In whatever I do, I can’t help but be the bridge builder; its how I’m “made”, which is to see both sides or, more accurately, the fuller picture.
It’s this same over the currently topical matter of feminine v masculine, which isn’t meant to be a “versus” any more, according to those in the women camp, and yet as soon as we go on about all our past wounds, what we’ve been through for eons, wanting recognition and recompense for all that murky water under the bridge, we are no longer on that bridge anymore; rather we are following, with our eyes and our attention, all that filthy old water that has already passed underneath it. Our necks are now so stretched that we are hanging precariously over the edge of the healing bridge, fixated on all the mud and sludge that has ever been dredged up along those old river banks and more still to come, since there are many lifetimes of it to process if we choose to make that our work. In the end, we’re so busy feeling sorry for what has already been that we can’t even be on that bridge any more; our attention is running away from us and we are caught up, once more, in the very themes we thought we were so ready to let go of.
A word caught my attention last weekend: “husbandry”. I had got chatting to a woman at a craft market about her collection of sheep and alpacas (all of whom live out their natural lives in her care) while she runs a business based on wool and alpaca poo for fertiliser. It was a fascinating conversation because I could see myself doing something like that, one day, having such a love of both the animals and of wool as the ideal natural fibre (and the shearing of these animals, done right, is part of their care in what is a reciprocal arrangement for both human and animal benefit so the vegan in me has no issue with that). It was when I got home, wanting to look up more about alpacas and was searching for the right word, that “husbandry” came to mind and it made me stop in my tracks; what a strange double-meaning we have around that word, or is it really double or, actually, the very same thing? What is a husband, what (historically) was it meant to signify? I mean, in the most recent time-frame of around 6000 years, during which we divided in such a way (whether over gender, nationality, belief or religion…) that we collectively believed ourselves in perpetual lack and thought that we needed “strong men” to take on all the burdens of a commercial, defence-oriented, possession-obsessed world in order to survive, that word took on many layers of meaning.
It’s as I pick back through them that I see how distortion happened to the word and what it represents; how even best intentions got buried in the sludge of time and we have lumped all these negatives together into a counter-culture around gender stereotypes and ideas of what we think constitute wholeness and liberty. Perhaps, in the beginning, good intentions around these very same things fuelled the birth of an arrangement that we have come to look upon with such disdain and yet, to me, a true husband is a sacred concept, one I deeply respect and am so grateful for having play its part in my world, to which I bring my very highest concept of “wife”, with no shuddering from that part of me that considers itself to be feminist (in the non-confrontational sense of the word).
Straight from the dictionary, the word “husband” doesn’t tell us any more than we already know, about the male in a partnership, a husband to a wife. It’s when you go deeper to attach it to “husbandry” that you get to its root. To do with land, its “A man who tills and cultivates the soil; a farmer, a husbandman” (and that whole concept of farming the land to fulfil local requirements in a world that had stop migrating with the seasons in favour of “possessing” land and making it work for our uses was introduced with that “masculine” version of our collective history). Yet I suspect the word even predates the birth of agriculture. In the context of the broader household including livestock, “husbandry” is defined as “the care of a household”, “the control or judicious use of resources”, “the scientific control and management of a branch of farming and especially of domestic animals” and to that we can add “care” of a wife. Yes of course, these are all concepts related to ownership and lack (since frugality and control only exist within such concepts) and, yes, we know these concepts have led to so very much abuse of masculine power over countless centuries, during which women were often treated as of similar or less value to the household as a man’s livestock. Yet buried in there, somewhere, is that word “care” and implicit within all of these definitions is a sense of “burden” and “responsibility”, of “doing duty” and wanting to “protect”.
The male has been fuelled, for hundred of years, by a belief in his ability to fulfill these very roles and in “doing the right thing”, even when that “judiciousness” seemed harsh and unnatural to the feminine. Much of what, to this day, demonstrates the very worse aspects of male behaviour has been generated out of fear over the performance of these ingrained roles, which have been a burden and distortion to the “higher male”. I can recall how those times when my father was his most severe and even most frightening towards us as children, which was rare, were when he was in abject fear of lack or of reneging his responsibilities as “man of the household”, something which burdened and foreshortened his creative talents to the day he died. Meanwhile, I have stood very-much to gain from my husband’s preparedness to go out and play the commercial game of life while I focus on creative pursuits that have very little currency in the world as it is currently tilted; so, husbandry in our sense has been a reciprocation as it, once, was surely meant to be; allowing men and women to focus on their particular talents. Yes this has also become distorted, resulting in discriminations that should not be there, but we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater when we want everything to be exactly the same for both genders, which is to deny their natural differences.
