Activism

Windows and Mirrors

I must preface this post with the knowledge that anything I post about race, I do so with a beginners mind. I know that as a white person, this is never a topic I can master, yet I also have the responsibility to continue to work on this in myself and speak and share when I see the need. 

Windows and Mirrors: Authentic Representation Matters

I am on our school equity committee, and when talking about addressing equity and diversity in our curriculum the concept of "windows and mirrors" is often used. The goal is that students can both see themselves reflected in mirrors of the materials they are reading, and also see windows into other unfamiliar experiences. 

This concept has come up to me a lot recently as I reflect on my own social media experience. I realized in the last year that my Facebook feed was significantly more of a mirror than it was a window into other people's rich experiences. It was not that I was actively avoiding diversity in my feed, but that I realized I was not trying hard enough to seek it out. 

This became more apparent as I reflected back on my podcast interviews. I knew I needed to reflect a wider range of diverse personal experience, and specifically share more stories of women of color, but I also wanted it to come from a place of authentic connection.

This has gotten me exploring further the idea of "token diversity" vs. true diversity. For me, token diversity is when we ask someone to participate in something soley because they fit a specific category we need to fill. This feels shallow to me, but it can be the start of a deeper self-exploration if we allow ourselves to explore it further. 

It can be especially challenging when the communities around you tend to lack natural diversity. I live in Portland, which is known for it's predominant whiteness and history of anti-blackness. I also connect in spiritual communities, where spiritual bypassing and whitewashed spirituality is all too common. 

I am only at the beginning of my journey in this, but I have taken a few steps to expand my windows and find mirrors where I hadn't seen them before. I share my personal journey to help prompt the discussion, I would love to hear what has helped you as well.

Actively follow and financially support the work of people of color. Currently, what little money I have on Patreon is going to the work of women of color who I have learned from in the last year. As my means grow, I intend on growing that support as well. I have also taken steps to see these women's posts at the top of my Facebook feed so that they don't get lost in the hundreds of posts that echo my own personal experience. 

Take responsibility to educate yourself. At the same time, while I make a point to follow people of color, I acknowledge that it is not their job to educate me. It is my job to educate myself. There are people out there who make this their life's work and for that I appreciate and support them. Currently, I would recommend the book So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Olli. I especially appreciate her perspective as a fellow Pacific Northwesterner. I also appreciate that it is available on Audible! Catrice Jackson is another author and educator who does live trainings. Her She Talks We Talk Race Talks for Women is coming to Portland in April and I am planning to attend. If you can't attend a training, she has several books on the topic as well. 

Find reflections within windows. While there are experiences of oppression that I can never attempt to fully grasp, having not experienced them, there is power in connecting with our shared common experience. I experienced this powerfully in last week's interview with Alexandra Loves. Our conversation was both a window into her world, and a reflection of our shared experiences and perspectives. 

Don't turn away from discomfort, examine it. In Bill Sinkford's article, The Dream of White Innocence, he shares how white members of Unitarian Universalist community were ready to jump in and support the civil rights movement - until things got too uncomfortable. We have a tendency to focus on peace and love and can't we all just get along? But as Sinkford says, "resistance is what love looks like in the face of hate." When we see something that makes us uncomfortable or challenges our own sense of who we are, we must face that discomfort and understand where it's coming from. If someone challenges us on our words or actions, we must look at the impact of the actions, not the intent. To help you examine your discomfort, Leesa Renee Hall, who I will be interviewing next month, has put together this list of Expressive Writing Prompts to Overcome White Fragility & Spiritual Bypass, along with weekly writing prompts to question their beliefs. 

This is only the beginning of my own journey, the process is ongoing. I would love to hear from you - what has helped to expand your own windows and mirrors? What has helped you to question your previously unexamined beliefs on this topic?

Feminism is Not the Problem

I have seen a recent trend of feminism bashing on social media that has me rather perplexed because it's coming from women I've considered strong and independent that had a high level of respect for over the years. The narrative goes a little something like this: the feminist movement has brought us to a point where women are taking on a more "masculine" role, thus causing an imbalance in personal relationships. 

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I strongly disagree with this sentiment. Although I do see an imbalance in what our culture deems "feminine" and "masculine," I don't see feminism as the problem - in fact, I believe we need feminism to keep evolving to bring us closer to a state of balance. 

