Envisioning Young Women’s Leadership in the 21st Century: A Call to Revolution

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superwomanStanding up, speaking one's truth, and sending a clear vision out into the world is probably one of the most—no, probably the most—difficult task a young woman can choose to take on her lifetime. No doubt, standing up, speaking truth, and risking to have a voice is difficult for anyone, whether male or female, young or old. That said, for the purposes of this article, I will be focusing specifically on exploring some of the unique challenges and obstacles I see confronting young women stepping into leadership roles in society and culture today. I choose this focus in part because I am a young woman myself and I know my own experience and challenges the most intimately, and also because I believe that young women have a critical (although definitely not exclusive) role to play in bringing forward a more sustainable world and future for all of us.

My own journey through different leadership roles over the last 5 years has been both exhilarating and painful, filled with all the joys and pitfalls that come with being a young woman born and raised in North America, and steeped in the values of our 21st century postmodern culture. My heart is sincere, my spirit is strong, and my desire for women's liberation potent and deep in my bones. And yet, even still, I've had to wrestle with the strongholds of narcissism, seductions of power, and demonic confrontations with my own primal fears of stepping out and having a voice as a woman. Stepping into leadership roles has forced me to see and acknowledge shadows about myself that I otherwise could and would have avoided. At the same time, these experiences have chastened me and revealed an inner strength, resiliency and light that I never would have known was within me if I hadn't taken the risk to step forward.

I've had to die and be re-born, more than once, and I'm sure that process is far from over. Originally from Canada, I now live in Seoul, South Korea, and I am trekking the world on a pilgrimage in order to continually expand my perspective and stretch my edge, because I know that, in many ways, my journey has just begun. So I offer this piece as an exploration, an invitation, and an open dialogue on the role and challenges of female leadership in the world today. It is my desire to share what I've learned so far, encourage an inquiry with other women about their experiences, and ignite a collective visioning for where we might go from here...

revolutionRebellion and Revolution: The Catalysts for Cultural Change

I begin this inquiry by first taking a step back and offering a big picture perspective on the role of rebellion and revolution in cultural development, and then weave that in with what I see as women’s unique role in revolution and cultural development. In general, it’s obvious that the energy of rebellion is an essential force that arises in cultures when the dominant belief systems and societal structures of a culture no longer fit the needs, consciousness and life conditions of the people living in that culture. If we look back historically, many of the more positive developmental shifts in culture were preceded by a surge of rebellion in some form. Whether we look at the French revolution of the 18th century, or the civil rights and feminist movement of the 1960s—we see these are just a few examples where there's been a time of great change in values in certain sectors of culture, and an appropriately wild and sometimes aggressive energy arose in order to shake up and break apart the deadened and rigidified belief systems and societal structures that had come to dominate the status quo of previous generations. These old systems don’t turn over easy; thus, the energy of rebellion and revolution are often necessary as catalyzing change agents.

This rebellious energy is often expressed among the youth in times of cultural upheaval as a wild, chaotic and at times anarchistic force. This is showing up now in many parts of the world where we’re seeing young people as active participants in the Arab spring movement, the riots and looting in England, and the Wall Street protests in New York. This arising rebellious force is a necessary energy to utilize for the particularly huge developmental challenges and shifts we’re facing on the planet at this time in history. But what I’m most interested to keep in awareness is the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of these energy surges, and how we can channel and utilize this rebellious energy in a way that will allow us to build well-designed and sustainable collective structures for future culture.

fist

This is no easy task, and for me, this is where the hard work of creating collective containers of moral and collective accountability, developing maturity and patience in our approach to change, and sharpening our critical thinking skills as young people will be essential in keeping our rebellious energy healthy and well positioned to have the most effective long-term impact. It's important that we stay in a constant collective inquiry about what it is we are rebelling for, and/or against, and why. We also need to continually ask what the long-term vision of our rebellion is—even if we cannot fully predict how all the pieces will fall into place down the road—so as to keep our rebellious and revolutionary energy in a healthy form of service to the larger whole

rosie riverterWomen's Role in Revolution and the Transformation of Culture

I think that looking at the role of rebellion and revolution is an especially interesting inquiry for women nowadays (both young and old) because it seems that women are currently being poised at the forefront of leading cultural change on a mass scale.

Women all over the world are starting to be recognized as pivotal change agents in their communities in different forms—from Africa to the Middle East—and there has certainly been a great deal of rhetoric and fervor in the Western world about an emerging feminine energy set to re-define power in every sector of culture and society over the next decade, from the way we do business and politics, to the way we communicate engage relationships (For a deeper look at some of these arguments, this provocative article from Atlantic magazine, entitled The End of Men, was widely circulated about a year ago). Everywhere you turn there seems to be a workshop for women about igniting their feminine energy, or empowering their feminine voice. I see this all as potentially very useful and important work. As for whether you believe that the feminine is going to fulfill on all our hopes for catalyzing us into a new world—I have my doubts, which I'll explain later— the manifestation of all this focus on the feminine seems to be some collective recognition that women are set to potentially play a very important role in the decades to come; that is, if we choose to rise to the challenge.

Sera Beak and The RedVolution

sera beakWhile doing research on young women, revolution and leadership, I decided to take a deep dive into the work of one particular young woman who is making some serious headway on the spiritual feminist scene these days. Sera Beak, a Harvard graduate in Religious studies, and self-ascribed "Spiritual Cowgirl" and "RedVolutionary."  In case you are wondering what a RedVolutionary is, this is a short description copied directly from her website:

"A Redvolutionary is someone who does not play by the social, religious, cultural, sexual, or political rules. She affects change by daring to be herself, forging a unique path, and serving her planet authentically through "ecstatic activism." She's a kind of "spiritual superheroine," rebelling against dogma and ideology in order to experience a direct and intimate relationship with the divine. She has a fearless commitment to truth and freedom, healing and empowerment, sex toys, red wine, and gold body glitter for all... And she can do it all while wearing seriously cute shoes."

(photo from Sera's website)

For a longer outline of the RedVolution mission statement and intent, visit Sera's blog here.

red bookWhatever one may think about Sera's mission statement as a RedVolutionary, one thing that can't be denied is that this young woman is putting her heart and soul into getting her work and mission out to a world of young women thirsty for direction and something new. She published her first book, The Red Book: A Deliciously Unorthodox approach to Igniting your Divine Spark, in 2006, which was at once a personal memoir, an exploration of ancient religions and modern practices, and a spiritual teaching tailored to the needs, attitudes and idiosyncrasies of young women in the 21st century. Sera is also currently working on her second book Red, Hot and Holy: A Heretic's Love Story, to be released sometime in 2012, which is a personal memoir of her own spiritual journey, and she is also in the midst of completing a documentary film entitled RedVolution: Dare to Disturb the Universe. Sera is also an active board member for REVEAL, a yearly conference that gathers young women leaders aimed at redefining feminine spirituality for the next generation, which has gained the support of many spiritual feminist leaders such as Carol Lee Flinders and China Galland. Sera also officiates wedding ceremonies (it says on her website that she is an officially ordained minister), has participated in a series of public speaking events and panel discussions with well known female teachers such as Jean Houston and Barbara Marx Hubbard, and has been deemed "one of the new Carrie Bradshaws of self-help spirituality" by The New York Times. Sera is sassy, smart, successful, and undeniably beautiful, and she is aimed, potentially, to have a significant impact on the future of women's leadership for the generation to come.

gnostic gospelsIn many ways, I stand in awe of Sera's accomplishments for her age (I believe she is in her early to mid-thirties) and bow to what she is aiming to create with her life. I spent this past month reading The Red Book, perusing through her blogposts and watching some of her video clips on YouTube to try to get a better grasp on her philosophy and ideas. I came out of it all with a lot of mixed and contradictory feelings. At one level, I found Sera to be a great writer and a lively youthful spirit stirring up and slapping the ass of traditional spirituality, which I appreciate and even found myself a little turned on by. At another level, her philosophy and approach to women's empowerment, which oftentimes seems to include an indiscriminate mixture of spirituality, high fashion, self-help psychology, tantra, sex toys and body glitter, raised some questions for me about how she was choosing to define empowerment for the next generation. In reading Sera's book and reading over her website, I was also aware of her continual casual references to Brazilian bikini waxes, designer jeans, cosmetics, vibrators and high fashion interspersed within her discussions about the Upanishads, yoga and the Gnostic Gospels. In many ways, this is Sera's trademark—that is, she deems herself a modern day Spiritual Cowgirl who transgresses the norms of uptight and rigid traditional religious dogma and includes all things (including the dirty, the sexual, the transgressive, and the commercial) as part of her unique and individual divine expression. As Sera states on her LinkedIn profile:

"I'm as comfortable talking about Muslim women in Iraq, the pagan history of religious traditions and the extreme need for religious tolerance in this day and age as I am about designer jeans, vibrators and the latest celebrity breakup."

She also elaborates on her unique Spiritual Cowgirl status in the intro to the Red Book when she writes:

"I've come to realize that like most people in my generation, I am anti-authoritarian and a little individualistic. I want to find God in my own way, in my own time, and, essentially, by my own self....Yep, I'm a true modern devotee. I love the mystics and The Matrix, yoga and the White Stripes, mediation and designer jeans. In terms of cultural dialects, I am multilingual. I speak New Age and Aveda skin care, Eastern philosophy and Elle magazine, metaphysics and Hitachi vibrators.... My spirituality is real, alive and active, funky and fresh."

After this initial introduction, Sera begins to lay out the foundation of her philosophy and her core mission for empowering a new generation of spiritually aware young women. She writes,

"So what's a smart, gutsy, spiritually curious young woman to do nowadays? Well, how 'bout taking spirituality back into your own hands? How about finding out what it means for you, through your own explorations and experiences and expressions?... It's all about tuning up your senses, cranking up your antennae, generating conscious living. It's about becoming your own spiritual authority."

Although I can most definitely appreciate Sera's desire to wrestle spirituality out of the hands of traditional religion and patriarchal dogma, so as to put it back in the hands of young women themselves, and although Sera reiterates her genuine desire to help young women engage in a discerning and empowered discovery of their own unique spiritual path, I couldn't help but be left with many unresolved questions and concerns about her approach upon completing her book. Also, despite Sera's vast knowledge of religions across cultures, I wondered at times if Sera was aware of the lens of economic and cultural privilege that was often informing many of her own views and how that was shaping the advice she was giving to young women about spiritual empowerment. It was this mixture of contradictory feelings about Sera's work and the increasing popularity of her public image that inspired me to want to take a deeper dive into the RedVolutionary dialogue and to try to tease apart some critical distinctions about the movement she is igniting.

womenMy intention in writing this piece is both to honor Sera for the immense amount of work she has done, and also to probe intelligent questions and a critical inquiry about Sera's message because I think she is worth the time and energy to do so. My sense from reading her book is that Sera has a good heart, a bright spirit, and that her work is in continual evolution and is worth including in a vision for the future. That said, I will say bluntly that my concern with many young women's movements today, including Sera's, is that in their often well-intended aim to make feminism and spirituality more accessible for the younger generations, and to be perceived as more cool and hip than their more serious and "uptight" feminist foremothers, they often loose serious and well-developed critiques on the wider culture, history, power dynamics, and theories of collective transformation as a whole. There also seems to be a lack of critical reflection on how the messages of empowerment they are selling as young women are being filtered through a wider dominant cultural worldview with all its own values and biases. Let me explain what I mean in more detail, but first I have to do a bit of a preamble to set the stage.

Spirituality, Individualism and the Dominance of the Upper Left

As I've written about more extensively in my previous article, Pop Culture and Porn Stars, one of the biggest concerns I have with many young women's empowerment movements occurring in North America today is that they are quite heavily defined by a hyper-individualistic value system that often skews our sense of the role and power of the individual in defining truth. I have an equal concern with how this hyper-individualistic value system is unconsciously shaping the vast majority of spirituality and self-help literature coming out of the West today. To get a better grasp on how pervasive this really is, I want to introduce integral philosopher Ken Wilber's four quadrant model, which I think will help greatly in framing and teasing apart some important and critical distinctions for this inquiry.

quadrantsWilber's basic four-quadrant map is relatively simple to grasp. It basically states that if you want to understand any phenomenon in the universe, you have to look at all four quadrants—both individuals and collectives, exteriors and interiors—as unique co-arising (co-related) aspects of reality that interact and impact the shaping of any phenomenon or experience. We can see that the individual quadrants (Upper Left or "I" quadrant, which represents the interior experience of thoughts, emotions, memories, states of mind, perceptions and immediate sensations, and the Upper Right or "IT" quadrant, which represents the individual exterior aspects of body, brain and measurable chemistry) are half of the story. The UL and UR make up 50% of reality so to speak, while the collective quadrants of (the Lower Left or "WE" quadrant, which represents the interior collective of culture, shared worldviews, relationships, language and the Lower Right or "ITS" quadrant , which represents the exterior collective societal structures, economic institutions, social networks, technology) make up the other 50% of reality.

Wilber's four quadrant theory argues—and I think it makes intuitive sense—that all four quadrants are co-arising at all times and they all disclose equally important, yet distinct, realities that have to be taken into account when trying to understand any phenomenon or gauges of truth. The reality of each quadrant needs to be accounted for in its own right and each quadrant needs to be honored for the unique aspect of truth that it discloses. Wilber says that an over-emphasis on the reality of any one quadrant at the expense of the others results in "quadrant absolutism."

reality creationThis is an important lens of holistic-integral analysis because I see most of the self-help spiritual world today putting a very heavy-weighted over-emphasis on the Upper Left quadrant of Individual Interior experience—thoughts, emotions, memories, states of mind, perceptions and immediate sensations—as the main source of reality, and ultimately the main gateway to transformation. As a result, the self-help spiritual worlds have largely developed tools that only work with the UL dimension of reality. This is quite evident in many of the positive psychology movements, the Law of Attraction craze, and most of the New Age.

The UL philosophy of the mainstream spiritual self-help literature puts an unprecedented emphasis on the individual as the sole creator of reality. The basic mantra is that whatever you believe creates your reality, and thus you can change your reality by changing your thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and perceptions. Obviously there is a powerful partial truth to this philosophy because the UL of individual interior consciousness is a real phenomenon that impacts all the other four quadrants. However, the quadrants are co-arising and are never mutually exclusive. Effects in any quadrant, including the LL and LR, affect all the others. So a condition or change in the LL (for example, cultural values or language) or a condition or change in the LR (class position, institutional power) also affects the unfolding of the UL quadrant. Therefore, a hyper over-emphasis on the UL doesn't adequately account for the ways that the LL and the LR also have a massive impact in shaping our individual consciousness. That is, culture and society play quite a big role in shaping the interior thoughts, desires and beliefs that we often hold so dear to us as being deeply personal and authentic to us.

If you more or less agree with Wilber's four-quadrant scheme, you can see that the UL only comprises 25% of reality. But when you look out at much of the Western self-help spirituality literature, you would think that the UL comprises 95% of reality because of how much importance it is given. The ironic thing is that individualism itself is actually a cultural value (LL) of a particular stage in Western development that then gets institutionalized and marketed (LR) on a mass scale. Individualism is as much a cultural and societal construct as it is an interior experience. Yet, many of us in North America (and certainly a great majority of the North American spiritual self-help world) relate to the whole experience of being an individual as if it were simply an UL phenomenon, largely free from the bounds and constrictions of wider society and culture—free to define itself on its own terms without interference. This is where the real trouble starts and where the dogma of individualism can very easily slip into narcissism and a hyper-focus on manipulating ones own interiors in order to try to manage the outside world.

This hyper-inflated value given to the sanctity of the individual can also make it extremely hard to enact critical critique of other people's worldviews, because when the individual reigns supreme, one's own "truth" (and one's own experience and self-expression) refuses to be challenged. One's own interior experience becomes experienced as sacred, and to challenge the truth of someone's interior experience becomes a kind of sacrilege.

