This International Women’s Day, I Stand for Life

The good news this International Women’s Day has to do with resistance.

This year’s unprecedented Women’s March on Washington brought women and our allies out into the American public square demanding our rights, in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time.

Of course, never in my memory has the top American official, our President, been a man who is a gloating and unapologetic sexual predator of women; a man who treats his wife like a porn star bimbo and believes that serious women who dare to aspire to power are “nasty.”

By acquiescing in a warped political process that propelled this man into power, Americans have become bystanders to his nasty, discriminatory behavior towards women. “Make America Great Again” seems to mean “put women back in their place again”—in the home, making babies and waiting to serve their all-powerful men.

Well, no. Just NO.

Our foremothers did not fight so long and so hard for women’s equality just to see the current generation swallow our bile and tears and accept the rolling back of our rights as free and equal human beings.

Everywhere you look you can see women standing strong against this new tide of injustice.

The powerful women of Standing Rock are now flooding into Washington DC, along with thousands of other Native people and allies, for this weekend’s Native Rights marches. The Native people of America, and indeed the world, are leading the way on insisting that humans stop destroying our Mother Earth, and become her loving stewards.

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Tipis on the National Mall, March 7, 2017. Photo by Kandi Mossett

Although there are so many important issues to focus on this International Women’s Day, for me all of them can be summed up fairly simply: either you love and support life, or you hate and destroy life.

I CHOOSE LIFE.

That means I choose to stand up for children, our precious new generations, who have the right to quality education, good nutritious food, a loving family and community, and a healthy environment.

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My first child.

I stand for the right of every human being to play a meaningful role in their community, and to be rewarded and respected for their contributions. Of course, this means that women should have control over their bodies in every situation, just as men do.

I stand for the rights of animals, who should not be made to suffer…who should not be driven to extinction…because of the thoughtless greed of human beings. I stand for the protection of our environment, for the rights of Mother Nature, without whom none of us could live for even a moment.

This International Women’s Day, I give thanks and honor to every woman who has stood up for Life, sometimes in the face of fierce persecution, sometimes even giving her own life for the cause—like the environmental activist Berta Caceres, who we lost in 2016 because she refused to back down when the loggers and drillers advanced towards her community.

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Berta Caceres

Yes, it can be dangerous to stand up and resist the forces of destruction, to say NO to those who would silence us and reinstate the supremacy of the patriarchy, now rearing up in its most potently savage form: racist, misogynist, elitist, imperialist, extractivist, militarist, corporatist, extremist…these are the times we are living in, and they demand an equally potent resistance movement.

Marching, calling, sending post cards, organizing in our communities, networking with kindred spirits across the globe…all this is necessary, and more.

All our activism must be rooted in a deep sense of purpose, a commitment that must run like sap up our core: the commitment to STAND FOR LIFE.

Every great successful movement of the past has been fueled by the moral imperative to do what is right, to live in alignment with our most deeply held values. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…” was a revolutionary statement in its time, which was shifted by the courageous work of 19th and 20th century activists to include women, people of color and non-landowners under the banner of equality.

We are living in another revolutionary moment. It is a transition time, when if we fail to recognize the intrinsic value of our most precious resources—clean Earth, Water, Air and the life they support—we will soon find our entire civilization swept away by the storms, floods and droughts of Earth recalibrating herself in a massive reset leading into a new epoch.

This International Women’s Day, I vow to stand, as a woman and a human being, for the health and wellbeing of Mother Earth and all her children, human and non-human alike.

Join me.

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Looking for a good place to start? Register for the Pachamama Alliance Game Changer Intensive course, starting a new series in March 2017. It’s free, and it’s a powerful way to connect with kindred spirits who also want to STAND FOR LIFE.

Stepping Out With Confidence on International Women’s Day 2015

Although far less widely known and celebrated in the U.S. than Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, International Women’s Day is a much more interesting holiday.

