Everyday Sisterhood

A Dose of the Divine for Your Inner Goddess

This post is going to be short and sweet.

We need more women taking on leadership positions in our communities, especially in our government, where we are severely underrepresented. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, depending on what area of government you look at, women only comprise between 20-25% of elected officials. The problem with that is that women have a unique skill set to offer that has thus far been underappreciated.

A jump into politics can be intimidating, especially for women who are socialized to place less value on their own experience and qualifications. So taking that leap to a new career can be scary. And that’s not even mentioning the intimidation factor of internet trolling and abuse.

But it’s time to step up and share our gifts. Yes, it’s intimidating, but women do intimidating things all the time. We go into meetings and boardrooms where we are severely outnumbered by men. We juggle the needs of our kids, partners, and jobs. We negotiate seemingly impossible tasks, and we naturally do it in a way that attempts to preserve the feelings and dignity of all involved. We’re kind of awesome.

So if you’ve ever even thought about running for office, I strongly encourage you to at least look into it. You’re not going it alone – there are many resources out there to help you.

Some of these resources are national, some specific to my state of Wisconsin. For the state-level resources, please investigate where you live and find out what’s available. And please feel free to share what you find in the comments.

Wisconsin Progress specializes in training progressive candidates who are interested in running for office. I know people who’ve taken this training and speak very highly about the hands-on support and practical advice offered. They already have trainings posted for all over Wisconsin.

Wellstone focuses on progressive causes and trainings. I’m interested in the digital organizer training coming up in June.

Emerge Wisconsin‘s mission is to change “the face of Wisconsin politics by identifying, training and encouraging women to run for office, get elected and to seek higher office.”

She Should Run creates a community that encourages women to run for public office and also offers and online “incubator” that offers guidance for women considering a career in politics.

People tend to think about the national level Democratic Party, but most of the hands on work takes place at the state and local levels. The way it works, you join the Democratic Party at the state level, and then you’re a part of your county level Democratic party. I can only speak to my county level party, but I know that the Democratic Party of Brown County (Wisconsin) is not only willing but enthusiastic about supporting people who want to run for office. They have people available who have run for office before and are happy to help progressives who want to run for office. I highly encourage you – if you are a progressive – to reach out to your county level Dems.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of resources, but I think it’s a good start for most people.

Please remember: Even if your background and skill set doesn’t look like traditional politicians up to this point, that doesn’t mean you are not qualified to run for office. I think there is a case to be made that we’re in a bit of mess that will require some new, innovative ways of thinking to get overcome. We need moms, dads, teachers, laborers, scientists – people from all walks of life – to start taking that next step into civic involvement and participation. Ladies, #youarequalified

A year ago yesterday, I gave into a whim and started this blog with nothing more than the vague goal of writing about feminine community and spirituality. I wasn’t overly optimistic; my last attempt at a blog yielded only a handful of posts. But I felt the undeniable to pull to write again, and my mind and heart were immersed in anticipation of change – the anticipation that our world was slowly but surely evolving into a place that was kinder, more cooperative, and more inclusive. More feminine.

That’s not what 2016 ended up feeling like. In fact, this past year has – at points – had me questioning my deepest moral and spiritual beliefs. Everything from my writing, to my religion, to my parenting has felt terrifyingly irrelevant.

But as painful and divisive as this year has been, it has served a purpose. It’s been a year of shadows – of confronting the ugly, shameful things that our country has been trying to push down and out of sight generation after generation. Violence and oppression against people of color. Violence and oppression against women. Growing wealth inequality.

On November 9, I thought that I had misunderstood our transition to a kinder, more nurturing world.

But I had misunderstood us, sisters.

I – and many other comfortable, middle-class Americans – thought that we were going to go through a beautiful transformation akin to a yoga class. Yes, there would be some moments of discomfort and stretching as we learned to use our bodies in unfamiliar ways, but overall it would be a pleasant experience.

We underestimated the scope of the change that is taking place. We underestimated the resistance to it. But most importantly we’ve been underestimating our own power to overcome all of it.

The fear that many of us woke up with November 9 – the uncertainty and anxiety about what kind of country our children would inherit – isn’t an unpleasant side effect, but a necessity.

As women, we were never going to run for office in large enough numbers to accurately represent the integral role we play in our families, communities, and country. Running for office takes a unique skill set that is inherently more uncomfortable for women than men. Knocking on strangers’ doors when we’ve been trained to seek out the safety of people we know. Speaking in public when we’ve been trained to not draw too much attention to ourselves. Engaging in fierce, public competition when we oftentimes prefer cooperation and collaboration.

But 2016 raised the stakes. It put progressive women in a position where avoiding leadership is no longer the best thing for our children because our children need the leadership that we as women – as mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, and mentors – can provide. We are now in a position where women need to run for office not in spite of our children but because of them.

The system, as it exists, was set up by and for men. And it served a purpose. But how do we, as women, work and lead differently? I would argue that female leadership emphasizes and embodies the following qualities, all of which our country and our planet desperately need right now:

  • compassion
  • service/selflessness
  • protection
  • listening
  • community
  • cooperation and collaboration
  • compromise
  • empowerment
  • nurturing
  • trust
  • integrity
  • stewardship

As women, we’ve been socialized for generations to think about others first. Our children, our partners, our families, our friends. And we’ve spent a lot of time trying to break out of this pattern. (I am certainly a big believer in self-care.) But the caring, nurturing, and mothering that has defined traditional femininity for so long is not the weakness we’ve been treating it as. It’s the solution we’ve all been looking for.

On my list above, did you notice all the words beginning with “co”? COmmunity. COoperation. COllaboration. COmpromise. All of those words are about doing things TOGETHER. Because that’s how women work best. We don’t shine when we’re going it alone, trying to prove that we’re better than everyone else. We light up the world when we work together in strong communities to solve the problems facing us.

And that, sisters, is the way of the future.

Look at our world right now. We have some studies showing that, for the first time, our children’s life expectancy is shorter than our own. College is going to cost significantly more for them, loading them down with debt. Our planet – based on the almost unanimous consensus of scientists – is in crisis. Our national debt is over $19 TRILLION. We turn on the news and see graphic images of children’s dead bodies washed up on the shores of Greece or among the bombed out rubble of Aleppo.

We are not leaving our children a world that is better, safer, or more just than the one we inherited. And that is not how women operate.

We stress about whether our kids are getting too much pesticide exposure from their non-organic strawberries. We ask for minimal Christmas presents so we can afford to get our daughter the American Girl doll she really wants. We protect our children with our own bodies without a second thought.  (Ask my chiropractor about the time I threw my back out jumping across the living room to catch my son when he fell down the stairs.)

I was recently walking out of Costco and ran into a woman from the sister circles I attend. I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but she said, “Yeah, I have a feeling that if women ran the world, there’d be a lot less fossil fuel and a lot more solar panels.”

And it’s true! Because it is not in our nature – as the beautiful, caring, feminine people we are – to screw over our own kids tomorrow to make things temporarily easier for ourselves today. That’s not how we work.

The answers we’ve been looking for? We already know the answers. We know how to work together to achieve consensus in a way that everyone feels heard and validated. We know how to think in the long-term if it will ultimately make things better for our children. We know how to empathize and find compassion and patience even when it feels like we’ve already given everything we have to give. We know how to function as communities because many hand make light work.

It’s time to give ourselves credit for the skills we’ve been learning and perfecting for so long, and it’s time to share these skills by stepping into the leadership roles that we were born to step into.

It’s time, sisters. We are capable. We are qualified. We are ready.

