Mom for President

The New Yorker recently published an article about Elizabeth Warren, one of the many hopefuls for the esteemed position as Democratic nominee in the 2020 Presidential race. While this article is not intended to be an official endorsement of her candidacy, it is based upon a reaction that I had to what some believe is a controversial proposal of her campaign that seeks to reduce wealth inequality in this country. The article reflects upon her famous take down of John Stumpf, former C.E.O. of Wells Fargo, Warren said to Stumpf during the 2016 Senate Banking Committee hearings, “But what have you actually done to hold yourself accountable? Have you resigned as C.E.O. or chairman of Wells Fargo? . . . Have you returned one nickel of the millions of dollars that you were paid while this scam was going on?”

Of course, Warren wanted him to be held responsible for his actions in one of the biggest financial scandals in recent times, but more than that, she was calling out predatory corporate behavior and the nonchalance of the wealthy and their predatory actions taken in the name of making more money. Perhaps this is not a quality reserved for the wealthy, perhaps this is built into human nature somehow and that given the right set of circumstances, humans will take advantage of one another in order to better themselves. Where does this come from? I began to think. What does this remind me of? An image came to mind immediately after digesting the article. I began to think of my Mom and something she taught me a long, long time ago.

Let me illustrate what I mean with a little story. Two young children are playing at the park with one another. One of them, let’s call him Frankie, has a bag of M&M’s. The other child, Benny, has none. Benny looks over at Frankie longingly and asks, “Can I try some of your M&M’s?” Frankie pulls the bag in closer and turns a shoulder do Benny, “No!” Benny begins to cry. Frankie’s Mom is sitting on a nearby bench. Her ears are perked up by the sound of a child crying and looks up to see her Frankie standing near a crying Benny, worried that Frankie’s done something wrong. She immediately puts down her book and walks over to the two children.

“Frankie, what’s going on here? Why is Benny crying, did you do something?”

“No Mom, Benny wanted some of my M&M’s and I don’t want to give him any. They’re mine.”

“Now Frankie, that’s not very nice. You have enough to share. It’s good to share what you have with others. Now please give some of your M&M’s to Benny.”

“But MOM! They’re mine!” cries Frankie.

“We share what we have with others Frankie. Now please give some M&Ms to Benny.”

Frankie reluctantly hands the bag to Benny who timidly receives it, pouring some of the bounty into his hand. Mom walks away, and the two children go on playing gleefully. Mom thinks, “See that wasn’t that painful now was it?”

NYMag published an article in June of 2019 about the wealth disparity. The title alone is enough information to understand the gravity of the situation. “The One Percent Have Gotten $21 Trillion Richer Since 1989. The Bottom 50% Have Gotten Poorer.” We have serious inequalities when it comes to wealth and to valuing our fellow community members. Why is it so difficult for people to want to share the wealth with those who do not have it? I believe the answers lies in the belief structure of the system. There’s an assumption that those who have the wealth somehow deserve it more than those who do not. They worked harder perhaps? Or they perform a function that is somehow more important than others? These assumptions are where a large part of the problem lies. They are in fact just assumptions, and they are nearly always untrue.

It does not take a research scientist to know that there are millions of people working tirelessly, often juggling multiple jobs just to pay the rent and put food on the table. There is no correlation between working hard and having a lot of money. Sometimes it’s actually the opposite. When it comes to being paid more for jobs that are more highly regarded, we need to reevaluate how we’re making these decisions. From an equitable perspective, it does make sense to adjust income for someone who had to undergo lengthy and expensive education in order to be qualified for a specific position such as a physician, but in reality, the highest paid individuals are more likely to be in the business sector with a measly bachelorette degree. We reward people who can sell things, who can make money, without regard for the consequences business has on our health or our environment. This is a seriously flawed system when we value a salesperson more than someone who is tending to our children and our elderly. Where’s Mom when you need her?

All of us our necessary. Without one spoke, the wheel will not turn properly, at least not forever. How do we make sure we all keep contributing to society in a sustainable and regenerative way? We share our wealth so that everyone can participate, have a home over their heads, eat nourishing foods, take care of their bodies and their minds, spend time with family and friends, be happy and safe. This will not be easy because despite those lessons from Mom when we were younger, we’ve all been brainwashed to believe this is the way. Yes, brainwashed. As soon as we all start to acknowledge that and look behind the curtain, a change will come. There’s enough for all of us. Let’s get to work!

