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The Feminine Rising

Julie Freeman

“Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” ― Napoléon Bonaparte

There is a great movement afoot, a rumbling we can no longer ignore, as sparks fly off the heels of #resist, #metoo and #timesup, a new dawn lighting the way toward greater equality, justice, compassion, and dare I say…harmony.

Yes there is anger—an appropriate response to injustice.  Systemic change is long over due. Wrongs should be made right. But there is also hope. Women are tired, and women are resilient.  Women are finding their voices collectively silenced so long ago. We can see now what has been missing—as nearly one half of what makes us whole has been marginalized for centuries—the feminine.

It may appear to be about gender, and no doubt women have had to bear the burden of patriarchy— a power imbalance that favors men and withholds equal rights for women (to put it mildly)—but this is much more than a march toward equality.

This is an understanding that the feminine has been squelched in both men and women, limiting all of us from being whole human beings, equally worthy of opportunity, expression and respect in the world.  As iconic author and teacher Marion Woodman proclaims, “When I say feminine I don’t mean gender.  I mean the feminine principle that is living or suppressed in both men and women.”

And Woodman is not alone—feminine power is gaining momentum around the globe.  The women’s march in January 2017 wasn’t for women; it was for humanity.  Unlike the traditional masculine model to divide and conquer, “the feminine principle attempts to relate,” Woodman argues.  “It asks, where are we alike?  How can we connect? Where is the love?” 

There is nothing inherently wrong with the masculine or the feminine.  One is not greater than the other.  They are meant to be complimentary, combined to create harmony within us and between us.

Where the masculine is competitive, the feminine is collaborative; where the masculine is exclusive, the feminine is inclusive; where the masculine is logical, the feminine is intuitive; where the masculine is active, the feminine is receptive.  However, “the great container, the Self, is paradoxically both male and female and contains both,” Woodman says. 

A balance of both the masculine and the feminine is good for all of us. Masculine and feminine traits or characteristics are in everyone, in varying degrees.  Following extreme gender norms and roles is inherently limiting because the bulk of the population falls in the middle of the bell curve, not at each end.  Forcing us into extremes is not natural or healthy.  

With such a long history of patriarchy, we have seen—and are seeing now more than ever—through a general disregard for the feminine, a dangerous imbalance, what we can call the toxic masculine—where power is turned into force, abundance into greed, and creation into destruction (more on this in my next blog).

Why is this so important you ask? 

First, because the imbalance is killing us.  And we know it.  Our bodies and our earth are battered, crying out, Enough!  We have built a world where authority is bestowed primarily to men.  A world based on the assumption of power as a vertical line, therefore exclusive and limited, rather than a horizontal one where mutual empowerment is possible.  A power that must be protected rather than shared creates an “us versus them” dichotomy that maintains adversity.  It doesn’t take long to see evidence of masculine power gone awry.

Second, because the feminine has also been marginalized in men through patriarchal conditioning, it tends to be rejected by men internally.  Boys and men are inundated with messages that reject the feminine:  “You throw like a girl… Boys don’t cry… Don’t be a pussy… You son of a bitch… Be a man (not a woman).”  There is little encouragement for boys to embrace their feminine side, to say the least.  My heart breaks for children everywhere who learn they must hide important parts of themselves traditional society deems inappropriate.

And third, because basic psychology tells us that what we cannot own or tolerate in ourselves is unconsciously projected onto others, a subject/object split is inevitable:  To make me right I must make you wrong.  Objects are easy to ignore, abuse, discard.  And so we have a male dominated culture that is not allowed to embrace its feminine side so much so that women have been subjugated in myriad ways throughout history.   

Of course there are many more reasons to count and arguments to make in the larger tapestry of patriarchy—in order to understand how we got here—but I think this is a thread worth following. Those of us speaking up in favor of a kinder, more equitable world are not anti-men or anti-masculine.  We’re simply holding up a mirror and saying, take a look.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the masculine or the feminine.  And one is not greater than the other.  They are meant to be complimentary, combined to create harmony within us and between us. Society slowly seems to be loosening the knot that ties together men and masculine, and women and feminine, and extending its reach beyond a limited binary. The capacity to love is universal. 

Most of all human beings need connection, a place to belong, a witnessing to our shared humanity.  “Your presence is your power,” Woodman says.  “It’s not power over anybody else.  Power in the sense of controlling somebody else is different from personal presence.  That kind of power—patriarchal power—does not value other people.  Love is the real power.”

