The future isn’t only female

In recent a video message (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6q1hfXgocQ8) for the 2017 MAKERS Conference, Hillary Clinton stated:

“Despite all the challenges we face, I remain convinced that yes, the future is female.”

In recent months, “the future is female” has became something of a rallying cry, a hashtag and an advertising handle among women and feminists.

This is a slogan that was originally invented in the 1970s as a reaction to misogynist, racist and patriarchal culture.

Although we all owe the feminist movement a huge amount of gratitude for many of the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today, I believe that in order to achieve a shift in society, we (men and women) need to go a step further and work within ourselves towards seeking a balance between and appreciation of our male and female aspects.

Regardless of our gender, we all have male and female energy, yin and yang.  Both energies are essential and neither is better than the other.  Given the greater emphasis on male energy in modern society, balance requires developing the female side.

The future is more female, not only female.  The future is balance.

Some techniques that I have found useful in searching for this are:

  1. Yoga & Meditation – The philosophy of yoga, as expounded in “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali“, is a science “dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit… making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole“.
  2. Dance – The practice of 5Rhythms (Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness) is the map that enables us to explore these polarities within the container of the dancefloor.
  3. Tantra – I did a really interesting exercise called the “Dance of Shakti and Shiva” at a tantra festival a couple of years ago, where we – fully clothed and on an individual basis – tuned in to the sensation of the linear male energy flowing vertically through our own bodies from the ground up to the sky.  Then we switched and spent some time feeling the waves of female energy pulsing around our bodies.  Then we spent time feeling both of the energies modulating within ourselves at the same time.  I found that building a conscious somatic connection helped me to appreciate this much more tangibly.

 

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Featured Image “Looking forward/ Regard vers l avenir” by alain tremblay via Flickr and used under non-commercial Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

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Natural hair without self-acceptance can lead to burnout

In the last 10 years, the natural hair movement within the black community has exploded in popularity. Around the world, millions of people are learning about the traumatic history of the black hair. They’re ditching damaging chemical hair treatments in droves and shifting towards a plethora of beautiful natural hair options. But like many social movements, there are a few weird things about the natural hair movement that still need to change.

  • Ending texture discrimination

Texture discrimination has long roots deep in the depths of slavery.For example, in Jamaica, mixed race slaves were sometimes given privileges and social status. After the end of slavery, this type of discrimination continued and perpetuates to this day.  The Perception Institute recently launched a Hair Implicit Association Test which confirmed that irrespective of race, the majority of participants show implicit bias against Black women’s textured hair.  I believe this warped perception of darker skin and kinkier hair as being inferior to lighter skin and looser curls is an example of residual post-traumatic slavery syndrome.  Nevertheless, it’s a real problem when women struggle to accept their own hair because they’ve internalised subliminal messages on what constitutes “acceptable” beauty from society.   

Sadly there are no quick fixes to engrained problems that have evolved over 400 years, just the long hard road to internal validation and genuine self-acceptance.

  • Embracing science instead of misinformation

After a lifetime of miserable and expensive visits to hairdressers around the world. I’ve experienced hair damage from perms, overuse of heat, poorly applied relaxers, scalp burns, wonky hair cuts, too-tight braiding, traction alopecia, rudeness, lateness..you name it…Many other have similar hair stories. So it’s understandable that many black people are reluctant to continue to put their trust and faith in so-called “hair care professionals”.

In this vacuum, along came YouTube and the bloggers, a few of whom amassed huge followings of hundreds of thousands of people as they imparted their experiences of their transition to natural hair. This in turn inspired more and more people to become natural, which is a great feedback loop.  However, the dark side of this has been a growth of misinformation, “Chinese whispers” and the natural haircare equivalent of “fake news”. People were told that moisture comes from applying layers and layers of products, that you should never shampoo your hair because it strips the hair, finger detangling is a “thing” and henna can be used to colour hair without causing damage. Assertions that are all completely false, unsupported by the Science of Black Hair and can actually cause considerable harm to the health of your hair.

