Little Women Marching

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It’s already a little difficult to recall my personal feelings leading up to the Women’s March on January 21, 2017. So much has unfolded since that historical day. But I want to at least try to catalogue some of the movement – both inner and outer – before the chaotic and dizzying twists and turns of our current political climate demand a progression of my focus and energy.

I first stumbled across rumors of the march circulating on various social media platforms in the days following the election.  The news of this social movement in the making was all the evidence I needed to confirm that the surge in the progression toward gender equality did not dwindle when Hillary Clinton’s shot at the presidency went to crap. It was a reminder that all was not lost, that the hope born from being thisclose to shattering that damn glass ceiling survived some pretty brutal blows. The march revealed that hope was banged up, but rising still. It was strong and determined to make a comeback.

The march became something I could allude to when my two oldest daughters (who will both come of age during Trump’s presidency) would ask questions like, “Do you think a woman will ever become president in our country?” I could point to the women banding together, joining forces and having tough conversations about race and intersectionality, and simply say, “Look at these women, these sisters, leading the way! Of course there will be a woman president someday soon.”

When I heard about the controversial decision made by the organizers of the march to revoke a partnership with a group that maintains anti-abortion values, I felt my stomach turn – a familiar bodily indicator of fear. I knew that this controversy would not dissuade me from marching, but I knew it would generate an even more heated cultural response. My personal thoughts and beliefs on reproductive rights are complicated and do not perfectly align with either end of the political spectrum. My thoughts are informed by the research around the true impact of the varying policies and the realization that this issue touches on categories of race and social class in undeniable ways. I hope to unpack this highly sensitive and polarizing issue in a future post, because it feels important for me to find the language necessary for dialogue, to wrestle with it, to stop avoiding it out of the fear of being misunderstood.

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In the days leading up to the March, I knew that as much as hope was rising, so was fear – within me and beyond me. And I also knew that this time, I had to move toward my own understanding of what it means to live in the light, to live in the world, to live out loud. I sent a link to the Women’s March mission and vision statement and to the Unity Principles to my two oldest daughters for their own review with instructions to read it thoroughly and then we would process together how their own beliefs aligned or misaligned. Many conversations unfolded as we moved closer and closer to the big day. In these conversations I was afforded a glimpse of my daughters as my sisters too as they are approaching adulthood at what feels like mock speed now.

That glimpse expanded into an even larger window on the day of the march. It was a struggle for our trio of mostly introverts to make it onto the streets with the hundreds of thousands of other folks. We were grumpy with each other that morning and even still as we first emerged onto the scene of a gazillion pink pussy hats. We waited nearly an hour and a half to exit the park where the opening rally began before taking our first slow steps on the pavement. The grumpiness gave way to awe almost immediately. Our social anxiety was soothed as our bodies moved in unison with this collective of bodies, of voices, of stories, of hope generators and hope seekers. Shoulder to shoulder I marched with my daughters and thousands upon thousands of other sisters of numerous races and religions ranging in age from nursing infants to women old enough to be pushed in wheelchairs by their already silver-haired daughters. And there were countless male allies too – some filling the streets, and some (like my own husband and my brother-in-law) tending to children so their partners could march freely and take in the beauty and power of the day.

For over three hours we marched. We were hungry and our bodies were hurting but our hearts were so full. My sister-daughters and I listened, and witnessed, and felt the cries of our muslim sisters and our sisters of color and our Trans sisters imploring us not to forget about them after this historic moment. And so we vowed with so many others to stay committed, to mark that moment as only the beginning. I had no idea just how quickly that vow would be put to task.

The lash back that spread throughout social media and on certain news networks did not come as a surprise. It was disheartening but certainly not shocking. Millions of women (and men) banding together to declare their nonviolent resistance against the oppression and suppression of human rights for all people. It was a powerful expression of alliance and allegiance and so of course it was met with both conscious and unconscious measures to deconstruct that force. I imagine that power struggles are as ancient as humankind. But time and time again it is revealed that love is more powerful than hate, nonviolence more revolutionary than war, and hope is more compelling than fear.

