False history gets made all day, any day, the truth of the new is never on the news.” – Adrienne Rich

Do you have an opinion to express, or some important information to share? This is the place to bring it. Essays and articles are welcome, so dig into the files and bring us something insightful.

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I live in Edmond, OK where I am employed by the University of Central Oklahoma. I am easily inspired by common things at times, as I was in the true tale of “The Girl and The Goat”. However, I may need a bit of help when it comes to dancing in a pasture full of bleating goats, dry grass and moist dung. Anyone want to give me lessons?

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The Goat and the Girl

I saw a young goat trapped in a fence last night. Having put her head through the fence to nibble on what she had been tempted to believe was greener grass, she had gotten caught by her tiny horns. Who knows how long her plaintive bleating had reverberated through the hot August air before anyone other than the pasture animals noticed.

As I walked toward the fence, her bleating got louder. Seeing me she struggled harder to free herself, twisting, turning, pushing her butt into the air and her nose into the dirt, but she could not get loose. Realizing what was happening, I hurried back to the house and informed the owner that his young goat was in distress, but he showed no urgency.  Apparently this goat had gotten herself stuck before and would just have to learn that it was the same grass on one side as the other. She could wait until he was ready to tend to her.

Perhaps I’m a sucker for anyone’s crying, or simply impatient when I see a need. Either way, heading toward our vehicle to go home, I again stopped at the sound of the incessant bleating and made an instantaneous decision. I pulled off my cotton sweater, exposing bare arms that always remained hidden in public, and strode directly to the goat pen. Another couple were standing there, watching the poor animal struggle as the other goats milled around her, unable to do anything to free her. I quashed all qualms about showing my ugly arms, or dirtying my dress and unlatched the chain on the gate.

As I stepped into the pen, the observer said, “You must have done this before.”

No, I hadn’t. I was simply responding to an innocent being in need during the time our life paths crossed. Despite my anxieties over what I looked like or whether I knew what I was doing, I couldn’t just stand there and watch her suffer. I could try to help. I could at least provide some comfort. After all, I replied, “It’s just a baby goat!”

Treading through dry knee high grass and moist pellets of goat dung in my Sunday dress, I briefly wondered at the sanity of what I was trying to do. Kneeling down beside the terrified animal and placing my hand on her as she panicked and jerked, I again wondered if I had chosen to do the right thing.

Gently, I traced the line of her head and the length of her sore neck, found where the tiny horns were trapping her, and guided her through the fence maze a bit at a time until she was finally able to pull herself free. I had to laugh as she kicked up her heals and danced in the pasture, as if saying “Look at me! I got myself free!”

Wise men and sages would say there is a moral to such a story of this, but to me the moment of inner reflection far outweighed any of the many morals I could draw from this simple story. Many times in my life I am the kid with her horns stuck in the fence. Sometimes I’m the person that hears the trapped goat. Either way, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is whether I realize which one I am at which time, and am willing to do what is required to reach the goal of freedom.  When that happens, then both the goat and the girl can dance in the pasture in freedom.

essay by catherine white walls, all rights reserved

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Francine Phillips is a poet, author, and editor living in San Diego, California. Please check out her blog at http://francinephillips.tumblr.com.

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A Second Opinion

“Mom!  My car blew up! But the good thing is I was at the mall so we pushed it over to the Sears Automotive shop.” The text message jumped off the screen as I pictured my 16 year-old boy magnet gathering a gang of young men to push her Dodge Dakota truck over to the end of the mall. When I called Sears, they said it was overheated and the radiator hose needed repair.

$250. Ugh.

So we went and got the car, paid the cost and drove back up the hill to home.

A week later, the text blared again. “Mom!  I’m at Beef & Bun and the car overheated again!”

Fortunately, it was close by.  I stopped and 7/11 for some coolant and drove the two blocks to the burger joint.  It took almost the full bottle. We went back down to Sears.

“Oh, well it must be something different. We’ll do some diagnostics, but it’s possible that she has cracked the radiator.”

“What about the $250 I already paid?”

“This must be something different. We’ll call you with an estimate.”

A couple of days later I got a call from Sears.