This is why initiatives such as the #30dayhairdetox are so important (Note: this is not sponsored) because it’s teaching women to embrace their natural hair in a way that is supported by science, so that they can embark on natural hair journey that is healthy and sustainable.

  • Loving your own hair instead of your neighbour’s “unicorn hair”

I love Jess @Mahogany Curls but her hair is “unicorn hair” because she appears to be able to use any product combination and they all result in a flawless look.

Every natural hair group, blog, magazine, article can pretty much be rewritten and summarised as “what product can I use to get ‘unicorn hair’, please?” ….but clearly, this is the wrong question.

A better question would be to ask about the fundamentals of hair health (cleanse-condition-style), the products that work for us (and this does not require a cupboard full of products).

Rather than getting stuck at the first step of deciding to go natural, we need to consciously take the second step of the natural hair journey, which is to learn to love ourselves, our own individual hair, the styles work for us and forge our own paths.

Learning to love and accept ourselves, can be the hardest part of the journey.

[Featured Image by Devin Trent via Flickr.  Used under Creative Commons license]

How do you find balance as a Strong Black Woman?

Earlier this week, Vegan Sista posted a short video on YouTube about a typical experience of micro-aggression in the workplace and ended by asking how other black women find balance in such situations.

As I’ve said before and I’m sure I’ll say again, the whole Strong Black Woman archetype is a myth.  It’s true that we’re often brought up to take pride in our strength and resilience in the face of adversity, but without balance, this can lead to the manifestation of complex forms of depression in black women.

This is an except from Black Pain: It Just looks Like we’re not hurting by Terrie M. Williams “African American leaders in particular face tremendous obstacles rising to the top and even greater challenges staying there….And being a Black woman, you have to fight four times harder to succeed…We are the face of the struggle and are expected to always show strength, grit, determination and confidence. Depression looks like the corporate executive who wears and airtight game face all day and collapses at home every night, so tired of acting the part that [s]he can’t enjoy h[er] own life”.

Terrie M.Williams interviewed hundreds of women of colour on their experience of dealing with race and gender bias in workplaces that are largely dominated by white, male culture. In the course of these interviews, she identified several survival strategies that many of these women were using and which I can identify with:

  • “Shifting” speech, appearance and/or behaviour according to the situation, in order to navigate racial and gender bigotry, at the expense of their authenticity.
  • Diassociation from emotions and lack of self-nurturing, which she dubbed the “Sisterella Complex”.  Women who were working very hard, but seem quite disconnected from their own needs.
  • Remaining silent about their problems and not letting stress show, which is a legacy of how black families evolved to cope with slavery.  In Power Choices: Seven signposts on your journey to wholeness, love, joy and peace, Dr Brenda Wade writes “Generations ago ….the luxury of being depressed or taking a day off didn’t exist. So we’ve incorporated it into our own mentality today that no matter how tired I am, no matter how bad I feel, no matter how much pain I’m in, I will keep moving, keep performing, keep working”.

The problem with all of these coping strategies is, if practiced long-term, they all lead to various forms of depression.

So how to find balance?  For me, I’ve found the following helpful.

1. Getting back in touch with my body through yoga, meditation and menstruality.

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2. Listening to and responding to my own emotions & intuition.

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3. Recognising the primacy of selfcare

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4. Living by The Four Agreements, which is such a valuable gift from Don Miguel Ruiz.

In this context of seeking balance in the face of adversity, Agreement 2 “Do not take anything personally” was particularly transformational for me and Agreement 3 “Don’t make assumptions”.

When I practice them faithfully, all Four Agreements help me achieve a deeper level of self-mastery in any situation, whilst remembering Agreement 4, there is no such thing as perfection so all you can do is your best.

