What is your stance on the gender binary?

“Gender Binary is the classification of gender into two distinct, opposite and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine, whether by social system or cultural belief.” (Wikipedia)

That is women’s roles versus men’s roles in society…as in, are the differentiated roles necessary, a natural progression?

Response:  Being female,  I experience my inner masculine when I exhibit action in the world.  Action being considered a masculine quality.  And a male friend has shown his feminine side when, as a caregiver, he nurtures his elderly clients.  Nurturing is viewed as a feminine quality.  So, we have within us attributes of either gender.  And, we express in the world as male or female primarily.

It is obvious to many that a woman’s biology determines certain things.  Even if we could grow a baby fully in a scientific test tube, the advantages to this would be none in my opinion.  It’s not a matter of eradicating what a woman’s biology intends for her.  It’s a matter of recognizing and embracing the value of what women innately offer to humanity.    Regarding men, what is primarily their terrain by virtue of being born male?  How does any culture value their innate qualities?  And, as women step more into their feminine power, how does this affect the dominant male in society?

Whenever we try to separate out this from that, masculine from feminine, we miss the overlap.  Whenever we try to define one gender as better than the other or in opposition to the other, we miss the point.  Basically, we are interdependent and we won’t experience our wholeness unless we allow both the masculine and feminine (within and without) the dignity that it deserves.

My question is why do we make what is obvious, complex?

There was a time of goddess cultures and matriarchies (the story goes) where women’s wisdom ruled.  I can only imagine what that was like.  Or what the masculine role was within that society.  Or how and why it was overthrown.  It is obvious that some balance needs to return to our planet.  If that means bringing in more of what is innately feminine, then we’re overdue to get with that program.  In these times, all voices–masculine and feminine–need to come to the table and be heard and respected.

Feminist Slogans…a few

An individual woman is going to have her personal interface with the feminist experience.  Continuing with the theme of Feminism…my granddaughter asked me:

“What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the advancement of women’s rights?”‘

These too familiar slogans came to mind:

burn the bra
free love
Equal Pay for Equal Work
Different but Equal

Women wanted equal opportunity for advancement on the job.  In the early 70’s, I worked in a corporate setting in a personnel office.  The male establishment often brought up the oppositional point that a woman would likely get married, then pregnant and leave her job and fall back on her husband for financial support.  They perceived this as some sort of logical reason not to advance a woman on the job.  That said, for many years now, the necessity of a two-income household is without question in order  to afford a certain lifestyle.

I lived in San Francisco at this time.  My ex-husband was in the fire department.  Women were fighting for the right to be firefighters.  There had been height, weight and physical agility requirements.  Most women and men of lesser build couldn’t meet these prerequisites. The requirements were modified to allow women in the department.  They still had to meet certain requirements, but these alterations in the standard entry test opened the door to women.  Whether or not they were capable of doing the job was going to be tested on-the-job.

The sexual harassment laws have been evolving since the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission began defining what that meant in the 1960’s.  It seems to be taking awhile for the male population to take this seriously.

There is the ongoing question around a woman’s right to make decisions about her body.  It seems that with each change of administration, the abortion laws come up for question and review.

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Women come of age at different times.  In our own individual lives as women, it seems to be part of our growth to recognize when we are disrespected, mistreated, devalued. We come to understand that we must first respect and value ourselves.  With the strides forward of the individual woman, the macroscm is affected.  How we esteem ourselves teaches others how we expect to be treated.  No small task.  Lots to undo.

Do You Consider Yourself a Feminist?

Sorting through my many files of writing–with the intention of shredding some of it, I came across a questionnaire from my college-age granddaughter…she was writing a paper about my generation of women.

The first question was “Do you consider yourself a feminist?”  As I rewrite this question here, I wonder if the concept of feminist even exists in other cultures.  I’d like to know.  Or does it belong to a time and era, culture and country, localized?

Regardless, it’s food for thought.  Once I answered, yes, I consider myself a feminist, the question arose…How do you define feminism?  I pose that same question to you, the reader.

One dictionary definition of feminism is:  “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities…” A second definition:  ” Organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests.”