Indeed a day of reckoning is upon us.  Women are speaking up now more than ever, as they should.  And, gratefully, good men are listening.  A call for genuine care, dignity, respect, kindness and inclusion is the feminine rising. Let this not be a battle of the sexes, but a coming together as whole and healthy human beings working to create a safe, prosperous and sustainable future for generations to come.  Let the reemergence of the feminine give you hope.


Julie Freeman

Recently I traveled to New York City to attend a conference.  As I maneuvered the streets of this lively and crowded city, I was reminded of the way I used to walk there, and in other crowded areas.  I used to sidestep when almost anyone was headed in my direction, especially when there wasn’t much free space around us in which to navigate.

It took me quite some time to notice this pattern in myself, how I tended to literally step aside when someone approached me on the same path I was on.  Roughly 95% of the time, I accommodated the “approaching other.”  I am not sure of all of my reasons behind that choice, but it seemed something (someone) had to “give” in order to avoid a collision.  Over and over I moved over. 

At first I told myself it was the gracious and generous thing to do.  Next came the rational idea that someone had to make room so foot traffic could flow smoothly.  After awhile I began to notice my surprise that the people approaching me didn’t even seem to look up and notice me until we were practically on top of each other.  It was as if they were unconcerned about what was ahead of them (like me). 

Soon I began to feel irritation and annoyance that these others were not playing by the same “rules” as I was and “how on earth were they not paying more attention?”  Quickly this became “what on earth are they thinking?!”  And finally I landed in true anger at the self-absorption of others and the overall lack of generosity I was experiencing on the streets.

It took some number of rounds of this “walking experience” before it dawned on me to consider the question, “what if I didn’t step aside, first, each and every time?”

So, I began an experiment – right then and there on the crowded streets of Manhattan.  First, I set the intention of being as curious and observant as I could be as I changed my behavior in walking. (I did not want to fall prey to attempting to “win” some kind of contest).  I took a couple of deep breaths and I began to walk across town.  Each time someone approached me, using the same path I was on, I softened my knees, kept my gaze forward and continued to walk my path.

Interestingly, an array of things began to happen. More and more people began to look up and see that I was there.  While there were many surprised looks, as if they couldn’t quite believe someone was in the way, I did actually feel “seen.”  Sometimes a smile, or a nod, or eye contact was exchanged.  A few times, the other seemed irritated by my presence on the path, and once or twice a snide comment was made.  But I kept walking and watching.

Something new began to happen when I did not step sideways.  A different kind of dance ensued.  Most of the time the other person gave way to me, by stepping aside so that I could continue.  Sometimes we found a dance step in which we together made room for each other.

It was an eye-opening experience.  It turned out other people did make room for me, or saw me, or found a way to engage with me so we could work out our respective journeys.  It actually wasn’t always up to me to make room, to divert my path, to sidestep.

A teacher of mine once said that conflict is simply the experience of two people attempting to occupy the exact same spot at the exact same time – and their ultimate navigation of that moment. This makes conflict (confrontation, connection?) not so scary.

How many times have I sidestepped to make room for someone else’s progress?  Far too many to count, I fear.

Although I do believe sharing the road is essential, when does being “the only one who steps aside” become self-reinforcing, part of one’s identity, and ultimately plays a big part in one’s journey actually becoming derailed?  How many times does stepping aside for another lead to our defaulting to another path because the one we were on seems to get blocked or impeded by the presence of another? 

It had come to feel like I was always tacking sideways to avoid confronting the “other.” I have to assume I had come to believe that a direct encounter would not go well and I took myself away from the possibility of a variety of ways of contact by avoiding first. And I was always interrupting where I was going.

I do want to share the road. I am now aware that sharing is not even possible if I do not hold my own presence there.  And there is little chance I can cross to where I am called to go if I keep turning aside.

Katherine Smith, Phd

Us versus Them is Always a No-win Scenario

Julie Freeman

I am struck over and over by how polarized We The People are right now in these United States of America.  Spiritual teacher and author Michael Roads writes brilliantly about how our two-party system is inherently adversarial, causing a no-win dichotomy that trickles down into our culture, communities, and families.  And this seems to be true now more than ever (at least in my life time).

