Can a woman be both powerful and sensual?

drawing by Dr Maya Ranganathan

Goddess News‘ axiom:

‘If you want to be spiritual, ask uncomfortable questions,’

Goddess News, Spiritual Blog, Divine Feminine, Dr Joanna Kujawa, Spiritual Detective :).

Let’s start the New Year with an audacious question:

Can a woman be both powerful and sensual?

A female colleague told me once that self-sacrifice is natural for a woman.

I just looked at her and asked, “Why?”

Commonly, power, brains and sexuality have been traits separated from each other across all cultures and religions.

In traditional societies, women were granted two ‘respectable’ archetypes to choose from: either that of the mother or the saintly virgin. Both are strongly connected to the concept of self-sacrifice.

Of course, the mother archetype is valid and very powerful (and who does not want to have access to the all-forgiving and powerful deity?). But it also the most coveted and promoted most widely by traditional religions (that is, if they are allowed a feminine archetype at all.)

Not that there is anything wrong with the archetype of self-sacrifice which can be – like most – both female and male.  But what I was questioning was why the archetype of self-sacrifice was chosen for women – and by whom?

I notice that often it is religious men who put women in a place of self-sacrifice.

Among the many possible archetypes of adventurer, intellectual, spiritual seeker, writer, seductress, soul-mate, teacher, leader, I find the self-sacrificial one the least appealing. I have always preferred the former as much more interesting.

Yes, I am guilty of always having had a rebellious streak – but I have always been a rebel with a cause; give me TRUTH, please.

And the assumption that self-sacrifice is a typical feminine quality I treat with great suspicion.

There is also the third archetype of the ‘bad’ woman – the one who is always smart, powerful and not afraid of her sexuality.

Let’s look at the history of magnificent women who were powerful, brainy and sexy but received negative or condemning reviews from their contemporaries or were portrayed as ‘sinners’ in religious terms.

Let’s have a look at  two spunky but powerful ‘bad’ women in history
The most interesting, perhaps, of historical women who were both powerful and renowned for their sensuality was the Byzantine Empress Theodora (sixth century CE); she was so controversial that some believed her to be a saint others a monster, depending on whose account you are reading.

Coming from a poor background but very smart and beautiful, Theodora started out as an actress, dancer and, possibly, a prostitute.

In her teens and early twenties she was a mistress to, at the very least, imperial officials. She travelled widely, including to Syria and Alexandria in Egypt.

She eventually returned to Constantinople (the imperial capital) and caught the eye of one of the greatest Byzantine emperors, Justinian.

She became his mistress – the law did not allow a future emperor to marry a dancer back then. That is, until he became the emperor and changed the law so he could marry her.

Theodora wasn’t just an empress, she became a powerful figure who advised Justinian on the most important matters of the Empire. Theirs was true partnership.

Here are some examples: she saved his throne by insisting that he faced a rebellion instead of fleeing the capital, she co-founded one the most beautiful buildings in the world in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (now Istanbul), and when a pope in Rome objected to her religious convictions as being heretical, she simply replaced him with am more amicable pope!

She also passed laws against rape and gave women better divorce rights. Okay, so perhaps she was enjoying her power a bit too much, as Procopius in his Secret History insists she forced senators to crawl in front of her especially if they were naughty boys and disobeyed her!

Procopius’ Secret History often reads like a 6th century goss magazine. For example, he spent an inordinate time describing her sexual excesses, including some tricks with geese, which makes me suspect that he enjoyed writing them a little too much.

Then there was Eleonor of Aquitaine (12th century France) who had the rare luck in those days of not having brothers and thus, on her father’s death, inherited the entire Western France.

Like Theodora, she was highly intelligent and sensual. She married the saintly French king Louis VII; it was an arranged marriage she did not enjoy.

So she insisted on going on a crusade with her husband during which she had an affair with her young uncle from the Holy Land.

Eventually, she managed to divorce Louis VII by seducing and marrying the future king of England, the young and handsome Henry II.

