April 3, 2013 § 3 Comments
Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.
I HAVE been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.
This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.
At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.
The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.
In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.
The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.
It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.
I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.
The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”
We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.
The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.
I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.
The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.
Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.
Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media
November 21, 2011 § 1 Comment
“She said I’m sorry baby I’m leaving you tonight
I found someone new he’s waitin’ in the car outside
Ah honey how could you do it
We swore each other everlasting love
She said well yeah I know but when
We did – there was one thing we weren’t
Really thinking of and that’s money –
Money changes everything
When I was a six-year-old girl in grade one, one afternoon I found myself at lunchtime all alone. All the other students except for one were somewhere else — but I didn’t know where. It was the first time in my life when I felt I was “missing” something. I just couldn’t understand where everyone was or what they were doing. I found out later that day that my classmates had started to play a game called kissing tag and for whatever reason, I didn’t get invited, or else, more likely, due to my shyness or uncertainty I simply hadn’t “tagged” along.
The one remaining student was a very tall and cheery girl who was joyfully eating her lunch at her desk, alone. She must have only been six also, but seemed much bigger, and older than me. I suddenly had the idea that if I gave her some of my lunch she would play with me. So that’s what I did, though she only reluctant accepted my offering… A few days later, she told me she wanted to play with me anyway and I wouldn’t have to give her any lunch from then on. Gee, it hadn’t occurred to me that she might have wanted to play with me all along.
There are so many elements at play in this story, but the one that triggered my memory of it are the discussions we’ve had of late about our global monetary system in the wake of the occupy movements that have swept across the globe. One thing that I find particularly troubling is how so many of our relationships have been transformed into currency.
What we once called the primary elements of human interaction are now transactions. We pay to be kept company, to make art, to learn, to be listened to (if we are sad), to be bathed (if we are elderly) to be touched (if we ache); we pay to find a partner (online dating), and often, we think about our worth in terms of dollar signs and digits — both our own and one another’s) when we are deciding who to love and how. Was this not the skill I had inadvertently picked up that day in the classroom? I knew instinctually (or culturally) that my lunch gave me value; I had leaned on my own bargaining power in lieu of my intrinsic self worth and deserving of love and inclusion.
Thankfully, it wasn’t too long after that sunny late morning, that a new friend came along — she had been busy on the playing field and had kissed many a boy more than I (a trend I would reverse a few years later) — and embraced a friendship with me that has lasted 30 years. I had been rescued by something more real than a sandwich: authentic love, fun, and caring that money can’t buy or take away.
And yet, decades later, I have found myself falling for the same old patterns in which I know I am not alone. I once convinced a boyfriend to travel overseas with me and since he wasn’t entirely sure about that being a priority in his life, I offered to employ him and pay his way. While he was certainly capable of the task at hand, I’ve had to ask myself looking back on it, how much of this offering came out of a belief that I would be more loved — loveable— if I had something to offer. The trip was, what some professionals might term, a “complete disaster.”
I think part of the problem is we have so little faith in each other, we think that no one will be there for us if we don’t pay them, as if money were the only value worth trading.
One of my favourite spiritual teachers, Byron Katie, often speaks about the magic of her current relationship through which for the first time in her life she finds herself with a love she has “done nothing for.” What this means is, she is not loved because of how she has styled her hair, or because of her waistline, or degrees or habits or history. She is loved and loves because of love itself. This is what we are capable of when nothing else gets in the way.
In our world, based on the monetary system that we currently have, it is very hard not to measure ourselves and what we value with a dollar sign. In fact we are being raised to put a cost value on things that used to be simply a measure of natural human goodness. And yet, here we are, in a monetary system, for better or worse, all playing the same game. And I am no exception.
It is important to notice that how we spend our money reflects an underlying and often unrecognized value system at work. We could even say that money reflects our morality — what we value and who.
I find it a huge drag, for example, that most of the work traditionally done by women in our culture, including often taking years off work to raise the next generation, is still unpaid/underpaid. I find it strange that women, no matter how educated, still remain disadvantaged economically when we chose to have children (and therefore exit the labour market), and especially if we inadvertently find ourselves down the road as single mothers. Does our monetary system reflect the lives, goals, opinions and values of women in our culture? I don’t have the answer, and obviously the question is a complex one. While I do feel that in this country at least we are moving more and more in that direction, it seems to me an important question to continue asking. And what about women in other countries? Do the ethics we boast here in Canada extend beyond our own boarders?