Of course there is some truth to the reality of the UL, and we want to preserve the sanctity of the individual and the uniqueness of each person's path, which no one else can ultimately determine for us. We need not lose a respect for the dignity of the individual while at the same time keeping ourselves held deeply accountable to the wider collective and engaging ongoing critical reflection about how our "individual truths" and self-expressions may actually be in some (or large) part a product of our cultural and social conditioning.

It is from this base of understanding, and my desire to acknowledge and hold the important reality of all four quadrants, that I would like to hone in on some of my concerns with Sera's work and message.

warning The Problem with Being Your Own Spiritual Authority

Sera's basic message is clear. She wants to empower young women to step out of the confines of dogma and second hand religious spoon-feeding and empower them to become the a divine spiritual authority of their own lives. Although, at times, Sera does briefly refer to the need for young women to keep in check with older mentors, friends, and the wider ethics of culture while they are carving out their own unique spiritual path, she doesn't actually develop any coherent framework for what collective accountability actually means in practice, or in what ways young women should be held responsible to something outside of their own "individual truth." In this way, it is clear where her own bias rests.

This lack of a larger cultural critique and collective accountability is equally present in her advice about spiritual empowerment as it is in her guidance to young women about how to navigate their sexual empowerment. Sera says,

"Just like the Red Book is not interested in telling you how to be spiritual, I'm not interested in telling you exactly how to be sexual, either. I merely offer a few suggestions to help you become more familiar with your sexual-spiritual self, in the hope that they might inspire you to create your own unique approaches. The Red Book is not trying to set a particular standard of sexuality against which our spirituality should be measured. It is encouraging you to witness whether and how this divine intervention changes your experiences and shifts you perspective. Above all, it's important to become more conscious and honor our sexual truths, no matter what they might look like to others or to the culture around us."

She later goes on to cite the Gnostic gospels as support for the reign of individual truth above all else,

"Gnosticism encourages nonattachment and nonconformity, a lack of egotism and a respect for the dignity and freedom of all beings. But it's up to the intuition and wisdom of every individual (the knowing of each one's heart) to distill from these principles individual guidelines for their personal application."

Therefore, despite Sera's intermittent qualifiers about social accountability and warnings about the potential pitfalls of narcissism, these points come across more as loose suggestions, rather than any identifiable guidelines for moral or collective accountability. Ultimately, Sera's message is that young women's spiritual and sexual choices should, primarily, be guided by what feels right, good, fun and sexy for them—period.

vogue girlWhile I respect the dignity and importance of individual choice, I believe Sera's approach to be deeply problematic when it is not matched with an equally powerful critique on the wider culture in which sexuality, beauty and fashion are so pervasively, narrowly and capitalistically constructed and defined for young women in today's culture. Sera's message, in my opinion, does not give young women the necessary critical thinking skills needed to make discerning choices in a postmodern context where virtually all options are now made available to us, and where there is minimal guidance or moral distinctions given around what is a better or worse choice.

Sera's work misses, for me, deeply addressing the larger cultural milieu in which young women are unconsciously embedded, and in which young women's choices are being constantly influenced, often without our knowing it. Culture is the water we swim in, and thus we need ongoing critical reflection on that wider context in which we exist so that we can make informed choices. We cannot simply rely on our own "inner guidance," because that "inner guidance" may be deeply skewed and influenced by cultural, class and race biases of all kinds. And although Sera acknowledges at one point in her book that, "unconscious fears, subconscious desires, childhood experiences, personality quirks, past lives, ego, what we had for lunch today" can manipulate and distort our spiritual choices, her only real solution is to become discerning by following your own heart, intuition and personal divine guidance.

What this fails to acknowledge is that even the most profound spiritual experiences will be filtered in some form through our own unconscious cultural, personal, and class filters of perception and shadow. Therefore, I argue that we don't even have real substantial access to the power of deep intuition that Sera is advocating as a guide for our choices until we deeply uncover these very pervasive and deeply-rooted unconscious filters. If we wish to make truly informed and enlightened choices, we have to go much deeper than using "what feels right for me" as a moral compass.

miley cyrusThis is especially difficult work to unpack when it comes to issues of sexuality and beauty for young women because the cultural pressures, contradictory values and relentless marketing messages surrounding beauty and sexuality are currently so insidiously toxic for young women in North American culture. There is perhaps no area in culture where the dictum of "uninhibited individual free self expression and choice" is more toted and upheld than in the realm of young women's sexuality. Young women steeped in a postmodern milieu are actively encouraged to embrace unbounded sexual expression and "sexiness" as the new mantra of female empowerment. It is incredibly pervasive and deeply disabling for many young women who don't fit into the category of "hot" (or can't afford to fit into it), and also disabling for the young women who do. As the young feminist writer, Ariel Levy, points out in her inspiring and critical book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, the increasing pornification of mainstream culture has actuallyfemale chauvinist pigs displaced sex with "sexiness," which is about commercial consumption rather than actual pleasure and intimacy. And thus,

"For women, hotness requires projecting a kind of eagerness, offering a promise that any attention you receive for your physicality is welcome.... Proving that you are hot, worthy of lust, and—necessarily—that you seek to provoke lust, is still exclusively women's work."

Levy argues that the current ethos of our "raunch culture"—characterized by the rise in popularity of pornography, the "Girls Gone Wild" phenomenon and the ever increasing rates of plastic surgery—has elevated young woman's "hotness" and "sex-ability" to an unprecedented level of gender-power status and cultural currency. And the fact that women are now socialized to actively objectify themselves—as opposed to just men forcing it upon them—is, for Levy, is no triumph of feminism, but rather the depressing result of a freedom won that was never able to anchor itself in a higher purpose for young girls than the heated exploitation of their own sexuality. Arguably, this is the cultural context and climate in which Sera's RedVolutionary message, and statements like "sex toys, red wine, and gold body glitter for all" will be interpreted and digested, whether she intends it to or not.

I think it is also important to recognize that rebellion and transgression against traditional values (whether traditional religion or vanilla sex) is actually in many ways the new "normal" in postmodern culture. Porn, sex toys, BDSM and kink are no longer things that exist at the transgressive fringes, they are the commercial mainstream. As Emily Ann Roy so aptly points out in her article In Defense of Chastity,

"For those of us who were born into a postmodern cultural milieu, having sex when you want to, with who you want to, for whatever reason you want to, is normal. If you are not doing it, you are obviously ashamed of your body or ::gasp:: a Republican...Today the idea that sex is a wonderful part of human expression is not all that edgy in many North American communities."

sera beakOf course, this doesn't mean that deep roots of sexual Puritanism don't still infiltrate women's experience around their sexuality, because they do! But uninhibited sexual expressiveness is also equally, if not more, pervasive than the former. I realize that Sera's approach is actually an attempt to try to offer young women a direct and intimate connection to their sexuality and pleasure through the gateway of spirituality, and I feel she is genuine in her desire for that. However, her lack of a demonstratable deep critical analysis of the toxic cultural environment in which young women are currently growing up, and the lack of a serious calling to moral and collective accountability around how we express our sexuality as young women (outside of what feels right and authentic to us), is what hinders the full potential of Sera' work. In my opinion, it is going to take a lot of courage and critical literacy for us as a culture of young women to truly transcend the pervasive confusion and deeply rooted narcissism that has such a deep hold in our sexual-free-for-all postmodern culture.

Another issue that feels important to point out is what seems to be an absence of critical reflection on Sera's part about her own image as a traditionally beautiful woman and how that is entwined with her commercialized success and privilege. This seeming lack of inquiry about how the image she sells of herself impacts her message and her influence on young women, for me, this also hinders the highest possibilities and potential of her work. There is nothing wrong with being a beautiful and sexy woman, and I in no way wish to shame Sera about her beauty, but I believe that acknowledging one's position of socio-economic privilege as a result of one's high "beauty currency" within a commercial culture that favors and sells certain definitions of attractiveness, is essential for helping young women be able to develop a critical literacy about societal standards of beauty and how they operate in the world and impact privilege and success. Such an open and explicit inquiry about beauty privilege and how it operates within culture, as well as the real discrimination and pain it causes for young women who don't fit those definitions, would also serve as a great catalyst for building more transparent relationships between young women, and would hopefully support a multi-dimensional and multi-layered approach for coming to appreciate beauty and radiance in its less traditional and less commercial forms. I've written about some of this, and my own experience and struggles with beauty-identity and radiance as a young woman in my 2008 article, Beauty and the Expansion of Women's Identity.  (photo from Sera's website

maryThe Role of the Feminine, and the Feminine Divine in Cultural Transformation

One last issue that I wanted to touch on briefly, which I alluded to earlier, is the role of the feminine in the transformation of culture. This is important for understanding Sera's work because the RedVolution, as Sera defines it, is "a modern day movement of the Feminine Divine" and her whole work centers around the re-emergence of the Divine Feminine as an empowering archetype and force for younger generations of women. This focus on the Divine Feminine is also a prevalent motif in most women's empowerment initiatives that are attempting to catalyze cultural transformation today, and it has been the central focus of North American women's movements for many decades, as was evident in the fervor of the Goddess movements of the 1960s.

So, with all this renewed excitement and focus on the Feminine occurring in Western culture, I think it is worth asking if all the hype about the Feminine is well-founded or not. I can start by speaking from my own life and experience, in which I've certainly found a connection with the Divine Feminine, at certain points in my development, to be an incredibly powerful and potent inter-psychic and spiritual relationship for catalyzing my own transformation and empowering my own voice as a young woman. Much of my poetry has been inspired by a Divine Feminine muse that I've experienced as both unbearably light and unconditionally loving and simultaneously dark, chaotic, wild and unforgiving. Connecting to that energy has both inspired me and brought me to my knees for the past seven years, and it has also repeatedly connected me at a subtle energetic level to a lineage of women throughout history who have risked everything for love and higher truth, which has empowered my own journey and voice with a kind of strength and vivacity that I would have never found on a personal level alone. I feel this transpersonal connection deep in my bones and know it more solidly than I know anything else in my life. There is something very real about the Feminine archetype and the role she plays in the collective human psyche that is worth paying attention to and which I think can be very empowering for young women to align with. The work of Marion Woodman is one resource that is very potent for articulating some of these deeper resonances of the feminine within the collective psyche. So in this way, I can get on board with supporting the Divine Feminine movements out there.

gaiaThat said, I also think that, like anything, as soon as an idea becomes mainstream, it often gets sucked into a more commercialized rhetoric of hype and idolization, which causes it to lose a tremendous amount of depth and proper critical distinction. Once the Divine Feminine becomes the next new "hot thing," or even the next form onto which we project our hope for salvation as a culture in times of crisis, the Feminine becomes defined and distorted within the very system that she was originally set to overturn. She becomes yet another object to sell and consume within the spiritual marketplace. One result of this is that all the rhetoric and hyped-up-hope projection on the Feminine has, I believe, led to a skewed idealization and idolization of women that isn't fully in touch with reality, or in touch with the hard work that women still need to do in order to be ready to be leaders of culture.

Important concerns have been raised by theorists, such as Elizabeth Debold and Rebecca Bailin, who have argued for jettisoning the term "Feminine" all together due to the problems it poses in polarizing men and women and essentializing certain qualities about women that over-idealize traditional femininity and set women up as morally superior to men. I completely concur with many of the concerns that both Debold and Bailin raise, and I admittedly also wonder if getting rid of the terms would make things easier. However, I don't see that likely happening in the larger culture, and it may not be necessary. I think the most important thing is becoming critically aware of how we use the terms and concomitant discourses, and how they often become skewed in mainstream rhetoric. Again, the need for healthy deconstruction of the feminine, particularly as it is commercialized in the dominant culture, and also understanding the different developmental contexts in which the term is employed, will help us to become more critically aware of how to relate to the feminine in a more enlightened and less dogmatic way.

Another area where the shadow side of the feminine rhetoric can potentially become an issue is when there is an assumption that simply because we are women (and we are "Feminine"), that we are somehow special. I would argue that a subtle form of spiritual superiority is often pervasive in many feminine defined spiritual cultures, but which is even more difficult to point out or acknowledge because women can often be very attached to the image of being good and seeing themselves as more humble than men. This also makes it more difficult to work transparently with female shadow. The rhetoric of the feminine can suggest that we already have everything we need as women in order to lead. I personally disagree, and such an assumption to me is a symptom of how deeply the mainstream marketed spiritual world lacks strong critical thinking skills or an understanding of history. There is no significantly convincing proof that women would do a better job running the world than men have, and I believe there are many shadow dimensions to how we as women show up with each other, and how we show up with men, that we will have to engage and consider very deeply before we make any assumptions about our superior capacity to lead. I think doing an archeological dig and uncovering these tougher shadow areas within the female psyche are a very important aspect of preparing us for the real task of sustainable leadership roles in culture for the future.

girls readingWith all of this said, I want to close this article with an affirmation that I do believe there is potentially something amazing emerging in women at this time in history, and that there is something that women as a collective could bring to the table—if we are willing to do the hard work—that will be essential to changing the world we currently live in. Sera Beak's work is a part of that movement, along with many others, and I hope to find a way to join arms and join forces with all of them so that we can work together to create a better future for everyone. I really do honor any woman who has the balls—or more accurately, the ovaries—to speak up and take on the hard task of leadership, so I leave my own challenges as an open invitation for ongoing engagement to all women.

young girl

I do believe that there are certain intelligences and sensitivities that many women have, as a result of our historically second place status in culture, that will actually allow us to see through the dominant power structures of culture in a way that most men cannot. If we don't just succumb to playing into the power-games of those dominant patriarchal power structures ourselves (because that power can be very seductive for women too!), and we keep our socio-political critical thinking skills sharp by challenging the dogma of the individualist, as well as keeping in constant dialogue, support and honest challenge and reflection with each other as women, then I think we could potentially be in a powerful position to be a liberating force for freeing both men and women from the current confines of patriarchy. Then we may really have an essential role in supporting the creation of a new world where young women can grow up empowered, confident, radiant, critically aware, and ready to take on the world...for real.

In the words of Martin Luther King, "I have a dream..."

--

Update I/Editor's Note: Please see Sera's initial response (Thurs Oct 27 11:12) in the comments section to this piece as well as Vanessa's reply (Thurs Oct 27 11:46).

Update II: Editor's Note: The comments thread on this piece has been incredibly rich, thanks to all the commenters. A special note to please see Sera and Vanessa's most recent reply which show a really interesting development in their dialogue.  Vanessa's comment dated Sat Oct 29 20:05 and Sera's from Sunday Oct 30 14:45.   

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70 comments

  • Comment Link Olen Wednesday, 26 October 2011 20:31 posted by Olen

    Vanessa, wow!

    Sera has a tonne to learn from you here! Your article speaks so lucidly and compellingly to the form of leadership that is needed in our time. Your thoughts on the divine feminine and powerfully discerning way of giving voice to this in your writing (not sure how much your aware of this) is touching.

    And what a send off with that last paragraph!!

    "I do believe that there are certain intelligences and sensitivities that many women have, as a result of our historically second place status in culture, that will actually allow us to see through the dominant power structures of culture in a way that most men cannot. If we don't just succumb to playing into the power-games of those dominant patriarchal power structures ourselves (because that power can be very seductive for women too!), and we keep our socio-political critical thinking skills sharp by challenging the dogma of the individualist, as well as keeping in constant dialogue, support and honest challenge and reflection with each other as women, then I think we could potentially be in a powerful position to be a liberating force for freeing both men and women from the current confines of patriarchy. Then we may really have an essential role in supporting the creation of a new world where young women can grow up empowered, confident, radiant, critically aware, and ready to take on the world...for real.

    In the words of Martin Luther King, "I have a dream..."

    in gratitude,

    Olen

  • Comment Link Elizabeth Debold Wednesday, 26 October 2011 22:34 posted by Elizabeth Debold

    Brava, Vanessa! This is a tour de force--thank you for writing it. Recently, Stephanie Coontz wrote a book about Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique. At the end she explains that the new feminine mystique, the new trap for women, is The Hottie Mystique. (I've been writing about it a lot on FB.) The commodification of women's sexuality, palmed off as "empowerment," is a far bigger trap for young women than sexless Victorian ideals of femininity. (Did you know that very significant numbers of young hotties are nonorgasmic? Who's having fun here?) The reason it is such a trap is that sexuality/reproduction is and has always been women's fundamental value in the cultures that have existed thus far on this planet. The call, as you have so eloquently put it, is for a Revolution that will create something new.