Then I elaborate.  I think that it’s important to realize that in 1787 when the US Constitution was ratified, where it says that “all men are created equal” it refers to educated white males.  Though women in this country were granted the right to vote as of August 18, 1920, the mentality that classed women as property and inferior to men exists to this day.  Within the mindsets of both women and men, women continue to have less status than men in this country–and throughout most of the civilized and third world countries.  Is it changing?

We hear examples of this inequality around the world daily.  Though it is less explicit in this country, wherever women are objectified–popular men’s magazines (like Playboy), sitcoms and movies that portray women as “dumb,” crimes against women that aren’t effectively addressed, the lack of education that would enhance women’s self-esteem and re-educating men to foster respect for the contributions of womankind, up close and personal and globally–the very roots of change that are being undermined today contribute to this inequality.

Truly, the personal is political.  One thought that I would add in defining feminism is this:  Women do have gender-specific abilities, responsibilities, qualities that men obviously don’t have.  One cannot command respect.  That said, a reframing of the intrinsic value of women’s work both to a household and its benefits to a society should not go unrecognized and unappreciated.  That the tasks that are particular to her gender, specifically, childbearing, nurturing, intuiting, nourishing and any other innately feminine traits be honored as worthy and equal to any work that a man does out in the world  boosts esteem.  Different but equal was a phrase commonly used in the sixties when women were burning their bras.  I don’t think that what that statement means is reflected in our policies yet today.

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Are you a feminist?
How do you define feminism?
A good discussion topic with your friends?

In the groove

When you write regularly, you can write regularly.  When there are stops and starts between your writing, whether poetry or prose, the flow is interrupted.  Working with the poet/teacher Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge over a period of several days, the poetry kept coming.  Writing (and reading) this poem, I enter the surreal world that poetry can create without making excuses for itself.

Ocean Eyes
©by Christine O’Brien

I have ocean eyes
roving, moving
looking for home
cathedrals in Toledo Spain
cafes that stay open all night
laughing voices
lifting on warm breezes.
Whose experience can I engage
to make a better-seeming life?
Is it best to go North
is truth to be found there?
Or to the center?
Every day, I fall into
some rabbit hole
and a greedy fear seizes me.
I reside here so often,
it feels like a second home.

Tonight, at 7:30 p.m. precisely,
I put on my pajamas
entered the cave
and danced ecstatically,
among the stalactites.
They’ve discovered gold in Spain
let’s join the rush
pack up our stereos, leave the car keys
and go!
Don’t break the mirrors on your way out
or do break them.

I’m late again.  When I arrive,
the gold is all gone
or was it only a hoax,
something concocted by those
crazy, grazing cows on the side of the road
late last night
grazing right into my dreams
their big cow heads
shoving down between
blades of sleep,
I patted them
and felt their spindly
slobber on my bare breast.

Rain fell like ocean spray
and I entered through
this center of gravity
again too late to reap the reward.
The prize eternally moving,
just out of reach.
It’s the journey, not the prize
that matters
the white rabbit bellows
and I tweak his whiskers for being
such a smart ass.
My house is portable
My home is me
Oh woman of the Moon
on the move.

****
I realize that a surreal poem is not unlike an abstract painting.  Go for it!

A Confusion of Love…

pinc

Today, I am distracted by the serious illness of my ex-husband.  So, I thought that this would be an appropriate time to post this blog.

There is so much in life that seems incongruous.

Webster’s definition of incongruous:

a) not harmonious : incompatible
b) not conforming : disagreeing…
c) inconsistent within itself

Incongruity seems to be woven into the nature of life on earth, certainly within the human scope of things.

When my own parents were in need of care towards the last years of their lives, that paradox of love and not love surfaced for me and my siblings.  For us, childhood had been a harsh landscape.  Out of such an incongruity of feelings, I wrote this poem in the season of winter.

The Old Folks

Smoke and rain mingle, today’s perfect form
List the ingredients for rugelach
Take advantage of the calm before the storm…
The old folks at home have no right to squawk.

They chose their lives, they made their lonely bed
Posting keep out signs and hoisting regrets
Cultivating fear, hibernate in dread,
Now, commanding love, hedging all lost bets.

