Updated: Sep 27, 2022
The Problem of Women in America
by Sande Hart
Years ago I sat in the audience of Melissa Harris Perry as she was promoting her book Sister Citizen; Shame, Stereotype and Black Women in America. She framed her talk by telling us she was speaking about the problem of black people in America. Ms. Perry is a Professor of Political Science at Harvard University, NPR radio host and former MSNBC anchor.
A problem is something to solve, something that requires reckoning and is usually an irritant. A problem does not go away easily, or without extraneous efforts. That is, until we remember the classic, "We cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them." (A. Einstein) Unless we change our belief systems, behaviors, and find new solutions to old problems, we are going to spin in generational circles over and over and over....
We are stepping out of that cycle, thanks to Black Lives Matters and books like Caste and White Fragility, earthquakes upon our psyches. Classics that are as relevant today, four decades later like Riane Eisler's The Chalice and The Blade and Sacred Pleasure laid an undeniable and unavoidable foundation of knowledge and research at our feet and demanding of another look. The day I started to remember what Riane introduced to us; the patterns of human history, coupled with learning about my white privilege and my white fragility (paper-thin-crispy-fragility) I understood what that word, "problem" meant, and I was contributing to it.
As I was preparing for a panel on Women's Interfaith Leadership hosted by the United Religions Initiative, I started to journal thoughts. I have been at this for a couple of decades, feeling well-prepared and slightly over-confident, but wanted to be sure to hit certain points. That is, until something started to emerge out of my ball point pen I had never realized before. Then I remembered Ms. Perry's statement and wrote, "Women are a problem to solve."
The fact that we are still having this conversation about women's equality or celebrating the fact that we get one entire day dedicated to Women (UN 1975), and an entire month (Obama 2011) are important to remind us but take another look. Why is celebrating women's accomplishments after 150 years of pumping firsts, pounding pavement, climbing corporate ladders, winning Congressional, Senate, Supreme Court seats, and becoming Vice Present of the United States, not a Problem? The United Nations Women's efforts and strides are enormous, but who knows that if we don't go looking? That's a problem.
While the (organization to go un-called-out) generously gave me the privilege to create a space for women and girls, after a couple of years of making huge strides, bringing tons of traffic and programs to the organization, empowering more than a hundred women into creative leadership, the title of Director was reduced to "Lead", and at one heart wrenching Board retreat, I was invited to spin the sector out of the organization. We literally took up zero space, and even got our own Zoom account gifted to us. We were too powerful. We needed to calm down. We were a problem.
If we follow the root of this "problem", we will find the all too familiar term we overuse unapologetically in just about every circle I am active in, patriarchy. This is not a term referring to gender, but a condition of systems of domination.
The fact that women are the providers, protectors and sustainers of culture and life itself has been socialized out of us and it's a problem when we scream it from the mountain tops or march routes as if it's not common knowledge and needs reminding. Clearly, the thinking that got us here today is not sustainable, and we need a new solution to this old problem.
When I sat down to write the Liminal Odyssey, The Alchemical Power of The Spaces In-Between, there was a nagging irritant to go to the root cause of every story I found myself telling. When I committed to telling some personal stories, I had no choice but to take an honest look at where my responsibility lies (in contributing to both the suffering and the joys.) It was there that I noticed patterns of behavior that stemmed from a society of patriarchy. What’s more, I was contributing to those patterns by agreement and adjustment to what was subconscious motivated behavior.
I believe it’s time to maladjust. This requires questioning assumptions of the way things are, the patterns we perpetuate and what we agree to. In Dr. Martin Luther King’s talk, Proud to be Maladjusted he says, “…But I say to you, my friends … there are certain things in our nation and in the world (about) which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, leave millions of G-d’s children smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self‐defeating effects of physical violence.”
Societies and cultures are nothing more than a collective agreement by all of us. And I agree with the physicists, futurists, visionaries, and systems theorist that we are evolving as a species. We have a choice as a co-creator of that new place, so let’s contribute to that transformation with ease and grace by coming clean with what we are ageing to.
Arguably, women have more power in impacting change than our counterparts because we influence culture and belief systems at a family and community level. We make up about 85% of the buying power in the household and have the majority vote. We are the caregivers, protectors, and sustainers of life by virtue of our biological innate imperatives. We are only going to improve conditions and advance solutions because it’s wired into us and because we are the ones disproportionately impacted. That is, if and when we conform to our full integrity of the divine feminine in balance with the divine masculine. That means, checking our own conditions of patriarchy. It’s our choice alone to make with every movement we make in our day.
It’s not too difficult to recognize the unhealthy patterns that exist in the crises and that we all face on a global scale. Whether it’s the climate crisis, nuclear proliferation, violence against women, food insecurity, gun safety, and war and conflict, each one of these are the most important thing to give our attention to and that’s just daunting, overwhelming, and impossible to choose which is most important and most life threatening. This is why it is important to tug at and disrupt the root ball of the common issue.
I’ve asked the question, why are we working so hard for so long and we are still having this conversation decades later? We can start by looking at the patterns of each of these areas and find a common thread leading us all the way back beyond the Suffragist Movement, past the burning times, before monotheism, and stop at the Agrarian Age. This is just about where we find recorded history of claiming dominion over our planet because we can now use Her resources as commerce and our personal comforts. This ultimately resulted in separation of the sexes and influenced systems of domination. Not all societies followed suit immediately, but it did not take too long to become the culture, norm, and society we know today. Even those societies that were egalitarian and the nature of women were highly honored. Like a slow drip, water can carve a hole into a rock and a gaping hole has divided us with half holding the perceived power. But the divine feminine did not go away. She just went underground, showing up in the arts, and other permissible attributes like child rearing and caregiving.
In past bios I had listed among the “titles” that described me, the title of Disrupter. Perhaps my planetary assignment is to tug at the root of that which does not serve us and chase it down and examine its origins, then examine, dissect, and question how we got duped by its charms over millennia.
We are each a drop of water on that solid rock. We each come here with an assignment to show up in our wholeness, our integrity. It’s our role as women to make that drop count as if our life and the life of the next seven generations depend on it. This, I believe is our sacred work to change the conversation and influence a culture we choose by living in the direction of the full integrity of our nature. I accept this as my greatest responsibility and a greater privilege.
Image by Yoram Raanan
"The painting began as a beautiful abstract landscape. Wanting to find something greater, the artist painted over the previous painting and a huge wave emerged, like a wall of water. This opened a new pathway through the sea. As a gentle light seeps in, illuminating the pathway, it parts and forms walls of water. Much depended on the artist’s willingness to reach deeper and break through the barrier of mere prettiness. The way it was painted reflects what it is. Every day is a spiritual crossing, searching for the gifts hidden within the sea. Even though the Israelites crossed the sea thousands of years ago, the parting of the sea remains a timeless metaphor for taking a leap of faith, forging forward to discover hidden treasures."