As for this blog, things feel somewhat uncertain for me. When I started it a year ago, I never intended for it to be a political blog, but it feels like a dramatically different world now, and I cannot imagine spending time and energy on something that is not political. I’ve joined my county-level Democratic Party. I’ve joined Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a grassroots organizing cooperative that will be fighting for progressive causes in my area. And I’m sure that somewhere in there I will be writing. It seems to be the thing my life always circles back to.

Happy New Year, sisters. The lessons of 2016 were difficult but necessary, and now it’s time to get to work.

P.S. For whatever it’s worth, this clip from The First Wives Club has been extremely inspirational to me today. And when I say “Get everything,” I mean the House, the Senate, and the Oval Office.

novemberI cast my ballot a while ago – just a day or two after early voting started – because 1.) Since I have my own personal toddler entourage, it’s easier when I can avoid crowds, 2.) I wanted to maximize the chances of my vote counting in the event that I got struck by lightening or run over by a bus between when early voting opened and election day, and 3.) I don’t trust what the atmosphere will be like with a politically mixed crowd these days. And I’m just exhausted with the nasty, aggressive conflict.

I don’t even feel angry these days. Just done.

The debates left me feeling sick. Literally. When I watched the second one I felt physically ill by the end, which I found oddly embarrassing until I found out the next day that several other people did too. I decided that I could skip the third one since I’d already voted, but in all honesty I couldn’t have forced myself to watch it if I’d wanted to.

And it’s not just right vs. left conflict. As a devoted Dem, this vitriolic general election was preceded by months of grueling primary, rife with aggression and misogyny. Even though I voted for Bernie in the primary, I was horrified by the comments I’d see on a daily basis made by people who were voting the same way I did. Holy cats, the name calling. I saw more bitches, cunts, and other sexually demeaning names during the Democratic primary than I’ve ever seen online (or elsewhere) before. And these comments were being directed at people who agree with each other when it comes to policy – yikes!

I’m going to write a post about Tribe by Sebastian Junger at a later date, but I’m taking my time because I want to do it justice because it’s an amazing book. However, he has a passage about how Americans speak to each other that is relevant to this conversation. Junger writes about coming home to the United States after being in war zones:

First there is a kind of shock at the level of comfort and affluence that we enjoy, but that is followed by the dismal realization that we live in a society that is basically at war with itself. People speak with incredible contempt about – depending on their views – the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign-born, the president, the entire US government. It’s a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime, except that now it’s applied to our fellow citizens. Unlike criticism, contempt is particularly toxic because it assumes a moral superiority in the speaker. Contempt is often directed at people who have been excluded from a group or declared unworthy of its benefits. Contempt is often used by governments to provide rhetorical cover for torture or abuse. Contempt is one of four behaviors that, statistically, can predict divorce in married couples. People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long. (125-6)

Sounds familiar, right?

But I caught a glimmer of hope last week. Bill Weld, who is on the Libertarian ticket as Vice President, went on the Rachel Maddow show and “vouched” for Hillary Clinton’s character. It seemed like a special moment to me amidst the long, drawn out months of name-calling and finger-pointing. It was like he could step back and say, “I don’t agree with a lot of your policies, but I still see you as a decent person.”

Halle-freaking-lujah, sisters! Could we please get more of that?

Where did our ability to recognize the humanity in our political opponents go? Which isn’t to say that we have to agree all the time. Of course not. There has always been and always will be political disagreement. I get that. But I don’t think it was always like this. I think that we used to have a sense of common purpose – of trying to get by and hopefully moving our country forward in the process – even if we didn’t agree on the exact details of how to get there. And, yes, we’d have friends, families, and neighbors who disagreed with us, but that didn’t mean they were horrible people. It just meant we disagreed.

We live in what is probably the most liberal neighborhood of Green Bay, but our immediate neighbors are mostly conservative. And guess what? When we run into each other outside, we don’t debate the finer points of whether Donald Trump or Bill Clinton is a bigger pig. We watch our kids play together. We talk about the weather or the construction that took place on our block. The neighbor to our right loaned us his lawn mower when ours was broken, and the neighbor to our left just brought us free firewood from his property up north and threw in a couple bags of potatoes just for funsies. And when I noticed that one neighbor’s garbage can was still by the road a day after garbage day, I brought it up to their garage for them. Because we’re neighbors. And life is better when you get along with the people who live ten yards away from you, regardless of who they vote for.

And maybe we should do a better job of applying this to all of our countrymen.

It is not going to be easy. We are facing serious issues as a country right now that are very moral issues for each side. I suspect it breaks down like this: On the right, the pro-life movement views abortion as the murder of unborn babies. And while I myself am pro-choice, I can understand that if I shared that view, pro-choice policies would be deeply, deeply disturbing to me. On the left, liberals see a lot of conservative policies as unfair to women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, non-Christians, and the poor. And this unfair treatment of social minorities is an extremely moral issue to us. The misogyny, racism, and homophobia feel – dare I say it? – deplorable.

But we cannot – whether you’re a pro-life voter on the right or a social justice voter on the left – label our fellow Americans as deplorable. As much as I agree with the vast majority of Hillary Clinton’s policies, this was a serious misstep on her part.

When I was about ten years old or so, I was shopping with my mom and saw another mother in a parking lot yell at her young son that he was “a bad boy.” Once we passed, my mom shook her head at me and said, “Lindsay, you never, ever tell a child that they are bad. You can say that they do something bad, but you never call the child bad.” Recently, I was talking with a friend who is into Brene Brown, and she told me that Brene breaks this down as the difference between imparting guilt – you did something bad – and shame – you are bad. There is a big difference there. (And, incidentally, my mom is kind of a genius.)

And you know what? When we’re on social media, reading about something that sets off our moral outrage, it feels justified – maybe even an ethical obligation – to shame the other side. To try our best to communicate just how horribly immoral we find the “other side.” The conservative whom I’ve never met but saw my “Thanks, Obama!” post on Facebook felt like he was fulfilling his moral duty when he messaged me to say that I must be a horrible mother and he feels sorry for my children if I like Obama.

But when you have to see the person and look them in the eye, it’s different. When it’s your neighbor, who you see everyday, you don’t look at them and see their yard sign. You see the time they snowblowed the sidewalk in front of your house. When I sit across from my dad at Thanksgiving, you don’t see his vote. I see the unconditional love he’s always bestowed on me, and the extreme generosity with which he’s always treated me.

And on November 9, when this is all over, we need to start the hard work of learning how to treat all of our countrymen with that kind of respect. Because as much as we seem to have forgotten it lately, our countrymen – even the ones who vote differently than we do – are our family too. They’re our neighbors, our community, our village, our tribe.

payitforwardnovember9So for my part, I’m making November 9 a day of kindness and reaching out. I’m making it my own personal Pay It Forward day, and I’m brainstorming ways to get out in the community and perform some small acts of kindness. And I invite you to join me.

Think about it. We’re a full four years from the next presidential election. We’re as far as we can get from having to hash out our political differences. For one day, see if you can set aside a red vs. blue mentality and try to see the people around you simply as Americans. Would it hurt anything? Is there any harm that could come from it?

I don’t think so. But I think it has the potential to do a lot of good. Because regardless of what happens November 8, ALL of us are hurting from this election. ALL of us need some healing. ALL of us need a reminder that Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, or Independent, we’re ALL American and we ALL belong to each other, for better or worse.

Are you interested, but you’re not sure how to start? Here are some ideas, if you need some. Also, I encourage you to share this idea with your friends and acquaintances and invite them to participate as well.

In the meantime, hang in there, fellow Americans! We’re almost there!

