The first time I heard the word “feminism,” it sounded to me like there were rocks in the speaker’s throat. I don’t remember how old I was or who spoke the word, but I do remember immediately deciding that I would have to be careful should I ever want to have anything to do with such an “ism” myself.
By the time I received my college diploma, I’d sorted out the messages well enough. The die-hard feminists were working like dogs and taking a beating for my rights to do anything a man could do.
You had to hand it to them, because you knew you were going to follow in the wake of their success. But calling yourself one was to take on those very beatings. It wasn’t clear–at least in my mind–that joining the good old boys was a privilege worth fighting for.
In the end, I decided feminism was a theoretical ideal best not taken too far. Tap away at the glass ceiling all you want, just be quiet about it. Be strong and passionate, but only where and when appropriate.
Step up to the plate as a man’s equal, but don’t wound his pride by actually winning. Be hard at work and soft in bed.
At one point, I actually had a post-it note up that said “Think like a man, love like a woman, eat like a bird, work like a dog.” I was a frantic ping-pong ball trying to make it all work.
God did not help. At least not the God I’d been raised on. In that paradigm, there was God the Father, God the Son, and a Holy Spirit that was assigned no gender. Men were appointed heads of the households.
Women didn’t have to walk a step behind in public, but the submissive directive was still crystal clear.
And while this was justified by the admonition that men were to love their wives as themselves, I had the sense that few of the men sitting along those pews had any idea of how to do either.
As for strong, sensual women with spirit, holy or otherwise? Well, we were “dangerous” and to be strongly discouraged. That I was. Until the day a new wind caressed my face. A breeze so fresh it nearly knocked me over with delight.
A firm, supple voice began speaking to me of the kind of freedom even fairy tales dared not offer hope for. The freedom to be who I really was, a woman “as is,” wild and wonderful, powerful even while gentle.
The freedom to be successful by my own terms without sacrificing my true feminine self in the process.
I was terrified to learn this hope sounded much like the kind offered by what some would call The Goddess. After all, Goddesses were earthy, unpredictable, sensual, moody and not always nice.
Lots of them were big, ugly, and old–the three absolute no-no’s in a modern woman’s success story. Besides, that was just “New Age” thinking, right? I decided I wanted no part of it.
Yet, yet, yet… I had felt the breeze, heard the voice. A new spirituality had opened up in me, a new spin laid into that ping-pong ball. My inner soul just laughed at my dismissive decisions. To my heart, the old ways seemed immediately primitive.
The new ways promised an adventure I could not bear to deny myself. Feminism took on a completely new meaning to me. It wasn’t about making it in a man’s world, I realized, but about creating a new world for the woman in me.
New ideas tumbled forth, one after the other. What if women were here for a reason beyond both mending socks or shoving her way into a board room?
What if women were here to transform board rooms with grace and at the same time not be insulted when socks needed to be mended?
What if women were here to intuitively hear the goddess, and so pass on her messages…”Enough war, now, brave soldiers, put down your weapons. Enough building now, fine crafters, it’s time to give the land, and your selves, a good rest.”
The questions came fast and furious, as if riding in on waves. What if we could accept ourselves, and so not rape and pillage the earth and it’s resources just so we can go into debt for the best beauty cream?
What if we could slow down enough to hear our children tell us what they love, what they are afraid of, and what they really need?
What if we took everything less seriously, and started to laugh from the belly again? What if that, and not a multi-billion dollar research firm, held the key to curing cancer?
What if we learned to trust our gut and open our mouths about what we know as truth, even when there is no definitive proof to offer?
What if we followed the moods of the seasons, as the rest of creation does, and so gave ourselves times of sowing and reaping, dancing and sleeping, instead of go, go, go, go, go?
What if our battered souls felt honored enough to speak, and so shared it’s secrets about things like how to be replenished by the spirit of a tree?
The new ideas took hold in me quickly. Like a powder keg they burst through virtually every old relationship I had, costing me. Costing my children. The death before the rebirth.
Yet in this new understanding, I had at last found a way to celebrate all that was within me. This was not the dulled feminism of compromise I had known.
It was a brilliant feminism, based on inclusion of all that I was, dark and light, the seasons within my very womanhood.
Here the ping pong was not bobbing franticly back and forth, but flowing gently to the rhythm of all things.
“I am the beautiful maiden and the hag!” I began to shout to the moon, sometimes kindly, sometimes not. I became passionate beyond propriety, deeply dangerous to old school thinkers.
I loved every minute I wasn’t in heartbreak and tears (and even some of those). It wasn’t long before I learned that this “new” spirituality wasn’t new at all. The Goddesses who spoke to me had been around longer than my own childhood religion. A lot longer.
Like single facets of sparkling light on a magnificent chandelier, each Goddess came to teach me an aspect of The One divinity that sourced us all.
Baba Yaga taught me to be a wild woman and to laugh in the face of social risk. Isis lovingly showed me how to mother my children, especially at those crucial moments when I knew what I had to offer was not enough.
Kali had me vomiting blood in India, dancing me between my karma and compassion in a way I was not sure I would survive. Kuan Yin whispered to me about gentleness and the value of a woman opened by heartbreak.
Pachamama offered healing again and again, until at last I loved the earth I had, in the old days, taken little notice of. Oya swirled her lessons of tumultuous change in ways so stunning I could not deny her a place in my writing.
She lives in my novels, alive and well, and I like to think that because of this we have come to terms.
I would like to say that it has all worked out; that these Divine Mentors showed me an easy road with clear signposts. I cannot.
Neither can any of other goddesses-in-training I’ve met along the way. The road She points us toward is through an uncut field, because it is our own.
The signposts come mostly from our desires and our intuition. Only after we know what we know can we apply our logical thinking to the “how” of doing what needs to be done.
Even then, we are ridiculed (or worse) for our ways. We are still existing in a man’s world, after all.
Brick walls are no more fun to crash into than glass ceilings.No, it has not been an easy road. But it has been a road with a breeze.
Today, as I put one foot in front of the other, I am deeply grateful for the work of the feminists who went before me–even if I have not understood them fully. They did cut a first path and allowed me to see one view of what was possible.
I am also grateful for my childhood religious training. In seeing the masculine aspects of God/Goddess, I was able to find what was missing.
Even so, I hope to show something different to my son and daughter. I hope to show them a feminism and spirituality that honors dark and light, up and down, here and there, her and him.
I hope for them to be able to shout to the moon “I am the beautiful maiden and I am the hag!” Most of all, I hope they hear the voice I hear when She shouts back, with mirth in her throat, “So you are, my blessed child. So you are!”
NOTE: This article first appeared in Natural Beauty and Health Magazine.
You can find much more information on living a holistic lifestyle in these free magazines and on our YouTube channel.
Robin Rice is an author, spiritual mentor and contemporary shaman. She is also founder of the Awesome Women Hub.