Which of their children would come to their aid
Rescue them from old age isolation?
What are the odds that one of a paltry nine
Plucks hairs from mother’s vain chin, others shun?

Today’s imperfect form, the smoke is rain
Calculating the loss, is love the gain?

****

Writing Prompt:
Within your own life, consider an incongruity that you struggle over.  Place it in the context of a season.  Weave the incongruity and the season together to create a prose piece, a poem or a painting.

note: When I feel into something in this way (through creativity), uncomfortable as it might be, it is transformed for me in some form.

Go gently into this day.

 

 

 

Saying “NO”

I write down thoughts that seem valuable in the moment.  I found this list in one of my journals that seems worth sharing.

I’m wondering if this is true for other women (and some men)–at a young age, I learned that saying “no” to my father was unacceptable.   To feel safe, I acquiesced.  This carried over into my life as a young woman, wife, mother.  I was there to meet the needs of others and to deny my own.  At a point in my life, I literally had to learn and practice saying no.

I was taught to feel guilty as a way to manipulate
me into saying “yes” when I wanted to say “no”

To feel safe, I said yes when I meant no

To be liked or accepted, I said yes when I meant no

The ability to say no preserves physical and mental health

It’s appropriate to say no to those things and people that are not consistent with my life values

It’s alright to say no to things that aren’t important to me

It’s alright to say no when I have something else to do

How to say an appropriate no–

“No, I won’t be able to do that.”

“No, I choose not to do that.”

“No, I’m busy.”

“No, that doesn’t interest me.”

When I decline an invitation, I don’t have to explain why

Can I say no without having to give a reason?

Consider what it is that I really want

Remember that I have a choice to say yes or no

When I say yes or no, how does it affect my physical and mental health?

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I’m sure that it’s more complicated than this…the right to choose your life is no small thing.  I once gave a workshop to a group of economically disadvantaged women in a college setting.  The workshop was about self-nurture.  Several of the participants had no sense of putting themselves first.  The concept of “no” was inaccessible to them and even frightening.  What would the fallout be if they dared to say no to someone, typically a man?

Wardrobes

Moving to the mountains of northern California twenty years ago, a re-wilding has occurred.  There has been subtle permission to become more of who I am.  One obvious change has been to my wardrobe.  When I first moved here, my closet was filled with the clothing I wore while working in downtown San Francisco.  It soon became obvious that these clothes were not practical for life in the mountains. I had a fondness for some of these tailored clothes–the neatly pleated fuschia skirt.  The black belt with the gold and silver cranes intertwined on the wide buckle.  The knee-high boots with a slight heel–a bit of cool esteem.  The black and white checked tailored suit paired with the raw silk blouse.  The fitted, stylish dresses in my favorite colors–turquoise, deep red, navy blue with polka dots, a few soft pastels–each one fit a mood of the day.  Some were concealing, others modestly revealing.

These clothes didn’t come out of the closet once I moved to Mount Shasta!  Each year, I shed more of them.   They were traded for practical and comfortable jeans and tee-shirts.  I searched for the best hiking boots or running shoes–comfort and hardiness are everything.  In the winter, it becomes about layering.  I ordered silk leggings and tops.  Long-sleeved cotton shirts, wool sweaters and vests.  Waterproof outerwear, down jackets.   I didn’t miss trading nylon stockings for the sturdy cotton, and wool sock blends.  I knitted myself a few hats that I could tug down over my ears, and scarves wrapped up under my chin.  Mittens, a variety as, like socks, there was often one missing.    Of course, come summer, all of this was shed for the comfort of light cotton and less is more as the temperature rises into the 90’s or 100’s.  A serviceable swimsuit for dunking in one of the many lakes.

I wonder, Do clothes make the woman?  Or, am I being tailored by my environment?

Living in the mountains brings out an inherent spirit of adventure that had been dormant.  Where does this trail lead?  And that one?  What hidden lake is waiting for me to discover it?  The falling in love with where I live.  The beauty that lures me.  The trail that winds and I wonder what’s around the next curve, up that hill, over that ridge…I must follow.

bear1.jpg

I encountered this bear on a river trail a few days ago.  We were a comfortable distance apart as he posed for a few photos.