During Rosh Hashanah services last week, the Rabbi spoke about making a wish for the New Year, just as one would make a birthday wish while blowing out some candles. He expressed his certainty that most adults listening to his sermon would be wishing for more peace, at which point my son leaned over towards me and whispered, “Why does the Rabbi keep saying we need more peace in the world?” I whispered back to my son, “What would you rather have?” He looked up for a moment and then said, “I think we need more integrity.”
My son isn’t quite fourteen years old, yet he echoed thoughts I have when I hear someone expound upon the need for peace. It always reminds me of the scene in the movie Miss Congeniality where Sandra Bullock’s character, an undercover FBI agent posing as pageant contestant Gracie Lou Freebush, realizes that the only response that will garner applause during the interview portion of the Miss United States Pageant is to answer “world peace” in response to the question “what is the one most important thing our society needs?” It’s the stock answer, which, much like my son observed, is declared with the expectation that we will always applaud or nod our heads in agreement.
While, of course, I wouldn’t say that peace is undesirable, I believe we can’t just pray for peace or baldly state that’s what the world needs. Rather, if we want real peace in this world, we must first create it for ourselves — each and every one of us. We must find peace and wholeness in our own lives, which can then extend out into the world.
This starts with personal integrity, and, as my son said, we need more of it in this world. Too many celebrities and leaders — both in government and business, especially in media and entertainment, as well as in religious institutions — have traded their personal integrity for power and money, and we’ve paid the price as a society as a result. Integrity isn’t just about right or wrong, or morality, or adhering to any religious rules. Rather, it’s also about the ability to speak and act on one’s own truth.
Regrettably, truth today has become a subjective concept, filtered through long-held biases or prejudices and belief systems, which we’ve either had drilled into us since childhood or embraced out of some sense of fear. When one’s truth comes from a place of fear or is skewed by past experiences, it ceases being truth. Instead, it’s a version of the truth shaped in a way that either allows us to justify our actions or that makes the world around us seem less threatening.
We’re now witness to this every day. The shaming, finger pointing and divisive messages in the media and on social media swirl around us constantly. In order for one side to be right, then the other must be wrong, compelling us to take sides and stretching us further towards polar extremes. It’s so easy to get caught up in the frenzied energy of “he said”, “she said”, and “they said” that it becomes easy to lose perspective — and so often that’s the intent. The distraction creates a kind of smokescreen, constantly hiding the Truth so that we don’t stop and consider the intentions of the speaker or accuser. Instead we spend so much time reacting without careful consideration of the fact that so little of what is being spoken, written, and shouted actually comes from a place not of integrity, but rather a place of pain and limited awareness.
To realize our own truth, especially in this day and age of continuous “information” dumping, it’s important to question everything. I teach my children on a daily basis to question what they hear, what is being said, how it is being said and why it is deemed worth sharing.
Truth isn’t merely the absence of lie, but a fundamental knowing that we can only reach through real discernment. And this discernment cannot exist if we hold onto anger, mistrust, hurt, agony, pain or fear because they all influence how we regard the truth.
It’s equally important to recognize the motivations of others and ask ourselves whether the message being conveyed isn’t distorted by the person’s own issues or trauma. Moreover, it’s essential we face whether our reaction to something is informed by our own personal issues and trauma.
That said, so much of this anger, mistrust, hurt, agony, pain and fear are real. They have informed our experiences since time immemorial. Our histories — whether that of our particular race, gender, ethnicity, nationality or religion — are full of traumas, episodes of powerlessness that we are just coming to face. We carry with us the memories of the generations before us, which layered with our own, are a tremendous burden for us to continue to carry. Today, all of the hashtag movements, Hollywood and Media takedowns, stories of sexual abuse within religious organizations and in the world, and even the refugee crises, force us to confront the ways in which we have experienced our own powerlessness. And it’s natural to want to ignore it, to push away the discomfort that arises when we’re confronted with it. It can make us angry, scared or feel even more powerless ourselves because we don’t know how to change it.
Yet simply taking away the power of the other does not empower us. Hurting another doesn’t heal our hurt, but merely transfers it, perpetuating the cycle of pain.
To heal our experiences of powerlessness, of shame, of hurt, of agony, of trauma, of fear we shouldn’t lash out or project it onto another, but rather we need to embrace them. It takes compassion to be able to do this. Compassion isn’t about kindness. It’s about being in step with others, to see and fully recognize where they are coming from and to acknowledge it without prior judgment or prejudice.
It’s essential not to confuse compassion with sympathy or empathy. Too often I hear compassion used in the context of feeling for someone who’s going through a difficult time, as if to feel charitably toward someone is to have compassion. The reality is that, when you have compassion, you don’t necessarily need to be sympathetic or empathetic. While we can feel both immeasurably, so often those emotions evoke feelings of guilt or shame or self-pity, which can lead to anger, resentment and blame.
Compassion, on the other hand, means having the wisdom to see both sides of the issue, to understand entirely without judgment. It isn’t easy to do in this world with flash-in-the-pan hashtag trends and movements that trigger emotions around our powerlessness in order to stir us out of our complacency. While it may be helpful in motivating people, it doesn’t allow us to hold space for our personal growth and evolution because it sends our energy outward, projecting all the pain into the world rather than healing it within.
Having compassion doesn’t mean we need to accept things the way they are. To the contrary, compassion is what ultimately makes change possible.
Without compassion, we cannot operate within our integrity; and without integrity, we cannot be honest with ourselves and the world. Honesty is expressing the truth from our hearts. If our pain, sorrow, anger, or hurt isn’t healed, we aren’t able to express honestly from our hearts because the truth is shaped by our emotions.
Objective narratives are virtually non-existent in the media and news stories these days because those writing them all have an agenda, no matter how noble they believe that agenda to be. It’s why I teach my children to question the source of their information, including their teachers.
It’s easy to confuse opinion with fact because these days they’re often packaged together. Opinions are one thing, but again, if truth is constructed around one’s own skewed knowledge or experience of something, then the expression of that truth isn’t honest, it’s opinion. Any “fact” or “data” can be interpreted to serve our own ends. Real honest communication is an expression of truth, and the foundation of all truth is love. To really understand if someone is speaking the truth, it’s important to ask ourselves, what’s at the core of his/her/their message? Are we feeding on love or hate? Justice or injustice? Do these words encourage freedom or oppression?
Today, I rarely see expressions of love. I see well-intentioned mouthpieces who think they represent minority voices express vehement outrage and anger. I see politicians on each side clamor for power through judgment and accusations. I see people afraid to lose what little they have to those who have even less. I see the racial and economic divides grow even wider as power bases seek to expand their influence. I see many afraid to express truth for fear of being misunderstood or provoking the ire of those who think nothing of using terms such as racist, bigot or hater out of context.
