|"White Gloves" Richard Ely|
"The gentle sex"
"Your/my better half"
I admit I'm a bit jealous of the gents for their formal term--"gentlemen." To get that good we have to append "gentle" as a separate word to our "lady" or "woman" status. More commonly we are "mi'lady" which, while meant to ennoble and endear still has a claiming to it. Whose lady, exactly? And while I admit I'm tickled at the women's music festival tone to the term "wimmen," I find, as a student of etymology, the wo-, the wif(e) part is rather intriguing with its "uncertain origin" but perhaps derived from "to wrap." The online etymological speculation is that this "wrapping" refers to dress--veiling, for instance. But I think it has more to do with its word-mate "develop"--where the wrapping is plant like--the unfurling of the mature and ripening to reveal the bud, the enfolding of the seed in the bloom, the fruit, the root. Even the embryo is curled into itself and unfurls completely only upon birth.
When our group of women first began to meet regularly, the decision to gather as women, exclusively, was relatively non-controversial: there was an intuitive assent to the notion. We wanted to focus on our "spiritual" lives in very broad ways and to be intimately supportive of one another in maintaining this focus; it seemed obvious that such intimacy needed to be singly gendered. Only in looking back, do I find this decision remarkable.
What does it mean to seek this sexual segregation, even (or especially?) in the name of seeking spiritual development?
|Persephone and Demeter (with mushrooms)|
Certainly, there have been gatherings of women throughout history: Rites of passage, work, childcare, birthing, healing, worship. And such gatherings have often served as lightening rods for persecution in times of remarkably repressive eras or places. Women, in repressive eras, tend to fair especially poorly. Currently, for instance, despite the light tugging towards some liberality provided by the presence of an African American moderate president, the crisis of U.S. empire is provoking amazingly backwards moves regarding women's health; abortion has been shoved from being a dirty word to being outright outlawed complete with the defunding of preventive health care and contraception. Exploring the meanings of such repressive, sexist, and downright self-destructive moves is beyond me in this post. But these actions point to why women must sometimes gather together sans men. While it is true that some women have been complicit with horrific oppressions of their own gender, even those women will seek the advice and support of other women when it is their daughter who becomes pregnant, ill, abandoned.
In short, women will usually find a way--to aide in birth, to aide in healing, to manage fertility, to shelter their children from war, to seek their loved ones "disappeared" by the tyrant and to call that tyrant to account. Grandmothers tell the stories of where we are from but they also point to the plants or tonics that stanch the bleeding, hurry the contractions, aide the conception, deter the conception, and--most fearfully--aide the abortion.
I posit that it is not the famous/infamous "penis envy" we need fret about, but instead womb envy. The power that inheres, invisibly, secretly within the woman is an anathema to the Apollonian conquest. There is blood here and the terrible, mighty magic of growing another whole human inside, away from sight, then--with great effort and endurance, bringing that human to air and suckling it to self-sustaining walking beingness. Indeed, we women are worthy of awe. Unfortunately, the very depth of womanly connection to creation seems to provoke fear and the attendant urge to manage and control her. Fear of our ability to say "yes" or "no" to the cell division that eventually grows a human creates a kind of insanity beyond reason.
In the face of such efforts, we endure. And we meet. We gather to get something done and while doing so, trade stories, clothing, hints, recipes, prayers, songs, dishes, remedies and tears. There is plenty of evidence women have always been the first and last doctors. Enough of a threat to the commerce of medicine to perhaps provoke the horrifying "religious" inquisitions that often focused on women and their "unholy" ways (of healing, being attractive, smart, powerful, or--worst of all--independently thoughtful).
So it is not surprising that when we think about how we might seek support from others to stay focused upon what matters most to us--our soulful, "spiritual" cares--we turn to other women. We find inspiration, amusement, admiration, puzzlement, care, pettiness and poetry, grief and generosity, depth and dizziness, silence and chatter. We laugh ourselves into tears and we cry ourselves toward serenity. We dress up and dance. We skinny dip and sigh. We argue. We rant. We listen. We learn.
Breathe deeply, settle softly, turn inward. Breathe. Consider the women in your life. See their faces as if in a slide show. What music is playing, what sounds do you hear? Chimes? Laughter? Children shouting? Pots and pans clinking?
What does it feel like to consider that women have gathered in groups from the beginning of time? What would your ideal gathering of women look like? See the faces, the skin tones, hear the lilt of accent, notice ages, body types.
This gathering is around you, now. What does it mean to you, that they care about you? If you can count on them, what changes for you? If they will show up when you call, tearful or tense, how do you hold your body now?
Breathing in this circle, what are the meanings that whisper in your heart? What do you see yourself doing, saying, being now that you know there's this circle around you? What will you do now, with your generative power, anchored in you and around you?
|Statue in Vltadak River in Prague|