She was imprisoned for a while after disagreeing with her kingly husband on some matter and raised a rebellion against him. But no family is perfect, right? Later, after his death, she ruled the kingdom when her sons went away on crusades.

And, of course, there were others. The point is that while the men they married were called great kings, their wives or mistresses were often vilified either for their political influence or their sexual conduct.

For example, kings almost as a rule had several mistresses and it was assumed to be the status quo; this did not deter historians from calling them ‘great’.

These powerful women accomplished important political feats but often attention was on their ‘immoral’ behaviour, which was no different from that of their husbands.

The Interesting question is: were they really ‘bad’ or was it that people could not deal with women who were smart, powerful and in control of their sexuality?

Personally, I like them because they did not submit to the prevailing idea of the self-sacrificial female. They were gutsy and smart in times when there was no place for women to exercise influence apart from that of being a mother.

Someone may ask why bother with this speculation, and my answer is – because it affects women today and it affects men as well, as they are also trapped in these limited perceptions of what women can be.

We need more examples and archetypes of powerful women.

Indeed, some argue that even in fairy tales, we are told to fear and dislike powerful women, who are always portrayed as evil step-mothers who want to destroy some innocent child-like maiden (a non-threatening young girl with no will of her own who can only hope to be saved by a gallant prince).

Thus, from an early age, we are conditioned to identify with the girl rather than the powerful female figure and believe that we need to be saved by a man so, in turn, we can bear his children.

It’s no surprise then that professionally successful women meet resistance, with often the strongest resistance coming from other women!

Why is it such a challenge for women to admire powerful women?

I believe it is largely because many women still struggle with the idea of self-empowerment and equate powerful women with dangerous women.

How can we address this?

By discovering our inner strengths, by asking ourselves “Who do we really want to be now?” and by acting on it.

In his book on the Feminine Divine, Joseph Campbell says women are in need of a new archetype, and I could not agree more.

What do you think?

Practical application or Goddess News Workbook:

 1. What examples of women were you given when you were growing up?

I was always a hopeless case and refused the holy brainwashing from an early age. My nana tried to feed me stories of saintly nuns but I discovered my grandpa’s old books and preferred to read stories about pirates (Captain Blood was my favourite then).


  1. What feminine archetype do you keep replaying (the sacrificial woman, the princess who needs saving, the damsel in distress, the cold but ambitious intellectual/businesswoman, the perfect mother…?) And for men, what archetype do you keep falling for over and over again?

My answer: I still need to think of that one.  I have a habitual ‘I can do it’ attitude even if I am falling apart.

  1. How well does this archetype still serve you?
  2. Where could you find another archetype/example that would serve you better at this current stage of your life?  My answer: I would love to relax more and be more free-spirited.  I would like to experience more of the ‘lightness of being’ and a Jupitarian good luck.  At times, it feels like I have been working too hard for too long. And most of all, I would like to reap rewards from things that fire my passion rather than from ‘jobs’.  I long to come out of the shadow and stand at the centre of my life, unapologetically and joyfully and with a little bit of an attitude :).  What about you?

Sending Love, Joanna

Goddess News

Spiritual Blog

Dr Joanna Kujawa








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13 Responses to Can a woman be both powerful and sensual?

  1. Ian Robinson says:

    Hey Sudhari!!! This piece of wisdom is just GREAT. You’re SO right in what you suggest… and So right in the propositions you ask us to consider. (Is there a bit of personal history there I wonder?) Thanks for such a good read – and all the thought that went into it.

    PS How lucky is Shamir??!!

    • sundari says:

      Thank you Ian. It is wonderful to get your feedback. I keep telling Shamir how lucky he is, haha :). I think that there are so many things in our psyche that are pure conditioning and that is essential for our happiness (both women and men) to be aware of that and not to fall back into it (or at least not always 🙂

  2. G. says:

    Being brought up by nuns it was hard to understand this, but to think of them even sexually was ridiculous. Having said that, how much more power do women want? They completely rule men’s minds. We want them constantly. Grandmothers also I think play a much more powerful role than grandfathers. Sure Mother Mary was said to be a virgin but that’s easy to see as myth, beside Mary Magdalene is her shadow. I feel Christ was both female and male anyway. As a gnostic the whole ideal is he male to find female power and female to find male power. It’s a simple as that. Hard to do, but easy to say.