 

sister-actsIt always takes me by surprise how serendipitous sisterhood often is. Ever since this summer I was playing around with the idea of reaching out to my neighborhood association and starting a knitting group. And then at the end of August I saw a last minute notice that some of our neighbors were going to meet-up at our local Palette and Pub, and I spontaneously decided to check it out. (Palette and Pub is a cute bar in the area that sells delicious wine and appetizers and also offers painting and craft lessons.)

There were only a couple other women attending – women I know and am friends with – but they’re very active and well connected in our neighborhood. As we chatted over appetizers and drinks, I pitched my idea of launching a monthly knitting get-together, and they were very supportive.

I’d already decided that knitting might be too restrictive, so we decided to promote it as a general craft night instead. I’d been envisioning something low-maintenance at members’ homes – or my home if others weren’t comfortable hostessing – where women could hang out and craft together for a few hours once a month. But as we were chatting, the owner of the Palette and Pub offered her space, which was already set up with tables and work spaces for crafting, as an option, and it seemed like a perfect fit. We would promote the craft night through our neighborhood association, but it would be open to all who wanted to participate.

artnight_2

Photo credit: Tiffany Fellenz Hoffman. The four of us were the first to arrive, but by the end of the night we had about eight or nine women in attendance. I LOVE that Tiffany brought her daughter to participate. What a cool way for her to be exposed to how grown women socialize in a positive and supportive manner.

So we chatted and planned and put some dates together. Open craft would be available every month, where women could bring whatever project they’re working on – knitting, coloring, painting, beading, scrapbooking, etc. – and then there would also be months where the owner offered a class. (Our first class coming up in November will teach us how to make cute burlap wreaths.) It just happened to work out as one of those great situations where we can support a female entrepreneur who works right in our neighborhood, and she in turn is offering us a space to meet. And while participants have the option of ordering food and drinks and signing up for classes, attendance is free so it won’t be cost prohibitive for those sisters who are on a budget.

We had our first meeting in early October and it was a great success! We had eight or nine women attend, and it was fun and social and relaxed. We even had a “little” sister there, who made the sweetest minion painting for my four-year-old. And it seemed like everyone was working on a different project. We were:

  • Knitting a baby blanket
  • Practicing calligraphy
  • Scrapbooking
  • Making jewelry
  • Coloring
  • Giving crochet lessons
  • Painting with watercolors
artnight_3

Photo credit: Tiffany Fellenz Hoffman

And it was, as always, so comforting to see sisterhood in action. One of the attendants was actually a woman who I went to high school with, and it was fun catching up with her. She was teaching her co-worker how to crochet, and one of the other women was assisting in the lessons while she worked on scrapbook pages that would be a wedding gift for a friend of hers. And all of our drinks and food supported a local business.

If you’re looking to make some connections with women in your area, I highly recommend organizing a craft night. Creativity is a great form of self-care – many people feel emotional benefits from creative pursuits – and the format is open enough that even people who don’t typically see themselves as super creative can participate. Even if someone doesn’t knit or make jewelry, etc., they can always grab a mandala coloring sheet and some pencils. I also think there is something about having your hands busy that makes chatting and socializing pretty effortless. I know there have been studies showing that men communicate best when they’re not staring at someone while conversing, and I think crafting creates that same easy buffer space if you’re talking with people whom you don’t know well yet. And with everyone working on projects, you automatically have something to chat about.

We lucked out having a neighborhood business that was willing to host us. (Thanks, Palette and Pub!) But this could work just as well at members’ homes. You could either have one consistent place to meet if someone enjoys hostessing, or you could rotate from month to month to minimize the work for any one person. And as fun as it is to get fancy with food and beverages, I think there is something to be said for keeping it low maintenance so that hosting isn’t intimidating. There is also the option of having everyone bring something to pass so that the expense doesn’t fall on one person. I would definitely try to keep things easy and affordable so that nobody feels excluded based on monetary commitment. As always, the main focus is on creating opportunities for you to connect with your friends and neighbors and build lasting connections.

If you’re in the Green Bay area, our next craft night is on Tuesday, November 1, from 6 – 9pm at the Palette and Pub Allouez, 516 Greene Ave., Allouez, WI. If you would like to sign up for wreath making, call ahead to pre-register so that they have materials ready for you, (920) 940-8448.

Happy sistering!

 

angerI’ve been feeling angry recently. Really angry.

Last week’s political happenings had me brimming with righteous feminist indignation, and I’ve decided that I’m totally ok with that. I’ve decided that we’ve reached a point where we can no longer afford to ignore or sugar coat rape culture because it makes people feel uncomfortable. I’ve decided that there are people who will still avoid talking about it – either by ignoring the conversation completely or deflecting the conversation to something else – but that I can’t, in good conscience, stay quiet about it when I see it.

After the release of the infamous Trump video, many women felt the same way. Suddenly the internet was overrun with stories of sexual assault and abuse against women, all trying to show that instances of being “grabbed by the pussy” are far too real for too many women, and a far cry from innocent banter.

I’m lucky. My personal experience with sexual assault is limited to a handful of ass-grabbing episodes in bars, which were irritating but not emotionally damaging. But even without a personal history of violence, there is a hidden threat there all the time for women. It’s the constant awareness, from the time you’re a teenager (or younger, for many women) that you have to be careful – constantly – to minimize your chances of being hurt. You think about it when you park your car. You think about it when you decide if you can handle one more drink out at the bar. You think about it when you get dressed – is your outfit going to attract unwanted attention? It is an unrelenting calculation that you never get a break from. (I highly recommend reading The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About from The Huffington Post.)

So when Trump’s video surfaced, along with his dismissal of his comments as “locker room talk,” I felt angry. I felt angry about what feels like the herculean – but also sacred – task of raising boys to be respectful of women in a world where they will be bombarded by media messages that objectify females over and over and over again. I felt angry about the times I allowed my voice to be silenced or subdued with the ever present threat of being labeled a “bitch” or “uncool” if I was honest with an unpopular opinion I hold. (No, I don’t like strip clubs. I’m not comfortable with businesses that sell the right to objectify women as their main commodity. Sorry, not sorry.) I felt angry for the younger tween version of myself who carried my friends’ confidences of abuse and assault, which felt normal at the time but now seem like such an adult load for young girls to bear.

And it felt good to be angry about these things. It felt honest and raw and exactly what the situation called for.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with anger. In some ways it came very naturally to me. (I’m an Aries.) But like most women, I gradually learned to suppress it. Well, some days better than others. But by the time I was 17, I would drive around in my parents’ car with Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill blaring at full volume. I’d listen to Alanis (I’m on a first-name basis with her in my head) rage about her heartbreak in “You Oughta Know” and marvel at her unparalleled ability to own her anger. She wasn’t embarrassed about it. She didn’t try to hide it. She reveled in it. And if it made you uncomfortable, then that was your own damn problem. It was fascinating.

However, as fascinating as I found Alanis and her unabashed emotional fireworks, I went on a personal quest through college and my early twenties to overcome what remained of my own temper. I didn’t like how uncontrolled it felt. I didn’t like the residual shame about the unkind things I’d say when I was angry. My temper was an adversary to be conquered.

And by the time I reached my mid-twenties, I pretty much had. I felt a smug sense of satisfaction that I’d beaten my temper into submission. I secretly thought of myself as some kind of zen princess, letting the anger of some legitimately rough years roll off my shoulders with nary a raised voice or a slammed door. When I felt the familiar heat of temper rush to my face, I’d take some deep breaths and reply calmly to whatever trigger had set me off. I had won.

