Thursday, March 8, 2012

Revolution From Within

The year was 1994, and I was visiting my Mom for the summer.  Working in picturesque La Jolla, California, my office a stone’s throw from the crashing blue waves of the Pacific Ocean.  Perched at the edge of a cliff, curled up on a beach-towel, munching on a fat turkey and avocado sandwich, I spent my lunchtimes pouring over Gloria Steinem’s book, Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. 

(Me at twenty-four)
Back then, the term “self-esteem” was on the tongue of every clinical expert, new age theorist and Oprah enthusiast.  The irony, of course, was that while I was voraciously devouring the book, my fiancé was abroad messing around with some broad and my chiropractor was groping me in places that didn’t make a whole lot of sense considering that it was my back that hurt. 
Was I able to embrace Ms. Steinem’s pearls of wisdom, dump the chump and at least tell someone about the chiropractor? 
I was only twenty-four years old.  Insecure and afraid to attract any blame, I quietly stopped attending my appointments, flew back home to face my second year of graduate school and hoped my fiancé would beg my forgiveness.  He didn’t.
Thank goodness, because I would have absolved him.  And then I would have married him. 
Puke in my mouth.
Confucius says, “Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner and it is for you to find the other three.”  In the book Revolution from Within, Gloria Steinem gave me one corner. It took me the next (almost) twenty years to find two more.  I’m still looking for the fourth.
Because how does one take good advice and turn it into good personal choices?  I think it’s a matter of timing.  The receiver has to be ready and listening to get it.  Often, we are most open to wisdom when we’ve been beaten down in some way.  It’s then that we look for sense in the tangle and we’re quiet enough to consider what others have to share. 
A tragedy can beat us down but age does it too.  Our shoulders droop (along with other parts) and the confident bravado of youth is worn away by experience, after experience.  I’ve decided that age is nature’s tool to ensure that we all take in truths and lessons along the way. 

(Me and Gloria)
This month, I had the unbelievable pleasure of meeting Ms. Steinem.  Ms. Gloria Steinem!  And I’ll share with you a few corners I gained from listening to her in person:
·                         My favorite moment was when a student asked for her advice on some large, life-altering theme and Ms. Steinem answered, “Oh that one is easy!  My advice is, don’t take my advice or anyone else’s.  Trust yourself.”
·                         She said that, because women were largely left out of the history books, we are still uncovering the kinds of contributions that women have made throughout history.  One new thing she’d learned was that the suffragettes and the Native American women worked together on some issues and that Native American women shared their wisdom with our early women’s rights advocates, contributing to some of their hard-won successes. 
·                         She talked about our online culture, the good and the bad.  As an example of the good, she pointed out the recent outrage by American women at the Komen Foundation’s decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthoods and the quick decision Komen made not to go ahead with that plan (which would have deprived poor women of ultrasounds, prenatal care and breast exams.)  As an example of the bad, she said that one couldn’t incur sympathy online the way we do when we really spend time with another person.
·                         She said, because the phrase “self-esteem” has been so maligned, she now uses the term “self-authority.”
·                         She pointed out that Hollywood has spent more money on WWII movies than America ever spent on WWII and she believes this is because WWII was the last war that we could really feel confident we were right to have taken part in.
·                         On women in the media, she talked about the “Name it Change it” campaign as a way to combat the negative portrayal of women, especially women with political power. 
·                         She said that Hollywood differentiates between “chick flicks,” that have more focus on relationships than on special effects, and “prick flicks,” which focus more on car chases and body count – more on how people die than how they live.
·                         She reminded us that women are 80% of the purchasing power in this country and what we buy matters.  In fact, she said, “Behave as if everything you do matters.”
·                         And she left myself and my students with this empowering message, “You can change the way women are treated in the world.  You have dollar power, voting power and the power of example.”
Surely, Gloria Steinem is an unadulterated paradigm of example.  And maybe some of her lessons are the ones you need to hear right now.  For me, it was the first one that resonated best.  In the end, trusting myself is what I needed to have done in 1994.
What are some of the lessons or wisdom that you heard when you were young and then understood when you were older?


  1. Self-authority is the most important lesson a woman can learn. I was in graduate school in 1984, before Anita Hill changed the world. One of the other graduate students was a flasher, I was his target, and I never told a person in authority. I was certain then, and I'm still certain today, that I was more likely to have been kicked out of graduate school than the flasher. (Of course, in the grand scheme of life, my PhD hasn't been that useful anyway.)

    I did tell two other graduate students. The woman thought the situation was funny. The man told me if I felt threatened, I could call him any time of the day or night and he'd come to the lab. Neither suggested I tell my major professor or the flasher's.

    Fortunately, the world has changed since then. And bad decisions make good stories.

  2. Yipes, Ann. I wish I could reassure you that the world has changed since then. It is still the policy of most universities to refer assault victims (primarily women) to a dean for a hearing with her attacker/stalker present. In this way, they protect their reputation and bottom line. Who would want to send their daughter to a university with a record of on campus rapes?

  3. I've thought a lot about your question since you posted it. I think what strikes me most about the advice I received during my life was that most of it was from my parents and most of it was wrong. I think they set some good examples for me and I adopted some of their mindset just by following their lead but the stuff they preached to me about...was not the way I wanted to live my life. It took me a lot of trial and error to find my own way, the way that makes me feel fulfilled and happy. And my parents still give me flack for it, but I've learned to accept that we're fundamentally different people.

  4. My fifth grade teacher posted the Serenity Prayer on the bulletin board, & they were (& still are) beautiful words, but I still struggle with accepting the things I cannot change. I always think "There must be some way."

  5. That's a hard one, isn't it, Kim? I think I've almost done the opposite. I practice what my mom preached but didn't follow her lead in much. We are all just looking for those four corners!

  6. Kathy, I agree - accepting the things I can't change is the HARDEST and probably the best advice I've ever gotten. There is a great book by a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron called, "Comfortable with Uncertainty" that I found really enlightening on the subject of acceptance. I'll send it to you if you like :)

  7. Hmmm, Juliet, great writing as always, love reading your stuff.
    Stuff I heard when I was young and just now get it,

    "You'll pay for that when you hit 40." Dr. Singh after a particularly hard game of football.

    "Look after your pennies(cents) and your pounds (dollars) will take care of themselves." wish I'd paid much more attention to that one.

    "Don't make that face, the wind'll blow and it'll stay that way for ever!" My mum, (that was a biggie, bloody ill timed wind really sucks!)

    "He is bad that will not take advice, but he is a thousand times worse that takes every advice."

    and finally from that greatest of all writers, and in honor of Gloria I'll refer to the person as she!
    Ms. Anonymous said the following:

    As we grow up, we learn that even the one person that wasn't supposed to ever let us down, probably will. You'll have your heart broken and you'll break others' hearts. You'll fight with your best friend or maybe even fall in love with them, and you'll cry because time is flying by. So take too many pictures, laugh too much, forgive freely, and love like you've never been hurt. Life comes with no guarantees, no time outs, no second chances. you just have to live life to the fullest, tell someone what they mean to you and tell someone off, speak out, dance in the pouring rain, hold someone's hand, comfort a friend, fall asleep watching the sun come up, stay up late, be a flirt, and smile until your face hurts. Don't be afraid to take chances or fall in love and most of all, live in the moment because every second you spend angry or upset is a second of happiness you can never get back

    1. Oh Jon, as much as you doubt yourself, I see you taking this advice every time I have the pleasure of spending time with you. You are raw joy.

  8. What a great post! And what a great experience.

    My grandmother always said, "Press on Regardless"

    Been doing that my whole life.

  9. Yes you have, girlfriend!