Tag Archives: World Academy for the Future of Women

Start the revolution: Love You Now

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I spent all day yesterday not writing this post.  I twiddled with my website instead.  A grand procrastination tool- do something “productive” instead of doing what you know you must.

It didn’t work very well, though, since tooling around my website just brings the issue back up again.   It left me agitated and unfulfilled.  When J asked how my day had been, my lackluster response got him asking more questions- but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Not really.  Or I wouldn’t.

“I’m having a hard time cutting lose the academic coaching stuff.” is what I told him instead, “I hid it from view, but I didn’t delete it.  I don’t know why I’m having a hard time letting it go.” I said.  But truth be told, I do know. Letting it go means I’m making room to fully move in another direction with my practice.  Its positioning myself to fully commit to working with loving our bodies and healing our distorted images and perceptions of our bodies.  I’m scared to do that.  There are many things that feed my fear:

My story with my body and all the ways it didn’t fit– regardless of how trim and fit and healthy it was or wasn’t–is a long one that I’ll write more about in another post, but the foundational lack of acceptance I felt as a result of that makes things scary.  I do them anyway, but I’m scared while I do it.

I’ve seen people that look totally normal to me get ripped to shreds for daring to speak about the unspoken when they’re supposedly carrying 20 extra pounds.  I’m carrying far more than that.  I’m afraid that speaking up about loving our bodies from the inside instead of judging them from the outside is going to draw this intense judgement and hatred.  How dare I love myself even though I don’t look like a photoshopped image from a magazine?? How dare I take up space for anything other than pubescent sexual fantasies?

Who am I to talk about loving this body I’m in when its so far from the beauty ideal?

How can I say I’m friends with my body when I have all this extra weight to carry and the strain that puts on my knees and hips?

I’m frustrated by the shame and fear I feel at the double-bind that western women are in: that we are only allowed to occupy space– especially public space– if we are adhering to ridiculous and imaginary standards of beauty and desirability.   How often are women’s ideas and work minimized because of looks?  “Aw, why listen to that fat-ass?”  “Who cares what she says- she’s ugly/old.” (as if they are the same thing for a woman)

Yet if a woman is beautiful, the assumption is that she’s stupid, so she’ll have to work equally hard to be taken seriously.  Fatima Mernissi spends quite a bit of time on this western separation of beauty and brains in her book Scheherezade Goes West. Around page 90 she spends time with Kant and his ideas that beauty and intelligence shall never in the same vessel reside. It is a shocking revelation to this Moroccan feminist, since in the Arabic cultural paradigm, a woman cannot truly be becoming unless she is intelligent.

Added on top of that is the danger we’re in if we meet the beauty ideal.  Its a lose-lose-lose for women.  I realized last night that my resistance to this has been passive-aggressive.  I have used weight as a shield to keep me safe.  Since all those that molested me as a child and assaulted me as an adult cited that I was “just so pretty [they] couldn’t resist”, then it makes sense that my body has clung to weight regardless of my exercise and eating habits.  I’ve known this for years.  I hadn’t acknowledged before how passive-aggressive this form of resistance/protection is, though.

What so much of it boils down to is this: I’m afraid of being shamed for loving myself just as I am.  In the realm of the Taliban, a woman with a book threatens the societal order.  In ours, its a woman that truly loves herself– and her body– just as she is.

And the double-bind is itself in a double-bind.  Those that deny women’s continued oppression will be angry at me for speaking of it.  Those that recognize the oppression will be angry at me for feeling shame and fear around it.  Both sides will tell me I am not allowed to feel vulnerable.  My shame and fear, once spoken, is somehow a threat to them.

Yet part of loving myself fully is recognizing the shame and fear and allowing it to be there.  I know that doing this means it is no longer operating the car of my life from the backseat.  Recognizing that its there, allowing it to be there, understanding that its there and having empathy for myself for having it- despite my academic training and all I know about how it shouldn’t be there and how I should be over it and how as a strong woman I shouldn’t let it effect me, it is there and I’m not sure how over it I am, and it does impact me.  I will love and honor myself anyway.  Maybe even because of.

It was a huge relief to speak this out last night, and as I drifted off, I knew I had to write this today.

This morning, I awoke to an email from one of the World Academy members in China.  The WAFW is showing the film Girl Rising on the SIAS campus right now, and she was deeply inspired by the film and wants to visit her old school and encourage students to continue their studies (instead of dropping out to get married or go work in a factory).  Though she finishes by telling me that she feels she needs to improve herself more before she can help others improve themselves.  The “No, no, no, honey, no” that wells up in me is so strong and immediate, there is no mistaking that the words are for me as much as they are for her.