Except the emotions didn’t go away. I stayed calm externally, but all of that negative emotion didn’t naturally dissipate to some magical land inhabited by unicorns and watered with the tears of virgins. As a result, I kept up my cool mask during the day but spent months crying myself to sleep every night.

I finally went to talk to the pastor at my sister’s church. I was student teaching at the time – read: working for free with no health benefits while paying graduate school tuition – so I couldn’t afford a therapist, and I’d met Pastor Diane a few times and really liked her. When I called and asked if we could talk, she generously offered to meet with me.

I showed up and poured my heart out. With a smile on my face, of course. In the past year and a half I’d 1.) started graduate school while working full-time, 2.) gotten a divorce from my high school sweetheart, 3.) had my car stolen and stripped, 4.) moved away from my group of friends to return home, and 5.) become embroiled in a major family conflict at a time when my family felt like the only stable thing I had left. I was also facing the prospect of unemployment as soon as my student teaching ended in the middle of the school year.

I’ll never forget what Pastor Diane said to me. She sat back and said, “You just told me about some really, really stressful things that have gone wrong in your life. And you smiled the entire time you told me. Do you know that you’re allowed to feel angry about it?”

Well knock me over with a feather – I kid you not it never occurred to me that I was allowed to feel angry about any of it. My main goal with processing all of it had been to keep a smile on my face and not cry until I got home at night so that I didn’t make anyone uncomfortable with how absolutely pathetic the last year of my life had been. I was allowed to feel angry? And suddenly, those hours of listening raptly to Alanis made sense. My simultaneous curiosity and fear about the raw emotion she shared so generously with the world clicked into place.

My relationship with anger has become a lot more complicated since my meeting with Pastor Diane over seven years ago. On the one hand, I tried to make space for those moments when anger felt like a legitimate response to the situation I was in, but on the other hand, I also became more connected to a lifestyle that often seeks equanimity as an emotional default. You know, the yoga-loving, zen-studying sect of modern hippie. (You can recognize us by our energy efficient cars and lotus-themed tattoos or wall art.)

I suspect that – like most things – a healthy relationship with anger requires a delicate balance. On the one hand, you never (or at least very rarely) want to react to situations with violence. With the exception of self-defense, I don’t believe it solves anything and often exacerbates conflicts. Neither do you want to hurt the people around you with harsh and angry words that you’ll later regret.

But aren’t there times when anger is a healthy and legitimate response? Aren’t there times when smiling serenely and sending loving energy to the people around you is insufficient?

I think so.

powergirlLast week I was listening to an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio with Lyn Mikel Brown, author of Powered by Girl: A Field Guide for Supporting Youth Activists. She was speaking to the common tendency in media to portray teenaged female activists as smiley and approachable, when the truth is that they often feel some real, legitimate anger about the situations they are working to change. And Brown said something I found really profound. She said, “Anger is the emotion of politics.”

There is nothing wrong with working to feel love and compassion for those who make us angry. I spent my hour of silence at worship this past week trying to feel gratitude for Donald Trump and how he’s been revealing the hard work we still need to do as a nation. But we also need to work to create change, and sometimes anger – not violence, but honest, authentic anger – can be the fuel we need to commit to the hard work of addressing the many injustices that plague us.

If you go to the RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) website, you find a statistic:

Every 109 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 8 minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.

Is that worth being angry about?

Hell yes, it is. And I think that women are finally at a point where we’re saying Enough. This statistic isn’t ok. Having to hold our car keys a certain way so we can use them as a weapon if we get attacked isn’t ok. Having to evaluate our outfits to figure out if we look like we’re “asking for it” isn’t ok. And trying to silence us by writing us off as whiny feminists isn’t ok.

As angry as I feel right now, I also feel hope that we’re finally in a position to openly address these issues that have for too long been hiding in the shadows of America. However, based on the conversations I saw online and on social media, I think that the election will have to be over before we can start having more productive conversations about this. The intensity of this election has made it next to impossible to have conversations about rape culture because everything immediately turns into a Trump vs. Bill Clinton race to the bottom. We need to hold onto this sense of activism and maintain it until we can join forces as fellow human beings who have had enough, regardless of whether you identify as a Republican or Democrat. Rape culture is not a political issue – it’s a human issue.

Anger should never be a final destination; it’s just one stop on a beautiful and complex journey of human emotions. And it’s normal and healthy for it to make an appearance in all aspects of our lives, not just instances of social injustice. If it makes you feel any better, even the Dalai Lama feels angry sometimes. In fact, he thinks there must be “something wrong” with a person who never shows anger!

And anger serves another purpose as well. Being able to own and process our anger – whether it’s a broken heart, the loss of a loved one, or a mean boss – allows us to move on to other emotions.

As an example, I’ll leave you with a more current break-up song from Alanis. The song “Torch” was from her CD Flavors of Entanglement, which magically came out the summer after my divorce. In contrast to the blazing anger of “You Oughta Know,” she openly admits all of the things she misses about her relationship with her ex-boyfriend. She’s soft, honest, and vulnerable in a way that always feels extremely humbling to witness. And personally, I think that she never could have gotten here without first opening herself up to the anger that made her famous with Jagged Little Pill.

Much love to you, sisters, and to all of the complex, perfectly legitimate emotions you feel, from your most gentle, nurturing love to your hottest and most righteous anger.

P.S. If you tweet, I highly recommend following Alanis Morissette at @alanis

I’ve been turning over the idea of a “Mean Girls” post for months but have ultimately been avoiding it. However, when I checked out Twitter this morning only to discover that it’s “officially” Mean Girls Day, it seemed like a sign that I was supposed to finally give in and share my thoughts on this one. So here it goes: Happy Mean Girls Day.

Lindsay Lohan as Cady Heron in the 2004 comedy.

Lindsay Lohan as Cady Heron in the 2004 comedy.

It first occurred to me that I might have some lingering “mean girls” issues of my own when I was driving home from a sister circle about six months ago. I was carpooling with another woman who attends circles, and we were discussing how much we loved circle and the unconditional support of the women who attend it. My friend made a comment to the effect of: “I just love being surrounded by women. I know other people say that they can be catty or whatever, but my sisters and female friends have always been the most positive, supportive people for me. I’ve never understood why people think women are mean.” I felt a couple of things simultaneously: 1) Shock. Did she not understand how insanely judgmental and awful women are to each other on a regular basis? 2) Guilt. I write a blog that is entirely about female friendship and connections – what is my issue?!

I could at least comfort myself with the fact that I’m not the only one who recognizes the mean girl phenomenon. After all, there’s a reason the 2004 high school comedy struck a chord with so many viewers. And what defines “mean girl” behavior? For me, the hallmarks are spreading rumors, belittling other females in an effort to lower their self-esteem, and ignoring or social blacklisting. I know that I have been on the receiving end of all those behaviors at one point or another in middle and/or high school, and I would guess that a lot of other women have too.

When I was in the thick of it at age twelve, just trying to emotionally survive the dad-to-day reality of being the class bully’s favorite target, it hit my self-esteem hard. I remember frantically trying to figure out what was wrong with me that made the “popular” girls hate me so much. At one point I went to my mom and asked her if I smelled bad and just didn’t know it, because I was just so desperate to make sense of everything. (Not too many memories of middle school still hit me emotionally, but for whatever reason, that one is still raw.)

