What is Women's Liberation?
The current issue of What is Enlightenment? magazine is devoted to an “a cultural, philosophical and spiritual exploration” of Woman. In one featured article, the author posed a question to a wide spectrum of women including spiritual leaders, teachers, feminist thinkers and authors, philosophers, activists and such. (The likes of Gloria Steinem and Eve Ensler among them).
The interviewer writes, “One hundred fifty years after a handful of courageous and visionary women ignited the first movement for equal rights, women in contemporary society are the most liberated ever to have walked the planet.” Given that context she asked them this question:What is liberation for women today?
Before moving on I will acknowledge the obvious— that a large percentage of the women of the world do not have the same liberties and have not benefited from the same advances as the aforementioned “women of contemporary society.” Nonetheless, that does not negate the question for the fortunate among us who have benefited.
Elizabeth Lesser, author and cofounder of the Omega Insititute gave this as part of her response:
We have to deal with our aversion to taking full responsibility for our own lives. If we want liberation we must rewrite the Sleeping Beauty myth. No one is coming and no one else is to blame. [We also have to deal with] our fear of not being liked. Women are obsessed with being nice. Liberation often takes the kind of bold action that leaves Planet Nice in the dust. Women must learn to use the vajra sword of wisdom and perspicacity. Often the kindest thing a liberated person can do it to say no!
Similarly, Tenzin Palmo, Tibetan Buddhist Nun, said:
The solution is in our hands. We don’t have to wait for men to change their attitudes. It’s up to us to change our attitudes, and that’s hopeful because, as with everything, the problem is never out there. It’s always in here.
In secular life, I’m much closer to doing this. I take responsibility for my life, my actions, my body, my career, my time, my spiritual growth. In insitutional religious life, I just don’t know how to find this balance. I do my fair share of blaming the patriarchal structure and the men who run it. How might we give up the Sleeping Beauty myth within male dominated structures? I admit that my current method of dealing with this is to refuse to interact with the structure, because within it I feel utterly powerless. That’s one way to deal (or not deal), but I’m certain there are other ways. Surely there must be women who remain engaged in the LDS church and yet really truly take full personal responsibility, use that vajra sword of wisdom, and feel empowered to use their insight and discernment for the benefit of themselves and all around them without the need for a stamp of approval from the institution. I wonder how they come to that place.
The next issue that I was made to face was referred to several times in the magazine; here’s Tenzin Palmo’s take:
One of the most significant problems is that women don’t support other women. This is a very ironical situation, and it has kept women weak throughout time.We have to stand solidly behind each other and not get caught up in factionalism and jealousy. Until we’re aware of that, it won’t change. . . . We don’t trust each other. We don’t love each other. We don’t value each other. And until we value each other, why should anyone else value us? If women really held hands together, we would be a terrific power.
My initial reaction was denial. I love women. I need to be around them and commune with them and feel their support. How dare she accuse my entire sex of not supporting each other? And then I realized how much I am guilty of this. How often do I only support women who think like me? How many times have I thought mean things about ‘nacle women who come at things from a different perspective? How many times did I sit in Relief Society feeling completely alienated and misunderstood, but mainly because I refused to truly see the other women and find a way to join hands and hearts with them. How much do we judge each other and put down each other’s decisions, or in our Mormon context, question each other’s faith or worthiness? I have to admit the painful truth that I do it all the time. This tears at my heart.
So how can we come together? How can we avoid the factionalism of which Palmo speaks? How can we begin to heal our hurts and bridge divides? I’m starting with acknowledgement that I contribute to the problem, and a renewed, concerted effort to approach the women around me with an open, compassionate heart.
What else can we do?