    I hope that Sera Beak will hear you, and hear the generosity that you are bringing to her and her work. Today's young women are faced with a real dilemma that Beak captures and you illuminate so well. There is a vast difference between feeling of freedom that comes from waltzing into the cultural script for women that gives one superficial affirmation versus developing an inner freedom, a depth, that liberates one from the cravings and insecurities of the conditioned self. You do a beautiful job of presenting this dilemma, making space for young women's desire for empowerment, and calling young women to reach for something higher.

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Thursday, 27 October 2011 10:24 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Vanessa,
    This is powerful and provocative stuff. I am left wondering if the terms "leader" and "leadership" even fit what might arise in your dreams of the divine feminine. Maybe those terms are already containers that do not fit, or force the shape of what we envision. I am reminded of studies of wild horse cultures that were done over many years. Initially, the studies described the stallions as leaders, and video footage was used to detail the different social "contracts" between them, and within their own family group. Recently, however, there has been a completely different interpretation. We have come to know that family groups are held together by one or more lead mares, even in times of fear and crisis. The reason why this escaped the initial studies is because the kind of behavior, or the method, one might say, that the lead mares demonstrated in leading, was not recognized *as* leadership by the researchers. It did not have all the assumed characteristics of "dominance" that was used to describe a "natural" hierarchy among horses. It turns out that leadership is not a linear hierarchy, but something more complex, and has the character of what it is to love and be as one body. So it occurs to me that there are women like yourself, who are natural leaders in this sense, who may never be on the big screen, who may go unrecognized for this capacity of theirs. We will however, be able to identify them, by the quality of their love, and the expanse of their embrace manifested in a variety of traditional as well as postconventional ways.

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Thursday, 27 October 2011 11:44 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    ... and now I am thinking about "revolution" and how that concept itself might be constrained by a dominant western-male-enlightenment structure. The philosopher Hannah Arendt has been so greatly under-recognized for her contribution on the Human Condition and the Life of the Mind; as well as her work on Totalitarianism, the Banality of Evil... and it occurs to me that she has captured a unique understanding of human nature and the essence of change in human systems. Maybe "revolution" with all its dialectical nature, is, from the view of the feminine, actually a kind of "stasis" -- whereas real change occurs in generative, not dialectical processes. hmmm got to go think around that now. THANKS! you've inspired me.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Thursday, 27 October 2011 14:05 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Thank you Olen, Elizabeth and Bonnitta for your beautiful comments, and the depth that they capture. Truly appreciated.

    Olen, you are such a rocking brother of support for me. Thank you for your reflection and for "seeing" me. It means a great deal.

    Elizabeth, you know I love ya :) I haven't read Coontz yet, but definitely will. The idea of the "Hottie Mystique" in follow up to Friedan's "Feminine Mystique" makes a great deal of sense to me. Thank you for the reference, and for your own tireless work in this area, which has also taught me a great deal on my own path.

    Bonnitta, OMG, I love the horse reference and the connections you are making around leadership. That makes so much sense to me! I was at the Integral Education Conference last year, and I remember one of the things I said in the group was that the leaders of the future would be invisible.

    Now, what "invisible" means is up for interpretation. I honestly have no idea what my own particular role is, and whether I will be up front in a very "seen" way, or more working on the deeper roots in the background. It doesn't really matter all that much to me. But the work itself does feel more "invisible" in the sense that I believe the time of the "single head leader" is largely over. We are building new nets of leadership that are like an interwoven matrix. And the social connectivity of leadership makes it hard to point to any one person as "the One."

    I think a good leader is someone who is marked by a deep collective sensitivity and collective accountability, while also being deeply in touch with their own unique depth.

    I also think leadership for the future will require an unprecedented level of transparency and flexibility to move with the waves of change as they ebb and flow at dynamic pace and unpredictable speed over the coming decades. That is why, for me at least, any attempt to build up an image or attach and name oneself under a particular brand--whether it be the RedVolution, or any other brand-- doesn't really feel sustainable in the long run.

    I think it is cool that you are even questioning words like "leadership" and "revolution." Who knows, it's all up in the air in my view, and open to unfold and re-define together. Thanks again for your great reflections... touches home for me

  • Comment Link Sera Thursday, 27 October 2011 19:12 posted by Sera

    Vanessa, I applaud your brilliance, honest reflection and personal opinions - your work is undoubtedly important and there are many gifts you’ve offered all of us in this thorough and poignant article - but unfortunately, because of my current situation (and probably my narcissism) I cannot delve into a debate or too many point details at this time, yet do want to offer something that is real and present for me.

    The Red Book and the Redvolution were (and to lesser degrees still are) authentic reflections of my self, but I also need to gently remind you that I was in my twenties when I wrote The Red Book and "came out" with the Redvolution. I'm not sure what you were like 7 years ago (which was when I handed in the final draft), but imagine the un/fortunate experience of publishing it : )

    Much has happened over the past years since The Red Book and Redvolution came out, including me leaving my "career" (stopping my film/breaking contract with my publisher/stepping down from boards/turning down all commercial offers and cancelling 95 percent of my public talks and workshops) because of what I perceived to be the corruption/abuse of the feminine in the mainstream spirituality arena and because I received a royal bitch slap care of the Big She Herself - all of which has lead to almost three years cocooning in the red tent. In the dark.

    Like most dark nights, I’ve come face to face with my personal shadow, the mainstream spirituality/self-help shadow, the culture’s sexual shadow and the feminine divine's shadow…all of which I write about in detail in my forthcoming book and I plan to share with what’s left of my audience in a variety of ways (including a reflective and updated website) when I come out of the red tent in 2012.

    But…I'm still not done with this particular level of divine deconstruction and since my livelihood and health have been greatly affected by my, er, career/life changes, I’ve unfortunately not had the time, energy, or money to change much of my website or previous public presence to reflect my current views and experience.

    Also, I’m between the old and the new, and because of my inability to fully see my new (and some of my fears/shadows around completely ditching the old when there is no new), I left the old up to view. Sometimes, when you lose layers of your false self, you assume the world loses them as well. But as your article has clearly shown me, that’s obviously not the case when you’ve been a semi-public figure.

    I realize you could only form your opinions based on what you read of my old self/career/website/book/public information – and of course, you have every right to your opinions because that “old me” is still out there affecting the world and I am responsible for her - and I'm pretty damn sure even with “the sera shake down” of these past years, you would still disagree with me on several things...

    However,

    a very human, honest and defensive part of me wishes you would have waited a few months for my latest book to come out - the book that speaks to where I am now - not 7 years ago.

    Also, 6 months ago you sent me several emails, one of which asked for a dialogue at some point and I answered that I could not “dialogue” till I was out of the red tent because I was undergoing a deep process (which was also relayed to you via a few other ways). On my old blog, third post down, in summer 2009, I write about having to go behind the red curtain, and in a few recent public online radio interviews over the past few months I talk about how my views on sexuality/spirituality/ and young feminine leaders have changed dramatically and by beginning to give voice to my new views and take action because of them, I have lost dear friends, colleagues, my professional life as I knew it, and well, almost everything.

    Anyway, my rambling point is that a little digging and date checking (and a little respect for another’s process) would have made many people pause...and wait... or at least inquire more before they write an online article specifically about the processing person and their changing work.

    So, to continue this totally honest human rant and since we were in contact, I do wish you would have told me that you were writing about me specifically in an article that would be published online at this time, because I would have briefly busted out of my red tent and tried to voice my current truth (before you published your article) – or, since my brain is less able to debate or “dialogue” these dark days, at least I could have shared with you my pride and misgivings about my past, my honest confusions, delusions and hopes about the spiritual/sexual arena, my personal shadow show down and what I have learned about the feminine “hottie” movement and why I have pulled away from it while still trying to honor the ongoing discovery of my authentic feminine sexual/spiritual expression…

    and well, most importantly (in my opinion), I would have shared with you how terrifying, how humbling, how gut-wrenching all this change has been for me as a woman and as “a leader,” and (because of these roles), how dedicated I am to the lengthy grueling often publicly embarrassing process of retrieving my feminine Soul so I can be of truer service to other women and this planet…

    all of which (again, in my opinion) would have made for a more fair and rounded article.

    Speaking of my slowly returning Soul - my oh my is She RED and HOT!!! (hence the title of my forthcoming book). Her love burns me alive and spanks me awake and leaves me totally vulnerable and open and real and hot and, well, definitely bothered. “Hottie movement” beware. It’s time for “Hot” to reflect its truest meaning – divine transformation.

    But right now, my red hot Soul is calling me back inside the red tent to finish giving birth to this next book (and my self), reminding me that now is not the time to go into heady detail with you about this already published article as much as my ego wants to because unfortunately I do not have the energy or wherewithal at this particular time to defend my old ghosts as you have portrayed them.

    (although, I will send you portions of an unedited chapter of my new book, which touches upon some of your points in this article, just cause it’s done and will clue you in to where I currently stand with many of these hot topics. This is for your eyes only.)

    One last handful of fiery red rose petals - due to your past emails to me and now reading this article I am a bit curious about why you have been so focused on me (as opposed to some of my more successful and “sexy” and young female colleagues in the public arena who have way more influence and reach than I do) and can’t help but wonder if there is something else going on here beneath the surface. I also recognize that you have chosen to show only particular elements of my work and website to support your article. Combined with what I have already written above, and no matter how well-crafted and well-meaning your words, this article honestly (and energetically) feels a tiny bit sneaky - like you were using me (perhaps unconsciously) to express some of your own issues and carry out your own agenda and that I don’t appreciate (or respect), although it does make me want to give you a new sex toy or a glass of red wine for some strange reason. And of course, a good-natured ass slap replete with gold body glitter.

    In red hot and holy love – Sera

    p.s. Redvolution is not a brand. It’s my personal divine process and rouge awakening... and I currently teach it as so, asking other women to be true to the "name" that is authentically calling them forward. For me, it’s about taking the red pill. It’s about being devastated by divine feminine truth. And you bet your sweet ass that’s a sustainable Movement – from the inside out - that burns like hell.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Thursday, 27 October 2011 19:46 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Dear Sera,

    Thanks so much for your long and honest response.

    Wow, there is so much I could say, but will also respect that you aren't in the place to engage much further at this point.

    It feels important to say that I wasn't aware that you were in such a huge process of transforming your image and dealing with past shadows. If I had known, I would have definitely waiting for your forthcoming book.

    Everything I had heard about your upcoming book was that it was a continuation of your red trilogy, and I haven't heard you publicly denounce much of your old image. Yes, I saw that you said you were in the red tent, but I had no idea what that meant. Perhaps I could have asked, but since you were still teaching RedVolution workshops and responding to praise on the Red book, as well as promoting young women in the spiritual self-help world that I found questionable, I thought it was appropriate to critique you on it.

    Just to put my experience out there. My experience of our email exchanges wasn't that you said you wanted to wait to have a conversation because you were in a huge shifting process. From what I remember you declined the offer to engage with me because you were too busy, and because you said that whatever problems I had with your work were obviously "my issues" and that you'd learned a long time ago not to get into those arguments.

    So my experience wasn't that you were putting hold on a connection (you never said anywhere that you wanted to pick up the connection later or that you were in a process of deconstructing your image), but rather that you were dis-engaging from any critique I had of your work because you thought it was my stuff.

    In regards to being in a renovation of yourself and teaching--I think that is fantastic and I totally would love to support you in that in any way (that is if you want my support). You have to cut me some slack in that your website is still a public reflection of many of your ideas in the world, and I also saw that you were still teaching RedVolutionary Workshops, as well as taking compliments about your achievements for the Red Book. So I hadn't seen anywhere where you were publicly denouncing this image of yourself. And again, you are still supporting many young women leaders that I find questionable. So...

    If you feel I've mis-represented you, I open you to share and reflect on that (if not here than perhaps in a private correspondence?) Of course my own views will be biased, like everyone. I've tried to be as fair as I can, but I will always have biases. That was why I sent you a personal email when I wrote the article and invited you to offer your views and critiques of my article. There was nothing sneaky about it--in fact, I felt I was very open and sincere about wanting to respect you.

    In regards to your question about why I have focused on you here and not the other women in your circles. That is actually a fantastic question. As I'm reflecting on it, I think it is because I saw or felt something different in you than I did in the others.

    For some weird reason, I felt called to focus on you and not the others for this reason. Maybe I somehow felt you might be more interested than the others to engage my views--I really don't know. I'll ponder it.

    And as much as I have disliked your public image, I just want to say that I actually do feel your fire, and I believe you that it is real. Perhaps, again, that was why I focused on you, even unconsciously. I just think that the fire was being skewed and branded in ways that have commercialized perhaps something that was originally a lot deeper.

    It sounds like you are in the process of getting that clarified, and I find that extremely hot :)

    From that place of clarification (if it is authentic), I'd accept your sex toy, and a glass of red wine--for real.

    I'll send you a private email as well. And if you ever want to talk, yell at me, bitch slap, or whatever, I'm game.

  • Comment Link Rebecca Bailin Friday, 28 October 2011 03:35 posted by Rebecca Bailin

    much more to say after i let this extraordinarily lucid article sit. but for now...

    sera, i know that vanessa has critiqued you here. that's hard for anyone. but i would invite you to look at her article as a critique of your positions more than of you. it sounds as though your positions may be changing as you transform; maybe this critique can be part of that transformation.

    i cannot help but comment on how much i resonate with the reference to horse herd behavior. as a horse "partner" (can't bring myself to say "owner") and a long time student of "natural horsemanship" i have long felt that humans' observation of "leadership" in animal social groups is highly colored by (a projection of) humans' highly rigid ideas of dominance and hierarchy; leadership is much more subtle than we have traditionally made it.

    i hope we emerge into many new subtleties.

  • Comment Link Elizabeth Debold Friday, 28 October 2011 04:21 posted by Elizabeth Debold

    Dear Sera and Vanessa,

    I'm sorry to see the turn that this exchange has taken. Sera, you aren't a victim of Vanessa's important critique of the spiritual hottie, and Vanessa, you have nothing to apologize for. Vanessa's critique is not a personal attack but a philosophical one. The spiritual hottie is a cultural phenomenon (otherwise the NYT wouldn't have observed that there are multiple "Carrie Bradshaws of the spiritual self-help movement"). This particularly seductive blend of spirituality and sexuality is important to question. Is it actually spiritually liberating and culturally evolutionary? I have serious questions as to whether it is either. If sexual empowerment is essential for women's health, zest, and greater awakening, then how can young women engage deeply with their sexuality in a culture that so profoundly objectifies women sexually? What is the relationship between sexuality and spirituality? Where is it that women need to move to be agents of transformation in our culture? These are legitimate and important questions for us to engage with and answer. I'd like to get on with that conversation....

  • Comment Link Paul P Friday, 28 October 2011 04:29 posted by Paul P

    Vanessa,

    You certainly have a powerful voice – in your writing you come across as confident, radiant and critically aware - a leader indeed.

    As I read this I was struck by the question what about children in relation to young women’s leadership? I am curious about your dream and if there is a place for motherhood with children in it? Or is reproduction a trap as Elizabeth suggests, an enemy of the revolution so to speak?

    Is this a blindspot or am I off topic here? As I write this we are expecting a child any day now, so children are on my mind…

  • Comment Link Elizabeth Debold Friday, 28 October 2011 05:10 posted by Elizabeth Debold

    Yikes--strange conclusions, Paul! Must be that having a child on the way is coloring your view as you suggest. :-) I'm not saying that "reproduction [is] a trap...and enemy of the revolution so to speak." I'm speaking about self-objectification and an over-identification with sexuality as the most important part of one's identity and selfhood. AND the very popular, and problematic, equation of sexuality and spirituality. That's not about reproduction.