None of this is honest because it all lacks integrity and is not fueled by true compassion. To root out this fear, hate and anger, we need to ask the bigger question, which is “how can we all live together?” Because it’s not about agreeing to disagree. Rather, it’s about agreeing on the highest good of everyone, which at the core of our existence is love. And what is love but the ability to embrace everything and everyone without condition or prejudice. Until we can do that with integrity, compassion and honesty, our path to peace may still be a long one.
I’m confident that a greater love can exist in this world. I see it in my children, in their strong desire for justice and their aversion to hate and divisiveness. To pave their way to peace, I suggest we look inward to examine those parts of ourselves that require healing, those places we’ve long neglected because they hurt too much to look at. They’re those moments when we didn’t have the strength or wherewithal or ability to be in our power, to own the pain of that time and the hurtful consequences we’d faced. Only when we do that will we be able to align ourselves with a different, unfiltered truth and to have the compassion and wisdom to use our newfound power to change this world with our truth and with the love we have for ourselves and for others. Therein will we find our peace.
Growing up with a Tiger mom leaves its emotional bite marks, especially from the constant shaming and judgment inflicted upon the child. Between my Tiger mom and nine years of Catholic school, I became quite fluent in the language of shame. From the nuanced criticisms about one’s appearance to the rigid rules governing relationships and behavior, by my late teenage years there was no escaping the critical voice in my head that guided my actions. It took a good portion of my early adulthood to understand and heal the pain that growing up with shame had wrought. However, it wasn’t until I had children that I realized I hadn’t quite broken the pattern of shaming because I hadn’t learned to adopt a different language in my own parenting.
Throughout my childhood, I was hurt, angry, and confused. I grew up made to believe I wasn’t being good enough. As a child, I internalized this shaming to mean I was bad — a bad daughter, a bad sister, a bad friend, a bad student. A mistake wasn’t just something to be corrected, it was abject failure. While I was already driven, it made me strive toward an impossible level of perfection. I would do whatever it took to prove I was good, worthy of my parents’ love and sacrifices.
Part of the shame comes from the guilt of being the beneficiary of so many sacrifices. I get it now. As a parent, there’s a notion that to love unconditionally we must sacrifice ourselves. In other words, love equals sacrifice.
How Catholics repeatedly impressed that notion upon us when I was growing up — if God sacrifices “His” only son, then you better make “Him” believe it was worth it. And as guileless children, it’s easy to buy into the idea that we owe our parents and God for their love, which evidently isn’t free.
For a long time, that message made me angry. It went against the strong, opposing belief that I’d originally held at some point, which is that I was good. That’s the thing about children, they are born with the profound self-belief in their own goodness. I remember having it, until one day it was gone. The shaming delivered by my Tiger mom was only magnified by the Catholic message that we are born into original sin. That’s the ultimate shaming message if I’ve ever heard one. It made me angry to be told time and again that I wasn’t good enough or that I was bad, even though deep down it went against how I truly felt about myself.
By my teenage years, it became apparent that all of these messages were intended to control who I was, to shape me into a compliant girl who would become a model woman. A model woman who would wind up living in the shame of her very own existence.While I could be angry at religion and at religious school for communicating that message, I was confused by it at home. When it comes from a parent, someone you love and trust, it’s an incredible betrayal, because while you are taught and understand on some level that they love you, you don’t feel loved. Is it any wonder Asian girls have a reputation for being both cloying and cold, nurturing yet verbally abusive? Look at the parents, and you realize our coping method for survival was to see shaming as love, to accept the critical voice as loving, coming from someone who only wants “the best” for you. The conflicting message of shame and love allowed me to misconstrue some of the sentiments in my own relationships, unable to discern what real love was. Until I learned to love and accept myself, I couldn’t dispel the critical voices in my head that kept telling me I wasn’t good enough. That’s not easy while trying to maintain a loving relationship with my parents, whom I’d come to forgive when I could truly understand that their intentions came from a place of love, however damaged.
It often isn’t until we have children that we recognize the patterns we carry into parenthood. Children thrive when they’re given time, attention, and love. Adolescents, in their quest for individual identity, are far more challenging. I struggled to figure out how to parent mine until I started listening to them, not just to their words but also to what they weren’t saying. (One of the few upsides to being a child of a Tiger mom is how sensitive we are to body language and understanding passive/aggressive silent treatments.) Not only did I hear their precocious wisdom, but I became attuned to the fact that there were things they were afraid to say. They were afraid to disappoint and fail. Somehow I’d forgotten that, as their parent, they looked up to me. And as I confronted parenting challenges, my fallback would be — and I hate to even say it — to shame. Of course I didn’t realize it at the time.
It’s the insidious thing about shame, it’s so embedded in our vocabulary and in our interactions that we often don’t realize we’re doing it until the damage is done.
Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Shaming isn’t limited to any one culture either. Living in the UK, I see it in the passive/aggressive interactions between British people, the way no one actually says what they mean or the way they don’t really say anything at all (in a way similar to Brazilians, which is something I also learned from my time living in Brazil). Today, shaming is also evident in social media interactions, media headlines, op-eds, talking heads on TV tearing everything and everyone down. It’s nearly impossible to disagree with someone anymore or to opine on a matter without someone or some group jumping all over us for our views. This is equally true on both sides.
Valuing differences and having critical discussions is necessary for growth, yet we can’t seem to do that without others passing judgment or offering “constructive” criticism, which is really someone pontificating on their own viewpoint. But it’s more than pontificating, it’s shaming and attacking. Why do we feel it acceptable to expect others to agree with us or adopt our own views?
Judgment, discord, and shame are what have kept us in line as a society and brought order and control under patriarchy. When we challenge long-held ideas or merely popular ones that are easy to cling to by hoards of non-thinkers, their natural inclination is to become aggressive, to push back; and if intimidation doesn’t work, then they resort to shaming.
I feel for those clinging to what is familiar. We need to have compassion for ourselves while we stare shame in the face as well compassion for those clinging to their fears. In the end, those who shame feel a great deal of it themselves. They’ve internalized the message that I had internalized, which is that to be a model person, worthy of time, love, or attention, then they must be “good” (however they define it to be in order to survive or exist within their community).
If we are to come into our own power and empower future generations, we cannot be shackled by the effects of shame, by the many ways in which we’ve internalized the message that we are “bad” or “wrong” or “failures”. We cannot allow the notion of shame to destroy our capacity to love ourselves, especially if we hope to have loving relationships and partnerships. Shame accomplishes nothing but spreading a great deal of damage in its wake.
Creating true, positive change will not come if we shame people into it. The reason there is so much hostility around the most controversial and sensitive issues of our day is because we haven’t found a new way to communicate about them. In the end, so long as we keep shaming people, we’ll damage yet another generation that believes verbal bullying is appropriate.
Shaming does not edify; it destroys self-esteem and self-belief and is the greatest obstacle to self-love. It’s not until we can learn to adopt a way of relating and communicating, one based on compassion, using what I call the Language of Love, that we’ll really understand cooperation and equality. That is, to communicate from our hearts, from a place of love, rather than from a place of fear.