Before I get into my thoughts on this, I should clarify what I mean by feminism, and what I don't. To put it in it's simplest terms, Merriam Webster defines Feminism as: "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." I also believe that as feminism has evolved, we must take into account intersectionality, which means "the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups." So as I learn more about feminism, it's from an intersectional feminism lens, including people all across the gender spectrum. 

With that in mind, to me feminism is NOT:

  • A push for women to gain more power by "acting like men."
  • Restricting women from being themselves or doing what they want because it's "not feminist."
  • Putting women first at all costs.
  • Focusing on the needs of white women without taking into account the differing needs of other marginalized individuals or groups.
  • Trans-exclusionary. 

Feminism, at it's core, is about equality across sex and gender.

Seems pretty basic, so what's the problem?

Feminism brought light to the imbalance, it did not cause it.  Just as I have heard people blaming the Obama Presidency for being "divisive" when it really just brought to light the division and inequality that already existed, feminism brings our attention to something that was already out of balance. People seem to think that the civil rights movement and feminism were a one and done kind of thing - "oh we already went through that, now it's not an issue." But both are an ongoing process, and our current political situation has made that clear. 

We have been imbalanced for centuries towards what we consider the "masculine." I might agree that rigid old school feminism that sees men as "the enemy" while at the same time tries to push women to emulate them definitely is an issue. Feminism has evolved quite a bit from that point though and I believe is gradually coming to a place of better balance. I still think though that what "turns us off" about men we see as more sensitive or emotional is still driven by our societies expectation that that's not OK for men to express emotions and for that reason we need still feminism. From my experience, my relationship works best when we can both flow in and out of both energies. It feels good to express both sides.

We confuse cultural conditioning with biological differences. I am not going to say that there are zero biological differences between sexes and genders, but I will say that I believe that the biological differences are vastly overstated. I've heard stories from people transitioning where trans women suddenly felt more connected to others, and trans men suddenly felt more aggressive when they started taking hormones. But our biological wiring is complicated and we do not fall on a strict binary. Culturally, we are given the narrative that men should be "alphas," when in fact there are many cultures where that is not the case. The more we learn about the non binary variance of gender, the more we see that we are not defined by our genitals, or even by our hormones alone. 

I was recently asked why I focus primarily on women in my work, though there are men who relate to it. I expressed that while I know that men deal with similar issues around intensity and excitability, it often manifests itself differently. This led to a great conversation on an upcoming episode of the Fringy Bit Podcast (that I can't wait to share) where we got talking about the different ways men and women process intense feelings in our western culture. We  recognized that men seem to compartmentalize their feelings more - which led to a whole conversation about how they to leak out when feelings are suppressed for too long. We also talked about the differences between American male friendships and those in Europe - both my husband and Jon the cohost being from Europe, we observed that close male friendship in the US seem to be more rare. So I guess my point is that men and women all have the same feelings, and deal with similar issues, but our cultural conditioning tells us how it's OK to process and how it's not. 

Our culture idealizes what we think of as "masculine." I believe our culture still idolizes what we view as "masculine" traits over "feminine" ones and sees the latter as weak. I do believe that as women we should not feel forced to take on a stereotypical "masculine" role that does not feel natural to us. On the other hand, the problem is not that women are taking on this role too much, so much as that we don't accept men who take on the complementary role. The answer is not for women to "submit," but for us to not force ourselves into roles that aren't comfortable for us - although there is certainly room to play with and experiment with those roles. I know I, for example, have always been attracted to men who are more what our culture deems as "feminine." The problem I have often found is that many of those men are so deeply injured because they could not express that side in a healthy way, so it manifests in ways that are not productive for them. I can't speak outside of my own cultural experience but I will say my husband is German born and my last boyfriend's parents were Thai immigrants and I feel like they both were more comfortable with their softer side. Then again, my husband is a breed of his own so I have no idea how much of his differences are cultural and how much is just him being him.  I'd venture to say in some ways that men need feminism even more in our culture than women in this day and age.  At least I, as a woman, could got to my local grocery store in a suit if I wanted without worry of assault, while my husband could not wear a skirt without that worry. It seems that in the beginning of feminism, we started reacting to toxic masculinity in our culture not by bringing balance but by idealizing the masculine to the point where we became even more off balance. I do see that changing though - I think slowly we are starting to accept the "feminine" more in our culture, but it's a slow process.