So here we are. It’s been nearly two weeks since the Women’s March. Hope took a few beatings and will likely continue to bear the brunt of several blows yet to come. But it is rising still and this is just the beginning. 

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The Knowing

Saint Mary (the Blessed Virgin) with the Christ Child. Engra Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Saint Mary (the Blessed Virgin) with the Christ Child. Engra
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

I have had three mystical experiences in my life. The first experience, or encounter, led to a spiritual conversion as it occurred in the midst of an alter call when I was 16. The second occurred as I was being frantically rushed back into the operating room after barely surviving an earlier c-section and emergency hysterectomy. I was hemorrhaging once again and my life hung in the balance. It was clear that my mother understood the severity of the circumstances as her last words to me were to fight like I’d never fought before and she pleaded with the nurses to find my husband so he could say goodbye. I am convinced that the details to both of these encounters with the Divine will haunt me (or inspire me) for the rest of my life. But they aren’t the details I’ve been considering most in this Advent season.

Instead, I keep returning to the third and most unexpected and unpredictable of the encounters. I was in the middle of making my bed (a rare occasion on any day other than Saturday cleaning day) after getting all of the big kids off to school when I heard that little ding on my phone. Briella was occupied with some toys in her room across the hall (also a rare occasion when she was a young toddler). The incoming text was from my sister-in-law sharing news of a mutual friend who went into a fast a furious labor that morning, unable to get to the hospital or even await the arrival of the paramedics, giving birth to her second healthy and beautiful daughter on the wood floors of her own master bedroom with her husband by her side.

Initially I was shocked at the details of this unconventional birth story. And then I was elated that both mama and baby were totally healthy and all would be just fine. And THEN I began weeping tears of joy…or at least I think that’s what they should be called. Immediately after my brain processed the news I had received, I was overcome with a wave of emotion the felt like some strange conglomeration of immense joy, deep sorrow and overwhelming terror. It brought me first to my knees. No joke. I felt like an unexplainable weight came out of thin air and rested on my shoulders, lowering me to the ground. After a few seconds on my knees, it became clear that even this position could not bear the weight of what was leveling upon me. And so I got lower. I laid flat on my stomach for only a moment when I realized this was not right. And so I rolled over onto my back facing the ceiling of my room, palms up and open to receiving what was to come.

Let me be clear – this is not a typical experience, nor familiar posture. I don’t believe there is a single soul who has come to know me in any way, shape or form that would ever describe me as anywhere close to charismatic. I am more of a skeptic than a believer in most things in life. I walk and stand and sit and sleep with more of a guarded and protective posture than an a posture open and willing to receive. But on that particular morning I surrendered to lying flat and letting the conglomeration of feelings fall upon me in a surge unlike any I had experienced before. And as I did, there was a knowing that came into me. You see, in each of the 3 mystical encounters I have had, that is what happens – some kind of knowing enters in. It’s a knowing that was not there before. It’s a knowing that I don’t believe can be explained by complex human emotions or neuroscience. But I keep searching for research that could indicate otherwise. I am still a skeptic most days after all.

On that morning, in that position, in that moment, I knew that women and their powerful and beautiful and strong bodies mattered. I laid there weeping as images of my own recent traumatic and near death birth experience danced across my mind. I laid there weeping as I recalled the birth narratives of each of my girls. I laid there weeping as I remembered all the ways my body had been broken, used and abused..by others…by myself. I laid there weeping as I began to know in a new way that the female body, that my body and being, was and would always be in collaboration with the Divine. It was the first time I knew the power of the Divine Feminine in my own body.

It’s hard to know what to do with this knowing in a world that works so hard to disprove it. But this season of Advent, the witness of Mary has given space to contemplate this knowing with intentionality. The notion that God collaborated with a young girl whom the world granted little (if any) power, to usher forth good news that would mark humanity in the most profound way aligns with the knowing that came over my body, mind and soul that one day.