As an adult, I can look back more objectively and recognize that my refusal to participate in their bullying threatened them in a way that they could never tolerate. One night I was at a sleepover, and twin sisters who I was friends with were going to arrive late because they had figure skating lessons. The other girls spent the time before they arrived hanging “Figure Skating Sucks” signs all over the basement in an effort to make my friends feel as unwelcome as possible, and I spent the time tearing down the signs and hiding them in the garbage so that my friends wouldn’t see them. The same group of girls ganged up to target our seventh-grade teacher as well, a woman who I genuinely liked and connected with. I didn’t participate in that either. It was inevitable that I was going to become their target.

So I understand now that my experience with bullying wasn’t my fault, but it leaves the question, what was wrong with them? Or, to be more accurate, what is wrong with how we socialize girls and women that makes this bullying, mean girls dynamic so prevalent in our culture?

The most common answer is, of course, that bullies have low self-esteem themselves. Because they question their own self-worth, they need to gain a sense of power and control by tearing down the people around them. And this would fit well with the prevalence of mean girl behavior during adolescence, when there is so much rapid change and it’s part of normal development to feel uncertain about who you are. Unfortunately, the same developmental factors that lead to bullying also make being on the receiving end of bullying particularly harmful. How horrible to have your self-worth questioned when you’re just trying to figure out who you even are . . .

It’s not like mean girls magically disappear at high school graduation, but I think it’s safe to say that you gradually encounter fewer and fewer of them as you get older. On the one hand, I like to think that they grow out of it. They grow up, work through their shit, and no longer need the crushed souls of middle school girls to make them feel better about themselves. I ran into one of the girls from my middle school class at the grocery store last year, and we said hi and exchanged pleasantries, easy peasy. On the other hand, I know for certain that fewer women would tolerate bullying behavior as adults. If anyone tried to shame me in the way I was in middle school, I would have no problem telling them to fuck off and not giving them another thought. I think that’s pretty par for the course by the time you’re in your 30s, and it simply leaves no room for mean girls to have power or take control.

Which isn’t to say that bullying disappears entirely. Every community is different, but personally I see the mean girl mentality rear her ugly head most often in business or professional situations, when ambition takes a turn for the worse. And this makes sense to me. In many ways, I think women – as a whole – are still in their “adolescence” when it comes to having a professional identity that they are comfortable and secure with. We’re only a couple generations into the transition of women as career people, and I feel like the first generation or so was spent emulating a more masculine ideal, whereas now we’re at a point where women are embracing themselves more authentically – including their feminine strengths – and trying to figure out exactly what that looks like in the business place. So it is a scary, insecure place in many ways. And insecurity is where the mean girl thrives best.

So where does that leave us and our adolescent sisters? I think that, like any bogeyman, we need to teach girls about the mean girl dynamic early and often. The girls who are being bullied need to understand that it is not a reflection on them, that as horrible and humiliating as bullying is, abuse says nothing about the abused and a lot about the abuser. And adults need to help the mean girls. Any child who is desperate enough to seize control through emotionally abusing peers is hurting on some level, and we need to have the resources in place to address it, while also holding them accountable for their actions.

In the meantime, I really love this quote from Fred Rogers:

 

And if you can’t watch the video, it goes like this: “”When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” (fredrogers.org)

Yes, I had some horrible days in middle school. Most of us do. But I also had some amazing helpers. I had my friend Lauren, who sat next to me all night in the bathroom at the school dance when I was afraid of encountering my classmates. And after I switched schools, I had some amazing friends whom I stayed close to for many years. Less than a month after I was hiding in the bathroom with Lauren, I was having a sleepover with one of my new classmates, sneaking food out of the fridge at 1am and thinking, “Wow, this is what seventh grade is supposed to be like.”

So I guess my message to middle or high school girls who find themselves the target of the mean girls would be: 1) It’s not you. It’s them. Really. And 2) Look for the helpers, or as I like to call them, sisters. When you find them, you can laugh off or ignore the people who have their own crap to work through. But no matter what, know that it gets better. Middle and high school should never be the end – they’re barely the beginning.

the-1Just when I thought that I was about to fall into a great writing routine with the start of the school year, Life happened. You know how that goes, right? Your work schedule has extra trainings, so you fall behind on housework. And then the city is repairing the sewer in front of your house so you can’t use your driveway for a week and the deafening thunder of jackhammers breaking concrete ruins your two-year-old’s nap time. And then your phone is lost or stolen and your husband is out of town for four days. And then the kids get sick and generously share it with you . . . You get the picture. Confession: Life happened for a good two weeks around here and nothing got done but watching lots of Doc McStuffins and surviving.

So I’ve been hanging on by my fingernails. I revisited my Little Rituals for When Things Suck post and slipped in some self-care when I could. I’ve been trying to read more, when possible, in place of social media time, which led me to start reading Daring Greatly by the bold and wonderful Brene Brown. I haven’t finished it yet – I’ll post a review and add it to my books page once I’m done – but even just the beginning has brought up some important questions for me. The problem with Brene Brown is that she is so darn insightful when it comes to courage, vulnerability, and risk that reading her books makes you want to do crazy, terrifying things.

Last Sunday, as I sat quietly at my Friends meeting, I was reflecting on what I’ve been reading in Daring Greatly and I asked myself. What am I afraid of? There were a lot of answers – I’m a big chicken – but one in particular stood out to me: I’m afraid that I’m too boring, too vanilla, too “good”to have anything interesting or worthwhile to say.

I don’t have any dark secrets to reveal. I don’t have an arrest history. I don’t even like drinking anymore because it makes me feel like crap, so a trendy and fascinating coke or heroin habit is completely out of the question. I’m a freaking stay-at-home mom who was an English teacher – can you think of anything anything nerdier than that!? – and valedictorian of my high school class. As an adolescent, I played varsity tennis, wrote for the school newspaper, and stayed up late every night reading romance novels.

I’m not claiming that I’ve always been perfectly behaved, but I am not known for my rebellious nature, sisters.

Which makes me a little too sensitive, I think, when it comes to how conversations occasionally unravel in feminist communities. Sometimes it feels like in order to shut down the “shaming” – sexual shaming, mental health shaming, etc. – the narrative reaches so far as to subtly put down other women.

For example, I was reading a really great post by Constance Hall – who I like very, very much – in which she completely took down some creep of a guy who went on social media and tried to shame her for her past sexual experiences. She was having none of it. And as a feminist, I was loving her response. Until I got to the end and the second to last paragraph read:

“So to all my little love lovers and intimacy creeps out there, keep on creeping on. You are still precious pearls and delicate Snow Flakes, you are just as if not more so loveable then your virgin mates.”

It took my breath away for a moment, how much of a direct hit that was for me. And I’m not even a virgin, for crying out loud, but neither did I ever have the lifestyle that she proudly embraced in her post. I’ve never had a one-night stand. Does that mean that I’m less loving? That I desire less love – or less sex, for that matter – than my sisters who have? I don’t think so. I think we’re all doing our best to find love, intimacy, and connection. The fact that we go about it different ways doesn’t mean that some sisters are more or less loveable. Right?

Similarly, there was a post from Glennon a few months ago. (Just for the record, I deeply admire Glennon and the work she does. Which is maybe why this stung a bit for me.) The post was about surviving mental illness, and it was – in very typical Glennon fashion – inspiring. And then toward the end, there was this passage:

“Those with the capacity to feel great pain are also those with the capacity to feel deep joy. Those who fall hard, RISE gloriously. Those who are deeply wounded become the greatest healers. Those who come close to death often become those who are MOST ALIVE. You might be one of the extra bad ones – but that means you are also one of the extra good ones.”

