"Being a Girl & Other Thoughts"

"Woman of Color"
5" x 7" mixed media on canvas panel
All this talk over Dr. Jill Biden's use of her well-earned title this holiday season has inspired a lot of thought on what it means to be a woman.

In truth, I despised being a girl growing up. 

The difference in treatment between genders was so blatant that questioning them seemed more offensive than the acts themselves. Under the care of my grandmother, I was raised among uncles who were more like brothers in age. So I watched them explore the world in their teens and early twenties with an abandon I knew would not be extended to me. 

And I probably would have complained about all this if they hadn't let me into their ranks, but they did. I just had to agree to some simple rules first: no crybaby stuff, no girly stuff, no sissy stuff. If I wanted to hang out with the guys, I needed to learn how to be"one of the guys." 

My uncles took me along on their jobs to replace the tile and fix up homes. I sat on the porch while they drank beers and debated whether the Hulk could beat The Thing. I was taught self-defense lessons on BTE (balls, throat, eyes) assault and how to use just about anything for a weapon if a man ever tried to attack me. I played with GiJoe, Silver Hawks, Thundercats, and Transformers. And mostly, I got to hear about their many complaints about females and their ditsy behavior.

With this sort of education, none of the glamorous women on television during my elementary school years could not redeem the female sex to me. I was little during that magic era of Dynasty, Dallas, and Knots Landing. I watched General Hospital, Guiding Light, and all the best of the soaps with my grandmother and aunts. I decided that being an Erica Cane was too much tedious work. It was Spenser for Hire I wanted to be like instead, a Robert Ulrich type quoting poetry, cooking elaborate meals, and occasionally beating the snuff out of a bad guy.

I learned early that men were respected. Women were fawned over. I preferred the former. 

My early start in journalism didn't dissolve this notion either. I found that men often didn't take me seriously as a reporter starting out. I frequently encountered male writers who snickered about whether or not their female colleagues were on their periods. I heard breakroom assumptions that women only wrote sophomoric articles about their emotions and slept their way into higher positions. 

I ditched my good girl image long before I finished college. I wore dark clothes with rips and tears, chain loops going to my back pocket, a wallet instead of a purse, combat boots, tattoos, piercings, and a bad attitude. I was a "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." I said exactly what was on my mind, and my closest friends were hackers. I was never seen in a skirt or without my mini-recorder. I kept my hair short, curly, and natural, learning to use clippers with ease my male friends often envied. Any man attempting to hit on me during any professional interaction quickly backtracked beneath my withering stare. For this reason, I was described as fearless.

For a long time, I actually considered feminine traits to be a weakness. In fact, I can say that I wore my attitude and attire much like armor. High heels and all that simply didn't make me feel at ease in my skin. Instead, they made me feel vulnerable, awkward, and rather stupid. To be considered at the top of your game in my world, you just "happened to be a woman," but you handled your business like a man.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself with a Hindu Punjabi teacher named Ravinder Kaur who told me the reason why my years with the Buddhist monks had not resulted in total peace. 

She said I was afraid to be a woman. 

I was offended at first, but she took no heed of my defensive rambling. She just asked me bluntly who in my life first suggested that being a woman was wrong.

That part was easy. I quickly explained my Seventh Day Adventist background and the Christian guilt involved with Eve's disgrace. I spoke of my grandmother always calling women the "secondary vessel." I mentioned how upset my family had become when I decided to attend seminary school, saying a woman "had no place in the pulpit" and could not possibly have a calling from God. I explained how horrified I'd been that being married and having children had suddenly given people a case of amnesia regarding my career and accolades. My own passions and aspirations were secondary to my husband's career and the children's development. Even divorced, I was still invisible in my own life.

She took all this in, then asked me to study under her personally. Initially, I had misgivings. At the time it was 2012. I had been volunteering at a yoga health clinic alongside the Tibetan Refugee Health Clinic while continuing my studies with the Nechung Foundation & Monastery. Though she never asked me to cease my studies, I felt I would have to separate from them somewhat to investigate what she had to offer further. So in the beginning, I only met with her occasionally and listened to preliminarily teachings in Hinduism and Sikhism.

Then the summer came and upheaval reigned the rest of the year. I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, solving a three-year medical riddle that had left me financially ruined, emotionally drained, and a physical wreck. Two months later, my brother passed away from suicide. On December 3rd, I received word my father had three strokes while doctors had tried to move his dialysis port to a new site. Two days later, I took him off life support with my siblings and stepmother. A week after that, I was informed I needed to relocate by Christmas.

I was barely functional at that point. What little money I had gone towards visiting Massachusetts for the funerals. This teacher called and asked me to stay with her and study among Hindus for some months. Out of options, I agreed.