“Well, there are some preventive measures that should be taken, we are not sure if the radiator is cracked, but it could be because they are plastic these days. And there are some other things that might cause overheating.”

“Like what?” I don’t know why I bothered to ask. I don’t speak car.

Like a blown gasket. She might have one of those – we won’t know until we open it up.

Isn’t that what they say about cancer?

“So what will it cost?”

“Eleven hundred dollars.”

“What! What about the $250 I already paid.”

“Well, this must be something different.”

Pause.

So, what if we don’t do the preventive maintenance, but just fix what we know is broken?”

“Well, I guess we could just hope that the radiator is not cracked and if we don’t have to fix the gasket, that could take it down to about $900.”

“And what would it cost to just get it back up the hill to my street?”

$450.”

“O.K., let’s just do that.”

Jeez.

The next day I got another call from Sears.

“Uh, I’m afraid that we can’t fix the truck.”

“What?”

“Yeah, we don’t have the right kind of equipment.”

“What do you mean you don’t have the right equipment? I’ve never heard of that?  It’s not like it’s a fancy car, it’s a Dodge. You can’t fix a Dodge?

“That’s right. Anyhow, you have to get it off our lot today,”

”You had the right equipment when it cost $1100.”

I called my daughter and told her to take a friend with her and to drive it straight to our regular mechanic. Then I made sure she knew how to call AAA for a tow if she needed one. It wasn’t far, but it was up a steep hill.

Anna and her friend made it up the hill to our mechanics, Matt and Carlos. When you have seven kids and six cars, one of which is in the shop at any given time, your mechanics are your BFFs. Now that I’m down to one kid and two cars, they are still good to me.

Carlos had her explain what happened and asked her to pop the hood. He fiddled with the clamp holding the $250 radiator hose, then closed it up.

“Give it a try, Anna.”

It purred. They drove around the block a couple of times to make sure. No overheating. No water spewing out from under the hood. No $1100. No $450. No cost at all.

“They must have left an air bubble in the hose,” said Carlos. “Bye, and say ‘Hi’ to your mom.”

I never ask for a second opinion. Usually I soak up advice and take it straight to heart. I operate on the premise that people won’t intentionally steer me wrong, like the Sears guy. But that doesn’t mean they can’t just BE wrong.

And sometimes listening to just one opinion can cost an arm and a leg.

So, I’m going to explore the idea of getting second opinions. What do you think?

essay by francine phillips, all rights reserved

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Katie Noah Gibson is a writer living in Abilene, Texas. She also teaches English at a local university, and blogs at http://katieleigh.wordpress.com.

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It Does Matter

One afternoon last fall, I spent a long while chatting online with two old friends. I’ve known Jon since fifth grade (15 years) and Adam since seventh (13 years), which means we’ve known one another for more of our lives than we haven’t. Whenever I chat with Adam, we inevitably begin reminiscing about high school, when we were part of a close-knit group of friends. His little sister, Grace, is now a sophomore (though I think she should still be about seven), and we both paused to reflect on, and be amazed by, the fact that our sophomore year was ten years ago.

Ten years seems like such a long time when you view it as a chunk – and for me, at age 26, it’s more than a third of my life. Ten years ago, I had just gotten my driver’s license; I was in high school marching band and loving it. I had long hair and bangs and a pink-painted bedroom; I had a crush on a senior baritone player, but he hadn’t noticed me (yet). I had a brand-new purple letter jacket and drove a little indigo Kia Sephia; I spent my days going to English and chemistry and world history and algebra classes. I was anticipating going to London for the first time, with my high school band. And I’m sure I heard at least once from my mom and other adults, “This [situation or relationship or event] won’t matter to you in ten years.”

Now, I am married with two advanced degrees (and lots of foreign travel) under my belt. I have short hair and a writing career and a much more developed fashion sense. I don’t talk to a lot of my high school friends much any more, and I have vastly different views on life and faith and nearly everything else than I did at 16. However, I don’t believe – I can’t believe – that those old memories and relationships don’t matter. (Some smaller things, it’s true, have fallen by the wayside – and the arguments that once seemed capable of ending friendships have passed into oblivion.) But I firmly believe that the other stuff – the stuff that was important to begin with – still matters.