For better or for worse, our 45th President is the lightening rod—love him or hate him—at the center of this tumultuous storm.  Change is happening so fast, it’s hard to keep up.  And it looks like this storm is going to get worse before it gets better.  Adversarial posturing that asserts whom is right/wrong, good/bad, in/out, based on broad things like, race, gender and religion, can only come from fear—a fear that is often misguided, unacknowledged or disrespectful.

There are people I love on the other side of the partisan aisle—and I have very sincerely and mindfully committed to keeping the lines of communication open and friendly.  I did not want to make any assumptions about what motivated them to vote the way they did.  As difficult as it is to understand (we are clearly not tuned into the same news sources) there is one thing that does—and must—transcend this difficult division—and that is love.  Jungian analyst, teacher and author Marian Woodman says, “Love is the true antitheses of fear.  It expands where fear constricts.  It embraces where fear repels.” 

I understand the issues are serious and the stakes are high.  People feel sincerely in the ways they do.  But fighting amongst ourselves is not the answer.  Neither side is ever going to be convinced by the other, especially if no one is listening.  Listening is what builds bridges to understanding, compassion and peace.  We consider the bigger picture and recognize that life is not so black and white, but filled with shades of gray, a mixture of good and bad, not all or nothing, not us vs. them.

What is considered feminine has been marginalized for a long time, and therefore suppressed in both men and women.

One of the most worrisome issues right now for me (and many of us) involves the welfare of women.  Disproportionate representation and this new conservative agenda—based on fear—make progress very difficult. Why feminism (gender equality) is still such a dirty word and threatening idea is truly hard to understand.  Gender equality asserts equal rights for both men and women, not women over men, not women instead of men.

Unfortunately, we’ve all been subjected to some level of gender socialization, where we learn from an early age what is expected of us as boys and girls.  But gender roles and norms are socially constructed, loosely based on biological evolution, and inherently limiting if we only get to be half a human being.  And I say unfortunately, because we all have both masculine and feminine characteristics within us, and both are necessary to create a healthy person, relationship and world. 

Like everything in nature, masculine and feminine characteristics fall along a continuum, a bell-curve—with the most moderate and equal in the middle.  The extremes are found at each end, and represent the smallest percentage of the population overall.  The extreme gender assumptions about how men and women are socialized to behave are not the norm, not healthy, and not sustainable.  What is considered feminine has been marginalized for a long time, and therefore suppressed in both men and women.

The feminine principles of collaboration, relatedness, receptivity, and inclusion—a preference for the whole over its parts—are critical to our evolution into a more peaceful and sustainable world.  Masculine principles of competition, exclusion, hierarchy, and individuality—a preference for the individual over the group—not inherently wrong—have become out of balance, over bearing, and problematic.  This focus on fear fuels both a dangerous, toxic masculinity and tremendous unnecessary collateral damage.

The welfare of the world depends on cooperation, checks-and-balances, and a willingness to work together.  Now more than ever we need to bring the masculine and feminine into balance. How does making the rich richer (a focus on the individual) help sustain the masses (a focus on the group/whole)?   Why is it so difficult to prioritize care for everyone?   Shouldn’t a government “of the people by the people for the people” be more inclusive?  We seem to be at a critical crossroads, and the choice is ours. Peace is not possible without the masculine and feminine in us all finding a place of acceptance, balance and respect.  

As a psychotherapist I’ve found that when you ply your way through all the armor, fear and dogma, people just want to know they matter.  They want to be loved, cared for, and safe.  When people are scared, they get angry, even if they don’t know why they are scared, or even that they are scared at all.  When we are afraid, we are defended against love. But nothing good comes out of fear and hatred. We must learn to have compassion for each other and ourselves.  To echo Woodman’s words, “Love is the real power.”

Julie Freeman, MFT



View from Abroad

Julie Freeman

Watching the presidential elections from abroad leaves me with many questions. I am a woman—a professional woman who has worked at high levels in male dominant structures and companies internationally.

Did I meet men like the incoming president? Yes I did.  And I have met men who (never to my face, yet definitely behind my back) suggested that I had “slept” my way up. They always argued that it was impossible that I would have the proper education, knowledge and skills to perform at the level I was.

These insinuations did two things:  First, I dismissed them as soon as they were brought to me, and  second, I worked even harder—it made me want to outdo the nay-sayers with an even better performance than I had displayed until that moment.   I always had the urge to get even. Sometimes I would get very upset when I heard another round of the rumors—I just felt sad and disheartened that people were so eager to continue to disbelieve my abilities.

