International Women’s Day

March 9, 2011 § 1 Comment

International Women’s Day, it’s not another hallmark occasion, it’s not a celebration of the “feminine mystique”; it is a time for us to affirm our belief in and our commitments to the rights of all people. As women, we spearhead this vision by declaring that we matter.

As the old adage goes, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”  It wasn’t so long ago (1920) that even in our own liberal country, women had to fight to be referred to as “persons” in our legal system, a “minor detail” that disallowed our right to vote!

So the acknowledgement of International Women’s Day isn’t something we do as women, but as individuals who refuse barriers that prevent us from living out our unique destinies.  As we free ourselves, we allow for -we stand up for – the freedom of all people in all times and all places.

The most powerful thing we can do as feminists is to take a stand against injustices that hold us back in our personal lives, and to transcend, much as the heros of the hero journey myths, not only the external barriers but, perhaps more importantly, the inner blocks to our freedom.  The inner barriers are the things we say to ourselves, the insidious beliefs about our own self-worth, capabilities and potentials, which remain unquestioned critiques and ultimately draw the boundaries of what is possible in our lives.

A documentary on the life of Benazir Bhutto that I watched at the Saltspring Documentary Filmfestival last weekend knocked the wind out of me. Bhutto was a Pakistani politician who at 35 years old, became the first woman and youngest person ever to lead that Muslim country.  She was eventually assassinated by a suicide bomber in 2007, after having come back into power twice over the course of her life.   In her rich, varied and tragic biography she is noted for having endured solitary confinement as a young woman, the murders of her two brothers and father, all while raising a family of three children, living in exile on unfounded corruption charges, and suffering the imprisonment of her husband which lasted for eight years.

What is striking and fateful about her story is that, as the eldest child, her father overlooked her gender, and passed down the reigns of his own political power to her, rather than to her brother, the eldest son.

It appears she grew up in a world in which her gender did not define her destiny.  It’s hard to imagine the kind of inner resolve and belief in oneself and one’s abilities it would take to be the first woman to lead a country based on Islamic law.  Indeed, I believe that most women today, even those like myself, who grew up in a post-feminist world and political climate, would have a difficult time feeling worthy of that much power.   What is incredible about Bhutto is the femininity and grace that she carried in her mannerisms, which seemed to make her at once incredibly soft and vulnerable while at the same time unshakeably empowered, even in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

We don’t have to become political leaders to reach our full potentials.  What Bhutto struggled with in her life, the incredible tragedies and injustices that she fought in her outter world, aren’t that different from the inner battles that we all fight, day in and day out, as we try to make it in our individual worlds, rising up to embody our fullselves, slaying insecurities, the demons -the thoughts- that corrupt our paths and hold us back and create suffering- ours and others’.  We all have them, no one is exempt. The inner journey, I am sure, is the same for all of us and an inextricable part of what it means to be human.

As I watched the documentary on Bhutto I thought, this amazing woman has had all of her inner battles made manifest in the external world, and the world has watched as she has overcome them.  Towards the end of her life, the end of the film, she speaks about having transcended so many of her obstacles, that a spirit moved through her that was her voice and her message, that she had a power to communicate to the masses in a way that far exceeded the capabilities of one individual soul. She was connected to something much much larger than her.

Watching her move on the screen, watching this little girl grow up to be that angelic woman powerful beyond any normal human measures, I thought, she must embody the destiny of all people.  Because we are all – men and women alike – that perfect combination of humility and strength, vulnerability and empowerment, grace and fearlessness, feminine and masculine.

This is who we are when the boundaries have dissolved.

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