It is one of the few truly global holidays, observed in most countries around the world (hence the prominence it gets at the United Nations, that international enclave in the heart of New York City).

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Unlike Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, IWD is not a romantic or family-oriented holiday. On International Women’s Day, women accept recognition for their hard work and achievements in both the public and private spheres, and gather to advocate for further advancement down the road to full gender equality.

Gender equality looks different depending on where in the world you are located. But at its core is one of the fundamental principles of human rights: that no human being should be discriminated against on the basis of their physical attributes.

Even in the U.S., supposedly a bastion of liberal values, we have a long way to go before we arrive at the goal of gender equality. This is partly a vision problem: there is still a fair amount of confusion over what a society in which men and women were treated equally would look like.

In every society in transition, there is anxiety about change from those who have been benefiting from unearned privilege (in the U.S., that would be white males, especially of the Christian variety). Giving up privilege is hard.

It was good to see Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant make the case in The New York Times this week about why gender equality, “in the boardroom and the bedroom,” will make both men and women happier, healthier, more successful and less stressed out.

It was also good to see a group of Afghan men taking the unprecedented step of standing up for women’s human rights in their country by donning burkas themselves—in much the same vein as the “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” campaign that has men marching together in women’s high heels to protest sexual assault.

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Burkas and high heels are very different in intention—the one aimed at completely covering up a woman’s body and face, the other aimed at accentuating and drawing attention to women’s legs—but similar in effect: these are dress codes that hamper women’s ability to stand strong and step out comfortably and confidently into the world.

I know Western women who will argue that they feel more confident wearing their heels, and I’m sure there are Afghan women who prefer to step out in public shielded by their burkas. But this has everything to do with the world in which they operate, dominated by an often hostile, or at least aggressively attentive male gaze. It’s not about their own comfort in their own bodies.

No, we’re not going to get back to the Garden in which Adam and Eve romped about gaily without so much as a fig leaf coming between them and their lovely natural surroundings.

But this International Women’s Day, let’s reaffirm the basic principle that all human beings are created equal and deserve equal human rights, no matter what they look like and no matter where they live—beginning with the right to step out confidently into a affirming, welcoming world.

As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon puts it, “To be truly transformative, the post-2015 development agenda must prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment. The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential.”

Amen to that! And as the International Women’s Day 2015 theme says, it’s time to “Make It Happen!”

Morning pages for humanity…and the Earth

Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron

This week, in preparation for Julia Cameron’s presentation at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about creativity.

Cameron’s great insight, back in the late 1980s when she was doing the teaching that led to her blockbuster creativity self-help guide The Artist’s Way, was that human beings are all naturally creative.  We just tend to get “blocked” by our upbringing, and need to work on ourselves in a systematic way to unlearn bad habits of self-doubt and defeatism, so that our creative juices can flow freely out into the world.

One question I wish I’d asked Julia at her lecture last night at Kripalu is this: I wonder whether women have any particular creative challenges, different from those faced by men?

The Artist’s Way does not seem to draw any distinction. Cameron uses the gender-neutral term “creatives” and her examples are drawn from the experiences of both men and women.

And yet it seems to me that women are particularly susceptible to the kind of distraction, hyperactive multi-tasking and withering self-doubt that Cameron says are anathema to artists.

One woman in the audience at Cameron’s lecture described herself as “frantic,” or maybe she said “panicked,” facing such a huge to-do list of projects she’d like to accomplish that she was paralyzed by the enormity of it all.

Julia’s response was characteristically calm and pragmatic: slow down, write your morning pages faithfully, ask for guidance from your higher self, and be patient—it will come.

This is certainly good advice for anyone who wants to accomplish creative goals, but it seems especially relevant for me, and all the busy women like me who so often do not take the time out for ourselves, to recharge our own creative batteries.

