Toward the close of yesterday’s Introduction to the Active Feminine workshop, one woman in the group talked about the stress & fear & self-doubt inherent in being a status-quo challenging truth-teller in a hyper-masculine workplace. She talked about confronting ethical lapses and being told she’s wrong or crazy – which left me contemplating (for the millionth time) the deeply challenging practice of what we’re talking about here – way beyond ideas & theory – where the rubber meets the road.
A place that can feel, and often actually is, quite dangerous.
Later last night, I came across this blog post – Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did. Hamden Rice talks about MLK’s most important impact, which to him was not a great speech, nor a march, nor even changes of law, or helping white people understand racism. What Hamden Rice considers King’s greatest contribution was ending the terror of being black, especially in the South.
Rice is absolutely correct in connecting the random unwarranted violence against Blacks in the pre-civil-rights South with terrorism. That’s precisely what that was: exact same tactics, exact same purpose – to undermine an imagined ‘enemy’s’ power with chronic fear. And how did MLK end the terror of being black? By emboldening his community to face their greatest fears:
So what did they do?
They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.
Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.
If we do it all together, we’ll be okay.
They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad. They taught black people how to take a beating—from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses. They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating. They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.
And you know what? The worst of the worst, wasn’t that bad.
Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicced on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?
These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail.
That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south. Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep throated freedom song. The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another. This is what the writer, James Baldwin, captured like no other writer of the era.
Of course I just love that – a deep throated freedom song in the face of oppression & threat! Craving to live that fully, impactfully, and courageously is what drives me.
It also affirmed and illuminated some of what I was thinking about that rubber-hitting-the-road place for the Active Feminine.
For Active Feminine women, whose values and ways of expression naturally conform to neither hyper-masculine hierarchy nor Passive Feminine stability, order & compliance, our expression and our knowing ARE the weapons used against us, the implements of terrorism against the Active Feminine. Our ways of being are the hyper-masculine’s weapons.
Women are indoctrinated from birth on, to avoid any semblance of witchiness or whorishness – even the most fleeting association can cost a woman authority, support, community, trust. Get tarred with too much of that brush and you will lose your job, your self-respect, your family even. Which means that all you have to do to shut down a challenge from a woman is suggest that something she has said or done smacks of one or the other archetype (and ‘crazy’ fits both).
No – it’s not the same as the violence Civil Rights activists faced, but it is still terrifying, and undermines our power.
Which makes for a very easy fight against the Active Feminine woman. You don’t have to take her assumptions, claims, challenges seriously. Just proclaim either her presentation or her means of knowing invalid. If the presentation is too emotional, too blunt, too circular, too decorative – attack her on that front (or even if it’s not, accuse her of that anyway). If the means of knowing wouldn’t stand up in a court of law, or balance out on a spreadsheet – attack that.
We’ve all been indoctrinated to believe that A: there is a litmus test for both valid means of expression and valid means of knowing that must be passed before one can safely address anything, and B: (more importantly) large hierarchical hyper-masculine organizational norms define what that litmus test is. To the victor goes the power of definitions. All it takes to shut down an undesirable message is to reference that litmus test – and it’s no coincidence that Active Feminine women are the most frequent to fail it – it was designed to mitigate their apple-cart-upsetting power.
The litmus test is what protects the status quo from having to face valid questioning, and it works on everyone.
When we fail the litmus test, especially if we’re women, we go home and beat ourselves up, try to figure out how we could have done better, lose sleep. I’ve wasted years of my life in that mode.
And that’s how we remain controlled. By our fear of failing the litmus test too many times. By the threat of losing our livelihood, our careers, our standing, our influence.
I’m not saying it’s conscious, intentional or even masculine – it just works. We learn this means of power early on, by observation – its efficacy is self-reinforcing.
And, just like with Civil Rights – these fears are not unfounded. But they still need to be faced down – because those fears are what give the litmus test its reinforcing efficacy. As Hamden Rice tells us, liberating a people from fear of terrorism has the greatest impact. It’s what changes everything.
And that is what I’m dreaming of for Active Feminine women, liberation from fear of the litmus test.
None of which is to say that the moment of facing the dogs or the billy-clubs isn’t horrifying, or that lasting damage doesn’t happen to some (like, King himself. . .) i.e. I’m not downplaying the reality of the threat. The friend in the workshop yesterday who spoke up, who – right now, is losing sleep, experiencing deep stress over not outwitting the litmus-test, and trying to figure out how to master the seeming impossibility of facing down wrongs without losing her job – she is today’s face of courage, sitting in the fear and not running away from it. I applaud her, and ask everyone to send her protective, way-finding energy.
And here is the connection. Even today, decades after the Civil Rights movement, people still train for non-violent direct action. King didn’t just say, go sit at the lunch counter by yourself & get your head blown off. There was a philosophical underpinning that bolstered faith, there were strategy and tactics and preparation, there was a community acting together.
The Active Feminine and her Lovers are one face of the next generation of direct-action change-makers, working to shift a far deeper, more intimate, more ‘inter-being’ level of reality. And what the Civil Rights movement provided its generation of change-makers is what we don’t have yet – philosophical underpinning, training, community.
Which is what I am dreaming of creating, with your help. Let’s end the era of sitting at the lunch counter alone, playing Russian Roulette with the litmus test in isolation, and learn how to do this together.
I am craving to hear that deep throated freedom song.