Now I look at the incoming president and all the rumors surrounding him. They do not have to be true, we will never know. Yet looking at the person holding a press conference, it is clear that he does not respect any established rules and/or regulations. I do not see a display of basic respect for the individual, the human being. He steps on dignity and integrity with everything he has and every opportunity he gets.

It’s hard to say who he disrespects most, the immigrants (legal or not), the people filling the blue color jobs who are working in his companies and have played a part in his growing wealth or, just women.  I wonder where all of this will lead?

Even more important is the question of integrity.  What we would do if offered a job working in this administration? Do you accept the job and not look at the circumstances, or do you stand tall and decline a good job opportunity and forget that your values will be stepped on daily.

I am not sure what I would do. The reasoning would go on forever in my head. The pro’s and con’s would be listed on more than one piece of paper. Will my value system, integrity and basic respect—both needed and wanted, overrule the economic advantages, benefits for my family and the possibilities for career advancement and potentially improved status?  I think this would be a very difficult question and a hard decision to make.

It is a topic though for women particularly to look at and make a decision. Career advancement with or without benefits, or stay true to your personal value system.  A very difficult topic and not easy to predict how everything will develop.

My wish on the eve of the inauguration is that integrity, respect and a solid value system will govern the upcoming presidential period. May the women find a positive way to move up in this world and not have to make sacrifices, or be sacrificed.  As they have the knowledge, they act, they move and they can do it!

Herma-Joze Blaauwgeers

The Netherlands

This is Real

Julie Freeman

The distractions of the holidays are almost over.  The winter solstice has passed and as I watch the lighting of the last candles of Hanukkah, and see the Christmas trees and lights come down, I am beginning to be filled with dread.

This is real. 

John Oliver, comedian for HBO, pleaded with his audience in his final episode of the 2016 season to remember “this is not normal!”  I think he is right. This doesn’t feel normal to me.  And it feels painfully real.  The future coming towards us feels like a new reality that is scary to face.  I am feeling unnerved in a way I have never experienced before.  I don’t think the explanation that I am a poor loser is accurate.   I am also humbled by some of the assumptions I made about the people who voted for the president-elect.  However, what I am confronted with now is the damage of assumptions in general, my lack of understanding, and the distress of my having stood by and watched the “us-them” divide increase, to chasm-like proportions.

We don’t’ actually know what is coming January 20 and beyond.  But what I do know is that, on the whole, we humans do not do well in the face of the unknown. The unknown creates all kinds of anxiety within us.

Once anxiety sets in, a range of behaviors designed to forestall the discomfort emerges. In perhaps more healthy ways, we can choose to gather together and work towards clarity and courage in the face of uncertainty.  We can strive to know what is coming by looking to history to predict the future. We struggle to understand.  And we find ways to challenge our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs – no longer holding them as the only truth.  We learn to center ourselves – even in unsettling times.

 These efforts strike me as important, sometimes valiant, and essential steps toward healing the divide that can open up between people – especially now in what seems like an insurmountable gap.

Perhaps a less noble tactic, but a perfectly human response to fear of the unknown, and the concomitant anxiety, is our tendency to move towards diversionary tactics - such as over-working, drinking, eating, shopping, focusing on others, to name just a few.  It is very difficult to stay present and truly look at what seems to be real, especially when it makes us feel uncomfortable or afraid.

I have to acknowledge that the issues of the day are so complex that I cannot wholly get my head around them.  Yet it doesn’t make sense to me that“enough” people believe matters of human well-being (care for the environment, human rights, access to food, health-care, adequate education, safety from guns) and the human well-being that comes with economic recovery and stability are somehow mutually exclusive.  I also struggle with the president-elect’s attitude towards wholeness and recovery by putting a premium on “power over” others and the prejudicial attitudes that come with that towards whole groups of people.  I am left feeling afraid, angry, confused, and often filled with a sense of helplessness. At the same time I have to also acknowledge I have been inattentive, sometimes unwilling to actually be with what has been happening in the world

So, there are times when I have found myself more disconnected from my feelings, from my experience, from others, and from the challenge of reaching outside of believing my own thoughts to reach for understanding the thoughts and feelings of others.  So, I find a diversion, especially one that mutes my pain and quells my fears.

Enter the TV series, “The Gilmore Girls.”