There’s no doubt, there’s an almighty fire rising up in women right now; and its strong, its determined, it’s going to be heard, which I embrace as a necessity in the rebalancing of our world. Unseen, undealt-with with hurts are rising up to the surface, along with that mighty torch of feminine energy, and I embrace that too…as opportunity to heal and transmute all we’ve been through, to the benefit of all. I regard this as necessary and I’m part of this movement. The problem arises when “being wounded” becomes our ticket of entry into some very desirable-seeming circles of “belonging”; all the more appealing to those who have felt left outside in the cold for so very long. When being able to declare “me too” gains us exclusive entry into places we think we want to go, to make friends, to feel the power of momentum that comes with that elusive thing, female camaraderie, this becomes very dangerous ground since we now have vested interest in our wounds. So we perpetuate them, even make more of them, in order to “belong” to these elite women’s circles, roaring our fiery roar together. Women want to be revered like goddesses and this goddess movement has become quite the trendy “thing” lately; a movement of sorts, even bordering on a feminine cult in some quarters…and quite an appealing one too, with some beguiling leaders and, often, quite a price ticket on their membership packages, promising the kind of feminine community-feeling that so many women long for in their heart-of-hearts, thus making them easy prey to whatever premium packages come their way. In those cases, they are, primarily, income streams and pyramid structures rather than organic communities (and certain women still fall into the cracks of, somehow, not fitting into whatever polished image they are trying to convey, finding themselves left out in the cold by circles made up of spiritually glamorous and, usually, younger cliquey women). To me, this is a very-masculine format, dressed up as “the feminine”, and I am wary as hell of it, wherever I perceive it.
Even where no money changes hands, I have a strong wariness around women-only formats; you get to know what you are going to be in-for based on this criteria and it only feels like the counter discrimination to the man-oriented world we have all been in for so long. My saving grace, yet again, is that as soon as I suspect I’m being wooed to build my camp on one side or the other of “an issue”, I withdraw to the bridge. That’s always been my way, being a strong disliker of taking sides, and so I won’t wave my membership of the wounded-club in the air to join any women’s circles; in fact, I would rather lose my card altogether than find myself swept along with the next wave of over-zealous herd behaviour. My independent-minded spirit declares “I’m out of here” before it’s too late and so I snap out of the trance of sad story-telling to bring myself back to the here and now, where those wounded stories are obsolete just as soon as I say they are. I won’t be taken in, and would never be drawn along by these mass victimhoods dressed up as rebellion in any of my other lifetimes either, so why should I start here…and that level of discernment, before handing over my power, is my true heritage from all those past lives, not all those male-inflected wounds I have no desire to keep nursing.
Whenever I tune into where the masculine is right now, the sense I get is of a gender that is absolutely weary, so confused as to its “role” and yet still heavily, often unfairly, burdened with far too many expectations. Added to all those traditional burdens are the new ones of being somehow expected to meet the “new woman”, in all her fierceness, without stepping on her toes or offending her; a terrifying task. Many women have become almost better than men at being “masculine” and this has been one of the most confusing aspects of all to most men, I suspect (well, it confuses the hell out of me since this corporate-minded he-she does not feel like what feminism is meant to be about to me). Just as women, to this day, struggle to shake-off outmoded discriminations around their sex, men too remain shackled to concepts of what they are here to be and do, how much they are meant to provide and achieve, to defend and live-up to. In my own household, my husband’s sense of burden, when it comes to supporting me and our children, has been like a massive boulder he carries strapped to his back compared to my far more intermittent load which, at those times I’ve not felt able to carry it, I’ve thrown down to the ground and declared “I’m taking a break”, expecting no arguments (and not getting them either). In fact, heaven help a man who argues with a woman who has reached the end of her tether. I’ve noticed how, when I make those radical shifts that I equate to my own evolution, I seem to do so with very little guilt; rather, with mild curiosity as to “what’s coming next”. Whereas he can’t even go there without losing sense of self or becoming the internalised voice of his father and grandfathers, berating and emasculating himself for being such a good-for-nothing and worse.