Here are a few of the reflections that have guided this season for me:

The Allender Center Podcast with Dr. Angela Parker 

The Christmas Message we need by Brian McLaren

God Needs Women by Rachel Held Evans

“What if, instead of doing something, we were to be something special? Be a womb. Be a dwelling for God. Be surprised.” ~Loretta Ross-Gotta

 

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Reflections from a Woman Who Has Been Grabbed by the Pussy

“Grab them by the pussy…” I heard him boast. Immediately, a wave of nausea pulled the blood from my face and disrupted all contents within my stomach. It was an all too familiar indicator of past trauma. In the days that followed I watched woman after woman courageously find strength enough to come forward publicly in an effort to discredit the defense that this was just “locker room talk” or “boys being boys.” Men and women alike who support Trump’s campaign persistently attempted to minimize the entire ordeal by suggesting that these were only words but several women were boldly denying that this was the case. The retaliation and efforts to shame and delegitimize and squelch their respective voices was predictable, though still sickening and discouraging and re-traumatizing for countless women who’ve been victimized in a world where rape culture plays a significant role.

“Grab them by the pussy…” I kept hearing him declare in my own head. And every single time, the memory of that day at the water park returned. My sister and I were enjoying the thrill of anticipation along with hundreds of other people floating in the giant wave pool. Soon enough, the earthquake-like waves would disrupt the relatively peaceful waters we were floating upon. Our two brothers would rejoin us as soon as they were done braving other more terrifying water rides. And just as the waves began to emerge, and the crowd’s squeals and screams of delight erupted, it happened. As I was holding onto my inflated tube for dear life, my legs dangled freely beneath. Suddenly and without warning I felt a hand first grab my vagina and then there were fingers that in a flash maneuvered beneath my swimsuit violating and disempowering me in an experience that lasted less than one minute’s time.  All of this occurring in broad day light and in the midst of hundreds of people. I was disoriented and shocked as I instinctually kicked my legs and attempted to get away. In the chaos of the surrounding crowd I looked all around attempting to spot anyone who looked suspicious when less than ten feet away I saw the head of a young teenage boy surface above the water as he was clearly swimming rapidly away. He turned around to look in my direction and I noticed that he was the only person in the vicinity wearing swim goggles, which likely enabled him to better target his victims. At that very moment, my two brothers came running into the wave pool laughing and splashing their way toward our direction. My older brother looked at my face and was able to discern that something horrible had happened as I pointed toward the boy and somehow communicated that he had “touched me.” My brother went after him unsuccessfully only to return later with an apologetic shoulder shrug.

Yes, I was grabbed by the pussy when I was 13 years old. I am adding my voice to the powerful chorus of women who have been impacted by a long history of gender objectification, subjugation and violence. I have only ever mentioned this particular story to my husband and perhaps a therapist until this recent election season. Truth be told, in a long line of experiences of sexual harm or violation, this particular aspect of my narrative was relegated to the seemingly less consequential end of the spectrum. And I am now coming to understand that the very fact that this violation is ranked and qualified as less significant is evidence of the problem that we face as a gendered world.

I have spent most of the past month wanting to retreat from the world, hiding away in my house tucked away with only my family, maybe even curled up under covers in complete seclusion. Sadly (or perhaps fortunately), the demands of our daily life have not allowed for this kind of departure from all of humanity. Whenever there is this internal desire to RETREAT! RETREAT! RETREAT! I know I need to work through some aspect of my relationship with the world or with the people that make up the world. So here I am. I am trying to work through something with all of you. More specifically, I’m trying to work through something with the 45.5% of my brother and sister Americans who support Donald Trump and believe he is fit to be the President of our shared country.

As a woman who has been grabbed by the pussy, both literally and metaphorically, several times over as I’ve journeyed through life these 37 years as a female, does my voice – or even more fundamentally – does my body or personhood matter? I imagine most of you would answer in the affirmative, but here’s the thing – that’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to believe. The message I hear these days is that in the minds of nearly half of our citizens, a man who has spoken both publicly and privately about women in demeaning, objectifying and misogynistic ways is still worthy of representing and leading our government, country and culture well into the future. What I hear is that to many, the hope (and a risky hope at that) of a candidate who will adhere to one party’s political agenda is of greatest value regardless of how this individual views (or likely treats) women day-to-day. So you say that my body matters – but it’s value is clearly relegated down on the list of priorities. Or perhaps you would argue that his words and thoughts about women are far less consequential in the big picture of life in America – and to that argument, I implore you to reconsider this belief. Words matter. Words are fueled by thoughts and attitudes that make up the culture and the experiences that shape our shared reality in ways that often go unacknowledged and under explored.