    And good luck and all best wishes in bringing a new life into this world!

  • Comment Link Paul P Friday, 28 October 2011 05:58 posted by Paul P

    Elizabeth, my apologies for misreading and misrepresenting what you said. Pregnancy brain no doubt - LOL!

    I should have known you weren't equating sexuality and reproduction (despite the verb tense) when you wrote "sexuality/reproduction is and has always been women's fundamental value in the cultures that have existed thus far on this planet."

    I do get the point that self-objectification and over-identification with sexuality is pseudo-empowerment. Thanks.

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Friday, 28 October 2011 11:10 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Something I am noticing not just in this article, but also in other Beams articles, but elsewhere, too -- is that young people are struggling with the phenomenon of subtle energy experiences. Sexuality, as you know, has everything to do with kundalini/ tantric energy of the lower chakra. I think this is analogous to the kind of energetics of the Vancouver riots that Trevor was talking about. There is something about the post-postmodern epochal shift that suggests that young peoples' primordial energies (dakinis, in Tibet) no longer fit the container(s) that the modern society has fashioned for them. I see Sera and Vanessa addressing this, as they come to terms with their extra-ordinary high frequency sexual energy. These experiments are kinds of tantra, without tradition. There is a parallel phenomenon happening around spirituality, and the fact that many more people today are receiving (from teachers, gurus, of all disciplines) transmission of spiritual energy, and struggling to find an appropriate objective correlate (model, theory, religion...) I think it is important to look at both sexuality and spirituality from an energetic aspect and be able to view it from a position of a kind of basic understanding, without the need to make projections of all sorts, including the appropriation of reified models of spirituality, or commodified models of sexuality. Have you read Jenny Wade's Transcendent Sex? and/or Changes of Mind? This is a good place to start when attempting to organize a set of meanings (narrative) around the phenomenon of subtle energy and state change. Also, you cannot answer your question without training your inquiry around some type of subtle-body practice -- it could be tantric sex if you are a big risk taker, or Tai-Chi (Qigong), some type of guided nature practice (Sacred Passages of John Milton for example).... These energies need to be set free, transmuted from their current state (you can hear/feel them crying out against the walls) -- but the post-modern/late stage capitalist framework that most girls are trying to squeeze their demons into is a sad paradox of what they are most needed to do -- expand and let go, allow and become. And *that* is not a task for the accomodating, literal, clever mind -- nice website, there notwithstanding -- it's a task for the subtle self and soul, reaching toward, trying to connect with your heart. Take it seriously, gals. This is the biggest opportunity you get in life. And youth is fleeting.

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Friday, 28 October 2011 12:03 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    I invite both of you, Sera and Vanessa, to visit our farm www.alderlore.org and work with the herd of horses, practice morning Qigong, learn to dance with the stallion, Khemancho, and dance with this fire that's arising...

    Bonnie

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Friday, 28 October 2011 13:58 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Elizabeth, I deeply appreciate your post and I too hope to keep this discussion more a collective inquiry that can move beyond any personal issues between Sera and I. (And of course, Sera and I can deal with those issues separately if that feels appropriate to both of us--I'm always game and open to that personal work anytime).

    But for this forum, I'm most interested in keeping the conversation wide and larger than personalities. It is true that I choose Sera as the face of this postmodern predicament we are currently enmeshed in as a culture, but we are all implicated. None of us have gone unaffected by the mass sexual confusion currently pervading our culture. That is why we need such deep critical literacy and ongoing (loving) challenge and reflection for each other. We can't do it alone.

    So yes, let's keep that inquiry going!

    Paul, in regards to children. Yes, of course I think they have a huge role to play. Raising more enlightened children is really core to developing an enlightened future, so I think you are hugely implicated in this now that you are becoming a father. And big congratulations as well.

    Bonnitta, Thank you for your reflections and your invitation to your farm. I will be there for sure. It's just a matter of when I'll be on the same continent--would love to see you again.

    The points you raise about sexuality are poignant. I'm going to sit with them a while longer and see what burbles in response...

    In gratitude,

  • Comment Link Paul P Friday, 28 October 2011 19:12 posted by Paul P

    Hi Vanessa,

    Thanks for your kind words… We are actually expecting our second child and so I am already a father. I will say that becoming a father changed my ideas about leadership: moving away from being “ready to take on the world” towards being able to embody my core values. A work in progress for sure.

    I completely agree with you when you write
    “that we don't even have real substantial access to the power of deep intuition that Sera is advocating as a guide for our choices until we deeply uncover these very pervasive and deeply-rooted unconscious filters.”

    What I want to reflect back to you, as you raised Wilber’s quadrant model, and have a “desire to acknowledge and hold the important reality of all four quadrants” that your critique of Sera’s philosophy and more generally the NA self-help movement being too UL dominant, is that your essay, brilliant as it is, comes across to me as LL dominant.

    I understand your essay is already quite substantial, and perhaps you are simply maintaining scope. And at the same time addressing issues of reproduction and motherhood in the context of young womans leadership may be important – perhaps for another time? Reproduction as a functional fit necessary for a sustainable society and motherhood as a systemic social role seem to me be integral parts of the leadership required going forward (and part of a LR lens that I miss in your current essay – full disclosure is that I may have a slight LR quadrant orientation bias :-)

    It also seems that reproduction and sexuality, though surely not the same are related and perhaps not completely independent and separable. Similarly motherhood and spirituality have at least archetypal connections. So I would have thought that in discussing the future of women’s leadership via a quadrant lens they might have been mentioned. Again, I am not intending to be critical, just offering a perspective that may widen the dialogue you so wish to have with other women.

    While the over-identification with sexuality is pseudo-empowerment as you so well point out, perhaps alienation from reproduction and/or motherhood could also lead to pseudo-empowerment? (I am not implying you are so alienated!) And I would like to know more about what your dream is… specifically when you say, “and ready to take on the world...for real”

  • Comment Link sandy Friday, 28 October 2011 22:34 posted by sandy

    Ugh. Most of this brain chatter is tiring. The level of extreme resistance to anything other then mental masturbation is exhausting. Wait! Before you interpret that as someone who is not taking your Very Important Issues Seriously, maybe you should consider what reality you are sponsoring by the energy you are putting out? Or, just stay safe in your intellectual debates. Maybe, as women, we can debate our way into freedom . Ugh again.

    I'm about 99 percent sure that the commenters of this post will have little to no idea what I am saying. Cheers to that!

  • Comment Link Lindsay Robertson Friday, 28 October 2011 22:58 posted by Lindsay Robertson

    Hi Vanessa,

    Thanks for putting time and hard work into this article. It was well worth your time. It's a wonderful piece with great insights.

    I enjoyed the conversation between you and Sera in the comments. I feel that was a thoughtful and respectful exchange that I learned a lot from! You are both clearly passionate women and I could really feel the heat (in a good way), in that conversation. I didn't feel that it was overly personal. Sure, there was some 'personal' stuff, but that's a part of people interacting, that you both navigated well. Valid critiques and good questions we're brought up by both of you. This sets a good example for the kind of communication and growth that is possible in this form. I'd love to hear/read a more in-depth, open exchange between you and Sera should time allow it. Something genuinely beautiful could come of that.

    Something I found particularly interesting in this article, and that really struck a chord with me is:

    "Another issue that feels important to point out is what seems to be an absence of critical reflection on Sera's part about her own image as a traditionally beautiful woman and how that is entwined with her commercialized success and privilege. This seeming lack of inquiry about how the image she sells of herself impacts her message and her influence on young women, for me, this also hinders the highest possibilities and potential of her work. There is nothing wrong with being a beautiful and sexy woman, and I in no way wish to shame Sera about her beauty, but I believe that acknowledging one's position of socio-economic privilege as a result of one's high "beauty currency" within a commercial culture that favours and sells certain definitions of attractiveness, is essential for helping young women be able to develop a critical literacy about societal standards of beauty and how they operate in the world and impact privilege and success. Such an open and explicit inquiry about beauty privilege and how it operates within culture, as well as the real discrimination and pain it causes for young women who don't fit those definitions, would also serve as a great catalyst for building more transparent relationships between young women, and would hopefully support a multi-dimensional and multi-layered approach for coming to appreciate beauty and radiance in its less traditional and less commercial forms."

    This particular issue is quite close to my heart and I appreciate you putting it out there in such an articulate way, and being brave enough to critique Sera and our culture on it. This is so important, and some clear language around it necessary. When I try to talk about this with other women, or anyone for that matter, I often end up in a very awkward, uncomfortable place that fuses the reality of this, with my own personal messy relationship to beauty. I usually end up saying something too simple like, 'beautiful' women are more successful, or have an advantage in our culture and sometimes don't realize it. It can be hard for me to not come from a place of hurt or jealousy when I'm discussing this, but that's not the heart of the matter that I'd like to see opened up. So again, thank you for that.

    From what I know, you don't 'sell an image' of yourself, but I'd love to hear from you on how you feel that your own 'beauty currency', or relationship to traditional beauty has affected your life/success?

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Saturday, 29 October 2011 02:02 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Hi Sandy,

    While we appreciate you joining the discussion, I must bring to your attention that there is content in your comment that does not respect our commenting policy. If you're not familiar with our policy, please give it a read (linked below).

    We welcome sharp critique here, but tone and language must remain respectful:

    "we ask anyone participating in the discussion to focus their contributions on ways to evolve the discussion itself in meaningful ways… Let's commit ourselves to the practice of exploring topics and issues in a way that leaves everyone richer for their participation."

    We look forward to engaging further with you within these guidelines. Thanks!
    http://beamsandstruts.com/commenting-policy

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Saturday, 29 October 2011 05:00 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Lindsay! Thanks so much for your great question. And I'm also glad you gained from the "personal" exchange between Sera and I here. I too would love to see a discussion grow in some form between us...

    In regards to your comment about beauty. Wow, so cool for you to ask. I think it is probably one of the most touchy issues to bring up and talk about openly as women. And really quite taboo in certain ways. If we are traditionally beautiful, we are judged for that. If we are not traditionally beautiful, we get judged for that. It's a vicious loop where no one really wins in my eyes.

    I'm glad you appreciated my approach to Sera on this. I think it is a really important piece, and one that often goes unsaid. I've written about some of my own struggle with beauty in the article I linked to in this original post "Beauty and the Expansion of Women's Identity", but I also wrote that article when I was 22, so my ideas have evolved quite a bit since then also, but it will still give you a foundation for some of my ideas.

    I really resonate and feel and have a great deal of compassion for your pain in trying to bring these subjects up without reacting from a place of jealousy and hurt.

    Even though some see me as a more traditionally beautiful woman, I've struggled a long time to see myself that way. In many ways, when I first came across Sera's work, I had a very strong reaction because of her beauty (among other things), and how she so openly portrayed it without shame. In that way, I think Sera was right that in the beginning I had shadow in relation to her because I had struggled deeply to accept my own beauty (and my own sexuality).
    That said, I also had some serious and I think fair critiques of how she was approaching both beauty and sexuality--so it was a mix.

    That is why I waited a year to write this critique of Sera. Because I knew my critiques were mixed with my own shadow at the time I first interacted with her. I knew I had sound and important critiques, but I knew I had to get clear on "my stuff" before I could write the piece. I've done that to the best of my ability in writing this one.

    I've worked with young girls who suffer deeply around beauty issues, and I also grew up as the geeky ugly girl in my younger years, so I deeply know the pain of that experience, even if now I'm considered attractive. So when I see girls who are oblivious of their privilege in this area, it deeply triggers me for sure.

    Also, the lack of socio-cultural critique in so many young women's empowerment initiatives has deeply disturbed me. We need to be deeply critical of the images that we sell to young women and the "beauty currency" that our culture runs on.

    That said, traditionally beautiful women can also get it hard in our culture. I remember a song (can't remember the artist now), where one set of lyrics is:

    "It's a shame if you are an ugly girl, but to be beautiful is no gain, because we all know that everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room..."

    It's hard either way, but I think if given the choice, most women would still choose to be traditionally beautiful rather than ugly in this culture...

    So, it is a continual inquiry for me. My first article, "Beauty and the Expansion of Women's Identity" was my first public exploration of that struggle. And I continue to evolve and grow in it and will write more... Would love to hear more about your own experiences around it (and other women). Building a transparent discussion around it is, in my opinion, the most important thing to bringing healing and enlightenment to these issues.

    And Paul, I have to run to work, but will come back to your comment. I appreciate the challenge :)

  • Comment Link Joanna Saturday, 29 October 2011 07:02 posted by Joanna

    The images about who women are or should aspire to be, that I got from this article were either Sera's RedVolutionary message, statements about "sex toys, red wine, and gold body glitter for all" emphasizing and encouraging wild sexuality - or alternatively the image of the woman as heavily pregnant maternal figure with baby 'Gaia' in her belly. So it seems like the choices are being either one of these two vastly different ways of being. The 'mother', soft, nurturing and maternal, or as raunchy, bordering on porn star, as a way of proving freedom. Really the latter does not veryfeel very deep, because it seems like it is not done for oneself, but as a form of exhibitionism for others, even for men or competing with them, in the 'how raunchy can you get' stakes. After a while, if too many women are showing up with this, in your face sexuality, then it becomes another cliche, and loses any impact or originality. Haven't we seen this enough already...and does it inspire a sense of freedom, not in my experience. Definitely something to be said for not being uptight about owning all of our humanity, sexuality, lust and impulses included, but, it comes across as over emphasised as a path to freedom, not just a part of the whole of who we are. Therefore we become just 'sex objects' all over again. Doesn't feel very developed or deep or intelligent, and feels overdone. Definitely need something new, higher, intelligent, more developed and truly mature and beautiful to aspire to.. Yeah!

  • Comment Link Rebekah Saturday, 29 October 2011 20:21 posted by Rebekah

    Hi Vanessa!
    Although I appreciate the questions and critiques in this article, as someone who has followed Sera's work and been moved and challenged by it, I have to say that some of the tone did seem more than a little "personal" and a bit unfair in places. You seemed to paint Beak's work with a fairly broad brush. While her book and website do feature sexuality and sex toys and glitter, I have never read her message to be that promiscuity will set you free. In the chapter of her book, on sexuality, there is a significant portion that recommends periods of celibacy as a way of taking back one's own sexual power and ushering in healthier relationships. I agree that Sera is a beautiful woman, but I seem to remember a blog post where she mentions how she was dealing with how her appearance interacted with her message in a complex way. I don't really know what you would have traditionally attractive women say or do? In what way can they present their message in a more positive way, in your opinion? Is it a matter of questioning perceived or real privilege? I have not agreed with everything Sera has said or done, and there was a period of time, right before this latest change she wrote about, where some of her associations were getting a little too "self-help" for my liking. However, I have seen her move away from that in a courageous way. I have gotten a lot from Sera's work, and some of the teachers I have been introduced to, through her work, have also had a great impact on my life. While I completely understand you questions about privilege and success and how culture pervades any and all self-reflection and critique, I felt that this article seemed to be about Sera, rather than those very important questions and critiques. Of course, this is only my opinion, and yours is every bit as valuable and valid as my own. I hope this comment comes across with all the respect and love I have put into it.

  • Comment Link Angie Saturday, 29 October 2011 20:26 posted by Angie

    I really appreciated this article and your thoughtful and self-reflective analysis, Vanessa. I saw Sera speak at a conference a year ago. There, she talked about her confrontation with Marion Woodman. I was touched and could see the transformation she was talking about occurring. Yet I went back to her web site in utter confusion--as I didn't see this growing self-awareness reflected there. Having been deeply affected by Woodman's work, I am eager to see how that encounter has played out in her relative seclusion.