It seems especially important to point out that much of the frustrations we experience as women, whether they be from trying to raise a child on an inadequate maternity benefit, to finding ourselves earning less money than our male colleagues (it still happens), are often simply systemic problems and not individual failings. These scenarios are by-products of living in a culture that has given certain functions and people more value than others. This is why, if we were living in, say, Sweden, our experience, and therefore our choices, is going to be much different than if we are living in, say, Bangladesh. The same thing applies to minorities of all kinds, from the colour of your skin to the weight you carry on your body to the gender you love, to your aptitude for arts or sciences — we are in a constant and in many ways inescapable relationship with the value systems of our larger culture. We are not only individuals, we are also part of a social whole that can either endow us with potentials or limitations. It is important to notice that we are both individual and collective in our experience of life.
There is nothing wrong with using money to reflect our values, in fact, I see this as the only way out of the global, social, and environmental mess that we find ourselves in today. The problem begins at the moment when we make money a value in and of itself, and forget why we’re here at all: to connect, to love and be loved, to be safe, to evolve and to grow, in equality and in mutual recognition of our values and dreams — our precious lives.
Now, I’m off to find me a job.
Thanks for reading
November 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
The ancient Greek philosophers said that in order to love someone, you must first know him. True love comes out of a depth of knowledge we have for another person, and, in my opinion, this is a life-long process, as human beings are universes unto themselves. Love happens in the continual opening up to knowledge about who a human being is and what they care about. It is something that happens every time we meet one another, this is why we ask “How are you?” We are saying, I want to know you, because I care about you. I don’t want to know the “you” from last time we met, I want to know the you today, again, anew. Don’t forget in Genesis it was Adam who “knew” Eve, and that’s how it all began, with knowledge … yes, we all know what that really meant.
For this reason, I think that the quality with which we see another person is the foundation of all love. I have found that working as a journalist and filmmaker can be akin to a kind of therapy. Journalists are powerful listeners. We are in essence saying to our subjects, “You have a story to tell. I see you”. Perhaps there is no greater gift we can give another person.
Some Medieval philosophers also posited that God created the world and human beings so that the universe could become conscious of itself. I simply love this theory. It is kind of like the koan which questions, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?” To what extent does the universe exist if there is no one to be conscious of it? Does humanity make visible the beauty of the world, through our strivings to gain knowledge of it? Does humanity make nature precious, through our ability to love? Are we not in a continual relationship with life, because of our consciousness itself.
Descartes said “I think, therefore I exist.” Some spiritual teachers, such as Eckhart Tolle, have called this a “fundamental flaw” because it is actually thinking that separates us from our true nature, which arises in the absence of thought. I would say that, in the interpersonal realm, I exist not because I think, but because I am seen. In other words, I exist because you exist. I exist because you see me. And you exist because I see you. This is why we have a deep longing for connection that is built into the fabric of our biology. Our connections give us life, not only socially, but spiritually as well. Our connections make us human and whole.
At the same time, in the absence of being seen by other people (hey, it could happen), we know we exist because we have a relationship with ourselves also. This is called self-knowledge. And self knowledge is also self love!
I was lucky enough to have shared my week with a quite cute blonde who made me conscious of the sad truth that I’m not really a dog person, even though I love this cutie enormously.
Thanks for reading.
October 25, 2011 § 3 Comments
I’ll never forget an interview I heard with Leonard Cohen on the CBC quite a few years ago, where he said that we should never throw anyone away. This is not a perfect world, he said, and if we look at our life through the lens of Biblical history, we can put ourselves in the context of the story of Genesis, and how Adam and Eve first fell from Grace. We are no longer in Paradise, and life is simply not designed to be flawless. We are living in an imperfect world.
My struggle is with how to acknowledge the moral and ethical differences I have with people while holding a love for them in my heart at the same time. My struggle is this: How do I not throw anyone away?
Within most of my relationships, I’ve at one point or another made discoveries that have shocked me. I’ve found out that the person who I thought was standing in front of me had secrets he or she wasn’t telling me, or opinions I didn’t know about. These discoveries sometimes felt like ripples of trauma moving through my body and mind, as I had so badly needed to see these people as flawless, kind, ethical and honest (conforming to my definitions of these attributes, of course) .