“This idea is a trap.  If you do it right, you’ll be improving yourself your whole life.  Don’t wait until you’re done to start helping others.  That implies that you’re broken and need to be fixed.  You’re not broken.  The issues you’re dealing with will be the ones that will give you the deepest insight to help others. There will always be people ahead of you on the path that can help, there will always be people behind you on the path that need help. Get the help you need, give the help to others that they need.”

Time, again, to follow my own advice.  And in keeping with Mercury in Retrograde and the oil I’m working with this week, time to release– release these fears’ hold over me.  I learned in China that my fears don’t mean much.  Those that came true were insignificant in light of the work that I was doing, and the ones that I was the most afraid of were so ludicrously detached from reality as to be meaningless.  Its time to release them.  To forgive myself for the ways I’ve held on to them.  For the times when I sat still because they told me to instead of rebelling against them and doing what my heart called me to do.  Time for me to release the resentment and forgive those that have fed those fears in me.  Those that have and would punish me for not being ruled by them.

So I’m moving through the fire of my fear, and its burning off my clothes and leaves me standing here naked before you.  Judge me if you will, and people will, but know that that same fire has made me stronger, and hatched some dragons that take my protection–and my blooming– pretty seriously.   

 

Pins and Needles

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The flight, as detailed here, was brutal.  My sciatic was flaring up by the time I got to campus.  Within a day or two, I was directed to a massage parlor near campus.  There is a cosmetic store on the ground level, and you go up a flight of narrow stairs to get to the massage place.  I took a picture of the front so that I could find it again.  I’ve since shown this picture to many foreign faculty on campus so they could find their way to some hurt-so-good sweet relief.

outside

When I walked in and saw the acupuncture charts all over the walls, I knew this was exactly what I needed.

acupoints

“It’s not like what we think of as massage” Kristine had warned when I told her I was going to go. Understatement of the year.  There are 3 narrow tables in the main room.  The window to the street is open, and the music from the shop next door blares through.  People are walking in and out of the room, and the masseuses are carrying on conversation with them and each other.  You don’t take your clothes off, but they still drape you- so they can dig down without actually pulling off your skin is my guess.

The woman that works there started on me while I was face-up.  She dug down my thighs with her thumb along the meridians.  I sounded like I was in a Lamaze class I was breathing so deeply.  When she got to my knee, it felt like she was trying to shake my patella off and loosen whatever was under there.  I don’t know what inhuman noise I made, but it got her to giggling.

She was to giggle often in the time we spent together.

I flipped over on to my stomach, and when I heard talking over me, it was a man’s voice.  I could see the shoes moving around the table.  Sometimes the socked-slippered feet of the older guy I’d seen would appear.

There was this move he did with my calf at the end that hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.  It was as if my entire calf muscle was some zit or blister and he was working to pop it.  The breathing I had to do through that to not jump off the table was enough to give me a bit of a rush.

I came back 5 or 6 days later and had another massage.  This time, I got the older guy that always wears a tank-tee and the socked-slippered feet.  He does these chiropractic moves where he bends you up like a pretzel, the leans in on you like he’s trying to rip you back apart again.  Then nimbly runs his fingers up your spine to make sure everything’s back where it ought to be.  He also had me sit up on a stool at the end and he worked more on my shoulders and did a few more chiropractic moves.

The next time I returned, the trace amounts of soy sauce and MSG in the food in the dining hall had caught up with me and I was feeling absolutely miserable. Monday had felt like a Friday, and the following morning it was all I could do to get myself out of bed even though I’d slept more than 9 hours.  Monday took me there so she could translate.  My joints were inflamed and killing me, and I had absolutely no energy.  I was hoping they could help—I was going to try acupuncture.

She explained what was going on and he asked where I had the most pain.  I showed him and told him that I wanted acupuncture and a foot massage.

He did the acupuncture on my sciatic, so I had to take off my britches so he could get to it.  It was morning, and they’re very slow—I was the only one there. The look on Monday’s face when I told her I’d never done acupuncture before made me even more scared than I already was.

So there I was, braced for this wretched pain… that never came.  I would feel a pinch.  I would feel sensation along the sciatic nerve.  That was about it.

In contrast to the foot massage.  Which was sheer freakin torture. He started out by running his thumb up my calf in a move that felt like he was trying to filet my leg.  I don’t think there was more than 3 minutes of the hour massage that I wasn’t off the chair huffing like a woman minutes away from giving birth.  It was absolutely excruciating.

