Category Archives: feminism

Channeling Athena

A few weeks ago in my coaching sessions I uncovered a character trait I call “Mary the Martyr” who is one of the internal “voices” that sometimes interferes with imagining and manifesting my dreams.

My given name is a reference to the ultimate Christian martyr and on this Good Friday, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the role of that cosmic joke in my life, and now to evolve it in a new way. I chose Athena to represent the powerful other influence in my soul, that part of me with courage, compassion, generosity and a sense of social justice.

I like the warrior goddess image because I have always gravitated toward fierce warrior female archetypes. I love imagining this embodiment of my own qualities of standing up for my team, doing what is needed to defend my “people” whomever they happen to be. I love that courage and fierce strength. I love it that she arose as a “headache” in Zeus’ head.

My inner goddess has a disdain for patriarchal authority figures. She questions the value of hierarchy and the wisdom of keeping social structures in place that no longer serve people. She rebels against this notion of being a “good girl” and instead wants to create a bit of mayhem in order to shake up the status quo. She is a goddess of reason, and so happily, she is not completely swept up by emotion but stays even in the face of challenge.

As I consider how she will show up in my work, I imagine her ability to stay focused on the task at hand, defending the “city” (or people) and standing up courageously always. I enjoy her penchant for handicraft, which implies creativity.

Do you find it shocking that I call on a goddess to invoke the kind of wisdom and strength needed in the next phase of my life? Perhaps some might. But having finished Dance of the Dissident Daughter, I now understand the value of embodying the divine feminine in our lives. As someone raised in a Christian tradition, I saw story after story of “Father” and “Son” held up as ideal examples of ways to act, and archetypes to emulate. When it came to women, all I saw was obedience and service.

Women have been infantilized and cut off from their own divine source in this limited view of the divine. As I reclaim parts of my internal wisdom and divine soul, Athena provides an anchoring point for me to courageously battle for what I know is right. Joseph Campbell was right about the role of myth and story to our human species. His limitation was acknowledging the need for women to go beyond simply bearing children as our role in the world.

So I will channel her as I need to fight bravely, and stay centered in the battles that lay ahead.

Happy Friday, fellow warriors.

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Dissident daughters

Yesterday I read a line from a book by Sue Monk Kidd’s “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” that gave me a chill. It describes something about the transition state where I am in life right now and it summed up my feeling so perfectly.

When you can’t go forward and you can’t go backward and you can’t stay where you are without killing off what is deep and vital in yourself, you are on the edge of creation (page 100).

I took a deep breath when I read those words. Yes! Yes! She is describing how I feel right now. This was the end of her chapter on “Awakening” where she describes her journey out of a patriarchal understanding of her world and her religion into something deeper and mysterious.

There are times in our life when we may recognize there is something deep and mysterious calling to us. We sense that we are less of a “fit” with our old lives, and the systems in which we play a role. We know we will make a change of radical proportions, but we seek to understand the implications in our lives.

We begin to understand that wisdom is not something “out there” that we must find, or receive from someone else. Wisdom is here, inside of us, calling to us as though from an ancient source. When we begin to access that source, it has powerful consequences.

For so long, with images of God portrayed as a masculine figure in the sky, and religions that ordain men and not women, we as women begin to shrink from our own wisdom. We forget to question how patriarchy and dominant religion are entwined. In many indigenous spiritual traditions there are divine feminine and divine masculine figures. They coexist together, yin and yang energy.

To me, that is a more natural sense of divine presence. When I feel disconnected from source, I realize I have cut off my feminine wisdom that exists within my heart and my soul. Perfectly understandable, I suppose. The culture might radically change if we honored both masculine and feminine qualities, in a divine dance, rather than always viewing one as “in charge.”

Even that very model, as a hierarchy rather than a partnership, as top-down rather than in a network form, seems artificial and constructed to me. As a scientist, always questioning what nature might reveal to us if we were to pay attention to her, I realize my spirituality is undergoing profound change. Paying attention to this inner wisdom rather than subscribing to a “Father knows best” world means taking responsibility for my life.