Some women find peace when they let go a little. I can definitely see how women who have felt forced into a "masculine" role would benefit from letting someone else take the lead. There is definitely an ease to that, and sometimes when we are super in control in one area of our lives, it is nice to let go in another. I just don't think it's as simple as the binary that says all women should be this way and all men should be that. It's not that simple - we are complicated beings. I've also heard a lot of intense women who felt like they had to become "hard" in order to protect themselves, so finding ways to connect with their softer side has been immensely helpful. The problem I find is when people start saying that we have to be "soft," "feminine," or "submissive" in order to keep balance in relationships. The only thing we have to do, is connect with what resonates for us (well we don't have to do that, but it does help us connect with others when we are deeply connected to our selves.)

I see "dating experts" encouraging strong women to "get in touch with their feminine side" and "letting go of control" so they can attract a mate. If these strategies work, it's because in the process they are connecting with more of themselves and not forcing things as much. In my experience, finding a solid relationship is not about taking on a specific gender or stereotypical role, but in embodying yourself fully and not pushing against reality. I fear though, that if  in trying to be more "feminine" we are actually suppressing our wholeness that any relationship we attract will not be balanced after all. 

Some idealize a mythical past that never existed. I feel like by blaming feminism for the existing "masculine/feminine" imbalance, it romanticizes some mythical past before feminism when relationships were great. If such a time existed it was way before our current culture as we know it. Marrying for love is a fairly recent thing, so if we are having more divorces it's because people used to stay in bad marriages because they had to and we are currently still navigating the work it takes to stay "in love" with a partner. I'm not saying it should feel forced, but it does take ongoing conscious action many are not willing to put in.

Additionally, our western history has never really left room for relationships that fall outside of the traditional binary. Only very recently have we even started to accept that this is OK, and we have along way to go on that! "Equality of the sexes" does not truly exist if is limited to the binary. True equality is being able to express ourselves fully without being limited by our sex or gender. 

In this week's Embracing Intensity Podcast episode with Thais Sky we explore intersectional feminism further, and I will be continuing to more deeply explore the way our culture tells us to "tone ourselves down" over future episodes. In order to truly embrace our own intensity, I find it important to look at the broader cultural contexts that tell us that we are "too much." 

Spiritual Bypassing is Not Benign

Although I grew up in the spiritual community of the Unitarian Universalist Church, I have often veered away from the word “spiritual” in the past. It hasn’t been until I’ve immersed myself more into the coaching and healing world that I’ve really started to put my finger on the fact that the associations I’ve had about spirituality that I reeled against is not really spirituality, but spiritual bypassing.

I used to think of spirituality as a kind of pedestal - people who have transcended earthly concerns and are somehow on a higher level of consciousness. But the thing is to truly be “conscious” you have to acknowledge the dark, not just the light.

Spiritual bypassing is when we gloss over the darkness and focus only on the light. This viewpoint has become more insidious as things like the law of attraction permeate our healing and spiritual communities.

Spiritual Bypassing is not Benign: The Dangers of "Love & Light"

I used to think of this glossing over of the dark as at best laughable and at worst harmful to the person who is not facing their shadow, but I have come to realize that this trend and the systems that perpetuate it are causing great harm to others.

To be clear, I do believe that our thoughts have a profound influence on our reality and that where we focus our energy we see more opportunities. However, when I see platitudes like “high vibe only” and “follow your bliss” being used as weapons against people who are confronting their shadow, I see the real harm it can do.

I am very new to this whole topic and I will stumble my way through inelegantly, but here are some of the factors that I see that make spiritual bypassing so dangerous:

Victim Blaming - I first noticed this in the energy healing community with comments like, “you can heal if you want to,” or “people with fibromyalgia often don’t really want to heal,” and while I acknowledge that  there are a ton of modalities out there that can help in the healing process, many of the people I’ve known who have had dramatic healing experiences had the time and resources to explore and find the right modalities that worked for them. More recently I’ve observed how this line of thinking also minimizes the pain of people who have been abused and traumatized by quoting things like Eleanor Roosevelt, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent” in response to someone’s expressed pain, which brings me to...