What is that stuff? There’s a lot of it – perhaps too much to contain in a single list, and even a few items would take days to fully explain. But it’s the long drives in Adam’s white truck and Jon’s green Grand Am, listening to Broadway music and a folksy singer-songwriter called Ross King. It’s the hard-fought football games, and dancing with my friends in the flute section while the drum line played cadences in the stands. It’s the nights of teetering in high heels at formal dances, feeling so grown-up and snapping photos with my best friends. It’s the band trips and endless relationship drama and the Bible studies on Tuesday nights. It’s the birthday parties, the long talks at the coffee shop, the stupid things we did and the crazy things we said and the way my tightly knit posse of friends fiercely loved each other. It’s all the big exciting events, and the normal days in between, walking from class to class down the long, color-coded halls of Midland High.

As we chatted about high school, Adam admitted, “I can’t ever tell Grace that this stuff won’t matter to her in ten years.” And I said, “You’re right. It still does matter. It matters a lot.”

When I talk to old friends and we reminisce; when I go home for Christmas and get to hug them; when I find old mementoes or photos or randomly run into a memory, I am reminded: it does matter. Those days and events and people helped make me who I am, and they are still part of me.

That said, the last ten years have been the scariest, most exciting, most adventurous years of my life. I’m a long way at 26 from where – and who – I was at 16. (That’s as it should be.) But talking to old friends pulls me back to who I used to be. And it reminds me that it did – and does – all matter.

I am deeply thankful for the friends who have hung in there with me for the last decade or more, who know my past and present selves and love them both. We did the slow work of growing up together; we remember who the others used to be. And I believe that’s still important, even ten years on the other side.

essay by katie noah gibson, all rights reserved

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Amelia Maness-Gilliland is a professor, parenting coach, writer, photographer, overcomitter, big thinker, mommyblogger, contradictory blend of southern charm and steel wool, creativity, authenticity & sanity seeker. She lives in Mesa, AZ with her husband and five kids, three cats, five hens, one house with never enough time.  You can find Amelia at her site www.momsdailyretreat.com and she is a contributor at www.todaysmama.com on the topic of parenting.

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If Possibility Were a Person

She’d be a wise sage, reminding me that Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. were guided by their dreams and lived fearlessly.

She’d nurture me the way a parent does a child; reminding me that what I can or cannot do is not a consequence of my ability but of my belief in myself.

As my mentor, she would explain that staring at a list of thoughts and ideas, struggling to bring order to my words is better than glancing across the room at a closed journal and a capped pen because I was too frustrated to begin, because I lacked faith in myself to even try. “You have everything you need to begin” she’d hearten.

When my courage to stretch myself waned, she’d bolster me and whisper gently “you can do this, your dreams matter, you are not alone.” And if she noticed me shutting down, she’d nudge me…urging me to leave my soul ajar, ready to welcome the next ecstatic experience.

As my friend, she’d take me by my hand and walk along side of me as I wrestled my self imposed limitations. She’d patiently wait as I sought clarity to understand what is written on my heart, that as I give to the world, so the world will give to me.

When I found myself in discouraged times, lamenting the lack of joy in my life, she’d dig in her heels and point out that joy is all around me if only I’d choose to see it.

If possibility were a person she’d never deny herself chocolate and a glass of red. She’d believe in living a life without limitations.

She’d dress in an eclectic style, a fusion of Boho and Audrey Hepburn, because she wouldn’t buy into conformity, she’d confidently honor her free spirit.

If possibility were a person, she’d want me to know that during my childhood I dreamed of doing many things and trusted that all things were possible. She would reminisce about the times when my imagination flourished and my thoughts traveled where they wanted. She’d ask when I began to limit myself with the notion of impossible. She would point out the glorious moments in my life where I have seen my dreams come to fruition, when I had proven that anything is possible.