This weekend brings the final installment of the 50 Shades trilogy, 50 Shades Freed, to the big screen. It’s difficult not to know this since numerous trailers, teasers, songs, and carefully curated promo “articles” have been appearing in social media news feeds for weeks now. And yet, despite the current movements and conversations about women’s rights, equality, sexual assault, consent (verbal and non-verbal), and “bad dates” versus “coercion” swirling around Hollywood and all over major news publications and sites, few seem to have woken up to the fact that the 50 Shades story — along with the countless copycat Romance books out there — perpetuates the very same misogynistic and sexist behavior that women are seeking to eradicate. For years now, and with the release of each film in the series, I’ve sought to highlight how this story and the prevailing tropes in the Romance genre reinforce the sexism, misogyny, and inequality in male-female relationships, where women are regarded as property, toys, or expendable for their sex while men are upheld as powerful protectors, saviors, and leaders.[i]
It’s hard not to see the striking parallels between these fictional stories and the accounts of sexual assault that are now finally being heard as women speak up.
You had a car and a driver that evening. Sometime later, you offered me a ride to my home. I said, ‘Sure.’ . . .
At no time that night did I say: ‘[ ] I will go home with you.’ Or ‘Come home with me.’ Or ‘I will have sex with you.’ Or ‘I have the desire to have sex with you.’ . . .
I assumed you knew where I lived . . . but I gave the driver my address on 19th Street and 2nd Avenue.
You said to the driver: ‘No.’ . . .
I said, again, to the driver: ‘19th Street.’
Again you said to the driver: ‘No.’
Then the car doors locked.[ii]
He glares at me. ‘You are coming back to my apartment if I have to drag you there by your hair.’
I gape at him . . . this is beyond belief. Fifty Shades in Glorious Technicolor.
‘I think you’re overreacting.’
‘I don’t. We can continue our discussion back at my place. Come.’
I cross my arms and glare at him. This has gone too far.
‘No,’ I state stubbornly. I have to make a stand.
‘You can walk or I can carry you. I don’t mind either way . . .’[iii]
Without the reference to “Fifty Shades” in the excerpt above, one might have a hard time distinguishing between fiction and reality. Yet, in these Romance stories, it’s all somehow made to seem ok. The female character just can’t help herself in the arms of the rich and powerful MC (male character in Romance speak). She’s so desperate to be loved and accepted by the MC that she’ll give herself over time and again no matter how poorly he treats her.
‘What are you doing?’
I gasped as he pushed me against the door and moved in against me. He raised his arms above my shoulders and leaned against me, pressing me into the door, his body acting like a trap.
‘I just told you . . . I’m not going to let you leave.’
His eyes glittered down at me and his hand slipped up my thigh through the slit in my dress. His fingers pushed their way in between my legs and worked their way into my wetness, rubbing against my clit before slowly entering me. My body betrayed me by buckling at his touch and my legs moved apart involuntarily as he fucked me with his fingers. ‘And I don’t think you want to leave right now, do you?’ he whispered against my whimpering lips.
I closed my eyes as my sudden and swift climax answered him. And once again he was in control.[iv]
The authors of these stories, nearly all of whom are women, have created a seeming “safe space” where these stories are allowed to be played out as fantasies on the pages and in the minds of the millions of readers who consume them. Yet, we can clearly see above how much these stories mirror the frightening reality. These stories are reflective of the abuse and subjugation experienced by women. That’s why female readers are able to associate with it subconsciously. Turning it into fantasy, something to be desired, is highly damaging.
It’s time we finally recognize that the weak, love-starved, unhealthy sexual relationships that exist in the majority of Romance books — as well as in porn — reflect the state of many non-fictional relationships.
How is it that we’ve failed to recognize this thus far? Similarly, how can it be that society as a whole turned a blind eye to the abuse that was going on right in front of us? I argue it’s in large measure because we’ve allowed the old, patriarchal stories to persist.
We’ve continued to feed on the lies that perpetuate the power of men over women through stories that depict women as inherently weak and needing the protection of a man, portray man’s possessiveness of, or control over, a woman as a demonstration of love, and wrap the woman’s identity (personal and sexual) around the male character’s desires.
These lies come in the form of Romantic fiction, pop music from Disney factory girls (seriously, just consider how damaging the lyrics below are to young girls), and Hollywood Rom-Coms that demean the notion of self-actualized love.
Gonna wear that dress you like, skin-tight|
Do my hair up real, real nice
And syncopate my skin to your heart beating
’Cause I just wanna look good for you, good for you
I just wanna look good for you, good for you
Let me show you how proud I am to be yours
Leave this dress a mess on the floor
And still look good for you, good for you[v]
These lies lead people to believe that romance is love and sex is an acceptable form of currency for women in patriarchal society. Buying into such antiquated notions is what has contributed to the victim-shaming that currently abounds, frequently placing the onus on the woman or girl for picking the “wrong guy” or for not knowing better or not speaking up. Yet speaking up has always been taught to be a dangerous thing for women. It threatens not only her physical security, but also her emotional one as well. In Romance, we’re shown that safety and security come to us through relationship and are always ensured by the man. So if we deny the man his due, where does it leave us? That’s the subliminal and not so subliminal message these Romance stories convey. Just ask Anastasia Steele.
‘I want to punish you,’ he whispers. ‘Really beat the shit out of you,’ he adds.[vi]
Today we face a reckoning for this immature portrayal of relationship that began with fairy-tale princes and princesses and ends with young girls crying in the back of an Uber because they didn’t know how to say “no” and expected, however mistakenly, that a man would understand their non-verbal cues and be sensitive to their needs. MC’s don’t read non-verbal cues because they don’t have to, especially the ones with money and influence. It doesn’t matter what century they’re living in either. Historical and Regency romances, which are hugely popular because readers still love Counts, Dukes, and Princes, offer a different setting but are often the same story, excusing misogynistic and sexist behavior because “that’s how it was.”
If we’re supposed to accept, “that’s how it was,” then isn’t it time we create stories about how it could, and dare I say, should be? Strong women and men in equal partnership, capable of meeting their own needs while inspiring a kind of higher, transcendent love that opens them to extraordinary sexual experiences. I believe writers of Romance and any genre that tackles the complex and often difficult subject of self-love and relationship needs to begin to model through their stories. I say it’s #TimesUp for Fifty Shades and all of its progeny.
There’s no avoiding the headlines these days. They’re everywhere. Every day a new allegation is made, every day some celebrity is quoted for their “insightful” remarks or eviscerating words regarding the perpetrators, while others, either publicly or quietly, deal with the shame and guilt of “not doing more” or not speaking up. No one seems exhausted from the finger-pointing or tweeting just yet, but it will come, and then I have to wonder, will anyone ask or dare answer, What’s next?
Because that’s the question that needs to be asked, time and again, whenever we’re confronted with large-scale trauma such as what’s taking place in Hollywood.
