Gendered Language, Spirituality & Female Exclusion

Guest Post for The Revelation Project by Kathleen Schwab.

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I began to experience God as a young teenager, not long after my 14th birthday. I don’t want to go into that story here, but I’ll just say that the experience was so powerful and visceral that my whole life changed shape. It wasn’t just me in my life anymore, it was me and God. So I started going to church, because that’s where people go to be close to God. The idea that being female would automatically shunt me to second class status didn’t occur to me: I would find that out over the next decade. Our whole culture uses language to exclude women, but in my experience exclusion in spirituality packs a particularly painful punch, because it strikes at the deepest part of us, the intuitive center that helps us find our way through a dark world, that feeds and sustains us when nothing else can, that part of us that connects to God.

Language is a powerful tool in this exclusion. Words shape how we understand the world. Freud said that people who cannot name an emotion cannot fully experience that emotion. We’ve all had the experience of struggling to put something into words, and then feeling the relief of finally being able to express it, even if only to ourselves. If you can’t put something into words, you don’t own it; you can’t inhabit it with confidence. 

Language is a powerful tool in this exclusion. Words shape how we understand the world.

When I first experienced God, I didn’t know language could be used to push me out, but I learned. When I was 16, the chaplain of my high school mentioned that I might like to take a look at some of the old church classics, and he pulled The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis down from his shelf. It is a 15th century text, which gave my suburban teenage self a bit of pause. Would I be able to make sense of a writer from five centuries ago? But, opening the book, I fell directly into the universality of experiencing God, and the sense that living a life devoted to Jesus crossed all barriers of time, culture, and place. This monk from 500 years ago was just like me, all people everywhere had something within them of a common pattern, the Kingdom of Heaven within that Jesus talked about.

And then. And then I hit Thomas a Kempis’ warnings that if a Christian was serious about the spiritual life, better to stay aloof from women. I realized that this book was not written for me, but for male Christians, as though they were the only Christians. A physical pang went through me. I not only didn’t count as a Christian, I was a danger to Christians, just by being myself, a girl. Somehow, I was no longer in the warm center of a communal spiritual experience, I was the enemy outside the gates, the one who undermines. 

At the time, I just put it aside and went on. I saw over time that male Christians didn’t exclude women on purpose; they simply didn’t think about us. In any mixed gender group men’s perspectives and experiences were “general interest,” and women’s perspectives and experiences were “women’s,” and therefore didn’t get group time. 

The fact that this is an unconscious bias was demonstrated by a Christian musician playing a concert at my women’s college one year. All the music was written by himself, and by the second song he stopped and spoke to the sea of female faces looking back at him, “You know, I never realized how male my lyrics are.” He stumbled through the rest of his set, every song describing Christians as strong men and brothers, every pronoun male, and every expectation masculine. He had clearly never even noticed this about his music before. Ripples of laughter went through the audience as he began, towards the end of the performance, to self-consciously try to make his lyrics more gender neutral. 


That happened back in the 80s, but I’ve wondered about him since. Before performing, he came to my dorm, where the Christian fellowship had set up a meet and greet for students and the performers. He was a gregarious fellow, married with several small children, and he was perfectly at ease in this women’s college, in a room full of women. Any church setting is at least half women, usually more than half. We are the majority, but to him we were invisible. In his songs, which I think simply express his view of the world, Christianity was for men, and female experience was a side issue that didn’t concern him. “I never realized how male my lyrics are.” I wonder if his perspective changed after that experience, if he began to look out at audiences and see the women as people, just as much as the men. I wonder if it changed how he saw the world.

I’ve just given an example of a man not seeing female experience, but I think women have also been trained out of seeing our lives and experiences. We don’t have the words either, because our culture tells stories from a masculine perspective, and all of us shape our stories around the larger voice of our culture. 


Even a woman writer with decades of experience can struggle. This is Ursula LeGuin in an introduction to a recent edition of her EarthSea novels:

“Why was I, a woman, writing almost entirely about what men did? Why, because I was a reader who read, loved, and learned from the books my culture provided me; and they were almost entirely about what men did…. I knew what men did, in books, and how to write about them. But when it came to what women did, or how to write about it, all I had to write about was my own experiences – uncertified, unapproved by the great consensus of criticism, lacking the imprimatur of the Canon of Literature, piping solo against the universally dominant and almost unison chorus of the voices of men talking about men.”  