One scenario that stands out for me happened while I was working as a journalist in Morocco in 2004. I had been hired as a managing editor in order to launch Morocco’s first English online new source. I was intricately involved in assigning articles, covering stories and editing the final texts for publication. After working there for many weeks, our team — a group of about 6 young Moroccan men and women and myself– had some disagreements about how to write about the death of Yassar Arafat, the Palestinian leader who had died the day before. In the context of a news article, my colleague wanted to write his name as The Hero Yassar Arafat, the fact that he was a hero was an unshakable truth for my Moroccan friend. Being educated in a Western Jounalism school, my bias in a news article was towards objectivity in our communication, and so I requested that we not refer to him directly as a hero in the text, since this was subjective and therefore open to individual opinion. It was of course a heated and controversial conversation. I truly didn’t want to make any claim as to weather or not Arafat was a hero and had little invested in it either way. With my Western journalist’s cap on, my mind had been thoroughly trained in objectivity and fairness and this was my main professional goal. I was deeply committed to these principles, and this is where the conflict with my colleague and I began.
What happened next surprised me and shook me to the core.
In the midst of an increasingly heated debate, my co-worker launched into a discussion about the Holocaust. He told me that it had never happened, and that it was simply a conspiracy designed to gain Western power over the Middle East. He had all the literature to prove it. My other colleagues chimed in, some from their desks accross the room, while others gathered around to contribute to the argument. What unfolded was the realisation that everyone I had been working with for many weeks did not believe that the Holocaust had ever happened. These people were my friends and colleagues and confidants, and I had no idea what I should do with this new found knowledge. I ran out of the office sobbing, and went to phone my boyfriend.
My boyfriend at the time was Jewish and the grandson of Germans who had fled the camps on the last boat to leave London for Sao Paulo, Brazil. His life had been deeply affected by Nazi history, and, I believe, as for most Jewish people with this past, the impact of the Holocaust continued to affect him on a soul level. Only months before, we had travelled to Berlin together and had visited the Holocaust Memorial site in the centre of downtown Berlin, as well as the Jewish Museum; we had even visited churches where Jews had been rounded up and held before being sent to the camps, and historical synagogues that were now, in the absence of a thriving Jewish community, simply museum pieces, albeit heavily guarded 24 hours a day.
In previous years I had studied Chomsky, who wrote a sentence that haunted me throughout this time: “To deny the Holocaust is to deny your own humanity.” I’d studied documentary film at McGill and in one of our classes watched archival footage of the ditches where the bodies of thousands of people were thrown in the days leading up to the Hitler’s defeat in 1945. These images had made me so nauseated, I had to run to the bathroom and throw up. Nearly a decade later, still very much identified with the Jewish story, I’d undertaken a Jewish conversion program.
So there I was alone, in the centre of Casablanca, on a pay phone, crying to my boyfriend in Montreal. I wanted it to be a perfect world. I wanted to share the same values as my colleagues. I needed compassion for a history that I knew was true. I needed to know that my boyfriend and best friend (also Jewish) would always be safe. I needed to know that morality would always prevail and that eventually there could be peace in our world and protection for all people.
A deeper dilemma was how to now relate to my job. Should I stay and work it out? Should I discuss this difference of opinion? Is it wrong to talk about whether or not the Holocaust existed? Would I then, in the process of opening up this question, lose my own humanity? I knew in my heart that any dialogue at all would give credit to an opposing position, and this felt intolerable to me.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to spend much time thinking about what to do next, because I was dismissed a few days later. I don’t think that my dismissal was directly related to this event or to our differing opinions; my boss told me there simply was not enough “team magic” to warrant me continuing. That was an understatement (getting paid for my two months of work would prove a challenge as well, but that is a story to be told another time).
So here I am today, faced with dilemmas that are not the same, but are dilemmas nevertheless. How do I maintain a friendship with someone who I have witnessed abuse an animal? How do I hold love in my heart for someone who has hit a woman? Do I maintain a relationship with an ex-boyfriend who lied to me? Can I have a relationship with that fun new friend who is homophobic? Do I sacrifice my own boundaries and moral convictions by opening up my heart or my life to people whose ideas confront my very sense of self, my moral identity?
When I address these questions with an authentic heart, in the context of my spiritual life, I have to recognize that I love these people, and there is nothing I can do about that. I can try to push the love away, but in a life of inquiry based on spiritual goals, love continually comes back to haunt us, even when we don’t want to admit to it. How can I love someone who has done something so terrible? Does compassion for a perpetrator condone his actions?
I know at a gut level that closing my heart to anyone simply means a world in which more hearts are closed.
I know that even when I have opinions that are so drastically different from other people, we both, at our core, share the same humanity, and the same desires for safety, connection, flourishing and self-realization. These thoughts bring me to a place of grief, grief for the times when my own heart has closed, grief for all the suffering that has ever happened in the wake of a closed and hardened heart. Grief for the realization that every time I have hurt someone, I have carried the burden of those actions inside of myself and felt the hurt too — that whatever I do to you, I do to me. Grief because this is a far-from-perfect world. Inside my grief, my heart expands into an aching acceptance, a surrender to the complex and messy living moment.
