Always Well Within

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What Happened to Sisterhood?

What Happened to Sisterhood?

 

What Happened to Sisterhood?

In college, I worked at the Women’s Center as an Administrative Assistant and Counselor.  Not a counselor in the licensed sense, but as a listening ear for women facing struggles on their college path.

I co-founded a 24-hour crisis line for survivors of sexual assault.

I participated in a feminist Consciousness Raising Group.  We read books like Sisterhood is Powerful and The Feminine Mystique to raise our awareness of inequality, awaken our power, and transform society.

I went on plenty of dates with men, but my circle of girlfriends nurtured and sustained me.  We waited tables in the same restaurant, wearing a ridiculous uniform that featured a gathered skirt and puffy sleeves.  At 2 am, after the doors closed, we took off on wild adventures like driving to the California desert for sunrise, searching for the Integratron, and then turning around and traveling miles to the coast for sunset.

After university and a few other jobs, I became the director at a Battered Women’s Shelter.  Later, I served on my city council’s Committee for the Prevention of Violence Against Women.

All this would be considered second wave feminism.  There was a third wave to come, but I missed it entirely.

The Decline of Feminist Awareness

What happened to my feminist awareness?

I entered the spiritual life. I immersed myself in Tibetan Buddhism.

From a spiritual perspective, you’re a soul, a spirit, or pure awareness that’s beyond gender.  You might be female in this life and male in the next. You might have ended up with a female body due to a karmic debt.  For example, having treated women poorly in a past life, you’re now on the receiving end.

That doesn’t mean anyone deserves to be treated unfairly, subjected to violence, or denied an eduction.  But ultimately, you can only break the cycle of rebirth in these ever-changing forms, by recognizing the transitory nature of the self and reality while also cultivating spiritual qualities like love, compassion, patience, and forgiveness.

I didn’t consciously take leave of my feminist concerns, but they took a backseat for decades.  I didn’t place my attention on the patriarchal, hierarchical, or oppressive aspects of Buddhism, which certainly exist.  I focused instead on making the spiritual teachings, which I believe to be the cause for ultimate liberation, available to others. I concentrated as well on my own spiritual evolution so I could be of service with a kinder and clearer heart.

Did Sisterhood Disappear from Your Lens Too?

Did sisterhood simply disappear from my lens only or has this occurred for others too?  Maybe I’m no longer in the right circles, but I rarely encounter discussions of women’s rights in, what some  consider, our post-feminism or anti-feminism era.

Fortunately, the movement for women’s rights in developing countries is alive, but is it receiving the attention it deserves?

It seems like priorities in the West have moved away from social action, flower power, and equality to personal concerns like:

  • Habit change and productivity
  • The power of introverts
  • The search for personal happiness
  • Simplicity and decluttering
  • Healthy living in the face of devastating diseases like cancer

Sure there was the “occupy” movement a few years ago, but where is that now?

Is It Time to Revive Sisterhood?

Is sisterhood relevant any longer?

A few months ago, I wrote about unifying the masculine and feminine for the Joyful Wisdom Circle.  Suddenly, I felt the fire of feminism alive in my belly once again.  But it took a different form.  Maybe I should call this urge something other than “feminism” because it includes but goes beyond equal rights to consider the survival of this planet.

If I attribute any specific qualities to the feminine or masculine, I know I’m guilty of gender bias.  But let’s be honest.  For the most part, men are still in charge. During their reign, the world has gravitated dangerously toward qualities like aggression, power, and unbridled consumerism at the expense of qualities like intuition, collaboration, and nurturance.

As we collectively stand at the edge of survival, I feel sisterhood is more important than ever in taking a stand against violence – just like these women said no to violence in their town.  I feel sisterhood is more important than ever for ensuring equal rights for women around the world.  I feel sisterhood is more important than ever to give rise to an earth-centered, collaborative, and receptive mode of being that may indeed save this world from self-destruction.

Coming Together As Women

However, if we wish to revive sisterhood, we need to be intentional about it.  Men gather via the Mankind Project to focus on “building and supporting the emotionally mature, accountable, and compassionate male role models that our communities need.”

How are women gathering to reclaim their power, activate their wisdom, and engage in social action  in our current times?

