I’m pretty sure I’ve chanted “down with the patriarchy” at a march or rally at some point in my life. But I have to laugh when I think about that now because really it’s as though I was chanting this demand to myself! Hear me out. It turns out that the battle with the system is happening internally. Yes, my friends, it’s time to dismantle the patriarchy inside ourselves!
I had this big, BIG realization recently that I was carrying a wound that I thought I’d let go of a looooong time ago. I recently did some work on healing the wounded father. If you’d asked me if I had a father wound before doing the exercise I would have patted your hand and smugly said, on no honey I spent decades in therapy resolving that! It’s alllll good now.
And the universe laughed!
It’s fair to say that most of us at some point have had some amount of conflict with our father figure. Some lots, some less so. What I never understood about these wounds was that they were keys to seeing and understanding how a system has harmed us. You could call it “the system wound” instead of the father wound. The system – the patriarchy – has dominated, devalued and sought to destroy the feminine for thousands of years. We came into this lifetime with genetic memory of these wounds (and to get super trippy on you, we are living out many other lifetimes that are experiencing those wounds right “now” so to speak. But that’s for another post!)
What ends up happening is that our fathers become the face of the wound. They are men; patriarchy is all “yay men!”; hence we project our pains of this system onto our fathers. It sounds obvious, I mean I knew this, but I hadn’t put all these pieces together. It was like I viewed the system on one side, and viewed it purely externally, and put the father on the other side, and viewed it all personally. The integration of the two hadn’t ever happened.
When I looked at my own wounds they were a lot about self-worth. You say women can’t do this, well I’ll show you I can! You say I should marry a man to take care of me, well I’ll show you how independent I am! I don’t need no man! Grr! (Rosie the riveter arm raised with fist!)
Upon further examination I was pushed to ask…why exactly did I care exactly so much about what anyone said about what I was or was not capable of? Why did I think I had anything to prove? Because if I knew myself to be whole and beautiful and sacred, I certainly wouldn’t give a poop about what anyone cared or said about me.
Huh. What was that all about?
Yes, I spent years working to prove myself. See I am good enough! I am your equal! Ok – well what did I want in return? Digging deeper…to be seen and valued! Essentially, LOVE. I wanted love you guys. And since this is a system wound – not just a dad wound – I wanted this SYSTEM to love me and see me! I wanted to be valued by this messed up, dysfunctional, icky gross system I’d been rallying against my whole life!
Now that is the definition of messed up, right? (Cue Jimmy Fallon….ew!)
The fact is, I’m a sacred woman. I AM love – I’m the eternal spring that gives and gives and I certainly don’t need to go begging for love from a system! Especially a patriarchy that I know logically to be horrible for everyone involved – men and women both.
I spent a lot of time in therapy, women studies courses and chat sessions about how we can dismantle the patriarchy to discover I wasn’t fully getting it. Finally exploring these questions as part of my spiritual work made me see it in a whole knew way. These choices I’ve made again and again only feed a system I don’t agree with or want to keep propped up. I need to remove these beliefs inside myself and align my heart with my mind. To see my value as inherent, not based on the outside system.
Talk about dismantling the patriarchy! Because if there is one thing the patriarchy doesn’t want it’s for us to align our hearts with our mind. The system seeks to disconnect us from our hearts – because the heart is the connection to the feminine! (Ah-ha! You seeing it?) Once we understand the power of our healed, aligned hearts to create a beautiful, loving world then poof! goes the patriarchy.
Of course, your father/system-wound may be different than mine. We all carry different wounds from a system that spent thousands of years telling us to disconnect from our hearts, to abide by rules of a system that would give us love and acceptance, and that threatened to harm us if we didn’t abide. (Hello, burning witches at the stakes anyone?) We came into this life with these wounds in our memory and specifically chose parents who would “push our buttons” so to speak so we could see and heal those wounds. Who knew the the key to healing was right in front of us this whole time?
The good news is that we don’t have to wait for a system outside of us to fall in order to be liberated. That is the masculine way of thinking, looking to the outside to try to understand and heal something that is within us. As women we do the work internally and then the world outside ourselves shifts. The patriarchy falls when we remove the dogmas, fears, entrenched beliefs and programs within ourselves. When we say no more to disconnecting from the longings of our hearts. When we seek to bring the mind and heart together, or as my teacher Magdala Ramirez says, when we allow the eagle and the condor to fly as one.
I for one am done trying to prove or abide by unwritten rules in order to to seek love from a system that doesn’t believe in my inherent worth. I’m ready to see my father in a new way too. I see how the system has wounded him, me–all of humanity. I’m ready to dismantle it within myself.