The truth is that I am a representative of only one people group that Donald Trump has set himself over and above and against. Therefore, I understand deeply that women are not the only individuals who will be impacted in a profound way if as a nation this man wins the highest seat of our great country. So many of us are anxiously awaiting this Tuesday’s decision, hoping still that as a nation we are ever growing in our capacity as a people to live into the honorable ideals and principles at the root of our democracy. Within the next four years, two of my daughters will phase out of childhood and fully enter into adulthood. My almost 15 year old, Bailey, was reflecting the other day on how powerless she feels in this election that will impact the world that she will be emerging into as an adult female. I have never felt the weightiness of an election like I feel it now. As a woman who has been grabbed by the pussy, I am awaiting an answer to the question posed by this election – does my body and personhood matter? Does the personhood of all women, Muslims, immigrants, people with disabilities, people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ matter? May it be so. May it please be so.

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Facing the Pain Together

There we were, the three of us sitting in Faith’s room coming undone together. A day of reacting, of crying, of hurting led us each to our own discoveries. Faith was the one first able to get at what was going on underneath the reacting, the irritation, the symptoms. When she started to name how different she perpetually feels from her peers, from the way things are or the way girl’s are supposed to be, and how she feels sick to her stomach when she thinks about such things, Bailey and I both found her there too. We were back in our own truth and in our own depth, instead of being relegated to our surface selves – the selves most notorious for revealing all the symptoms of the deeper wounds. The most common symptoms are exasperation and irritation at the world around us. Bailey echoed Faith’s sentiments on what we’ve come to refer to as high school girl culture and added her own disorienting and disillusioning experiences related to an event they both attended over the weekend.

Instead of trying to help guide them toward some sage wisdom or manufactured sense of empowerment in their individuality, I let my own tears begin to fall and do the painful work of receiving the greater truth that was coming to me in that raw moment. This was what I had feared most when I first wondered if I should ever have any children. How could I survive witnessing my own daughter(s) having to endure the torture that comes with being female in this world? Wow, I would think to myself, that’s a little dramatic, Shauna. And then I’d remember the darkest years. Years that followed the abuse. Years that followed the objectification and sexualization. The years of splitting. All the girl parts of me that were ever free enough to explore, to feel pleasure, to experience life subjectively were no longer allowed in public. And eventually they forgot how to be present in private too.

I swallowed whole some new illusions when I first turned to religion. I wanted to believe that I could somehow shield my children from the atrocities of a long standing societal system that perpetually objectifies one half of it’s members. If I could become godly enough, stay married enough, be the best and most holy mother to my children, gain wisdom enough, and heal psychologically enough to prevent the pattern of abuse from recurring then my children would be held together, protected somehow from the splitting I had experienced.

But here we were. Sitting together in the bedroom of my 16 year old feeling the impact. Because no matter how hard I have worked for the past 16 years at mothering to the best of my abilities, I could not shield them from the culture hell-bent on ravaging and devouring and splitting the lives of girls and women. And this fixation ruins boys and men too. But that topic is for another day, another post. Neither of my teens have stories of abuse. Neither of my teens have survived the complete fracturing of a family unit. Neither of them are even remotely as needy and starved for affection as I was when I was their age. I thought that if I did everything I could to ensure that they had very different stories from my own, that they would be spared from the pain. Relatively rational creature that I am, I knew they’d still have to encounter hard things, but I envisioned they’d be entirely unencumbered by the rules and expectations bestowed upon them the moment the doctor announced, “It’s a girl!”

