The Feminine Mystique: An Addendum

I am tired of people treating feminine rage like some sort of radical phase in the post-adolescent female, burning off as she matures and softens into society. Feminine anger, the most unattractive of traits, is a buzz-kill. It’s sophomoric and worn-out. It’s a bit too touchy.

The post-1970’s white feminist may have poured over the pages of Friedan and Hooks in college, but at some point she is expected to move on to other subjects. She may keep her Bikini Kill T-shirt in the back of the bottom drawer along with other keepsakes from her college days, she may blast Ani DiFranco when driving alone, or quote Audre Lorde on social media just so long as she can retire her tirade against patriarchy for underwire and mascara in the business meeting where 80% of the attendees are male. Just as long as she can hold her tongue when her husband’s colleague tows the line with innuendo and conjure a thin smile at the misogynistic undertones during dinner party banter. While we’ve demystified the feminine mystique, gas lighting has become a new form of subjugation. They don’t really mean it. You are too sensitive, too uptight. Come on, don’t ruin the party.

 After all, it’s not so bad here in our first world nation. Look at how far we’ve come. Women are autonomous, sexually liberated and politically powerful.

Except we aren’t.

We are just white women.

If she is fortunate, her education happens young. For most it’s not until adolescence or early adulthood that we become aware of the misogyny soup we all are wading in. Stage one of awakening occurs the moment she sees through new eyes what we are born into and conditioned to accept: thinly veiled male entitlement, even less disguised expectation that women be satisfied with less compensation, less respect, less accolades, less support, less recognition, a whole lot more work and all along maintaining a body like a centerfold. She begins to see how she herself has slut-shamed and victim-blamed. She sees the subtle and overt messaging that her smiles belong to men and so does her body. When she begins to unpack her own story she sees the story of all women, one that is raw and jarring.

When she awakens she sees that rape culture is what has allowed our country to devastate entire populations, turned flesh and bone into a statistic, demographics which we speak about in classrooms and on film and at fundraiser dinners. The daily infliction of violence upon ourselves through every act of ignorance and blind dollar spent to support the destruction of our natural habitat is mental illness, is soul-death, is sickness of the spirit. And she gets angry. In her youthful twenties, maybe she attends rallies and marches, gets involved in organizations mobilizing for social change and environmental justice, engages in meaningful debate, makes art, refuses to conform.

But the extent to which the masses continue to operate under illusion is so staggering, so maddening, that she becomes exhausted. Living year in and year out with this reality becomes too painful to bear. She burns with anger until it burns her out. Then there are college loans to repay. Or maybe she falls in love. Maybe she’s anxious about getting older. Maybe motherhood catches her off guard or maybe she lands a good job in a field she loves and decides its time to “grow up”. At some point, she slowly begins to put down her arms. Tired of fighting the war that her culture is hell bent on telling her doesn’t exist, she trades in her picket signs for stability.

After all, maybe she still can’t walk down the street without maintaining 360 degree awareness at all times but she can vote. She can do her job as well as any man (and just watch her prove it.) She can balance motherhood and a career and a marriage and her figure and her mental health, just watch her go. She’s been emancipated from the days spent barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, nevermind that it is still women by leaps and bounds who perform the majority of childcare and household chores within two parent households. Nevermind that she still makes 60 cents to every man’s dollar. She is still an empowered woman and she has good health insurance.

When she “settles down” or domesticates, enrolls in grad school, takes a decent job or finds a financially stable man, her family and friends breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe she tells herself she is still the same wild, liberated woman but instead of civil disobedience she plans play dates and business lunches. She might have a moment when she catches herself filling out paperwork, trading her last name for his – when she pauses and remembers her former self in contrast to her life now: combat boots and angry poetry stowed for the safety and comfort of the daily grind. But for the most part, the history she’s read and it no longer moves her. She still gets angry from time to time when she reads an article online but motherhood is all consuming and her career is finally taking off. Or maybe it’s taking everything she has just to get by. So she chooses instead to be grateful for all that she has. She reduces her use of plastics, buys local, practices yoga, meditates, supports environmental causes, represents at the polling booth. She embraces being a mom raising kids that will not the perpetuate bigotry and ignorance she sees in the world even while she accepts that she will always be the parent who misses work when the kid is sick. She turns off the news when it becomes too intense because she doesn’t need that negativity in her life. She is content with activism in smaller, quieter ways that don’t cost her friends, jobs, a marriage or financial security.