White Supremacy - I will admit that I am at the beginning stages of learning about this topic and have made it a high priority to learn more as I go. In my interview with Leela Sinha, she said “there are ways in which intensiveness - understanding intensiveness, helps us understand systemic racism. Because there are a lot of ways in which, over time, intensiveness has become culturally correlated with being nonwhite.” Where I see this play out in our spiritual communities especially is in tone-policing and asking people to “tone it down” when they express intense emotions. There is also a lot of cultural appropriation and erasure within modern day western spiritual communities. Where I’ve seen white supremacy play out most recently has been through victim blaming as well as lack of social context, capitalizing on the pain of others, self-centering, prioritizing “niceness” over “kindness” and deflection of responsibility. I know the UU church is facing this directly through their work on finding your roadmap to the UU conversation on white supremacy. Until we face our own contributions to this systemic issue, we will continue to perpetuate it. 

Capitalizing on the Pain of Others - Again, my first observation of this trend has been through behavior of healers that use other people’s pain and their promise of relief from that pain for their own personal gain. More recently, I’ve seen the pain of women of color used to gain attention and sympathy from white women in the spiritual community. As a byproduct of this, many well intentioned women, myself included, found themselves learning valuable lessons at the expense of other people’s pain. I am still processing myself how to best approach this and learning more every day.

Lack of Social Context - I have always been an optimist and it has worked out for me for the most part, but I acknowledge that that is in large part due to the fact that I grew up as a white middle class child with loving and supportive community and all of the privileges that came with that. When we judge people’s responses on our own personal bubble of experience, we are missing out on the social context which led to the response. For example, one thing I have taken for granted is my ability to have a calming influence on other people. I usually chose my words carefully when approaching a difference of opinion online and I'm used to being able to reason with people without having my words twisted around on me. What I have witnessed recently is that women of color who put in even more time, effort and emotional labor into crafting their responses in a way that should be heard, get their words twisted around into an attack even when it is obvious to me that it is not an attack, merely a calling attention to a problem that needs to be addressed. They get accused of "playing the victim" and then the white women in question turn it around and actually play victim and make it all about them. When you are experiencing acts of aggression and micro aggression on a daily basis “positive thinking” will not fix it.

Self-Centering - Self care is essential in doing any kind of spiritual, personal development or activist work. Too often though, if we get caught up with “connecting with self,” we get lost in “connecting with others”  - except where it directly benefits us. This was particularly observed by Sadie McCarthy-Sitthiket in my interview with her this week when she talked about how as American’s we are ego driven and individual focused as a culture. This self-centering is also seen a lot when someone points out a way we've injured them and then we make it all about us by over explaining or taking a victim stance. 

Prioritizing “Niceness” over “Kindness” - Kindness is about being helpful and assertive. Niceness is about being “polite.” When we place niceness over kindness, we are negating the very real challenging feelings other people may have. Niceness is a shallow condition that never looks below the surface. If we live in the land of niceness every day, we leave no room for deeper connection at best and do additional injury to the suffering of others at worst. Processing trauma, pain, abuse, oppression, suppression and our own internalized and externalized systems is not always pretty. Spiritual communities need to support that messiness rather than push to repress it.

Deflecting of Responsibility - This to me goes back to the victim blaming. When we quote things like, ““no one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” we deflect any responsibility we may have played in making someone else feel badly. We put it on the person who we offended and accuse them of being “too sensitive,” or “easily offended,” when in fact we should be focusing on what it was that we did or said that made them feel bad in the first place. Good intentions are nice but it is their consequences that tell us if they were kind. When we get too invested in defending our own point of view, we lose sight of the pain we may have caused or perpetuate it defending our case.

Inaction - To me the benefits of positive thinking and law of attraction can be that it brings your awareness to more opportunities in line with where you focus your energy. A vision board, for example, can keep our focus on where we want to go and widen our scope of possibility. These opportunities, however, are useless unless we take thoughtful action. For me, spirituality has always been tied up with social justice, and I feel that I have not taken action enough in this regard. I am committing myself to learning more and exploring more how visionary women have been making a difference in the world on my podcast.

As I wrap up the first year of my podcast, I see that it has been largely introspective in terms of exploring how intensity affects us personally. Moving into the year ahead, I’d like to shift focus on how we can use our intensity in a positive way to change the world, with a strong leaning towards intersectional feminism.

If you are local to the Portland, OR metro area and are invested in exploring intersectionality in our own spiritual communities, feel free to contact me. I don’t feel at all qualified to lead this discussion, but it’s something I would like to explore further.