    As a woman entering mid-life, I see Sera as a brilliant diamond representing the infinite potential we each have within us. She is completely compelling, I believe, for that reason. She also represents the shadow side of my sexuality I was never able to explore fully as a young woman and find difficulty doing now as a middle-aged single mother. And for that reason, she stirs some envy and powerful frustrations deep within me. I'm not sure what to do with those impulses. I am simultaneously excited by her and left feeling depleted and powerless. I think what makes that compelling is not her, but the Kali nature she stirs in us--simultaneously ecstatic and destructive. I'm not sure anyone could categorize that as good or bad. It just is. Those sensations--and not Sera herself (hopefully nestled cozily in her tent)--I believe, are the accurate reflection of western women's current condition.

    Thank you both for wrestling with these questions.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Saturday, 29 October 2011 22:06 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Hi Rebekah,

    Thank you very much for your thoughts and for sharing your first hand account of Sera's work.

    I don't doubt you have received much from Sera's teaching, and I would never say that everything she is doing is unimportant. I do see a real brilliance and fire in her, and do respect that. At the same time, I think some serious critiques are important to reflect on.

    My article was in no way meant to be a personal attack on Sera, and I tried the keep the critiques as philosophical as I could so as to not attack her personally. I think I accomplished that to a large degree, but if people fell otherwise, I'm open to hearing that.

    In regards to Sera's section on celibacy in her book. Yes, you are right there is a couple pages there on celibacy, but in the context of the entire book I was looking at her main message, and also the UL bias of her teaching.

    In the context of her whole teaching, the celibacy piece felt more like an add on and not really well-developed, and "sex, toys, red wine, and gold body glitter for all" seemed much more up front as her dominant message (particularly within the RedVolution teaching, which is her more recent work).

    Also, I was more trying to show the lack of a call to moral or cultural responsibility around sexuality in the teaching itself. Even the small piece about celibacy is framed within the context of "personal choice" and what can benefit you. That is an important aspect, but again, it is kept much more with the reference point in the personal than the collective.

    My overall critique was looking at her message from a wide-angle lens. Of course I will make generalizations--that is inevitable. And because I have never met her in person or attended a workshop I will have limitations in my view. That said, I'm not so much analyzing her personally, as I am analyzing cultural discourses. I think it is important to make that distinction.

    In regards to a blog about how she relates to her beauty, I looked through most of her blogs and never saw that, but if you find it, please post it here.

    If Sera is changing and moving in a real way, than I applaud that, but I don't think that has yet been reflected in her public image. Her website still stands, she is teaching a course on the Red Book, and she is teaching RedVolution workshops and she is still promoting many people that I question. I have no doubt many benefit from her work, but my critique still stands.

    I'm looking forward to what will come out with the new book, and like I said in the intro, I see that her own work is in constant evolution as well. Thanks for your reflections, they are always welcome.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Saturday, 29 October 2011 22:12 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Angie,

    Thanks you for your reflections.
    I believe this is the youtube clip you are speaking about:

    http://youtu.be/vk-my-XKemM

    Here, Sera talks about her confrontation with Marion Woodman. Yes, I was interested in this talk also. I still have critiques of this particular talk, as I feel Sera does a bit too much idealizing of the feminine, but I was touched by her discussion about her own confrontation with herself. But like you, I hadn't seen that reflected in her website or her offerings yet. Hopefully that will come.

    Yes, no doubt Sera stirs some Kali energy. She is a mixture of many things that deserve both honor and critique, in my opinion. Thank you for your thoughts.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Saturday, 29 October 2011 22:17 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Paul,

    I feel a bit unequipped to respond fully to your question about motherhood and the role of motherhood in cultural transformation.

    This isn't because I don't think motherhood is important, but rather because I don't have much of a relationship with motherhood myself. I have no real desire to be a mother and so that angle doesn't play out much in my writing. That is probably my own bias, which will simply be there. I'd encourage others though, who feel passionate and informed with first-hand experience in this area to flesh out those pieces. I would welcome that.

    Motherhood no doubt has a role to play, it just isn't my area of expertise (or personal interest per se) to know exactly how. It is probably a critique best left to someone else... Thanks for raising it.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Sunday, 30 October 2011 04:05 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Just one last thing to add to this thread on a personal note.

    I've been having some very beautiful and heart-felt exchanges with Sera over email this morning (it is morning in South Korea). She is simultaneously honoring and challenging me, and I her. It's quite beautiful and deep and I'm feeling quite grateful to have her presence in my life.

    She is choosing not to respond publicly at this point because she is hibernating while finishing her book, which I respect.

    But it still felt important for me to acknowledge the connection, and just wanted to say publicly that I deeply respect this woman as a kindred soul on the path, even in our differences.

    I've had a couple people ask me now why I chose to focus on Sera so much for this article. I want to say that I honestly don't know why I chose her at the time. This article actually came out more like a channeling than anything else. I felt compelled to write it, and compelled to focus on Sera. There is a mixture of beauty and shadow in that--all of the above no doubt. I also felt I was responding to the field itself. Something more mysterious altogether that is hard for me to explain. And I think in writing it, I've likely exposed both my own gifts and my own limitations... they usually come together and I wouldn't have it any other way.

    Seems like both Sera and I are finding something deeper by having both taken the risk to speak our truth. The mutual respect for our fire breathing, rebellious, and risk-taking spirits are making the connection and discussion very real and authentic...

    This quote I posted on fb last night feels appropriate to share here:

    "Forget safety.
    Live where you fear to live.
    Destroy your reputation.
    Be notorious"
    ~Rumi

    Indeed...
    Just felt important to acknowledge.

  • Comment Link John Sunday, 30 October 2011 05:25 posted by John

    Vanessa,

    You are obviously very, very smart and it is clear you always have been. It was a pleasure to read your article with its clarity of thought and its precise argument. For me, however, it felt unbalanced.

    A major theme in the article was the importance of critical thinking skills in the liberation of self. The central argument seemed to be this - insidious cultural paradigms make it foolhardy to encourage young woman to find and follow their own paths. Without proper critical thinking skills to deconstruct said paradigms young woman will not be able find their own spiritual path.

    This argument came across to me as rather patronizing and, ironically, very male.

    In essence you were saying that without a degree from WIlliams or Stanford or the like, preferably in critical studies, a young woman's way is lost. It will be impossible for her to see her way out from the cultural maze. Young women need a guide, a guru.

    This advice seemed to me a little too one sided. The article is logical and structured and very well thought out, very well presented. But I found the language lacking in emotion, a head critiquing a heart.

    Sera's call is for women to find their own path. Is it possible the import you place on critical thinking skills as necessary to spiritual growth is an expression of your own cultural assumptions, your own inability to imagine yourself without your critical thinking skills, without your brain? The hugging saint Amma, as an example, does not seem to be all full up on critical thinking skills and yet there she is.

    There are many roads to wisdom. Some are beautiful, some painful, some ecstatic, some playful, some blue and critical, some fiery and red. I believe that is one of the feminine divine's best teachings.

  • Comment Link Tahara Sunday, 30 October 2011 05:28 posted by Tahara

    Hmmm, is sexuality being equated with actual sex and promiscuity? Nowhere in Sera's writing or talks have I seen her encourage promiscuity. For me the encouragement of sex toys (note, not 'sex, toys,' as you wrote in the discussion) denotes sexual pleasure for ONES OWN SAKE. It is safe, its is empowered, it has nothing to do with men or any other being. It has to do with experiencing pleasure, release, and divinity via this physical container which god, Allah, nature, genetics or whatever you call it, gave us.

    Something I have gained from Sera sharing her own journey them is the bravery to explore my own sensual nature, despite what what my privileged, overly cerebral, bodily detached upbringing taught/screamed at me. One thing my upbringing told me was that I would be thought of as a shallow harlot if I experienced, talked about, or pleasure and holiness as connected (sound familiar)

    Are 20-somethings not smart enough to handle and explore distinctions, shadows, and cultural biases while we explore igniting our internal spiritual, sexual divinity?

    I do understand and applaud some of your message. You want young women educated, you dont want them to fall prey to forces they are not conscious to. Can we also have a vibrator, without shame or judgement, pretty please?

  • Comment Link mya Sunday, 30 October 2011 07:05 posted by mya

    As someone who is (albeit biased) in my temperament, passions and calling in life toward the subjective "I" quadrant, your statement: "I've had a couple people ask me now why I chose to focus on Sera so much for this article. I want to say that I honestly don't know why I chose her at the time." is shocking to me. To not be aware, at all, of one's internal motivations, (while taking into consideration that your focus was not on that quadrant), is still fairly blindsided and not very in alignment with an Integral view of phenomenon.
    In terms of a critique, I would think there would have been more research on what you are critiquing. Here is Sera's post regarding a bit on her beauty: http://spiritualcowgirl.com/?p=276#comments.
    I think to really explore this topic, a self-investigation on your own shadow, projections and underlying assumptions on her work would be necessary. I would look forward to reading that.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Sunday, 30 October 2011 14:47 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Dear John, Tahara and Mya.

    Thank you for your comments and critical feedback. Your questions are a fair inquiry.

    And yes, I hadn't seen that post by Sera on her beauty. I looked through many of her posts, but missed that one unfortunately. It offers another window, and I still hold my critiques, while definitely admitting to wanting to add more nuance on this piece.

    First of all, I want to say that I'm not advocating that girls get a Standford degree or that they have to follow a guru. I personally grew up very poor and could never afford an education even as good as Seras. I had wanted to go to Harvard but didn't have the money to do it. I'm now working as an english teacher in Korea to pay off my students loans in hope of getting to grad school. I think there are ways to become critically aware without getting a Stanford or Harvard degree.

    I've also been way to rebellious myself to ever have a guru. I've had many mentors and teachers, and I've also struggled deeply to extricate my own authentic voice out of it all to speak my own truth, while also staying accountable to my elders and to the wider culture. It isn't an easy balance.

    I'm less interested in having a guru as I am in building structures of collective accountability between women so that we can act as point and checks for each other. I think we can do it as a collective, and that is part of the moral call I'm speaking to. We want to honor our own truths, while also being held accountable to each other, and to something higher than any one person's individual truth. That kind of collective accountability is what I see happening on this thread, and I'm grateful for it.

    And yes, Mya, you are right that I had a bias in writing this article, and that some of my shadow has shown up. I've openly acknowledged that, and I also think I have a lot to offer in my critique despite that. A balance is what I'm aiming for.

    I hear you acknowledging my intelligence and I appreciate that. I also hear you all advocating me to not put Sera in a box, so I'd ask that you also don't too easily put me into one either. Just because I'm smart and intellectual, doesn't mean I don't have a heart or a very real sexual side. I think that can be a painful and unfair argument to level at an intelligent woman. Intelligence doesn't have to be male or masculine--or born out of academia.

    I'd like to aim to move beyond such dichotomous characterizations of the masculine and feminine, where the head is associated with men and the heart and body with women. I think those kind of dichotomous distinctions hinder both men and women from being full human beings.

    In regards to your question, Tahara, I have no problem with people having a vibrator--that is not the argument I'm trying to make. I'm trying to help young women gain better critical thinking skills and awareness of themselves so that if they make the choice to have the vibrator, it is really a conscious choice, and not an unconscious one born out of pressure to be cool or go with the mainstream.

    I also want girls who don't want to have a vibrator to feel okay with that choice and to not feel that they are uncool because they don't want to have one.

    As much as I focus on the LL (and may have a bias there in this article), what I genuinely most want is to help young women make real and conscious choices for themselves. By making the LL and LR transparent, I believe I'm helping in that. And yes, an integration of all 4 quadrants is the goal. I chose to lean more to one side to off-set what I felt was an imbalance--and re-calibrating somewhere closer to the middle is perhaps the next move.

    Sera has welcomed my critiques, has seen the light they bring, and has honored me in that. She has also challenged the places of my own blindspots and I have honored her in that. I don't know how much more transparent and honest I can be than that. I think this entire article and my comment posts have been the very self-investigation and transparency that you are asking me for Mya. I'm not sure what more you are asking for?

  • Comment Link Sera Sunday, 30 October 2011 22:45 posted by Sera

    I’m getting nudged from inside and outside my red tent, so will offer a few more things that may or may not be helpful - for the broad philosophical/intellectual/social arguments, they will still have to wait till my brain is out of book labor…or my next lifetime. All I am able to share right now is “personal” and I’m only doing so because certain things have been brought up in people’s comments and they feel important to address.

    First and foremost, I truly admire Vanessa for responding to “the field” and being willing to tackle this heated topic, and for how artfully and honestly she has engaged with all of us. It is incredibly brave and insightful work. I also respect her willingness to acknowledge her own blind spots. We all got em and we all need each other to see em.

    As Vanessa and I share more with each other behind the scenes, I sense a very powerful friendship growing, and part of its power is that we inhabit two different realities and do not always agree with one another…and yet, we are both determined to evolve and stay true to what is authentically calling us forward. In my view, we represent contrasting but equally important (and equally shiny) facets of the modern feminine divine. I have my unique role and gifts. Vanessa has her own.

    And we are both still growing into them.

    Bottom line: I am grateful for this article and what it has revealed, which brings me to my next few “personal” offerings that address a few more comments…

    It is BECAUSE of my dark night and multiple ass-kickings over the past few years and what I have learned as a result that I finally agreed to do the very first class on The Red Book in 2012. Because of what I’ve been through, I feel more qualified to teach the class and certain other Redv workshops/events…and to start a radio show.

    In my first response to this article, I did not mean to convey that every aspect of my old work was wrong and I will never be engaging with it again. That’s far from true. Much of this intense time period has been about deepening my work, clearing out the false, becoming much more responsible, and surrendering to how the Divine She works through and as me.

    While they certainly have their faults, there is a ton of truth and beauty winking through The Red Book’s pages and Redv workshops, and most importantly, winking in the hearts and minds of the wonderful women (and men) who have been drawn to them. I am honored and grateful, not too mention incredibly excited to engage with them at this new level.

    I know some might disagree with this and I’m not saying it to excuse myself, but energy can be just as, if not more so, important than form. And the energy fueling my work has changed dramatically…even if the external forms of my work have not/cannot, yet.

    Something else I was reminded of through this article (and all the insightful comments) – people will always have strong reactions to my work and even stronger opinions about it, partly because my work (and who I am) is supposed to activate projections. In fact, when it’s time for me to come out of the red tent, my website/work might look even “sexier” or sound “hotter” than before. Because of what I have gone through in terms of shadow work and the dark night, I might be Called to fully own It.

    Or everything might look/sound different. Or look/sound like something in between.

    I really don’t know at this time. Part of my practice is to listen to what simmers beneath my own and everyone else’s beliefs/fears/egos/projections.

    I do know that my website and previous work are not entirely coming from my negative shadow or ego or the culture - there is a red hot and holy feminine energy running through me that is authentic and divine and has always been misunderstood, and at times, reviled on this planet.

    She is the red apple carrier.

    This unorthodox and authentically “sexy” feminine energy is not easy to “hold” and reflect as a recovering Harvard religion scholar/Midwesterner/people-pleaser, not too mention, a deeply shy woman, especially because this particular divine feminine energy doesn’t give a shit about being socially/politically/spiritually/intellectually correct…or a feminist.

    She is here to be Something Else entirely.

    And She has made it pretty damn clear to me over the past three years that it is Her or bust.

    Understand it or not, agree with it or not, sound inflated or not,

    I am Her bitch….no one else’s.

    And I have no idea where She is leading me
    (but it feels a lot like fire and acts a lot like love).

    I only know that my priority, my deepest act of devotion is to honor and express this ever-evolving Divinity as She comes through me as best I can … and to learn from everything (inside and outside of myself) that corrupts or blocks or adores or misunderstands or sells or misuses or judges this authentic Movement.

    And, you bet I will continue to make mistakes in this messy process of embodying Her. And, I will continue to do so publicly, with the sincere hope that I might inspire other women to dive deep and ask the serious questions and do the honest work in order to embody and express their own feminine divinity. My hope is that by consciously going into the fire (and being willing to stay there, thus growing hotter and hotter and burning off even more of our “clothes”) we can be of far greater Service than our minds can conceive or measure at this time.

    I realize I’m only answering some comments and only in a certain way, but that’s all I got in me to share right now. My Red Lady is cutting me off again. Thank you for all of your comments and special thanks to Vanessa.