At 51 years old, I feel like I am just beginning to find my rhythm talking about spiritual ideas authentically, from my own experience, from my body, from my life. I’ve finally stopped editing out anything that sounds too feminine, for fear it will be relegated to some kind of ‘special interest’ area, as if being a woman is as rare as being born with albinism. When I saw an article about a Calculus teacher who uses knitting to explain complex math ideas, spiritual parallels immediately jumped to mind; this time, instead of keeping my thoughts to myself because knitting is for girls, I wrote my ideas on my FB page Messages from God. The post ended up very popular. I don’t think people responded because it was about knitting per se, but because I was writing from wholeness, and not editing myself. In the coming decades, this is my goal: to be fully myself

The Enigma project, which broke the Nazi's secret code, was made up mostly of women, since so many men were soldiers. How did these women manage the advanced math needed for code breaking? Have you ever looked at a sweater pattern? You would think it was some sort of computer programming or an alien language - but in the WW2 generation, girls, moms, and grannies deciphered those patterns together over cups of tea, cheerfully turning out tiny perfect baby outfits, and Christmas sweaters with mind-boggling cables. They thought they were just making a nice holiday, knitting up a pair of argyles to make a boyfriend smile, but they were preparing to defeat Hitler. It's a story of the meek inheriting the Earth, as epic as the story of two humble hobbits traveling to Mordor because they are the only ones who can destroy the ring.

Whoever you are, and whatever large or small things you have done in life, you are capable of more than you know. God uses all our days to prepare us for the coming Kingdom, and to build the great Kingdom we all carry within us.

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Bio:

Kathleen Schwab is a lifelong lover of God, a literature teacher, and a wife and mother. Together with her book partner Therese Kay, she is the author of Messages from God: An Illuminated Devotional, a five week devotional inspired by the synergy of words and art in medieval illuminated manuscripts.

Link to my book Messages from God: An Illuminated Devotional here.

Link to the Messages from God Facebook page here.


The Sound Of Feminine Heartbreak

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What do you do when your own country breaks your heart and the sound of it happening to your other half is deafening? When your leaders and representatives repeatedly fail to live up to the aspirations of it’s citizens with the most modest of requests, such as decency, safety and honesty?

What we are witnessing right now through the response to Kavanaugh  is a large-scale dismissal of the feminine reality.  It’s a mass trauma perpetrated by leaders who would tell women in their most painful of moments that it’s actually men who are the real victims here (also known as gaslighting).

I can't imagine that any one of us isn't feeling the hot sting of what's happening here. If you are part of our community then I'll assume that you are deeply activated on some level and If not then I’m sorry you’ve had to go numb.

Since The Revelation Project was founded almost 9 years ago, Ive witnessed a massive shift, especially in the last year. Women have gradually and sometimes painfully awakened, and courageously mobilized to call out the toxicity of our failing culture. Many of us have gravitated towards programs, movements and forums to help us make sense of this deeply disturbing time.
I have had deep gratitude for the comfort and grace of our growing community on facebook and other social platforms, as well as the many of you who have actively supported our mission and been involved in our online programs, personal workshops and retreats.

To be clear, this movement  isn’t  about hating men. We don't rage at our men, but at the system that man created at the exclusion of women that keeps women from knowing the same respect, opportunity and representation. It's an unjust and unfair system that serves no one.

Throughout my feminist studies in University, I never imagined that I would be alive to witness a period that holds such significance, hope, and importance for women and minorities. While my heart is deeply saddened by the current turn of events, I'm also hopeful, because If the The Revelation Project has taught me anything, it's taught me that what is revealed, is eventually healed.  

I know that on the surface, almost nothing is what it seems. I believe that there are forces of love at play, despite the vitriol of hate on display that there must be a universal moxy that’s been working to reveal the ugly places where our planet and people are in desperate need of healing.

I choose to look at this time in America as a disguised gift, otherwise we might have continued on this way,  largely unconscious to the horrendous frequency and scale of violence and aggression that continues to live in the shadows while undermining our progress as conscious and thoughtful citizens. While we have not yet seen the tides change for the better, what we have witnessed, is what needs to change for the better. 

By challenging today’s existing harmful narrative, we can begin to use our own voices to narrate a new vision for our collective future. In other words, this is hardly where our story ends. This is, in fact, just the beginning. 

Life is a journey of consciousness where awareness and action are intertwined. Each new mystery or challenge that presents itself is driving us toward new revelations that will inform our future. There is not just one answer, but usually several that weave together to inspire and empower us, bring clarity, and help us to facilitate healing.

Therefore, we can’t give up. There is always another layer of healing that we need in order to move forward. When we are stuck or stopped, it’s not a sign for us to quit or give up, but actually a call to dive more deeply under the surface to get curious about who we are becoming. It's also a whisper to lean in, and notice where our sisters are hurting and hold each other as we process our pain and to sit with each other in the invitation of it’s infinite wisdom.

For now, sitting with the pain and sharing our feminine stories with one another is the wisest and best thing we can do. When we do rise to  begin again, we do so with a mended heart and the crystal clear eyes of women who see a new possibility for a better tomorrow. 

With love and hope,

Monica Rodgers

Please reach out if you need an ear to listen, or you want to write a story to share on our blog. Please also check out our upcoming retreat, which is right on point for this moment in time.
email me : rodgers107@me.com




The Trance of Captivity: How Women Unknowingly Internalize & Perpetuate Misogyny

OK Ladies, listen up. 