By December 26th, I was living in a place called Glen Cove and soon immersed in a Hindu community I barely knew existed. My dealings with Hindu extended only to the Hari Krishna gatherings I'd attended during six weeks of intensive study of that faith. 

My first lesson was incredibly difficult. 

I was told I could not visit the Hanuman Temple in my regular attire. Instead, I was given an elaborate mint green sari with pants and a scarf to wear. I looked at the clothes and laughed, thinking she was kidding. She was not. I actually broke out in a sweat and tried to argue about it, which shocked me to my core.

Donning that outfit took more courage than shaving my head for my Buddhist vows. I didn't even blink twice about losing my hair. But wearing female attire all the time for no real reason? That was a hard pill to swallow. But swallow it I did. 

My lessons in Hinduism weren't about making peace with Kali and my inner darkness as I assumed. The Hindu priest at the temple told me through a translator that I was already comfortable with my dark. No, I needed to make peace with Khrishna and acknowledge my inner beauty.

I returned back to the sanctuary for meditation extremely upset. I asked my teacher why this was being asked of me when I had already done so many things for my path. I grew angry, demanding to know what kind of game they were playing. Looking back, I can see my freak-out was the result of deep-seated fear rather than righteous indignation.

She did not acknowledge my anger. Instead, Ravi merely said that I'd gotten used to hating myself. Self-loathing was something I found attractive enough to believe. My beauty I denied.

"You need to learn to love your hate and heal," she said.

If she'd told me pigs fly to the moon I would have been less astonished. "Love my hate?" I repeated. "You've got to be kidding me."

"The opposite of love is not hatred," Ravi said. "It's indifference. The fact that you hate yourself so strongly only proves the love existing there beneath is hidden."

And so I'm saying the same thing to you. 

It's time to love the hate that's been pushed on you.

Society has made billions of dollars on cultivating female self-hatred. We push ourselves to be more like men from the time we step out of the cradle into predestined lives adults tell us are for our own good. If we can't procreate, if we don't love skirts, if we can't stand being trendy, we're the problem.

When the "Me, too" movement first began, it was eye-opening for many people. I had men I'd known all my life suddenly morph into defense mode when I said men have tried to use masculinity to win arguments, positions, and power over me many times in my life. As if my being a woman means I have to automatically back down or concede a point even if I have more education and experience than he does. Well, I don't do that. 

I can recall an argument I got into once with a gentleman spouting off about politics who worked in finance. I countered his argument in a polite manner, thinking we were having a good-spirited debate. The chap immediately became irate, red in the face, and yelled at me that I was one of these opinionated-females who wanted to be right all the time. 

Non-plussed, I said, "Your field is finance, correct? I was a former political journalist. I know some of the players you're talking about. I'm speaking from experience, not conjecture. " 

The man stood over me, over six feet of fury. I also sensed the whirl of violence in his aura. So I gave him no reaction. I just calmly finished my drink while he had his temper tantrum. 

Then I gave him a sardonic look and said, "Are you done?"

My reaction stunned him. He could say nothing in response. Later, he called me to apologize. I simply asked if he'd ever treated a male colleague that way. His silence told me all I needed to know. If I'd been a man, he would have clapped me on the back and bought me a beer. But because I am a 5'6" woman, it was somehow okay to loom over me to show that he had the biggest pair in the conversation.

That what when I realized what this societal hatred actually is: jealousy. 

Women have power. The conduit of life itself flows through us. Our cycles are matched to the moon. We are connected to the Earth in a million ways we taught to never acknowledge. We are intuitive, emotional, and intellectual. We carry our families on our backs while we strive to succeed in our careers. 

Women are strong. That strength, that power, means we've always had to be controlled. After all, the easiest way to subdue power is to convince the person wielding it that they don't have any. So how do you love the hate this world has given us?

To start, you use it as fodder to chart your own damn course, sing your own damn accolades, and stop asking permission to be who you are. No man anywhere has the right to call us "kiddo," "sweetheart," and "honey" while insulting our integrity. We have the right to speak up for ourselves and step out of the boxes society loves to place us in. And mostly, we have to do this now to help guide our world into a better state of being.

This has been a man's world for a very, very long time. These ways of thinking have brought our species and the planet to the breaking point. If we can't learn how to rebuild our fractured society using the characteristics deemed too feminine by that old way of thinking  namely compassion, cooperation, and compromise  none of us will survive. The Earth will go on without us.

As I always state: Change begins with us.

We can't help the world if we hate ourselves. We can't expand other minds if we close ours. And we won't topple barriers to progress if we keep thinking we have to be more like men to do it. 

So my wish for you this holiday season is simply this:
Be You.

Light & Peace on your Path.

Respectfully, 
O.M.

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