In his case, though he has worked solidly for over 30 years, he insists he is still looking at quite another few more before he anticipates being able to stop with “enough” to keep us going and that is as much to do with a deeply ingrained, cultural, sense of responsibility that he knows not now how to put down as it is to do with our raw circumstances. Akin to many men, he is deeply programmed to feel this is “his lot”, and this continues (and will always continue) while women remain the most obvious choice to rear the children, the most encouraged when it comes to creative or more avant-garde career choices and the most likely to demand flexibility in their roles in order to meet the ever-altering phases of our lives. It’s not, I suspect, that the roles need to be swapped over between genders but that the world needs to allow that men have these abilities, desires and needs too. In other words, we need to allow the men to become more feminine since there’s really no need to encourage women to be more masculine. This requires that we roll out feminine qualities to the mainstream, not entrench them around scary cults that make women seem like tigresses encamped in the woods. Have you ever been the only man to show up at a yin yoga retreat? My husband has, many times and it takes guts. Perhaps we should make it easier…
Its true, very few women are designed to follow a lifetime career in a single-track vocation…we simply change too much during the course of our lives; but do we allow men to even think like that or are they put onto a different train track to us, from birth; one which, typically, knows no end until it gets to retirement destination (or breakdown)? While our world remains so fixated on achievements and income bracket and possessions and 5+ day-long working weeks and retirement funds and…and…and…this will continue, since it is a world we created to accommodate the very gender stereotypes we say we are so done with. And while women show willing to work to this masculine version of reality, playing along with the male game and male rules, we will also feed its flame and ensure this old paradigm goes on and on. Most women seem to do this without questioning, settling for the male-devised paradigm, even incorporating its hierarchy and exclusivity structures into their own programs, rather than working towards an alternate reality where health and wellbeing, self-expression, creativity and connection with each other and nature, better work-life-balance, “time-out” and leisure pursuits, open-mindedness and inclusivity, family and friendship, room to explore, nurture and reward all our varied gifts, exchange, sharing and reciprocation as a basis for making life work over “earning money”…and so many more as-yet unexplored possibilities which forming even more tight little groups prevents us from exploring together.
Men, meanwhile, “soldier on”…or hit far more resistance when they make the kind of drastic lifestyle changes that mark a key moment of personal evolution than women do. They remain far more strait-jacketed into what they have always done before; both by societal expectations and their own conditioned ones. There is so much set against them, so many impossible, outmoded expectations and, like us, they are caught in the net of all that went before, dragged along by all that unpleasant, grimy backwash of other times that should, by now, have passed under the bridge. Yes, they are burdened, care-worn and, additionally, in the line of new fire as so much age-old fury is released from the collective feminine wound; so how are they meant to deal with all that without going back on the defensive? They honestly need our loving support through this; and to be included in our collective evolutionary drive, not made to feel “less than” in some sort of spiritual gender play-off where feminine is always best because she is so wounded. The only way we can move on, collectively, is to get over all that rubbish as quickly as possible and lay ourselves down as the bridge that goes to meet the male aspect, in our every interaction, within our everyday lives, as loving partners and in the visualisation of a new world that collectively (not selectively) gets over itself and what we have all been through before. We need to make the goddess real, as part of everyday life…not into a wounded icon. We need to roll that feminine essence out; and men are part of that process…they have their own feminine aspect to bring back online, in fact they need all the help they can get.
This is what feels so important to me now…and its utterly achievable, starting from the micro dynamic within every family and through where we put our attention in our daily lives, to the focus of groups and other programs that we join, the projects and discussions to which we give our energy. Where there is action to be taken to bring about change, yes we take that and its great to see women standing up for themselves as I have; yet, having been through years of abuse, I feel no need to rake that up or wave it as a flag. As in any truly committed recovery process, the only way is to stop repeatedly licking those old wounds until they bleed again…and move on.
On this topic…
Surely the last thing we need is another religion….?
As I was writing this, I learned of a test case is going to employment tribunal in the UK to decide if ethical veganism is a religion. It was brought to this point by an employee who believes he was unfairly sacked for his views. The status of “religion” could protect ethical vegans from such discrimination and so this case has garnered a great deal of interest from the media and, of course, vegans themselves.