But it worked.  I was able to go upstairs using both legs afterwards.  I hadn’t been able to do that since I got here.

So I went back the next morning to get some more acupuncture to work on my left knee a little more.

kneedles

The knee was a bit more uncomfortable than my sciatic.  There were 2 pins in particular that hurt going in.  The way they seem to do everything here is to keep at it until it doesn’t hurt anymore… then they release you.  There is no soft relaxing movement.  If the body is tense and tender, that’s where they apply the pressure.  Once the tenderness is eased, they move on.  I know that’s because the purpose of this is to make you feel Good, not just make you feel good… but still….

He also did acupuncture on my left ankle.  That was quite painful.  Whereas most of the needles just caused the tiniest prick when they went in, the ones on my ankle felt like big huge long needles being jabbed against very tender tendons.  Then he would jiggle them.  He would be watching me very carefully—concerned that the first treatment hadn’t gotten rid of everything.  I don’t think he’s used to not having his touch heal instantly.  My pain was an indicator we were getting right in to where we needed to, so he’d smile.  “You like this!” I’d joke.  By this time, there were several people in the room all looking at me like I was insane for allowing myself to be used as a pin cushion.  That all the Chinese people were looking at me like I was nuts for doing a traditional Chinese treatment amused me enough to make the pain a little more bearable.

“How can you do that?” they would ask me through Grace.

“Trust me, it hurts way less than the massage!” I answered.

I’m doing much better now- able to climb 4 of the 5 flights of stairs to my evening class before I have to resort to only climbing with my right leg.  I’m still having a little pain behind the knee, though.  When we’d talked about it yesterday, the woman said if the pain is directly behind the knee, acupuncture may not be the best treatment.  She described the treatment, but Grace said she didn’t really understand it.  As I told others what they were suggesting- I realized they meant cupping.

Don’t know if I’m brave enough to try that just yet… though I know a student that had it done at the beginning of the week.  We’ll see…

Trending Redirected

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This week in my lesson plans with the World Academy for the Future of Women, I’ll be transitioning the members from listening to their own bodies to define the ideal female leader in a global setting.  So tonight, the women will be writing/drawing/telling their stories.  I wanted to do a little internet research to find examples of different kinds of stories- and found a fantastic article on the way that magazines editorialize on women’s lives, giving us these “trends” we’re to worry about, but not actually telling us anything about women’s actual lives.  These stories are the cooing of a false friend that claims to be helping you, but is actually pumping you full of fear and anxiety about who you are, where you’re going, and how you’re getting there.  These stories have been in women’s magazines since there were women’s magazines.  Naomi Wolff wrote about them in the early 90s, as did Susan Faludi.  Many many writers have since then.  The stories have not gone away.  Now they’re in the Times.

I found this fantastic piece on trending lifestyle stories on Salon.  It was written in July.  I managed to get it on my Buffer, but in trying to scoop.it, I keep getting directed to a Baidu (the Chinese google) page surrounded by ads for breast enhancers.  I thought it was a good story as soon as I found it.  The fact that it’s being yanked before I can scoop it makes me like it even more.

I will get the story into a word document and get all my students to read it today.  After we try to find it on the web in computer lab and they too are taken to a page surrounded by giffed breast enhancement ads with the boobies popping out of their bras.  And we’ll have a fantastic conversation about how the media shapes the way we think about ourselves.

 

Magnificent or Desirable?

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“To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that’s political, in its most profound way.”  —June Jordan

I completed my first section tonight.  I used an exercise I was first exposed to in dance form via Eugene Hedlund’s Lines in the Sand workshop, called “Yes & No in the Body”  (Eugene will be in Phoenix this weekend doing a workshop on “5 Rhythms: A key, not a cage”.  Powerful stuff. Check it out here.) As Integrity and Authenticity are the legs the World Academy for the Future of Women walks on, I thought it was the perfect foundational exercise to get these young women leaders to become allies with their bodies and listen to the guidance that it offers.  How can you stand in authenticity if you’re ignoring your gut?  How can you have integrity if you’re disconnected from your body? Yet the messages about femininity that women are pummeled with every day via advertising, movies, tv, news, magazines and more encourages just that.  Women more often than not experience their bodies only as objects.  They look at their bodies from the outside rather than experiencing them from the inside.

Of course, this diminishes self-esteem, sense of empowerment, sense of self, even.  How can you stand in Power if you can’t even stand in your own skin? How can you have integrity and authenticity—be Whole and Real—if you’re looking to escape your body? Aren’t allies with that which has been with you every second of day since you were born and will be with you until you die?

