Saturday
Dec052015

* Suffragette

I recently attended a screening of Suffragette, an important and excellently-produced dramatization of the early women’s rights movement. Based in early 20th-century Britain, the movie captures the dreary and limited life of working-class women. At that time, they had no authority over their own lives, or even their children’s, as men considered women to be inferior, feeble-minded, and too emotional to make sound decisions.  

The film focuses on 25 year-old Maud Watts, a wife and mother of a young boy who works long hours in the dangerous and toxic conditions of a laundry, with a sexually lecherous boss, in order to contribute to the family’s financial survival.  The female employees make 30% less than the men and work 30% more hours a day.  With no education, Maud has no career options. She, like most women of the day, accepts her one-dimensional life of exhaustion, poor living conditions and a bleak future. 

When Maude catches wind of the Suffragette movement, she is swept into the possibility of positive change for women with the right to vote. Suffragette Society leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, (the real-life Leader) encourages the activists to take aggressive action, like throwing rocks and detonating bombs, to make their statement loud and clear. Pamphlets and protests just aren't enough; militant tactics speak the language men understand. “I would rather be a rebel than a slave.” Emmeline Pankhurst exclaims. Empowered and inspired women, committed to in their mission to advance women, risked it all to push for change.

Scene from Suffragette

Protestors are beaten in the streets by police officers and many sent to jail. Maud is jailed several times. Subsequently, she leaves her job (after the boss rubbed up against her one time too many), is thrown out of the house by her husband, and loses her son, whom Maud’s husband adopts to a well-to-do couple. Still, Maud actively seeks equality and continues with the Movement by day, sleeping in a church at night.

Eventually, after years of meetings, demonstrations, hunger strikes and other activities, the Suffragettes of England see victory, and in 1918 women over the age of 30 are given the right to vote. Hallelujah! (Side note: similar activities were happening in the United States, where womens' right to vote was won in 1920.)

At the movie’s end, I felt a mixture of emotions: gratitude for our foremothers who so bravely and diligently fought (literally) for rights that we modern-day women take for granted, and great sadness for the agonizing sacrifices that these women made to help advance society. 

I ponder; how many of us today are as tenacious to see a cause through to the end?  Are we willing to sacrifice our comfort and safety to make a point and change a law?  How long would we hang in there until we accomplished our mission?

And even bigger question: has the story come to an end?  No, it hasn’t. While we American women think we’re on the same playing field as men, and we take for granted the right to vote, to work, to obtain an education and more, we are still lacking a truly equal footing in our society. Women make up 51% of the population, yet only 19% of Congressional members are women. Women still earn only 78% of a man’s salary, and women of minority groups earn even less than that. Domestic violence is still rampant, and beaten and raped women are often victimized by the court system.  Women’s reproductive rights are eroding at a dangerous speed. Discrimination still prevails. And sadly, many men still have the notion that women are inferior.

CNN reported on women in the world and the U.S.'s faltering on our quest for equality, and you may be shocked at our place in the world on equality, domestic violence, maternity leave and equal pay.  We are not the most advanced nation.  

Bettina Hager, Director of the Equal Rights Amendment CoalitionLuckily, new blood is stepping in to revive the quest for equal rights in the United States. Bettina Hager, the Director of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Coalition, is breathing new life into the movement to pursue equality in every way. The ERA was first introduced to U.S. Congress in 1923, but the 1982 Amendment died when too few states voted to pass it. Bettina and many other young leaders are taking the torch to further solidify equality in our nation. CNN provided a story on Bettina's quest  “to help pass and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed addition to the U.S. Constitution that would explicitly protect women's rights and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.

Many celebrities, including Meryl Streep, supports the ERA and uses her visibility to an advantage to bring the ERA back into our consciousness.  In fact, recently many of Hollywood’s leading ladies have been advocating equal pay for women. Sharon Stone, Patricia Arquette, Jennifer Lawrence and others are using their celebrity voices to make changes that benefit all women (and their children).

If you're hearing the call to become an activist for equality – or for any cause - here’s what you can do.

  • Educate yourself and become aware of people and organizations that support equality
  • Become a member
  • Donate
  • Volunteer
  • Sign petitions
  • Join in on actions that strive to make a point. For example, modern-day Suffragettes gathered at the movie’s London red-carpet premier in early October to protest domestic violence.

If you hear a serious calling to become a full-time activist, WikiHow.com offers a step-by-step program on How to Become an Activist.

Most of all, hold in your heart gratitude for the many women in history who have made it possible for us to vote, go to school, choose our careers, choose whether or not to have children, and enjoy the many freedoms that we take for granted today. Let’s not forget the sacrifices these brave and tenacious women made for us.

