Recently I came across an incredible book that was published in 1980 called "Among Women" by Louise Bernikow. It is filled with insightful and inspiring essays about women, exploring the ways that women love each other as mothers, daughters, lovers and friends. It examines how we have suffered and struggled as well as how we have survived and thrived throughout time.
Through reading the essays, an overall theme emerges: that in the traditional paradigm of the patriarchy, connections between women have been riddled with pain. Pain that has seemed to be an inextricable part of the female connection, especially between mothers & daughters, that foundational relationship of inescapable significance. Pain is almost synonymous with the mother/daughter bond. Both on a physical level, whether it was through bound feet, tight curlers, straightened hair or endless diets. And on a psychological level, whether it was through criticism, slaps, taunts, cold withholding or jealousy.
Underlying these painful elements has been an invisible fact: The only way women have traditionally been able to gain freedom or power was through an historically scarce and necessary survival tool: the approval of men.
And therein lies the setup for competition, for vindictiveness and the sense of powerlessness and scarcity that has long underpinned relationships between women. These women are our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. And the effects of this sense of enmeshment, abandonment, competition and scarcity are still felt in our daily lives today.
Contrast that with what Louise Bernikow describes as a way that women have historically become powerful outside the world of men. That is through the power of women helping each other, particularly through a shared commitment to authentic self-development.
As we women heal, the greater access we have to our own wisdom and to the amazing resources within each other. We are building bonds now that are starting to transform the wider culture.
The more healing I have done on myself, the more powerful and enduring my connections with women have become and the more aspects of my own womanhood I'm discovering. I've also been connecting with an ever-growing number of conscious men who value the feminine.
Embracing the various forms of love between women is embracing love of oneself as a woman. They go hand in hand.
Whatever ways we reactively withhold from each other are exactly the ways in which we withhold from ourselves. The sister wound, the friend wound, the lover wound, the repeating patterns of betrayal between women all spring from that first place we learned how to abandon ourselves through the mother wound.
We stand on a powerful precipice at this transformational time in history, to make bold moves that demonstrate loyalty to the truth within---and to support other women in that bold quest.
When I recently opened Bernikow's book, a forgotten purchase from a used book store, it had that divine, musty smell of long un-opened pages and a binding that was falling apart. And the more essays that I read, the more it began to feel like a kind of sacred text. Two essays in particular stand out. One was about a unique culture of women in Paris in the 1920's. Women from France, America and England flocked to Paris to focus on creative pursuits like writing and art. Women lived alone and with each other, opening book stores, holding salons in their homes and creating a vibrant cultural life that shaped France in the early part of the nineteenth century. These women included Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein, Collette, and Hilda Doolittle (HD) among others. This community of creative women was unique in that they had the time, money and energy to be deeply loyal to their self-expression and to live freely with less need for male approval to legitimize them. These women were deeply respected by the their male counterparts that included James Joyce, Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and James Baldwin.
The other essay in the book that stood out was about the story of Cinderella, a story of female wounding. In that essay, Berkinow explains how the original Grimm fairy tale was later corrupted by a French author who embellished it with more of a male gaze and deepened the narrative of an isolated Cinderella who took no action on her own behalf, remaining powerless against the bullying of the step-mother and step-sisters. In the original Grimm tale, however, the story was quite different. Cinderella’s mother had died and as Cinderella wept at her mother’s grave, her tears attracted a white dove in a tree that guided her forward. Berkinow puts it so eloquently that in the Grimm version of the tale, Cinderella discovered the “profound mourning that leads to re-generation.” This is precisely the re-generative mourning that I lead women through in my work on healing the mother wound. Coinidentally, I remembered while reading this essay that the Grimm Brothers are actually my distant ancestors.
