“I do think there is an awakening happening among women,” Marianne Schnall, founder of feminist.com, said to me, “and it needs help and we need to support each other. We have so many choices now but if we don’t know who we are then we won’t know how to make those choices count.” I agree with Marianne. In the last few weeks, I’ve been interviewing a lot of women in preparation for the two seminars for women that I’m leading on November 13 & 14. Some women, like Marianne, think deeply about what’s going on with women; others are your average great women negotiating the complexity of their lives. Every one of them spoke about this deep longing for more–and simultaneously, a struggle to figure out how to make choices that will enable them to release the greater potential that they sense. All of which happens to be what the “Women Forging the Future” seminars are about.
There’s abundant evidence that there is a new surge moving women. Women are clamoring to come together in ways that haven’t happened for decades. Off the top of my head, I can think of the following signs of this movement: Claire Zammit and Katherine Woodward Thomas’s Women on the Edge of Evolution teleseminar series, the Shift Network’s Inspiring Women Summit, Marianne Williamson’s Sister Giant conference, the Omega Institute’s annual Women and Power conference, The Women’s Conference in California, and the Massachusetts Conference on Women…just to name a few. All of these events, which are capturing the attention of tens of thousands of women, speak to an as-yet-unrealized potential in women, a sense that women could have a much bigger impact on culture if only our deepest potential were released. I find that fascinating–because after the sparks from consciousness raising died down, the 1970s women’s movement focused largely on giving women equal access to opportunity so that women had real choices in their lives. But these new convenings of women are not looking outside us to change the structures of society that block women’s access, instead they focus on inner transformation and breaking through structures in ourselves that are holding us back. In fact, Marianne’s website, feminist.com, an important outpost for feminist activism, has just started a new section, Our Inner Lives: Spirit, Faith, & Action, to acknowledge how important inner transformation and spirituality are to the pursuit of social justice and offers resources and inspiration for women who care about making a difference. This represents is a significant shift–from a more modernist desire for equal access to achievement to a postmodern desire for deeper meaning and purpose.
It’s amazing to think that this may well be the first time in cultural history that women are expressing a longing for purpose in such numbers. Why do I say that? Because since the beginning of culture, women have had a particular and essential role–ensuring the survival of the species through raising and nurturing children. Most societies have created customs, such as marriage, to protect women physically from having to fend for themselves so that they can deal with the vulnerability of pregnancy and nurturing infants. Only in the last fifty years, since the women’s movement, the pill, and sexual liberation, has this essential cultural role become merely one option among many. And that is world changing.
Or perhaps I should say, that is world changing if women use their newfound power to choose in ways that will move culture forward. Right now, looking at the pornographied landscape of pop culture, the options that are held out to entice young women (think: Katy Perry or Lady Gaga) are hardly anything new–they merely take our sexualization to a new self-aggrandizing and narcissistic extreme. So many of the choices women are making only reinforce the same dynamics among women and between women and men that have driven culture for ages. Even among women who have high aspirations, the struggle between security and risk, family and venture are very difficult to negotiate. We now have the freedom to make choices, but what guides our choice-making? How do we make choices that actually take culture, and ourselves, forward?
It’s not simple. We are a welter of often contradictory impulses–the forces of the past, arising from our biological role and even newer desires to achieve and succeed, are all entangled with an emergent evolutionary impulse to create the new. “Women have been brought up with the false sense that they have all the options in the world,” said my friend Dalma Heyn, author of Marriage Shock and other extraordinary books, whom I also interviewed recently. “We don’t understand that the culture really isn’t offering us all of these options–there still are very strong pressures to conform. We have to step outside the culture to be able to make choices that will really give us what we want. But we lack the psychic mechanisms to do this, to really choose.”
The power of choice is the most profound aspect of being human. Our capacity to make choices that take us beyond what has been has driven cultural development. In fact, it’s what separates us from the rest of the sentient beings on this planet. And that’s why freedom of choice in all dimensions of life, starting with reproductive freedom, was so essential to the women’s liberation movement of the late twentieth century. But now our choices have to take us beyond what has been, and that means, as Dalma says, developing the psychic capacity to step beyond all of the conditioned responses and impulses within ourselves–which is stepping outside the current cultural status quo.
How do we do this? The simple answer is: by aligning with that deepest impulse of creation within us that always wants more… That impulse is what has driven the entire cosmos to this particular point in cosmic time when the female half of the leading edge of humanity is waking to the desire, and responsibility, to create a new world. It’s an extraordinary moment, not to be wasted. In Women Forging the Future, the two seminars that I will be leading (one with my women colleagues and the other with Andrew Cohen), the goal is to take a clear look at where we women are, understand how we got here, and learn how to step forward and make choices that take us beyond the status quo to create the new. This takes something more than a psychological understanding of who we are, and more than inspiration. It takes spiritual courage and sisterhood–the willingness to let everything go, to drop all of our self-images and ideas, with other women who are also committed to unleashing our deepest potentials and forging something new in our souls and psyches. If women at the leading edge of culture were to awaken to this–to the real power of choice–well, can you imagine what could be possible?