If possibility were a person, she would cleverly point out that impossible means I’m possible.

essay by amelia maness-gilliland, all rights reserved

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Kathi Chaffee is a 60 year old mother of 3 daughters and grandmother to 5 beautiful grandchildren.  She lives in Evergreen, CO with her husband of 37 years and her 30 year old disabled daughter, Carrie.  Kathi’s life took a radical turn in February of 1996 when she received a phone call telling her that her then 16 year old daughter had slipped and fallen off of rocks at a nearby park during her school lunch break.  She had sustained a very serious brain injury.  Carrie’s life and that of her family would be changed forever.  It is with this memory forever etched in Kathi’s mind that she writes this piece.

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Out of the Blue

I’m on a casual walk….

A day warm and sunny….birds singing….a slight breeze rustling the leaves….

I look off in the distance.  Without warning, darkness begins to loom over the horizon..I see it, is it coming this way? I don’t remember hearing there’s a storm coming….

Maybe it’s really nothing it just looks dark…it will probably amount to nothing…I keep walking.

The breeze begins to grow …Suddenly  I notice a flock of crows flying overhead squawking as they fly…..and then an eerie quiet…..No one seems to be outside….I begin to feel uneasy….I think I’ll turn and head for home…..

Then off in the distance I hear the wind blowing through the tops of the trees…I see them sway…..harder and harder it blows….I am now aware that it is getting darker and darker….I am walking faster but it seems I can’t walk fast enough….I want to get inside….Then….there it is… a low rumble….the sunshine is gone. The darkness is here!….Suddenly I feel all alone…..Dear Lord, help me walk faster…..you know I’ve always been  afraid of being outside when there is lightning!

Then…. a loud crack!  It seems so close ….too close……Lightning…thunder….darkness….rain!   Here I am stuck in the middle of this torrent…..feeling smaller and smaller….more and more helpless.

Thunder, lightning, darkness, cold torrential rain now completely surrounding ….and me unable to outrun it….

I’m going as fast as I can…..I wonder if my kids went inside and brought the dog in before she freaks out…Then it happens….I trip and fall flat on my face….the impact knocks the wind out of me….there I lie…out on the road….face down….out of breath….

That to me is what the onset of my suffering experience was like.  Things are going along smoothly, at least I’m able to deal…although…when a person is suffering….those times before the crisis seem almost ethereal…

Suddenly, on the horizon…you catch a glimpse of what’s to come…it can be a phone call, an e-mail, a symptom..

At first, your reaction is an unwillingness to look at the seriousness of the danger.

Prayer is pretty easy at this point…..at least for me.

As this crisis becomes more and more real…the darkness begins to surround…the bad news bombarding me is loud and deafening….lots of voices…it becomes harder and harder to pray or to hear what God is saying….but somehow I know He’s there…he speaks very softly….”I’m here”….

My first instinct is to run like crazy …..away….anyplace but here!

Then…ultimately….pain catches up and knocks me off my feet….the impact knocks my breath away…..I am flat out….on the road!  I have exhausted all that is in me….

When I finally come to this point…I cry out in desperation to God!  Where are you?

Father, I can’t do this….A different sort of prayer….an almost gutteral inner groaning.

Right now, I can’t see God, but the Spirit  picks me up and carries me through the things I need to do and say….(God is that inner strength that seems to well up inside of me in times of desperation).

Sometimes I can’t even hear him speak for all the noise around me…but God is there….softly whispering…..”I’m here”.

Little by little all the noise starts to stop…I start to catch my breath….the Spirit’s voice becomes more and more discernible…I look up and I  know not how but I am back in a more comfortable place….The Spirit whispers, “do you think you can walk now?  I’ll be here if you need me…”

And on I go….the Spirit and me….

I know inside that I have learned an amazing lesson about God…..When I have come to the end of myself….I am at my weakest point…that’s when I become stronger because God is that strength!

I will never be the same…..

essay by kathi chaffee, all rights reserved

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ellenhEllen Haroutunian is a writer, counselor, theologian and deep thinker, living and working in the Denver area. You can read more of Ellen’s thoughts at her blog.

