A Barb-Slinging Matriarchy | Things That Make Us Say, “Youch!”

A few rage-y thoughts by a gal gently growing away from matriarchy, patriarchy, and so much self loathing.

Matriarchy, marriage, and making a point

“You know, you look almost beautiful today, Sandra.”

These GenERoUs words were spoken to me, to my face, with exultant surprise…on my wedding day. Mrs. V (sturdy, kindly, Christian, stalwart of the matriarchy indeed!) was well-intentioned, of course. Here I am, over 30 years down the road, now divorced and still getting a little pinch in my heart-tummy for the sweeping Awful that one little sentence brought.

Because, I thought, if I look almost beautiful today on my wedding day, what have you been thinking about me on all the other days?

“Get out of the way, Whale!”

“You know, that purse makes you look almost feminine.”

“You eat as much as a man.”

These words must have felt Very Important to the matriarchy who splurted them in my direction? (I wonder why it wasn’t equally important to warn me not to marry? Or to loudly yell that I was normal? And to, out loud, tell me I had brains and brawn and beauty enough for any regular sort of girl?)

Matriarchy and mudslinging make their mark

One of the uncomfortable consistencies of my early life was that I was too Girl for the boys and not Girl enough for the elder women in my life. Women who “loved Jesus” and couldn’t get enough of talking about “…the Heavenly Father’s love…” were swift and sharp with words that kept us younger ones small, ugly, and shamed. Whale, ugly, too hungry.

I was a chunky girlio. Actually, wait just second there, Sister. I was not a chunky girl. There is photo evidence to prove this! But I was often told that I was chunky and big boned and other such nonsense.

Long hair, too brown to be blonde; too blonde to be brown; too curly to be straight; too straight to be curly. The school dress code insisted on dresses well below the knee which meant a wardrobe packed with enough lace and pink to convince everyone that I was pretty, surely?

But you, “’Can’t slap lipstick on a pig!”

“Ooooh. You’re gonna be my challenge.” These words tripped lightly from a fashion party hostess and sent a titter of laughter through the circle of women flanking me. She looked me up. She looked me down. And she threw her hands in the air in mock despair. What to do with such an unattractive girl?

By 16 years old I had some ideas of what to do with that girl.

Desperate things.

Dark things.

If I’m never going to be enough, then why bother Things.

When the matriarchy won’t shush

When we as sisters and mothers and beloved friends fail to champion each other with kindness, we ensure that coercive, woman-hating systems of power remain in full sway.

When we as sisters and mothers and beloved friends fail to start and finish our encounters by offering dignity, we solidify the hold of manipulative, shaming systems of power.

In this, we, dear sisters, are The Problem.

This does not in any way diminish the responsibility held by men for the harm, abuse, and shameful subjugation they wield.

The abusers of power in your life and mine are fully responsible for their appalling mistreatment of women.

And so am I. So are you.

For every time we diminished a sister with a cutting glance or a well-timed cruelty.

For each sugar-cloaked, venom-soaked meanness.

We are responsible. And in this passive-aggressive allegiance to class, Othering, and grappling for our own “safety” of position, we prop up patriarchy and matriarchy foreverness.

It was women who taught me

This feels like daunting responsibility and enmeshment. My own experience of abusive systems of matriarchy/patriarchy is that it is as often the heel of one woman on the neck of another woman as it is the clutch of a dangerous man’s fist around her throat.

It was women who taught me that if I was not a virgin I was a whore.

It was men who underscored the lesson with dangerous glances and invitations to, “Just come sit on my lap a minute. Let me love you with Father God’s love!”

It was women who taught me that I needed to feel, think, and talk less.

It was men who emphasized the lesson by wondering, “Where’d bubbly Sandi go? You used to be so full of joy and smiles for everyone!” Or, “I love talking to you. You really get me.” This from men 20 years my senior as they stared at my chest or offloaded the heartache of a marriage on the wobble.

It was the matriarchy who taught me my value. To be clear: I had no value other than to “Just be a blessing to everyone around you.”

It was men who guarded the cage door, posturing, “To be clear, Sandi, you are responsible for the salvation of the young girls in your youth group charge. If they stray from the path, you will be guilty of blood guilt. But you have no other authority in this group. Your male counterpart is your umbrella of authority.”

Or, “I’d like you to continue to do all of the pastoral and leadership work that you are doing, but we’ll keep it between us that I’ve asked you this. We will not give you a title or an official position.” In essence, “If you could just continue doing all of the work, I’ll be over here carrying the title and earning the pay cheque for the work.”

If not this than what? How? Who do we want to be?

I’ve grown too tired and too old to wish to be branded by either matriarchy or patriarchy any longer. I don’t wish to excuse my own vulnerable smallness of mind and heart by blaming the tired old voices of my past. Just so tired. Really, really done with the mired and shaming Formerly Me ways.

Enter Curiosity! Wonder. Something close to actual love for Self. Oh, this one thing. Couldn’t we all just write tomes on the loathing and what-the-heck-do-you-mean-by-love-ing of Self?

A wildly disruptive thing happens when a gal who is deeply entrenched in hard-core, rule-bound, woman-shaming, angry God religion is jarred awake by a Love that says,
You are not flawed.
You are not wrong.
You matter. You matter. You matter.
You need not be subjugated any longer.

Shaking off the cobwebs of tired old ways

A disruptive thing happens when a gal who is entrenched in heart-crushing systems is invited awake by Love.

First, she’s invited to think – to think her own deep, disgruntled, disjointed thoughts. Dangerous stuff, that!

Next, the dissociated state of being subjugated, set aside, and subservient begins to crack and thaw and break off. Slowly. Painstakingly slowly. Awakening just happens. This is taking many years for me. I was in really deep. It’s a long, slow climb out of one oozy, slimy, slippery slurry of living life vaguely. Half asleep. Wishing for permanent sleep.

Then, while she’s thinking and cracking open to life, she begins to feel Wonder. The whiff of Free. The full-gale-force of, “Not that! Not that any more!”

The mischievous sworl of, “What if…” wonder.

The wonder of

I can breathe? Like, I can take full deep breaths? I can breathe! I can breathe.

The wonder of

I am not less than? Like, just a little bit less than? No? I am not less than? I am not less than.

The wonder of

There are no fences? Like, none? The fences are gone? The fences are gone!

The wonder of

I am Good and God is kind? I am Good. God is Kind. I am Goodness. God is Kindness.

The wonder of

What if God is angry, too? God – angry? God is angry…but not for the reasons we thought. God is ANGRY.

The wonder of

A tree is just a tree is just a tree. And a bird just a bird. The wind is simply wind. And I am just a girl. Without trying too hard. A tree is not trying to tree, nor is a bird trying to bird. They just are what they are. Could it be that I, too, can just be?

Exploring the Wonder and the Angry

Turning inward with a lot of zazz and honesty and, “What if…?” makes room for shuffling understanding. A new knowing. Re-imagined experience of God, faith, spirituality, Self, self, purpose. The way through, of course, is in. Inward. Into the bright light of who we truly are; into the shadows of the same.

I have not been able to do this alone. For me, spiritual direction has been the way over the hurdle of self help (Good gosh! We try so, so, so hard to become well, right?), and into some uncomfortably beautiful-awful truths. And beyond. Not arriving at any kind of finishing place. Everything is always beginning again…and again…and again. But into a way of being that allows collaboration with Mercy. Not meanness.

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