What do you believe?
Take a moment. Sit with that question. Bullet point your conclusions on a piece of paper and ask yourself, “could that change tomorrow?”
Every second of the day we are asked to believe in something. Something nor from us. Particularly as women. Often we are asked to believe in something that is the antithesis of who we are. Our political opinions, how we feel about our bodies and their sensuality is tightly bound in deflated bubble-wrap and tied off with barbed wire. Not much wriggle room without painful consequences. The sexualisation of our bodies and diminishment of our intellect pits us in a batle of unbalanced compromise as nationalism subsumes our multiplicitous gender identities into unachievable and fantasized cultural archtypes. We seek “fraternité” in our friends, neighbours and family, and if we find rejection there, we seek solidarity in online communities, or in magazines “for women”. We look for any space where we may feel accepted, appreciated for who exactly we are regardless of our shape, colour of our skin, or sexual self-identification.
And then there is religion: a predominantly global belief in a monolithic male presence speaking from a unilaterally agreed elevated position (with economic and political clout behind him) as the Alpha and Omega of how to “woman “.
And then it is for our Elders who are women to fulfill a responsibility thrust upon them to educate newer generations of women (and consequentially men) on how to thrive as a whole(ish) being who is pragmatic about the temptations and challenges of a material world shaped by hetero-normative men. The tension causes an internal imbalance – stress, distress and trauma.
From my western privileged position (even as a woman of African descent), I hesitate to say, yet am compelled to, it is unfortunate that too many women who live under the most oppressive political regimes that walk in the guise of clerical cloth, live lives fated to trudge through the weighty clouds of rhetoric fuelled by testosterone, and corporate and political fallout blown about them by religious dogma. But its all relative. We’ve seen the meme.
I’m not ignoring the internal work men have to do to experience their own various stages of metamorphasis, if they are inclined to do the work. Hypermasculinity does its damage. It must be obvious by now that patriarchy has had a good run with a very effective branding campaign. But as a system that cajoles, sometimes brutally, the rest of the world to live by its tenets, one way patriarchy’s deconstruction comes about is through the sharing of autobiographical accounts from those who exists in most contrast, yet closest to it. And what could be more overt a candidate than that of the bodies and aspirations of women.
These days, every day feels it demands a concrete, immovable set of beliefs behind the choices and the decisions we make. Our Anthropocene existence ha ps hits another cataclysmic crossroads in the evolution of human consciousness. 1968 being the one of the most memorable. It is our Elder women who have seen the reigniting of feminist thought, reproductive rights, fighting against child marriage, the banning of FGM in the most difficult cultural regions; we are seeing an awakening and an adrenaline rush of hope injected into our cultural psyches by what some call the ‘Indigo Children’. They are born with an astounding gumption, pushing back against the worst attempts (and successes) of a manipulative dumbing-down of the planet’s population. The baby-boom generation have never experienced such obese eclipes of information by the media machine, blocking our access to information. Yet this new generation of tech savvy children is frighteningly brilliant and the edges of understanding between the generations are disappearing into the distance.
However, there are obscured mediums through which we can educate each other about a fast evolving global psyche broadening the generation gap. One forgotten ritual that we can bridge the gap with is by simply ‘being’ together to talk, reason and share, rather than huddle isolated in separate pods of distraction talking to LED screens.
So when I was asked to run a workshop inspired by life stories of women over 60 with a girls school, I was pleasantly inspired by the explicit provocation, “What Women Believe “.
3 Faiths Forum had curated another interestingly subtle project. Women and girls were asked to nominate other women from their communities over the age of 60 who they viewed as inspiring individuals. Portrait photography captured the essence of these women and I was to deliver a workshop writing reflections to the zine 3FF had produced. It was filled with memories, trials and dreams of the women nominated.
I, myself, was a couple of months away from a significant birthday. One where I felt I had to step boldly over a psychic line into a new maturity. I was being asked now to really put away childish things because people were watching me play. Young people.
I was now an elder to the 15 and 16 year old students from Ursuline High School who were coming of age, as they prepared to go on to 6 form college, aiming for university. I felt a responsibility beyond being a poetry writing facilitator. So rather than reinvent any wheels, I took them on an exploration into what these Elder women believed. The young women mined their stories to find life’s poetic essence. Found poetry is a wonderful device to unearth the gems in memoir and begin deeper conversations woven in time.
Installation artist, Tessa Brown, presented ‘The Changing Room Ting’ ” the retractable textile room”. When the sides of the Ting were lowered, we could feel each other’s breath warming the space and found that, although we were from differing cultures, ages and backgrounds, the women looking over us primed the space for a ritual sharing with their presence.
The students’ bright faces, full of light that age can unwittingly emanate so close to womanhood, made me nervous as their expectancy silently questioned my worldiness. Once I put the anticipation aside, I returned to my self-designed job description – to be a bridge between two worlds: innocence and wisdom. But I had help.
It was impossible to ignore one young woman whose make-up was immaculate and thickly applied. (Can’t deny that I wasn’t a bit surprised by this, them being from a roman catholic all girls school). She said she wanted to explore her bisexuality. She said this very openly amongst her peers. They were not fazed. Neither was teacher. A couple of my beliefs (or perceptions) instantly challenged: the rigidity of catholic schools and the flexibility of Christianity. Its all nuns, austerity and guilt, isn’t it?
The confidence in her voice was pinpoint and determined. This also threw me, but then a warm pride spread cross my back and shoulders. Her freedom spoke to mine, and if she carried that confidence, not just as the bravado of youth but as an ethos of existence, then well, the future looked a little bit more brighter than yesterday.
In the evening, the nominated women spoke about their lives as migrants, as mothers who’ve walked with matriarchy silently draped about their shoulders. In the portraits, you could see the potency of their determination in their eyes – grit and softness combined that did not need to shout. It was simply channeled down the lens.
In the evening, there was music, food and storytelling. This east London venue’s sanitized studio morphed into a space humming with the atmosphere of ritual and something primal, related to bonding practices between humans, moved inside me. A sort of magic.
When I began this blog post, I started by writing a list of all the ails of this world, the ones that thrust us harshly into our day via social media and the free news papers scattered about train carriages. I stopped myself because I didn’t want to give one social injustice priority over another as creating such a list would inevitable do. However, it was through the stories of these incredible humans that I saw pleasures handed to us, as well as the baton perseverence and forbearance. When we listen to one of the largest groups marginalised by society by the identification of their gender – women – I can only but define those pleasures as lessons, as wisdom that bring comfort, hope and possibility.
What Women Believe has had us burned at stakes, beheaded, stoned, and marching deranged like lionesses caged in domesticity. It is time to really question what it is we believe is meant for us and for the future.