In full transparency, I'm feeling frustrated so I'm sitting down to type it out so that I can access some freedom for myself around this topic.  I have this way of becoming so impatient when I see something at play that no one seems to be talking about, and in this case it's around the unconscious way women tend to treat themselves (horribly) and other women (not so great either). 

My frustrations come from what I'll call "the trance of captivity" and how this plays out for us as women who have been raised inside of the patriarchal culture, and don't even really know what that means or how it impacts us in the world, but before I launch in...

Can we agree that Elephants are pretty powerful creatures?

They are, right?
They weigh in at around 24,000 pounds, and can stand as high as about thirteen feet.

Blog Post : The Trace Of Captivity How Women Unknowingly Internalize and Perpetuate Misogyny and Sexism.

Blog Post : The Trace Of Captivity How Women Unknowingly Internalize and Perpetuate Misogyny and Sexism.

Their trunks are agile enough to pick up a single blade of grass, and strong enough to rip branches from tree's or uproot one if so compelled. 

Despite their enormous power, elephants can be chained in captivity. But how is that possible?  What chain is strong enough to "captivate" an elephant? 

You have to start conditioning early, from babyhood. 

The baby elephant will struggle, but eventually it will realize that it can’t break the chain, so it learns not to struggle. It accepts that the limit imposed by the rope or chain is permanent, and that there is no use struggling against it.

There is an elephant inside each of us – as women, we posses enormous intelligence, capability and power. Just like the elephants in captivity, we don't realize our power to break the chains. 

How does this happen?

When women are born into Patriarchal society, from a very young age, they are conditioned to believe in the limitations and messages that get passed to them from society from a very young age (these are chains, by the way).

Girls and women, boys and men hear the sexist messages (lies and stereotypes) about women over their entire lifetimes. They hear that women are weak, emotional, passive, manipulative, with little capacity for intellectual pursuits or leadership. They are fed messages that compare their worth to impossible and insignificant ideals of weight, beauty, motherhood, professionals, and are told through thousands of tiny paper cuts, that they must fit inside a certain role or ideal to be acceptable or worthy as women (myth, bullshit, just NO).

Internalized sexism is defined as the involuntary belief by girls and women that the lies, stereotypes and myths about girls and women ARE TRUE.  Internalized misogyny is women themselves doubting, disliking, and disqualifying other women from their pursuits, or undermining their abilities because they are not aware of their own negative attitudes about women (themselves) or where they come from. 

There are two logical, predictable consequences of a lifetime of such messages 

  1. Boys / men will grow to believe many of the messages, and treat women accordingly. They will be thoroughly indoctrinated into their role in sexism, protecting their male privilege by colluding with the perpetuation of sexism.
  2. The same messages also stick to girls and women, resulting in internalized sexism / internalized misogyny. Women and girls are taught to act out the lies and stereotypes, doubting themselves and other females (AKA: horizontal hostility) This is the way women collude with the perpetuation of sexism and misogyny. 

An example of what internal misogyny looks like in a way most women might be able to relate: 

Photo from Your Story is Your Power: Free your Feminine Voice by elle luna &susue herrick

Photo from Your Story is Your Power: Free your Feminine Voice by elle luna &susue herrick

For our sexist system to be maintained and passed on to the next generation, we all must believe the messages (lies and stereotypes) to some degree, and collude with it by performing our assigned roles.

Most human services or social change organizations or even progressive companies who are all about making a difference in this area recognize that their mission cannot be completely fulfilled until all forms of oppression (racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, anti-semitism...) are addressed, HOWEVER, many of these same organizations do not recognize the forms of internalized oppression that interfere with accomplishing their missions because so much of the behavior is ingrained and unconscious by the very women who "support" their mission. 

Women’s organizations, in particular, have to become aware and take conscious action to recognize, acknowledge and interrupt internalized misogyny and sexism as it affects individual women as well as the organization as a whole.

We all need to start ZOOMING OUT and looking at ourselves through the lens of the observer, paying careful attention to the "story within the story" of where we are as a society and how we got here. As women, we need to encourage other women to recognize and examine the harmful impact of a lifetime of sexist messages and how they have shaped their own self image, as well as their attitudes toward other women. 

The impact of exploring and revealing your own hidden attitudes about women,  is the first step in noticing the trance of captivity and breaking it (there is no chain holding you, you powerful, beautiful beast!).

As women, we are in the trance of believing that women (ourselves) are not enough and we continue to seek approval from others instead of offering it to ourselves.   The very first thing we need to do is affirm ourselves and each other as capable, deserving and equal. 

Only then can we challenge internalized sexism and misogyny in our own lives, the lives of our children, and in our pursuit of a fair and equal society for all human beings. 

Please hit "like" below and share this with your people if you feel so inclined, and as always, THANK YOU, for witnessing me, I'm so proud of every one of you who is up to the task of revealing more...