How to Be A Woman

Self-Portrait. Taken 10/5/2012. Canon Rebel XS.

Self-Portrait. Taken 10/5/2012. Canon Rebel XS.

Be confident, appear competent,
but don’t be cocky or bossy or bitchy.

Be compassionate and nurturing, but
never be angry, tired, anxious, or depressed.

Be smart, but not too smart, or
men won’t like you (it’s important that they like you).

Be different, so you stand out, but not too different,
lest you be labelled “crazy” or seen as a threat.

Be sexy, but not too sexy, and have sex,
but not too much and not with the wrong people.

Be fashionable, but remember that what you wear
and how you look is an instruction manual for how to treat you.

Be fit, be happy, be healthy, eat right, get enough sleep,
but never forget that your body is not merely your own.

Be all things to all people: wife, mother, dutiful daughter,
nurse, breadwinner, confessor, forgiver, fuck toy, personal assistant.

Be the one who circumvents, then reinvents all the rules and
false dichotomies. Be the one who dares the rest to try.


Author’s Note: I feel like I should say that I did not write this directed at men, so much as I wrote it to be directed at prevailing culture. There are very good men who are just as peeved about these things as we women are, and culture holds them to false dichotomies and stupid, arbitrary rules as well. Both groups suffer under rigid gender binaries. Maybe I’ll write a sequel called “How to Be A Man,” exploring that.

A Few More Thoughts On Power: Use, Misuse, & Freeing Yourself from Toxic Power Plays

Self-portrait. Taken 10/24/2012. Canon Rebel XS.

Freedom, a self-portrait. Taken 10/24/2012. Canon Rebel XS.

I’ve written about power before, here, but it has been a recurrent theme in my life in the past year and a half or so.  Or maybe it always has been, and I’ve just become aware of it in the past year and a half or so.  Either way, it continues to crop up in conversation and dreams, in the songs I listen to and the songs I sing, in the movies I see and the books I read, so I’m going to roll with it, and trust that this theme is something that needs to move through me.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a couple of my girl friends.  As often happens, we got into some conversational space where we were complaining about some relationship power dynamics at work in our lives.  They both have the same issue with a particular power dynamic, and I got on a near sermon-level roll in the middle of Wendy’s about the power other people have over us and our lives, and that is what has me sitting here typing this blog post.

The only power another person has over you and your life is the power you give them, and you can take that power away.

Let me repeat it, in case that didn’t sink in:  The only power another person has over you and your life is the power you give them, and you can take that power away.

If the person to whom you’ve given some sort of power is using that power in a toxic way, you can revoke their power privilege.  (And it is a privilege, make no mistake.  No one human being has the inherent right to wield power over you in a toxic way.)  It may not be easy (in fact, it probably won’t be), or fun (I haven’t ever known it to be fun), and they’re most likely not going to be happy about it, but it can be done.  If, for example, you find yourself under a boss who misuses their power in a game of psychological warfare, who makes it his or her mission to make you feel unworthy of your position and what you’ve accomplished, who reams you out at the drop of a hat (especially in front of others) for not making your paid employment the entire center of your universe (or does it for no real reason at all), who must put you down to build themselves up, you can put in your two weeks’ notice (or whatever time period your employment contract, if any, stipulates) and walk away, with or without another job waiting in the wings (depending on your financial situation).  You can leave significant others who behave similarly.  You can take some time and space away from that toxic family member or toxic family situation.  If you feel threatened, seriously threatened, you can get emergency protective orders.  (Though I would not wish that to be a necessity for anyone.)  As I’ve said, don’t expect people to be thrilled when they find their power has been taken away.  They won’t.  But do whatever you need to do to free yourself, and do it as quickly as you can, because I can tell you that the longer you spend in a toxic power situation with someone tearing you down, the more entitled they’ll feel to continue their toxic behavior and the longer it will take for you to build yourself back up, and the longer it will take them to wake up to the way their behavior affects others and themselves.

On the other hand, you may find yourself being the one misusing your power over someone.  What then?  Stop what you’re doing!  The first step is realizing that you’re misusing the power someone else has given you.   The second step is to stop what you’re doing, to take a step back and examine your motives.

What are you hoping to accomplish by misusing your power over someone in a given situation?  Are you hoping to feel better about yourself?  If so, there are other, healthier, more loving and appropriate ways to do that, beginning with figuring out what is at the root of your dissatisfaction with yourself.

