I write this reflection with a feeling of edginess in my body, and unresolved tension in my throat and my heart related to recent political events.
The confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh feels like yet another assault on women. I realize that the circumstances surrounding the testimony of Professor Ford had some unconfirmed facts. But it haunts me to know that our political and legal systems have added to the most important court in our nation someone who’s character I would deem unfit for this appointment.
My question now involves what my role will be in the next election, and in future political activities. I know that until we have a shift in power, and more women and others who are underrepresented in this process, we will continue to fall short of the ideals of this nation.
Years ago I was very active in electoral politics. I volunteered with campaigns, managed a winning city council campaign, and I engaged in phone calling and door-to-door voter outreach. This is despite my introvert preference to do the “quieter” types of activism, that do not involve meeting large numbers of new people.
In an earlier era of my life, I felt a sense of urgency in my activities. While I still feel urgency in some ways, my activism may take another form this time around. I went back to my master’s thesis on “Mythical Condensation in Electoral Politics” completed in 2006 to review some of the ideas I had then about what is happening today.
Much of it still rings true, particularly on the polarizing effects of our political discourse today:
I argue that political candidate success is a function of mythic condensation or voter consumerism rather than issue positions or leadership competence.
Yes. Today, more than ever these concepts apply to the political realm. Back in those days I used discourse analysis and drew from the disciplines of linguistics, social psychology, media studies and political science to make my argument.
The 40-page document took a great deal of effort for me to “birth” at the time. But I look back fondly at having the privilege to think and write that analysis. Myth and metaphor continue to be relevant in how we construct our political truths. We use cognitive frames to interpret the world while conveniently ignoring facts.
Neuroscience explains how our choice of language shapes our beliefs. And myths “naturalize” what is historical artifact. Rhetoric and imagery appeal to our emotions, while realities are constructed of symbolism in which polarities seem to thrive.
For now, my question of what I will do in this final month before the next election remains unresolved. The edginess remains.
Reader Warning: the following blog contains profanity and may not be suitable for young audiences. I will try to keep it to a minimum. Or maybe I am just not able to do that. So f*ck it.
My first response to reading Christine Blasey Ford’s opening statement (from a post at NPR News) to the Senate is: WHAT THE F*CK?!?
I have a strong sense of deja-vu in learning her story. This is a reputable woman who has much to lose by coming forward. I admire her courage deeply. She reminds me so much of Anita Hill, and of course the story echoes in all consciousness of women everywhere.
The #MeToo movement happened because way too many women have suffered either sexual assault and some point in their lives or sexual harassment in the workplace.
This has got to STOP.
Apparently Americans are divided along gender lines about whether they believe Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh, based on polls conducted Sept 22 to 24. But I am pretty convinced that when her public statement is read, and people learn her story, that attitude may shift.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has two Master’s degrees and a PhD. From her background and the context of her story, it is clear she has absolutely nothing to gain from coming forward with her story. The reason she came forward (and did so anonymously at first) was she felt like it was her civic duty.
Indeed, we must expect exemplary behavior from our Supreme Court Justices, or anyone in a position of such importance. Character is clearly an important part of the selection process, or one would hope the Senate would have that opinion.
What I am hearing from some of the Senators during the questioning process really disturbs me. One of them seemed to imply that a little “innocent” fun when men are teenagers is nothing that should derail someone’s career.
When will the “boys will be boys” excuse going away? And what is the impact if we dismiss this type of behavior, to someone who denies it and never apologized nor saw it as wrong?T hat is when I lost it and started screaming at my radio! What happened to Dr. Ford is was not innocent fun. It was a near rape. It was sexual assault. What will it say to teenage boys in the world and world if we call that a little “innocent fun?” Wow. No. Just NO! On so many levels.
Unfortunately I didn’t note the name of the Senator who asked that particular question. I would cite it here. Shame on him. What is clear to me is the role of male privilege in our power structures. Women are done with this. An unprecedented number of women have filed to run for office in 2018, 390 for the House of Representatives. This is not unrelated to the election of a “harasser in chief” who does not even deserve the title of President.
Anita Hill suffered and fortunately recovered and was able to go on to become a professor of sociology, law and gender studies at Brandeis. Hill believes that the current hearing cannot be “fair and thorough” and she told NPR that the hearing cannot provide enough information to reach a conclusion.
Where will we end up in the process of these hearings?
This remains to be seen.
What I know is that we need to denounce this kind of behavior. Unequivocally, and no matter what the result is of any investigation. We cannot say or even imply that this behavior is acceptable. Ever.
The next time you see a man belittling a woman or talking down to her, ask yourself what experiences might have shaped that man as a little boy.
Ask yourself whether his scared self was seeking attention and love from a mother or father figure. Imagine whether he might still be reacting in fear and a need to belong when he engages in this habitual behavior. While it is not an excuse, it may help us exercise compassion.