If we wish to reconnect with our feminine power and act boldly on behalf of this world, it’s essential to be wary of an over-focus on the self as well.  A sole focus on the self cannot bring lasting happiness.  Whereas thinking of others naturally brings our own concerns into perspective, making them feel far less consuming, far less imprisoning.

It’s not a question of spirituality, smoothies, or simplicity versus social action.  All of these can be integrated into a balanced approach, if you wish.  In addition to sitting on meditation cushions, many Buddhists engage in social action.  My friend Maia Duerr from the Liberated Life Project blends these two aspects of working for inner and outer peace well.

But there’s not one right way either.  If you don’t work with your mind, social action can become a venue for negative emotions.  And secluding yourself in a three-year retreat provides value to the world in a way that may not be immediately obvious.

I don’t know what’s next for me in terms of sisterhood. But putting this question out in the world is one action I can take.  I would also like to support women’s rights in developing countries.  And I would like to be more aware of what’s already in motion when it comes to connecting with our sisters and our own feminine power.

So I would love to hear from you.  Do you think sisterhood is important?  If you’re a woman, how do you connect with other women?  How do you connect with and express your own feminine power and wisdom?

Just scroll down to join the conversation.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

P. S.  I’m grateful for my small tribe of women in the Joyful Wisdom Circle, where we explore mastering our own minds and hearts. Although I haven’t restricted the group to women, it’s naturally evolved that way.  Want to learn more?

Thank you for reading! If you have a moment, please share this article with others. Until next time, may you be well, happy, and safe. With love, Sandra

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20 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this reminder, Sandra. The other day, I overheard two 20-something young women at the farmer’s market use the term “feminazi” to describe another woman who had apparently said something they judged to be unattractively radical (e.g. equal pay for equal work).

    My first reaction, as a second wave women’s movement alumna too, was dismay. How could modern women speak with such derision about issues that were so important to us back then (and, sadly, still are!)?

    Flashback example (for those who weren’t there): back in the early 70s, a well-known bank was in the news because of its very common lending practices. The newsworthy bit caught public attention because of this specific story: it seems that a single woman with excellent references, a solid credit rating and 15 years of stellar career experience in middle management had applied for a car loan. The bank ‘s policy was that no single woman was eligible for a loan unless her application was first co-signed by a male relative. But this particular woman told the bank’s loan manager that her only living male relative was her severely mentally disabled brother living in a group home.

    Replied the loan manager: “He will do just fine.”

    Archaic policies like this were not only widespread, they were perfectly acceptable given society’s patronizing view of women back then. Banks didn’t change those discriminatory practices out of the goodness of their hearts, but because other women rose up to point out that they WERE unacceptable. We organized protests and boycotts and letter-writing (yes, real letters) and make a big enough fuss, and gradually, we made inroads big or small where none had existed.

    Those two women at the market likely have little awareness or appreciation that their ability to make daily adult decisions (rent an apartment, buy a lawn mower with a credit card, run the Boston marathon, serve on a jury, keep a job if they get pregnant ) is made possible only because of other women who opened doors and paved roads for them in the past.

    I suspect that this sole focus on the self you describe (not only in spiritual practice, but throughout a uniquely self-absorbed generation that doesn’t know what it’s like to put the cellphone down) is very likely due for a wake-up call. Personally, I look forward to that!

    Thank you again for such a thought-provoking essay!
    kind regards,
    C.

  2. That’s the first time I’ve heard that term (feminazi), Carolyn! Your story of the bank loan is so telling and so typical of these former times. Thank you for pointing out that we are most likely facing a significant generation gap on this topic. What was important to us is not necessarily important to later generations.

    At the same time, I also wonder about women who went through these times and if the same issues are of importance to them now. I thought about you often when I wrote this article as you blog is dedicated to “my heart sisters” and you’ve contributed so much to raising awareness of women’s heart health issues, which have been in the dark ages till now. I really admire your courage and willingness to take a stand.

    I’m hoping there are advocates for women’s rights among the newest generations in addition to those who are glued to their phones. It’s difficult to overcome that addiction, which is encouraged by the culture. It will be interesting to see if a wake up call comes and what it might be.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking comments as well!