Are you hoping to create, for instance, a more productive workplace?  Using toxic behavior to try to increase productivity, in actuality, usually decreases productivity because people start to burn out, break down, or become apathetic, and you end up with higher turnover, more people bawling their eyes out in the bathroom, and lower quality work from those who find that not caring is the best way to get through the day.  Instead, try encouragement–real encouragement, not the sarcastic kind–and compassion and treating those under you as human beings with a full spectrum of emotions and lives outside the workplace rather than as mindless machines churning out product.  Are you creating a toxic work environment because that’s what you think you’re supposed to do, because you think that nothing could possibly get done unless you make everyone feel like crap and unless they all hate you?  If this is you, realize this is not a movie, book, or TV show, and you do not have to step into the role of the antagonist.  You don’t have to repeat your own past boss(es)’ mistakes.  There’s nothing in the rulebook that says you have to be a heartless overlord to be effective (or, at least, there shouldn’t be).  Focus instead on becoming an effective, benevolent leader.

In your relationships (romantic relationships, family relationships, and friendships included), do you feel the need to wield your power in a toxic way because you feel your own life is out of your control?  If this is you, first figure out why your life feels out of your control.  Gently bring what you can control (situations and circumstances, not people) under your control.  After that, realize that there will always be things, and people, in life that you can’t control.  (Yes, I know how uncomfortable that can be.)  If that’s not your issue, do you feel the need to misuse your power in relationships to attempt to make people love, accept, and care for you?  If so, it’s not working.  It will never work.  You have to drop your weapons, allow yourself to be vulnerable, and make an effort to really know and be known.  You are not the people of your past, or, at least, you don’t have to be.  Everyone will not be like those who helped you originate your feelings of being unloved, unacceptable, and uncared for.  Those who are, are those to whom you should not give any power to affect your life.  (I know, easier said than done, but it will be worth it!)

I’m not claiming to be perfect at implementing any of this, but I think these things are worthy of deep consideration, conversation, and practice.

Jimi Hendrix is quoted as saying, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”  Peace is what we’re all after in the end, isn’t it?  That, and love.  Peace with our position in life, with our relationships, with our trajectory, with everything.  Giving love and receiving love.  When we’re using our power, then, shouldn’t we be using it to move toward peace and love?  Yes.  And the only way we can do that is to wield (or reinforce through our choices about who has power in our lives) the power of love, not the love of power. 

Some Thoughts On Power

Light flare through trees.

Light flare through trees. Taken 8/24/2012. Canon A 3300 IS.

Note:  With the ugliness of the current U.S. election cycle reaching its peak, and so much fighting for and talking about power, in the political and economic realms as well as the personal realm, I felt it would be a good time to share a bit about what I’ve learned, and believe, about power.  What follows is adapted from something I wrote in a venting, unsent letter last December in reference to an entirely different situation, but the heart of it is as applicable now as when I wrote the original piece, and broader in scope than I knew then.

Let me tell you a bit about what I’ve learned about true power.

What really gives you the power to change people, to change circumstances, and to change the world, is to care about your fellow living beings.  Money, fear, blackmail, political clout, and such, the things that feed and drive the dominant cultural perception of power, only extend so far.   Extension of goodwill toward others, however, can surpass most if not all limits when applied over time.  Make space for the most closed-off person you have ever met to be themselves, and they will begin to open up.  (I’ve seen that happen from the inside, having been one of those closed-off people, and I’ve also seen it from the other side of the equation, having been the person holding the space for someone else.)  Caring about your fellow living beings above material trappings engenders respect, which, with most, carries more weight than any currency or method of coercion.  Listening more than you talk, with a tiny pinch of patience and focused observation, yields more information, and more reliable information, than any interrogation.  Love–agape (unconditional, spiritual love), fraternos (literally “brotherly love”, but extending to friendship), and/or eros (erotic or romantic love)along with acceptance, forgiveness, trust, and support are superior to bank-issued currency, to policy, to employment, to party loyalty, to everything, really, because these forms of love are the things people spend their whole lives looking for, above and beyond any material trappings, even if they don’t know it.  Fill that void, and you will find people will be capable of great things.

As for power over your own life and self, that comes from admitting your mistakes, accepting your past, liberally applying forgiveness, accepting and working with what makes you different, taking responsibility for your actions and inaction as well as accepting the consequences thereof, and the hard work of letting go of all that no longer serves you (including your deepest fears and insecurities) and staying tethered to the moment while making do-able plans with actionable steps.  (I fully acknowledge that those things are a lot harder to live than to list.  I still find it difficult to live that list.)

By changing the way power is viewed and wielded in the microcosm—in each our lives and situations we each experience on a day-to-day basis—I wholeheartedly believe the power dynamics of the macrocosm—the world at large, the world of business, politics, and policy—begins to gradually shift as well.

I dream of and hope for a more peaceful, kinder world for those that come after me and my generation.  So how about we try to shift from threatening, fearful shadow power to heart-centered power motivated by our highest and brightest selves and put into practice by connection rather than division?