The fact of the matter is that what’s going on is not new news. It’s old news. Very old news. The kind that goes so far back you would go blind having to squint to look that far — women being raped, girls being sacrificed, boys being exploited for their youth, sex being the means through which both men and women extract and wield their power, this very power that seemed so necessary to human survival. It’s ancient news.
Why it matters now? It’s finally time to let it go. Whenever anything surfaces and slaps us in the face until we wake up, it means it’s time for change.
That our consciousness is that Woke means that any kind of demoralizing, disrespectful, or despicable behavior cannot be excused or accepted any longer. And the abuses that have gone on, those we’ve wrought and brought down on each other for millennia, can no longer persist. It’s not about #MeToo, it’s about #WeAll. We all are complicit to one extent or another in what’s happened, either by our silence, our shame, or our willful blindness.
It’s the same story, just insert name and face. This is not to belittle anyone’s personal experience that has caused them deep, lasting pain and trauma. Rather, it’s to recognize that while each of the sexual assaults happened on an individual-by-individual basis, there’s a common thread running through the stories. And that is, woundedness compounding woundedness.
While women have suffered at the hands of these men, it’s also important to acknowledge the co-dependent roles men and women have played thereby damaging (or even damning) them both. When we ask how and why any man could get away with such horrific behavior for so long, let’s also ask, what was he giving in return? How was it that in this day and age a handful of individuals in Hollywood and the media could hold so much influence that no one felt capable of speaking up? That to me speaks volumes about the deep level of subjugation still being experienced by many in the “free world.”
As a society, consciously or subconsciously, we’re taught that nothing is given that can’t be taken away. This has generated the kind of compromising attitudes and behaviors we’ve blindly accepted for a long time — that to get something we must give, that everything is a trade-off, and everything comes at a price, whether our minds, our bodies, or most importantly, our integrity.
Women are often the ones to compromise and give first, in part due to our nurturing nature, but also, equally importantly, because we’ve been conditioned to do so. It’s the ostensible trade-off to be able to exist in what’s perceived as a male-dominated world, to collect the scraps of success seemingly handed to us — again at a price — and to ensure our survival and avoid being the invisible sex.
These compromises have come at the price of not just our integrity, but our understanding of ourselves. We’ve been so complicit in propping up the power of men by allowing ourselves to play their power game and succumbing to their strengths that we’ve forgotten our own comparative strength, namely compassion. By compassion, I don’t mean sympathy or empathy for those who have hurt or been hurt, but rather to be open-minded enough to see beyond the acts of hurt to recognize the many layers of woundedness that underpin the interactions in these stories. Because that’s fundamentally what this is, a story of woundedness being replayed over and over until we finally get it. It’s time to heal this so it doesn’t continue.
That’s the What’s next.
Healing ourselves one conscious act at a time. To act consciously is not to react, but to have real discussions about the why. Why were these individuals so broken? Why was sex at the center of the pain? Why was it excused for so long?
Following the Why is the What.
What can we do to ensure our sons do not become predatory or womanizing or misogynistic or sexist or entitled? What can we do to ensure our daughters don’t believe they’re too weak or flawed or, worse yet, deserving of disrespectful treatment? What can we do to heal the wounds that have hurt so many countless yet unnamed individuals?
The How can be most difficult questions to ask because they take us all to task, so I’ll keep it simple by asking the most important How. How broken are we that it’s only now, in late 2017, many decades past the floodgates that human and civil rights movements opened, that we’ve realized we’ve lost ourselves along the way — our self-respect, our integrity, our self-worth?
The answer to that is simple, we’ve allowed ourselves to believe the lies fed to us time and again through the stories brought to us by the very industries and institutions in crisis — Hollywood, Media, Government, and Religion. They are established, patriarchal constructs that have shaped our thinking, thereby influencing how we act and behave toward one another.We have Hollywood, the media and publishing to thank for all the distorted and dysfunctional love relationships we see couched as romance, violence couched as heroism or acts of survival, fear couched as entertaining horror.
“Over the last several decades, psychology has begun a serious study of how story affects the human mind. Results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes and values are strongly influenced by story. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.” — Jonathan Gottschall
We’re continually feeding on a diet of false imagery that twists our view of reality, which has made horrific things such as rape, murder, and violence passable or even excusable. We’ve become that desensitized that we fail to act consciously because these terrible things have become normalized.
While it sounds overly-simplistic to point the finger at them, I believe it’s important to recognize the numerous ways storytelling has been used to perpetuate these lies: from the Bible and other religious texts, to biased historical narratives, to mythical legends about war and sacrifice, to fairy tales[i], to Disney princess everything[ii], to myriad relationship and dating books like The Rules, to immature pop culture shows and music, and last but not least, to most of the insipid Romance books out there that teach that a woman can have a man if she’s sexy or serves his needs, or that a man can own any woman he wants if he’s hot, rich and powerful (the former being relative in real life)[iii]. Our consciousness has been so shaped and warped by the storytelling of old that it may just take something as big as this to finally get us to say, Enough. Enough of the stories, enough of being the “Second Sex”, enough believing that I have no power.
What’s next is up to us women, not men.
We’re the ones who will have to process any hate, anger, or aggression first in order to model compassion for men and boys who are in need of healthy role models. Many men need some safe place to land. We cannot assume that they will change or shift in attitudes or behaviors if they’re shunned or shamed into submission. It’s the very shame and hatred that warped them in the first place. And hate met with hate gives it greater power. It takes full awakening and understanding of all our experiences in order for true change to occur.
To stomp our feet or scream at the lack of injustice is one way to be heard, but not the way to ensure the kind of positive, impactful change that will persist over a long period of time. Rather, that requires us to display the compassion and love that we so wish we’d been shown by gently but firmly showing these men that power doesn’t come from money or avarice or hate, but compassion, love, and the ability to stand in one’s truth. To love and forgive someone who hurt you is the truest form of power there is.
If it feels impossible to have compassion for men you know who hurt, then consider the boys that could potentially follow in their footsteps. We cannot afford to condemn another generation of males to the same fate of those of our generation and their predecessors by negating them or upholding a narrow definition of what masculinity is. We cannot perpetuate the belief that being sensitive or having emotions is wrong by telling boys to “grow a sack” or “not cry like a girl” or fear any displays of emotion because violence stems from unexpressed fear and pain. Nor can we afford to raise another generation of girls to believe that they are inferior to men or that they must sacrifice part of themselves in order to survive in the world. Our children will suffer if we cannot model what we most want for them — to respect and honor himself or herself first. We are only capable of having a respectful relationship with another if we have one with ourselves.
As a parent, consciously raising children is not an easy task. Most of my parents’ generation will say they had it easier because they weren’t conscious of any of this. Ignorance truly is bliss, but also damaging. Thankfully, we’ve been gifted something precious, which is that our truth can no longer remain buried.
