Said Eleanor…

I was considering writing an essay addressed to women based on Eleanor Roosevelt’s oft-stated observation “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Then, I waivered for a few reasons. The main one being, I personally know how hard it is to rise above the belief of one’s own inferior status when you are surrounded by a culture, religion or family system that operates from a built-in gender inequality model. And, when your finances are tied in with your male counterpart this compounds the situation.

How does a woman activate within herself the powerful being that has been in dormancy for eons? How does she, despite everything that is pushing against this, rise into her own (uncomfortable) power? How does she source her power in a male-dominated world where “might makes right” and she is hostage to her fears? And as a woman, how does she safely proclaim her feminine prowess when what she brings to the table is unappreciated, minimized and even ridiculed?

At the time that I wrote the following, my mother was eighty-two years old, born in 1920. She married my father in 1941. He won the grand prize, her. She quit her secretarial job, as was expected, bore nine children and lived a life of absolute servitude to him. I heard from one of my sister’s a few days ago. She said that our mom was sitting in a chair in our parents’ house. She just keeled over, fell to the floor and laid their conscious but shocked. Somehow, she got herself up. Shortly thereafter, she went outside to tell my father. He wanted to take her to the hospital. She declined.

My mother runs a household for my father the same as she has since 1941, except that she no longer has her children to help with all of the household tasks. My father does not lift a finger. In his letter to me, he said they eat two meals a day. This preparation is hard on my mom. She doesn’t just throw a porkchop in the broiler. He requires labor-intensive meals and my mom complies. They have two refrigerators stocked with food that she has prepared and other staple ingredients. This is her job, her role–I once asked her “Mom, when do you get to retire?” She answered sheepishly, “I never thought of that.” In questioning her daily routine, I asked her “Do you ever stop, take a bath with bath salts or essential oils and just relax.” She said “I don’t have time for that.” When the facts of his physical and other abuses came to light, I asked her, “Mom, didn’t you get angry?” Her response was “I can’t be bothered with that.”

Where did her anger go? Years later, I realized that part of her anger went into guilt and shame because she didn’t protect her children or herself so well.

Contrary to an enduring belief–men are not intended to be the kings in their castles with women serfs out in the field doing the labor, birthing the children and caring for all things that revolve around home. And in this model, she is also excluded from the decision-making even with things that directly affect her.

So, while I agree in theory with Eleanor’s quote…in practice, after years of ongoing spousal abuse and mental manipulations, my mom had lost the power to make healthy choices for herself when it came to this long-endured relationship. She had been made to feel inferior, probably from birth. And this sense of inferiority carried on right through her marriage to a narcistic man.

Looking at the world at large, I do think that there are some narcistic male leaders making decisions for all of us. As a woman, how does my voice even get heard to affect change in a system that is intent with keeping her in her place? Until a woman can break the ties that bind her to a false sense of herself and comes to realize her personal power, the same games are going to play out. Men continue to dominate. Women continue to take a back seat. We’ve seen a few models of powerful women, but not enough. A surge of woman’s power has to happen en masse to affect real change for the better.

Queen of the Desert

Gertrude Bell, an amazing woman I recently encountered through another excellent Werner Herzog film, Queen of the Desert, starring Nicole Kidman.

In the film, Queen of the Desert, Gertrude Bell models a sovereign woman.  She was an English writer, traveler, explorer, political officer, administrator, and archaeologist.  She was a woman who thought outside the box of convention and culture.  She didn’t follow the rules of what a woman could aspire to within the confines of being born female in this time and place.  She has been called the female Lawrence of ArabiaIn the desert, she said that she found herself.  

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Do you know many sovereign people, male or female…the ones who have mastered themselves to such a degree that they are free to live the lives they have chosen and crafted?

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.