My personal goal is for what Martin Buber called the I-Thou (or I-You) relationship, which means simply that we stand before people with a presence that is not muddled by fear or judgement. We hold a space for the entirety of another human being, for his or her suffering, confusion, pain and strivings, and we hold this space for ourselves also. We become witnesses rather than arbitrators. Our relationships then become whole and they become sacred.
The question then moves from one of whether or not I can tolerate another person’s opinions, and what I should do about them, to this: Do I have the capacity to love? Can I find a path to love in an imperfect world?
Today, years after that warm afternoon in an office in Casablanca, I am still struggling to find this path.
October 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
”For years we have worked for power, money, and prestige. Now all of a sudden we’ve learned that those are just the values of a dying world.”
-Marianne Williamson, Return to Love
During the shooting of my film Taxi Casablanca, I spent a day interviewing a well-known Moroccan feminist and activist in Rabat. She and her colleague from Oxfam Quebec piled into the back of Zakia’s taxi and I interviewed them as we drove around the city.
At one point, I asked her how she could reconcile the liberal rights for women she was advocating with the religious laws as they are practiced in Morocco, especially when at times the two appear so opposing. I was expecting her to give me an historical and impassioned interpretation of the Qu’ran that would somehow conform to her visions for equality and justice. Instead, she looked me squarely in the eye and said this:
“We are demanding justice, it is not our job to figure out how to conform our demands with the religious texts, it’s up to the authorities to do that.”
This was a really awakening moment for me. I’ve always believed that in order to have justice, I must also be responsible for finding the way there. This has at times felt daunting and impossible. In fact, what this woman was telling me was that we don’t have to be learned intellectuals or people of authority to know the difference between right and wrong. She was saying that fairness is a birthright. We don’t have to be lawyers, scholars, translators, or versed in hermeneutics; in fact, we don’t even have to be literate.
Justice is something that lives inside of the heart. That is why children have some of the most finely honed abilities for discerning fairness. They know when they’ve been neglected too long and need attention, they know when they deserve to be seen, encouraged, loved, or when a toy that was taken from them should be returned. Justice isn’t something available only to those who can defend their positions. It is something true for every one of us, it’s democratic that way. It’s a feeling. It’s an experience.
All too often, we use our minds to make an argument for what we think is right. We hire lawyers, draw maps, enforce rules, buy guns. Usually, we use our mental faculties to get away with something that we know in our hearts is wrong, rather than to defend and protect what we know is right.
When I think about some of the injustices I’ve experienced in my own life, I immediately try to come up with a solution, a way of reconciling; in other words, instead of listening to the knowledge of my own heart, I get to work, I envision the solution, I become the advocate, I read books, I make my case, I convince and cajole. Today, I want to say that sometimes simply what I feel inside is enough.
Inspired by the occupations that have been happening in cities around the world, from what little I know about this movement, I wonder if it is indeed a protest of the heart. This protest isn’t as much about solutions, as it is about acknowledging what we know is an injustice, acknowledging that the injustices taking place across our planet and in some of our own lives, are enough to make us weep. We don’t yet know the way out, and maybe we can’t, until we have fully acknowledged our experience.
Perhaps then we can ask, How do we find a path to justice? How do we find the solutions?
Perhaps, at the same time, it’s not our job. Perhaps simply demanding it is enough.
October 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
“Some stories are articles. Others are short stories, or novels. Others are poems. But some are movies. And some are sculptures in clay. I think a story, if it’s a good story, will in a sense dictate the form in which it needs to be told.” From an email from friend who might wish to remain anonymous.
September 15, 2011 § Leave a comment
There comes a time in life for every one of us when we have to, in one way or another, step out of the closet. Some people have noticed that shame, fear and self-consciousness are a part of our very human existence, the fabric of what it means to be a person. Theories about this stretch right through our history back to the story of Genesis, when Adam and Eve ate from a forbidden fruit, recognized their nakedness, and from then on, felt ashamed of who they were. It is not easy for anyone to be truly, wholly, herself.
This week I walked along side my cousin, who identifies as lesbian, in the amazing Salt Spring Island pride parade. As I walked with her through downtown Ganges, I felt the vulnerability of all eyes on me, and of what a fragile feeling it must be to come out of the closet as gay, to your family, your community, your country, and your friends.
