Beyond Our Knowing

(I wrote this blog before the 2016 presidential election, but it is still relevant.)

Much has been written about this drawn-out election season and many of the issues that have come up during it. While many of us have been shocked by the vitriol and misogynistic comments on the part of one candidate in particular (now our President-Elect), I believe it has in some odd way spurred some much needed conversation about the objectification of women and rape culture. (And so much more.)

One Facebook conversation I read, in which a young woman shared with her best male friends what it’s like to be a woman in this culture, reminded me of an experience I had several years ago when my then-husband and I were attending a workshop at the Omega Institute in upstate New York. I can no longer recall the name of the workshop, but it was about how differently women and men communicate, and how our upbringing and society’s messages about gender impacts our expectations, our world view and our view of ourselves.

The couple facilitating the workshop invited the 10-15 couples attending the workshop outside for an exercise. The women were asked to put on blindfolds while the men were invited to stand in a sort of loosely packed square with space between them. (Note: We had been with each other throughout the workshop, sharing some pretty intimate details, so we certainly weren’t strangers.) The blindfolded women were then invited to walk among the men while they stood quietly and unmoving, like trees.

What happened next surprised me. As I approached this small ‘forest’ of men, my heart started pounding and a tremendous wave of anxiety washed over me. It was a strong enough emotion that I couldn’t deny it or hide it. My response came as a total surprise as I realized that I had suddenly unearthed a belief about my safety, or lack of it; a belief about which I was totally unconscious.

When we went back into the workshop after this exercise, we shared our experiences. It turns out that at least half the women in the group had also been surprised by their visceral response to this exercise. I don’t recall that the men standing in their ‘forest’ experienced any anxiety, nor were they aware of ours.

What can we conclude from this? Well, as the young woman in the Facebook conversation shared with her male friends, when we walk down the street late in the day and look back, that’s our way of determining if the man who walks behind us appears to be a threat. Just as her male friends were unaware of the impact their presence can impose on a woman, I imagine most men have no clue about how their presence—are they trying to catch up to me or simply walking in the same direction?— can impact the experience of women and girls.

Perhaps in some subtle or not so subtle ways we have all been impacted by what is now known as rape culture. As we hear about young and old women being viciously attacked, drugged at parties or forced to engage in sexual acts against their will, it seems only natural that we would be on-guard, even in daylight.

Update: Now that Trump is our soon-to-be Commander in Chief, it appears that those who embrace his worst views have been given a greenlight; permission, if you will, to express their hatred for those who don’t look or think like them. While I want to hope for the best—that Trump truly meant what he said about being the president for all Americans—it concerns me that he is bringing into the White House some of the most conservative, alt-right advisors and consultants possible.

I can only hope, along with millions of others, that Patricia Cota-Robles, a mystic and world-renowned teacher, was right when she said (at the beginning of 2016): All the darkness that we see before us and around us is coming up into the light to be healed.

May her proclamation be so.

Thanks for reading!

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