    Red love and Hot smiles,
    Sera

    p.s. Is it just my narcissism, or do Vanessa and I look similar (although I think she is far more beautiful than me)…hmmm…I think beamsandstruts should sponsor a mud wrestling match between us. Naked. Live stream. Now that would be Redvolutionary ; )

  • Comment Link Eryka Peskin Monday, 31 October 2011 02:12 posted by Eryka Peskin

    Wow! So thoroughly blown away by the quality of the dialogue, and the bravery everyone is showing by being so transparent and honest. Particularly, of course, Sera and Vanessa.

    One of the essential qualities of leadership that has been emphasized again and again (and again) in my own journey is the importance of transparency as well as humility as we lead. And transformation! I believe there has been a fallacy of leadership that holds that a REAL leader never changes his mind (and I use the male pronoun purposefully, because I think this is a masculine model of leadership), never shows doubt, doesn't explain himself, and never, ever admits that he's wrong.

    This exchange between Sera and Vanessa has modeled transparency, humility, and transformation. And it is SO exciting. You're both incredible leaders and inspirations! Own it.

  • Comment Link Tom Huston Monday, 31 October 2011 02:33 posted by Tom Huston

    Sera, I appreciate a lot of what you've said in the comments to this post, and was very psyched to see your first comment, where you talked about how much you've developed and matured since your initial "red" public debut from a few years back. But then you do little things that undermine your credibility, like writing "hmmm…I think beamsandstruts should sponsor a mud wrestling match between us. Naked. Live stream. Now that would be Redvolutionary." It may be funny and provocative, but in the context of Vanessa's critique, it, like, seriously doesn't help your case.

    Women are not sexually inhibited in our culture anymore; Girls Gone Wild has proved that. We get it. But is sexual provocation and allure really new territory for women to master? And in any case, is it really the best foundation for forging confident, authentic, independent, 21st-century women leaders? Yes, women "owning" their sexuality is important, but I hope to Goddess it's only a tiny part of the picture.

    Have you read the book by Ariel Levy that Vanessa mentions in her piece, "Female Chauvinist Pigs"? Levy is an excellent writer (she now writes for the New Yorker), and her book is poignant and painful. You may find it helpful...

  • Comment Link Tara Monday, 31 October 2011 04:30 posted by Tara

    Eryka summed up beautifully what I came here to say, but I like talking so:

    I am so thankful for women leaders who are willing to be in the fire so that we may all be braver + unafraid to burn the false away. In my own treacherous journey, these women are my beacon Thank you for being willing to admit out loud to shadow

    I hope we continue holding eachother accountable - with kindness, compassion, and love out of a sense of wanting truth and goodness for all. Maybe calling individuals out as representative of what is 'wrong' with our movement is not the way to go.

    Both my yin and yang (feminine and masculine) aspects are enlivened by this exchange

    Tom - theps struck me as outright satirical. Something I heard in college, oh so many moons ago:
    Q: How many Feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb
    A: Thats not funny.
    I DID NOT think it was funny back then. Now my Sisters and I say it to eachother when we get too academic or rhetorical. What do you say, feminists - is that joke "wrong" to say to eachother?

  • Comment Link Tahara Monday, 31 October 2011 05:41 posted by Tahara

    Vanessa - You are really cool for replying to everything.

    On the vibe you say " ..if they make the choice to have the vibrator, it is really a conscious choice, and not an unconscious one born out of pressure to be cool or go with the mainstream. I also want girls who don't want to have a vibrator to feel okay with that choice and to not feel that they are uncool because they don't want to have one. "

    Is that really a big deal? If someone buys a vibrator "to be cool", they are left to their own devices at home - to use or not. And discover that they like it for themselves, or not.
    There are so many thing we do without fully understanding all the motives, or cultural messages, etc... This one does not seem like it is really hurts people. I know its only a part of your story, but its part of your anti-spiritual sexual hottie argument. IMHO, calling out someone for advocating vibes, without concurrently encouraging young women to critically analyze their motivations, is a weird place to put energy.

    I never would have ever bought one if someone had not given one to me as a gift. Kind of outrageous to make that choice for another person but after getting over shame and fear (and pretending it was a karaoke mike :-) it was quite a *gift* to me to finally ....get there.

    You are interesting, I'm going to read more of your stuff. Cheers

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Monday, 31 October 2011 07:52 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Hey Tahara,

    I think for me it is less about a vibrator than a larger issue I'm trying to point to. And I also think everything your saying really depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

    Yes, of course, at one level, a vibrator really isn't a big deal. Nor is gold body glitter or red wine. And at some level, there will always be certain unconscious elements--both personal and cultural that influence our choices that we won't know.

    But why not be as conscious as possible about our choices? I'd rather be conscious about my choices than walk as a zombie through life, living out cultural scripts that I didn't write. And I'd rather question narratives of empowerment that may be just be cultural reiterations and marketing hype, because then I can inhabit myself and my life from a real place of awareness, and probably cause less suffering for myself and others.

    And I would argue that there are many blindspots for all of us in this area, myself included. I think it is something to take very seriously, and to hold playfully at the same time.

    Again, I'd ask to try to see it less as an issue of whether you have a vibrator or not, and more on a larger scale about what it takes to make empowered conscious choices about your life.

    And enjoy the vibrator girl! Just don't think that it will bring you liberation on its own :)

  • Comment Link Dan McKinnon Monday, 31 October 2011 15:38 posted by Dan McKinnon

    As always Vanessa your intriguing ideas and powerful passion are communicated clearly and compassionately. Your leadership capacity is already burning up our world with some RED HOT integral spice. Congratulations! As for these exchanges with Sera, well it looks like your article worked because now the two of you can combine your VERY special powers and catalyze some of the changes our "oh, look at me, see me, be me" culture so needs. Looking forward to your next article and the catalytic conversations it inspires....

  • Comment Link John Monday, 31 October 2011 17:31 posted by John

    Hi Vanessa,

    I don't think you quite understood what I was saying so i wanted to try and make myself more intelligible.

    It is clear from your article and your responses here that for you critical thinking is the key component to for young women to liberate themselves. From an archetypal point of view critical thinking falls within the masculine realm, or is a part of the masculine face of the divine.

    Critical thinking, when left to its own devices, quickly leads to trouble. Goya's etching "The Sleep of Reason Begets Monsters" comes to mind. The deconstructed and reconstructed 20th century political nightmares of totalitarianism come to mind.

    And if we are looking at the search for an experience of the divine, as Sera is, just see Dante's transition from Virgil as a rational guide to Beatrice as a guide of grace.

    The importance of the Dante example is that both rational critique and divine knowing are necessary to the process of self discovery and liberation. In other words, the key to liberation is balance.

    This is what I was trying to convey to you. Your emphasis on critical thinking skills and your critique of Sera for her not emphasizing them more seemed to me a lack of balance in your argument. I was not saying that you lacked a heart. I was saying that you give your head far more weight.

    I believe your critical thinking skills will take you very far. But by themselves they reach a terminus. There are other forms of knowledge and these must be used and respected in concert with critical thinking.

    As a young boy I was always interested in the softer more ethereal world, the more creative, explosive and dynamic world. With a traditionally male father I put those thoughts away. I ran with my critical thinking and did all kinds of amazing things with it. I was smart but not wise. It was only when I re-engaged with the archetypal feminine that I gained balance and a modicum of wisdom.

  • Comment Link Juma Wood Monday, 31 October 2011 19:29 posted by Juma Wood

    Vanessa,

    Gratitude for writing this piece and following the variety of topics of engagement. Nothing of such nuance can be properly built without this sustained attention.

    John is presenting poignant and important distinctions and I hear no blame or judgment in his well articulated critique. Indeed, this second comment gets us past the initial response that his first comment was aimed at being personal or hurtful. I believe his is an important thread to follow. Indeed, as you well know, a consistent critique of Integral Theory is its emphasis on frameworks at the expense of embodiment. Kudos John for giving us a poetic metaphor to grapple with. This is still the best language of spirit in action.

    I'd like to go down a slightly different road, though it's tangentially related.

    The one comment on this thread that has been buried (though you promised to sit with it, so perhaps a response is coming) was Bonnitta's, October 28 at 3:10pm.

    There is so much in her words, but one of my takeaways upon reflection is that our social, cultural, even existential 'containers' are inadequate to properly hold, transmute and be transformed by subtle energies.

    In your article you say:

    "This hyper-inflated value given to the sanctity of the individual can also make it extremely hard to enact critical critique of other people's worldviews, because when the individual reigns supreme, one's own "truth" (and one's own experience and self-expression) refuses to be challenged. One's own interior experience becomes experienced as sacred, and to challenge the truth of someone's interior experience becomes a kind of sacrilege."

    This is an excellent articulation, I think, of the postmodern containers that define our current discourse, inform our spiritual outlook and shape our cultural engagement around these topics.

    In the comment thread I still hear the strong echo of 'my truth' language and there appears to be subtle ways that one can utilize the cultural paranoia we hold around judgment, bending this postmodern container to our benefit, to remain safe, to remain beyond reproach, however long and wherever the conversation meanders.

    I wonder, then, in what ways specifically you see elements of this conversations so far moving past the established cultural container of the sanctity of the individual, or in what ways the outcomes are still modifications on this basic theme.

    I'm encouraged that you and Sera have established a relationship and some understanding and agree that mud wrestling and ass-slapping are good ways to initiate your friendship, but this alone doesn't demonstrate that meaningful movement has taken place.

    Where are the hints in these many comments that transformative containers are emerging?

  • Comment Link Jeff Bellsey Monday, 31 October 2011 21:04 posted by Jeff Bellsey

    Juma: "A consistent critique of Integral Theory is its emphasis on frameworks at the expense of embodiment."

    Amen!!

    Unfortunately, a popular (and unconsidered) response to the hyper-intellectualization of integral is hyper-embodiment without consciousness. There are many people in the integral world now who are passionate about "getting out of our heads" (mirroring the New Age movements of the early 90s). And while there's nothing wrong with dance, or sex, or ayahuasca, per se, so much of the motive is in response to the intellectual imbalance in the integral world. If our goal is to dance, or have sex, then great. But if the conversation is about spiritual liberation, then we have to beware of having embodiment (or "empowerment") as the primary attribute. We'll end up having more sex, but not necessarily being more conscious.

    And more sex is certainly good, btw. As is vibrator sex. It's all fine, but not really the main thrust of this dialogue (pun intended).

    The goal in awakening the head center is not to get OUT of our heads... it's to get INTO our RIGHT MINDS. This requires clarity, critical thought, and a passion for discernment. And generally speaking, it's out of fashion, except by the over-intellectuals. Generally.

    My reading of Vanessa's piece is not as a critique of embodiment as a path. It's a call for consciousness in every dimension. If we're on a path to liberation (and teaching it!) that is actually a cultural rut, wouldn't we want to know about it? We need to be aware of the pitfalls at every step of the way. There are traps in the head, heart, and body centers.

    I don't fully aggree with John's statement that "the key to liberation is balance." In fact, John invoked Amma in his first comment as an example of enlightened IM-balance. Whether balance or imbalance is the right path for you or me, whether more earthy embodiment or critical thinking is more needed in any given moment, that's something we have to be very sensitive to. We all have personal ruts as much as cultural ruts.

    Lastly: Juma, I sincerely doubt that an online conversation on a very hot-button subject is the ideal place to either create a new type of container, let alone to recognize one if it emerges.

  • Comment Link Juma Wood Monday, 31 October 2011 21:37 posted by Juma Wood

    Jeff,

    Nice contribution. Let's start at the end and move backwards.

    No, this is not an ideal platform to either create or recognize this emergence. But it's the one we're working on right now. And to my mind Bonnitta's comment was among the most compelling, but was lost in the shuffle, so I chose it as my leaping-off point.

    'The key to liberation is balance' was flat for me too, and you've nicely explained why. 'Through excess to ecstacy all together acrobatically' is a poetic line that comes to mind. As to what ones 'right' path might be, I'd make a distinction based on experience:

    That moment of recognition, thy will not my will be done, in those 'moments', aha!,s/he wants to move me, 'I'm' emersed in creativity 'itself', each step forward new, inherently creative, a mingled ease of intensity and ecstacy. It is clear - so clear! - that what is being asked of me is entirely unique, it truly is 'my' path.

    But up to that point, 'my' path is something else. Wants needs habits biases. Hopes avoidance affliction absorption. My will alone.

    RIGHT MINDS indeed! Oh, you won't find me eschewing clarity, critical thought or discernment and I don't think that's reflective in the comment but do point it out if it is.

    Sex is good. Vibrators too. Engage it playfully, seriously, without dramatization, identification (yes, a reference to your piece, among the finest we've published). And with requisite awe and respect, noticing the openings for insight and the multiple layers of intelligence.

    Important important distinction regards embodiment. I have a fair number of tantric practitioners in my orbit. Lots of headless organs excreting pleasure. Compulsive, vacuous, if gentle and culturally benign. But they are the first to flake off when a credible critique is levelled.

    Personal ruts and cultural ruts, this stuff is subtle. My point was not to call into question Vanessa's motives or even execution. Her call is, if not a clarion, clearly necessary. But on balance, a 'head critiquing a heart' was fair comment, even if the final piece demanded such treatment.

    Rather, looking for ways forward, see how much juice is left in this thread, and wanting to take the opportunity to build atop this cresting conversation in a (hopefully) meaningful way.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Tuesday, 01 November 2011 03:25 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Hello All,

    Just a quick note from my end. Really really truly grateful for all the juicy conversation that this article has sparked, and for the ongoing questions that still linger...

    At this point, I feel ready to sign off responding to more comments at this time. I'm just in the middle of getting ready to launch my new website and want to put full focus onto that. I'd also like some time to digest everything said here and integrate it into some forthcoming articles and writing. Expect more to come!

    Serious love for all this has brought out--the beauty, the shadows, the diamonds and the fire... This collective inquiry will keep me fired and juiced for much more writing to come...

    Peace,
    Vanessa

  • Comment Link Elizabeth Debold Tuesday, 01 November 2011 04:42 posted by Elizabeth Debold

    Hi All--
    I just read a fantastic article in the new issue of The Atlantic by Kate Bolick:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/11/all-the-single-ladies/8654/1/
    She notes that in contexts where women outnumber men (which is more and more prevalent these days in more and more places), women tend to give men what they are looking for sexually with less commitment. It made me wonder if the whole faux-radical sexual/spiritual Hottie phenomenon might be an expression of this. It makes you realize that we are far more conditioned than one might think by the larger cultural forces working on us (LL and LR). Very interesting, and possibly illuminating of some points that Vanessa has been making but from another (LR) angle. We so easily forget that our conventions around marriage and even the idea of a love match are very recent phenomena from only the last couple hundred years. Anyway...this goes in a different direction, but I encourage you all to read Bolick's fine piece.

  • Comment Link Martin Ucik Tuesday, 01 November 2011 05:14 posted by Martin Ucik

    Thank you for this well balanced article Vanessa and the inspired discussion. This conversation seems necessary to get to the next level where males and females can come together as equals to co-create our future as equals, both balancing and harmonizing healthy feminie and masculine qualities (or polarities) at the level of all seven chakras.
    And I suggest to use the words male and female when talking about (UR) biological sex, men and women when talking about (LR) learned gender roles and healthy/unhealthy feminine (communion and descending) and healthy/unhealthy masculine (agency and ascending) qualities that can be equally embodied by males and females, and placed in all four quadrants.
    Healthy ascending is characterized by a desire to improve, to go beyond, to grow, to transcend, to create, and to think big. This is accomplished by gaining wider perspectives of the self and the nature of things. It requires a willingness to change by letting go of old paradigms and not sweating the small stuff.
    Unhealthy ascending ignores, represses, controls, and dominates the lower, instead of embracing and caring for it. It denies feelings, the body, sexuality, and nature.
    Healthy descending means to be connected with and sensitive to the richness and fullness of the world, to be down-to-earth and in touch with one’s body, feelings, emotions, and sexuality.
    Unhealthy descending means to be overwhelmed, fused with, and run by the many details of life and its manifestations, feelings, earthly desires, and needs.
    Healthy agency supports the autonomous functioning of the individual.
    Unhealthy agency leads to alienation and dissociation from others.
    Healthy communion is expressed through the peaceful, responsible (response-able), considerate, and caring connection between people.
    Unhealthy communion leads to fusion, dependency, neediness, and clinging—with the loss of one’s own will, individuality, and autonomy—which eventually leads to resentment.

