But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. ~Kate Chopin
The other day, surfing across the web in no particularly linear or rational way (I guess that’s what surfing is), I came across this quote from Rush Limbaugh:
“Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”
It was 2008. A long time ago. He was referring to Hillary Clinton. With a masterful stroke of the mouth, he attempted to dis-empower this woman by using one of the patriarchy’s greatest weapons, the deeply held belief that age makes women ugly, worthless and powerless.
I remember hearing it then and it made my blood boil. Yesterday, when I saw it again, I wondered about it. About Rush. About men. About women. About being a woman and growing old. About why watching a woman grow old scares the hell out of people. His statement is still a powerful window into how women who are growing older are perceived in our culture.
I am reminded of my mother as she grew fail towards her death. She showed such dignity. Even when she could hardly stand up, she wanted her hair combed, her lipstick on. She didn’t want anyone, including her children, to see her use the commode. She walked towards her death with grace.
I thought of Robbie Kaye and the amazing work she is doing with women and aging at Beauty of Wisdom. Robbie takes photographs of women getting their hair done; beautiful, proud women.
Photo by Robbie Kaye, all rights reserved
I wonder about how Rush felt watching his mother grow old, how he feels watching the women in his life that he loves growing older. How do we feel when we fear the crone out there, and in here, while we are in relationship with our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, great-aunts, and wise old women friends? While we are in relationship with ourselves and our own aging bodies?
And, (this is a ‘big’ and) somewhere a part of me is fully capable of saying something just as hurtful. If I push that away in him, I push it away in myself. I’ve grown up ingesting this patriarchal pabulum every day of my life. I’ve adopted the fears and beliefs and admonitions of a culture steeped in ageism, sexism, racism, and any other ism that has been the foundation of this patriarchal thought structure. It takes a deepening awareness and an opening consciousness to begin to see what I project onto others, how I push others away, how I say stupid things because of my own conditioning.
The structure of patriarchy is insidious. It causes men to oppress all women, because it is ‘linked to a cultural devaluing of femaleness itself.” (Allan G. Johnson, Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy) It causes men to oppress even the women in their own lives that they dearly love, for you can’t uphold a structure of beliefs, and act within that structure everyday, and somehow not inflict that pain on some women and not others.
“One of the deepest reasons for denying the reality of women’s oppression is that we don’t want to admit that a real basis for conflict exists between men and women. We don’t want to admit it because, unlike other groups involved in social oppression, such as white and blacks, female and males really need each other, if only as parents and children.” (emphasis mine)
Think about it: men and women are inextricably linked. We can’t not engage with each other. If we no longer engaged, life wouldn’t continue. That’s what makes it so hard to look at patriarchy and the oppression of the feminine. And yet, we need the reemergence of the feminine to heal ourselves and to heal the earth. We need the nurturing, nourishing, wise and instinctual, wildly creative, and fiercely unconditionally loving feminine to heal ourselves from our ways of destruction and domination. We need this reemergence in women and we need it in men. We need to find balance within ourselves, the balance between the masculine and feminine.
The old woman was once revered, when people revered the Great Mother, when they saw the beauty of birth, death and rebirth, the power of transformation. Now, we sit around and pretend we don’t get old and we don’t die. We feel the shift happening and we dig our heels in and pretend we can’t be touched.
As I’ve aged, I’ve felt invisibility creep in. The older I get the more invisible I become, in a culture where youth and external beauty reign. All the while, I’ve become more beautiful to myself, because I am embracing and honoring the wisdom that my life experiences have brought, and the kindness, compassion and tenderness that grief and loss have engendered. It takes a certain amount of awareness and effort to keep coming back to what is real, what is true. It isn’t easy at all. Yet, there comes a time when no other way is palatable. I can feel the energy of the crone. I feel her power. I feel her fierce love.
It’s not that I don’t have moments of grief and sadness around aging. Some of those moments come when I get caught up in the never-ending bombardment of the advertising blitz. I notice my body growing a little stiffer, I am aware of the years passing, and I know death is always a breath away. But, so is life. Life is always a breath away.
Women’s power in the patriarchy is youth, physical beauty, a sexy toned body, the ability to become more like a man than a woman, so how we act and what we do will move us up the ladder of what this culture deems is successful.
But in an entirely different way, we women are powerful beings, especially as we age. Not powerful in the patriarchal paradigm, but powerful in the sense that we are more authentic, more real, more truthful and more beautiful. And, powerful as the crone. The wise woman, the woman that embodies crone energy. The crone is the woman who no longer sees herself only in relation to others, but as a woman unto herself, a woman who stands alone in the center of her own beingness, in the center of her own truth, and from this center relates to the people in her life from what is real for her.
The patriarchy fears the crone. She is truthful, she is powerfully creative, she is intuitive and instinctual, and she loves fiercely. The patriarchy does everything it can to deny this, even to denigrate this and the women who embody it, because old women are wise women are powerful women. They have gifts to share, gifts that this world desperately needs.
What if we could be with ourselves in such a way that we no longer projected our deepest fears onto an entire portion of the earth’s population, a group of people that has gifts to share with the world right now, gifts of wisdom, grace and beauty?
What if we could be with ourselves in such a way that we no longer projected our deepest fears onto each other, woman to man, man to woman?
Being with ourselves is the first step.
Being with the misogynistic and misandrist thoughts that ramble around our own minds and consciousness, and questioning if they are true, do we know them to be 100% fact.
Being with our hardened hearts, with the walls we’ve built around them that allow us to engage in such a way where we are just as complicit in this fear and rejection of the wise old woman, and wondering if our hearts really feel this way.
Being with ourselves, with the feelings we don’t want to feel, the feelings we numb ourselves to, day in and day out.
Being with the beginning of something, a beginning of a world where we honor and respect each other as men and women.
As Kate Chopin reminds us, the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing.
A world where patriarchy is a distant memory begins with the chaotic, the vague, with the tangled mess of people willing to engage differently, even when we don’t yet know how to do it or what it might look like.
It may feel exceedingly disturbing, but then don’t the happenings in our world right now disturb you greatly?