As above, my viewpoint is that this is very dangerous ground. Whilst I see the point of ethical vegans (and I am one…) wanting protection in the workplace or any other circumstance where they are a minority, one of the deciding points that will make or break the case is whether veganism can be demonstrated to be a “belief” or an “opinion based on the present state of information available”. It needs to be demonstrated to be a belief…that is, un unwavering, fundamental, nonnegotiable “given” to the person in question. If decided to be so, it will, in essence, have been “legally decided” that this is the case for all ethical vegans. In other words, we will be regarded to hold a set of unwavering, fundamental, personal, religious beliefs…the same as someone who believes in Jesus or Allah or even Santa Claus…and not a set of highly credible and demonstrable facts that are relevant to all people on this planet.
Surely to label veganism “a religion” is to tip the tables over on all the hard work being done, by some incredible individuals, to demonstrate that veganism is indeed a very strong opinion based on the present state of information (we could call that “science”), all of which is pointing at how carnism is a major factor in global warming, deforestation and the ecological disaster-waiting-to-happen on this planet; not to mention a world-wide health crisis and the not-so-small matter of gross and culturally inconsistent cruelty towards billions of sentient beings. These are demonstrable facts and we need them in order to make a case for veganism; not for the entire vegan movement to be brushed into the “unwavering belief “corner along with all the many other religions that are, at once, so divisive and yet widely scorned. Yes, those of us who are ethically vegan hold a perspective that is non-negotiable and completely obvious to us and, as such, a world almost fully dedicated to carnism can be a deeply offensive and even traumatising place. Yet we are dealing with a practical reality at this tipping point; and we need to keep our own emotions in check sufficiently to work to the greater good of rolling vegan information out to the world, in a format that most people will listen to (back to science again…). If we hide our sensitivities under the label of religious belief, we risk losing our audience before we’ve properly begun.
At this point, we need to put divisiveness behind us, to work together as a planet, not find new ways to generate even more division by forming religious clubs that we all get to either join or take pot-shots at. A religion isn’t sexy, nor is it going to attract the brightest and most independent of a new generation of people open enough to think for themselves. It seems to me that this is a trap that so many vegans and feminists, etc., fall into; being so eager to form a sense of cohesive membership (wrongly equated with “power” and “protection”) around their group that they lose sight of the need to be inclusive of everyone. They forget that by keeping those edges softer, their doors wide open, they are far more likely to encourage others to step inside their circle, to sample their lifestyle choices and to join in with them, at whatever level they feel most comfortable with on the basis that a little bit more vegan or feminist than yesterday is no bad thing. If veganism isn’t made too hard-line or so entrenched, more and more people are likely to give it a try once a week or be more relaxed around other vegans who may influence them, but if it comes across as a full-blown religious practice, people will only be turned-off for fear of being scoffed at by association or because of that latent distaste most of us have around cultish behaviour. When people feel they are being presented with an ultimatum in order to join a particular club (such as having to follow a particular set of behaviour rules or even demonstrate certain emotional criteria, such as woundedness, in order to become a “member”) they are far more likely to walk away than to give these new perspectives a try.
The other major risk is that forming religions around beliefs is only ever going to provoke more and more backlash, which is not what we want at this point. Extreme opposers will come at these groups harder and more aggressively than ever (like the guy I just read about who turned up at a vegan festival and ate a huge chunk of raw meat to provoke the crowds) and, before we know it, we will be a planet fighting over another set of religious belief, all over again. While we have this insatiable urge to create religions out of what we personally hold to be true (which seems to be a pitfall of the human psyche; a sort of addiction to that incredible injection of new zeal and enthusiasm people get when they eventually connect with others who share the same beliefs…) we only trim our own wings, evolutionarily speaking, whilst repeating ourselves over and over and over again. Yet, whatever the outcome of this case, it feels as though the die has been cast since people are already dividing over both eventualities, and so it continues. This is all the result of a short-sighted, short-termist desire to “belong” and “feel safe” over-and-above opening up a set of personal viewpoints to the collective discussion in order to gradually trickle these mindsets into the population at a pace that won’t alarm too many people given people always balk at change. Seems to me we have to get quite clear about whether we just want to feel more safe and self-righteous within our particular membership-only groups, which will only perpetuate the same kind of separation that has been the theme of the last few thousand years, or whether we really want to grow our ideas outwards and evolve together from this point. Do we want to really make this evolutionary leap happen like we say we do, by being instruments of change across the broader collective, or do we just allow ourselves to break apart into separate fragments again; and all for the brief thrill of feeling like we have been accepted into a particular tribe that offers the temporary illusion of belonging. Do we keep the conversation wide open and mix things up to stir all the flavours or do we reach for the convenient label that makes us feel a little bit safe until people target us even more for being different to the mainstream. Lets see.