But here we are. The truth is that my daughters, because of the sheer fact that they are in fact my daughters – descendants of this particularly hyperaware and ridiculously sensitive and perceptive human they call mom, they had no choice but to swallow the red pill. So they see life as it really is. They see all the rules. All the masks. All the denial. All the pain. Much of the horror. They hear the stories of blow jobs and anal sex from 15 and 14 and sometimes 13 year old girls who claim its their best form of birth control. They ask if it’s even possible for a girl to orgasm in either scenario and then they are even more confused as to why sexuality for their peers is about being objects and not subjects. They feel split too – between who they really are and who they would need to be to fit in with their peers. They feel the poison all around them and they see their friends drinking it freely because it’s all that they have known. They even know that some of the poison seeps into their skin because it’s in the air all around them. It’s on the walls of their high school. It’s even in our house because their mama drank from the poison for much of her early life and she’s 37 and still trying to purge the toxicity. It’s on their screens. It’s in their music. We are all choking on it all the time. And my girls and I…we know it. And it feels unbearable and overwhelming sometimes. We feel powerless much of the time. And it feels painful all of the time.

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Rage Rising

The topic is never far from my mind. I wonder if that is true for most (if not all) women. Perhaps my own awareness of the topic is intensified particularly because of my work and training as a therapist alongside my own history of past sexual abuse. But then again, the current statistics suggest that if we do not have a personal narrative of sexual violation, then we most certainly know some who do. So if the topic isn’t as much of a focus for others, dare I say that I think it should be.

I have been a fairly mild-mannered feminist for the past several years. Never wanting to be perceived as a raging-man-hating-f-word, I have tempered my passion. I’ve justified the tempering as the necessary means to foster a “safe” environment for discussion around difficult categories. I want to be heard and I realize that raging out loud doesn’t always lead to the conditions for the kind of dialogue I want to encourage. And there it is. Did you catch that? It’s one more example of how internalized patriarchy has molded my own posture in the complex world I find myself navigating as a female. I have internalized a belief structure that requires women to either cut off their rage or to hide it under layers of gentleness, politeness and thoughtfulness in order to be deemed worthy of lending an ear.

Rage found it’s way to the surface this week. If only for a moment, the seal was broken. After reading about the recent gruesome attack and gang rape of several aid workers in Sudan, being reminded of how rape is used as a weapon of war, and hearing news of Brock Turner’s release from jail after a measly three months, it was reading through the school dress codes for my daughters’ middle and high school that caused my blood to boil. Because it’s all connected. Somehow. And I hope to unpack some of that in future posts. But for now, I’m allowing the rage to surface.

My husband could tell that something was bothering me earlier in the week, and so he asked me what was wrong. I turned to him and the words came forth like a flame, “What the hell is wrong with our culture that this keeps happening? Why do we continue to produce emotionally underdeveloped men who think it’s their right to do what they want with women’s bodies? I’m so mad. I’m pissed at male culture. Honestly, I’m pissed at men.”

Telling the truth about my rage has opened up all sorts of deeper questions in the days that have followed that declaration. If I’m pissed at men, how does it affect my relationship with my husband, my fathers, my brothers and male friends? How does it impact my parenting? What am I really mad at within male culture? What is at the root? And ultimately, what do I do with the anger? Because that’s the hope — that anger can compel action toward a greater good, that it can generate movement or growth or transformation once it’s expressed or revealed.

Once again, I’m reminded that the first step is always deepening our awareness. It’s letting what has been unconscious, or subconscious, come into consciousness. So I’m swimming within that process, letting it do it’s thing. And then I’m sure even more will rise up. Who’s with me?

 

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16!

It’s true. We have a 16 year old in the house now. I haven’t been able to write much about what that feels like as a mama. The words are still trying to find their way to the page. But I wanted to share the words I was able to share with her this last week on her special day. 

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Photo taken by Bailey Gauthier

You are 16 today. When I take in the breathtaking beauty of your now almost-adult-face, I see all of those earlier and squishier versions of that very same face too. I see the very same eyes that captivated a room when you first came out to greet us. I see the playful toddler who loved to dance and sing the Barney theme song (Lord have mercy). I see the three year old grin that could fill an entire room with it’s hint at mischief. I see the observant four year old who always took in everything and everyone around her. I see the six year old who’s heart broke when you discovered and then attempted to remedy how the world could be crueler to some than others. I see the nine year old that was profoundly impacted by the very human pressure to perform and be perfect. I see the 11 year old girl who started to recognize her own capacity as an athlete. I see the 13 year old who began to experience the complexities of relationship with the opposite gender. I see the 15 year old who endured an enormous amount of loss and transition all while facing the frustration of having a physical body that can be fractured.

