August 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’m really on a role here thinking about what it takes to have confidence in oneself. Sorry to relate it all back to moi, but, hey, it’s my blog, so I guess I can write about myself as much as I like. Isn’t it just wonderful to have a voice? I am very grateful for this blog. Being quite a shy person (though some people have not described me in this way I do recognize this as a quality of mine), I don’t always find it easy to find a captive audience, I’ve not been very comfortable with public speaking or performance, so this is how I get to slip my public persona, my voice, in through the back door. Also, I think it’s really important for writers to connect with their personal experiences when communicate a message. Plus it’s more fun this way. So there.
Revolution from Within is an amazing book and one that made me think about the feminist movement in new ways. Perhaps Gloria Steinem just gave voice to some ideas I was already mulling over, many of which I’ve already posted about on this blog. The main thing being that the feminist journey does not stop in the external world, it continues as an inner, what could even be called a spiritual journey, towards self fulfilment. This is what feminism means to me: that both the inner and outer blocks to the reaslisation of my fullest potentials are out of the way. Like any spiritual or contemplative path, this is a life long journey, though I do believe I have made some massive strides in the last two years. Seriously people, I was starting from zero in 2009.
Last year around this time I attended a Byron Katie (www.thework.com) retreat in Los Angeles. That was an opportunity for me to see just what a colossal beating my self-confidence had taken and to see that I had emerged frail and battered from the production of my first feature film, which brought to light SO MANY changes I had to make in my personal and professional life to undertake a journey towards self respect, self love, attention, self caring, and, of course, self confidence.
At the retreat, immediately lots of old issues started to surface. I felt like an outsider, and couldn’t seem to get into the “inner” circle. All the young people were connecting, hugging, chatting, I was in the corner too shy to make eye contact. In one of our exercises, we experimented with quite a lovely hugging exercise. I was so freaked out by this that I stared at the floor the whole time.
We had been told at the beginning of the retreat that flirting was not allowed, as we were abstaining from all of our normal habits, everything from caffein to sex, for the 9-day program. Keeping flirting at bay was hardly a problem for me as I was even too terrified to look up from the floor. What a great opportunity to look at all the thoughts racing through my head in those moments. Geez, what I noticed was so much shame and fear and lack of confidence.
At the end of the retreat we were told to go and mingle with people we hadn’t talked to, and were given some freedom and encouragement to try to approach people we found attractive. There were a lot of younger men there, some around my age, but none of them approached me! I concluded I must have really given off an unattractive vibe.
A few weeks later, a younger woman who I thought was part of that elusive inner circle I’d wanted to be a part of, emailed me with an apology. She said she had decided not to befriend me because I was “too beautiful and stylish.” She apologized because she had judged me and seen me as a threat. So confusing! So I was left wondering, what’s the deal am I “too pretty”, or “too ugly”, or “too…” (fill in the blanks)?
Byron Katie mentions that she has different thoughts about how she looks every day she looks in the mirror. She sees fat, or slim, or old, or young. Our perceptions of ourselves are constantly changing depending on our thoughts that day. There is no objective truth. We are nothing but our thoughts about ourselves. And others’ thoughts about us also change from moment to moment. We are not actually seeing one another at all, in fact, we are seeing a projection of our thoughts about another person and drawing conclusions about one another. I spent nine days feeling ugly, she spent nine days resentful because she saw me as pretty and stylish. There is no truth except for the one we assign in the moment.
I believe that my confidence was stronger, fuller, more vital and alive many years ago. Confidence is not something that automatically increases as we age, make no mistake about that. Even though we are usually not given more that we can handle, life can be very hard at times, and we shouldn’t think that we are always going to “bounce back” and “grow” from what has come our way. Sometimes we have to pull ourselves out and start from scratch.
But there are also systemic reasons for why a woman’s confidence might actually decrease rather than increase as she moves through different stages of life. Our beauty and naiveté in our youth can bring us into relationships with people who aren’t supportive or who betray us. When we get older, we have huge issues around beauty and aging that we have to deal with in order to feel remotely ok with ourselves. A line I read in Steinem’s book has haunted me. She writes about the importance of “unlearning” what we have studied in university; for example, we have been taught to “revere the classics of Western civilization, most of which patronize, distort, denigrate, or express hatred for the female half of the human race.” That’s an interesting point. Of course, the writers of the classics, which we read and regurgitated at nauseam at McGill, were not writing from a point in history that recognized women as whole beings with unique destinies at all. And we ingested this work for years and years. Has my confidence even been affected by my higher education? That thought makes me quite sad. How is it possible that even though I’ve won awards, travelled the world, went to the best universities, been published in Mclean’s, and single-handedly produced a feature movie, I still care about what the hot guy with the tattoo at my work thinks about me (and I’m convinced it’s not great), and get totally neurotic when someone wants to buy me a coffee.?
I have realised in recent months that there is a whole female culture and history that I am deeply a part of that I have actually rejected in myself and in others. It’s the energy that sewed me my first baby blanket, scratched my back as I was going to sleep, kept the house beautiful and enjoyed cooking dinner. This wasn’t a suppressed female being, but a female being that was alive and well and worthy. By rejecting this and disregarding it as unworthy, I have actually suppressed a very important part of myself and what it means, for me, to be a woman. In fact, this female culture is my history, heart and soul. I have loved and tended to the “masculine” parts of myself and done an excellent job at that. It’s the feminine parts that I have had a harder time cultivating and accepting. A lot of this comes out of having seen the feminine as so deeply vulnerable to the larger world. We fear that if we let our guard down and soften too much, the world will overwhelm us, we won’t survive, or worse yet, we’ll end up reverting to that time and place in history when we were storyless, voiceless and and invisible. How is it possible to be feminine, or simply, to be ourselves, and to not feel suppressed in the process. Perhaps this is the most important question to ponder on a journey towards the realisation of our fullest selves.
“Oh, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now…”
Thanks for reading.