  3. As you know, Sandra, we have followed a similar path towards Tibetan Buddhism. I also have wondered about the current state of feminism. I feel dismayed to hear a term like “feminazi” because it indicates a true lack of information and understanding. It seems that in spite of progress made though consciousness raising in the 70’s and 80’s that we have taken a tremendous step backwards. Politicians are certainly doing their best to roll back the gains women made.

    I admire Lama Tsultrim Allione for her work through Tara Mandala. She has done her best to provide a woman’s voice in Buddhism. Even the Dalai Lama has shifted his perspective on women’s roles. Nuns can finally gain a Geshe degree, although I don’t remember where.

    I just about cried when Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright criticized young women for supporting Bernie Sanders. I feel quite conflicted in wanting a woman for president but not one who supports Monsanto and fracking.

    We live in challenging times to be sure. I would like to see more sisterhood. I support growing interest in women’s spirituality. There are some good things happening too. Thanks for the topic!

    • I so agree, Loran. I don’t think women’s rights have been completely secured in the West, although they may have improved significantly. I also find the term “feminiza” a bit intense. At the same point, it seems important to understand where young women are coming from in order to build a bridge and greater connection.

      There’s so many positives happening in the Buddhist word when it comes to acknowledging women. I plan to tune in more and also connect with the women I know who care deeply about engaged Buddhism. I probably should come up with a reading list for myself too.

      I agree with you regarding the presidential election although I have done much homework on the candidates. I can’t see electing a woman only to elect a woman. It has to be a woman who has a compassionate agenda for the world as well. But there may be more to this than I’m aware of.

      It definitely feels like women’s spirituality is rising. It may be, as one person said on my FB page, the mission has been updated!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Loran.

  4. This is an interesting article Sandra. It’s interesting that so many spiritual practices have evolved from the masculine side of humanity and yet I find in my life that the biggest advocates of living a spiritual life are women.

    I’m a great believer in women helping women and yet I find myself torn between that and knowing that all of humanity are sparks of the divine and everyone needs loving kindness.

    Not that I’m suggesting you are advocating not being loving to our masculine brothers…this is my own particular inner conflict on full display here.

    And it’s certainly true that there are areas in our world where women are degraded and disrespected and treated as second class citizens. And that’s definitely not acceptable to me.

    As with all things, change begins in our minds, so maybe the mind is where to begin. And that takes me back to my belief that all I ever need to do is focus on the outcome that feels best, and choose to believe that it can happen.

    And…in the meantime…love help and support whenever and wherever I can.

    • I feel the same way, Elle. I agree, everyone needs loving kindness. I couldn’t exclude men either. Many men are also oppressed by the system too. In terms of helping in a specific way though, I will probably focus on women’s causes as they often get less attention.

      Yes, let’s all image a world of equality! I’m all for that aspiration.

      It’s interesting that there’s some movement toward feminine based spirituality now. I find that encouraging, although ultimately I know we need to balance the feminine and masculine, whatever gender we might be.

  5. What an interesting post, Sandra, and what amazing comments! I have been involved in RC (re-evaluation counseling) for many years (am out now after nearly 30 years) and this organization is based on the belief that all oppression is a result of early distress be it personal or institutional. In other words, men (the oppressors in this case) have been hurt as young children, laughed at if they cry or have feelings other than anger and they are expected to be the ones who make war and fight (although that has changed to include women). They are also made to feel superior to little girls —-they are taught to be proud to be tough and able to withstand pain without tears. Society has “hurt” them by taking away much of who they are (or making them ashamed of the gentler side of themselves). Since they are taught that they are stronger and better than girls —-even smarter—- it is their right and duty to rule and control women. RC never blames but tries to help us to be able to see what is really the root cause of oppression and tries to heal it by helping the oppressor to go back and discharge the old hurts with a loving and non-judgmental counselor ( who will trade places after an agreed upon time and become the client of the person they are now counseling ). I led an RC women’s support group for 25 years in which we worked to deal with how sexism had impacted us and how we had taken on “internalized sexism” which sounds like where the phrase “feminazi ” came from. It involved looking at how our mothers and grandmothers were treated and how we have inherited our internalized sexism from them and their response to the sexist society they had to function in. There was a lot of shame and feeling bad about oneself both from the women who sometimes did feel inferior to men and also on the part of the men who so badly did not want to be sexists but who acted in sexist ways even though in subtle ways. One of the main directions we gave men in workshops where men and women worked together to eliminate sexism by freeing themselves from it, was ” I am a good man.” We had the men say this and they would just cry and cry because they knew that, no matter the role that society had placed on they, who they really were was “a good man”. Sorry for the length but I didn’t know how to say all of this in a shorter manner.

