Thoughts after watching #FemalePleasure

I’ve not long arrived home after attending a screening of “#Female Pleasure”. I found it affected me deeply – all cinema films take me into their world and it takes time to re-emerge, which is why I must stay to the end of the credits, if not longer. Ideally, a companion to dissect the film with afterwards helps, too.

After this one… my first desire was to go buy a beer, or a second beer, I should say: the first I had during the film, just for the novelty of it that I’m still not over. But the second, that started to feel more like a desire to numb out, so I decided not to. Then, a desire not merely to eat, because I was hungry so many hours after lunch, but to tear at food, preferably meat, with my teeth. Yet it isn’t some dead animal flesh I really wanted; or it would not, in any case, sate what lies beneath the need to nourish my body.

Rage. Underneath these surface desires and signals from my body, which it seems to have taken me much of my life already to learn how to hear: rage. Were it possible to tear at human flesh with my fangs and my claws, I would turn that desire on those who perpetrate misogyny. Better yet – those who enshrined the subjugation of women in patriarchal religious systems. I would, I think, commit murder if it meant I could stop what is being done to women, what has been done to us for hundreds and thousands of years. What we have also done to each other in an effort to adjust to our place in society, to fit in and be good little girls, to not have the violence land on us but to stay safe and live another day. There is not a woman alive who has not been subjected to violence, discrimination, devaluation, solely because she is a woman; would that there were a place where we are free to be human beings, equal to all other human beings and able to unfold our human potential, but I can’t think of one. So I feel rage, and grief, and frustration, anger, misery, hopelessness, but mostly rage.

I feel it because I love women. I love them in every way: they, we, are beautiful to me, every one of us. I admire our courage that means we keep going, we keep trying to build a better world that we can birth our children into. We are wise, and funny, and sensual, and strong, and resilient. We are, most of us, not like men: we exist in a world that is built for them, but we carve our own paths wherever we can. And at our glorious best, we support and uplift each other as sisters, we mother each other when the women who gave birth to us cannot, and we heal what is broken in each other. Although I spent a long time trying to love men as well, as it turns out, I do not. I cannot move past the cataclysmic rage that I carry, and in the end, I only compete to be “the better man” – and I win. I emasculate. And I wish, sometimes, I had more than words to do it with.

From this love of women stems my incomprehension how anyone, anywhere, at any time, could have decided that women are lesser. Misogyny is outrageously offensive to me: it conflicts with one of my most deeply held beliefs. I also tried to be a good little liberal and acknowledge that all human beings matter, that we should love the person and not their gender or their genitals, and that anyway all of it is just a construct, i.e. made up. Obviously there is some truth to these assertions: I, too, have experienced Oneness with All (another of my most formative experiences as a young person), and of course I know that all dichotomies must fall in the face of that. But. BUT. The stark injustice of what is being done to women BECAUSE we are women gets me every time: I cannot and will not move past it to be “reasonable”. The way women are treated, in societies, cultures and religions, is not “reasonable”. The way we are taught to hate and mistrust our bodies is not “reasonable”. The violence enacted on us is not “reasonable”. It has quite simply got to stop, and we must have our time to grieve and heal, and then maybe we can talk about “reasonable”. For now, and perhaps the rest of my life, my love and support and spare cash goes to women and my own healing.

So what is this film that has catalysed me into writing? Well, #Female Pleasure is a documentary by Barbara Miller, a Swiss filmmaker, in which she interviews five women and films them going about their lives and their work. These five all come from different countries and cultures and from five major world religions; each of them has come to be critical of the role religion has played in subjugating women. They are: Deborah Feldman, who grew up a Hasidic Jew in the US, leaving the community and religion after an arranged marriage because she didn’t want to bring up her child in this environment; she wrote a book about her experience and continues to engage with the impact of Judaism on women. Leyla Hussein, who comes from a Somalian and Muslim background, has been subjected to FGM, and now works globally to end the practice, fuelled by her desire to protect her daughter. Rokudenashiko, a Japanese artist who works with moulds and 3D prints of her vulva, for which she has been arrested and taken to court on a charge of obscenity; it is not clear whether she is part of Shinto religion but its practices, especially around publicly celebrating phalli, are contrasted with her art. Doris Wagner, who was raped when she was a Catholic nun and found that nobody believed or supported her, much less engaged with the issue of systemic abuse in the church; she went on to write a book about her experiences, having realised that any change can only be forced onto the church by public scrutiny, and now lives a secular life with a husband and child. Vithika Yadav from India runs Love Matters, a website working towards equality for women and better information for both men and women about sex, consent, and relationships, mostly taboo topics in Hindu society.

The film seems to be an independent release; the bulk of it is in English with German subtitles, while the parts about Wagner are just in German. I’m not sure where it has been released, apart from Germany on a fairly limited run; but if you can catch it, I would recommend doing so. Better yet: get outraged about misogyny, too, and help me build a better world.