Friday
Aug212015

* A Spiritual Experience is a Spiritual Experience 

I recently met someone who glowed with love, spirit and zest for life. He spoke about his many adventures of spiritual transformation, including sitting at the feet of his guru, a kundalini awakening, Tantric love-making rituals, and various consciousness practices. His out-of-body meanderings, paralyzing illuminations, and other phenomenal manifestations woke him up to the joyful person he is today.

I was captivated as I listened, and noticed small twinges of self-judgement as I compared my less-than phenomenal spiritual adventures to his. I’ve learned from many teachers, but haven’t been a guru’s devotee, and my epiphanies and realizations appeared less dramatically.

Thankfully, I do understand the signs of egoic self-judgement, and as it crept in, I slayed it with my inner sword. Of course my spiritual experiences were and are as real, significant and life-enriching as his, albeit less exotic. My awakenings and transformations have come through hikes in the wilderness, meditations, music, books, teachers, and listening to others.    

An epiphany or awakening is a matter of our ego recognizing our soul, and our soul merging with the Universe. In that moment of multidimensional expansion when soul and Universe connect, a secret of the Self and Universe is revealed. An answer is provided, a door is opened and information that enhances life’s journey is delivered. Life becomes much greater than body and ego, and instead becomes a meaningful gift through which the soul expands. Blissful feelings of infinite love, inner-peace and joy emerge. In an instant, we become a different person.

A Spiritual Awakening
In an outer- and inner-world of possibilities, the methods and forms of awakening are infinite and can occur when we consciously strive for it or spontaneously from out of nowhere. Meditation, prayer and gurus aren’t the only catalysts; a hard rock song, a sunset, a glance into a stranger’s eyes, a hug, even deep despair – any of these can spark a divine connection. Whether the feelings last a minute or several days, this flash will have a permanent effect on your outlook of life, and is a touchstone that you can return to again and again.

A Spiritual Awakening

Comparing your own spiritual development – or anything else, for that matter - to another’s is a dangerous path. No one’s journey is “better” than ours, and no form is more effective than another. Our individual paths are a unique as snowflakes, and like any road trip, can be dramatic or mellow, and can get you to the same destination of personal growth.

We can live a spiritual journey every minute of our lives, merely by remaining fully-present, observing our physical and spiritual worlds and listening to our own soul. And also by constantly appreciating ourselves, exactly as we are at every moment, and from striving to discover the deepest essences of ourselves and our place in the Universe.

The lessons here are to know that you are radiant enough, loving enough, spiritual enough. And that a spiritual experience is a spiritual experience, no matter what the form. Don’t compare yourself to others and their moments of insight, for yours are just as expansive and your personal journey is taking you where you need to go.

Saturday
Jul042015

* The Right to Remain Single

I celebrate the new civil right of same-sex marriage! Finally, gay couples can legally “have and hold” each other forever, protect their estates and create their own lineages through which they can bequeath their legacies.

And on this Independence Day weekend, I also rejoice in my right as a women to not marry and to live a life of independence and sovereignty, with the freedom to love many people, share my assets with whomever I please, and focus on developing my fullest potential as a human being.

While single status for women isn’t anything new, it’s only in recent decades that it’s been possible for single women of the Western World to survive without great hardship, and in other parts of the world, living an independent life is but a dream. 

As recently as my mother’s generation, women were expected to marry, serve her husband and bear children, and few were bred for anything else. Most women married young and for life. Divorce was an unbearable stigma that kept them in partnerships that left them unfulfilled and joyless. I thank Goddess every day that I was born at the time and place that I was.

Love is natural, but marriage is a man-made creation that has evolved through history. A brief glance into history will help you see that marriage isn’t a romantic union that we’re programmed to idealize. It’s one of property, politics, and progeny, and for many women, it was (and is) the end of their own personhood.

Goddess Inana The Neolithic era (approximately 7000 BCE to 3000 BCE) and for eons prior, women were honored as equals by men. Goddesses, including virgin deities, were revered in nearly every culture, (virgin meant independent or sovereign’, and not necessarily sexually pure). Societies were egalitarian; women and men worked equally and cooperatively to thrive. Women mated with whomever they wanted, and the identity of a child’s father was unimportant. Property was passed through women, thus the family structure was matrilineal. Independent women held high the positions in society as priestesses, shaman, managers, land-holders, artists, warriors and so much more. There is no evidence of marriage between mortal woman and man, however, in the sacred ritual of hieros gamos, the marriage of goddess and god was enacted with the priestess and king (and was basically an act of sexual union) to assure abundance of the land. But this marriage was symbolic, and not a permanent, legal union. 