Read Seeking the New Feminists, Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

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Coming Into Our Fullness

Sometimes in life we make decisions that squelch our dreams. This is not always a bad thing, for we often make difficult decisions in order to allow others a place in our lives, even if we have to relinquish bits of ourselves so that they may thrive. My favorite example is from the O’Henry story, The Gift of the Magi, in which a young wife cuts off and sells her hair in order to buy a gold chain for her beloved’s pocket watch, while he sells his pocket watch to buy a set of ivory combs for her beautiful hair. Sometimes these sacrifices seem foolish but we make them for love. And as O’Henry said, they are the wisest ones. They are the wisest ones.

That’s how I try to see it anyway. But the truth is, we often make decisions and choose life directions because we have learned to believe less than the truth about ourselves. Women are especially prone to take on prescribed roles because they help to keep the peace, offering the least resistance to the status quo. In my faith community many women of my age received subtle but strong messages that our desires were incompatible with building the Kingdom or at least, with building a family. I was told that I would serve God and my children better by becoming a nurse, not a doctor, and since I could never be a preacher, why waste my time on theology even though I loved it? To pursue what I wanted was at best misguided, and at worst, selfish. Like many women, I learned to subvert and subdue myself. To be a woman meant to disappear and be absorbed into the rhythms of those in power.

I am now in a season of life where I am allowing parts of myself that have been subdued or put to sleep to arise and be resurrected. I feel as though I am finally able to take in a deep breath, inhaling fully and deeply into my own body, having finally made space for myself in my own life. I dare to imagine that learning to live in the fullness of who I am and in the dignity of my femaleness is really the best way to love. Perhaps it is the best resistance to a world of fear, polarization and hatred. I am just beginning to explore all of what this can mean.

I have written about what it might mean to live freely in our own skin, that is, to live fully in the dignity of our femaleness- both body and soul. And, what it might mean to begin to embrace feminine values such as connectedness and inclusion, which can help to bring our fragmented world back toward peace. And that femininity reflects something about mystery and paradox, which can serve to point us towards the existence of something beyond what is measurable and provable in this world – something beyond our easy grasp. Femininity also includes the idea of collaboration, of inviting many voices to help work towards a common good. This idea was reiterated just last week by Kathryn Bigelow, who is the first woman ever to win an Academy Award for Best Director. She said in her acceptance speech, “The most important part of directing is collaboration.” Collaborating, listening and offering a voice as the necessary other can bring balance and insight to the ways in which we create, work and play together. Perhaps it can bring some needed wisdom to navigate the harsh realities of this world.

Moving into a deepened understanding of our true feminine selves can help us to recognize where we are unhealthy as well. The unbalanced feminine may seek connection to the point of enmeshment which will eventually smother individual distinctiveness and growth. Along that same line, unbalanced masculinity is boundaried to the extreme – seeing any other as a threat, using violence as a means of control. Clearly, we need each other in order to help all of us become the truest reflection of who we are meant to be.

Ultimately, coming to live in the fullness of our female selves sharpens the focus on the struggles of millions of women worldwide. About six years ago I attended a conference on the island of Crete that brought together women from all over the world for conversations about gender-based injustices. The conference brought to light the harsh realities of the lives of women that often go unnoticed by those of us who live in regions with more privilege and freedom. Gender-based injustices include things such as wife burnings in India, which is when a woman mysteriously catches fire by her kitchen stove and burns to death, leaving her husband free to obtain a new wife and another dowry. On several continents there is forced marriage, where girls as young as 8 years old are married off to men many decades older than themselves. When they eventually become pregnant, their immature bodies are often unable to deliver an infant, causing the child to be stillborn and leaving them damaged with fistulas. They are then often cast out by husbands and families alike.

There is the reality of female genital cutting (which is the politically correct term for female genital mutilation), a procedure that removes tissues and organs from a woman’s genitalia to control her sexuality. Many times it is performed without proper medical instruments, cleanliness or anesthesia. In some cultures she is considered unmarriageable without this so both mothers and fathers will perpetuate this practice in order to give their daughters a future. The risks include more painful and more dangerous childbirth as well as painful sex and inability to enjoy sexual pleasure. 100 million women in the world today have had some form of female genital cutting. Every year 2 million are added to their number.