After all, “the people, united (within themselves), will never be defeated!”
I think it’s time to forgive all the Sarahs. Heck, not just forgive them — thank them!
They were doing the best they could. They had lessons to learn! I couldn’t be who I am today without them. Wait, this is sounding like an acceptance speech . . .
“I’d like to thank the academy, my husband, my agent, and I’d especially like to thank all the Sarahs who helped me get to where I am today:
“Law-school-Sarah, thank you for showing me what is possible when all my focus is channeled to one task. You showed me that if I stand squarely in my masculine I can achieve pretty much anything I set my mind to. (Never mind if most of it is a pointless exercise in competition, winner-take-all gamesmanship, and distorted-masculinity. But I digress.) You also showed me that there is a cost to be paid when it means shutting down my feminine energy that is the source of vitality, joy and creativity. Law school Sarah, I look at photos of you and I think, damn, that girl just needs a break. Your hair is dry, your face is puffy and you don’t really exude happiness do you? You showed me the costs of polarity within myself. Thanks for that very big lesson, girl. Now go get a facial!
“I’d also like to thank grieving, collapsed on the sofa new-mom-Sarah for showing me the gifts of surrender. Girl, you had a tough time of it too. Your mom died, your cat died, and you could have probably used a facial as well. But wow you learned that there are times to surrender and throw your arms up. To proclaim to the universe, I don’t have any answers so some help here would be appreciated. You learned to be still and receive. You gave so much of yourself that you were due for a long period of rest and renewal. You found your way back to your heart and lit the spark of the divine feminine within. You transmuted pain with your writing and art. That is kind of a big deal! I’m so thankful for you for showing the way back to the things that make my heart sing. What a gift!
“And lastly–this is the hardest one because it is so raw–I’d like to thank infertility Sarah. I didn’t want to see your gifts because not fair! But alas, you had them too. If it weren’t for you I wouldn’t have demanded my own vitality. Imagine that. It took a representative of the patriarchy–a male in a white lab coat, discussing my body like it was a machine to be fixed and tweaked–for me to realize that this was not okay. It was not okay that my body was dried up, spent, and lacking in feminine life force itself! It was a confirmation of something I knew and had ignored: that I had given too much and my cup was empty, that there had to be a better way of living than depending on another cup of coffee. You showed me, dear heartbroken Sarah, that you matter. You matter beyond comprehension. You matter more than your ability to create new life. Imagine if you had waited to learn this lesson from staring at a different clinical diagnosis? What a gift that you were shaken awake.
“What’s that? You cut to commercial five minutes ago? But there are so many other Sarahs to thank! Fine, but I won’t leave this stage without a fight. Oprah for president! Impeach Trump! You will not silence me!!” [Mic cut.]
For real though, there are other Sarahs to thank. But for today this will do.
What past selves do you think you might be able to forgive? It’s okay if it doesn’t come easily or quickly. This post is the end product of more sad, self-indulgent journal entries than I care to admit!
I’ve been thinking about the women on the family tree, their circles blackened and crossed out. Elizabeth – Breast, 31. Elizabeth’s cousin (name unknown): Breast, 30s. Elizabeth’s cousin (also name unknown): Breast, 30s. Diane, Breast, 44. Brain mets. 46.
Circles signify women, and blackened circles signify cancer. Lines through them signify death.
I’ve been thinking about how we explain and classify these early deaths of four women in my family.
THE H1686R VARIANT HAS BEEN RECLASSIFIED TO ‘SUSPECTED DELETERIOUS’, MEANING IT IS SUSPECTED TO BE A SIGNIFICANT MUTATION AND IS LIKELY THE CAUSE OF THE BREAST CANCER IN DIANE’S FAMILY.
Letter to my father from Barbara Ann Karmanos Center Institute, Dated May 7, 2015, informing of newfound information on my late mother’s BRCA1 gene mutation known as H1686R.
I’ve been thinking about how names on a chart and genetic abnormalities deny a simple truth: cancer over and over again struck the symbol of feminine nurturing and sustenance–the breasts of young mothers–in my maternal lineage.
I’ve been thinking about the assault on women’s bodies–and male bodies too. To paraphrase Eve Ensler, how patriarchy kills men in their hearts…and women in their breasts. Hearts and breasts.
Photo of my grandmother Elizabeth
Certainly I’ve been thinking about my late mom (Diane), and the grandmother I never met (Elizabeth), and her cousins (names unknown) on the genetic chart, called a pedigree. I’ve been thinking about other women too. Debby and Angela, two women I knew and admired, both not much older than myself, who died recently of breast cancer. Circles blackened and crossed out.