 I discovered this series after it had aired in its entirety, which gave me the opportunity for binge watching.  I must say that I did enjoy the series, though it clearly represented a specifically privileged part of this country.  Stars Hollow and the zany antics of its women, its townspeople, and the relationships therein provided a protected world where things tended to work out, and the real problems of the world were seemingly non-existent.

What a nice alternative to a sometimes-challenging therapy practice.  What a delightful world to escape to and become numb to parts of my own life, both close to home and further away in the world.  I could passively laugh, cry, and cheer for the solutions discovered by the Gilmore Girls and the residents of Stars Hollow.  Happily, it all worked out -which probably fed my child-like wish for it “all working out” for the world.  That naïve wish can certainly pull me away from what is really true in life.  What is real. What is actually happening around me.

As I binge-watched the series, (well over 100 hours), I am embarrassed to say,  I noticed avoiding the news even more.  I felt less engaged in life around me, and I often looked forward to coming home and turning the TV on rather than reaching out to others, reading, learning, and even practicing some of the meditation I had begun to love.  I knew this wasn’t a good thing, but the allure of “one more episode” seemed to rule the day. 

I finally completed the series, and I was able to get back to a more balanced approach to my life.  Then the election happened.  And interestingly enough, a reunion and 4-part reprise of the Gilmore Girls aired not long after.  I looked forward to being captivated by this alternate universe once again.

As I watched the first two episodes of the four part revived series, I noticed that there was something strained and a bit forced in the dialogue, in the relationships between the characters, and in how the plot seemed to be unfolding.  It was almost like they could not quite pull me like they did before.  While I was happy to be back with all the folk of Stars Hollow, there was something that didn’t quite work for me in sustaining my attention to the show and its efforts to recreate that generally idyllic world.  It was almost like the stark reality of my life held me away from the fantasy, and the fantasy of the show actually had some cracks in its veneer.

I think the entire process of the election made me less able to turn away towards distraction and enchantment.  I now see the cracks in my “responsible citizen” façade of my not facing into what is happening, and to what is real around me.  While we all need to rest and restore ourselves, diversion is not a luxury I can allow myself too much of.  Not if I actually want to be a responsible citizen of the world.

For me, a first step in this development is regularly and often, to seek out, look closely at, and bring my presence and awareness to what is actually happening outside of my own head and all around me.  I must look bravely at it all.  Not look away, even if there is actually nothing I can do about a particular situation.  Simply look at what is real and what is happening, neither obsessing about nor avoiding it.  Until I do that, I cannot soundly choose what my actions will be as we go forward into 2017. 

May we all learn to stay present to what is real, to what is happening, and be guided by what we are bearing witness to.

Katherine Smith, Phd.

A Call to Action

Julie Freeman

I am usually a very calm and low-key kind of person.  The live-and-let-live type.  The to-each-his-own type.  The we’re-all-in-this-together type.  But I realized this weekend—while at a meditation retreat—that I have been desperately meditating my way into deep denial.

Sure I can slow my breathing, empty my mind and calm my nervous system.  I can feel the love that unites all beings, practice gratitude for life’s many blessings, and offer kindness toward strangers.  Sometimes I can even trust in the greater good, the big picture, and a benevolent God.

But…damn it’s a lot of work to keep all this anger underground.  All the anger I’m not supposed to feel or express.  Good girls like me tend to just keep on smiling and hope for the best.  We are taught to trust authority.  Yet the news is at our finger tips these days, and the news is pretty scary.  And all that anger is finally finding its way to the surface for many of us who dare to scream no more!

Basic human rights are being violated everyday.  What century are we living in?  Why in the world would we want more racism, misogyny and xenophobia?  Have we learned nothing from history?  Are we so afraid of losing our own little piles of toys that we just can’t share?  Don’t we understand that this us-and-them mentality comes from our very primitive, reptilian brain, not our uniquely human, highly intelligent and creative evolutionary brain?  Cooperation is taught in kindergarten people!  Love thy neighbor is pretty basic, is it not?  Take a tip from the Dalai Lama—religion equals kindness.

Our beloved Mother Earth has been used and abused—raped, ravaged, violated and in many places, destroyed—just like any of her people for whom white male privilege is not a descriptor.   (I know—not all white men are bad—but historically, white men put themselves in charge!).  It’s assumption of superiority—and its evil twin, abuse of power-- that are bad—bad for the people, and bad for the planet.  Our planet and all her resources that sustain life need to be respected, and so do the rights and bodies of women, African Americans, Native Americans, Muslims and Mexicans.

