Standing 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...
Rebellion 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.
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
Women'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
While 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.
Whatever 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.
In 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.
My 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.
Wilber'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."
This 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.
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.
While 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.
This 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 actually 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."
Of 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)
The 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.
That 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.
With 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.
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.