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2/12: save your life

Today’s writing exercise is on healing: not just knowing the wounds we carry, but figuring out a way to find wisdom in them; and connecting our self-healing with our effect on those around us (very Chironic, this).

Name three aspects of your life you struggle with, and describe how you can begin to offer those aspects in the form of healing to yourself.

I struggle with poor self-image.

I’ve believed I’m faulty in various ways, wrong, not good enough. Too fat, too lazy, not athletic enough, incapable of changing, unable to follow through on my plans or stick with them once made.

-> I will believe in myself.

I will counteract these messages whenever I hear them – whether they come from me or others. I won’t believe them, I will instead believe the image of myself as whole and capable, and I will look for evidence to back this up.

I struggle with being/feeling nurtured.

Due to a bunch of my personal history going back to birth, it’s hard for me to feel truly and deeply nourished, both in the physical and the emotional senses. It seems to always be either too much or not enough, to involve “taking” rather than “receiving”, “giving” (too much) and not “sharing”.

-> I will nourish myself.

I will provide my body with good, nourishing food on a regular basis. I will listen to my body to understand what it needs and how it digests what I provide, which will teach me what is the right nutrition for me. I will listen to my heart and its needs, and I will learn to provide for it, too.

I struggle with dependence.

Another collection of personal history to do with relating; I feel there was an unfortunate coming-together of poor boundaries, of prioritising needs in maybe not the best or fair way, which I have continued to act out as a pattern. I have tended to either function as a support for someone else, or to be demanding myself, i.e. dependent models; and attempting independence in between. Broadly connected with this, I also struggle with vulnerability.

-> I will depend on myself.

I will improve my dependability, I will honour my promises to myself, I will continue to learn how to become interdependent. I will continue to seek out people who are not dependent or make me dependent on them.

 

2/11: healing perfectionism

Hello again. I got caught in the problem of paid work taking up writing energy, as well as issues of essential survival near the bottom of the Hierarchy of Needs: managing eating, drinking, sleeping, breathing; trying to understand more about them, experimenting with what works and what doesn’t. I’ve needed to deliver a lot of work with short deadlines, and am a step closer to burn-out with that – so I am now carving out time for other things again that are not consuming media, but give space for feeling and thinking for myself. I also notice strongly the change of the seasons: the winter weather is persisting here in Berlin – it snowed on the first day of Spring – but the underlying change is making itself felt. I appreciate Winter’s energy of withdrawal and rest, composting/decay, and not rushing to grow too soon, and have been deeply in that. Spring is not my natural forte, but I am listening carefully to what does want to rise, grow, show itself.

The writing exercise I’m engaging with today is around perfectionism.

What is the relationship between…

… self-sabotage and perfectionism?

Not achieving perfection leads to abandoning all effort, and even undoing previous attempts, towards anything, but especially all self-improvement (since it’s notoriously hard). Perfectionism sends a strong message that such attempts are futile, stupid and pointless, and therefore also undermines future attempts, no matter how strongly motivated, useful or authentic these may be.

… self-limiting beliefs and perfectionism?

Not doing things perfectly leads to self-limiting beliefs, as the attempt appears to signal that this is not a skill I have, nor should I keep trying to learn it. This also feeds into existing SLBs, “proving them right”: used as evidence for faulty beliefs rather than dismantling them with new ideas and the corresponding evidence.

… shame, guilt, disempowerment and perfectionism?

All failure to achieve perfection feeds feelings of shame, again “evidence” for my inherent worthlessness. I’m less sure about guilt: maybe there is some for having used resources/time on something that ultimately didn’t pan out. Perfectionism causes disempowerment: I cannot develop without making mistakes; I can’t/won’t take proper responsibility for myself.

A. three ways I strive to be “perfect”:

  1. following the “right” diet and exercise plan/s, and doing so consistently/to the letter
  2. being a calm/non-emotional source of support for others
  3. creating “real art”

B. how have each of these blocked me from…

a) my authenticity

  1. listening to the actual needs of my body (rather than some idealised or normed version), responding appropriately
  2. voicing my own emotions, even feeling them. Expressing doubt, fear, need for support.
  3. expressing my actual interests and passions, standing by my creations, judging my attempts to try new things -> killing creativity

b) self-care and self-love

  1. not being perfect leads me to abandon even trying, since I can’t “succeed” anyway. Straight-up self-sabotage, therefore not learning to nurture or care for myself; not progressing far enough to learn about my body, what works or doesn’t
  2. I end up suppressing my own feelings to be there for others, then erupting terribly days/months/years later and/or becoming unable to feel anything. I lose touch with my innter world.
  3. I cut off avenues for self-expression, so things remain unsaid and eventually creativity dries up.

c) living the life I want to live

  1. I’m making slow progress towards giving my body what it needs; time/effort taken up with spinning my wheels, fixing problems, having no energy, rather than being able to work towards my dreams
  2. it’s hard to build support networks and/or practices that enable me to process my feelings, so I spend a lot of time feeling awful without knowing what to do to move through it
  3. I’m treading water with what feels “safe”, because it’s too scary to move forward. And I devalue what I create as “not real art”, which removes some pressure but also stifles me

C. what can I do to shift my mindset?

I can remind myself that messing up is okay, in fact, it’s good: I learn more this way than when I do everything perfectly.