Perhaps his father taught him that his worth was derived from being superior to women. Perhaps his religion taught him that women are inferior beings in need of protection and discipline. He may have learned that vulnerability was weakness so he wanted to be sure never to show that to even his partner. Perhaps the patriarchy reinforces all of these messages.
In fact, it does.
Our fundamental sense of belonging is shaped when we are young children. Around age 7 or so once we have passed through stages of attachment, exploration, identity and competence, we develop an awareness of others. We develop a need for belonging. When we experience early “wounds” at any stage of our psycho-social development, they may later manifest themselves in our relationships, until we are able to become aware and heal them.
In reading some of Harville Hendrix’s work on relationships, I have come to have greater compassion for dysfunctional behaviors I observe in myself and others. I realize that there are certain patterns we develop to self-protect, and to preserve our identities.
Men who are secure and comfortable with their masculinity have no need to put down powerful women. They celebrate strong women, and they are fine with sharing power. Indeed, they may be relieved at not having to be solely responsible for all important decisions. They can embrace more collaboration and shared leadership.
Women who are secure and comfortable with their own femininity and power can ask for what they want. They know that they are worthy of respect. They take care of themselves. They ask for help when it is needed. They receive and accept help graciously. They believe their desires can be honored rather than repressed.
I am starting to understand that my spiritual journey is a process of learning to trust in my wholeness. I also realize this runs counter to our culture, that nudges us toward buying and consuming one more thing, or many more things. We all seek a sense of belonging and fulfillment in our daily lives. And people are trying to “sell” that to us all the time.
At the root, we must accept ourselves as we are. We must embrace the light and the dark, realize they comprise beauty and complexity. We are part of a divine mystery. It is that unfolding to who we really are in our present moment that is holy. That does not mean we do not work toward improvement. It simply means our worthiness is not conditioned on being anything other than what we are now.
If that scared little boy or girl within us still seeks approval from others or feels unworthy, then we have work to do. For when we truly love ourselves and then may love others fully, we forgive ourselves and others. We accept that we are doing the best we can, and then we can begin to fulfill our true potential.
One of my favorite meditations from Insight Timer is by Anna Guest-Jelly called “May I Know What I Know.” It involves a body scan in which we are moved through body starting with the feet, and moving to each region. After the exercise, we consider if there are any places we could not feel, that may have been “offline” from our awareness, so to speak.
The more I practice this body awareness and deliberately tune into places in the body that may be mysterious, the more I tune into emotions. Sometimes I realize why there are “frozen” parts – those emotions may be difficult ones, like grief or anger. I am still learning to feel those emotions all the way through, and sit with them. It is an exercise in compassion and patience to realize I have habitually escaped those feelings, or pushed them under with distraction, food, or other buffers (like busy-ness) rather than to be still with them.
But now that I realize these feelings are an important emotional compass for me, I have begun to “invite myself back” more often. I tune into that channel – my gut, my shoulders, my back, sometimes my lower spine, when they are trying to tell me something. Rather than get lost in thought, and spinning mental energy, I aim to come back to the body, invite my whole self back.
This tendency to abandon the body and thus abandon ourselves is well-supported by our culture. Feeling our emotions and tuning into our intuition is seen as fluffy or woo-woo in many circles. But as I do it more, and acknowledge the times when I have buried my needs and wants in favor of pleasing other people, it gives me pause.
Women are well-conditioned to attending to others’ needs and taking care of partners, children, bosses, teammates, even parents sometimes. But we do not always attend to our own bodies, our own yearnings. I inadvertently learned in my family that we could (and perhaps should) ignore these needs in favor of taking care of others. This abandonment does not serve us long-term though.
Even the airlines tell us to put on our own mask before helping others. Inviting ourselves back can feel like a radical act of rebellion against patriarchy. It asks us to make everyone else comfortable, and to remain small and and of service, never demanding anything for ourselves. And yes, I think it is patriarchy that promotes this idea of the “good daughter” and it is one we must dismantle.
When we invite ourselves back, we ground ourselves in our truth. We allow ourselves to live in greater harmony with nature, and with our bodies, part of nature. We begin to understand the connected nature of all people, of all parts of the universe. We feel compassion for ourselves and for others in their struggles. We make different choices that are more sustainable for ourselves and thus can serve others with a spirit of generosity rather than resentment.
Inviting ourselves back means we have to set appropriate boundaries and say no to things that do not align with our purpose or intention. That can be very hard for those of us who were trained to say “yes” to everything we are asked to do. We can be perceived as “uppity” or trouble-makers, or not those nice girls we used to be.