    • sundari says:

      G.I do not suggest that everyone has to be sexual (so I leave nuns out of it). Just saying that it might be difficult to be both and that often women who are both are vilified. For example, it is a grand thing to be a powerful man. But there is a resistance to a powerful woman.
      I do not mean power over anyone. I mean personal empowerment: to be both within your body and soul and be comfortable with both. Also, I believe it is important to consider what myths we are fed with and who benefits from them?

      • G. says:

        I see someone such as Scarlett Johansson as extremely powerful and sensual. She was also just names top paid actor in Hollywood for 2016!

        • sundari says:

          Thank you G. Yes, it is good to acknowledge women who are empowered. They are good examples for all of us of oth internal and external empowerment 🙂

          • G. says:

            During the sacred ritual of Heiros Gamos, one needs to see the god or goddess as equal. Until a man or woman sees this the incestual love making cannot take place. That is the alchemical process if one wants to be truly whole and authentic.

          • sundari says:

            True. In ancient traditions either of the Near East (Hieros Gamos) or in Tantra there existed the idea of the ‘sacred marriage’, of necessary equality between the feminine and the masculine which returns the balance to the universe. This is all the is trult needed. Yet it is seldom practised in society and it is good to bring it to awareness again :). Thank you for bring it up here.

  3. Brad says:

    I enjoyed this piece a lot and agree with everything you write in it. This all still happens right now. Powerful, intelligent, strong, sensual women still frighten a lot of men so they are criticised, demonised, and in movies and television punished, usually by being killed. Think the traditional James Bond movies where Bond would have sex with one or two ‘bad’ women earlier in the movie before meeting the ‘good’ one, and those first women were always killed. I have seen one movie in my whole life ‘The Last Seduction’ with Linda Fiorentino, where the woman is ‘bad’, sexy, outwits all the men – and actually gets away with it.

    This fear of women’s sexuality and intelligence drives everything. Of course it originates from a lot of male insecurity as well as their desire to hold onto money and power. I am a Taoist of sorts. They understand that women are much more powerful sexually so they believe in teaching men how to really please women sexually. I do think a lot of men simply don’t know this and therefore fear women. It is very sad.

    Thanks for this piece.

    • sundari says:

      Brad, thank you so glad you liked the piece. I try to explore different issues in this blog, often connected with spirituality but also I like to question some assumptions. Often they are engrained in us by old values which are conveniently called ‘traditional’ but in fact they served (and perhaps still serve) some groups. In a way, this blog is my ways of expressing my desire for both internal and external empowerment. I think I am getting there internally but would love to experience also external empowerment (empowerment in the world).
      Yes, I am big fan of James Bond (apart from the very early ones) and agree with your analysis of ‘bad’ Bond women who ‘have to be killed’ at the end but are often favourites with the audiences.

  4. Theodora says:

    Thank you for the wonderful article. I never worried much about the prelevance of the self-sacrificial, till I was involved with Russian men and their societies. This is of course only my personal experience. How much black-or-white women are portrayed and/or actually behave! As a result men follow (women are always more powerful, setting the tone) and you end up with a caricature universe where peopke are either good or bad, never in between. But our human universe could be much richer, believe me, if we run away from stereotypes/archetypes and simply be more authentic!

    • sundari says:

      Thank you for your feedback. Yes, I think our lives are richer when we are more authentic and when we are in tune with our ‘powers’. Self-confidence, for example. It takes courage to step out and say, ‘This is who I am. This is my contribution to the on-going conversation about life and what is possible.’ And I agree, too often we submit ourselves to old (supposedly ‘tried’) archetypes either unconsciously or consciously to fulfil other people’s expectations. What I really desire now is to be completely authentic in everything I do – and it is a challenging journey :). Thank you again for your wonderful insight.

  5. G. says:

    Yes Shiva and Shakti the creation of the world. Aum

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