And I can be okay with starting again and again, every day if I need to, or pausing and continuing (for daily/scheduled practices)

And I can be gentle with myself and remember that harsh judgements and criticism don’t help me – better to quietly get on with it instead.

 

Stay tuned for the next exercise, whenever I get to it…

1/22: Confidence. 2/10: Learning.

After all that noodling yesterday,  today is a two-fer again: not by design, it’s just how my day worked out. Mercifully short tasks as well.

1/22:

Feeling blank, I discover what I know

2/10:

please, give me tighter restrictions

with them I reach my convictions

2/9: self-limiting beliefs

“Write a Screw You Letter to your self-limiting beliefs. Self-limiting beliefs are assumptions (not truths) that we form about ourselves as a result of emotional pain and trauma — abandonment, rejection, betrayal, bullying, abuse, etc.”

1a Screw you, “you can’t finish anything”, for making me feel bad and guilty for pausing in my plans or changing my mind about them. Screw you for making me doubt myself and sometimes not even starting things.

2a Screw you, “you’d be so pretty if you lost weight”, for making food, exercise, nurturing and self-love unnecessarily difficult, complicated and doomed to failure.

3a Screw you, “nice girls are quiet and calm”, for suppressing my anger and rage, even if they were justified, and for making it hard to assert my boundaries.

4a Screw you, “you just aren’t athletic and you don’t enjoy sports”, for taking all the fun out of moving my body.

5a Screw you, “housework is dirty and beneath you”, for making my home messy and unpleasant to live in.

 

1b Screw you, “you can’t finish anything”: I was born sensitive and with the ability to choose the right path for me.

2b Screw you, “you’d be so pretty if you lost weight”: I was born beautiful and caring.

3b Screw you, “nice girls are calm and quiet”: I was born with vocal cords and something to say.

4b Screw you, “you just aren’t athletic”: I was born to dance.

5b Screw you, “housework is dirty and beneath you”: I was born with the ability to find beauty and truth in all kinds of tasks, and I was born to create a beautiful home.

 

How does my pain connect me to a healing world?

How can my pain translate into soulful purpose?

How will pain reveal an empowered story of my life?

I am reminded that what causes me pain is the thing I will learn the most about in my attempt to solve it, becoming an expert in the process. What comes easy goes unnoticed, and my knowledge of it may remain superficial; but the things that feel deeply wrong are an invitation to engage deeply, to get to the bottom of them, to understand them so thoroughly that I could teach someone else how to manage them. This kind of pain is the grain of sand in the oyster.

1/21: Balance

In line with my previous post, the content of which actually fits very well with today’s prompt in stream 1, I’ve decided to pursue the two streams independently, and number posts accordingly: x/yy, x for the stream and yy for the relevant prompt number. I have read prompts 1/9 to 1/20, and decided to skip them all, although I might come back to some later.

Anyway, here’s what came for 1/21:

sunshine

gold glitter

pause for reflection

And now I shall go work, at last. More from stream 2 later.

 

Writing prompts: this can’t continue

I think I have come to the point where pursuing both sets of writing prompts just isn’t possible: while the first week or so featured gentle exploration, and I could generally contain the introspection and the act of writing to under an hour, both paths are going deeper, and diverging rather than running in parallel. I took some time off because I had a lot of paid work to deal with, which taps into a neighbouring reservoir and can eat a lot of time and energy in a day. When I came back, I started to feel the pull in two directions: a kind of upward, uplifting, sweetness in the first set (appropriate for self-love), and a different direction for the second, “the way out is through” kind of thing. Deeper into pain. Both are good and valid paths but I can’t contain them both so close together, much less in a morning before work (that context switch)… and that’s aside from my mornings spreading themselves out over the day as it is.

I’ve wondered whether I can do one in the morning and one in the evening, an up/down movement to bracket the day, which I like. All the same, I hit prompt after prompt that just doesn’t feel right to work on today, and most require movement in the world to accomplish: where to put it? Tomorrow, maybe, but this doesn’t answer my problem today. Maybe I can skip a bunch until something clicks?

The answer that is arising now is to treat my “backlog” as a pool of prompts to pick from and do what I can on the day, and indeed what meets the energy of any given day. Deviate from the set path and forge my own. Perhaps try out set 1 in the mornings, and set 2 in the evenings (and perhaps stick closer to its path, as well).