This past year I organized a rally/protest called Table Turning. We held it on Holy Monday at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Seattle. You can read more about Table Turning. I want to write more about that event specifically sometime soon, but for this post I want to talk about identity. I learned something about my identity through the organizing of the protest. This post is for women who have struggled with their identity for one reason or another.
For most of my life, I have been not-so-lovingly referred to by family members as rebellious. The tone of such comments are fraught with mild irritation and sometimes ascend to frustration. And these labels and comments have had a shaming impact that I have to actively dismantle.
A year ago I started attending a spiritual community and a door opened to organize a protest for justice in the mistreatment of immigrants. There were no second guesses– I enthusiastically took on the role. A few months into the role as we started talking about titles one of our leaders said how about, “Lead Disruptor”. And again, it just fit for the role as lead organizer and we incorporated it. All the while, not completely sure what it would mean or how it would lead me. People were down with the idea of “Lead Disruptor” so I tried it out.
Where I come from being a disruptor of anything was not nice. It was not the nice, Christian, good-girl thang to do. And the “Nice Christian girl” image was reinforced all throughout my childhood. Being “nice” was more important than being truthful or having boundaries or pursuing what you want.
Women receive unsolicited feedback regularly about how they look, how they speak and what they do. It is like society conspires to give consistent and on-going feedback to fashion and frame women into a likeness that serves itself.
Women are supposed to strike the perfect balance of easy-going, ready-to-help, palatable and compliant while also having a readily available opinion on the things that are okay for women to have opinions on like cross stitching, shopping or hair. When women show curiosity around science or technology or politics they are told to shut that shit down as it is certainly not their role or position or capability to know such things. If women use their voice they are told to not take up too much space. When women show up they are told to shrink back– to fold into the shadows and be as low impact as possible.
And I know this all seems like this is in the past— I mean we have feminism now, but it is just as relevant today as it’s ever been. And we need to talk about it, because it is still an unnecessary burden that we bear.
I just listened to a woman who said that after her parents observed her enthusiastic, persistent hand raising and questions in a science class she was told that she didn’t want to be “one of those types of people who are loud and bossy”. This feedback set her on a path of unnecessary self assessment and criticism that questioned her excitement or curiosity to speak up on a subject she was passionate about.
Another woman told me that relaxing and having a low-key day spins her on a path of anxious thoughts about what she is neglecting or not getting done. The idea that staying busy and productive meant that she was always doing what she was supposed to be doing.
Another woman told me that when she is driven to get a project completed at work she is told that she is too abrasive and difficult to work with. She is a direct communicator, states her expectations and sets deadlines and the feedback is that this is intimidating– she is intimidating. She’s learned that this is code for “scary”. And so she is being labeled negatively for being direct in order to complete the task successfully.
Well intentioned and uninvited feedback gets plunked in the same place as the negative psychological voice that says, “we are never quite doing the right thing or being the right way”. We are accustomed to turning that criticism on ourselves.
So last week when I did something I’ve never done before and led a protest to call out the heinous acts of harassment and mistreatment of immigrants by this administration and I.C.E. I felt not only empowered in my voice as a resistor in the cause— I felt empowered in my personal narrative. I felt an ease in myself as a lead disruptor— as though a part of my identity just clicked into place and finally made sense.
I asked myself, “how could that be”? And I concluded that it must have something to do with following my heart and doing what I love. When I do what is in my heart and what compels me– I find my most authentic self.
Truth is, I’m a resistor and a disruptor. Looking back at my childhood I was the kid that did not take things at face value. I wanted to know why and how. When people were mistreated and abused in the family I was the one to say something. I wasn’t a status quo kind of person. If the system or structure was hurting someone I spoke up.
When I’m speaking up whether that be as a therapist or a mother or a friend or an organizer (now I know ;)) I am most in my power. I am most me and it is a glorious feeling to be connected and know myself so clearly.
This is a lesson for all of us. We have been managing the external expectations while holding our own hopes and desires for far too long. How can we free ourselves to be who we are?
Three things needs to happen:
- We need to be aware of the inner conflict. What are the messages you’ve been told that are holding you back from yourself?
- We need to prioritize our desires above all the societal ‘shoulds’. When you do what you love you experience yourself more completely. And you can do this unapologetically.
- We need to accept ourselves. Acceptance is an ongoing process. You get glimpses of yourself and you learn to accept the things you see over time and this sets us on a path to be your liberated self.
This video explains more of that process.