“There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that. You walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare-bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it, remember! …. You say there are no words to describe it; You say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.”
From Les Guerilleres, by Monique Wittig, mid-20th Century French feminist writer
The first time I heard this quote from Wittig was in the mid-1990s when I took ‘Cakes for the Queen of Heaven,’ an introduction to feminist thealogy and the Great Goddess, created by the Women & Religion committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Cakes was my introduction to Carol Christ, feminist thealogy, and the Goddess. It changed my life forever. I’ve been teaching this program for close to twenty years now and as my understanding of women’s history and the role of patriarchy in our suppression has deepened, I continue to find new resonances with Wittig’s words.
“There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that.” This statement is relevant to all oppressed peoples and especially to women. History tells us that enslavement was a part of European culture long before Africans were kidnapped into slavery on this continent. Enslavement of the defeated was a common aspect of war, dating back to Biblical times. Many aspects of the feudal system dominant in western Europe for centuries were little better than slavery.
Marketing was my thing in college. And my first professional job out of college was in Marketing at the Regional Headquarters of Canon in Dallas. And then my life took me out into the weeds: a marriage to an Airforce pilot following him to the snow filled tundra of North Dakota, the swamps of Mississippi, two divorces, four children, twists and turns and ups and downs all landing smack dab to where I sit in front of my computer at the moment outside of Huntsville, Alabama at 53 finally feeling like I’ve got somewhat of a handle on this crazy ride called Life or at least a better idea of how to buckle in and enjoy the ups and get through the downs.
The glorious blue and gold summer day permeated by the scent of wild roses faded as the ominous words swirled around my head trying to get in. Roe overturned.
For a moment rebellion – disbelief, NO, something screamed in silent anguish. NO. Then mind flooded with poison… Pure hatred rose in a frightening swell that threatened to overpower my instincts. But I heard the words: “Go parallel with your hatred –do not give in.” Words that brought me back to my body, to my senses.
My hair caught fire. How did they get away with it again? First Kavanaugh, a credibly accused rapist elected to the Supreme Court – a few years in between and now Roe overturned. Men deciding how women should behave, men insisting that women support ‘life’ at their own expense – rape doesn’t count. Women have lost their most basic human right – the right to have control over their own bodies.
Trigger Alert: There is discussion of sexual violence.
“I transformed from terrified victim to a courageous survivor . . .Different than an ‘out of body’ experience, this felt more like an ‘in-body’ experience. I stood my ground and did what I had to do to get the hell out of there.” Jean Hargadon Wehner (pg 89).
In 2017, a Netflix documentary came out called The Keepers. It is the story of abuse and torture that was not only allowed but protected by the Catholic Church. Jean was featured in the series as the linchpin who helped to uncover and bring to light the atrocities. Our own Carol Christ watched the seven-episode series when it came out and wrote a blogpost about it. FAR reposted that blog at the end of February to honor Jean who has now written her own book, Walking with Aletheia. In it she describes her own healing journey or as she calls it her “health walk” out of the wreckage of that horror. For more on The Keepers, you can read Carol’s post here (which also includes Jean answering some questions about her story). This book is Jean’s story which, while intricately intertwined with the Church, is ultimately about her own pathway to spirituality and healing.
It’s hard to imagine the emotional weight of the authority figures that bore down on Jean when she was a student at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School in the late 1960s. Not only did two priests torture and abuse her but they drew in other Church officiants as well as the police. The legal system actively turned its collective back to her. It is a great gift that she has survived and a testament to her strength, inner creativity, and the love in her heart that she was able to navigate such an apocalyptic terrain. The instruments of the torture were horrendous including rape, sex trafficking, drugs, and mind control techniques.
Many, many moons ago, when I was still living in England, my husband and I thought it would be a wonderful idea to join a local meditation group.
Meditation, after all, is rightly praised for conferring countless benefits for body, mind, and soul. Renown teachers such as Pema Chodron, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Jack Kornfield have popularized the idea of Buddhist-inspired meditation being just what stressed Western people need to live more joyfully and mindfully.
Alas, Pema Chodron, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Jack Kornfield were all on the other side of the Atlantic. In this pre-Zoom age we had to make do with what was available to us locally. So, we went to a free taster evening led by a Western Buddhist monk who seemed like a kind and well-spoken young man. The venue was pleasant, the participants were friendly and welcoming. The meditation practice itself, a visualization of breathing white light into the heart space and breathing out the gunky stuff, created a heightened mood and expansive state of mind. In this altered state, we listened to the monk speak about Buddhist philosophy. I didn’t agree with everything he said—he was a bit too ascetic and world-denying to my taste. Even so, the meditative experience itself was so enjoyable that we became regulars and befriended the other regulars. Not only did we attend the weekly meditation sessions, but we also joined the group activities, such as fundraising walks and other events.