I started to think about what it means to me to support, love, and encourage my family members and friends who are gay, and realised that I not only stand by them because I love them and want to support them on their paths to become ever more fully themselves, honest, authentic and cherished people in this world, but that also, truly no one among us is free until everyone among us is free. So I also walk for myself. As long as one group of people remain repressed or persecuted, judged or shamed, I know that this remains a possibility for my own life also. The energy that judges and seeks to suppress the life of a lesbian woman, is the same energy that keeps all of us from expressing the totality our vibrant and whole true natures. There is no one among us who is not vulnerable to this force. And therefore, we must all stand together for the rights of our friends, family and neighbours. Their freedom is our own freedom also at the deepest imaginable level.
July 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
I am sitting on my porch, watching the world. I am lucky enough to call home a place that is surrounded by trees and teeming with life. Sometimes this reverie is interrupted by ideas or opinions that make me question myself and lose the happiness, joy, and sense of possibility I know I deserve.
Like the other day, while driving and listening to the CBC, I heard an interview with Kay Hymowitz who wrote “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys”. Now, I haven’t read the book, but the interview really irked me, not to mention the title of the book. There is so much wrong with this concept, I am not sure where to begin.
So, I’ll just begin. Women don’t turn men into boys by rising up to meet our fullest selves, by becoming educated, empowered, creative, and free individuals with so much to give to this planet. The whole discussion is wrong to me. We need to stop searching ways feminist movements have hurt men, rather, we must allow men to take responsibility for their own purpose in this life, for the realization of their own fullest selves, and for their responsibilities to this world, to women, to eachother, and to themselves. This is not to abandon men, but to empower individuals to seek their own unique paths to happiness. In so many ways, this is not even a discussion about gender. This is a discussion about the human potential, and about individual destinies. Man or woman, there should be no barriers to the reaslisation of ourselves, our talents, our abilities, and to our freedom of choice – there should be no limits put on our ability to shape our lives. Women are sometimes easy scapegoats for problems that have arisen in communities of men – for why there are less men being educated today than women, for why families are collapsing at unprecedented levels, for why men are finding it harder to secure jobs. While these may be some unintended consequences (though, I am not even sure they are) of the changes that have taken place in our society since the rise of feminism, the rise of women is not the cause of the “downfall of men” -even that concept sounds totally ridiculous to me – that concept alone could only make sense in a competitive culture that polarizes the sexes. Yes, we may have unique needs by virtue of our different genders, but we are all in this boat together. Could there not just as easily be a book called “how the rise of the industrial revolution has turned men into boys” or perhaps, “how the rise of the unprecedented destruction of our natural world has turned men into boys”? Why must the rise of one gender be measured against the decline of another?
The “rise of women” has often been spoken of in economic terms – and I feel this book is no exception. There is even a theory that the liberation of women in the workforce was “allowed” only so that the economy could gain an advantage: more products could be produced, bought, and sold. Women are huge consumers, and therefore, in a capitalist market-based economy, it is highly advantageous that women earn capital. In a society and culture based on capitalism, women and our freedoms are easily talked about as having an important function in the ever-expanding quest for economic growth.
I do not believe that women are or should be responsible for coming up with a plan for how men will be most fulfilled in expressing themselves in the world, or for how they can maintain their advantage over us in universities or in the workplace. I do not believe that women should carry any burden of guilt for what we have managed to accomplish. If men are flailing in university, marriage, and maturity, why would we look to the “rise of women” to seek reasons or solutions? Why would we not approach men directly, ask what is missing, ask what is valued, ask what is longed for. Perhaps this is the job of men alone, to turn towards themselves to seek answers. Perhaps it is the job of women to protect our interests as women, to lobby for changes that are in our best interests as mothers, thinkers, workers, buyers, creative individuals, wives, daughters, sexual beings, and visionaries.
I can not take to heart any theory that makes me question the realisation of my full potentials, and that is why a book with this title is problematic for me. Even more problematic, when I weigh the alternatives: less than one hundred years ago, during a time in which my own grandmothers walked the earth, women were not allowed to vote, and it was nearly impossible for women to get a higher education. Not only that, we were not considered as “persons” in the Canadian constitution. If we want to talk about the systemic barriers to freedom, it might be more important for us to evaluate the ways in which our histories have come to impact our beliefs in our own abilities, our self-confidence, self-love, and self-realisation. I believe that even though we are enjoying so many of the freedoms that legal advances have brought us (we in the west can divorce, work, vote, play music, read, dream, travel, among other things – please don’t forget many women around the world today do not have these basic rights), we still live in the shadows of the confidence-crushing laws and customs that preceded our times and trickled down through the generations.
