|Photo by Alyscia Cunningham|
Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/
or far into the woods and I wanted to go
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking
about children or thinking about the world/all of it
disclosed by the stars and the silence:
I could not go and I could not think and I could not
as I need to be
alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own
-June Jordan, ”A Poem About My Rights”
Like many women I know, I was deeply disappointed with the election results last month. It has not been possible for me to clearly express my despair because, also like many mothers I know, I have had sick children to care for, who couldn’t bear the brunt of my sadness and heal.
I read somewhere that approximately 64% of Americans did not vote in this election. I have been studying the Suffragists with my 8-year-old daughter these last months, so not voting was not, and has never been, not an option for me, no matter how pointless it often seems.
These last years, I have tried to put as many women’s words out into the land of social media as possible. I feel it is increasingly important to hear quotes by women and in particular, women’s stories. We have spent so much of our lives absorbed in the narratives of men.
What I am realizing increasingly is that we also need to come back into our bodies and reclaim them before the words can fully sink in.
When I was trying to cope with the relapse of my ex-husband and our subsequent divorce, I began to read a lot. But in retrospect, it was Kundalini Yoga that saved my life and my sanity. No amount of knowledge could cause me to take the actions I needed to. I had to reconnect with my body and my soul.
I have recently hit another tough spot in my life. This time I am convinced that it will only be through learning self-defense from other women that I am able to move through it, healed. I have tried to learn more, to read more, to re-read what has worked before. But my mind does not seem capable of absorbing any of it. There is a huge disconnect.
I am fortunate in many ways, because unlike most women I know, I do not hate my body—at least most days. I was lucky to grow up with an overweight mother who never criticized my weight. I feel a relative acceptance to this body of mine, which is one of the greatest gifts my mother gave me.
What I have realized lately is that I have become disconnected from this body of mine. It’s like it doesn’t really belong to me. I suppose most of us have been taught that from the get-go with unwanted or forced hugs from relatives or the incest that is prevalent in so many families or the rapes or threat of rape that June Jordan so eloquently speaks of in "A Poem About My Rights".
In my haze of raising children, keeping up a house, working, volunteering and everything else the modern mother does—mostly alone—I have turned on auto pilot. I shovel in food without tasting it. I never “have time” to do my beloved Kundalini Yoga. I push the classes I want to take to the back burner because my needs always come last.
Many years ago I went through Patricia Lynn Reilly’s wonderful book of vow-making, I Promise Myself. I composed a vow of faithfulness to myself along with a dear friend. It’s an excellent process that I recommend to all women. However, like any relationship, you must continue to honor your vows or it will break down.
My relationship to myself has all but stopped.
The vows that are always hardest for me to keep involve honoring my own body. This is heartbreaking to recognize because it is this body that houses my soul, and I believe the spirit of Goddess that resides in each of us.
About a month ago, I received an email from a lovely woman in the UK who is putting together a body affirming calendar for women. She wanted me to compose a quote for her to use in the calendar.
Surrounded by sick children, I was not inspired to write anything, so I sent her back a few quotes from other women I admire, including one from Sonya Renee’s poem which inspired her movement: The Body is not an Apology.
“Praise for the body, for the body is not an apology. The body is deity. The body is God, the body is God. The only righteous love that will never need repent.”
I’ve always loved the entirety of this poem. Women have so much body hatred that it has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Dr. Gail Dines is quoted as saying, “If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.”
I’m long past supporting woman-hating businesses such as hair dye and antiperspirant, however, it occurred to me that I while I try to support as many women I can with my purchases, I have denied both myself and businesses that are affirming of women’s bodies. I have absorbed the message that I am unworthy, and on some level, wrong.
June Jordan comes to the close of “A Poem About My Rights” with these words:
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
It is the defiance in her tone of the reclaiming of what has been essentially set aside for everyone else that brings me to tears with each reading. The thing is, most of us have been told so many times that we are not entitled even to our very own bodies, that we must continually put our hands up and say, NO. Some of us may have to do this several times a day until it become natural again.
"Daughter of Woman, your healing task is not to become a new, improved or changed person. Rather, it is to reclaim your natural and essential self in all its fullness. In the very beginning, you remembered yourself. You came into the world with feelings of omnipotence, not inferiority." - Patricia Lynn Reilly
We need to go back to our natural states—as children and manifestations of Goddess Herself—instead of trying to continuously improve ourselves by outward measures.
I get very annoyed with New Age thought that runs rampant in women’s groups. A few days ago, it seemed likely that one of the few remaining feminist bookstores in the U.S. was going to have to close its doors. Several hours before their Kickstarter campaign was due to wrap up, I lamented about it on my Facebook wall. I was told by numerous people that I should, basically, just wish it weren’t so.
The fact is that woman-owned businesses, writers and artists need money to survive. No amount of wishing is going to change our fate as women. We have to wake up and take action before our women-sacred spaces and businesses are gone. We have to reallocate the often limited funds we have as women if we truly want to see changes in women’s lives globally. We have to take political action before we lose more of our Goddess-given rights. As Roseanne Barr said, “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it. ”
What I believe is dangerous for women about New Age thought is that it often allows women to remain passive; which is likely why this train of thought is so popular and so profitable. While I strongly believe in the power of women casting spells, particularly on themselves, there is a difference between witchcraft, which is active, and New Age thinking, which is passive.
Likewise, I am not certain that we can affirm ourselves into loving our bodies, although it can help. It can be a first step. I believe we need to take action—whether it be like jumping into the water naked with a bunch of other women like the calendar project—or taking a self-defense class, doing Kundalini Yoga at home or savoring a meal. We have to stop telling ourselves to love our bodies and actually live our lives in a way that is love. We must love and worship our bodies as if they were the Goddess Herself.
So, here is the quote I gave to the calendar maker. These two sentences encompasses all my previous vows to myself. I hope it will cast a spell on women—myself included.
Your body is Goddess in one of Her most beautiful forms. Love Her fiercely.