And then somewhere near middle age, though the trajectories vary, may come a second awakening. For some it may even be the first. Often accompanied by a loss, the dissolution of the illusion of security. The proverbial rug is pulled. She is shaken awake by betrayal, death, illness or her body being thrown into the tumult of the change of life. There comes some catalyst for her undoing. She may wake up one morning having devoted years to her children, to her husband and his career, to sacrificing her work and her passion to put her family first and feel anger. Raw, ugly, unacceptable anger – at the world, at those who have chosen differently or have had different opportunities, at the very inhabitants of her own home, those who she loves the most and for whom her mother’s heart would be bled dry. Anger that comes from deep inside and is directed everywhere and nowhere at once; anger toward the partner or a boss who has taken her for granted, the children (or lovers) with endless needs, over the years of forfeited self-care and sacrificing her deepest desires. Anger over all of the things she’s given up that she should not be tracking but she does. She doesn’t want to feel this way. She should be grateful. She knows she is privileged. But somehow the life that was so safe and comfortable becomes unbearable. And now everything she knows and loves it at stake. No one likes an angry woman; no one wants a bitter middle-aged, nasty woman. She is forced to choose whether to stay where she is and wither or whether to risk it all to reclaim the self she abandoned long ago.

She may stay or she may take a leap into the unknown. Or she may live many years in between, half alive, with the insidious symptomatic haunting of her own liberation.

And then.

Then there is a man on her television screen.

Suddenly all of the traumas, all of the abuses inflicted upon our sisterhood are embodied in one man standing behind a podium in front of the whole country. The basic rights of human beings, of women, of all disenfranchised people are besieged. Here a man is saying out loud all the things we have held in our bodies for years in silence, the things we were told when we were young were exaggeration, fabrication, misconception. Suddenly now we are staring into the face of oppression and exploitation of the most vulnerable, against anyone lesser than the almighty white man. And there are people clapping, cheering, giving him money, saying he will make things right again.

If we are shocked, if we are reeling, it is because we have had the privilege of not being aware. If we are overwhelmed and dumbfounded with rage it is because we have been lucky enough to live in ignorance. This is not news to millions of our marginalized neighbors. This is the day they have lived in fear of daily and hoped would never come. If it is a revelation to anyone, it is to white people. Suddenly we feel there is so much at stake. But not everything that has been at stake for our sisters of color or their black brothers and neighbors dying in the streets. Not all that has been at stake for transgender, queer, gay, and lesbian fellow Americans and not for our immigrant or native families. We are shaken awake from our white person cocoon to a truth that millions have lived with every day.

The history we’ve heard and it no longer moved us. Until now.

Silence is not longer an option. Our silence has been complicit.

And now She will not be held back. She will no longer acquiesce. The Lioness is unleashed.

And so inevitably, is our grief.

Grief over what has been done to all of women kind, to their daughters and mothers and to the sons born to generations of battered women.

Grief over what we have been party to and perpetuated by ignorance or apathy. Grief that begins with a little girl and the grown men she had to fight off as a child but that predates her own birth by five thousand years. Grief over the pillage and rape of our life-sustaining resources and the arrogance at which we have gone in again and again to take from the Earth what we want and leave Her torn open and bleeding.

Grief for the tribes that we have either destroyed or have relinquished to the most desolate and forsaken places so that we could build our empire upon their bones. The earth Herself under our feet trembles with our history.

And this grief it threatens to bury us under mountains.

Are you awake?

Are you angry?

This is a call to arms. We enter the stage where we are willing to risk unapologetic open rebellion. The time has arrived for the Phoenix to rise and to bring forth Her holy anger in service of Truth. This time anger will not burn us out, it will catalyze us. It will burn from within, unify us and fuel righteous and indignant action. We will not be silent in our relationships. We will not be silent in our communities, in our workplaces or in our synagogues. But we will not meet hate with hate, we will speak with the kind of ferocious love and compassion that penetrates deep and ignites a flame inside those who hear us roar. Our fire will ignite and burn through invisible walls, it will burn up division, it will burn through layers of self-deception and it will set us free.

Now we discover a new embodiment of our previous incarnations. One who is willing to be present with painful Truth and dares to do the brave healing work of her own soul and become the force She was meant to be. One who has the courage to confront the areas in her life where she has been silent out of fear or in order to keep the peace. One who understands that while as women, we all have felt objectified and violated but some women will have experienced this on a level we cannot comprehend and we listen to their stories. One who understands that while we have all felt traumatized there are some who have lived lives of trauma and we must allow them to speak. One who knows that while we have encountered injustice there are those whose lives illustrate injustice in a way we cannot comprehend.

For this is not a new revolution we are creating, this is where we join ranks with our sisters that have been fighting all along. We must listen to the war-cries of women who have been marching and singing and praying long before we arrived.

Our new embodiment of feminism will require the unflinching examination of our privilege in order to dismantle inequality. It requires us to come together in a new kind of solidarity with our sisters who know this fight and stand side by side with them, equal but not the same. This new feminist embodiment calls for One who understands that Her power alone is tremendous but our collective power is unstoppable. This stage requires undaunted passion, courage and commitment to transformation. It demands undaunted examination, personal accountability and humility to see how we may begin healing the unspeakable wounds against ourselves, each other and our nation.