It is a daily practice, inviting ourselves back. It does not simply happen one day, and then all things change. It is a daily choice, a habit that grows easier with regular practice. If we want to make sustainable change in the world, I believe it is non-negotiable. The world needs our whole and integrated selves. Our souls call for this as well.
Consider inviting yourself back today and centering on what your body is telling you. I would love to know how this changes or decisions and your results.
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.
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.
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.
I am writing a piece about my father this week, to honor him for his 75th birthday this Wednesday. I kept thinking about an episode of On Being with Krista Tippett. It was a conversation with Franciscan Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (Albuquerque) in which they explored the concept of “father hunger” in so many men.
Rohr referred to his experience as a jail chaplain in which he found that the universal commonality he found among the people he encountered in jail was that it was rare, if ever, to find someone who had a good father. Many had alcoholic, emotionally unavailable or abusive fathers. He explains that the rage that results from this early experience moves out toward all of society, a mistrust of all authority figures, policemen, etc.
It creates an interesting bind when we think of God as “the heavenly Father,” a masculine figure. For someone who has never experienced a loving male in their lives to hear that “God, the Father, loves you” does not have any connection or sense of truth in it, given the lived experience.
I wonder sometimes if our need to see god as a father figure just reflects our lack of father presence in our lives. My personal view of god(dess) is that she may be female, and more likely gender-less or gender-full. Certainly beyond our understanding when it comes to gender. If I look at god as creator, I believe there are elements of the divine feminine and divine masculine contained within.
The dynamic quality of nature, and the complementary elements we encounter in our explorations of science make that abundantly clear to me.
This is where I think the patriarchy fails us in terms of validating and reinforcing the role of fathers in giving care and attention to children. Mother is seen as the primary care-giver. And while there is no doubt mother gets “stuck” with the care of children and perhaps many mothers viscerally relate to that, men also have a critical role.
A friend of mine recently reflected on her career choices and on the fact that when she and her husband had children they decided that the person earning more money would work, and the other one would stay home with the children. They had two boys, and now the second is about to enter school. Her husband is now going back into the workforce about about 5 years at home being the primary care-giver to their sons.
She reflected on how grateful she felt for his willingness to stay home with them, and the wonderful relationship and closeness her sons now have with their father. As a Mom working a fair number of hours and increasing in her leadership at work, she no doubt had moments of conflict about having to spend time away from her children. Knowing they had a good care-giver, their own father, I am sure put her concerns to rest much of the time.
I believe that time invested by fathers in knowing their children and having some time with them pays dividends in terms of the long-term well-being of children. It reminds me of times when my own father would take me to the movies on a weekend, just the two of us when I was about 5 years old. Mom was home with my younger sister when she was a baby, and we would go to see something like Pinocchio or a cartoon playing in our local small-town theater.
Sometimes we would stay for more than one showing! Back in those days (late 70’s/early 80’s) nobody cared about that, and we both loved these movies. There was usually a long feature, maybe one or two short ones and then they would plan the long one again. Perhaps this is where my love for mythical frameworks and stories comes from. I remember these early memories of having quality time with my Dad.
Before I started kindergarten my Dad had already taught me to read, and both he and my Mom read me many books and stories when I was young. They were teachers and they valued reading and books. I remember loving the time before bed when we typically had time to be read a story. It was probably Mom doing this most of the time, but I recall Dad doing this as well.
I wonder how our world might be different if we appreciated and honored the ways in which fathers play a role in caring for young people, and nurturing them in different ways. I absolutely honor and respect the work mothers do in nurturing children and caring for them. And I believe we have missing pieces if our fathers are not part of that story also. Many fathers do what is necessary to earn money, support their families and dole out the discipline (anyone else recognize: “Just WAIT until your father gets home!”).
But they must provide more than discipline and order to make a positive impact on a child’s life. They must provide love, acceptance, support and care. They are not a “bonus” parent, they are a necessary part of a child’s life. They shape the view that children absorb about how the world works. They help instill self-discipline sometimes, another value I learned from my own father.
Both daughters and sons benefit from this presence of a father, grandfather or some male parental figure or mentor us in our early growth and development. Sadly, the way the patriarchy casts and distorts masculinity, many of us are without these images of loving protection. Men are not supposed to be vulnerable or weak, and this affects how they interact with children. Modern and enlightened men realize that this ability to be vulnerable, especially with their loved ones and children, is what we often need and want in order to truly connect.
But when we lack these examples and images, all we are left with is father hunger. If we adopt a more inclusive view, along with valuing the contributions of both men and women to family life, I believe we can transform our culture.
Given our environmental and societal needs for healing and transformation, women and men working together are indeed what is needed. Fathers, mothers, aunties, uncles, child-free women like myself and all of the good people in the world that realize the nature of our problems as one planet. We should hunger for peace and for unity, not for the fathers we may not have had in our lives.