These are some of the questions we explored tonight.

Sunday, I got an email from Grace, one of the student office staff for WAFW.  She’s the Ambassador Director, in charge of finding assistants for visiting speakers and facilitators, and making their stay with WAFW at SIAS and Xinzheng comfortable.  She had some questions about my slides and wanted to know if we could meet.  When I arrived at the office, she pulled up this slide:

Relationship to the Body slide

 

“I don’t understand what you mean here” she told me.  I began to explain that I was drawing parallels between our being able to fully embrace our bodies and our ability to fully embrace integrity and authenticity.  Without these, we’re unable to fully express our Power.  She saw the link between Integrity and Authenticity being the foundation for Power, but me connecting that to the body was causing some issues.  “I’ve never thought of that” she said, her brow furrowed. “How can my arms, my hands, my feet, help me build these characteristics?”

“How can you build those characteristics without your arms, your hands and your feet?” I asked. “Do you have integrity and authenticity if you don’t have actions behind your words?  Don’t your arms and hands and feet do that instead of your mind?”

“This I understand,” she replied, “but that’s different from my body guiding me.” Grace is fiercely intelligent.  Her questions are probing and tireless.  She doesn’t let go until she fully understands.  It’s what immediately drew me to her the first moment we met in a staff meeting over the weekend.  “How can the body guide me?  It is important for me to work on my mind, for me to listen to my heart, but how can my body guide me?”

“Isn’t your heart part of your body?  Isn’t your gut?”

Paradigm shift happening in 3…2…1…

There is nothing more beautiful than the radiance that came over her as she began to see through the haze to what I was pointing towards.  We talked about how the body grounds us in the Here and Now.  How it holds all of our memories, yet has no ego.  How much it has to tell us if we’ll just listen to it.  How it’s our best friend–working for us tirelessly every second of every day.  Grace is an International Nursing student with ambitions of becoming a Nurse Practitioner if she can secure the visa to study it, so she knows better than the many just how hard the body is working for us.

Since there’d been some issues with connecting with my assistant, Grace said she would be my assistant.  She arranged for others to escort me to class last night, but tonight she picked me up and even stayed through the class.  I’m glad she was there.  I knew she really understood what I was seeking to get across, so she was the perfect person to translate when needed.

Its amazing how many stories we attach to such simple words: yes, no.  Incredible that so much baggage can be attached to just a handful of letters. How much we heap on them. How afraid of them we are. How much we read into them, even when there’s no context.  The academy members opened themselves up fully to the experience.  We had a great discussion after to process the activity—the sometimes halting English wasn’t an obstacle.

“Why do we say “Yes” when we want to say “No”?  Why do we say “No” when we want to say “Yes”?”

Oftentimes, it’s because we’re worried about what others will think, what others will say.  How much energy we lose worrying about this!  How much drama we have in our lives because of it! More importantly, it sets us up in a place where what’s going on outside of us is more important than what’s happening inside of us. Puts us in a place where being desirable is more important than being magnificent.  What are we really saying yes to?  What are we really saying no to?

 

Opening Possibilities

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Tonight was the Opening Ceremony for the World Academy for the Future of Women.  The ceremony is completely student-organized and student-driven.  If new members aren’t present at this ceremony, they are booted from the Academy and their space is opened up for in-coming freshman to apply.  Academy members are encouraged to bring faculty and family members to the ceremony so they can learn a bit more about what WAFW and the UN Millennium Goals are all about. Though there was a BBQ on campus as well as several student meetings, the auditorium in the Administration Building was quite full.

The Advanced Academy members, those that have completed their first year in the academy, took the stage in the uniforms they received upon completing their first year and conducted the ceremony in English.  Speaking to an auditorium full of people is a daunting task in your own language, let alone a foreign one.

Suzanne, Jerrie, Monday, and Jackie lead the auditorium in the World Academy for the Future of Women’s oath.

Suzanne, Jerrie, Monday, and Jackie lead the auditorium in the World Academy for the Future of Women’s oath.

I’d spent all day in meetings with the WAFW’s leadership yesterday.  The day started at 10am with the Project Leaders.