I think we need to look to societal reasons for why or if men are struggling. Is there something that is inherently fulfilling to a man that is not being met by our school system, the way our society, our cities and our communities are being structured? Is our society failing men? Are men failing men?
The author of this book went on to say that women around, say, my age, are having a more and more difficult time finding a responsible, mature, educated, capable husband, and that, as women, we have to be concerned with getting on with our reproductive longings by a certain age, as, yes, there is a biological clock to contend with – a concern that is not a primary focus for men around my age.
Well, if I wanted to I could easily go down this path of despair and anxiety. But I will not. And do you know why? Because I have a relationship to my higher self and a faith in my life, and because I know that I live in an abundant universe that does not say “no”. I know that I am not a statistic, but an individual, and I believe in the magic and miracles of my life. I do not believe this is naive, and these are not ideas that have come to me without hard work – I have earned them, and therefore, I know I can stand by my truth.
People are frantic in their search for love and sex and relationship, because we know on a very basic level that our connections with one another will be the most important things we accomplish in our lifetime. We know that if we are successful in love we are successful in life. And so we want to see our destiny fulfilled. That is why statistics like those of Kay Hymowitz are so terrifying to us. We believe that we can be unloveable, by function of our age, our weight, our education, our abilities. And so we scramble to ensure we won’t end up a statistic. But at the end of the day, no one can really convince us that we are loveable and irreplaceable, except for ourselves.
In searching for the title of Kay Hymowitz’s book, I stumbled upon another book titled: Man Up! Nobody is Coming to Save You! I kind of enjoyed this title, like a little cryptic message from the god’s of Amazon.com. Dear readers, no one is coming to save us! If you want love and fulfilment and to live your dream, and if you want equality and self-realisation then it’s time to get to work, take responsibility for your own life. Man up, Woman up, whatever that means for you.
We are – men and women alike- powerful, delicious, creative forces of love. Don’t let anyone ever convince you otherwise!
June 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
We reveal so much about our unconscious inner lives, and the destinies we will write, through the stories that we tell.
Humor piece re-write By Mary Fowles For Joel Yanofsky March 26, 2003.
When I broke up with my boyfriend last September I wasn’t expecting to fall in love again so quickly, especially not with a neurotic coral-beaked Agapornis Personata. I’m firmly convinced it wasn’t coincidence that the single and searching Lovebird I affectionately named Safran came into my life. It was just weeks after my boyfriend told me that “opening up the relationship” could be good for us. I didn’t agree. As it turns out, in Safran I may have found the most monogamous male on the planet. Like any great romance, our love blossomed in the wake of tragedy.
At the Lovebird warehouse where he entered this world, my sensitive bird did not fare well. Crammed into a tight rectangular box bared with impenetrable aluminium and at least ten other common foul, Safran, with his sensitive and complex soul was driven mad. Longing for the world of his ancestors, the roofless sky that marked a life of freedom, Safran slipped into the darkest of depressions at the young age of six months. Knowing that attacking the boundaries of his prison would only lead to a headache and a flaked beak, Safran turned upon his own foot in a bout of irreconcilable self-loathing. It began with a mere nail-biting problem. He would sit on the plastic perch beneath the hum of the florescent lights of the warehouse and chew until each little black claw was taken off. And then he started on the tiny toes. Toes that in nature would have been used to grip the bows of willow trees and pounce on worms, in captivity were useless. Three out of four were taken off within months. Over night the burgundy scab would heal over the stump, only to be re-opened again in the morning when Safran focused on his day’s work. In such a state, Safran was more likely to die from blood loss than be purchased by a bird-lover.
His capitalist breeders plotted an imminent execution. It was at this point that my neighbour, a kind soul who worked at the warehouse brought Safran to me. “He’ll bond with you,” she said, “loving pets can nurture the most tortured of hearts.”
Lovebirds are one of the few species that mate for life, raise children together and love one another until death. But if they cannot find another bird in their vicinity, they will bond with humans, or so the story goes. Safran and I met was I was 25.
“Love birds live to be 35 years old, that means he will be with you until 60,” my neighbor told me, as consolation that in Safran I would find a faithful life partner.