Just for the record, I totally understand – on an objective level – what Glennon was saying and doing here. She was taking away the shame and stigma of mental illness and giving her readers a silver lining, something to feel proud of. And I don’t want to take away from that. I’m not trying to be the All Lives Matter to Black Lives Matter here.

But can you also see how that might feel to her “good girl” readers out there? We love Glennon for her everyday truth telling and unconditional acceptance, and we also love her for the struggles she’s overcome, even if we haven’t struggled in the same ways she has. But can you see how – to us rule-following “good girls” – that passage might sound a bit like we’re less joyful, less alive, and maybe just a bit mediocre?

I get it. In many ways the rebels are more fun. Women who’ve had more sexual partners often have better stories to share. Illegal substances add an element of danger and fascination for people. People love a grand adventure.

And the “good girls” know this. Because, whether we talk about it publicly or not, we too have our “gremlins,” as Brene Brown calls them. And this cultural narrative that some types of women are more emotional, more tuned in, more “ALIVE” than others is a big old gremlin for rule-following sisters. We just typically don’t talk about it because it might make people uncomfortable, and that’s not how we roll.

But there is a secret that I want to share: “Good girls” don’t love less. We don’t desire less. We’re not avoiding one-night stands because we’re cold-hearted ice queens. We don’t feel less. I honestly believe that we feel just as much emotion and feel it just as passionately. We simply express it differently.

All of us want the same things. We want connection. We want validation as human beings. We want to be seen and acknowledged. We just go about it in different ways.

“Good girls” pursue love, connection, and validation by seeking the almighty Approval. We follow the rules because we’ve been taught (or wired) to understand that if we meet society’s expectations, validation, connection, and even love will follow. We’re not going to shout every opinion from the rooftops because that would make some people uncomfortable, and we don’t want to risk losing their Approval, which is so easy to confuse with love and admiration. We don’t make risky choices because our first thought is always, “How will this affect my family’s/friends’/teachers’/co-workers’ Approval of me?”

On the other hand, I’d guess our more extroverted and risk-taking sisters pursue love, connection, and validation by seeking Attention. They break the rules because it’s a pretty sure bet that it’s going to garner Attention. Does their opinion make you uncomfortable? Well, they’re pretty sure to get a rise out of you, and you’re sure as hell going to acknowledge them. They’re more willing to take risks because it might get them negative Attention, but at least it’s Attention.

Is either of these better than the other? I absolutely don’t think so. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. The approval-seekers are good at thinking about how their actions affect others, which is essential for strong communities. On the other hand, they need too much nudging before they’re willing to push the status quo, which oftentimes needs to be pushed for the sake of progress. The attention-seekers (and I’m not comfortable with the connotations of that term but I’m not sure what to replace it with) are the ones who are willing to push us out of our comfort zones, which we sometimes really, really need. On the other hand, attention-seeking can sometimes lead to behaviors that hurt themselves and/or others.

However, as much as I can see the pros and cons to both sides of this dichotomy, more than anything I want to challenge the idea that this dichotomy even really exists. None of us are “good girls” or “bad girls” or “virgins” or “whores.” We’re complex girls and women who spend way too much of our lives trying desperately to walk the fine line between these divisive, destructive dichotomies that I’m pretty damn sure were not created by women. I mean really, was “a lady on the streets and a freak in the bed” written by a woman? I don’t think so. We’re constantly terrified of veering too far in any direction – rule-following ice queen or promiscuous whore – and rendering ourselves completely unlovable.

Do you notice that these dichotomies offer no good options? Nobody wants to be labeled as any of those things – good girl, bad girl, virgin, or whore – and yet these paradigms are still shaping the discussions we’re having among our own female communities. I’m honestly struggling just writing this short blog post because I feel like there is no neutral language for me to use.

But I think one thing is absolutely true. We are all scared. We are all seeking love and connection. We all feel deep and powerful emotions, and we all struggle with how to deal with them. As women, we have much more in common than we have dividing us. Our outward actions may be different, but the internal motivations are very often the same. We’re just reaching out in different ways.

Jane Austen told this story long ago when she wrote Sense and Sensibility. The two sisters, Elinor and Marianne, both have loves that go awry. The staid and more introverted Elinor deals with it more stoically while Marianne makes herself sick with grief. Does this mean that Marianne loves more passionately or deeply than Elinor? I don’t think so. Ultimately, Elinor ends up happily married to the object of her affections, while Marianne recovers from her illness and goes on to marry someone else. They were just two young women both doing their best to navigate the muddy waters of love and affection and coping to the best of their abilities. Like we all are.

And even though for the purposes of this post I essentially labeled myself a “good girl,” I’m sure there are people who would disagree. I’m divorced, for one. And although I don’t feel any shame about it, I know there are others out there who would put a solid mark in the “bad girl” column for that one. And although I tend to play it safe, I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone in regards to travel, which probably gives me some bonus “adventure points.” But when it comes right down to it, at my core I’m probably too academic and bookish to ever truly earn a “bad girl” badge, although I’ve been very consciously working on overcoming my approval-seeking ways in recent years, for the sake of personal authenticity.

The truth is that these labels don’t truly fit anyone. Constance Hall wasn’t a “whore” – she was seeking love and intimacy in the best way she could, just like we all do. Glennon was never “crazy” – she was reacting to a challenging world the best way she could, just like we all do. I was never an ice queen or a snob in high school – I was scared of being hurt by someone who couldn’t see or understand the real me.

We feminists love to talk about “smashing the patriarchy.” I would humbly suggest that we begin by smashing the patriarchy’s limiting language – the “virgin vs. whore” and “good vs. bad girl” dichotomies – that turn sisters into competition. It’s all division, sisters, because if we’re busy convincing ourselves that our “label” is more valid or more loveable than the other one, then we’re not focused on why the hell they would try to control us with these stupid labels to begin with.

Smash the labels, smash the patriarchy.

 

 

 

A Wisconsinite’s obsession with seasons probably seems a bit bizarre to people living in milder climes, where the transition from summer to fall, fall to winter, winter to spring, and spring to summer is not so distinct. Here in the northern midwest, a change in seasons is not just a change in the weather, but also a ritual, a poignant reminder of the irreversible passage of time that you can never get back. Your heady dreams about everything you’d accomplish in the three months of summer take a nosedive back to reality, and you look back nostalgically at events that are still quite recent and regretfully at the things on your to-do list that you never quite got around to. While there is obviously some variance from year-to-year in the weather, Labor Day tends to be the end-of-the-summer ritual marking your gratitude for all the good times that happened and your mourning for the camping trips, festivals, and bonfires that did not.

Like most summer holidays, I spent this past Labor Day at my parents’ cabin in northern Wisconsin. Until I moved into my present house four years ago, I often said that the cabin feels more like home to me than any place else on earth, and it was true. While I passionately love my house – and it felt like home to me from the moment I first stepped foot inside of it – the lake has a sense of continuity for me that nothing else could replace. It’s not just a place that I’ve gone my whole life, but a place that my mother grew up at too, and it’s that sense of connection – through time and place and generations – that makes it my sacred place.

What makes a place sacred? Dictionary.com defines “sacred” as:

  1. devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose;consecrated.
  2. entitled to veneration or religious respect by association with divinity or divine things; holy.
  3. pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to secular or profane).
  4. reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object.
  5. regarded with reverence.

It feels a bit dramatic to refer to a sixty-year-old cabin as sacred – with all of the religious reverence that implies – but it’s absolutely true.