Healing the Masculine

There’s a lot of talk these days about smashing the patriarchy and toxic masculinity. First of all, let me say that I agree with much of it. The patriarchy needs to be smashed (more on that in another post) and the masculine has veered directly toward the toxic in much of our society. Does this mean all men are bad and should be taken down? Of course not. Does it mean that women and gender queer folks are off the hook for it all? Ummm, no. Most of us play a role in this whether it’s conscious or not so it’s time to start identifying where we’re contributing to the problems and change our course of action. No need to feel bad about it or guilty. It was all set up before we got here. In other words, it’s a system we’ve been born into which makes it hard for us to even realize we’re a part of it. Yes, some of us are more conscious of the damaging things we are doing (ahem Trump) and will likely require learning a hard lesson, but all of us just need to put on our big girl pants and do the work. The more people who understand what needs to be done and start doing the work, the faster we can turn this thing around.

So what is masculinity anyways? Again, this is one of those tricky questions as much of how we define the masculine has been derived from the characteristics that have been traditionally embodied by men, but if we take gender out of it and turn once again to the Chinese system of the Yin and the Yang for guidance, the masculine embodies qualities like action, production, positivity, sun, fire, hardness, ascension, dominance. Extrapolating that to human behaviors we’re talking strength, assertiveness, power and control. Now none of these are inherently bad. There is a time and a place for all of them, but when there’s no feminine to balance out the masculine, that’s when it becomes extractive. Left unchecked masculinity turns toxic. In a patriarchal society where so many of those in power are exhibiting toxic masculinity, we are left with a world where war, starvation, poverty, oppression and inequality are the norm. The extractive nature of toxic masculinity is both destroying our earth and as well as her inhabitants. So let’s get on to healing it already.

Image by Clker via Pixabay

Looking at how we raise our children, we now know that it hasn’t served us to tell our young men to toughen up, to not cry, to be strong. Boys have been hearing these messages for a very long time which has prevented the feminine from being nurtured within our men for a long time. Not that we have to go blaming our ancestors. There was likely a very “survival of the fittest” reason for men to be taught these things. How else would they have had the courage to protect others from the dangers that faced primitive humans? The good thing is that civilization has evolved. Most of us don’t need to have the type of courage it takes to fend off a Bengal tiger. Yes, there are dangers and bad people in this world, but there is no longer a need for the men of society to shoulder the burden of courage and protection. Men and boys should be allowed to feel their feelings and cry if they need to.

If you are reading this now and thinking, no they can’t, that would be weak and sissy-like…then I need you to answer the question, who cares? Really? What practical reason serves the need to withhold emotion other than ego? What does a boy face that is different from a girl which requires him to be strong? In fact it appears we got it wrong this whole time. It was the girls who needed to be strong to fend off the boys. A generalization and shift of responsibility, yes, but in the wake of #metoo we’ve learned a great deal about how women walk through this world in substantially more fear than boys. The reality is that we are all going to face the disappointment of lost love and lost jobs. Virtually all of us purchase our food from a grocery store versus having to go out and kill it with our hands. (Eating meat is a subject of another conversation.) Gender-specific roles are diminishing and the modernization of society has completely changed how we all live. There is no need to program our young men like this anymore.

Thankfully, there are many individuals and organizations out there doing the work to help educate men and boys about how to be better. Tony Porter and Jackson Katz are two people who are top of mind in this work, but there are plenty of others. Tony Porter is an author, educator and activist working to advance social justice issues. He is a leading voice on male socialization, the intersection of masculinity and violence against women, and healthy, respectful manhood and is the founder of A Call to Men, the Next Generation of Manhood. His 2010 TED Talk has been named by GQ Magazine as one of the “Top 10 TED Talks Every Man Should See.” Jackson Katz is an educator, author, and social theorist who is internationally renowned for his pioneering scholarship and activism on issues of gender, race and violence. He has long been a major figure and thought leader in the growing global movement of men working to promote gender equality and prevent gender violence. Jackson has several powerful videos that I implore all men to watch. If you, dear reader, are not a man, please take the next step and send these links to a man in your life. Do it right now, before you forget!