Jerrie drives home the message of “Must Be Present to Win” for this year’s Academy

Jerrie drives home the message of “Must Be Present to Win” for this year’s Academy

Each WAFW member (both from the Women’s Academy and the Men’s Academy for the Future of Women) must be involved in a project that focuses on one of the eight UN Millennium Goals.  Our first meeting of the day began with those that have taken the reigns for these projects that were started by previous WAFW members.  There was even one young woman that is a first year academy member, but had volunteered on a project last year.  She applied to WAFW, and is now the leader for the project she’d worked on.  It was remarkable to see these women- women that I know a year ago would not have stood up and talked about their accomplishments at all, do so confidently and with voices that filled the room.

Cecilia stands to present on what her group that deals with HIV/AIDS prevention is working with.

Cecilia stands to present on what her group that deals with HIV/AIDS prevention is working with.

As the day progressed, we worked with the Advanced Academy Members, who’s understanding of their leadership was deeper and wider.  Their answers to Jerrie’s questions were full of insights and awakenings they’d had during their internships over the summer.  They not only took internships over the summer- while many of their friends went on holiday or returned to spend time with their much-missed families- they watched their bosses and fellow employees very closely.  “I learned that the key to leadership is to just be myself.  But really be myself” one of the members said.  The academy had given her the confidence to forge her own path and find students to tutor to get more pocket money when she found herself in a financial pinch.  “I wouldn’t have thought of those possibilities before the academy” she’d told me on a walk the day before.  “I would have stayed in that place where I wasn’t happy and wasn’t doing what was good for my future, just because I didn’t know that I could do something else. Now I know that.”

The next two-hour block belonged to the Academy in Action.  Jerrie seems absolutely tireless.  Kristine’d reached her limit by now.  I kept going.  I feel like I could just follow Jerrie around all the time and watch everything she does.  She’s totally who I want to be when I grow up.  When I met her during my facilitator’s training, I told my friends “I’ve met Baba Yaga!  And if I can complete the tasks she sets before me, I’ll have the Light of the Ancients!”  I still feel that way.  The students clearly feel the same.  They want to soak up everything she has to offer- and the students that have reached the level of Academy in Action show the fruits of doing just that.  They think deeply about their own development and what that means to their leadership—but the mark of their maturity as leaders is showing: they’re concerned about how to develop those around them.

By the 3rd year and the Academy in Action, the Men’s Academy and Women’s academy are combined.

By the 3rd year and the Academy in Action, the Men’s Academy and Women’s academy are combined.

The Advanced Academy meeting ended with a member opening the discussion of “What do we do about those Academy members that are not excellent? How will we treat this issue?”  Some answered that all should be excellent.  She persisted.  “Yes, we should all be excellent. So what do we do when people are not excellent?  If we do not have something to do when people are not excellent, we won’t get everyone to excellence.”  I loved that she persisted.  I love that these students have a place where they feel free to persist.  To not only speak up, but to continue to speak up when their point isn’t taken with the gravitas they know it deserves.  I asked them what they did with themselves in the moments when they weren’t excellent.  What was wrong that they weren’t performing their best?  What did they do about it?  If they thought about this, then they would have their answers on how to inspire their teammates to excellence when they weren’t living up to their potential.

To end the day, there was a meeting with the office staff.  These students have really stepped up and taken on tremendous responsibility.  These are volunteer positions.  Many of them have worked in the campus president’s office, or had other positions, and now they devote their time to WAFW.  Their level of commitment is inspiring.  The discussions we had a bout the different leadership styles as well as how you stand in your authority while simultaneously standing in another’s shoes made me so proud of them, and so honored to be here and be a part of this organization.

After each of the meetings, the students approached me requesting other meetings.

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Even with the pressure of putting on the opening ceremony this evening, I had meetings about translation, media plans, setting up newsletters.

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They also moved me into a new room in the guest wing of Peter Hall. I don’t know why I’d been so resistant to moving… the students were right- it is a much nicer room and much more comfortable and home-y.  Isn’t that so often the way it is? The thing we’re resisting is actually the thing we’re trying to create…

At the end of the ceremony tonight, the front was rushed as students looked to sign up with the projects they’d like to taste first.

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The first years will be working with a different project each month until December, when they’ll need to choose one.  The second years can stay in the project they’d been working with or try a new one.  All are encouraged to try on different things to find their passion.  And the message of the night was successfully delivered – a consistent thread in almost everyone that got on stage—change doesn’t come from others, it comes from you.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”  The World Academy for the Future of Women is teaching both men and women to have that be the basis of their leadership.  How different would the world be if all those in leadership positions took this approach?

Fun Lovin’ Criminals are singing “Its you, its you, its always been you and its always been in you” as I write this.  Perfect ending to an amazing day—and we haven’t even started yet!