    • That’s so beautiful and moving, Jean. We all need healing at a very deep level don’t we?

      That’s very interesting about internalized sexism, as low self-esteem and even self-hatred seems rampant among women.

      I love how you’ve helped so many people go to the root of their oppression and become whole again. Thank you for sharing so completely!

  6. I don’t think I quite count as the youngest generation (in my late 30s), but feminism, which of course is about equality between men and women, is just as present in my thinking today as it ever has been. I work a great deal in the middle east, and deal continually with being underestimated by male local colleagues (though, not all, some are amazing), and also work in many male dominated environments where I might be the only woman. And I even teach equality and diversity in countries across the world, which is an eye opening experience.

    These all make me determined to ensure I set an example for younger women in the workplace, and advocate, through charities like Amnesty international, for any minority or group which doesn’t have equal opportunities – whether by gender, race, sexual orientation etc.

    Many men are oppressed by the system, of course, but sometimes I think we get sidetracked by this.

    Here’s a few cartoons from the United Nations around gender equality which I think are great: http://thewireless.co.nz/articles/the-pencilsword-on-a-plate

    • I feel very inspired and encouraged by the example you’re setting, Ellen. It’s wonderful to know that you teach equality and diversity in countries around the world.

      I agree of course that many men are oppressed too and even the oppressors are not helped by the current systems. But women and girls often receive less support so that’s in part when my heart is right now.

      Thanks for the illustrations!

  7. I’m desperate for a real IN LIFE person meeting of a group of women near to where I live. I’ve always been very into feminism, but never managed to be with a sisterhood. It has taken me until my mid-late thirties to feel comfortable with women.

    And now I really want that space to be with women…

    • I hope you find it, Jen! I have a feeling it will come your way soon since you’re putting your wish out there to the universe.

  8. Very thought provoking and touching piece, Sandra. I’m with Jen. I think there is a great need for a female group like The Mankind Project. I think women’s issues of concern, wisdom, and insight change as we age and evolve, but we could all benefit from the support and synergy of sisterhood at every age.

    • Hi Debbie,

      Glad this resonates for you, Debbie. The Mankind Project has groups for women connected with men in the project as well. I’m going to check one out. Although an independent group might be better. We’ll see.

  9. The sisterhood movement has definitely changed through the years, Sandra. I do see it in the younger women, but it does have a different energy attached to than when we were in our twenties. I sense that the movement was more emotionally charged at that time, however it is so important to keep it thriving as women of all ages benefit.

    I just spent a weekend with a of group of my “sisters” who I’ve known since kindergarten and it so refreshing to have those conversations that you can’t have with anyone else. Great reminder here!

    • I’m glad you’re seeing sisterhood in younger women, Cathy. I loved to learn more about how younger women are relating to this. Your weekend sounds so fun and nourishing.

  10. Sandra,
    Firstly, Feminism is being So misinterpreted these days. The general notion is that we so called feminists hate the opposite sex and want a woman only world…which is a whole load of #*#*!
    True feminism is about camaraderie, friendship and synergy. its about balancing both the male and female energies for a beautiful high vibrational realm of existence.
    I still am SO passionate about women’s rights. I volunteer at a women shelter a few times a month and also at girls orphanages. I also hold empowering seminars for the battered women and help them to rehabilitate in society if they are going through a separation etc.
    I believe that the female energy is the one of love and positive change. The more we nurture and empower women the more loving our world will become.
    And I’m blessed to know men who believe the same too. So its less about labeling ourselves as feminists….more about Raising each other up hand in hand….no matter that be a male or female.
    While passions have changed over time, as have priorities, the love for female growth is still strongly present in many women.
    As women, we NEED to have each others back…since the male energies are still very dominant in our world. Only in complete support and synergy can we balance the energies and create harmony.
    OH my! I will stop writing now, or it will turn into a 1500 words essay 😉
    But YES YES and YES to sisterhood and raising each other UP. We NEED it.
    I loved reading all you did in your younger days for women! Such a new facet to you…refreshing 🙂
    Much Love,
    Z~