As mentioned earlier, we are all on the hook for this. Toxic masculinity can appear anywhere: in women or gender queer persons, in systems, corporations and in government. So how do we heal it in all those places? Same way. I recommend beginning with looking inward to the ways that we exhibit some of these qualities unchecked. Are we striving for power over another? Are we acting forcefully or aggressively in the absence of compassion? Are we trying to control others or exercise authority over them for our own self-serving purpose? Are we taking from the earth without giving back? Are we expecting the boys and men in our lives to be strong and avoid their emotions? Are we purchasing media that perpetuates these toxic masculine ideals? Are we educating others who we see exhibiting this type of behavior? It’s not always going to be easy, but dig deep into your divine masculine qualities, find your strength and take the action you are able to at the time. The work will be worth it. If we can help to heal the masculine in ALL, it will yield to the balance with the feminine, the patriarchy will cease to exist, and we’ll be setting the foundation for creating real equality for EVERYONE. Wallah.

So What Do I Mean By Female?

“So not every female human being is necessarily a woman; she must take part in this mysterious and endangered reality known as femininity. Is femininity secreted by the ovaries? Is it enshrined in a Platonic heaven? Is a frilly petticoat enough to bring it down to earth? Although some women zealously strive to embody it, the model has never been patented.” Simone de Beauvoir.

This seems like a good place to start. It may not be where we end because this is a big subject. One that has been studied and debated by many scholars and will continue to evolve as we evolve as humans and our society evolves as the collective of we humans. This discussion is not meant to reinvent the wheel or suggest that I have the answer that someone else hasn’t already shared. It’s not meant to suggest that this is the one and only definition of female, and that there can be no others. No, it’s really about establishing where my head is at so that you know where I’m coming from, so that we’re working from the same foundation in how we define the words that shape the work and the thoughts here.

Let’s start with some of the easier points. For our purposes, female is essentially the embodiment of the feminine. We’re using it as an adverb, not a noun. It does not mean gender although many women tend to embody female “characteristics” well, not always, but often.  However, we all have the potential for embodying both feminine and masculine qualities and many of us already do. Yes, let’s look for opportunities to recognize and honor the embodiment of the feminine in a male body hoping that one day, there will be no need to distinguish between the two. So for the purposes of this work, this philosophy, this opinion, female is the feminine regardless of what it looks like or what shape it comes in.

But what does it look like? How do we know it when we see it? This is the real work. This is where things get difficult and confusing, gender lines get blurred and challenged and emotions get triggered when identity is challenged or perceived to be judged. So let’s start with something less personal, the female in nature. From a Chinese perspective, the female is yin, and yin is described as earth, passive, docile, slow, dark, cold, soft, moist, and consuming while the male is Yang and represents the opposite. In Chinese mythology, it is believed that the world went from being formless chaos to what it is today because Yin and Yang at one point became balanced with one another allowing for creation to take form. Today, Yin is always dancing with Yang, sometimes they are balanced and in equilibrium while at other times there is more of one than the other.

Image by disoniador on Pixabay

While women and men may embody many of their respective Yin or Yang qualities, it’s more complex than that because of this dance between Yin and Yang within everything, even ourselves and how that interacts with our actions and interactions as humans. When we think of the feminine as embodied in human form it is receptive, it welcomes with open arms, it is inclusive, it is nurturing and it is love. It is community, it is the great Mother, it is the greater good over the individual, it is peace. When we see the feminine in action, we see a bountiful existence for all. We see equality for all. We see life.

Being feminine means being gentle but not necessarily weak. Being feminine means taking care of oneself in order to best serve her needs and not just the needs of others or the corporation. Being feminine means tuning into all wisdom not just that of the analytical thinking brain. Being feminine means living in harmony with our surroundings recognizing that we are all one sharing in this planet and not extracting from these surroundings in an imbalanced way. Being feminine means being capable of empathizing in order to prevent the mutual damage of otherizing. Being feminine is creating, tapping into that creative flow, in all it’s many forms.

As the Tao suggests, it’s not Yin or Yang, black or white, feminine or masculine? It’s questionable that we should even be using the words feminine and masculine because of their origin. They grew out of a need to describe the traits that were generally observed to be embodied by each respective gender or even imposed on each gender. As the world changes and the concepts of gender are becoming challenged and possibly even obsolete, we may serve ourselves better if we understand the characteristics that were once assumed to be gender specific to be gender neutral and therefore requiring of new terminology. Maybe that’s the best way forward after all. Until that time, I’ll still be talking femininity.