At what price do we continue to divide and conquer? At what price do we continue to separate ourselves out into rigid categories for who is good and who is bad, who is right and who is wrong, who is deserving and who is not.  Are we seriously willing to destroy this planet and each other in the name of pride, privilege and patriotism?

There is a new fierce cry in the wilderness, like a mother bear determined to protect and nurture her cubs no matter what, and it comes from the Great Mother herself. It is a call to action by the divine feminine.  We all have masculine and feminine aspects within us. When the masculine and feminine are out of balance—there is too much greed.  There is more taking in than giving out.  There is more competition and less cooperation.  There are more destructive actions and less constructive ones. The task of the masculine is to consider others in relation to ones self.  The task of the feminine is to consider ones self in relation to others.  Devaluing the feminine in each of us has devastating consequences for all of us.

It is time to speak up on behalf of the collective.  It is time to shift from me to we.  It is time to stop trampling over everything in the way of building your own damn tower. It is time to consider the rights of everyone over the hedonistic privileges of the few.  People are people—not objects to annihilate. We are all equal only to everyone.  And we are all in this together.

Julie Freeman, MFT

Becoming a voice for...

Julie Freeman

I have been trying to pay attention to what is happening around me a little more.  Not just the larger societal trends, but the smaller moments where “something happens” between people.  I have been touched by these moments, however brief, and have begun to feel inspired by the impact they have had.

The “something happens moments” I am noticing seem to include the emergence, often spontaneously, of what I would call essential states of our humanity.  I notice them like I notice a candle when it is first lit, or when a cooling breeze passes my face, or that initial feeling of longing that blooms in my chest.  These brief essential states could be thought of as those unexpected moments where there is an offering and sharing of the experience of love, generosity, joy, grief, laughter, loyalty, hurt, grace, commitment, endurance, pain, equanimity etc.   The possible essential moments are endless, but they are where the truest parts of our humanity are sparked, often in the connection between two or more people.  

My grandmother always talked about being “touched by” something someone did, or felt, or said.  This is another example of a vital intersection in humanity.  “Being touched” wasn’t simply thinking a thought like, “Rachel was brave when she decided to take an acting class.”  Instead it was the felt experience of being moved by some thing or someone.  Perhaps literally moved.  “That song was so moving.”  Your body feels it.

When we feel it in our body it cannot help but create movement, even if it is subtle.  It also feels really good, most of the time.  I found myself paying more attention to feeling touched or moved in these moments.  And then I began to wonder if it might be possible to have them last longer or somehow travel further.  Our thoughts come and go (or go round and round in circles).  Maybe being touched by our essential humanity can last longer or somehow travel. I hope so. But how?

A whole series of things started to happen.  I began to think about, and look for those essential states within me.  Next I began practicing and sharing with others some of those things that moved me instead of cherishing them quietly inside of myself. Then I began to notice when other people were speaking, even standing for something essential to our humanity. Felt experience or being moved was being spoken to, acknowledged, shared.  Shared.  It cannot travel further unless we bring it forth.  Giving voice to it.  Whether it is through speaking or acting.

 Perhaps, to create more than a brief flicker, we have to connect with our essential experience and then give it voice.  The culture has begun to call women forward to step up, and to speak up.  We cannot do that well, unless it is from an essential place within us.  AND we find the courage to speak it.

Within the course of a week I heard five different women speaking to what they believed was a vital space for them, a space they wanted to continue to devote more time and attention to.  One woman spoke of the importance of the creative process being central to her development and the development of others.  Another had spent two years learning about the power and the gifts of surrendering.  A third talked about her challenges at work where leadership was requiring the measuring, quantifying, and the documentation of the staff’s work of love in a residential treatment facility for children. A fourth came to Washington, DC for her fourth International Results Conference, and described the power of the group working for real change in the life of the poor.  And then there was me.  I wanted to give voice to the stand each one of them was taking, witnessing them truly listening to what was important to them, taking steps in response to that, and giving voice to these essential matters of humanity.  I would not have known what was going on with each woman, had she not given voice to what mattered to her.  And it was given in a way that it could be felt, therefore shared, in a way that was moving for me.  I felt moved to hear and see and experience these women’s voices.  I felt relief and gladness that there were these voices, located across geographical distance (Brussels, Denmark, California, New York, and Washington, DC), each one holding a kind of candle for the essential.  Which, by definition, will ultimately move all of us.