I’ve been thinking about the assault on our bodies and our land. Blackened and crossed.
I’ve been thinking about how our vitality as women and mothers is wrapped in the vitality of the earth. That waiting any longer to confront this truth is a pathology.
We can no longer deny the destiny that is ours by becoming women who wait–waiting to love, waiting to speak, waiting to act. This is not patience, but pathology. We are sensual, sexual beings, intrinsically bound to both Heaven and Earth, our bodies a hologram. In our withholding of power, we abrogate power, and that creates war.
Before there were synced calendars and day planners and even before there were trapper keepers, there was a little girl who sat in trees. She sat in the trees for what felt like hours, though it might have been mere minutes. She dreamed, journal-ed and sketched. She transported to a place of joy and bliss, cradled in the crooks of maples and oaks, conversing with imaginary beings.
Eventually the little girl grew up and as happens, she stopped sitting in trees. She loved her art and writing and singing, but she was so very good at accomplishing what was asked of her –grades, scores certificates and awards–that little by little the doing and achieving overtook the being and dreaming. Sure, there were times she held on tightly; she traded calculus for art class, she filled nearly three dozen personal journals, and she took an art class here or there even as an adult. But no doubt, over time she shifted. She was a girl with goals and one day even the art was remembered as the silly musings of a child; the dreaming became purely the intellectual kind.
Nobody told her to put down the paint brush. They didn’t need to. She was a good rule-follower and she understood the unspoken rules of a world that stood in direct opposition to the place in the trees.
And so it was that decades later she found herself at the finish line all burned out and dried up. Even then she didn’t understand why. She was doing her very best to practice self-care and find balance within the system. She followed her heart within this system. She defied norms within this very system! So why wasn’t it working? What she didn’t know then is that no system–even this artificial world dominated by deadlines, goals and outputs, where rest was seen as a means to at some point get more done–did not exist outside the laws of nature. As far removed as she was from those trees of her childhood, the moon still waxed and waned above her. The seasons turned. The oak rested in winter and sprouted leaves in spring. Try as she might to will herself to make it work–to power through as she had always done–simply no longer worked because the answers would never be found in the wasteland.
I was going to write about the wasteland, but first I need to tell you about vitality and joy. That they are your birthright. You were born to be a wellspring of creation as part of nature, not separate. You were born to bear fruit and yes, also turn fallow when the seasons turn. But all part of a rhythm and cycle of life. Not distorted or shuttered, not churning out products like a machine or lying withered–no, simply part ongoing cycle of birth, death, regeneration and rest.
Yes, vitality is your birthright. Let that sink in. It took me until my fortieth orbit around the sun to re-remember this truth.
To accept vitality as your birthright means to accept that these states of being matter in the first place. That joy matters. That how you are is as important as what you do.
Like most people I didn’t arrive to these lessons through sitting in the light. No, I was awoken by despair. By the creeping realization that my infertility was a symptom of a larger imbalance, including decades of small choices that placed priorities of doing over being. Choices that sucked away my vitality and juiciness, for lack of a better word. Painful lessons that being tapped out, dried up and exhausted wasn’t a state of being I had to simply grin and bear.
I no longer accept that my reality has to include certain compromises. It took sitting in a chair with a crappy ovulation report (“you have low fertility for someone your age – who let’s be honest, tends to have low fertility to begin with!” (I paraphrase)) to finally accept something I knew deep down, which was of course my body was sucked dry. Of course I could not longer dictate my body perform magic (creating a human for crying out loud!) with a snap of fingers. The well had run dry and the pied piper was coming to collect its dues. This wasn’t personal. It simply was what happens when nature is in imbalance. Too many years of drought? Well, you won’t see a good crop for some time. My body was no different.
And what of our great mother earth? As I frittered away in my own world, despairing about the state of my body, my family fled our home because of mother nature’s massive hurricane, category five, whose eye touched kissed the ground near our home, causing “once every-two-hundred-years” flooding. Mother nature is out of balance too. Too much has been demanded of her for too long.
Where does this leave me? Demanding vitality as my own birthright–and mother earth’s, too.
I’ve resisted writing about this because of an inner critic that tells me the story is cliche, predictable and trite. (Which basically means there’s a part of me that still believes it is all of those things.) But forget that. Too many women have been too silent for too long and that’s what got us into this mess. I write to silence my own inner critic but also to show my daughter how to cherish her vitality and joy. To fight for it tooth and nail the moment she sees it slipping away or being stolen from her in the name of progress.
The Wasteland burns us up and burns us out. Instead of following your own instincts, instead of discovering what it is that gives us joy, what makes our heart sing, we spend most of our lives trying to make other people happy…living from our head rather than our instinct for what is good and healthy.