And here you are at 16. I know you are as anxious as you are excited about approaching adulthood and the responsibilities that come with the freedoms. I know that when you look around the world today you are often confused and disheartened. But YOU, my daughter, are braver than you have yet to realize. And you bring more light into this fractured world than you have yet come to believe.

Lately I have imagined that there is this ticking clock looming in the background of our relationship. It’s as though a part of me believes that my time as your mother somehow ends when you turn 18. Yes, I know – it’s a little nutty. But I’m sure that’s not shocking. Maybe every mama feels this way while her heart is racing to catch up with the metamorphosis of her daughter rising into womanhood. Sometimes I think my relationship with time is more complicated since that day three and a half years ago when we all wondered if my clock had run it’s course. So I am daily reminding myself that what we have is today. And today you are 16. And we are both here to witness this moment right now. You know your mama loves words, and so I wanted to mark this day with some very intentional words. I want to bear witness to you and the woman you are becoming with each passing year.

Just a few weeks ago we sat together and watched the Democratic National Convention declare Hillary Clinton as the first female nominee of a major party for the 2016 presidential election 96 years after women won the right to vote. In one of the introduction speeches, actress Meryl Streep mentioned two characteristics that all notable women throughout history possess: GRIT and GRACE. You, daughter, know something of these words too.

GRIT is the stuff of fierce women. You’ve had it since birth. And thank God because you will need it still in the journey to come. Sometimes life is going to kick the shit out of you. I know you have seen this already – but I assure you, the shit will continue to fly. Harnessing grit isn’t about becoming hardened or learning how to fight back. It’s about learning how to still STAND even when life tries to knock you down. It is about toughness, but not the kind of posturing of strength we see so often today. It looks more like a sticky, grainy, gritty resolve than it does any form of violence. It’s about holding on to who you are and claiming your value in the face of a culture or system that at times will attempt to diminish your worth. It’s about always knowing and declaring that you matter because you are not because of what you may or may not ever do in this world. Grit is the stuff of real women who stand against a world that tells them they’re never enough. So grit is necessary to stand in your own two feet and fill up your share of space in the world.

GRACE is the stuff of honorable women. It’s about how you move through this life, how you see yourself and how you see those around you and beyond you. Grace is knowing that you are worthy and so is EVERYONE else. And I really mean EVERYONE else. Even those who live as though they’re not worthy. It’s about accepting your limitations and not believing that they diminish your light. Living with this kind of grace is as much about offering it as it is about knowing it deep within yourself. It is the place I’ve seen you return to time and time again. May you continue to know GRACE and be GRACE as you move through your life.

Beyond your GRIT and the embodiment of GRACE, there is something else that has carried your heart through hard times and planted your feet on scared ground. My dear, you’ve been able to embody a spirit of GRATITUDE. I first saw it in your four year old eyes as you would often take in the beauty of those Colorado sunsets. This one word, really this one posture toward the universe has been my own life raft many times over. Choosing to employ a lens of gratitude even when it felt impossible never failed to lead me to the well of a life force larger than any heartache I’ve ever encountered. And I’m not talking about a contrived, shallow, dishonest sentiment here. No. not. that. I’ve heard it said many times that when tragic things happen, we should look for the helpers. When dark things happen, look for the light. Not because the helpers remedy the harm. Not because the discovery of the light means the dark no longer exists. But we must hold space to see both the good and the bad. The practice of gratitude helps us see. all. of. it. I love that even as a young girl, you’ve always been profoundly moved by the beauty of this natural world. May that kind of awe extend always to all of life and all it’s complexity and creativity.

So on this day, your very sweet 16 indeed, I give you these words and reflect back to you the light you bring forth day by day. 

With love to infinity and beyond,

Mama

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I had these words hammered into a lovely Thistle Stone necklace. Photo by Bailey Gauthier.
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