It wasn’t long before I realized that Safran was more likely to bond with the tip of my nose than with my person. In bird world, I’ve come to understand, anything my size that moves or makes a noise is The Enemy. His small form and, dare I say, tiny brain makes it impossible to fathom me in entirety. In truth, I don’t really exist to Safran. He relates to me in parts. For example, I can tell by the way he looks sideways at my hand when I change his water bowl that he considers The Hand to be a threat to his existence. My mouth, on the contrary is an interesting object from which strange noises emanate to interrupt his pruning. I am a threatening fingertip he hides from; I am a few strands of hair he nibbles at sometimes. That is all.
For months after Safran arrived we had a routine. At night before bed when the lights were dim I’d lean into his cage where he hid beneath the soft paper towel. “I love you, Safran,” I’d say. Then he’d shimmy sideways across the bottom of his cage to hiss at me violently, bearing the razor sharp edges of his beak and thick pink tongue. In the mornings I’d put my finger into the cage to offer him a pomegranate seed- a tropical fruit of his native Tanzania. He’d then bite me sharply, drawing blood.
As Safran grew strong and healthy, he stopped gnawing on his foot. I left the door of his cage open and encouraged him to take what limited freedom he could, considering the circumstances. It was a revelatory experience to watch the day he used his beak to climb out of his cage and then perch on the top. I know he understood a world that for once was not latticed with the bars of incarceration. And since that time he has learned to fly around our bedroom with inspired liberty. Perching on the geraniums and hibiscus at the window, he stares into the open sky often and engages in intelligent conversation with the swallows and robins. At night I’d often dream he had curled up on my neck sleeping peacefully, the soft black plumage on the top of his head lightly resting on my cheek. Or I’d dream that wing-to-wing we were flying together over rainforest and sea, stopping sometimes for a sip of fresh morning dew that had formed on a strand of grass.
In the morning I’d awaken. “Good morning my sweetheart,” I’d say. “Squawk” he’d bark back at me with those characteristically beady, vacant, ebony stares. It became more and more apparent to me that my love for Safran was unrequited. I began to wonder if my ex-boyfriend didn’t have a point about the possibilities of an open relationship. Indeed, I myself began to long for one.
It was around this time that Safran picked up one of his least appealing habits- what I’ve come to term the Chinese Torture Chirp. Around 6:45 on most mornings of the week would then awaken to a piercingly shrill wail, not unlike a dog whistle with a particularly disturbing rhythm. During that time I would often rise up from my sleep to the sound of my own voice screaming “Shut up you worthless beast.” Staring past foggy sleep-filled eyes I’d confront my Safran clinging to the edge of his cage with a terrifyingly defiant stare.
I decided at this point resolutely that if I were to open up the relationship on my end, it wasn’t fair that Safran suffer in solitude. “We all deserve to know the love of a kindred spirit,” I affirmed. And so Peachy entered our lives. She looked lovely in the pet store the day I brought her home: long black lashes, a dainty rosy beak and perfectly quaffed feathers of turquoise and a hint of golden blush. “A sexy little thing,” I thought, “just what my Safran deserves.” I didn’t know at the time that Peachy, a pretty and healthy bird, had the attitude of a pit bull. The domineering-verging-on-psychotic beast crushed poor Safran’s machismo, what little of it he had. When I placed her gently into Safran’s cage expecting a love-at-first sight affair, she charged head on to peck his delicate scalp like a slice of stale bread. Her chirp was a terrifying refrain that made me question the existence of God. I had to separate them or watch Safran die a slow and painful death. For the next three days he cowered nauseated beneath the paper towel in the corner of his cage. When I lifted it up to check on him, he would hiss at me like a cornered cat and then vomit violently. Today all that is left of Peachy is an $80 credit I incurred at the local pet store when I returned her.
Safran and I have grown to co-exist. I maintain a deep love for him, but am less attached to his loving me in return. He maintains an irrational fear of me, but trusts I will not invade his boundaries. Often to describe our union I invoke the romantic song writer Leonard Cohen, “Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.” Safran the bird; I the drunk.
June 19, 2011 § 1 Comment
Hello Readers, whoever you are, where ever you are,
This year, on my birthday I thought I would explore some recent changes for me, such as why I no longer have a TV. Well, I had been watching Oprah for years, if not decades, and as you already know, she stopped her talk show last month after 25 years. That seemed like an opportune time to kick the habit — Oprah being the only show I watched — and so when I moved across the country last month, I left the TV behind.
Many of us shed a tear as we watched her dramatic three-day farewell. These days were certainly over the top with glitz and glam and some people felt uncomfortable with the ease with which she allowed herself so much attention, affection, and admiration. We watched her on stage being serenaded and adored by countless celebrities. We watched her tears and decades worth of archival footage and images of her. We have questioned how much egoism might lurk beneath the facade, and for some of us that triggers resentments and even anger — “Who does she think she is, anyway!” If Oprah were a man, perhaps we would tell him to get off his high horse and take it down a notch buddy.
