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Archive for June, 2014

One of the things that frustrates me most in life is when I know what’s wrong, but don’t know what to do about it.  There is no instruction manual, there’s no hint, you can’t flip to the last page for the answers.  Some people like it call it common sense, but common sense is only previously acquired knowledge that is applied to situations which are similar to what you’ve already learned.  If you have never previously been taught how to deal with similar issues, then there is no such thing as applying ‘common sense’ to these things.

When our entire lives have been dominated by what the masculine image of feminine is, there is no basis for applying common sense to much of how to deal with these issues.  You can recognize them, you can understand the damaging effects, but you can still be just as lost as to how to *do* something about it.

Part of that is recognizing that our society is very damaged, but that we have other examples, other societies we can look to for guidance.  These other societies don’t even have to be perfect, they just have to do one thing – just one thing – that demonstrates a better way.  They don’t have to necessarily be countries, either.  They can be sub-cultures, organizations, they can be ancient societies that no longer exist, but if we have some record of them, some understanding, then we can start to build a fuller picture of what is possible.

I remember years and years ago hearing about a certain American Indian culture – I sadly have forgotten which nation it was – and the way they recognize a girl’s first menstruation.

The women would gather together and make things.  Just, whatever needed to be made.  Think of it like a quilting circle or something, it was a social thing they did together.  The young girls would be at this circle, and listen to the women talking to one another.  They were, from an early age, surrounded by the stories and points of view of their elder women.  The girls would learn to make the things the women made.  By the time she reached puberty, the girl would have made many things.

When she had her first menstruation, she would be taken into a tent with other women who would pass on more adult knowledge to her than she would have received with the other girls.  They would help prepare her for the changes she would experience, and the changes to come.  They would teach her things at this time that she would not have learned before.

At the end of this, she would leave the tent, and take the many things she had made – whether it was a doll or a pouch or a beaded band – and each item she would give to an elder woman, and she would tell that woman what trait or character she hoped to learn from her.

This is a very sketchy retelling of what I heard, but the gist of it is this: women mentored younger girls and women.  Women told their stories to younger girls and women.  Women embraced one another’s femininity.

Rather than associating menstruation with PMS, bitchiness, and queasiness over menstrual blood, or worse, associating any negative emotion by a woman with the assumption she must be menstruating, this natural female cycle was celebrated and given a beautiful ritual status.

We have been taught to demonize something that lies at the very heart of our femininity, to be shamed by it and afraid of it, to be silent about it.  Imagine the empowerment of our girls if we embraced and celebrated this cycle!  If we stopped shaming the very thing that we have that men don’t!

When we stop being ashamed of it ourselves, men will not be able to shame us with it, either.

Embracing this fundamental natural fact of the feminine can be a catalyst that guides us towards embracing every other natural aspect of ourselves, from our body hair to our diversity in body shapes, sizes and colors.  From our natural complexion to our beautiful wrinkles, to our hair without straighteners or dying out our marvelous gray.

Age used to mean wisdom and respect.  Now it’s something to be feared, fought, denied, and resisted at all costs.  Why?  Because the 18-34 yr old male demographic that is the golden audience for almost every kind of media produced.

How do we achieve this monumental task of reordering our perceptions about our own bodies?  Turn off the TV, put down the magazine, the insidious truth of advertising is that it only works if it can convince you that what you are isn’t good enough.  Otherwise, why would anyone buy a product to make themselves different?  If you were beautiful, you wouldn’t need their makeup and hair products and nail polish and diet pills and clothes and shoes and botox and teeth whitening strips and three-step skin conditioner and tanning salon.

So the last thing these companies want you to believe about yourself is that you’re beautiful!  That you’re okay the way you are.  Your disharmony with yourself is the foundation to their sales!

There is nothing wrong with wearing makeup.  There is something wrong with feeling that you have to wear makeup.  The weight loss industry in the US is a multi-billion dollar a year wake-up call that their fix isn’t working, it’s just keeping us unhappy, unhealthy, and most importantly, it keeps us pouring our dollars into their businesses.

What if we taught our girls that their self-worth wasn’t proportional to the numbers on the scale?  The kicker is, you don’t teach this in a lesson plan with pencils and text books and give a test at the end.  This is taught by modeling the behavior that your weight isn’t your measure of self-worth, by restricting the media’s access to your house which displays one vary narrow and often not even a real image of a woman’s body, by giving them the tools to understand their bodies, and the tools to stand up to those who try to define them by their bodies.

It can be scary to be the one who doesn’t follow the social flow of what is expected of us.  But what is expected of us is to conform to a male ideal of what female should be.  I put it to you: who made men the expert on what it is to be feminine!?  Men have been “telling” us for decades that they don’t understand women, so why do we let them dictate how we understand ourselves!?

We need to create a culture in which women teach women what it means to be a woman.  Where feminine is defined by females.  Where our bodies don’t need to be stretched and cropped, lightened and Photoshopped to be considered beautiful.

Imagine if we found just one thing about our femininity that we could embrace and pursue with all our hearts, the kind of revolution we could create for ourselves.