For every step a woman takes toward her own liberation is a radical act on behalf of women everywhere. And every act of compliance with structures of her oppression is an act of violence against herself and consent toward the oppression of women everywhere. Her fight is every woman’s. This time we will not burn out. We will fight with ferocity of love in the service of Truth. And we will not be silenced.

Lace up your combat boots, sisters. And fall in step.

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Women’s March on Washington, Jan. 21, 2017 (Photo source)

Read more:

You Are Not Equal. I’m Sorry.

I Can’t Keep Quiet: The Unofficial Anthem of the Women’s March

Woman in Viral Photo From Women’s March to White Female Allies: ‘Listen to a Black Woman’

www.momsrising.org

What She had to tell me in the end.

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There is something about Fall. Something about the change of light, the movement of air, the fragrance of earth and bark and foliage that makes my heart feel a fullness it hasn’t felt all year. Something about this season reminds me of the passage of time more than any of the others; the simultaneous coming to a close of one era and the beginning of another. The darkening days lend a mood of introspection, the slowing from the buzz of summer activity, a cool breeze taking the edge of the simmering heat of the last few months – and I find myself sitting still a little longer, lingering by the open window and …watching the sky. I feel time moving.

In autumn, I always feel all of the autumns past. And it is at once an overwhelming gratitude, heartsick nostalgia and a profound awe. It catches me off guard and it always takes my breath.  How far we’ve come.  And all that is passing away as we speak. It almost feels like too much to bear.

Last week I hiked solo to the top of the ridge behind our house, a steep climb through the forest to a spectacular view of the valley with the river running down below and the one main road that leads through our rural community and on out to the sea. At the top of the hill has stood for a few hundred years an ancient, gnarled and sprawling magnificent oak. Whenever I have hiked this ridge, I have paused before Her in reverence; in the wetter seasons, reaching into the well of Her womb for the water that collected there.

“Holy water,” I said, anointing him and then myself. I remember it made him chuckle the first time I did it.  We were new and exploring, I was the wild and mysterious girl from the woods, we were in love and every single thing was pure magic.

We like to say it was She that brought us together.

One summer five years ago, on a whim I emailed this stranger to ask if he wanted to come build a tree house with me and live in it all summer. I said I knew the perfect tree. I was on a very serious kick to sell all my belongings and go and live out of doors, “off the grid”.  I was in that restless place of transition without having a clear idea of what the next stage of my life would look like. Recently I had picked up a book written by this interesting guy – a book which also contained his contact information.  I was bored and curious (a combination I have found leads either to stupid decisions or serendipitous ones!).

He wrote back. Thus began the two and a half years of correspondence that would eventually, finally lead him to my doorstep and “the girl in the woods by the sea” became no longer a mystery but now leading him up a mountain to the very tree that inspired it all, where we carved our initials (and later, a third set). Near Her roots we would bury a list of our heart’s aspirations for our life together as a family.

In the last couple of years, I have had fewer opportunities to visit her.  Days have been full and gone are the free hours when I could go get lost in the woods for half a day at a time. In the shorter walks we’ve taken through the woods with our son, the little Acorn Scout, we’ve watched the Phytophthora ramorum, the sudden oak death, sweep through the forest swiftly claiming one after the other, both the tan and the scrub oak. At first, just a black nodule here and there but within months hollowing them out and felling them like twigs. From time to time, I worried about Her.  I had seen the tell-tale signs high up on Her branches as well. But it was hard to believe that She could not withstand this too, for She had seen so much, She had stood for so long.

~

Last week I made the trek up the mountain for the first time since Spring. With the change in temperature, the bright red leaves of poison oak plant have begun to wither and recede again, making the way less perilous. I made my way up the mountain slowly, pausing to notice the filtered sunlight, the shift in temperature as I rose higher, the breeze as it sounded through crisp and drying leaves.

Reaching the summit, I came around the familiar bend and suddenly —

there She lay.

Half of Her tremendous weight collapsed across the path before me.  I could still see the freshness of Her wound where She split, taking smaller trees down in the power of Her wake. I stood unmoving.

Who knows when it had happened exactly, when the moment had finally come, when it was time to let go.  Had the forest mourned? Had the trees reached out their arms to soften Her fall? Had they bowed their heads to the great Matriarch, now Herself riddled with the disease that she had watched claim each of Her children?

How long had She stood watch over this hill? Hundreds of years of roots were not enough to protect Her. How long had She had stood with dignity even as the black death slowly ate Her from the inside and hollowed out all Her limbs? Now from where She lies upon her side, I can see how She held out to the very end. While I lived my life out below, She watched and waited patiently for the end to come. Lichen and moss still cling to Her like royal adornment, the emblem of our names now blighted with bulbous growth.

