with Ronelle Stoessel
www.lifebydesignwiththetahealing.com/ Theta healing focuses on both thought and prayer, it can be as esoteric or as meditative as you want it to be. As a sceptic it took me longer than usual to warm to the whole concept of Theta healing. I’m not even sure if I ever truly will. I went to Catholic school you see, so I’m quite conservative in my spirituality. However, the course practitioner, Ronelle Stoessel, didn’t force her beliefs on us and the course went through a very relaxed and informal discussion on Theta healing.
What the Monthly Cycle Teaches to the Woman with Maitie Trelaun
www.naitre-femme.com There are those people you meet that just simply grip you with their presence. Well, the course practitioner, Maitie Trelaun, is undeniable one such woman. You could dedicate an entire article to her and still need wish you had more time. As a midwife, a dance teacher, an author, a trainer, to name but a few, her wealth of knowledge is written in her manner; it exudes from her every being.
Her workshop is an explorative movement, not unlike the first morning class, into the feminine cycles and what the universe tells us about our cycles.
The Forgiveness Circle with Corinne Gaudio
This powerful, visceral ritual took many, myself included, by surprise. As someone who prides herself on her stoicism and composure, I truly wasn’t prepared for just how moving this would all be; calling it therapeutic would be a disservice. It triggered something in me that I’d probably been carrying for years – this led to an inordinate amount of waterworks. It was a freeing exercise that I’d wish I’d done sooner.
Perfume of the Soul, The Essence of a Journey with Chantal Dufug
www.parfumdame.fr Our sense of smell plays a pivotal role in our lives. Beyond food and taste it is integral to the way we store memories – more so than most have ever dared to realise. Chantal Duff’s course rather than telling us what the scents meant, conducted a cunningly guided class that allowed each and every one of us to individually explore, discover and uncover our own olfactory history.
Symphony of Creativity & Painting with Anne Thenon
www.lesmobleus.com Primed from the previous day’s experiences, the first class began with an atmosphere of calmness and openness. Everyone came ready and willing to take the weird and wonderful, and the presence of new faces, unseen in the previous workshops, signalled that they had told others. Simply put, the class’s aim was to paint our inner selves. This highly therapeutic and cathartic exercise which clearly resonated with everybody in the room. You soon became completely engrossed in channelling your thoughts to the paper and we all discovered some surprising results. In essence, it stripped away all our expectations, and allowed for creativity to thrive.
Let’s Dare to Open Our Tantric Heart with Marie Anne Gailledrat
www.meditationfrance.com/therapie/vincent There are many misconceptions about what exactly tantric is. This beautiful introduction to this world utilised chanting and visualisation to allow us to experience a small, but vital part, of that world.
From Prohibition to Pleasure with Sophia Lessard
www.sophiasoleil.com Our world is full of more information about sex, yet less about sexuality. This fascinating class reaches back to our early experiences and tries to find out why we the way we are. This was by far my favourite class of the entire event, not just because of the topic (which I strongly believe is in need of more free and open discussion), but also because of the instructor, Sophia Lessard. Having never met a sexologist before, it was fascinating to experience her unique approach, and to see she guided all the participants; to create their own realisation. Although a highly charged and controversial topic, no judgement was placed and you left wishing you could delve deeper.
Wild Woman Bursting Out The Joy with Sylvie Berube and Nathalie Picard
www.femininsacre.com True to its name this class has us bursting through with such animalism that, if asked beforehand whether I would participate, I would have showed you the door. Yet, both Sylvie and Nathalie managed to set up such a wonderful mix of song, dance and movement that you couldn’t help but fall in. It was a truly freeing experience.
In retrospect I find it interesting that it took two days of exploring my femininity to finally understand that being feminine isn’t a matter of looking feminine or having the ability to channel it at will, but a matter of feeling it at my core and learning to cherish its existence and be proud to put it on display -at all times! As we expect men to have pride in their masculinity. I don’t mean in a gauche way, of course, Gone are the days of mechanically choosing moments when I will allow myself to be feminine and moments when I need to tone it down to get the job done. Only now do I realize how ridiculous it all sounds… But I bet quite a few of you ladies out there know exactly what I mean. Besides that enlightening breakthrough, I also learned several valuable transformative techniques and fun dances and games which I will no doubt practice for the rest of my life.
The most fascinating thing to me, to date, is our propensity for such varying and complex insight. Our histories, our cultures, our individual life experiences, intermingle, blend and weave such a tapestry that even though we face the same task, we are able to find an infinite number of ways to solve it.
Being feminine is no different.
Although I carried my reservations to the classes, the Festival du Feminin, is not trying to make you into anything.
This event is for those curious.
It is for those who’ve ever wanted, dreamed or dared to reach out of the safety of their routine and explore the depths of their soul. Even the most pragmatic, left-brain types among us, so long as they are willing to try, will leave it all with a renewed sense of curiosity. It is but one of many steps in a lifelong search for who we are inside…
Sorry you missed the event in 2016? Not to worry. The festival is coming back in March 2017 keep an eye out for the dates on www.fetivaldufeminin.com. To learn more about individual teachers and their enlightening workshops as well as photos of the March 2016 events and upcoming tours around the world ‘like’ the community’s Facebook page: Festival du Feminin.