  • Comment Link Christina Sestan Tuesday, 01 November 2011 16:25 posted by Christina Sestan

    Thank you Vanessa!

    Great article! It was like watching you yank on the loose thread of a great big complex and controversial topic and watch it slowly unravel down into its basic form. From there, you knitted it into something clear and concise that vastly expanded my own perspective on women in leadership.

    I appreciated the 4 quadrant model reminder. It was a good ‘wake up call.’ While the barrage of explicit and shocking images of young women is unendingly in my face, I think it is sometimes easy to believe I have the ability to insulate myself from the toxicity, simply because I recognize it for what it is. Clearly not the case. Even if I could devise sufficient filters for my interior, I would still be interacting every day with people and a media culture steeped in this “hottie” mystique.

    I also humbly acknowledge my own enslavement to the feminine currency of beauty. As a 44 year old woman who has read, traveled and studied extensively and coached people for the past decade, it’s easy to think I’ve gotten beyond all that nonsense. I know what I’m supposed to believe. People look up to me. I’m a strong female role model. My value comes from my authentic essence, not my looks. And you know, I still believe that it does. But another part of me believes my value is irrevocably connected to my physical appearance, and that’s the part that’s mostly been relegated to the shadow. That is, until it was brought to the forefront last year when I was forced to contend with a very serious health crisis. During my treatments, my appearance was temporarily altered my in a decidedly unfeminine way. Among other things, I lost my hair. And despite being surrounded by totally loving and supportive friends and family who never lost sight of my deepest value, I had a bit of an identity crisis that scared me.

    That’s when I had to admit to myself that I had, in fact, been hoarding beauty bucks. And now that I’d lost a chunk of that currency, I suddenly felt as though I’d been demoted, or relegated outside of the ‘in’ circle. I was shocked by these thoughts and mostly didn’t want to believe I could feel this way. I continued to be very high functioning in the rest of my life, but the mirror was my constant reminder and it was a frightening feeling.

    Like I said, my physical alterations were temporary, my hair has grown back and most people looking at me today would never know what I went through. I’ve got my beauty bucks back and I can still draw appreciative looks. But my ‘new normal’ is different. This time, the link between my physical appearance and my sense of value has not gone back into the shadow and I have decided to honor this part of myself by consciously participating in the beauty game. I have fused a delicate and fledgling balance between my appearance and my authentic essence and it’s actually been a great deal of fun. I feel like I’ve recaptured the joys of being a little girl playing dress-up. This shift has been significant for me.

    The timing of your article feels particularly poignant and I really do thank you for your tireless inquiry into these issues. You have been a constant partner to me in this journey.

    Thank you!

  • Comment Link Gregor Thursday, 03 November 2011 03:49 posted by Gregor

    Vanessa and Sera,
    I dunno, this may be my own blindspot, and it's definitely a need to simplify the complexity in me by following the energy of your 'wrestling'. But this conversation does strike me like the archetypal tension seen between the static masculine order of Vanessa's critique and the dynamic feminine chaos of Sera's being. This is unbelievably rich and inspiring to witness, how often do we get to see archetypes light up so vividly and eloquently? I wonder what your dreams have been like?!
    Thank you both for staying connected and on the mat.

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Thursday, 03 November 2011 04:06 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    Wow. I've been totally absorbed in this article and all emerging commentaries for a few days now.

    Vanessa -if you're reading this, as you said you were signing out, I totally appreciate your inquiry into this topic through an integral lens. You are well versed, and from what I know of you, a true intellectual in this field -with or without a graduate degree:) My deep thanks for your own journey into the "feminine".

    Having recently embraced red nail polish (you know for fancy occasions) and my own sense of attractiveness at 30 (because I've decided that 30 is hot and I don't want to hide it for the sake of a perceived "feminist" or "spiritual" requirement of un-hotness), this article is also, as the previous commentator said "timely".

    I'd like to ask a few questions though which I think have been over looked. Speaking to Juma's request that we build on something here, I feel like most comments have been focused on the personal - creating a dichotomy between Sera and Vanessa as if they were quite flat and stereotypical pictures of womanhood. A heart critiquing a head, as someone said.

    From what I can read into what Sera and Vanessa are actually saying in their posts, is that they are both pieces of each other weaving around their strengths and gifts to create an absolutely compelling creative friction which I am so excited to see.

    Yes, Vanessa, I would probably say that Vanessa's gift is her "head" and Sera's gift is perhaps her more somatic embodiment and yet both, no doubt are whole humans full of both of these and more.

    To comment on what Tom said, Sera is most obviously a "provocateur" and I would question what "cause" you are assuming her to be speaking for. I wouldn't assume she is in fact attempting to promote any cause except to provoke exploration into her own thoughts at this point. She's not publishing an intellectual essay here....

    The real intrigue for me here is Vanessa's interest in what IS TRUE about what Sera is saying. This audience can no doubt imagine what the "Girls Gone Wild" version of Sera's position is -I think this critique is clear. What is perhaps less apparent is HOW Sera's position COULD be inline with an enlightened or integral perspective.

    I might start by defining what "Hot" means. All commenters here are from, I'm assuming, different generations and pop-cultural circles. What does Sera, or Vanessa say or find interesting about the word "Hot"? What I'm looking at here is the tendency towards a sexualization of the word "hot". I'm actually interested in how often anything provocative is in fact sexualized in our culture -but that is perhaps for an other time.

    I would like to offer the interpretation of the word "hot" as "compelling". I think if we look at the word in this way, we might see more of what is going on here. Feeling hot is exciting, and there is something really powerful about that energy which need not be turned into a porno film fantasy.

    How can we see something as hot, juicy, absolutely compelling and be inspired by CREATIVITY -not an ejaculatory response?

    I'm curious about the partial truth in what BOTH woman have to say, AND how they are creating new ground TOGETHER. The woman's movement isn't lead by individuals, it's lead by woman working together -with all their diverse strengths -DARING TO EMBRACE each other to create a new vision for the future. This is what I see happening here.

    You're both awesome. Thanks.

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Thursday, 03 November 2011 04:28 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    Just as a side note, I see the woman's movement also needing to EMBRACE MEN in their wholeness as well. Too often women objectify men in their attempts at "empowerment". I'm not saying that men need to join the woman's movement (weird:) but I'm saying that what we expect from men limits or allows certain behaviours to persist or desist.

  • Comment Link Martin Ucik Thursday, 03 November 2011 04:43 posted by Martin Ucik

    I suggest to start by differentiating between: 
    1. Biological sex 
    2. Learned gender roles 
    3. Anima/animus complex (shadow)
    4. Feminine/masculine polarities

    We can then integrate those dimensions with stages of vertical consciousness development, which allows us to move beyond the tiring discussion if men OR women are more evolved and better leaders, to realizing that we need more evolutionary/evolved men AND women in sustainable Integral relationships to co-create solutions for a sustainable future for all humanity.

    1. Biological sex and the resulting Primary Fantasy, which often judges women as harshly by their looks and age as it does men by their social status and wealth.

    2. Gender roles are learned after birth, often vary between cultures and throughout history, and can be transcended. Gender Mainstreaming, as put forward by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality (www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/conceptsandefinitions.htm) or Warren Farrell's suggestion to move from role-mates to Soul-mates, attempt to give men and women equal rights and responsibilities. 

    3. Anima/animus complex relates to the creation of our self-identification as boys or girls during childhood when we invariably cover up, split-off, disown, repress, or dismiss qualities of the opposite sex to various degrees (shadow). In later years we can heal and transcend this complex. 

    There are five potential stages for men:
    1. Women as mother: He needs a mommy to take care of him.
    2. Women as sex object: He wants her to make him feel good.
    3. Women as wife: He wants her loyalty and support.
    4. Women as guide to healing and awakening: He grows through her need for independence.
    5. Women as equal partner: He values and meets her as an opposite and equal partner.

    and women:
    1. Men as alien outsiders: She fears, hates, and "desires" him.
    2. Men as father, God, or king: She wants his approval.
    3. Men as hero: She wants to look up to him and to have him take care of her.
    4. Men as independent beings: She wants her independence from a partner.
    5. Men as equal partners: She wants and meets him as an equal and opposite partner.
    (see book "Integral Relationships: A Manual for Men" pages 58-66)

    4. Masculine/Feminine polarities are defined as ascending/descending and agency/communion. It is important to dissociate these polarities from sex, gender and the anima/animus complex as they are potentials for growth (versus shadow) that can be equally embodied by males and females.

    1. Healthy ascending is characterized by a desire to improve, to go beyond, to grow, to transcend, to create, and to think big. This is accomplished by gaining wider perspectives of the self and the nature of things. It requires a willingness to change by letting go of old paradigms and not sweating the small stuff.
    Unhealthy ascending ignores, represses, controls, and dominates the lower, instead of embracing and caring for it. It denies feelings, the body, sexuality, and nature.

    2. Healthy descending means to be connected with and sensitive to the richness and fullness of the world, to be down-to-earth and in touch with one's body, feelings, emotions, and sexuality.
    Unhealthy descending means to be overwhelmed, fused with, and run by the many details of life and its manifestations, feelings, earthly desires, and needs.

    3. Healthy agency supports the autonomous functioning of the individual.
    Unhealthy agency leads to alienation and dissociation from others.

    4. Healthy communion is expressed through the peaceful, responsible (response-able), considerate, and caring connection between people.
    Unhealthy communion leads to fusion, dependency, neediness, and clinging-with the loss of one's own will, individuality, and autonomy-which eventually leads to resentment.

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Thursday, 03 November 2011 04:53 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    So the silly (weird:) I put in there actually made me think: what about transgendered or transexual folks. (Maybe I'm going on a tangent here...)

    What if a trans-guy wanted to join a "woman" movement? Would we reject her on the fact that she wasn't born a woman?

    This question actually arose for me in a real way when we were hosting a Woman's Sweat Lodge. My friend was concerned about my opinion on whether or not her trans friend should/could come. I ended up sitting next to a lesbian and a transgendered female (a woman who choses to present as male) ....

    ...anyway food for thought. Any queer folks have a comment or experience around gender-based movements?

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Thursday, 03 November 2011 04:58 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    Ouu wow. Thanks for all the information Martin.

  • Comment Link Martin Ucik Thursday, 03 November 2011 23:15 posted by Martin Ucik

    Hi Amy, I am not an expert on transgendered or transsexual folks, but have a gay man and his boyfriend as a housemate and we lived with a man who changed his sex from female to male. They relate positively to differentiating biological sex, learned gender roles, anima/animus complex (relationships and experiences with male and female role models during their childhood and how they shaped them) and gender/sex neutral polarities. Since we can even change our biological sex, all these differentiations (and stereotypes) can be transcended, and maybe this is where we are heading as a humanity. I think the LGBT community can provide us with crucial insights into this important topic, so I am curious to hear about their experiences and insights.

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Friday, 04 November 2011 11:30 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    On reflection, it occurs to me that I sense that both Vanessa and Sera are coming from a fundamentally competitive place -- which is the opposite of the divine feminine which is spaceousness, openness, altheic truth, awareness... Even if in dialogue, they are "pushing and stretching" each other, this is still an instrumentalists approach. The divine feminine energy would feel like opening, softening, surrounding, -- there is always enough space for you, your worries and contradictions, your enormous self... there is enough open space to be all this, and more.... this is what I feel is lacking from either voice, and for me, represents the flavor of feminine energy.

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Friday, 04 November 2011 13:35 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    I had to run out but I am now back at a computer, so to add onto the previous...

    in trying to share a sense of what for me is the divine feminie transmuted from all contraction... for example, Frnacesco Varela once said of his 3rd wife "she is the only person who can hold the whole of me" -- I am thinking of the divine feminine as what the ocean is to all the living creatures there, what the earth is to us terrtrials, what the galaxy is to the earth, the universe to the galaxy, and spaciousness to the universe.. the divine feminine has the capacity to hold the whole of one, of us, of all... it is transcend *only* through inclusion, in integral terms, greater depth with greater span (versus the masculine distinction between eros and agape-- span in contrast to depth) ... it is the opposite of the kind of "branding" that seeks to make distinctions (this better than that, more performative than the other) for various reasons. In my workshops I teach "leading with yin" which is leading by opening, being the place toward which energy wants to fall into, to belong within, to be held, not as a container -- those nasty reified objects of distinction -- but as space itself. So I would offer this -- what would it feel like// look like to transmute all this feminine sexuality/beauty/energy into that space of expanse, opening?

  • Comment Link Cherie Beck Friday, 04 November 2011 18:50 posted by Cherie Beck

    Bonnita, thanks for the cue. For in all I have been looking at, stepping into, and clearing out in my own life in the past week after Vanessa asked me check out this conversation, the one thing I have struggled with is a common reference for what the divine feminine captures in us. The distinction has not been one through the years of my personal quest, I applied with any direct ideas, yet with your offering, is certainly how I can connect, with voice, to this conversation.

    As I came closer to speaking up with a comment relevant to the platform in play, namely this blog post and the ensuing comments, I wondered what was being asked of me, not by any one individual, but the context of this conversation itself. First, as usual, I am asked to do my own work. Work this week inspired by the step Vanessa took to open up a platform of engagement on the topics of finding one’s voice, one’s capacity for leadership and expressing sexuality, in the larger post-modern milieu, inside of a smaller culture bubble of individuals interested in pushing past, and birthing in whatever is post, post-modern. A collective distinct from my own internal dialogue and distinct from every other gathering of souls I have been invited to join. In doing my own work, what I found interesting, although motivated to express my own point of view in writing, I felt clear direction, as a self-directed, self-authored and autonomous being, to not lead with my voice. I use my written voice, now, to announce that I have also shown up for this conversation and up to this point, am showing up in three capacities: “be witness” to it, to” be with” it and to “be” it.

    Being witness to this conversation serving, what I found in my own experience, one of the primary drivers underneath the transparency and vulnerability put forth by most who dares to speak up, and that is to be seen, be heard and be counted. I am here, listening and acknowledging Vanessa, Sera and et all who have come forth with their own point of view, and for the hidden audience of readers alike wherever their current process holds them.

    Being withness serving our need to not be alone, to be accompanied, to be supported, held and loved while in the company of two creative, resourceful and whole women whom dance together, bumping and grinding, spinning and swaying, turning off and turning on to the other, as the resolve their own issues and make their own way. I have no desire to change it, to steer it, to criticize, challenge or commend either one or both. I am enjoying the dance, moving with it, as a participant observer.

    Being it is proving to be the most challenging and comes forth in fits and starts. I have so much to say on these topics, yet this is not the forum to say them. There is leadership I am capable of stepping into, yet no opening to lead. There is sexuality to be expressed - perhaps my comments approach the will of divine feminine, perhaps not. Yet incontrovertibly my full sexual self has been called to its next expression inside of the primary relationship to which I am engaged. And there it will be expressed.

    I am satisfied, at this point, with the fulfillment of what is being asked of me.

    I stand willing and able to continue to show up in this and other forums and to participate as appropriate; to meet, point and dance any and all, within the larger inquiry of this conversation. You can expect as such from me.

    Finally, what I am offering to this group is the communication of the wisdom I have accumulated from 15 year path that began by being led INTO my life as contemporary woman through a continual sexual practice of orgasm. A practice, which in the words of Jane Fonda enables me to “carry more of the world’s weight.” A task I have signed up for, and one this conversation has helped me take a few more steps toward.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Friday, 04 November 2011 21:27 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi Amy,

    Great to see you commenting here on the site (and excellent comments at that).