Nobody else can tell me where my soul needs to go. But I know at a fundamental level, paying attention to her is what I must to do honor what is deep and vital in myself. In time, she will reveal what is next. There is no hurry, but I am ready to listen.

 

 

Why Now?

I speculated with my husband a few weeks ago about why the #MeToo campaign has really gained traction now, finally, after all these decades of bad behavior. I have a theory that so many women of my generation watched what happened to Anita Hill, and said, “shit, that is NOT worth it” and remained silent.

There are factors like “social proof” in terms of watching other women reporting harassment and abuse, and having nothing happen. Or worse, you see how coming forward hurts others careers when speak up, so you decide it will not help your career to report.

But then when the Harasser in Chief took office, there was a cascade of old trauma that came to the fore, and women started to think, why NOT now? If we cannot lash out at the most powerful predator, at least let us expose the ones that are within reach. That was my theory, anyway. I also saw a possible tipping point after the Harvey Weinstein story really took hold, an unleashing of all these incidents that could no longer be joked about or contained.

why now ashwini tambe photo.JPG

Photo credit link – article from Ashwini Tambe

When I listened to the Hidden Brain podcast entitled “Why Now?” published on February 5, 2018, I was happy to note there is an actual term for this concept from social science called “horizontal action.” It originates from the concept of “horizontal violence” where it has been found that in colonial regimes, when people cannot lash out against the ruler, they lash out against people in their own lives.

When the pressure builds up and cannot blow the top off of a problem, it comes out sideways. Feminist studies professor Ashwini Tambe explains that “the election of Trump has served as a trigger, and it has provoked a great fury and impatience because he represents for many people the ultimate unpunished predator.” Horizontal action is a way that women have channeled in their lives their anger at the misogyny that has been building for far too long.

“It is so unbelievable that we have a president, who is the leader of the free world and does not care about the rights of women” (quote from the podcast). When someone who has bragged about kissing women and touching them against their will as though he owned them becomes our leader, we find ways to bring at men to account who committed other offenses.

This totally makes sense to me.

The podcast also describes other phenomena like “preference falsification” which blinds regimes to their citizen’s growing dissatisfaction. This describes how it seems surprising that the Wall came down, even when it looked like the Soviet Union may have been strong.

Please listen to this episode of Hidden Brain. I think it really helps to explain the psychology behind the secrecy of the abuse, and the reason many women stayed silent. We should not discount the trauma that shut people down who are in vulnerable circumstances.

We also need to keep speaking up and setting new norms around behavior, even though we may be perceived as “ugly” instead of polite. Women have been held back by centuries (perhaps millennia) of intimidation, oppression and violence.

It is time to hold men accountable and call out behavior that is wrong. At least, seeing how many women are doing this around us helps us know we are not alone. It is time to stop blaming victims for their inability to speak up earlier. We can all be a part of the solution to this problem now.

 

Why do we crucify ourselves?

I love early mornings, when I sit with my coffee and write, sometimes with a cat on my lap, sometimes just with a few fresh ideas in my head. After a good night’s sleep, my mind is clear, and sometimes the remnants of a dream come forth. Very often I forget them right away, and that is okay. My subconscious lets me know when I need to remember them.

This morning I had fragments in my head of a song by Tori Amos that I have not hear in years, possibly decades: “Why do we crucify ourselves?” So that was fascinating. It is a good question though. Why indeed?

Isn’t it amazing how some music imprints itself upon us in a way we cannot explain. This particular album was introduced to me by my best friend in college. The Little Earthquakes album was a staple of our music mix in those days.

“I gotta have my suffering so I can have my cross…”

Yeah. I guess some of us were taught to use Jesus as an example of behavior we should follow. I am going to risk offending people in this post, and probably confess my beliefs here and how they have changed over the years.

I wholeheartedly embrace the example of Jesus as a spiritual teacher, perhaps even a savior in a way. But I always puzzled at people who are so self-sacrificing that they neglect their own self care. The Bible says that Jesus died for our sins, that his suffering was our redemption. So why do we insist on suffering more than needed?