But Oprah is not a man. And for me, that is the point.
Oprah represents something larger that is brewing inside the hearts of women everywhere, which is a small and unprecedented glimmer of what I like to call the consciousness of deserving.
It was that spark – and then the flame — of the consciousness of deserving that ushered in the suffragette movement in our own Western culture, that smashed glass ceilings in the workplace, that reformed legal barriers to equality in marriage. There was a time when perhaps we thought we were done, that the mission of equality had been accomplished.
Oprah showed us that there was actually more work to do. There were other transgressions to be uncovered. She addressed sexual abuse and made it a public conversation for the first time in history, heisting women out of their secrets and their shame (she would later do this for men also), she created a safe international forum for women to tell their stories and experience healing and vindication. She addressed weight and body issues for women, and though she never really seemed to arrive at loving and accepting her own body, she made it clear to us that we should love and accept our own. She made psychotherapy, self-exploration and self-improvement mainstream, encouraging us to “live our best life.” She advocated for gay and trans-gender rights, validating people of varied sexuality as whole beings, and of course, she has been an invaluable roll model to African- Americans – a topic that is so important I don’t even feel capable of properly addressing. She exemplified empathy and caring, but in a way that always showed integrity; it emerged from a rare kind of self-respect she ebodies.
I love Oprah for all these reasons, but more importantly perhaps, I love her because historically women have not had this kind of example. Our histories as women have been largely buried and rarely in the past have we been validated as individuals with unique destinies. All to often we have been discussed in terms of our “functions” as providers of sex, meals, and offspring. It seems antiquated to speak this way when our Western societies have so clearly progressed. But have they? Yes, on the outside we have transformed the world for women and for men, and feminism seems almost an embarrassing anachronism of preachy morality.
What Oprah taught us through her example is that even when the outter world has transformed, there is still a part of the female heart that resists that spark of the consciousness of deserving. We are afraid of our successes, and we are afraid of other people’s reactions to our accomplishments. We are afraid of real love, respect, and kindness from our partners and of where that might lead, of the responsibilities that might entail. Mostly, we are terrified because this is uncharted territory and we aren’t sure we deserve it (our successes, our beauty, our fulfilment, our happiness) or will know how to handle it when it arrives. We don’t want to offend our mothers or our grandmothers by criticizing their unique female cultures – their very existence and how they lived their lives – and we don’t want to make them wrong. We are afraid of the losses we will have to grieve — for some of us there are decades of unmourned losses (loss of respect, integrity) and of feeling undeserving of love. We may therefore be afraid of our anger, and the sadness and grief below the surface. Finally, we fear that we could be annihilated if we rise up to meet our fullest selves. Could any one of us stand on that stage the way Oprah does and not feel terrified? Is there a part of our very cellular design that remembers the witch hunts of centuries ago, or how we were silenced through violence and rape, or through legal dictates, throughout history? Can we become our fullest selves and not feel the terror of how vulnerable we actually are?
So there is a part of us that wants to see a more humble Oprah, standing on stage, saying “Oh no, stop, this is all too much, I don’t deserve it.” The fact that she didn’t do that is why she is a role model. Instead, she opens her arms wide to the love and lets it move through her.
The world has made exceptions for Oprah to stand in this way because we understand she has been disenfranchised on the deepest level. She is Black, a woman, grew up in poverty, is “overweight”, was sexually, physically and emotionally abused as a child. As she herself says, it was nothing less than divine grace that put her here. Her example exists because there is something larger than us, within us all, that is telling us it is time. We want to see her succeed because we want to see women everywhere rise above these systemic prohibitions to our happiness. We want to say that just as we deserved the right to vote, to work, and to divorce, we also deserve love and freedom and kindness and flourishing – we deserve our destinies.
Last year at this time, I was exploring the work of Gloria Steinem and my birthday wish was that we all have the power to say “yes” to ourselves, to turn towards ourselves, to listen and to make choices for our happiness. So this years, in continuation with that theme, my wish is that we allow others to turn towards us too, and that we feel deserving of that love at the deepest possible level, that we find the strength and the profound courage it takes to let love move towards us and through us.
When Oprah stands like that, so noble and so open, so deserving, she isn’t only standing for herself, she is standing for all women in all countries in all times. She is standing for us. She is making it OK. She is allowing us to stand like that. She is telling us that now is the time.