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Photo credit: Lawrence Mikulsky

My family discovered our lake when my mom was a girl, and her family started renting a cabin there for one week each summer. I grew up hearing stories about their adventures. The time my mom went blackberry picking when she was five and got lost, so she had to sing “Happy Birthday” at the top of her lungs – in spite of crying – so that they could find her. The time my Uncle David was too chicken to jump in the water, and when he finally did it he forgot to take his glasses off and jumped in the lake with them still on his face. I even have a vague memory of my mom telling me stories about the cabin being so crowded with visitors that people had to find bizarre places to sleep. I’ve been picturing these memories that aren’t even mine since I was a little girl, for so long now that they feel like a part of my story, even though I was nothing but an unknown question for my adolescent mother at the time.

There were some years where our connection with the lake was lost, and then – the summer that my mom discovered she was pregnant with me – my parents found a couple who was looking to rent out their place, and the family tradition continued. I’ve been going to the lake every year of my life since, from babyhood to the present, when I now bring my own babies to my beloved lake. There is no family photo album without the lake in the background. There are the funny skinny dipping baby photos, the fishing victories and the embarrassingly small catches that made us all laugh, the campfire photos of us seated in a big circle while we retell the family stories that we all know but still adore hearing. Because they’re a part of our shared history, a part of what binds us together through thick and thin.

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Photo Credit: Lawrence Mikulsky On holiday weekends, we wait until dark and then light a lantern for my grandpa, who passed away a few years now. It feels especially fitting to commemorate him at the lake he loved so much, and where we have so many good memories of him.

When I was nine, my grandparents bought their own cabin on the lake, and we took a great deal of pride in our claim to a small slice of the lake. Our one-week sojourns became regular weekends that stretched from Memorial Day to early fall. My cousins and I spent hours playing The Little Mermaid in the shallow water and competing to see who could do the best cannon balls off of the raft after dinner. My dad took us out for regular canoeing lessons on Sunday mornings, and we became P.I.T.s – pyromaniacs in training – to learn proper and safe firework lighting techniques. We started playing cards with the rest of the family around age six, and it was part of the initiation that our grandpa wouldn’t hold back on us, either in his playing or his trash talk.

And then, when I was fifteen, my parents bought their own place on the lake, down the road from my grandparents. It was a pretty seamless transition and a natural time for it as my sister was in her third trimester of pregnancy with her first child. I’ll always remember that summer, floating in a giant inner tube with Dawn, her belly swollen as we anticipated the birth of the newest member of our little clan. Emilie, and then her little sister Marie, both grew up swimming, fishing, and relaxing by the lake, just as Dawn and I did.

My parents’ cabin represents so much to me, not just as the site of many precious family memories, but as a symbol of my family’s values. It isn’t – and never will be – the fanciest cabin on our lake, but that was never important to us. I’ve lost count of how many times my dad has said to me while we quietly fish for bass after dinner, “Lindsay, I know our cabin is small, but I can’t think of anyone on this lake who has more fun than we do.” And it’s true. We’ve spent damp holiday weekends in hoodies, huddled around barely burning campfires, but never once did any of us wish for a bigger cabin that would afford more room for spreading out. We just marked it up to our tough and plucky (read: charmingly stubborn) nature as Mikulskys. There have been hot and crowded weekends where we were packed into every square inch of sleeping space, from beds to cots to the old pull-out sofa bed, so that the cabin looked like an obstacle course, but we always just embraced it as part of family bonding and laughed about it the next day. The fun has never been about material luxuries – it’s been about the luxury of having a family that genuinely enjoys spending time together.

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“Granny” holding a bluegill so that Jonah and Silas can take turns touching it before it goes back in the lake. I’m very much a catch-and-release gal, but my picky eater Jonah LOVES fresh bluegill, so he often gets an impromptu fish fry in the summer.

I’m both filled with gratitude for the new memories made this past summer – Jonah finally learning to love swimming in the water and my dad and I getting caught out in the canoe in a thunderstorm for the first time in over 30 years of fishing together – and feeling the familiar ache of knowing that our little cabin will soon be closed up for the winter. It’s a place that feeds my soul, that anchors me and makes me feel connected to the world before me – to the people who loved that lake for decades before I ever made my appearance – and after me – to the people who will make memories there long after I am gone. I have a different home that I feel connected to now, the house where I’m raising my children and do my day-to-day living, but the cabin will always be the site of my roots, the continuous and steadfast presence that was always there, through all of the transitions and ups and downs of life.

Staying connected to your sacred places and rituals is, I believe, an important part of self-care. They keep us connected to our core – the unwavering parts of us that remain consistent when nothing else is. They remind us of who we are when we might otherwise forget. They reconnect us to our people when we might otherwise feel alone. Taking time out of a hectic schedule to visit a cabin or a park can feel indulgent, but these places orient us in a rapidly changing world. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncertain, I urge you to take a time-out and visit the place that speaks to your soul.

Are you comfortable sharing what places are sacred to you? If so, I’d love to hear about it. I invite you to comment below.

 

 

 

 

TheI’ve been a lazy blogger lately, but a busy mama. This summer I felt a pull to be present and in the moment, soaking in the heat and sunshine during Wisconsin’s brief but perfect summer. So instead of keeping up with two to three blog posts a week, I let it slide temporarily to make room for trips to the cottage and swimming at the beach. Not gonna lie – it was a good trade off. But I dropped my oldest at his first afternoon of 4K today, and I’m feeling both sad at how quickly my time at home with him is drawing to a close and grateful for a potential two hours to write and reflect while my littlest naps. Nobody warned me about how intensely bittersweet motherhood is, a constant yearning for both just a little more space and independence and a heartfelt awareness of how truly fleeting these early years of intense care really are.

Anyways, while I haven’t been busy at the computer this summer, my brain has been on overdrive thinking of new post ideas, reading related books, and even considering additional creative avenues for spreading the sisterhood love. One of those ideas had me sitting down with a pen and notebook – all old fashioned like – and really breaking down what sisterhood is and what allows it to work well. These aren’t universal laws, of course. Just my own interpretation of sisterhood and what it means to me in my life, but I think that many women out there will identify with the general ideas.

So when it comes right down to it, what is sisterhood? To me, sisterhood is a deep friendship based on authenticity and a mutual willingness to be vulnerable. There is no such thing as keeping up appearances with a sister. You’re not going to lie and hide the Kraft macaroni and cheese box to uphold the pretense that you only feed your kids organic food. You’re not going to lie and gush about how everything is great with your husband when you’re actually going through a rough patch. You’re going to be real with her, and you know that she’ll honor and respect your vulnerability.

Sisterhood is being close enough that you’re willing to sacrifice your own time, resources, and/or comfort in order to support her. It’s splitting your lunch at school if she forgets hers. It’s giving up a chance to go to the big party because she wasn’t invited too. It’s leaving your warm bed at 1am so she has a safe ride home from the bar. It’s dropping $200 on a bridesmaid dress you’ll never wear again so you can stand up in her wedding. For some friends of mine, it was taking two weeks this summer to road trip across the United States with all three of their children – ages six and under – to visit with their best friends from college.

But what makes this rich bond possible? How do we make the leap into familial devotion with friends who were formerly just acquaintances? I think it comes down to some common agreements, the Principles of Sisterhood if you will:

1.Be authentic: You can’t have a real connection or emotional intimacy without honesty. Sometimes this is scary as hell. You need to do it anyways.

Note: Depending on your situation and the circumstances you’re in, it’s not always in your best interests to be 100% honest and open about everything, with everyoneall the time. Your grandma doesn’t necessarily need to know about your one-night stand last weekend. Given the different generational values that are likely present there, that situation most likely wouldn’t serve anyone. You’re allowed to have some privacy. But when you’re with sisters, you don’t need to hide parts of yourself. You can both shine as bright as possible and admit the things that aren’t working for you.