No longer do I want to appreciate this as a sideline of my life, but as integral every day.  I think I need to continue to give this “being a voice for…..” my own heart-felt voice.  That’s where it all starts.  At home, within each of us.  Maybe we can then see our essential humanity expand so that these are no longer just a series of wonderful moments, but become a way of life.

So, what moves you?  What do you want to become a voice for?

Katherine T. Smith, PhD

Speak Up Sister 101: Three Keys to Greater Equality for Women

Julie Freeman


Several years ago, after my mother died, I found among her belongings, a manila envelope with all of my old grade-school report cards.  Starting in kindergarten, twice each year, one common remark could be found on every one:  TALKS TOO MUCH.  It wasn’t until the end of third grade that the message changed:  NICE QUIET LITTLE GIRL.

This was back in the day before preschool was common, so I joyfully learned the alphabet watching Sesame Street. By the time I got to go to school I was pretty excited.  Too excited evidently.  I had no sense of gender differences back then, but I don’t think mine was the only spirit broken in the name of gender-based expectations.

Several books have come out recently on the timely and controversial topic of women’s empowerment—Lean In, The Confidence Code, and Women Dont Ask—to name a few, that explore the myriad obstacles women face in the fine art of speaking up for yourself.  While the authors acknowledge key gender differences, they argue, it is up to us to change things—from the inside out.  Why, after all these years, is this still so difficult?

Speak Up Sister identifies three interconnected solutions to the problem at hand, and looks to our slow, subtle (sometimes not so subtle) and steady fall into the arms of patriarchy for greater understanding around this predicament.  Many would argue that patriarchy is no longer an issue, but I disagree.

First patriarchy is to culture like the ocean is to sea life.  We know nothing else and it permeates everything we do.   We’re not interested in taking on a battle of the sexes—we’re interested in looking at the ways patriarchal culture is limiting both men and women thorough narrowly defined gender roles and differences that don’t allow for greater gender equality and improved psychological health.

I’m starting here because while I agree that it is up to us to change the status quo, we need to recognize that it’s not a personal problem.  It’s a social problem.  Gender inequality can be seen throughout the world across a broad spectrum of issues—from the tragic (human trafficking, access to education, FGM, rape, domestic violence, economic inequality) to the annoying (being ignored, over looked, talked over, minimized, ogled, dismissed, objectified, etc.).  While in some places it can be very dangerous to speak up, in other places it can be extremely frustrating not to.

Second, it is through the unconscious internalization of patriarchy that women can tend to disregard each other, become competitive, over-identify with the masculine, and dis-identify with the feminine.  Traditional feminine traits are devalued in both men and women. So there can be safety in aligning with where we perceive power to be.  In so doing, women continue to contribute to the subjugation of women.  We’re more interested now in how women can create more evolutionary relationships with one another—not at the expense of men, but to their benefit as well. 

To be sure, this is a difficult topic to discuss. To illustrate my point, let me share an example.  I worked for a while in the area of domestic violence, supporting women who had left their abusers, some of whom had to go to trial.  In such cases, victim advocates argued that it would be better to have men on the jury than women because women would unconsciously tend to dis-identify with the victim (this will never happen to me!) and side in favor of the defendant.  This is just one example among many.  Only through making this tendency conscious can we start to speak up for those who can’t yet speak up for themselves.  And recognize our own important roles in empowering each other.

Third, women (like myself) need to un-learn the many key messages we received through our underlying patriarchal socialization, and re-learn new ways of showing up and speaking up in our lives.  We may have never learned the skills we need, or we may feel we just need to sharpen them a bit more.  Or we may be confused as to why we tend to feel confident or powerful in some situations and not in others.  Often times, we simply need to know it is safe to do so—without losing our jobs or our lives.  It may be true that we’ve come a long way baby.  But it is equally true that we have a long way to go.

I don’t really remember what went down during those early elementary school years, but I do have countless memories of scenarios since then where I kept my mouth shut when I had something to say.   (More blog posts to come!).  As a true introvert, I long for the day when someone says to me now, she talks too much!

Julie Freeman is the co-founder of Speak Up Sister, whose goal is to catalyze people for the advancement of gender equality (PAGE) in service to greater harmony in the world.