Cameron’s “morning pages” are deliberately unfocused.  They are not meant to be a to-do list, or an outline for a project, or a mission statement.  They are simply meant to provide a regular, rhythmic opening for the creative spirit, which Cameron clearly conceptualizes as coming from a higher source.

“I learned to turn my creativity over to the only god I could believe in, the god of creativity,” she says in The Artist’s Way, “the life force Dylan Thomas called “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”

By allowing ourselves the time and space to be open to the creative life force that gave birth to us, we are allowing ourselves to become channels through which those creative juices can flow out into the world, manifesting all in kinds of ways, depending on our particular gifts.

As Cameron said last night, this can sound a bit “woo-woo.”

But the life force is in a way the final frontier for human understanding, the one mystery we still have not been able to penetrate via science.

We argue about when life begins—at conception?  in utero?  at birth?—and we recognize that there seems to be much more to the universe than we can measure with our physical senses or scientific instruments.

We know in an intuitive way that when we are “in the flow,” allowing ourselves to be creative channels, things can start happening that seem entirely beyond our control, and not at all coincidental.

Julia Cameron calls this synchronicity: “we change, and the universe furthers and expands that change….It is my experience both as an artist and as a teacher that when we move out on faith into the act of creation,” she says, “the universe is able to advance.”

The thing is that not all creations are equal.

Human creativity is not always a good thing.

It’s fair to say that over the past 500 years, since the Catholic Inquisition began its war on the older, nature-based religions and the European powers began their colonial assault on the rest of the world, the dominant paradigm of human creativity on the planet has been materialistic, channeled by our rulers into paths shaped by greed and lust.

Domination and aggression have driven the leading edges of human invention: we have proven very adept at creating guns, machinery and synthetic chemicals, haven’t we?

We have also created a might-makes-right philosophy that has literally bulldozed away any impediments to the harnessing of the natural resources of our planet, including the vast majority of humankind, in the service of short-term gain for the elite.

But at the same time, human creativity has always flowered anew, with each new generation having the potential to choose a different way of channeling that divine universal flow.

We stand at a juncture in history when it seems that the planet is poised to hit the evolutionary reset button, sweeping human beings away to make room for the emergence of new physical vessels for its irrepressible life force.

I believe there is still time for human beings to come to our collective senses and begin to shape our creative output into inventions and ethical paradigms that support and enhance life, rather than torture and destroy it.

I worry about the role the media plays today in limiting and predefining children’s creative imagination.  Little children who used to spend hours playing pretend games, making up elaborate stories complete with visualizations and acting, now spend those same hours playing violent video games or passively watching commercial television, with its monotonous message that consumption equals happiness.

But I take heart from the teenagers I teach, who continually show themselves able to see through the mesmerizing power of the media and think creatively for themselves.

We human beings all need to be doing our “morning pages” in these crucial final years of the modern era, seeking to tap into the “pure positive energy of the universe” and open ourselves to the possibility of different, more harmonious and balanced creative forms.

Because I believe that women have an important role to play in this shift, I am totally dedicated to the work I’m undertaking in this month’s Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, opening up lots of opportunities for women to share their creative visions.

Women sharing their creative visions at the Deb Koffman open mic in Housatonic, MA

Women sharing their creative visions at the Deb Koffman open mic in Housatonic, MA

This is not just about women writers patting each other on the back and trying to advance our individual careers.

This is about women forming what Julia Cameron unabashedly calls “Sacred Circles” to propel humanity beyond the destructive domination-and-extraction model of the human relationship to our Mother Earth.

Next year’s Festival will have a special focus on women, creativity and environmental sustainability, to help us train our focus on the most urgent matter at hand: the destruction and contamination of the planet, with the resulting drastic climate change shifts that are coming in this century no matter what we do now.

Women and men worldwide need to rise to this challenge with every ounce of our creative energies.  On this International Women’s Day, 2013, I call on women, especially, to make a commitment to using our creative power for the good of the planet and all her denizens.

