Among Women

I spent last night at a country show in one of Sacramento’s affluent suburbs. The bar was serving thirty-two ounce beers in mason jars and the Giants won game 1 of the world series.

People were having a good time.

20 minutes before the show starts, there’s a drunk twenty-something female being obnoxious, three rows back from the stage. She’s yelling about everything. She’s got that “one-too-many” sway on. Her glassy eyes tell the story of an over-indulgent happy hour.

Next to me, there are three beautiful twenty-something women with giant wedding rings. They have pretty hair and cute J.Crew style.

Every word coming out of their mouths is something mean about someone else.

When the music comes on, the drunk girl positions herself behind the young women with the impressive hand jewelry. Minutes later, the drama begins.

For half an hour, the women are getting into it, back and forth. I catch words like “Bitch.” and “Whore.” Any time I look back between songs I catch eyes rolling and passive aggressive giggles exchanged between friends.

During a break in the action on stage, the low-level cattiness erupts into a full-fledged lady brawl. Hair pulling, obscenity screaming. One girl put another girl in a headlock.

“Is this really happening right now?”

The artist on stage strums kum-ba-yah on his guitar and waits for the intensity in the crowd to die down.

The ladies are eventually separated. The show goes on.

I feel one part disbelief, one part sadness.

I feel disbelief that adult women want to spend any time or energy being cruel to each other. It seems inconceivable that with all women are up against, we can’t just be kind and loving and supportive.

I feel sadness for my own lifetime participation in the ugliness that underlies the drunk girl-fight at the country music bar. It’s the same ugliness that made my high school students cry in my office at my last job. It’s the same ugliness that made me say and do terrible things to my female high school classmates. It’s the same ugliness we face every day when we look in the mirror and decide we’re not thin enough. Not pretty enough. That our hair and our face and our makeup doesn’t look quite right.

We feel angry and bitter inside so we lash out at the female reflections around us. We perceive a scarcity of success, attention, and eligible men, so we make enemies out of perfect strangers just because they are women.

We judge, and gossip and roll our eyes.

We call each other bitches. We compete and contend and put each other down.

This morning, I’m reminded of the importance of female solidarity. Of having strong, honest relationships with other women. The type of relationships where we can tell-it-how-it-is without telling each other how to be. The type of relationships that lift us up, that nurture our self-esteem. The type of relationships that feel safe and supportive. The type of relationships that teach us how to treat each other so we can practice how to treat ourselves.

Love among women is a powerful thing.

Get some and spread it around.

Ladies Leave Your Man at Home

I hate to interrupt all of the exotic Asia talk, but this is important.

On Saturday morning I feel exhausted. In a revolutionary act of Friday night bravery, I’d stayed out at a bar until 2 a.m. My friend and I lost track of time giggling at tales of childhood dysfunction told with hilarious charm and full-body animation by a tall, dark stranger.

I’m still wiping the crust from my eyes when our dance teacher skips through the studio door. She’s as radiant and energetic as I’d remembered from two weeks ago when we accidentally took her “Diva Hip Hop” class at Your Neighborhood Studio in Culver City, CA.

I briefly consider sneaking away and waiting out the class at the nearest Peet’s coffee.

I look over at the white-haired woman in a black mesh tank top and decide to stay.

Thirty minutes later I’m sweaty and re-energized. I’m watching a middle-aged Asian woman in a pink cotton V neck shake it like it’s a Beyonce Grammy performance. She’s chunky in a real-woman kind of way. Her hair is pulled off her face in the type of ponytail a busy Mom makes while she’s buckling her kid into a car seat and texting her gym buddy that she’s running late. I watch this woman get completely lost in the rhythm of her own body. Her face is soft and sassy. From fifteen feet away I can feel her release the heavy weight of everything else in her life.

Then it’s my turn. My group spreads the length of the wood floor. Each of us finds a space where our face meets our reflection in the mirror. Then the music comes on and we stop looking.

In the all-female dance class there are women of many ages. And races. And sizes. And experiences.

Some of us are terribly uncoordinated and others look like this morning is a warm-up for their gig on the sidelines of the Dallas Cowboys’ game tomorrow.

All of us are rocking it out like we were born to do it.

Here, our bodies are perfect, our minds are clear.

Right now our spirits are soaring.

I’m reminded that womanhood is a powerful thing. That sometimes it is hard for us to love each other, celebrate each other and accept each other. Because it is hard to love, celebrate and accept ourselves.

I’m reminded that when we stop competing and comparing, when we stop being self-conscious and self-critical, we find freedom. The freedom to sweat. The freedom to express ourselves. The freedom to be and act and look exactly the way we are:

Beautiful.

Do you Bake?

I spent 7 hours alone in my apartment. I washed my sheets. I watched a four hour lecture on torts. I made an elaborate lunch. I looked at 72 cookie recipes.

I day-dreamed about what it felt like in the sunshine.

When I finally made it out in public I felt quiet and disoriented. It felt like emerging from a three month hibernation.

I wandered around Wholefoods aimlessly for twenty minutes. I was sweaty, and hungry and reluctant to go home. I was barely conscious, staring at gluten-free cookie mixes when a young woman interrupted my zone-out.

“Do you bake?”

I froze. I couldn’t remember. I’d been out of body and not present since early this morning. It took at least thirty seconds to feel my feet, breathe in, and respond, “YES!”

I looked up and saw a young woman with a bright smile. She was carrying a gluten-free yellow cake mix box and was clearly on a mission. She needed to know how to make Funfetti cupcakes. She had inadvertently stumbled upon an unofficial expert. I’ve probably made four thousand Funfetti cupcakes in my lifetime. Maybe more.