Truth is our power, but second only to our capacity for compassion. No one needs to have compassion for a particular individual, but rather compassion for the many ways in which our own ignorance, willful silence, and blindness have allowed the crimes to persist and for such individuals to wield such power and influence for years.
For anyone who believes that this current crisis is particular to one gender, I submit that it involves us all. To be a holistic individual means to have the balance of the masculine and the feminine energies, the yin and the yang. If one is in crisis, then it means the other is too.
We’re on this planet and in this life to achieve something beautiful, which I believe is a truly lasting, loving relationship with one another. That can only be reached when we’re whole and loving beings ourselves. It means each one of us finding the balance of masculine and feminine within. If one part of us is in pain, then the other must step up and lead. Ladies first.
[i] See my article, “Biting the Poisoned Apple: Women and the Snow White Syndrome” (https://medium.com/panel-frame/biting-the-poisoned-apple-women-and-the-snow-white-syndrome-28daf3d4e3af).
[ii] See my article, “Disney’s Broken Record: Beauty and the Beast Just Another Glass Cage for Women” (https://thecoffeelicious.com/disneys-broken-record-beauty-and-the-beast-just-another-glass-cage-for-women-533a9a01eeae).
[iii] See my article, “50 Shades of Wrong: How Twilight and 50 Shades Have Set Back Yet Another Generation of Women” (https://medium.com/panel-frame/50-shades-of-wrong-how-twilight-and-50-shades-have-set-back-yet-another-generation-of-women-31dd01c2296b).
As parents of today’s children in the age of social media, virtual reality and pervasive drugs, we’re seemingly faced with unprecedented parenting challenges. In confronting the onslaught of issues affecting children in this modern society — from cyber-bullying to escapism and withdrawal, whether through video games or drugs — we often fail to recognize that, at their core, our children’s issues are often not fundamentally different from those we experienced during our own childhood. In fact, they often mirror them.
To better equip ourselves to address our children’s issues, we need to look to our own past to identify the traumas that impacted us, to heal them, and to release our long-buried shame in order to find within us the compassion that is necessary to help our children confront these modern challenges and for ourselves to grow as human beings.
Children have always been a mirror to their parents’ issues. It’s karma in many ways. Things we couldn’t deal with as children — whether the experience of being raised by a narcissist, rejection by a parent, or being bullied or ostracized by peers — will often come back around to make us face the unhealed trauma, or what I call the unfinished business of our past. It’s understandable that some trauma from childhood remains unresolved. As children, it’s often too difficult for us to cope with the pain of it all, so we readily shut down those parts of ourselves until we’re more prepared to deal with it.
Unfortunately, many of us go our entire lives not dealing with these issues. Perhaps we’ve remained in denial, developed unhealthy eating habits, turned to substance abuse, attracted co-dependent or abusive relationships, or buried ourselves under the weight of so much work and responsibility that we can more easily avoid the old hurts. It’s often not until we have children of our own that the hurt, along with the shame of it, rises up again to get us to see precisely what we’d spent years seeking to avoid.
Most of us are familiar with shame because it’s often cultural. Many Asian parents rely on shame to control their children’s behaviors. The Catholic notion of original sin shames us from the time we are born and commits us to a lifetime of penance through moral acts. Then there’s societal shame, which much like the cultural and religious forms, teaches us to care about outside judgment. We want so much to be able to exist within a social unit that we allow our actions to be dictated by the whole and fear deviating from societal norms. We internalize these judgments and expectations to the point where we don’t even realize how much of an imprint it’s left on our psyches.
Compassion is the antidote to shame — compassion not only for ourselves of today, but for the hurt, traumatized children we were.
When we look back at the children we were, many of us only feel shame for being weak or stupid, assuming the blame for whatever happened when the reality is that no one is ever to blame. But rather than lose ourselves in our own victimhood, the challenge is to rise above it and find the strength that the pain and suffering are intended to teach us. It’s only through these painful moments that we become in touch with our own inner power and fortitude.
Instead of seeing our children’s difficult or painful experiences as opportunities for healing and growth for parent and child, our instinct is to shield them completely from it, thus precluding their opportunity to develop greater emotional maturity and further stunting our own.
We tend to underestimate our children’s strength and resilience because the shame from our own past and failure to confront our issues draws us back to those visceral feelings that we haven’t been able to heal.
These feelings blind us to our own inherent capacity for compassion, which had been stemmed because all too often we weren’t shown compassion as children ourselves. This is understandable because many of our parents had parents that came from the Depression era or from cultures where compassion is anathema to survival or career success.
It wasn’t until I became a mother that all of the issues I believed I’d resolved through my years of healing work surfaced in ways that I never thought possible. The more my children grew and interacted with the world, the more my own childhood experiences came up for me.1 The feelings of frustration and powerlessness that had led to my internalized shame were suddenly front and center again. I came to recognize that I could either project my childhood hurt onto my children or truly put it behind me by finally sitting with those painful feelings and working through them. The latter demands a great deal of humility, but our children deserve compassion and, frankly, so do we.
I have hope based on what I’ve seen of this young generation. Their ability to own their vulnerabilities shows a strength previous generations have not displayed. Their connection to compassion is truly inspiring. And yet, I feel they are being challenged more and more as many begin to cling to peer validation. We’ve permitted social media and valued socialization over individuation. We’ve gone to the extreme in negating individual growth and progress over team-building and collaborative groups. Of course the latter are essential to our evolution; however, these groups are inherently weak if they are not formed by strong, whole individuals.
Becoming holistic individuals isn’t easy for our children if we, as parents, cannot model it. And we cannot model it if we haven’t dealt squarely with the shame of our pasts that manifests itself in our current lives and relationships.
No matter when the trauma occurred, no matter what the karma, the reality is the same for everyone. We can only feel that we are good enough when we’ve successfully dealt with our shame. And we can only heal the shame we feel if we can show ourselves the compassion we needed and never received ourselves as children. Once we’ve achieved that, then we can begin the healing process and show others, even those who hurt us or our children, the compassion they need. It’s a cycle, and only once we’re in the cycle of compassion that turns into love can we eliminate the cycle of trauma and shame that many are currently locked in.
1 See my article, “The Life Lesson I Would Share with My Son’s Bully” (https://thecoffeelicious.com/the-life-lesson-i-would-share-with-my-sons-bully-96496db0450c).
If you’ve ever known a narcissist—and chances are you probably share your DNA or your bed with one—you’re not in the minority. In fact, in case you haven’t noticed already, narcissists are everywhere. They’re often at the center of many dysfunctional relationships. Perhaps we didn’t recognize these narcissists at first because they’re often charming and intelligent, even kind and caring. If you’re dating them, you may initially believe you’ve won the lottery; if they’re family, they may appear to be the Golden Child. Unfortunately, it’s those who are closest to narcissists that are often the last ones to see them for who they really are.