    • Beautifully said, Zeenat. I love your perspective on balancing male and female energies as I too feel this is key for both individual and global happiness. And yes, I fully support raising EVERYONE up – male and female. At the same time, I appreciate the time you give specifically to women and girl to help them heal and gain their own self-sovereignty. As you point out, I don’t think there’s a conflict between giving especially to women and also caring about men’s evolution. We’re all on this life raft called Earth together.

      It’s really inspiring to hear about your work too. How wonderful to hear about this new (to me) facet of you. I can definitely see you writing an essay or post about this! Love your perspective.

  11. Dear Sandra,

    Thank you for writing this piece; I love hearing more about your history and your lifelong dedication to alleviating suffering for other beings… and specifically your commitment to women’s issues. How wonderful to hear about your work with battered women and survivors of sexual assault. A deep bow to you.

    And I hear your questions, as well…. And how immersing yourself in a particular spiritual path became your priority, along with your growing realization of the importance of liberation from ‘within.’

    It’s funny… even though my tagline for my “Liberated Life Project” is “freedom is an inside job,” at times I want to retract that because it feels too simplistic. It is, on one level, very true. Our greatest ‘spiritual activists’ have always known and embodied that, like Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Grace Lee Boggs (just to name a few)….

    And yet I feel it is equally true that the world shapes us, that the conditions we live in shape us, and that we have a moral and spiritual obligation to work toward more just and equitable conditions for everyone sharing this little planet (inclusive of the non-humans).

    It is interesting that you write, “It seems like priorities in the West have moved away from social action, flower power, and equality to personal concerns like habit change and productivity, the power of introverts, the search for personal happiness…Sure there was the ‘occupy’ movement a few years ago, but where is that now?”

    To be frank, I think that this is only true from one perspective, from one’s position in society. There are plenty of people who don’t have the luxury of focusing on solely personal concerns, like the people of Flint, MI, who are facing an environmental crisis of epic proportions as they deal with their long-contaminated water supply… a by-product of an economic and political system that prioritizes the profit of corporations over the wellbeing of people.

    As for the Occupy movement… on the one hand, it imploded, but on the other, the issues it raised and the empowerment dynamics it seeded live on in other movements. Witness Black Lives Matter and the way it’s changed our awareness of racial justice in this country. There are many other examples.

    I really like what you say – “If you don’t work with your mind, social action can become a venue for negative emotions. And secluding yourself in a three-year retreat provides value to the world in a way that may not be immediately obvious.” I agree… the most powerful movements will be rooted in love and inclusiveness. And like you, I yearn for an integration of spirit and action. That, to me, is the most powerful way to weave together feminine (feminist!) power and wisdom.

    Grateful to be in this good work together… deep bow to you, Sandra!

    • Hello Dear Maia,

      I so deeply appreciate your commitment to spirituality and engaged Buddhism. I also hold these same ‘spiritual activists’ in high regard.

      “To be frank, I think that this is only true from one perspective, from one’s position in society. There are plenty of people who don’t have the luxury of focusing on solely personal concerns, like the people of Flint, MI, who are facing an environmental crisis of epic proportions as they deal with their long-contaminated water supply… a by-product of an economic and political system that prioritizes the profit of corporations over the wellbeing of people.”

      Yes, I believe this is true. And I’ve been negligent myself of late by not staying in tune with the social, economic, and political injustices that continue to pervade our system. I see this around me as well. A large part of my community is into new forms of spirituality, mind-altering drugs, and ecological concerns. I don’t see as much energy focused on social injustice as I did during earlier decades, for example. But everything goes in cycles, so this will surely change again. And, as you point out, many people don’t have the privilege to neglect these concerns because they are thrust into their face.

      I love your wish for integration and action, feminine power and wisdom! May this come to fruition and benefit all beings.

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