And I want to cry but I can’t and I am filled with shock and sorrow and I want to understand what it all means and I think of my partner and how hard and painful things have felt between us for awhile and how much we’ve grown since it felt like we were children clambering up to sit in Her branches. When She held us. When it felt like we were just beginning.

And I think of all the teachings. About non-attachment. About the impermanence of all things.

I want to cry but I don’t have any tears. So instead I find a foothold and lift myself up to rest my body against Hers. My hand runs along Her mossy trunk and I close my eyes.

Deep deep down, Her pulse still echoes. I slow my breath to listen.

She says: I am not gone. It’s just time to transform. My time in this form has come to an end, that is all. I am only changing form.

And then I see.

The forest does not know loss or grief. It only knows change. It only knows transformation.

It doesn’t know death, only surrender. Only becoming.

And I see.

That the sadness comes from the holding on. From the clinging to the old form past the time when it’s been worn out, expired and no longer of service.

It’s just time to transform. I am only changing form.

I am too.

We are.

And I want to cry or laugh or, or – something. But I can’t. My heart is too full.
So I just be still. I just be still and know.

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What You Seek.

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Several months into my pregnancy with my son, I was fighting what I rightfully ascertained as the slow and steady ebbing away of any sense of control I had over my life. I had not planned to become a parent. From all angles, it did not appear that it was even a responsible thing to do. I was seized with worry.

Then I remember the day the grand epiphany came to me that this experience had the capacity to transform me into a stronger, wiser, gentler and more compassionate version of myself. And the letting go of control is what would allow this transformation to unfold. I felt like a like a door was thrown open and I felt the breeze on my face. It was a moment of metaphorically falling to my knees. (Which I would inevitably do again and again and again.)

I knew as much this experience was not going to be some magical metamorphosis, despite images of parenthood depicted in the media, with soft lighting and coos and sighs, all moments precious and touched with fairy dust, but I hadn’t an idea of how permanently inside-turned-out my world would become. That no, it isn’t an “event” along the trajectory of life and there is no going back.

Precious moments, yes. But fairy dust? Not here. I didn’t get the Disney version.

Parenthood is mental, emotional, physical and spiritual fucking bootcamp. There is no fairy dust in bootcamp.

Keeping a baby alive as it turns out, is relatively easy.  Billions of people are doing it all over the world every single day. You can do it well or poorly but generally, we animals are wired to meet the basic needs of our offspring. Feeding and changing are the easy parts. It is everything else in between.

To say that early parenthood is “hard work” is like saying building a Trans-Atlantic railroad while the train is motion is “strenuous”. The amount of strain still depends on many factors: how fast the train is going, what the weather conditions are, whether you are doing it alone or have a team and work in shifts, and if you have regular food and water while you work. It makes a difference if the train whistle is blasting in your ear continuously for a good portion of the day, a great matter if you are struggling with significant physical or mental health limitations and a whole lot whether you get to break to rest for the night (most us don’t for a good while).

I’ve never shied away from “hard work”. But that’s not a good way to describe this.

I had an idea, and I imagine I am not alone, that through parenthood I would finally shed some of these layers of insecurity, fear, and self-centeredness and my most light-filled, authentic self would finally be revealed.

OOOoooooohhhhmmmmmm.

Ah, but instead of those rough and unbecoming layers gracefully falling and drifting away with the breeze as I emerged in my swan-like transfiguration, finally embodying the woman and mother I had always wished to be, I arrive day after day to face head on the wearisome shadows that have followed me for too long. How disappointing.

And what a miracle. Now that there is no escape, I see that the shadows are not enemies after all.

I began today with the intention of just noticing, meeting the feelings and thoughts that arise without judgment, without feeding them or pushing them away.

I watched my mind as it lept forward and back, my body restless, my mind unsteady.  I was acutely aware of the increased sense of urgency to be DOING something, which is exactly the reason I am choosing to practice stillness. “To be” – to combat the doing. The constant nagging of tasks still undone and the allure of squeezing in more and more into each hour is the very thing that has brought me to my mat.  At the very top of my endless to-do list and the even longer, intangible “should be doing” list exists one most important thing: Practice doing nothing. Practice what it feels like to breathe in a moment where nothing is asked or demanded of you…except when you hear your toddler getting into the bathroom trash because you forgot to close the door…okay, but now come back. Practice coming back again and again and again.

 “The mind rambles, complains, and thinks about anything else except for what’s actually happening. So what do we do? We let the thoughts go, without further engaging them, without believing them. As we become aware of our minds and let them relax, as we stay aware of the moment, of our breath, and of sensations, purification just happens. The mind releases.

This is how transformation happens—through conscious presence in the moment. Through awareness and acceptance of exactly what is happening, the bodymind adjusts itself and opens up with perfection and grace.”

Transformation Happens: The Yoga of Change, Aruni Nan Futuronsky