It’s ALWAYS about them
Narcissists have to run the show. Even if they claim it’s not about them, usually they’re front and center expecting some or most of the credit because everything and everyone in their lives is an extension of them. If narcissists’ kids get straight A’s on a report card, it’s all because of the hard work they put in as a parent. If a narcissist makes you dinner for your birthday, you better believe you’re going to hear how fresh or special the ingredients are—like that yellowfin tuna caught off the coast of Mexico that very morning—and, of course, they certainly wouldn’t serve anything less.
Children of narcissists who don’t become one themselves often have a common coping mechanism to deal with this: capitulation and sublimation (perhaps not the healthiest but effective nevertheless). Give the narcissist what they want and then move on. It’s the path of least resistance, right? Except doing so has greater implications. Ultimately, it prevents these children from developing certain relationship boundaries as they get older. It’s not easy to do when they’re used to giving someone they “love” free reign to walk all over them. Narcissistic parents do not just disempower their children, they rob them entirely of their power, often leading them to seek extremely co-dependent relationships.
The unhealed wound of the child of a narcissist can also create a vacuum all too easily filled by another narcissist in their lives, often in their friendships. Since they’ve learned not to be bothered by their parents’ narcissistic and self-absorbed behaviors, they subconsciously draw narcissists to them. And narcissists, who are so adept at recognizing pressure points and how far to push boundaries, will engage in the same kind of push/pull dynamic that had been normalized during the person’s childhood. Behaviors that may seem disrespectful might very well be excused in a friend because like the parent, “that’s just how they are.”
Perhaps you’re a child of a narcissist or know someone who is. One of the most common characteristics is how indecisive they can be. Small decisions can be painful; and if you date one, often you’re the one who bears the burden of deciding everything in the relationship from what movie to watch to what to eat. They are so used to “going with the flow” that it can be painful for their partners who want more input. Asserting their preferences doesn’t come naturally since they didn’t grow up negotiating within their family unit to get what they wanted. Rather it’s about giving more and often taking less.
That’s not to say that they aren’t capable of asserting themselves in relationship. Some will have very strong boundaries in intimate relationships where they feel safe. If their emotional needs are being met—which can take a lot because they didn’t receive much emotional fulfillment as children—the stability they find when they feel deeply and unconditionally loved gives them the space to empower themselves. In order to achieve this, it often takes separating from the source of their pain, namely their parent, which is a very difficult thing to do because they are so used to feeling bound to the narcissist who is often good at using guilt and shame to manipulate their loved ones to stay in their lives. Perhaps they lay on the guilt of having “sacrificed” or given everything to their child or they might even turn around and threaten to cut the child out of their lives for some perceived betrayal. And to a narcissist, merely disagreeing with them can seem like a betrayal because it’s always about them.
Narcissistic love is always conditional
Relationships with a narcissist are never about partnership because the nature of narcissistic love is a one-sided, mental and/or physical connection that dictates the emotional terms of the relationship. In romantic relationships, they may use scripted “romantic” gestures or words to express their “love”. Sex will often dominate the relationship. They will “do” more than “feel” in a relationship because they have limited emotional range. Take a narcissist as a lover (although really they’re the ones choosing you) and you may find your entire reality turned upside down. It’s easy to fall in love with one and not realize what hit you. They charm you and come off responsible and in control. On the surface, they seem like the “whole package.”
We’re socialized to look for a lot of attributes that narcissists possess. Romance books are filled with narcissistic men who are beautiful, possessive, jealous, and financially successful. Like every fairy tale or vapid romantic comedy, these books prop up this fantasy male who wants only the female character and will stop at nothing until he has her. His love will make her feel special, chosen, and even saved. And, in turn, she will surrender her entire self to him, allowing obsession to become possession.
This archetype is in large measure one of the things that has led us down the path of failed relationships and internal crises. We have been programmed to love the narcissist and forsake our self-respect, our identities, and our power in the process. Nothing matters except to serve and placate this person to whom we are indebted for their “love”, even if their love comes from a dark and twisted place. And rarely do we see how dark it is because narcissists are great at getting us to ignore our instincts and to see only what they want us to see.
To be loved by a narcissist can be a real high. It makes us feel that someone whom others (and, in reality, the narcissist himself) hold in high esteem sees something good in us. In turn, we reflect back what they ultimately want to see and believe about themselves, which is that they’re a really—fill in the blank—amazing, wonderful, incredible, generous, all around ideal person. It can compensate for our own esteem issues to appear so cared for (note it’s all about appearances), to be with someone who has it “together” and provides. It’s a cycle, and once you’re in it, it feels really good. Until it doesn’t.
Inevitably, as with any relationship, there will be opportunities for growth, or bumps in the road as the saying goes. But with a narcissist, they’re rarely bumps. They are landmines and suddenly you find yourself in a minefield they laid out for you that you didn’t even realize you were walking into until it’s too late. One misstep and they go into a narcissistic rage. Some are very nasty and say mean things that can cut us to our core. Others can be overly critical, spouting out criticisms about co-workers or family members—things often dismissed or excused as the result of their just being tired, hungry, stressed out, or having a really bad day—until one day you become the person they’re criticizing.
The longer we’re in a relationship with a narcissist, the worse it becomes. We may find ourselves internalizing the criticism to the point where we really believe everything that bothers or upsets him or her is our fault. We may not have much room for our friends because dealing with a narcissist can be so time and energy-consuming, or they may not want to share us with our friends. Whatever the reason, it’s the shame/guilt cycle that many may not even realize until much later because many have accepted it as a normal relationship dynamic. Over time we may find ourselves walking on eggshells around them, ensuring we don’t say or do the wrong thing to embarrass or trigger them.
It’s Always Our Fault
A recent experience with a close family member who’s a narcissist (I failed to recognize the warning signs) woke me up to this. Although we hadn’t spent much time together in years, this didn’t seem to change his view of me (and probably only made it worse). My coming around seemed to trigger old issues of jealousy that he felt were my fault. What I had assumed was a thoughtful and considerate gesture was interpreted as rude and selfish. Not realizing what was going on, I had unwittingly stepped into something and found myself instantly believing what he wanted me to, which is that I am to blame. I immediately questioned and replayed everything in my head. I’d assessed my words, texts and actions, feeling guilty that I’d somehow hurt him and equally shamed by his nastiness. That’s always the rub with narcissists: we hurt them; it’s never the other way around unless we deserved it. But we do end up feeling we deserved it. That’s the guilt. We are made to feel we perpetrated the wrong, and we are thereby doomed to feel shame over it.
When I confronted him about the passive/aggressive way I was being treated, he denied he was being passive/aggressive. When I asked him what his issue was with me and what I’d done, he denied having any issue and asked me what my issue was. When I offered to talk about his feelings, he said there was nothing to discuss. Despite every sign, word, texts about me to mutual friends to the contrary, I was being accused of reading everything wrong and told that the problem wasn’t him, it was me and the way I was misjudging his actions, which in his view are always kind, generous and noble. Narcissists are good at making us believe that we’re the problem and they are never, ever wrong. They are always the victims. The more they deny it’s them, and manipulate us in the process into agreeing with them, the more we start to question our sanity and internalize the blame. Rarely do I fall into this trap, but I did this time because this person is a close family member, and I was too blinded by my own loyalty to be objective. I allowed myself to go down the road of feeling I had betrayed him and was at fault because, for the moment, it’s easier than the alternative, which is to cut him out of my life.