The availability of ultrasound technology has increased the number of abortions of female fetuses, especially in India and China where male infants are far more desired because of their greater earning potential and to bring dowry money into the family. When this is not available, the unwanted daughter is left outside, exposed to the elements to die. It might seem that the lessening number of marriageable women would improve the perceived value of women. Instead, the huge gender imbalance actually increases incidences of kidnapping, forced marriage and abuse.

Porn and sexualized advertising fragments a person into body parts, diminishing their personhood. Pornographic images are more easily obtained in the modern age but societies have bought and sold women since the beginning of time. Despite our modern culture’s attempts to describe prostitution as an empowered life choice, all prostitution harms women. Prostitution perpetuates the same message –that women and girls are objects to be bought or sold, and that the fragmenting of body from soul, or body parts from the whole is acceptable. Furthermore, at least 90% of the women in the sex for sale trade have been sexually abused as children by a family member or someone they trusted. These are women who have believed the wrong message about themselves – that they are someone’s dishrag- and continue to live as though that is true.

In the United States a women is a victim of domestic violence every 9 seconds. One out of three women have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

The “ideal female body” (tall, lithe, full breasted) of American perception belongs to only 2% of actual women. It’s no wonder then that 70 million women suffer from eating disorders. Paradoxically, in poorer nations, girls typically suffer the most from malnutrition because food is often given to their brothers first. Women also have less access to education and medical care.

Most disturbingly, rape is used as a weapon of war. Last year after a particularly brutal attack upon a village in the Sudan during which hundreds of women were raped and severely mutilated, a doctor who was attempting to treat their wounds was asked why he thought this had happened. “It’s like they want to destroy woman,” was all he said.

This is really tough stuff to read, tough stuff to face. I could list more examples and incidences of gender-based injustices. Suffice it to say there are an estimated 100-200 million women demographically “missing” from the world’s population due to all the reasons mentioned above. Coming into the fullness of what it means to be woman has high stakes indeed. For where we command respect and dignity for ourselves, we cause the indignities perpetuated on so may to stand out in harsh contrast. We are actively standing in the gap of a worldview that says, women have less value and therefore may be beaten, used, sold, raped, and diminished.

In this time of my life it seems almost futile to seek anew who I am and what might be the calling on my life. I have raised a family, and I have a career, a ministry and a marriage (not necessarily in that order). But to re-member me means to find passions that have long been in hiding. It may mean giving up some of the comfort I have achieved in order to find ways of loving that will literally begin to change the world. I wonder how much of the vague dissatisfaction I feel is an intuitive solidarity with the millions of women whose self-determination and dignity have been robbed from them in far crueler ways than mine have been. I realize that the losses I have suffered pale in comparison to my sisters around the world. Yet, somehow my ongoing journey into wholeness seems to matter, not just for me, but for them as well. Maybe especially for them.

Perhaps like the Magi couple, we can learn to give of ourselves in a way that is uniquely us. We will no longer merely conform to an expected set of roles, or mimic a masculine version of life’s journey (God bless ‘em), but to become something that is most uniquely woman: Woman, who makes space within her own being for new life to form. Woman who is the Mother of every human being. Woman, who protects the tender life of another with the ferocity of a mother bear. Woman, who bore the very body and blood of God into this world, who tended him in death and who were present at the Resurrection. Woman, whose power is formidable, surging with life. Woman, who can bend swords into plowshares with her very being, and whose best dreams are always about more than her own life. Moving into this – the fullness of our female selves, is the best way to offer active resistance to the harsh realities of misogyny in this world.

Those who do this are the wisest ones. The wisest ones.

article by ellen haroutunian, all rights reserved

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ellenhEllen Haroutunian is a writer, counselor, theologian and deep thinker, living and working in the Denver area. You can read more of Ellen’s thoughts at her blog.

Read Seeking the New Feminists, Part 1 here.

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Seeking the New Feminists, Part 2: The Necessary Other

In her book In a Different Voice, psychologist Carol Gilligan reflects on the reality that woman often subdue themselves for the sake of maintaining peace in relationships. We counselors might be tempted to label that phenomenon unhealthy codependence. Instead, Gilligan feels this is part of the larger struggle of being female in this world. She asserts that relationships require “courage and emotional stamina which has long been a strength of women,” but also laments, “by restricting their voices women are wittingly or unwittingly perpetuating a male-voiced civilization and an order of living that is founded on disconnection from women.In a world in which the human experience is seen as valid only through the eyes of the privileged few (mostly male), feminine values, experiences, and ideas remain unheard and ineffectual.