Every human being suffers. It is part of our DNA. It is part of what helps us have empathy for others, the understanding of sadness, of grief, of anger, of any depth of emotion. And yet when we are young, some of us are told “don’t cry, it will be okay” or “honey, don’t be sad.”

It reflects possibly our parents’ inability to deal with their own emotions that they asked us not to express our own. Everyone has sadness, anger or loneliness at times in their life. It is okay. Nothing has gone wrong. These emotions help us to connect with ourselves, and with others, and to let us know when things may need to change in our lives.

Anger is how we SHOULD react to injustice. It is something that can motivate action, though not necessarily sustain it. And yet many of us were taught not to express anger, but to fear it. Or we were not shown that it was okay to be sad sometimes. But being angry or sad is part of the human condition, nothing that should shame us.

When we resist or deny our feelings, that is when they cause more suffering. Our feelings are like vibrations in the body. They come, they move through us, and they complete themselves. Probably no other practice has helped me understand this than yoga and meditation. Every emotional state is temporary. Many of these states are a result of our thoughts rather than anything external.

Simply by feeling our feelings, possibly naming and acknowledging them, we allow them to move through us. They can be a guide to let us know we should reach out to friends and connect with loved ones. They can help us know when we are moving toward danger or toward joy.

As more people develop emotional intelligence, they may learn to identify and embrace their emotions rather than “buffer” them away with alcohol, food, Netflix or other addictions. Instead of piling on the guilt and shame over feeling sad or angry, they can release this added suffering and feel more peace.

I certainly have not mastered this, and have had to deliberately practice feeling my feelings, and identifying the thoughts behind them. But it has allowed me to stop crucifying myself over mistakes, or my own shortcomings. That serves nobody. I am pretty sure Jesus would agree with me on this one, and allow me to forgive myself.

 

 

 

Getting ugly

Yesterday I read a piece in the Guardian by Barbara Kingsolver entitled “#MeToo isn’t enough. Now women need to get ugly

It was a thought-provoking piece and I am still mulling it over today, in light of world news, and in light of experiences I have had in my life and career.

“Patriarchy persists because power does not willingly cede its clout; and also, frankly, because women are widely complicit in the assumption that we’re separate and not quite equal.”

She explains how we are so embedded within the patriarchy that sometimes it is difficult to perceive it. I have heard patriarchy likened to being a fish in water, but not knowing what “water” is – it is the stuff we swim around in every day. We do not know what it is because we have never been without it for any length of time. Patriarchy is like water: it envelopes our lives in such a way that it becomes our reality.

But fortunately humans are not fish. And our breathing is not dependent on the existence of the patriarchy, though it may seem like our livelihoods indeed depend on it for many.

I realize part of my aversion to corporate life these days reflects partly an exhaustion with a patriarchal system that does not value work based on merit. It privileges the contributions of one gender over another. It does not value people and their multiplicity of contributions, the range of what they could bring to the table when given an opportunity.

I am fortunate to work in a company that places a high value on employees as people, and usually lives up to that tenet of our mission. But looking at a wall of inductees to its highest scientific honor society, counting the ~70 people’s faces and realizing that just 10% of them our women, I sigh and wonder.

There are so many barriers to women attempting to enter realms of work like science, engineering, politics, higher management. Some of these barriers are internal: we lack  confidence or we are not sure we have the competence to enter. We erect higher standards for ourselves than men have to try these positions, and worry more about making mistakes.

The socialization of women and girls has evolved a bit in the 4+ decades since I was born. The availability of sports teams and competitive opportunities has allowed more of us to challenge ourselves and take leadership in new areas. And yet when we lack critical mass, we must work much harder to build professional alliances and networks.

getting ugly

The “old boys club” is very much a reality in many of the corporate environments where we work. My own experience has shown me that men who mentor and sponsor us at work can be professional and appropriate in their behavior. But patriarchy functions subtly here as well.

My boss treats me a bit like a daughter figure – I can tell he is proud of me and my achievements. He wants me to “brag” more and to make sure others know about my accomplishments.  He allows me to make my own mistakes and learn from my experiences. But he has also been protective of me in a way that may be different from how he has treated his male proteges. Whether that is an aspect of personality or of systemic bias, it is impossible to really separate out. We swim in patriarchy so clear vision is obscured.