The Deeper Truth
One of the most difficult things about dealing with the guilt of being in relationship with a narcissist is realizing that if we want to save ourselves from the relationship then we have to let it go. And really, if one is in a relationship with a narcissist, often the best solution is to get out—unless you share children and that’s a whole other issue altogether. I shed my tears when my very wise friend pointed out that this person as I knew him is lost to me. I still cry about it. It tears me up to think about it. No one wants to lose someone they care about this deeply. But the reality is that I lost him a long time ago, and I never really saw it.
I struggled with how and why it came to be. My friend also explained that I was incorrectly assuming a narcissist is a rational or explicable person. She’s right. I can pinpoint the moments of pain and trauma that may have contributed and shaped his psyche, but it’s not for me to have to fix it. The reality is that it can only be fixed if the narcissist wants to change—usually only when compelled by the people they love and whose love they want in return. It takes a willingness on their part to self-assess, to deal with the fears and hurt they’ve long buried. At this point, I am not loved by him, I’m merely a reminder of his pain, so I can only do what I can, which is to step aside.
My friend further reminded me that narcissists serve a tremendous purpose. Through my tears, she explained to me that they connect us to our own pain and suffering, force us to sit with and understand those parts of us that hurt and need healing. It’s when we can do this that we are able to bring the damaged part of ourselves into love. So, after all, there is something a narcissist can certainly take credit for.
In the end, we, including narcissists, all want the same thing: we deeply and profoundly want and desire love. It’s how we set about giving and receiving that defines who we are and our relationships. It may not feel good to lose someone we love, but we have to recognize that we must first love ourselves wholly and completely, and that requires having great compassion and unconditional love for ourselves, even the parts that make us uncomfortable. That’s what narcissists struggle with the most—loving and accepting themselves unconditionally.
She wonders and waits
Planting seeds that never grow
No matter how much she waters
From the tears of her sorrow
It’s a pity
To want something that can never be
To lose herself entirely
Before the knowing began
She kneels in the dirt
Digging until her fingers bleed
And her hands become earth
Discovering deep within her heart
Something she had not ever known
The simple truth hidden beneath the soil
The root of her misery was her own belief
That she alone was never enough
Where did it come from?
The doubt that plagued her thoughts
Darkened her heart
And twisted her soul
It was when you separated
The angel whispered
When I became me
And Thou turned to you
What do I do?
How do I remember?
If I don’t know who
You are the love
That planted the seeds
You are the strength
That churned the soil
Then why didn’t
My garden grow
Her heart breaking
Because nothing will
Without Your power
The angel whispered
What did I do
To deserve this?
To have nothing
To be nothing?
Your love became sorrow
Your power became hope
Sorrow and hope yield nothing
But barren fields
Love and power
Are the Source
That created You
And you are the World
“Adoration of the Magi” by Leonardo da Vinci, Uffizi Gallery
Upon becoming mothers, our identities as women are all too often subsumed by the mother role. We seemingly cease to be “whole” persons and tend to identify with, and allow ourselves to become primarily defined by, this one aspect of ourselves.
In effect, there’s a splintering of the female identity that tends to occur post-motherhood and is often accompanied by feelings of isolation and abandonment — physical and emotional — following childbirth. We become divorced from our prior selves as we go from sexual beings (whose sex can be a source of creative energy and power) to reproductive beings and consequently can feel a real disconnect from our prior lives.
During my children’s newborn stages, when I was in the throes of what I didn’t realize at the time was postpartum depression, I internalized it all and believed I needed to change in order to fit the role. Fun, freedom, and adventure became distant memories, replaced by feedings, sleep schedules, and chronic boredom.
Much of this dissonance, in my view, can be traced to the archetype of the Mother, which is deeply ingrained in our culture (irrespective of faith) and which many of us internalize when we become mothers.
We effectively split our identities and cease to be whole individuals but rather become framed by this Mother archetype who’s supposed to be virtuous, pure, virginal, self-sacrificing and, above all, loves unconditionally without any expectation of love in return.
We become defined by our relationships, as mothers and wives, rather than as individuals and, as a result, cede not only our parts of our identity but our power as well. That is, in defining ourselves by these roles, we become limited by them.
Becoming a mother can certainly be a part of our purpose in life — an important and, for some, even a primary one at that — but it doesn’t have to be our only purpose as women. We are multi-faceted beings whose goals can encompass much more than just raising our children. We are also responsible for realizing that purpose which does not need to end when our children enter this world. It’s time for society to reframe its view of women and mothers and reject the limited notion of motherhood that strips away parts of our identities as women and leaves us incomplete.
Among the most harmful aspects of the Mother archetype are the conflicting notions of self-sacrifice and unconditional love.
The very idea that we should give love without receiving it in return leads to fundamentally imbalanced relationships. Moreover, how can we be a constant source of love without a sense of self-love, which is negated by our self-sacrifice? Indeed, how can we love ourselves when we’re led to believe that it’s selfish to prioritize ourselves over our children, to have our needs met over theirs? The reality is that we need to be able to achieve self-love so that we don’t become depleted and unsourced, which can lead to a great deal of anger or resentment.
At the same time, we need to stop judging ourselves and each other as mothers as well as those who choose not to have children. The limited notion of motherhood often pits women against each other. We see it play out in many stories: working moms versus stay-at-home moms; breast-feeding moms versus bottle moms; organic moms versus the who-gives-a-shit-about-pesticides moms; free-range moms versus helicopter moms; and thin versus less-than-thin moms. A large part of the reason for these divisions is because so many of us remain divided within ourselves. We cannot process the social expectations of motherhood, expectations about “bringing up bébé”, without sublimating ourselves to them. There is too much noise and too little opportunity to listen to our own truth, which is overshadowed by petty differences. When mothers tear other mothers down, more often than not it’s because they can’t make their peace with how judged they feel in their own roles and, as a result, they end up projecting their own internalized judgment and dissatisfaction onto others.
My existence as a woman should not be defined solely by child-bearing and child-rearing. I am, first and foremost, a woman. Yes, I chose to have children, but I refuse to allow that choice to be all that I am. At my core, I have managed to find a deep reservoir of love which helps me find the patience I need to be present for my children while I pursue the things in my life that fuel my passions.
It’s not just about finding balance, but about being able to find complete partnership with those I love. To me, that’s what motherhood is about, deep and abiding partnership. And, if we want a greater society that includes equality and a world that is based in compassion, then it’s time to elevate women as equals and support motherhood in a way that is both beneficial to women and children so neither feels abandoned.