Fast forward a few months. Our teacher asked if I would lead a few sessions, as he had teaching commitments elsewhere. At first, I was honored. But then as I understood this was meant to be a regular thing and not the one off, it began to seem very strange. In most traditions, students study meditation for considerably longer than a few months before they are asked to lead classes. I wasn’t even an actual Buddhist and had never taken refuge vows.
Yet not only was I asked to lead the meditation, I was expected to lecture on Buddhist philosophy. I was told to purchase a book by the monk’s spiritual leader, study each chapter, and talk about the message. I learned that in this school of Buddhism, people were only allowed to read books written by their spiritual leader and not by other Buddhists of any other school. Some of the stuff in this book just seemed off. Any act of self-assertiveness or personal agency was denounced as “self-cherishing,” supposedly a dangerous obstacle to enlightenment. However, shame was celebrated as good thing as it helps herd a straying student back to the One True Path. This caused my alarm bells to go off big time.
I also learned that this branch of Buddhism preached a fanatical opposition to the Dalai Lama. They worshipped a protector deity called Dorje Shugden, shunned as a malevolent spirit by other schools of Tibetan Buddhism. My teacher was urging people to picket and protest the Dalai Lama’s upcoming visit to the UK.
My head exploded. To think that my innocent desire to practice meditation in community had landed me in some bizarro spirit-worshipping, Dalai Lama-hating cult!
The NKT is a new brand of pseudo-Buddhism, made in the United Kingdom. Very keen on fundraising, they have opened numerous meditation centers and residential centers across the UK and across the world. Tibetan Buddhists from actual lineage traditions won’t go near them.
I was lucky. By the time I learned how toxic this group was, my husband and I could get out unscathed. We had invested some time and money, but weren’t deep into the organization. Others weren’t so fortunate. Seduced by the feel-good meditations and the lure of enlightenment, flattered to be asked to teach, other people got roped into opening residential centers, volunteering their time as cooks at the NKT cafes, or even making monastic vows to the organization. The last option is a poverty trap. The monks and nuns subsist on social benefits from the UK state while spending all their time volunteering to teach, fundraise, and run the residential and retreat centers.
If I had it to do over again, I would have done my online research before attending the first class. This is what I now recommend to everyone joining a spiritual group or even a harmless-sounding meditation evening. Google the name of the organization or the leader and then add the words “cult,” “controversy,” or “criticism” in the search box and see what comes up.
Uma has created a comprehensive 13-point checklist of warning signs to let you know when you have accidently stumbled into a toxic group. You can access the list below. If I’d had this list way back when I joined that meditation group, I would have been able to extricate myself a lot earlier.
Meditation and Yoga can and should be liberating in every sense of the word. Let’s work together to ensure that the world of Yoga and meditation is a safe refuge for every seeker.
Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her acclaimed novel Illuminations, drawn from the dramatic life of Hildegard von Bingen, is published by Mariner.Her new novelRevelations, about the mystical pilgrim Margery Kempe and her friendship with Julian of Norwich, is now available wherever books and ebooks are sold. Visit her website.
I am a fervent tennis follower in all its forms. I both play and watch tennis. That is, perhaps, why this story caught my eye. As I’ve written before, I am also a survivor of sexual assault, so these #metoo stories are personal.
On Nov. 2, Peng Shuai, a member of the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association), charged a high-ranking Chinese official with sexual assault via social media. Her post was taken down in under 30 minutes and for 2 weeks she was not heard from at all by any independent person. An uproar ensued with major tennis stars speaking out including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic. Peng, a 3-time Olympian herself, has been ranked as high as #1 in doubles and #14 in singles.
Could this be the case where there might actually be consequences for silencing a woman who has credibly charged abuse? It appears, at least for now, that the WTA is doing the right thing. After some initial dithering, the WTA is, as of this writing, standing strong saying they will withdraw tournaments from China until there is a satisfactory resolution to this situation. This is a billion-dollar industry with 11 tournaments scheduled to take place in China yearly. In other words, its a big deal.
I have been so angry about the Texas law that functionally bans abortion, I have not even been able to find the words to write about it. But alas . . . being angry without taking action is too often what we women do. So, I am forcing myself to focus and write this blogpost. I think the worst part of this law (although there are so many it is truly hard to choose), is how it isolates a vulnerable, pregnant woman. Can you imagine having an unwanted pregnancy and not being able to talk to anyone about it? This law puts a whole women’s support system into legal and financial jeopardy; a mother, sister, friend, doctor, staff at the doctor’s office, therapist, random neighbor and on and on. A woman’s only “legal” option is to talk to a crisis pregnancy center which comes with a hefty dose of political agenda. This is manipulation at this most virulent, cruel, and controlling.