This morning I will return to a project group of mostly men (25% women) to work on a design project for technology that needs an upgrade. I found myself wanting to share more of my creativity yesterday during the “ideation” phase of our human-centered design process. But I found myself holding back. I was not sure why. The group is unfamiliar to me, and that is a barrier sometimes.

It does no good to blame the patriarchy when we struggle to get our ideas out, when there are also internal barriers as well. But it does help to understand the context of why women are less confident putting themselves out there. Kingsolver notes: “It’s really not possible to overreact to uncountable, consecutive days of being humiliated by men who say our experience isn’t real…” 

Exactly. This type of rape culture makes working “outside our comfort zone” a regular and daily occurrence. Is it any wonder that taking risks in business or engineering feels so dangerous? While many of us learn to live and even thrive in these environments, we also realize women are disproportionately attacked and thus we remain on guard for more of waking hours.

I am contemplating the the notion of getting ugly as Kingsolver recommends. I definitely think we need to dispense with making ourselves pretty and “acceptable” and comfortable for men. It simply does not serve anyone, ourselves or the wider world, to neglect the gifts and talents of half the world’s population.

Men have been ugly to women privately in ways that are now becoming public. And it has caused some seismic shifts in the way women realize how non-personal and cultural all of that behavior has been. I agree that we must never tolerate this behavior, and if that makes me ugly, I am fine with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SKOL!

The Vikings had awesome playoff game and though I am a fair weather fan, it sure was fun to watch!

Vikings

My hubby loves football. While I have always thought it was kind of a violent sport, I have gotten a little swept up in Vikings fever. It is an interesting phenomenon, uniting around a team, just because I live in Minnesota. But the thing about sport is that it can unite people of different religions, political beliefs and ethnic backgrounds.

Perhaps that is what makes the sport so American in its popularity. Of course, it is catching on around the world. Several of my Mexican colleagues are NFL fans. They also like soccer, but that requires more patience because it does not tend to be as high-scoring or action-packed as American football.

I am posting this on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.  I do not have particular activism plans for the holiday this year. I just got back from a visit up north to my folks, so I have errands to do before returning to work. I will re-watch the movie Coco with a friend, because it is a beautiful movie. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. If you are not into animated movies, make an exception and go see it. I am serious, you will not regret it.

CocoVisually it is a beautiful movie. It is all about pursuing your soul’s purpose no matter what your family wants you to do. It is also about the role of music and family in Mexican life and culture. I was heartened by the fact that, while we have a President that hates Mexicans, this movie feels like a delightful tribute to so much that is amazing and unique about Mexican culture.

This MLK Day I am reflecting on the past year and on the fact that I enjoy a great deal of privilege in the community where I live. Last year on January 21, 2017 I participated in the Women’s March here in Minnesota in order to be part of what I felt was a long-delayed movement for change. I met all kinds of people who seemed to be as committed as I was to making sure our political landscape will not look like it did in 2016. It was energizing and exciting. People made some pretty awesome signs and even though it was chilly out (it is Minnesota, and St. Paul tends to be very cold in January) the crowd warmed my heart.

Capitol women's march

Photo taken January 21, 2017 – St. Paul, MN

After the march, I had to consider what role I wanted to play in the next phase of feminist activity. I decided to make a monthly recurring contribution to Planned Parenthood. I had donated money to Hillary’s campaign on a regular basis, and respected her career in public service. Even though I agree that she made some fatal errors in her campaign, I found it incredible that the Republicans endorsed a person with zero public service for President.

Obviously it felt like a cruel blow to feminists everywhere, and I was especially concerned that we preserve reproductive freedoms many of us have taken for granted. Many women in their 30’s and 20’s do not fully appreciate the contribution that our mothers’ generation made to the movement. It was not until 1974 (the year I was born) that single, widowed or divorced women could access credit on their own without having a male co-signer (Equal Credit Opportunity Act).