“The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery
It’s time we give up the listicles. We live in a society that’s obsessed with them. Take a quick look around Medium, and you’ll no doubt come across someone promising that if you adopt or abandon 8, 30 or even 50 behaviors you’ll be well on your way to a new and improved you. There’s something comforting about listicles. Their finiteness gives us a sense that something is achievable with limited effort. What’s troubling about listicles — which garner an extremely high number of “recommends” on platforms like Medium — is that these lists don’t speak to our individuality. At best, they offer pithy ideas for the mind or ego to consume: watch less TV before going to sleep, meditate more, create don’t think!
The truth is that no other person has the solution that will break us free from our realities and put us on the path to self-discovery and self-improvement. NO ONE. Only we do. Yet, the numbers have an allure that’s difficult to resist. It’s understandable. We’ve been conditioned to believe that someone else holds the key to our salvation. Religion, patriarchy and traditional education all condition us to surrender our power, to believe that someone else knows better than we do. As a society, we are constantly told what’s best for us and led to look outside of ourselves for answers rather than within. It has become so ingrained in us to trust someone else’s truth as opposed to our own that we click the moment we see these lists.
The sum total of our beings involves our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual bodies. Listicles typically focus on the mental and emotional, and occasionally the physical bodies, making them far too limited when it comes to addressing our whole selves. No single aspect of our beings is greater than the other, which means they must work in perfect harmony in order for us to be fully connected beings. More often than not, because of our stress-filled approach to living and the push/pull nature of relationships with others as well as ourselves, we fall short of this. So we compensate by focusing on one or another of our bodies at a time: the physical (exercise more, eat better); the emotional (doing things that feel good); the mental (knowledge is power); or the spiritual (pray and leave it up to God).
The trap of listicles and the life advice many of them offer is that they lead us to believe that the answers to our greatest issues can be boiled down to a few easy steps. It makes us hopeful to read that a specific practice of 7 or 8 of someone else’s ideas, packaged with some nice-sounding quotes they’ve found online or in books, will make us better person or a happier person or at least, a less miserable person. It gives us hope that the answer lies between some finite set of numbers.
What’s particularly upsetting is that these listicles have a somnolent effect on followers and disempowers them from becoming thinkers for themselves.
These lists and the individuals who write them feed the disconnect many are experiencing with what they know to be true and what they believe. Knowledge is fed from the outside; belief comes from the inside. Both are fundamental to our human experience and understanding, but only personal belief transcends and opens us to true Consciousness.
We know what’s right for us and don’t need a list to tell us. All these listicles serve up is what we already know to be true, e.g., eat less, exercise more, and show gratitude because someone always has it worse than us, rendering them pointless at the end of the day.
Our realities are in the midst of a massive undoing and transformation so we can better connect to our own truth and discover our Consciousness. There’s no promise for a better world if we cannot look within ourselves and build it from there. If there’s one thing you can do to change your life, it’s to give up reading listicles, to avoid listening to others’ advice and to begin following your own. Clickbait articles by authors simply seeking to increase their stats or gain followers do not serve us. In the end, no one can tell you better than yourself what it will take in order to come into harmony with yourself. It takes time, not hours, days, months or years, but a lifetime of building an open, honest, loving relationship with yourself to be able to come into your truth.
This past opening weekend, Beauty and the Beast set a number of box office records. Yet, this latest fairy tale remake has me shaking my head once more. At the risk of sounding like a broken record myself, I ask again: When is Hollywood going to stop “retelling” these stories that — in this case, by its very name — smack of patriarchal sexism? As The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri tweeted last year when Disney released the trailer for the movie (which also broke viewing records), Beauty and the Beast “is just another story about a hairy guy with a bad personality whose friends think he deserves a beautiful smart woman.” Ain’t that the truth. What’s also upsetting, however, is that in selecting the fair Emma Watson to play the role of Belle in this live-action remake, Disney chose yet again to define beauty as a white woman.
From the feminist perspective, the message behind Beauty and the Beast, like its fairy tale brethren, is insidious. Nonetheless, an article by a female journalist on Time’s Motto.com lauded six positive things girls can learn from the story, including that “[i]t’s not always the man that does the rescuing”. To me, the very notion that a person needs “saving” is one of the most insidious aspects of these stories, as well as much of today’s romantic fiction. Fundamentally, the fact that even the male protagonist needs to be saved is just as sexist as the man coming to the woman’s rescue. That is, the act of saving itself puts the rescuer in a position of self-sacrifice, which does not allow her to evolve to a greater state of being beyond martyrdom.
Moreover, when a man saves the woman in a story, he’s branded as the hero. Yet, when a woman saves the man, she’s generally portrayed as exhibiting her good and virtuous self. This subliminal theme, which equates goodness with sacrifice, is detrimental to women. In fact, from a young age, girls are conditioned to be “good girls” while it’s acceptable for boys to be “bad”. The underlying message to young girls is that in order to be “good” they must ultimately sacrifice themselves for another, in this case a beast who manages to prove he isn’t just a sad, insecure, pathetic creature.
The very title of the film, Beauty and the Beast, is objectification at its worst and reminds us that no matter what the story preaches about looking beyond the surface to know someone, beauty is still everything with regard to women while men can be beastly and hairy or even have a “dad-bod”. Part of the problem with this objectification of beauty is its abject subjectivity, which serves to marginalize those who don’t fit within certain prescribed parameters, especially women of color. We’ve been socialized, not only by these stories but also through images in the media, to regard a very particular type of body, hair and skin color as the paragon of such beauty.
The obsessive focus on being beautiful has kept women from remembering that they already are beautiful. They were born beautiful and a profound and ageless beauty resides within each of us. And yet, that sense of their own beauty is squashed by the dangerous storytelling to which young girls are exposed during their formative years, inculcating in them that they’re not pretty unless they’re a Princess who looks a certain way. Disney’s latest remake is just another incarnation of the same story that continues to hurt women who face patriarchal values of beauty every day, as well as minorities who are faceless and underrepresented in these insipid princess movies as well as Romance stories.
As a Romance writer, it’s clear to me that our distorted notion of beauty has also warped our view of love, keeping it superficial and void of anything truly real.
In our world, beauty is measured, literally and figuratively, by how others perceive us. If our view of beauty expands so too will our capacity to understand holistic love because it would be inclusive rather than exclusive.
The Beauty and the Beast retelling is just one of many examples of what is sorely lacking in the story-telling arena. Minority women, misperceptions of beauty, misogyny and sexism continue to prevail. The challenge remains for people to begin to expand their limited perceptions to see beauty in every being, to reverse the damage that has been done and is being done to girls and women with dark skin, with layers of fat, or with less-than-proportioned features.
It’s time to recognize that the only way in which we can lift up the next generation of women is to give them a new story in which they can see themselves portrayed as they are — perfect — not because of their external beauty, but for their ability to see and express their internal beauty. Enough with the broken record, I say.