IWD 2012: If not you, who? If not now, when?

Is it coincidence that on International Women’s Day 2012, Earth was bombarded by one of the most intense solar flares ever?

I can’t see them from my window, but apparently Northern Lights are visible way further south than normal tonight, thanks to the extra radiation from the Sun.

Could it be that the Sun is urging us on, sending us the pulse of a solar storm to motivate us to action?

What do I wish for women, this IWD? What do I want from women today?

I am tired of women being held hostage on the basis of their reproductive capabilities.

Yes, we are the ones who bear the babies after sex.

Sex happens and we love it.

Babies happen, too.

If a woman doesn’t want to bear the baby that takes root after sex, she has every right to decide what to do about it.

Period, end of statement.

Women have the right to be educated about their reproductive options.

Women have the right to have access to contraception, no matter their age.

Insurance companies have no right to treat contraception differently than they would treat any other drug.

Men are very happy to have insurance cover their Viagra so they can screw to their heart’s delight.

Fine.  But don’t deny women the same right to manage our reproductive capabilities as we see fit.

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Today in class, when we briefly discussed IWD and women’s equality, it was inevitable that one young woman present had to tell the group how much she enjoyed cleaning house, so that she couldn’t imagine that the “second shift” would be a burden.

I just let it go.  Honey, let’s talk again in another 15 years, I wanted to say (my students are generally under 20 years old).

I would like you to come back to me in 15 or 20 years, when you have a toddler and an infant and are working fulltime, and tell me that you love cleaning and it’s perfectly OK that you do more of it than your so-called partner.

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Yeah, OK, a little bit of anger there.

I was glad to see an article on Common Dreams today entitled “That’s Enough Politeness – Women Need to Rise Up in Anger.”

Hell yeah.

Women like me have been trained to be oh-so-polite.

We don’t rock the boat.

We are grateful for our jobs.

We are grateful for our mates.

We are grateful for our home and our children.

We don’t talk about the personal sacrifices needed to maintain all of the above.

As Laurie Penny puts it, “Women, like everyone else, have been duped. We have been persuaded over the past 50 years to settle for a bland, neoliberal vision of what liberation should mean. Life may have become a little easier in that time for white women who can afford to hire a nanny, but the rest of us have settled for a cheap, knock-off version of gender revolution. Instead of equality at work and in the home, we settled for “choice”, “flexibility” and an exciting array of badly paid part-time work to fit around childcare and chores. Instead of sexual liberation and reproductive freedom, we settled for mitigated rights to abortion and contraception that are constantly under attack, and a deeply misogynist culture that shames us if we’re not sexually attractive, dismisses us if we are, and blames us if we are raped or assaulted, as one in five of us will be in our lifetime….

“Politeness is a habit that what’s left of the women’s movement needs to grow out of. Most women grow up learning, directly or indirectly, how to be polite, how to defer, how to be good employees, mothers and wives, how to shop sensibly and get a great bikini body. We are taught to stay off the streets, because it’s dangerous after dark. Politeness, however, has bought even the luckiest of us little more than terminal exhaustion, a great shoe collection, and the right to be raped by the state if we need an abortion. If we want real equality, we’re going to have to fight for it.”

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This International Women’s Day 2012, I want women to dare to take some risks. Dare to get angry!  Dare to think outside the box!  Dare to want more than whatever you think you should have!

Women of the world, you are needed as never before.

The Earth Mother herself lies bleeding, prostrate, raped and pillaged and on the edge of complete surrender—which will mean the death and destruction of all of us , her children.

She needs us to stand up for her, to stand up for ourselves, to insist that the old conquistador’s model of forced rape will not cut it in the 21st century.

This International Women’s Day, I want American women to stand with our sisters all over the world to insist that we are more than the sum of our reproductive organs.  We are more than house slaves.  We are more than corporate slaves.  We are not reducible to any of the ciphers by which some of us are regularly netted and ensnared.

