Loving yourself as a woman is vital. Loving your femaleness in a system and culture that is hell bent on conditioning you to hate and fear your femaleness, is truly a radical act.
Yes, hating and fearing femaleness is at the heart of misogyny, and misogyny is at the heart of patriarchy.
In his incredibly revealing book, The Gender Knot, Allan Johnson writes:
“Misogyny plays a complex role in patriarchy. It fuels men’s sense of superiority, justifies male aggression against women, and works to keep women on the defensive and in their place. Misogyny is especially powerful in encouraging women to hate their own femaleness, an example of internalized oppression. The more women internalize misogynist images and attitudes, the harder it is to challenge male privilege or patriarchy as a system. In fact,women won’t tend to see patriarchy as even problematic since the essence of self-hatred is to focus on the self as the sole cause of misery, including the self-hatred.” (italics mine) (pg 39)
It has taken me some time to understand and see that so much of my own self-loathing doesn’t come from me. It’s learned, and it’s reinforced over and over with the hate and fear filled images and sound bites that circulate each day.
I don’t buy magazines, nor do I have a television. I haven’t for some years. And, I can’t escape these images. Just the other day, I was driving behind a San Francisco city bus, and all across the end of the bus was an advertisement that was misogynistic at its core. Who makes the decisions in San Francisco to plaster the buses with images that continue to pass along these messages that hurt us all, women and men?
Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that Johnson, throughout the book keeps coming back to the point that Patriarchy is not men, but rather the system in which we live, the system that we’ve all inherited. Just using the word patriarchy can be divisive, yet when we all, women and men, begin to see how entangled we are within its web of beliefs and admonitions, we can begin to unravel this knot that causes us all to distrust each other, and most especially ourselves.
Patriarchy is hierarchy where men (fathers) are at the top, and the rest of life, women and children included, are beneath men. Within this structure, we cannot ever see each other on equal ground because the entire thing teaches us there is no equality. By definition, a hierarchy is a system where people and things are ranked, one above another. Wonder why we still don’t have parity after decades? We can’t and we won’t as long as we believe in and buy into this system.
Coming to love our femaleness…
The journey to know one’s true self, to know the soul, is a journey into the dark places where we’ve hidden the things we don’t want to feel or know, and for women, much of what we find here is this fear and hatred of our femaleness. Much of what we discover is that we’ve been taught to hate and fear this, and that others who also have been taught the same project this fear and hatred onto us. And, of course, we discover that we project this onto each other.
But what is waiting for us on the other side of these feelings that have been stuffed into the dark, is a light that knows differently. It is a light that is both beyond this world and at the very center of this world. It is the light of truth, the light of the sacred. But the only way out is through. The only way to the light is through the body, for the body is where we’ve stored all these messages and feelings that together create our internalized oppression.
As we go deeper into the body, we discover that what we are is not even gendered, and that what we are sees the body with the softest eyes of love, the most tender caress of compassion.
Some of my most healing moments have come through clearly seeing, hearing, and feeling the painful messages of my own internalized misogyny railing against the beautiful deep-feeling and sensual aspects of my womanhood. When I began to feel the pain I’ve caused myself, something cracked open. And with each time I can do this, my heart opens wider to my own beauty and worth.
As we go into the body and feel the things we haven’t wanted to feel, more of the soul can come down into the body. More of the light of the soul can enter the cells of this physical aspect of our being. Much like the tree trunk above that is hollow through its center, we, too, begin to feel new shoots of life spring forth form the rich soil of our own creative center. As we clear out, we breath deeper. With each in-breath, the soul comes in to vitalize our cells, and for a split second, with a body full of breath, we know the joy of the soul. And it is here we can feel the love return for our femaleness.
“In your deepest center, you are the stillpoint. You are the rhythm beyond stillness, the feeling beyond compassion, the sexual energy beyond celibacy, the life force beyond death, the vibration beyond inspiration. The moving center is within you.” ~ Gabrielle Roth
And, I would add, you are the life beyond gender. What you truly are is non-gendered, and when we know this deepest center, we behold the body with love, and hold it in love. We hold both men and women in love.
It can be through the body that we come to see that the seemingly intractable nature of patriarchy is nothing more than something we’ve inherited and taught well to uphold.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We are all in this together and we have the creativity and capacity to change this. We humans can create a world so much more whole and loving than the culture in which we currently swim.
We can’t do this for each other, and we can’t even really know what each others experiences are like, but what we can do is walk this together, is hold each other with respect and compassion as we move into a new way of being in the world.
When we see the system for what it is, our relationship with it changes. We can stop participating in our own degradation and oppression.
At the end of all of this it is about relationship – with ourselves, and with each other. It is about connection and vulnerability. It is about seeing each other, and each gender, with these eyes of love.
None of us are unscathed by a system that ranks beings by worth and value, that doles out privilege as if it is inherently true. Deep at the heart of it all, and deep in our own hearts, we know that life itself does not measure, rate, and objectify.