On the precipice: Birthing a world that values authentic women
I was recently at an antique store and came across a statue of Saint Anne and the young Virgin Mary, a common depiction in catholic churches of a mother and daughter reading a sacred book. I recall seeing a similar statue as a very young child in my great-grandmother's house. Later I would inherit that very statue and have it in my room as I grew up suffering from the mother wound. Seeing this statue recently in the antique store recently seemed significant somehow and I brought it home. As I looked closer at this particular statue, I realized something significant and transformational that I never noticed before. In the past I came to see this depiction of mother-daughter as oppression, as a symbol of obedience and imprisonment in the bounds of patriarchy; the toxic rule of the fathers (as symbolized by the book) being passed down through the mothers.
But now I saw this depiction as a powerful symbol of the precipice where we stand now.
Pictured above: My altar with crystal illuminated by the afternoon sun
Looking closer, I saw that while the mother, St. Anne, was pointing at the book, her eyes were gazing out ahead in front of her, as if into the future into a post-patriarchal world where mother and daughter could both be equally loved and empowered. And the daughter Mary was looking at the book, but her hand was on her forearm, and she seemed to be referencing her own trustworthy wisdom stored in her physical body.
There's this sense that we are living in a time when collective energy is being re-organized and re-focused.
We stand on a precipice as women between the old patriarchal ways and the post-patriarchal future where the feminine is valued, honored and held sacred by both men and women. A world where we can take the remaining soulfulness of the old and combine it with the radiance of the new, and create a world that embraces them both; where humans are free to live the values of their souls.
To truly create this we need to acknowledge the reality of our shared patriarchal foundation and how it continues to show up in the ways that we oppress each other. Current disturbing events are bringing this reality to the forefront for us to face. And as we face it, we can make new, conscious choices for the future generations, as mothers of children and as mothers of the culture. May we use this opportunity to create a society in which women can feel supported enough to do their own inner work, to feel connected to themselves and to make choices that reflect their deeper truth. To do this we must value ourselves and other women. We must heal the mother wound.
This brings to mind a powerful experience I had last year teaching a workshop in Slovenia. A mother and daughter arrived together to attend the workshop, which I usually advise that they take it separately. What transpired was something I will never forget. What I witnessed was that through the course of the day, the mother and daughter allowed themselves to be vulnerable and to deeply empathize with one another's different experiences. That day their relationship evolved into a profound sisterhood, from a heirarchy of mother/daughter to becoming peers, equals, who deeply see and respect one another. I and the other women in the group wept at witnessing this transformation.
"Female frienships that work are relationships in which women help each other belong to themselves." ~ Louise Bernikow
The truth is that we are not alone. We are next in a long line of women throughout time who have made significant steps in re-claiming themselves from the patriarchal mandates that have surrounded them. It's important to remember this when we feel alone and to remind one another.
We who do this inner work are forming a new "mother line" not through blood but through consciousness. Women from all walks of life, of various cultures, races, sexual orientations, and religions are increasingly awakening and supporting each other in our shared goal of emerging from patriarchal constraints. My vision is that in the future, as patriarchal structures continue to crumble, that the mother wound will continue to dissolve, both within ourselves and in the culture, allowing the earth to heal as well.
Lately it seems every day I hear about women who are going through seismic changes in their lives.
There are more women than ever listening to their inner voice and acting upon it, following the next steps of their own authentic longings, despite the dangers and the risks. Especially against the backdrop of so many crumbling illusions it is becoming clear to many that the time is now to take bold new steps. Whether it is leaving marriages, leaving corporate jobs, or starting businesses, demanding higher pay, deciding to stay home with their children, coming out as bi-sexual, trans or gay, pursuing their beloved art or writing, traveling around the world with their families, homeschooling their children, etc.
Not abandoning ourselves in the face of ignorance...
In the toxic patriarchal model, there is limited support for individuality; high value is placed on things staying the same. Change and growth are equated with betrayal. When confronted with the growth and evolution of someone close to them, people who have not been on a path of inner growth may react with suspicion, fear and anger. It's important to not let this backlash pull you into self-betrayal.
It is truly one of the hardest things on the path of being an awakening woman---to accept that some people in your life will perceive your evolving path of growth as threatening in some way, causing a rift and possibly a break in the relationship. Even some of the closest, dearest people in your life, including family members and old friends may react with hostility to your new choices and evolving outlooks.
Some will interpret your growth as...
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