A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 138: Women’s Lives Lived Large

robyn davidson

“The world is a dangerous place for little girls. Besides, girls are more fragile, more delicate, more brittle than boys. ‘Watch out, be careful, watch.’ ‘Don’t climb trees, don’t dirty your dress, don’t accept lifts from strange men. Listen but don’t learn, you won’t need it.’ And so the snail’s antennae grow, watching for this, looking for that, the underneath of things. The threat. And so she wastes so much of her energy, seeking to break those circuits, to push up the millions of tiny thumbs that have tried to squelch energy and creativity and strength and self-confidence; that have so effectively caused her to build fences against possibility, daring; that have so effectively kept her imprisoned inside her notions of self-worthlessness.” – Robyn Davidson, Tracks

Just yesterday I came across this quote, which I had taken the time to write out free-hand, in a bent up notebook stuffed down in the bottom of one of my backpacks. I remember reading and re-reading this section in Robyn Davidson’s book. And I remember feeling angry for the women in my life, especially my wife and daughter. And I remember growing in my understanding of the frustrations girls and women encounter which they should never have to encounter, yet they encounter them every day. Every damn day.

As a man, I would strongly recommend to other men that they read books like Tracks. It is the true story of Davidson’s incredible odyssey, her trek in the late 1970’s across 1,700 miles of the Western Desert of Australia, accompanied by her camels. It was made into a movie a couple of years ago staring the incomparable Mia Wasikowska; that, too, I highly recommend. Why do I target men? Because, for the most part, we don’t have a clue what it means to have pressure to NOT be daring, NOT be fearless, NOT be fully ourselves. Little girls know this reality far better than most grown men. It is time we learn more about this reality so that we can help to change that reality. It starts by hearing the stories, by putting ourselves in their shoes, by putting in the work to really understand.

Robyn Davidson faced the sexism, the belittling, the objectification, the ridicule, the harsh conditions, the pain, the very real threat of physical danger, and the oppression of mental anguish and self-doubt step after step across the outback. She knows what she’s talking about and she deserves to be heard. This is kick-ass stuff and it is a woman’s story.

I want the women in my life to be daring, to take risks, to be fully themselves in whatever form this is meant to be. I want them to be free and creative and real so that the world can experience what wonderful people they are. Their’s is a kick-ass story, too, and it deserves to be heard but, more so, it deserves to be lived, completely and without restraints. Lived.

robyn and camel

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 23: To Phenomenal Women Everywhere

Millions of woman marching in solidarity and strength all over the world. The Women’s March was an incredible phenomena. For me it brought to mind one of my favorite poems by Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman”. If you have never read it, or it has been a long time since you have, please take a couple of minutes to do so, whether you are male or female. I have posted it below in its entirety. It is not a long poem but it conveys such self-awareness and self-dignity, much like so many women did as they marched and sang and laughed and cried and yelled and embraced across the globe last Saturday.
What follows are some photos of the phenomenal women who have so profoundly influenced my life.
Phenomenal Woman
by Maya Angelou
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Thinking About Women

Rosie-the-Riveter-poster-sI find myself thinking about women a lot these days.

Being a man of the male persuasion, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I’ve thought about women now and again in my life; though more so “now” than “again”; and often what my brain is doing shouldn’t be counted as actual thought, that would be making it sound way too intellectual and sensitive. Certainly, when a man sees an attractive woman his brain must be functioning at some level. Maybe at about 3% capacity but functioning a bit all the same. I am no different than any other easily distracted and attracted man.

However, when I say that I am thinking about women a lot these days, I don’t mean that I’m daydreaming about being stranded on a deserted island with a Victoria Secret model. Instead, I am feeling a great freedom these days to truly consider the women in my life and the great contributions they have made and continue to make for me and those around me; to truly consider women as so much more than the attractive counterpoint to men.

This headspace feels like freedom because being caught up in the sexual attraction brain freeze is a form of incarceration. When women become almost solely objects of desire, men lose the opportunity to experience the fullness that can come with the contributions of women to their lives. Either the superficial attraction becomes the focus or the lack thereof, and men miss out on the other gender that, to borrow from a sappy movie catchphrase, completes them.

Though I have always given lip service to the idea, only recently have I truly seen that women continue to be undervalued and unappreciated in our culture – our supposedly advanced and sophisticated culture – and men are the ones who need to do something about that. I am as guilty as the next guy in sometimes seeing women as the “window dressing” of life. Nice to look at, a great distraction, but not fully formed human beings in my mind; not people who have amazing gifts, abilities, thoughts and passions. I am guilty of focusing on the wrapping paper while being clueless about the gift inside.

What has got me thinking more deeply about women than I ever have? Getting older has probably helped (with, one would hope, the corollary of getting wiser); becoming more self-aware and aware of the other selves around me also contributes. But mostly it is concrete examples in my life at present that are driving home the point of how much I owe to women in my life – their encouragement and guidance, friendship and strength.

I’m thinking of women a lot these days because I’m thinking of the great group of women co-workers I have at the day program where I work. We all care for adults with special needs and I have come to greatly love and appreciate all those I work with, male or female. But in the women I see such an amazing combination of elements. They are compassionate, nurturing, funny, resilient, goofy, tough, honest, bold, adventurous, creative, innovative, thoughtful, courageous, vulnerable and strong – sometimes all in the same shift! In an environment that can be physically intimidating and emotionally draining, they continually shine.

I’m thinking of women a lot these days because I’m thinking of the woman I call my “little sister in Christ”. She is a fellow worker in the weird and wild gong show known as Christian ministry. When she lets loose with her powerfully honest voice, singing lyrics drawn straight from her soul, it grabs a hold of my heart and doesn’t let go until long after the song is finished. We say mean things about each other with a fondness and admiration that only brothers and sisters can get away with. For me in my stumbling and fumbling walk as a pastor, she has helped pick me up time and time again.

And, finally, I’m thinking about women a lot these days because I’m thinking of the one woman whose life story is being written along with my own. The woman who has given more to me than I have the right to ask of anyone. She has challenged me to be who I have been created to be because she so deeply loves who I have been created to be. Authentic, intelligent, insightful, faithful – she is so many things I aspire to be and cannot be without her there to spur me on to be so. She is the woman who continues to help me become more and more of the man I should be. And I am deeply, deeply in love with her.

Nothing can top this way of thinking about women, guys. There are so many banal and boorish ways available to us of shutting our minds off from truly considering women as the people that they are. It’s up to us to shut down those things and open up to the life-giving reality of being fully human together as men and women.