I strongly believe in a woman’s ability to make choices over her own body without interference, safely and for what reasons she deems necessary. I find it incredible how many male lawmakers believe that it is their responsibility to police women’s bodies and choices. But regulating reproduction, far from an innocent wish to “protect the unborn” as they may have you believe, is an effort to dis-empower and control women.

Period.

My Mexican grandmother on my father’s side had 7 girls, 4 boys, and probably another 2-3 pregnancies that resulted in miscarriages. If it were not for her insistence that her children receive as good educations as they could afford, they may not have succeeded in the way they did. I find it fascinating that Dad’s two youngest daughters both became nuns rather than having children. My Dad always told me, “don’t get married young and start having children. I want more for you than that.”

I want more too. And something different. I have one sister, and neither of us have aspired to having children as part of our life goals.

I respect and honor other women’s choices for their lives, their bodies and their families. We should expect nothing less.

Bringing this post back to the original excitement about Vikings fever, I was thinking through the women’s roles in cultures throughout history. Grandma on my Mom’s side was Swedish in origin, a tough, smart and stubborn woman who lived to be 101. She went to college in her 50’s after raising three children. She was principled and strong, and she never backed down from her beliefs.

The spirits of my grandmothers are with me now, as I honor their sacrifices and continue to protect the legacy they fought to establish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home control disease

Do you have home control disease?

This is another concept I learned from Tiffany Dufu’s book Drop the Ball. I already passed it along to a colleague that I thought could benefit from the book. I may have to re-buy it… So many great lessons and stories that she told in the book that really resonated with me when I read it last year, so I will share another in this post.

There is a link to a short summary piece about home control disease here. Or if you look up Tiffany Dufu on You-Tube, she has a bunch of really interesting short videos. I will summarize and add my take on the issue. I am so enamored of the minimalist concept, and yet I live with someone else, so I struggle with how much I want to control, versus how much I need to let go.

I used to live with someone who was a slob. He owned a huge house and would allow piles of junk to accumulate in the corners, and just ignore them. He might be considered a hoarder if he had a small home. Hoarding is usually cast as a “lower class” behavior, so we do not normally think of people with large houses as hoarders. They have so much more space than the average person. So if they have rooms that are reserved for books, or a room that is called a “parlour” then it does not seem to matter. If they have a room that is piled with junk, over which they throw a sheet when company comes over, they may be viewed as eccentric. But they are not labeled hoarders, because they are middle-class people with college degrees. I digress.

drop the ball

Anyway, I’ve been determined NEVER to live up to the stereotype of Latina housewife, who cooks and cleans for everyone. So I cultivate a well-practiced habit of ignoring messes at home. One might think this makes me a slob. I don’t encourage you to ask my husband… he probably would agree.  😉

Learning to ignore the mess means I could avoid becoming the default “cleaning lady” for that former house-mate.  I certainly tried to keep my own possessions and areas neat so I could function in those spaces, and not to contribute to the overflow of junk. Having a.d.d. makes it a bit harder for me to focus unless I have an orderly space in which to function. I am a little embarrassed to admit I currently have a spare bedroom at home that I aspire to use as an office. But right now It is too full of stuff: boxes, books and random things I want to clear out this year. I work from the dining room when I work at home.

Common spaces like the kitchen are shared, which means I take turns at doing dishes or clearing the counters. I’m the one who usually takes out the garbage and recycling because it bothers me a lot more to see those pile up. I also tend to do the laundry. Since I have the option of working at home a couple days a week, and it seems pretty easy to throw in a load while here, or fold when I take a break from work. But:

Making the bed = optional, not done most days

Vacuuming the carpet = optional (did we do this sometime in the last two months?)

Dusting = optional.

Full disclosure: we both work full-time and do not have children. So our income allows us to have a cleaning service come in once a month for a couple hours of cleaning in the kitchen, bathroom and living room. It was a promise I made to myself when he moved in 3 years ago that I would NOT be the housemaid, and that we would spend some money getting help, since I did not want to be stuck with it all.