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Sources:

Featured image by Rikard Elofsson via Flickr under Creative Commons license
The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris (2015)
Black Pain: It Just looks Like we’re not hurting by Terrie M. Williams (2008).
Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America by Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden (2004)
Radical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth by Brad Blanton and Marilyn Ferguson (1994)
Power Choices: Seven signposts on your journey to wholeness, love, joy and peace by Dr Brenda Wade (2005)
The Four Agreements: Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (Toltec Wisdom) by Don Miguel Ruiz (1997)

Stoicism is overrated, self-care is the solution

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Stoicism is undergoing something of a revival.  The The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Guardian have all recently suggested that the 2000 year old philosophy offers an antidote to the current unsettling times that we live in.

So what is stoicism?

The definition of stoicism is “the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complain”. Stoicism is an ancient philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in 3rd century BC.  It was named after Stoa Poikile (meaning Painted Porch), the location where Zeno taught philosophy.  The most famous Stoicism practitioners were Cato the Younger, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.

Why is stoicism is enticing?

Stoicism was a form of practical philosophy designed to overcome stress and anxiety and attain inner calm or tranquility. Stoics distinguished between instinctive reactions or passion and eupatheia  (“feelings resulting from correct judgment in the same way as passions result from incorrect judgment”[Source:Wikipedia]).  This was with the goal of achieving apatheia, (peace of mind resulting from clear judgment and maintenance of equanimity in the face of life’s highs and lows).

According to the Stoics, the key to achieving this goal consisted of cultivating the four cardinal virtues of : wisdom (to navigate complex situations), courage , justice (to treat others fairly), and temperance (self-control).

A central component of stoicism is the concept that some things are under their control and some are not and thus the goal of stoicism is to recognize that they can only control their own will and behaviour but not the eventual outcomes of such actions.

Indeed, Epictetus, was born a slave and wrote extensively on how Stoicism helps to accept one’s fate of oppression.  In a recent interview, the philosopher, Sandy Grant of Cambridge University suggested that “Stoicism was a philosophy for a time of slaves and when women were chattel, of fixed hierarchies”.

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My concern is that this sounds a lot like the myth of the “strong black woman” trying to endure her emotions and tough it out against intersectional oppression.

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Recently black feminist writers have exposed the poverty of this narrative and the damaging psychological effects that it is having on women. In Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman, Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant interviews 58 Black women to explore the concept  of the “Strong Black Woman.”  She “traces the historical and social influences on normative Black femininity” and argues that the idea that “the idea of strength undermines its real function: to defend and maintain a stratified social order by obscuring Black women’s experiences of suffering, acts of desperation, and anger”.

“Not only does the expectation of strength creates a distraction from broader forces of discrimination and imbalances of power, the pressure to appear invulnerable laves a significant physical and emotional toll on many Black women, leading to eating disorders and chronic depression”.

What about the importance of emotions?

The problem with attempting to follow the Stoic doctrine and enduring or attempting to not allow these painful emotions to arise, is that often the energy of the emotion doesn’t disappear.  For example, unprocessed or suppressed anger can either turns inwards and be expressed as depression (as depicted in “Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman” or can turn outwards and be expressed as violence.

In The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You (2010) Karla McLaren suggests taking the opposite approach of:

  1. actively identifying your emotions
  2. accepting your right to have these emotions
  3. attributing the root cause of the emotion
  4. taking whatever actions are possible within your locus of control or indeed acknowledging that no action is possible so that the emotion can dissipate rather than cause further harm.

In other words, taking the subtle power approach of prioritising self-care over stoic endurance and recognising that:

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[Image: Eleanor Brownn via http://www.eleanorbrownn.com/blog/self-care-in-not-selfish%5D

Sources:

Featured image – Creative Commons by Penny Lam via Flickr
https://qz.com/877914/401k-vs-pension/
https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoicism
https://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1919_reg_print.html
http://the-toast.net/2015/07/08/bree-newsome-myth-strong-black-woman/
https://www.salon.com/2015/07/03/oh_girl_get_up_you_got_this_why_the_%E2%80%9Cstrong_black_woman%E2%80%9D_stereotype_is_an_albatross/
https://bitchmedia.org/article/precious-mettle-myth-strong-black-woman