I believe the whole world suffers as a result.

Gilligan says that while the stream of this male- based culture often leaves out women, women often leave out themselves. One of the greatest hindrances to the flourishing of the female person may be our own selves. While men define themselves and the human experience separate from women (making the false assumption that if they know themselves, they know women), women often create that separation within their own selves as an inner division or a psychic split. All that fancy language means that we women often cut ourselves off from our own experience of reality, in order to submit to the reality of another. In this way society becomes lopsided, exclusive, advantageous to only a few.

It is important to reflect upon this disconnect that is experienced by woman, which is often voiced to me by some of my clients as a lack of confidence, or even as sheer self-contempt. According to Gilligan, psychology has observed that men are about setting boundaries, marking territory, and defining themselves as separate from women. Women, on the other hand, are more about connectedness; therefore the problem with relationships, indeed society in general, is perceived as the inability of women to become separate individuals. Man is seen as the norm and woman as the deviant. In a world of complex problems and violence, her voice is heard to be either a frivolous nicety or simply irrelevant. This can truly be a problem in the case of severe codependence, in which a woman has no sense of herself apart from others. But in the interest of building truly healthy communities, as well as flourishing as human beings in this postmodern age, perhaps recovering and releasing a woman’s sense of relational connectedness is what is most needed today.

Wise writer Lilian Calles Barger describes the many influences that have helped foster this internal split in women, causing us to mistrust our own voices and influence. Our modern, western culture has been profoundly shaped and influenced by the extremely misogynistic Greco-Roman culture. In their eyes, the female body was considered base and utilitarian. It was even thought to be a punishment for those who lived within it! This belief was reflected in her treatment within society. Her testimony was worth little in court. She had virtually no right to property. A woman was thought to represent the baser elements of existence; her body and its functions tied her to this earth. Maleness, on the other hand, was thought to represent the soul and higher spirituality. Woman was seen as deformed, less perfect than man. She was less human. This view of woman still subtly creeps into our modern psyches.

In addition, the modern notion of Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” philosophy puts the understanding of “self” in the mind alone, disconnecting us from our bodies. As a result, Barger notes, we’ve come to understand the body as something apart from the true self. A body is seen as only matter, only sex, only an object that may set us up for shame (if appearance does not conform to cultural standards of beauty) or violence (because of being viewed as a tool for sexual performance), and may lead us to try transcending the body altogether, subduing and or perhaps exploiting its frailties and passions.

These core beliefs pull us out of what Barger describes as the nowness of our bodies. I remember the sudden shock of slamming cars on an icy highway when my children were small enough to be strapped into car seats. Our car spun around and off of the highway into a ditch. I was very aware of the nowness of being in my physical body, as I stepped into the biting chill, feeling both vulnerable and strong, trusting its intuition and power as I carried both of my little ones up a steep embankment blanketed in snow to avoid the other cars that were slipping and sliding all around us. It was a sharp contrast to how often I can live in battle with my body, mistrusting or even resenting its vast imperfections.

In my last article I reflected on unattainable body shapes and how they impact our self-understanding and how we live in our bodies. Any pressure around what the female body should be can be frightening and shaming, causing us to view our bodies as a problem, not a welcoming home and a source of deep beauty and world-healing wisdom. This ambivalence about the female body is a major factor in our own abdication of ourselves, our reluctance to show up in the world with a strong female voice, not merely as a person of opposition but as a necessary other, that all may learn and be enriched.

Barger charges that even the pursuit of freedom through the control of the body perpetuates a sense of detachment because of the belief that the body is something that can be managed and fixed. She notes for example, that with increasing reproductive control, doors have opened for women in the corporate and academic worlds because there is less fear she will become pregnant and drop out. The norm is the male journey, since he can pursue these things without disruption. Woman must pursue the male route in life in order to enjoy the same freedoms and privileges. This puts us in a paradoxical bind, says Barger, “Woman and person not being the same thing, a woman needs the pill to safeguard her personhood. Therefore, could this attitude reveal an underlying misogyny about our own bodies?

