During dinner on day two of our Costa Rica trip the boys asked me a question that continues to boggle my brain. It came after spending an afternoon traveling to a nearby village with our new friends from New York. The family of four wanted to escape the surf culture of Tamarindo and spend a laid back afternoon in a village less affected by gringos. Hence, we cabbed it to Villa Real where we ate the midday meal in a local seafood restaurant and ambled along the town’s dirt roads taking in the flora, fauna and rudimentary architecture of the bucolic town. Upon returning and talking about the day’s adventures, the boys asked:
“Do you speak Spanish as well as Jeff does?”
I simply stared at them, dumbfounded. Jeff, the warm and compassionate father of the Brooklyn family, barely speaks Spanish. I am fluent. How could they think this?
I chalked up the boys’ observation to a matter of confidence.
Jeff spoke louder and took more definitive action than I had (he hailed the cab, sat in the front seat, interacted louder with the waitress at the restaurant, suggested the walk around town…) Besides, Jeff is from the big city and is used to having to be a bit more assertive. Plus, he’s less worried about making a fool out of himself; he only knows one verb tense and doesn’t have the mental load to sift through to say what he wants to say exactly right.
But their observation and interpretation rattled me.
I knew I had something to learn from this confident leader who fulfilled his needs by speaking loudly, and to the point. I spent the next few days observing my own self-talk when it came to communicating and leading my group.
Maybe confidence, instead of gentle, would be my word for 2018…
It wasn’t until I shared this anecdote with a friend back in Omaha that an alternative version of my story surfaced. She wondered if maybe my boys weren’t necessarily picking up on their mother’s lack in self-confidence, but rather they were observing classic behavior in our patriarchal world culture:
This interpretation and insight, mere days before the women’s march (which moments before hadn’t even been on my radar) was now urgently calling me to participate. Calling me not because a man from NYC spoke louder than me and that is what my kids noticed, but calling me because I didn’t notice. Because it was normal and natural for me to attribute their inaccurate interpretation to some fault of my own.
WTF, am I that unaware?
Perhaps, but awareness of my unawareness is the first step, right? And, I don’t think I’m alone in my subconscious adherence to silently absorbed cultural norms and self-deprecating thought patterns. I believe these unconscious mindsets of submission and unworthiness and self-blame are widespread among women. So widespread and inherent that we don’t even notice them unless we are both really paying attention and have people in our lives who further along the path of awakening. (Thank you, sisters, you know who you are.)
How’d this happen anyway?
As a young girl I remember hearing statistics about how boys earned higher test scores, secured better jobs, and earned higher salaries. I didn’t for an instant buy into it. I believed wholeheartedly that girls were smarter than boys, so how could any of that be true? I convinced myself they must be talking about the old days. Nevertheless, while my conscious mind refused to believe what I was told outright, my subconscious mind was incorporating our masculine culture’s unspoken rules about gender, rights and power.
Marching for awareness
What better way to acknowledge, dismantle and replace these internalized cultural beliefs and thought patterns than by coming together publicly to address them? What better way to create feelings of worthiness, solidarity, strength and efficacy than by gathering with women (and supportive men) to celebrate women, choice and the power to affect change? That is what we do when we create posters with life-affirming messages, gather, hoot, holler and move our bodies. We become more aware of our brilliance, wisdom and energy, which are all so easy to to lose in a society that unknowingly attempts to quiet the feminine.
Friendship and mindfulness
As feminists, we must gather, but we must also be mindful of our thoughts and beliefs, we must share them, and we must call each other out on the bullshit ones. We must say whoa! when we hear ourselves and our sisters say things of the variety,
“if only I could be…
Maybe it’s my fault…
I should try harder…
I don’t deserve…”
because our damaging and self-deprecating thoughts can only be transformed into inspirational and self-serving thoughts if they are acknowledged. And these transformed thoughts can lead to transformed mindsets. And these transformed mindsets can in turn transform us, our families and our societies.
And our aching society is begging for powerful feminine transformation.
Thank you to the Omaha Women’s March organizers and inspirational speakers and thank you to my sweet boys for asking instigating questions.
And no, I don’t speak Spanish as well as Jeff.
¡Hablo mucho mejor!