    I really appreciated your question about what is true in Sera's teaching. I don't know Vanessa's thoughts on that, but speaking for myself here....

    I appreciate Sera's devotion to the Red Lady. And I say that as someone who is deeply ambivalent towards the entire construct of a divine feminine (or divine masculine for that matter):

    http://beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/274-against-the-use-of-the-terms-masculine-and-feminine-in-the-spiritual-path

    But even though I have questions about the framework, I think her honest devotion to the Divine depicted as Goddess (and in particular within that tradition, devotion to the Fire or Kali side of things) is quite admirable.

    While a lot of the emphasis in the commentary--including Sera and Vanessa's interactions--seemed to focus on the sexiness/beauty critique, I think Vanessa's point about the lack of a Lower Left (intersubjective) self-awareness is valid one. I think that larger point is true whatever a person thinks around the specific example of the beauty industry.

    I think it's worth mentioning that the critique of spiritual teachers not understanding their own cultural context (or their tradition's) is rampant--and in no way is Sera somehow in a party of one on that point.

    I feel the key critique of Vanessa's is that in the North American context, individualism is the cultural context and therefore when people approach spirituality they do so in an individualistic (and largely consumeristic) attitude. I'm not as sensitive to the piece around women, beauty and so on--so I don't really feel I have much insight on that point. But the larger frame of missing Lower Left I think is extremely important.

    In Wilber's book Integral Spirituality he talks a great deal about the inclusion of the Lower Left and how radically that changes spirituality (in its self-understanding, communication, embodiment, and practice). It's a point that I think will take decades for us to really grasp the depth and implications of. It calls out (I believe) a much more radical responsibility then I see currently practiced in the mainstream.

    In fairness to Sera, she is coming out with a new text soon and perhaps she will have responded to that critique. We'll have to await that book to find out. On the other hand, Sera's work may have matured and deepened in the ways she mentions in her comments and it could still be open to the critique of the intersubjective. iow, It could be a deeper, more mature form still largely communicated in an individualistic context. Either way I look forward to reading it.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Friday, 04 November 2011 22:03 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi Gregor,

    Thanks for the comment. Picking up on my previous comment (in response to Amy), I find it helpful to hold all this (lightly) in terms of how spiritual traditions/practices are embedded.

    One thing Sera does very well in her book is offer a series of practices and describes spiritual experiences. Those are the Upper Right and Upper Left in the Integral quadrant model respectively.

    What Vanessa brought up (and what is often missed) is how those practices and experiences are interpreted or embedded (Lower Left-cultural). In the case of Sera's book, I think the primary form of cultural interpretation is postmodern. I'm not saying postmodern there in a putdown fashion btw. I'm trying to use it more matter of factly.

    e.g. The Red Book has a whole host of religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions--something that has only really happened in the post-modern (really post-colonial) world. She forms her own personal practice (sincerely I think) from those traditions but in a way those traditions themselves would by and large not (I imagine) agree to. Doesn't mean she is wrong in doing so, but it is indicative of a certain era of humanity. Also her work on the Goddess is a form of what postmodernists calls The Return of the Repressed. That's something Jacques Derrida examined in great depth and brilliance.

    And yet at times, it felt to me like Sera was trying to move out of the North American postmodern framework. But in that book I think there are only hints of such a change (I could also be misreading the text). Perhaps Sera's new book will offer a more post-postmodern framework. We'll see. Perhaps the push/pull Vanessa felt in relation to Sera's work was around this point. I don't know.

    I think static and dynamic are poles within both of them. There's quite a bit of dynamism in Vanessa's piece--else I don't think it would have generated such response. On the other hand, given my point above around frameworks, I think there's some static elements to Sera's book as well.

    Not that each has to have perfectly balanced or equal measures of the two poles, but I don't think it's so simple as static (Vanessa) versus dynamic (Sera).

    Sometimes (often?) stasis is a good thing. Homeostasis for example. Other times dynamism is quite destructive (dynamite). Other other times destruction might be quite good. And of course stasis can become unhealthy and stultifying.

    So I'm not saying your point about archetypal interaction is for sure not occurring, but I'm wondering whether there are other factors as well. And I'm wondering how much light is shed for us via archetypal explanations?

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Saturday, 05 November 2011 03:09 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    I have a great deal of respect for archetypal interpretation, but I also see that it can be limiting. I really appreciate what Bonnitta and Cherie added here. Joanna Macy has said, "The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.”

    The communion or circular container aspect of the feminine is deeply powerful and I can definitely connect with that in all it's beauty. But I have also witnessed (straight) men hold deep generous space for others. I guess this is speaking to the sex vs. gendered aspect of these human qualities (assuming both sexes have access to all gendered qualities). This is kind of where I get stuck in these conversations.

    Although I deeply agree and resonate with archetypal feminine qualities, I also feel deeply limited by them, and have, in the past, felt quite left out of those conversations. At this point in my life, I feel quite confident in my ability to connect with my own divine feminine, and have witnessed those qualities in men and women alike. I also have deep respect and am driven by more "masculine" qualities of organization, order, analysis.

    (ASSIDE: I don't even know what that means anymore "masculine" qualities. I feel like we vilify "masculine" qualities as something bad "oppression, violence, etc." instead of focusing on the positive qualities. I feel like a lot of men I know these days are suffering from an identity crisis, craving to be openly compassionate, emotional.. and yes, gasp, straight.)

    I still see the absolute importance to hold polarized or "differentiated" views of feminine and masculine archetypes - there is a tremendous amount of learning and insight there. I would just ask for a more inclusive and subtle interpretation of these qualities within ourselves and others within our current cultural context and within an evolutionary framework. Not sure what this will look like, but I hope to keep creating my own vision (and collaborating with other's visions) of what that looks like.

    Chris, thank you for the reflections. Cherie, I'm not even sure what you're talking about. Maybe I haven't learnt the language of the dance you're weaving. Somehow offering insight into orgasm seem a little off topic for me... I feel like the gifts you have to offer would translate more deeply if I was able to hold your presence in my gaze and see what you were saying and offering here. I feel like the medium (technology) is limiting your perspective, but that's just my feeling. (Wow, that was an awfully "feminine" comment:) Space and place friends, space and place.

    Bless.

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Sunday, 06 November 2011 01:01 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Hello All,

    I'm still incubating and integrating, but wanted to thank you for the ongoing conversation, and to let you know that I'm following and watching from behind the scenes :) Quite a fire this piece ignited!

    Thanks for your kind words and inquiry Amy.

    Also, Chris I think your comments are absolutely bang on!

    Thanks to everyone for stoking the fires here.

    Love,
    Vanessa

  • Comment Link Cherie Beck Monday, 07 November 2011 20:04 posted by Cherie Beck

    Hi Amy--

    The Language of the Dance...sounds like the title of book I’d be interested in, or at least a blog post! I have put it on my radar screen and will attend to producing some content. Thank you for the prompt.

    As for not understanding my perspective/gifts, I totally get that. And I think you’ve named why finding and using my voice has been one of the very last parts of my “wholeness” to be differentiated and integrated. It seems to be demanding a multi medium platform. I appreciate your response as a request to gaze in my eyes as the access point for understanding, rather than rejecting it. Very insightful of you, and a great reminder for me personally.

    As for the off topic nature of orgasm. That’s exactly right. Here’s is a partial explanation around why I mentioned it. As more people begin to wander into post-post modern (to use a term from the Beams and Struts mission) territory, which is why we are all reading this article is it not, one of the critical jobs being asked of us is to observe, mark and note the territory. Why? Because it’s basically unchartered right, there will be many pathways and for the most part the territory is dark and unconscious. Having looked back with illumination on my own path, one of the fundamental markings I am making is to stake a very tall pole and raise a big Yellow/turquoise flag smack dab in the center of the territory- with the word Female Orgasm written on it. It’s in the center because there is nothing more central and natural to the human experience than orgasm, and yet the female orgasm has been walled off to most of us. As Elizabeth mentioned, it’s shocking, still, for as much and as varied sex as women are now having - how many of us still do not experience orgasm. It’s the post modern milieu that is helping to tear those walls down. I’ve watched some programming, only recently, focused on the beginnings of scientific exploration into the mystery of the female orgasm. There is something happening here and if we are serious about a new narrative and embodiment of women’s leadership, we tether ourself to it’s power.

    I see the female orgasm to be the next revolution (which is Vanessa’s call with this article) in sexuality and spirituality, sexuality and psychology, sexuality and sociology for women...and as Nicole Daedone (who is a powerful voice in this revolution) says, “it’s not so bad for the men either.”

    There is very little, if nothing, within Vanessa’s article, in what I understand of Sera’s work, or in the comments of this blog post where I can not make some connection back to orgasm. And I would guess, just as you speak to its off topic nature, there is a lot of programming, patterning, information and story in all of us keeping these walls in tact, even in this conversation.

    Jane Fonda’s comments have been ringing in my ears since I heard them. Specifically, on the Charlie Rose show, in discussing her new book, PrimeTime (which seems as though Jane has been wandering in this territory too!) she remarked, “turns out, women who have more orgasms can carry more of the world’s weight.” What I see, in the “march” of human civilization, the motion is a left foot, right foot exchange (left and right having symbolic and bio/energetic reference to feminine and masculine). We have been in period of right foot forward and heavy. In fact, as more women come into cultural leadership on the right (masculine) foot and the mainstream women (of the left foot)break free from the back, bending back at the knee (which is symbolic for ego) maybe smacking us in the ass (painting out a metaphor) to the point we are teetering off balance. If, as I believe, humanity is “preparing for a momentous leap” (Clare W. Graves), the left foot (the entire mainstream and leading edge feminine) must come forward and land, in the world, and at multiple scales. As Don Beck often teaches about the nature of jumping, the first motion forward is to drop back for momentum (into the Red Zone) and push off the right foot. The left foot naturally wants to come forward in which case landing with that foot will require it to indeed carry more of the weight.

    What has been a significant factor propelling life forward on this planet, in our latest step, from the right foot? Male orgasm. Envision the movement in a male orgasm. Life force energy coming DOWN from the heavens into one head and OUT into the world through a second head, exploding and spraying us with the physical seeds of life. We have a 7 billion population to illustrate this point. What will be a significant factor propelling life forward from the right foot? Female orgasm. Life force energy coming UP from the earth into the womb where a human life is created, resonating up IN waves through the heart and mind and to everything connected to it, as the flow required to physically create anew, the world in which 7 billion people live.

    Lots of juice, here. Yes?

  • Comment Link Juma Wood Tuesday, 08 November 2011 01:14 posted by Juma Wood

    These last comments triggered me to copy a few famous lines from Eliot's Four Quartets as they have ran through my mind a few times in the digestion of this article and it's generous commentary. Especially the last line speaks to the marvelous dynamics at work on this thread, the taut creativity, the containers I'm hungry to explore. All captured, as part of the dance (and there is only the dance)(and yet, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well):

    At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
    Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
    But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
    Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
    Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
    There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
    -----------------------------------------
    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.
    Through the unknown, unremembered gate
    When the last of earth left to discover
    Is that which was the beginning;
    At the source of the longest river
    The voice of the hidden waterfall
    And the children in the apple-tree
    Not known, because not looked for
    But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
    Between two waves of the sea.
    Quick now, here, now, always—
    A condition of complete simplicity
    (Costing not less than everything)
    And all shall be well and
    All manner of thing shall be well
    When the tongues of flames are in-folded
    Into the crowned knot of fire
    And the fire and the rose are one.

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Tuesday, 08 November 2011 05:01 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Seriously Juma, that is one of my favorite poems... Word

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Tuesday, 08 November 2011 05:11 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    Cherie,
    Thank you for expanding on your perspective - I definitely see your point. Juicy indeed. I will think about what you've said.

    Juma,
    I think it's beautiful that we started with an article on Woman's liberation, and have come full circle to a poem. Well done. I feel complete with this discussion and wish you all deep thanks for the inspiration and a fond au revoir.

  • Comment Link Gregor Wednesday, 09 November 2011 21:36 posted by Gregor

    Hi Chris,
    Thank you for your response. I felt a little disconnected by it, what I was pointing at was not that the archetypal forces were the only things involved (they are just another lens after all), but that my AQAL dashboard 'lit-up' around those two aspects, and I wondered if anyone else noticed that dynamic. So when I read your response I was hoping for a response to that, not a reminder that there are more lenses. My bad, I probably should have been clearer.
    The archetypes themselves are in a sense, a way of being, and have a healthy and unhealthy aspect, and its the reactions and response, the dance that is so full of energy. The tension of the opposites creates wisdom and clarity, where they do not from their own perspectives, the tension bears fruit, it births.
    At least that's what I was seeing, I hope that is a little clearer. :-)

  • Comment Link Carol Horton Monday, 14 November 2011 22:36 posted by Carol Horton

    For me, this post and much of the discussion (I haven't read every comment, there's so many) offer a fascinating glimpse into some of the preoccupations of smart, ambitious, creative, spiritually oriented young North American women today. It's inspiring that so much exploring, inquiry, and discussion is going on.

    But it's also disheartening in that no one seems to be pushing the larger question raised in Vanessa's post: that is, what is the purpose of young women's leadership beyond increasing their own self-understanding and empowerment?

    What's the larger political vision? How does their empowerment work to empower others who are not wrestling with the same issues of youthful beauty, sexuality, and femininity? Because as compelling as these issues may be for many, for countless others they are nowhere near the top of the agenda - nor should they be.

    It feels like the real focus here is on young women leading each other through the issues that preoccupy them. While that may be needed, I personally am much more interested in how young women leaders can move out into the world to work toward some larger and more inclusive vision of democracy and sustainability.

  • Comment Link gregory wendt Wednesday, 23 November 2011 03:44 posted by gregory wendt

    Such a powerful, truthful article followed by a perhaps even more powerful connection/dialog between Vanessa and Sera. The Divine Feminine squared! It is absolutely lovely to witness this dialog/debate for many reasons, but particularly in that it is so inherently different than how most men respond to criticism. Much respect to you. And thanks to my friends Barbara Bickel and Michael Fisher for pointing me to this.

  • Comment Link Willa Geertsema Saturday, 26 November 2011 19:46 posted by Willa Geertsema

    Dear Vanessa,
    What a fantastic article, really great to read, as well as your very gracious but straight and strong responses to Sera (and, amazingly, I managed to miss the publication of this article until yesterday). You are really growing as a writer and as someone who thinks deeply about women's development, and I love seeing this! It is so needed and enlightening for us to question the ancient patterns that are so widely defended in our current culture (which includes our own interior), and the more of us start to question things, the more we can create that capacity for critical thinking that we need to find a new, authentic expression of being a woman.
    Thanks again!
    Willa

  • Comment Link Claire Monday, 28 November 2011 04:07 posted by Claire

    Hello Vanessa. After reading your article, I headed over to your website and was surprised to see that you are "friends" with Velcrow Ripper and his testimonial is on the top page of your website. It was through Velcrow that I met Sera years ago. I am certain you are well aware that Velcrow and Sera worked together and he is quite angry/resentful at her for a number of reasons.
    You are friends with and have your primary testimonial from someone who carries a very strong personal grudge against Sera. It appears that you may have been dishonest when you stated that you "dont know why" you chose her to focus on. Would you care to comment on this?

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Friday, 22 June 2012 13:54 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Hi Claire,

    Sorry to take so long to respond to this! I didn't see your comment until now, and I imagine you may be far away from reading this now, since you commented such a long time ago.

    But for what it is worth, first of all, yes I am friends with Velcrow Ripper, but that was not why I focused on Sera for this article. In fact, as far as I know, Velcrow very much cares for Sera, even if they went their separate ways. Also, Velcrow wrote that endorsement for my website before this article was published. I don't even think he has read this article.

    My introduction to Sera was not through Velcrow, nor am I privy to their history together. Also, I've written a follow up article to this one here on Beams if you are intersted to read it, as it will explain much more why I focused on Sera, which has nothing to do with Velcrow.

    http://beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/799-undressing-sex-re-imagining-the-art-of-female-eroticism


    Warm regards,
    Vanessa

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