The events of sexual harassment I shared with you in Part 1 of this post happened in my first paid-job experience. Just like Margo Robbie’s character in the movie Bombshell, my encounter with Mr. M. was like hitting the wall of the harsh world’s reality. It was a tough welcome to the adult workplace. After my first experience of harassment, I thought that feeling uncomfortable and guilty due to a man’s behavior wouldn’t happen to me again; especially since my second job was in a Christian organization. Bombshell!
I grew up in a very conservative Christian family in the Pentecostal tradition. In my teenage years I was an active member and leader in a church in Bogotá’s downtown. After that, I was a student leader in a Christian group in my university for seven years. After leaving the first job, I was a very-VERY- Pentecostal girl in my twenties, ready to take on the world again! The main requirements for my new job with the Christian organization were to know the Pentecostal culture and to have experience leading groups in peace-building projects. I was proficient in both, so, hurray – welcome job number two into my life! But what I didn’t realize was that this job would require me to welcome this new boss to it too.
Once again, I find myself writing about a man in power getting caught abusing women. It turns my stomach. The ink is barely dry on my blogpost about Bill Cosby. This time it’s Andrew Cuomo, the governor of my state, New York.
The title for this blogpost came from a comment made by news anchor, Nicolle Wallace as she was hosting a discussion of men behaving badly. The history of holding powerful men to account is a slim one at best. When I think about the Bill Cosby case, I realize that the laws are working as they were designed to – to protect men. We still have an ex-President who hasn’t been called to account for anything. We have two Supreme Court justices who are credibly accused of abuse. And they have achieved the pinnacles of power, for life. There are just too many instances of abusers rising to power for it be accidental.
And if by some happenstance, a powerful man is called to account, the work and the time involved are staggering. As I write this, New Yorkers are discussing how to remove Andrew Cuomo from the governorship. Whether he is impeached or resigns, that is just baseline accountability. There is also talk about criminal prosecution. Go Letitia James (the NY Attorney General)! Still, I will believe that when I see it. Cuomo has been our governor for over 10 years. Those of us living in New York, have long been aware that Cuomo isn’t just a bully but a long-time abuser. But then so were Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. In fact, their crimes went on so long that statues of limitations ran out in many cases.
—The importance of admitting how painful this subject is
—Reminders that I am NOT saying all men are bad or maleness is bad, because men and maleness are truly inherently beautiful and divine
—The necessity of facing honestly just how scary and horrifying the epidemic of violence against females is in our world today
—The truly evil, vicious destruction pornography is causing to female bodies and male psyches in training many, many males to rape and abuse females, and grooming females to normalize and comply with rape and abuse by males
Last weekend I watched the 2019 movie Bombshell. I had not heard about it, and I ended up seeing it for the suggestion of Prime’s “you might enjoy this” algorithm. I had no idea about the story of Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly’s legal battle for sexual harassment against Fox News’ master Roger Ailes. The movie was not very long, but it was intense. It portrayed really well the misogyny expected to be found in such a workplace led by a mighty, egotistic man like Roger Ailes.
A good part of the movie, we join Kayla Pospisil, Margot Robbie’s fictional character, in her quest to become a host in the news. So we go with her into Roger’s office and witness what an interview with that man was. It was about “loyalty” and intended to “prove” that she had what it took to earn a place in one of the most competitive work environments. **Content warning: description of workplace sexual harassmentto follow** Obviously, it meant that she had to sleep with him because how else could a woman with a hot body prove she is competent? Immediately she was forced to show him her legs because legs sell good on T.V., and then we get to see her underwear because he was too turned on and couldn’t stop himself. **End Content Warning** Thanks to Robbie, we also feel the panic, surprise, and horror of a naïve girl trying to get a dream job in the real world.
This blogpost is a rewrite and an update from one I wrote on Jan 26, 2020 (I’m Getting Triggered by the Impeachment Trial and I Bet I am Not Alone). I was writing about The Former Guy’s 2nd impeachment trial which rattled my bones and hurt my heart. How often have we seen angry men (and sometimes women) abusing women, abusing the earth, abusing the vulnerable, abusing immigrants, abusing power? And yet the pattern never seems to end. In many cases, they not only get away with it, it is actually celebrated.
In that 2020 blogpost I included Bill Cosby’s case as a success story. Look how hard it had been, how many years, how many accusers it took for justice to give us the illusion of being meted out. And now pulled away.
In January 2020 there was a blunder (or so they called it) at the National Archives’ in their exhibit titled “Rightfully Hers.” They put up an image of the 2017 Women’s March and blurred out the protest signs. Oh, the irony to blur out women’s voices in an exhibit named Rightfully Hers. Yes, they apologized. But they had to get caught first.