Things began to change for women during the Bronze Age (approximately 2700 BCE to 1200 BCE), when men began to dominate the world. Dynastic and monarchic societies, ruled by men, began to appear. Paternal bloodlines became important, as wealth and power were passed down to sons. Women began to be perceived as the inferior gender, whose primary function was to produce heirs, preferably sons. Focus was placed on the sons, who were the primary recipients of education, property, and power. The union of kingdoms through marriage often increased wealth and power of both families, and ensured purity of bloodline for future heirs. Nuptial contracts between women and men were formed, not for love, but for power and property. Women had no say in her partner selection, and often the groom was chosen before she could even talk. Often the groom was decades older than she. Luckily for women, these societies were polytheistic and worshipped many different goddesses and gods, so women continued to worship their favored deities. 

In Classical Greece (500-336 BC), women never lived a life of independence. Spinsterhood was considered a terrible fate, yet marriage wasn’t that attractive, either. Again, love did not factor into marriage, rather it was a union to strengthen the community. A girl was the responsibility of her father or male guardian until she was married, and if a woman from a poor family didn’t marry, often she became a prostitute to support herself.  Fathers selected the husbands and the mothers had no say in the matter. Girls were married at a very young age, as early as age 13, to men in their thirties. Sometimes girls met their husbands for the first time on their wedding day. It was not uncommon for first cousins and step-siblings to betroth, mostly to keep property within the family. There was no formal schooling for girls outside of the home, and they were mostly taught how to perform household duties. Once married, women lived in a secluded area of the house, were allowed no social life and were barely allowed to go outdoors, except to fetch water. They took care of the house and bore children, while the husbands enjoyed courtesans and concubines. At least the women had their goddesses to worship for comfort.

The Greek culture exemplified the plight of woman in nearly all societies around the globe.

Monotheism, the workshop of one male god began to arise around the 8th Century BCE, and the first evidence of written scriptures of the Hebrew Bible appeared around 2nd Century BCE, followed by the Christian Bible (around 4th Century AD) and Islamic Quran (around 7th Century AD). With these texts, patriarchy was solidified into religious law; it was no longer just a political concept. Goddess cultures around the world were destroyed and those who worshipped goddesses were killed, because God ordered it. All sacred texts made it clear that woman was (is) the secondary sex, whose primary role was (is) to serve her husband and multiply. Girls were property of the father until they married, and could even be sold off as slaves. Sexuality outside of marriage was (is) considered a mortal sin. Divorce was frowned upon by the religious fathers. Women were not allowed to participate in church activities, much less work outside of the home. Marriage became a religious pact made legal only when officiated by a church or temple authority. Women married because there were few other choices. Without employable skills, property, or even an opinion, women relied on men to survive. They often endured horrific and abusive marriages because there was no other option.

Ironically, single, independent women were shunned, and brilliant women destroyed, because they were considered heretics of the Church, as was the case of Hypatia, (4th Century AD) a brilliant teacher of mathematics and astronomy of Alexandria. She turned down marriage proposals to live independently, and was brutally murdered by a group of Christian monks, intolerant of her self-reliance. And don’t get me started on the Crusades, sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, which in some cases targeted single women (1300s to 1700s). That’s a separate article.

Love and romance didn’t factor into marriage until probably the time of the Troubadours during the Middle Ages (1110 – 1350), a group of mostly men whose poetry and songs espoused courtly love, and positive views of women. Perhaps this movement was used as a marketing tool to make marriage more palatable.

Thankfully, the feminist movements of the 19th and 20th Centuries opened the door of equal rights to women, and began to transform Western civilization into one in which a woman can choose to live independently. The demand for equal rights began in England and the United States in the mid-1800s with the Woman’s Suffrage Movement. “Suffragettes” organized and spoke in public, unheard of at the time and despite heavy opposition from men, to demand the right to work and vote. In 1919, women of the USA won the right for women to vote, and the 1920 presidential election was their first. Women began to enter the workforce. 

During the Women’s Liberation Movement in the United States during the 1960s, the voices of a few brave and powerful women, demanding equal opportunity, equal pay and equal justice, spread like wild fire via mass media, and positive social changes for women occurred at unprecedented speed. Women grabbed at emerging opportunities to become self-reliant and independent. Marriage was no longer a necessity. Birth control enabled sexual freedom. Divorce became an acceptable option, without fear of disgrace.

Many of today’s Western woman exercise our rights and our freedoms. We’re waiting longer to marry, if we choose to marry at all. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Committed, points out that married women are more likely to suffer from depression than single women, and as we begin to emerge from the cloud of old programming, it is easy to understand why.

Many women around the world still suffer under outmoded patriarchal traditions with no freedom in Child brides and arranged marriages still thrive around the world.sight. Forced to marry, often at very young ages to strangers chosen by the parents, and with little education, no rights and few options, they are reminders of the great strides we women of the Western world have made and continue to make.

So, today, as a single women in the United States, I express tremendous gratitude for my life. I proudly choose and celebrate independence, because I can!!

SOURCES:

The Living Goddesses, Marija Gimbutas

Women in Ancient Greece, Sue Blundell

Holy Bible

Quaran