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Ladies, let’s have a chat.

We live in a culture – as my last post stated – where, as a female, not only do I not feel grounded in being female, but that I’m surrounded by expectations of what a female should be based on what men want me to be.  There is no shortage of rants we can go on about this topic, about male ignorance, male chauvinism, male ego…

But guess what?  None of that excuses women being sexist, either.

None of that excuses ranting against all men as if all men do anything, because men, being roughly half of the entire population of the world, don’t all think with the same head.  (Nope, not even that one.)  Just like women, men are individuals, with their own ideas, their own ways of being, and especially here in the US, they have sadly short circuited many of their own natural tendencies in the blind pursuit of what they think  it means to be male.

Women, let’s not fall into the trap of following in the footsteps of those whose actions we ourselves didn’t like!

We don’t like being marginalized, let’s not start marginalizing men.  We don’t like being harassed for our sex, let’s not start harassing men for theirs.  We don’t like all being lumped together as being whiny, emotional, manipulative, unfaithful, or  irrational, let’s not lump all men together as being overbearing, sex-crazed, misogynistic, predatory, or emotionless!

Why not you may ask?  Why not, when it seems “only fair” to fight fire with fire; when we do it, it doesn’t “hurt them like it hurts us”?

But it does.  It does, not because men are afraid to walk down the street alone, not because men get harassed at tech conferences, not because men are less likely to be perceived as intelligent or get hired…

But because us treating them like they have treated use does NOT restore balance to our culture, it just makes it even more unbalanced.  I don’t mean that we should just take it.  We absolutely should stand up against it when we are dismissed, marginalized, harassed, threatened, and objectified.  But using this as an excuse to bash men does not solve the problem.

Women are still largely the caretakers of children, whether as mothers, teachers, nurses, daycare providers, babysitters, and more.  Women largely hold these roles in society, to greater or lesser degrees, and therefore our actions and attitudes have a profound effect on these children who may still be searching for where their place in the world is.

That means when a female teacher stands in front of a class of girls and boys and bashes men, she is not restoring balance to a culture out of balance, she is damaging male and female students alike who hear her words and feel her anger.  As women, we do need to have conversations with girls and boys, but it should be in the context of why the negative words and actions are negative, and why they’re damaging.  The conversation should not be shaped by talking about why men are bad or wrong.

Boys don’t just need to be slammed over the head with how awful they are and how horrible they will be when they grow up.  They need to be shown a better way of being, be taught why the current social views are harmful, not just to women but to themselves.

“Why can’t men do that?!”  That’s a good question.  Why can’t they?  We should ask them.  But that doesn’t mean we get to wipe our hands and say “not it.”

Why?  Because it matters more to us!  We’re the ones ultimately affected the worst, so like it or not, we’re the ones who have to keep pushing and keep fighting and keep working toward it.  We’re the ones who have to adopt the most effective means to do this, we’re the ones who have to force the change for the better, because if we sit back and say that’s men’s responsibility, it won’t happen.  And we all know it.

Girls need to be taught why the current social views are harmful, also!  They need to be helped so they don’t just absorb all the negativity and stereotypes.  They need to be encouraged to follow their dreams in the face of opposition – from both men and women!  Even if those dreams are to grow up, get married, and stay home with the kids!  That is a perfectly acceptable dream to have!  And I’m tired of women who want to belittle other women for it.  I’m tired of men thinking they get to dictate my thoughts, thinking I owe them my body, thinking that being angry is the same as being ‘whiny.’

I’m tired of women treating each other like competition, using boys as scape goats, dictating what are or are not acceptable “female aspirations”.

Men being sexist hurts women, girls, boys, and anyone who does not fit a binary gender or biological sex identity.

Women being sexist also hurts women, girls, boys, and anyone who does not fit a binary gender or biological sex identity.

We need to know better than to perpetuate it.  We need to realize that copying negativity does not cancel out negativity.

We need to realize that many, many men don’t know any of this is going on.  That when they do things that are harmful, they aren’t consciously being sexist, they are following the examples that have been taught by society; they’re following the rules they’ve been brought up with; they’re following other men.  So when we confront men about doing something harmful, it isn’t *him* we’re fighting.  It’s the society that taught him, the culture that shaped him, the men that modeled this behavior for him.

A lifetime of learned behavior is not undone in a day.  A lesson of this depth is not understood in a single conversation.  Not for men, not for women.

It “takes a little time to turn the Titanic around,”  Patience and perseverance are things we need to hold to.  It’s personal to us, but we can’t make it personal against them.

Anger, resentment, and bitterness are all understandable feelings to have, but they will not solve this problem, either.  With thousands of years of momentum, we can *want* but we really can’t *expect* even a hundred years to be enough to reverse that course.  We just need to hold to patience and perseverance.

Keep working, keep fighting, keep pushing: but remember we as women are not fighting against ‘men’… we’re fighting against a society and culture that has been shaped by a form of masculinity.  Neither men nor masculinity are the enemy, just the society and culture we’re in.

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