Without hesitation, she told me the whole plan. There’s a boy. It’s his birthday. He eats healthy and “likes confetti.” Immediately I can tell she wants to marry the guy. Later she admits, “I obviously have a crush.”

I give her the five-minute rundown on the art of rainbow sprinkles. I hit the finer points of brand preference and color balance. I recommended she add a little at a time, get an even distribution, then repeat the process until she looks down and thinks, “yes. it’s perfect.” Then, in an unexpected moment of complete, twenty-eight year old woman honesty, I laid it down for her.

“Girl. Lemme tell you. I spent years trying to get boys attention by being pretty and skinny and giggly and well dressed. The truth is, none of it ever worked even close to as well as giving them food I made with enthusiasm and love. You’re on the right track. Keep up the good work.”

She grabbed my arm and screeched with delight. “I’m going to top them with fondant and make them extra pretty. I think he’s going to love it!”

We shared a few more moments of uncensored womanhood before I wished her good luck and proceeded purposefully to the check out line. I loaded two packs of strawberries and a bag of pretzels on to the conveyer belt, paused and felt a warmth of love come over me. I felt deep gratitude for human connection. For sharing myself. For connecting to another woman in a uniquely feminine space.

Not so many years ago I would have never connected with anyone in the baking aisle. If another woman approached me she would have been met immediately and abruptly with sarcasm and dismissal. I would have never encouraged anyone to bake their way into a man’s heart.

Today I feel grateful for growth, perspective and my love for cooking. I feel grateful for that young woman’s wide open heart and determined spirit. I feel grateful for Funfetti cupcakes and all the boys who have ignored my flirtation, but eaten what I’ve baked.

Lady Love

Two things I know for sure:

1) I have the most incredible mom on the planet. She mothers with deep love compassion and sacrifice. She is unconditional. She is brave and strong.

2) My twenties have been blessed by the emergence of many beautiful female role models. They are powerful, soft, intelligent, funny and unique. Each of them teaches me in her own way about womanhood, femininity, being a parent, a spouse, a partner.

One thing I struggle with: Embracing in myself all of the exquisite feminine strength I see in my mom and other women.

Late in high school I got this idea of myself that I was a strong, sassy woman. To me that meant being assertive. outspoken. not taking shit from anyone. The older I got the more I felt like this idea of myself was myself. It became my entire identity. I felt powerful and accomplished. I liked that people respected my authority. People told me I was intimidating and I took it as a compliment.

My voice is always heard. I speak my mind, talk over other people and demand that people take notice of what I have to say. In large groups of boisterous men I can hang tough with sarcasm and insults.

For years this felt like both a personal and feminist victory. I felt empowered. I told the young women in my life whom I mentored that it was important to be strong. Be assertive. outspoken. don’t take shit from anyone.

But about five years deep in a spiritual practice and many incredible female influences later, it started to feel like an obstacle. I felt lonely and isolated. I wanted to know what it meant to open up my heart but all I could ever do was open up my mouth. I was desperate to understand what wasn’t working.

Slowly, I opened myself up to softness. It started with a simple commitment to “be nice.” With every person I knew, in every public encounter, I focused on this one thing. I noticed almost immediately the positive effects of this practice in my life. In turns out, people like when you’re nice to them. Shit, who would have thought?

The more I acted nice, the better I felt. And sooner than I ever would have expected, I didn’t have to try so hard. It became how I was rather than just something I did.

Being nice unlocked other traits I hadn’t seen in myself since I was a little girl. I cried more in two months than I had in five years. I cried in movies, commercials and books. I couldn’t watch a single thing on the Oprah Network without puddling into a pool of tears.

I started to help people. I helped strangers: open doors, pick up dropped produce in the grocery store and find places when they were lost.

I wanted people to feel loved and cared for by me. I wanted to connect and listen to them. I started to bake and cook for anyone who would eat it.

It all felt incredible.

The behaviors and attitudes I observed in myself were the feminine qualities I had been denying and rejecting (mostly out of fear) for years. I feared that if I loved¬† people, they would hurt and betray me. I feared that if took care of people, they would walk all over me. I feared that if I connected to people, I would feel vulnerable and exposed. I thought if I cooked for people I would fail at it. I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone witnessing my failure.

Today, in the midst of what feels like a phase of emotional and spiritual transition, all of those fears remain intact. What I’m learning, is fear is a barrier to my happiness. Fear is a barrier to me living my fullest life. Fear prevents me from letting my whole self show up in the world. When I soften, embrace my femininity and allow others to do the same, I chip away at my fears. The more I accept that I just might be a caretaker, a mother, a gentle and kind woman, the more I feel acceptance in the world.

I still feel powerful. My voice is heard. I command respect. But in moments of softness I find my strength and my voice by allowing people to see me instead of demanding their attention. I can still be outspoken but conscious of what I say. And, one of my greatest lessons to date, is that the best way to “not take shit from anyone” is to not give it out.

Womanhood is beautiful. Femininity is luminous and powerful. To love, be compassionate, caring, open and soft are lessons I learned from my mom and the gifts of a vibrant life. I do not have to sacrifice my strength to be a woman, I just have to give up the fear that I do.

I feel gratitude for all of my many female mentors and inspirations. This particular reflection was inspired by two brave women telling their own stories of struggling with the balance of softness and strength:


http://www.peachfriedman.com/2012/03/02/thing-1-and-thing-2/

¬†http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/03/starving-for-approval-anorexia-and-the-mother-shadow–candice-holdorf/