Contraception now presumes that a woman can offer full access to her body for sex, ignoring rhythms and changes, and any “problems” that arise. Because of this, Barger says, both men and women can engage in sex without bringing a whole self to the relationship. Contraceptives also change the sexual dialogue by diminishing partners’ sense of the importance of trust needed for intimacy” and [that] makes it easier for both men and women to ignore the emotional backdrop to the sexual act.” In pursuing what looks like freedom, we may have split off from a connection with our own being, our emotional and spiritual selves, our unique and special femaleness.

The ambivalence in both men and women about our ability to conceive and bring forth life is still reflected in the power struggle surrounding the management of birth. Birth has been so increasingly medicalized that Barger says it is often treated like a disease or a traffic accident.” And she adds, the high incidence of caesarians demonstrates that women are increasingly disconnected from their own birthing process. I just read yet another story about a breastfeeding mother who was refused passage on an airplane, reflecting the ongoing contradiction in American thought that it is acceptable to use breasts to sell beer, but not to nourish a baby. Because of incidents such as these Barger remarks that our “entire reproductive lifecycle has been marginalized.”

Let me be clear that I have no desire to create guilt over the use of contraceptives, nor do I condemn their use. Neither is this meant to be a polemic about abortion as a means of freedom from biological constraints. Black and white rule-making rarely serves anyone well. Case in point, look at the religious restrictions on many African woman which forbids the use of condoms that could protect them from AIDS, even as cultural constraints do not allow them to refuse sex with a philandering husband. This has contributed to the skyrocketing incidence of AIDS infections in women of childbearing age on that continent. And I admit, the Duggars (the family on reality TV with 19 children at last count) truly freak me out. While there’s beauty in the birth of each of those children, there is also an over-literal understanding of what it may mean to bear fruit for the sake of the larger community.

I think women need to pause and reflect upon the implications of redefining ourselves and our bodies in light of the male experience of life. To what degree have we lost ourselves and therefore the power of our unique female voices in this world? What do the rhythms and life-giving power of the female body and related experiences have to say to a hurting world? What messages can it give to the blossoming teenaged girl whose primary tutoring regarding her body comes from western media?

Reconnection with our bodies and all that they teach us is crucial to personal wholeness and the healthy female self, the necessary other in a world of ins and outs. I believe we long for wholeness in ourselves, selves fully at home in our own skins, fully embracing the female experience and the feminine values that have been forgotten or marginalized. Feminine values are things like the simple rhythms of life reflected by our own body cycles, marking a time for love, a time for autonomy; a time to reap, and a time to sow, a time for birth and a time for death. They include embracing the art of waiting, as the mysteries of life form outside of our line of sight and beyond our control (such as in a dark womb), moving us from the realm of mere reason into larger spiritual and intuitive realities. They call forth a whole self, fully present in the strength of relational connectedness making unapologetic requests and requirements upon the empowered other, so that they may be transformed as well.

A woman literally makes space within herself for new life to form. Making space for the other is a value that is desperately needed in this increasingly disparate and dangerous world. Embracing our full female bodied selves may be the greatest form of resistance to a world in which there is less and less space for the other, for anyone who differs, where violence, greed and too rigid boundaries threaten to implode our societies. Woman must reclaim her nature simply to Be and to show up just as we are, throwing off constricting definitions of beauty and worth that squeeze the life from us, as Amber Lane artfully describes her essay, Barbie and the Boa. And as Lilian Calles Barger says, the ongoing human conversation about “separation and connection, justice and care, rights and responsibilities, power and love” can take on new dimensions when women reunite with themselves fully, with voice and body fully embraced. Living comfortably within our own skin means we can extend embrace to the bodily existence of the other, all others, seeing more in them and not less, perhaps to change the way they view themselves and this world we live in.

For Further Reading:

In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, by Carol Gilligan

Eve’s Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body, by Lilian Calles Barger

article by ellen haroutunian, all rights reserved

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