Women of the world, there has never been a time when your input, your perspectives, your influence has been more important.

Don’t assume that someone else will take care of it for you.

We are depending on you now.

The Earth herself is depending on you now.

This International Women’s Day, I say to the world’s women: there has never been a more crucial time to step into your power and act to protect your communities and our planetary home.

If not now, when?

If not you, who?

Now.  You.  And us, together.  Men and women, all over the world.   Now, you.  Now.

Sparking Creativity at the 2012 Berkshire Festival of Women Writers

It’s finally snowing in Massachusetts!  My afternoon meetings were cancelled, and I can settle in by the fire and enjoy the peaceful quiet that always descends when we hunker down under a good New England snowfall.

This gives me a welcome chance to share something positive for a change with my blog readers.

Tomorrow is the opening of the 2012 Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, a month-long celebration of the talents of local and regional women writers, taking place at venues from one end of Berkshire County to the other, with nearly 100 women participating.

I’ve been working over the past year with a dedicated local committee on planning and organizing this event, which is sponsored by Bard College at Simon’s Rock with the generous support of 11 Local Cultural Councils and many other donors, businesses and individuals, all listed on our website under “sponsors.”

This will be our second annual Festival, but it’s an event that grows out of the decade of annual conferences I organized at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in observance of International Women’s Day, co-sponsored by Berkshire Women for Women Worldwide, the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, the Women’s Interfaith Institute and many other collaborators.

I’ve been at this a while.

Organizing events like these takes an extraordinary amount of energy, focus and commitment.  If you’ve ever organized a wedding, you have some idea of what’s involved–although for our conferences and Festivals, we’ve also had to do a fair amount of fundraising, which hopefully is not the case for wedding planners!

There always comes a point in the process where I bury my face in my hands and feel like crying, out of sheer exhaustion, “Why am I doing this to myself?!!”

After all, no one ever asked me to take on this extra commitment, year after year.

And sometimes I wonder whether anyone would notice if I stopped.

But then that low point passes, the brochure or Program comes back from the printers and starts to make its way in the world, the press inquiries pick up and I start hearing the oohs and ahhs of appreciation from participants and audience members, and I remember what it’s all about.

For women writers, in particular, it can be hard to find opportunities to come together and share our talents and achievements with each other and the larger world.

Hannah Fries

This weekend is the big AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Chicago, and many women writers will be in attendance there, including one of our Festival organizers and participants, Orion Magazine editor Hannah Fries.  But that is a big, competitive event, which can be overwhelming for writers who are just starting out, or who just write for the personal satisfaction of it.

The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers is purposefully low-key and non-competitive.  We organizers wanted to create a broad, inclusive platform for all kinds of women writers, of all ages, backgrounds, and stages in their writing careers.  If you browse the Festival listings, you’ll see a few names you’ll probably recognize, like Francine Prose and Ruth Reichl, but many more whose fresh, innovative voices might not be heard publicly this year without the space provided by our Festival.

I also sometimes ask myself why I continue to focus on women writers in my classes, events organizing and in my own writing.

Lately I have been moving from a longstanding focus on global women’s rights to a broader human rights perspective, still with a strong interest in gendered human rights issues.  Although the goal for any social justice activist is to put herself out of business, it still seems important to me to draw attention to voices who might not otherwise be heard–and the 50% of us who are women are disproportionately represented among those quieter voices.

The participants and audiences who will be gathering at the 40 Festival events scheduled daily throughout the month of March will  together generate a host of collaborative creative sparks that will go shooting out like fireworks, energizing all of us and giving us new strength and determination to meet the challenges of the coming year, whether at our writing desks or in other areas of our lives.

I certainly hope that just as women always turn out to listen to and learn from writers who happen to be men, men will also be among the audiences at all of our Festival events.

In these sobering times, we need all the chances we can get to come together and fan the flames of our community and our creativity.  Let the Festival begin!

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