But I still find myself taking responsibility for household tasks probably more than my husband does. It is a default switch for me that I am working to change.Maybe women feel like we cannot be in control at work very often. Especially if we work in corporations with large amounts of bureaucratic junk we have to shovel. So we want to be in control SOMEWHERE. And home is the place that society considers our “domain.” Ugh.

But what if we recognized our home control disease and learned to live with some amount of mess? What if we dropped the ball and let others pick it up? And if they do not pick it up, then is it really a requirement? If living in a neat house is more important to us than to our partners, perhaps we need to negotiate and work together as a team.

If my suspicions are correct, more women than men are judged over having a messy house. If a guy has a messy place, he’s a “bachelor.” If a couple has a messy home, then she is the one blamed for the state of affairs. It is not fair. For sure. But I would suggest living with some level of mess may be an adaptive strategy when we live with others, unless we share the chore.

Try it. Tell me what you think. Is there more or less conflict in your life when you give up home control disease?

 

 

Imaginary delegation

Last February I read a book that changed how I think about women in leadership, and the gap between household responsibilities for men and women. It was called Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu, and I have written about it before.

One of the concepts that hit home for me was the idea that we sometimes get resentful of our spouses, partners or even coworkers about things that have not gotten done, even when we never made a specific request about those tasks. We all have those times. Maybe you wish your spouse would decide on the meals and grocery shop for a change. For some reason, you have always done it (maybe like me you are pickier about the foods you eat than your husband) and things get busy at work, so you do not have the energy this week to do it.

But rather than ask your husband to do it, you just sigh, feel sorry for yourself and think: “Why doesn’t HE ever make the decisions about this stuff and offer to shop?” Well, probably because you are the one that usually does it, without any prompting. You may think, “nobody has to ask ME to do this!” and sulk because you know that it saves money to shop at the grocery store instead of eating out.

When I asked my husband if he could go to the store, he willingly and cheerfully did so, and asked what was on my list. Instead of spending energy being resentful and getting annoyed about it, I could have saved myself the trouble and just asked for help, instead of assuming I had to do it. Since people have an easier time hearing your actual words than reading your mind, opening your mouth to graciously ask for help is a better option.

We all have habits and patterns in our relationships and roles which we play both at home and in the workplace. Sometimes these roles and “job descriptions” need to shift and change depending on our overall workload. When we take on a new challenge at work, or commit to something important to us, we may need to ask for help from our spouse on household tasks. This is very hard for me, I realize.

I grew up in a household where Mom stayed home until going back to work when my sister was in middle school, and I was in high school. She and my Dad had a very different division of labor than I aspired to in my life. So I sometimes forget that women are not necessarily “supposed” to grocery shop, plan menus and take responsibility for food prep at home. Indeed I know a lot of households where the opposite is true.

At work this applies when I have a task that could easily be done by a colleague and perhaps they are better at it too, but somehow it ends up on my to-do list. I realize that, if I do not ask anyone else to do it, nobody will “take it away” from me and get it done. I need to use my words, not my imagination to ask for help, and I need to be specific about what needs to be done, though not necessarily how to do the task. I do not enjoy micro-managing, so delegating the responsibility involves stepping out of the way to allow someone else to bring their own approach to the job.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It allows us to do what we are best at doing, without getting bogged down in a lot of details or menial tasks that may deplete our energy and time. But some of us who are still learning how to not take on too much, or who lived happily as single people, need to question our assumptions about who does what at home and at work. If we have a spouse or partner that supports our growth and development, and someone who understands that household management is a shared responsibility, we can probably negotiate these matters.

I am working on recognizing those times when I feel resentment but the real battle is going on in my own mind, rather with another person. I have a situation at work where I realize I used to take on responsibilities that are actually the job of the other manager. He has been blissfully ignorant and relying on me to do these tasks, but I now aim to be more specific with him about his responsibilities. I realize this will go against my “go along get along” attitude at work, and my concept about being a “team player” but I have enabled his blissful ignorance for too long.

As I am less tolerant now about certain things at work, given my overall dissatisfaction with the role I am in, I realize I have less to lose. So what if he gets annoyed that I am asking him to do his job! I respectfully do not care. Wow, there’s power in that.