The Heroine’s Journey for these times is a journey out of the Wasteland. Each of us has our own unique set of stories to tell: the story of the years we spent in the Wasteland, the story of our awakening, and the story of the path we took out of it.
The man who gives you a back rub without your permission. The guy who stands a little too close to you on the bus, so close you can smell the alcohol on his breath. The boys who joked and the men who joked and so many jokes but you were never laughing. The jokes you didn’t understand because you were too young to understand. The gut punch when you were old enough to finally get what they meant.
The prayers not to be raped by the guy who was angry you wouldn’t have sex with him. The relief when you weren’t. Rage over feeling relief.
All the winks. The condescending sighs. The “hey baby”s. The talking, always the talking, louder and over and in between and beneath. The drive-bys and the phone call after phone call after phone call. Will he stay or will he go now? If he stays it will be trouble. Another damn fork in the road. So many forks in the road decided by someone other than you.
All of it a catch in the throat, a drop in the gut. Fight or flight. Fight or flight. An entire lifetime dictated by fight or flight. Learned at an age when you couldn’t spell rape but lived it followed by an entire lifetime of repressing, running, hiding, cajoling, negotiating with it and then finally healing it. The slow release of a fist when you heard the first me, too. Healing when you utter your first me, too, into a microphone into the dark to mostly strangers because they all have me toos or have loved ones with me toos and they don’t know you so that makes it even better. Healing healing healing healing so much healing you are so tired of the healing please can I stop the healing? And the relief when you suddenly wake up one day and it’s three-and-half decades later and you discover that your life is no longer a series of fight or flight. Fight or flight. Fight or flight. You didn’t know it was possible.
So much healing mixed with a little bit of telling. The telling is mostly over and above around and beneath. Yes you spoke into the microphone and in circles of women in social workers’ offices and in therapists’ offices. But part of you is afraid and you are not sure why because you have already lost the support of so many and how could you lose more by speaking? How is that even possible? Anything is possible. The walking rape-trigger might become president and this, this is what finally does it. The walking-trigger at a microphone about to become president and this feels like another fork in the road. You decide you want to have a say for once in these forks in the road so you tell it like it is, not above or beneath but through the middle, a straight arrow of truth. And the world doesn’t crumble. And you realize this whole time you were afraid it wasn’t about them. It was about you seeing yourself, standing in the light the in truth of it all, the full unadulterated whole entire truth. All its horror and strength and despair and rising above. A thousand me toos tossed into the light. An arrow of truth pointing toward a future no longer full of too many me toos.
It seemed to come out of nowhere. But let’s be real, it had been building for weeks. (Precisely three weeks and five days…if you get my drift.)
Like all fine Americans, I got angry reading something on Facebook. But it wasn’t the orange one who set me off, or the skinny-tied-one or the gum-chewing-one or any of the other underlings.
Yes, it wasn’t Trump per se that had me fired up. It was the response to the crazy. People I knew to otherwise be kind, loving individuals–it was their defending of Trump that seemed to be the final straw.
Something in me snapped. Actually, no. Snapped to seems to imply a reckless breaking. This was a crack. A crack like an egg hatching. A crack of shifting tectonic plates.
I’ve been fuming so much that I’ve written three draft posts in three days because there was SO MUCH FIRE in me that, well, I needed to let it simmer down a tad before I could hit publish.
Wehave this man (orange) who is the archetype of a predatory male. The embodiment of patriarchy. The creepy dude from the office who forwards racist, sexist conspiracy theories and is the guy whom we generally can all agree is unhinged.
But wait, maybe we can’t all agree on that fact. And there is the rub.
Yes–this anger goes deep and is a fire breath I want to use to bring down the patriarchy! (Or something.)*
I understand that part of this anger is about my own deep wounds. My own story of harm by a mad man–and the perceived betrayal of the otherwise sane people who knew better than to believe a madman and ultimately align with a mad man.
This is also what I know about being wounded: there is no greater pain that not being seen. We don’t expect a mad man to see or understand our pain. He’s not capable of it. But the ones who we know are capable of empathy and love? We except better.
Yes, something cracked open in me the other day.
This anger feels deep.
Like the women of all the ages were standing as mountains within the earth, holding me up.
Who knows, maybe they are.
The question is, what to do with the fire-breath? We can’t keep it in–to do so will burn us from the inside out. No, this fire must be expelled. Unleashed. Art. Story. Dancing. Resisting with joy and humor and yes, righteous indignation too.Who knows? Maybe in the process we will burn down the patriarchy.
*(Huh, maybe my daughter does get some of her flair for the dramatic from me after all…)