2. Listen. Sisterhood requires active listening. Not the kind where you listen just long enough to make a connection and turn the conversation to yourself. Not the kind where you interrupt to offer five different solutions. The kind of active listening where you can hold space for someone and be with them through whatever they’re experiencing at the moment without trying to change it. I love the video below from Uplift.

3. Recognize that every woman is on her own unique journey: Sisterhood is downright impossible if you view every choice that someone makes as a reflection on your own life and your own choices. They aren’t. Every woman – no matter how much you have in common – is going to sometimes make different choices than you. Every woman is going to sometimes have different opinions than you. Every woman is going to sometimes have different experiences than you.

None of that makes her a threat to your choices, your opinions, or your experiences. Your choices, your opinions, and your experiences are still perfectly valid for your journey. 

4. View women as a source of support and connection  – not competition.

If you’re constantly viewing other women as competition, sisterhood is out the window. You have a choice to make. You can go through life seeing other women as teammates or the enemy. There will be times where viewing them as competition feels safer, but ultimately this tactic leads to isolation.

5. Embrace tolerance – ditch the judgment: Judgment shuts down communication and connection. Judgment doesn’t help people overcome negative or destructive behaviors – it just makes them shut down.

This doesn’t mean that you need to enthusiastically approve things that go against your values or feel unsafe. Remember the importance of being authentic? That doesn’t go away. But if you have concerns about the health or safety of a sister, the focus needs to be on that, not on any knee-jerk moral judgments that might come up for you. There is a big difference between a heartfelt “I’m concerned about you” and a judgmental “You’re a (fill in the blank).”

For example, say you have concerns about a friend who’s alcohol consumption seems to be progressing from a social outlet to a lifestyle. There is a big difference between checking in to make sure she’s being safe and calling her a drunk. The first is going to keep the lines of communication open, and the second is a fast track for shutting your relationship down. That said, if she has concerns and talks to you about it, you don’t need to pretend that nightly binge drinking is a healthy habit. You can say, “I love you, and I want you to be happy and healthy. How can I help you get there?”

6. Be dependable. This is simple but crucial. Show up when you say you will. And keep confidential things confidential.

Confidentiality is absolutely necessary when people are trusting you with their authentic selves. They are opening up and being vulnerable with you in a way that they aren’t with the casual acquaintance. You need to honor that by maintaining their privacy. All it takes is one wrong move to break that trust, and it’s difficult to regain.

7. Seek balance. All relationships require balance. If you are constantly drawing upon sisters as a resource without offering them support in return, it’s going to stop being a healthy relationship for them. Conversely, if you are always the one who is supporting but never showing vulnerability yourself, you are imposing limits on that friendship.

This may be my own bias speaking, but I think with women it’s often the second scenario that tends to be more common. We’re often raised to be compassionate and offer help, but it’s harder for us to admit our own challenges and seek help. Admitting to vulnerability and the need for help is very often the harder leap for us to make. It is for me anyways.

8. Recognize that women are strong. This is my bias as a birth doula speaking, but women are amazingly, wonderfully, superhumanly strong. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we need to crawl in bed and pull the covers over our heads and pretend for a day or two that things aren’t falling apart. But when it comes right down to it, women overcome. We get shit done. Don’t believe me? Check out my previous post on Women in Politics.

If you’re going to support your sisters through the hard times, you need to do it with the steadfast and unshakeable belief that she can absolutely overcome whatever she’s going through. You need to have 100% faith in her when she doesn’t believe in herself.

So, there are my eight principles of sisterhood. I would love to hear your views on sisterhood. Are there any of mine that you disagree with? Any that you think I left out? Please share!

red tent - 1I recently red The Red Tent by Anita Diamant for the first time, and as I suspected, I couldn’t put it down once I got started. It was originally published in 1997, so I’m admittedly late to the party, but I was impressed by this book from cover to cover.

I don’t want to give anything away in case anybody else has been hiding under a rock for the past nineteen years and has managed to not read this book already, but the basic premise is that it’s a historical fiction retelling of the biblical story of Jacob, but from the perspective of his only daughter Dinah. I’m no biblical scholar, so I can’t compare it to the original source, but I love musical theater, so I had some frame of reference for the character of Jacob and his sons from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. (I’m pretty sure all of my Catholic school religious ed teachers would have a collective fit if they saw that sentence – lol. Seriously, I can’t stop laughing right now. Thanks, Andrew Lloyd Webber.)

Ok, so my failings as a Catholic school girl aside, Diamant wove a beautiful tale that focused on the often overlooked women of the Bible, using the red tent as a focal point. In the book, Jacob’s wives are four sisters – Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah – who live their lives inextricably interwoven with the women around them. The red tent is a ritual space where they meet while undergoing the common experiences of womanhood, such as menstruation and childbirth.

Childbirth is a common thread throughout the book, so there are multiple midwives, from Jacob’s wife Rachel to Dinah herself when she is older. As a non-practicing doula, the birth scenes were bittersweet. They were in some ways so familiar, and it was reassuring to think of childbirth being, in many ways, so consistent from biblical times to today. On the other hand, it made me really, really miss my work and the sense of purpose I always feel while supporting a laboring mother. It’s uniquely fulfilling work.

However, what I found myself returning to time and time again throughout this book was the permanence of the women’s relationships, even in the face of extremely awkward situations. Like sharing a husband, for example.

To be fair, the husband and wife relationship is significantly different. It is highly patriarchal – more than the equal partnership we strive for nowadays – and the daily work of husband and wife is so separate that the women spend much more time with one another than they do with their husbands. That said, there is certainly still jealousy. It is mentioned multiple times in the book that Leah and Rachel usually choose to avoid each other when possible, but whenever there is a particular conflict – such as a birth – they inevitably support each other.

It made me think a lot about the disposable nature of relationships in our modern culture. I am a big believer in moving on from relationships that no longer serve you, so there was a part of me that was both fascinated and incredulous to read about women having no choice but to participate in these complex, emotionally fraught sister/friend/wife/aunt/co-parent relationships. There was no throwing your hands up in the air and saying, “This sucks. I’ll get divorced and find a husband who’s not married to my sister.” It didn’t work that way. So they had to stay and find a way to manage.

I’m certainly not saying that that way was better. I can’t honestly imagine living like that. However, the flip side is that these women had lifelong bonds with the women around them, and how often do you hear about that anymore? As much jealousy as there was, these women were always surrounded by a support network. In many ways Rachel can’t stand Leah, but when Rachel can’t breastfeed her baby, Leah is there to act as a wet nurse and keep her baby alive. It’s all so terribly, beautifully messy and complicated.

The book offers no answers to these hard questions, except to hint at an eventual sense of peace between Leah and Rachel. Ultimately, it’s a work of fiction, so it’s the author’s interpretation of events with limited historical resources. But I’d already been contemplating how, in the past, relationships were not always so easy to shrug off whenever they became inconvenient. People haven’t always moved so far away from home, and in some ways their social circles were both larger and smaller. They didn’t have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook, but they probably knew everybody in their immediate community much better than we do today.

Having left some relationships in the past – and feeling healthier for it – it’s hard to imagine how my life would be different if I’d been forced to navigate those muddy waters. But if we want to build stronger communities in our modern society – create some semblance of a modern “village” – we need to seriously look at how people have managed conflict in the past, when they had little choice but to work things out. How did they learn to tolerate the awkwardness that is now so intolerable?

Have you read The Red Tent? What lessons or questions did you take from it?