“Women’s creations sank soundlessly into the sea, leaving barely a ripple, and succeeding generations of women were left to cover the same ground others had already covered before them.”
…Although late at night these words leapt from the page, shattering the comfortable lull of descending sleep.
This disquieting observation by Gerda Lerner, Professor of History, specializing in the history of women, resonated with an increasing recognition shared by a group of us, women at EnlightenNext, that as a gender, despite many brilliant, courageous, and accomplished individuals throughout history, we have barely imprinted, let alone been movers and shakers in shaping history, or the world we live in today.
For independent, free-thinking postmodern women, this is a hard pill to swallow!… but it’s true. Actively engaged for the past fifteen years in the transformation of women’s consciousness, with spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen, we have come to know this at close quarters! However, endeavoring to unearth the reasons for this phenomenon has led us to actively examine not only the external conditions that have contributed to this state of affairs, but also the structures of our own internal psyche as women. Consciously identifying and transcending outdated inner structures, and forging a felt connection to what my spiritual sister, Elizabeth Debold, beautifully articulated in her blog as Eros, (thereby becoming truly effective partners with each other and with men) is our bond, our passion, and mission!
Like many other women interested in the evolution of women’s consciousness we recognize the powerful defining influence of our primary role and biological function as mothers and caretakers throughout history. However, unlike many women today, we do not share the view that elevating this primordial role and its incumbent capacity for nurturance and care, is the liberating next step for women. Don’t get me wrong, we love and value children. But for any woman who has or is experiencing motherhood, the all consuming focus–physically, emotionally and mentally is almost incomparable to any other occupation, and leaves little room, or energy for other matters. (This itself is a challenge for postmodern women – another topic!) However Nature has ensured that we will fulfill our function–we are literally hard-wired to do so with capacities optimized to ensure the survival of the human species. It is easy to romanticize and personalize our maternal instincts, and feelings.
What is fascinating in Lerner’s work is that throughout history, despite the dominance of our maternal wiring, and the paucity of life choices available outside of marriage and domesticity for millennia, there has been a thin unbroken line of pioneering heroic women, through whom Eros, the creative impulse, has manifested in ways other than child bearing–women with brilliant, creative minds and courageous hearts, driven to make a mark at their time…So why is there so little cumulative effect in consciousness, in culture?
The thrust of contemporary research emphasizes the historical adverse conditions for women culturally, namely patriarchal values, and this no doubt plays a huge part in this phenomenon. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to those courageous women who fought to change this. Obtaining an education was a big step. From the 11th – 19th century women were excluded from universities. This meant also being deprived of the intellectual and cultural creative friction and interchange that takes place around institutions of learning which helps hone major thought leaders. It also meant that women’s creative thinking was not sanctified and preserved through university publications, alumni associations, national archives etc.
In medieval times this thin line of development of women’s consciousness flourished outside the home in religious sanctuaries – abbeys, convents and the famous Beguinages of medieval Europe. Here women – some of them mystics, in the company of each other, thrived intellectually and spiritually. The most famous was Hildegarde of Bingen whose brilliance and moral authority created a model of leadership. She was a rare exception in leaving behind a body of work and an institution renown for learning and creativity. Hildegarde’s conviction and authority came from her visions and alleged direct instructions from God.
Similarly Jean D’Arc another courageous, outstanding woman who gave her life for her country was empowered through her visions and direct commandment from God.
Both these women were fired by their personal connection and surrender to a higher spiritual force, an inspiration and divine injunction that thrust them way beyond the inner and outer mores of their time.
Spiritual conviction, the source of transcendence and extraordinary strength in both men and women throughout history is sorely lacking in our postmodern secular culture. For us, women untethered since the 60’s from the anchor of a maternal role and identity, our existential sense of security, power and selfhood is largely, unapologetically if not unconsciously, still being sought and promoted through our sexuality–this is who we believe we are, where our worth lies….not a lot of evolution here. In fact many of the new age paths for women’s liberation are based on elevated versions of this–“discovering the sexual goddess” within us, finding a “soul mate” etc as the primary goal of our lives.
Going back to the thin line of women’s development, during the Renaissance, learned women mostly from the nobility, held respected positions in European courts. Several hundred years later during the flowering of the Enlightenment, women emerged as equal intellectual partners with men in the salons of England, France and Germany–hotbeds of intellectual, philosophical and religious discussion. Many of these salons were run by women, some of whom mentored other women. The creative impulse bursting forth at this time, with the release of the Church’s dogmatic hold on thinking, often found expression through literary authorship – both men and women. Not only this, but unconventional sexual relationships and life styles also emerged, with women taking multiple lovers and husbands who were creative intellectual and philosophical partners. Women also began to create “affinitive clusters”–groups of women who shared a passion for women’s education, literature, philosophy and religion.
With these notable forbears to 20th century feminist consciousness-raising groups, why did women still not become more culturally visible and impactful beyond their time?
Here the well-worn factor of patriarchal values is not the whole picture for although talented women literary giants emerged at this time, many, especially amongst the Romantic women who married, ended up either abandoning their writing or devoting their talents to supporting their husbands. They voluntarily subjugated their own creativity and standing in the world, even allowing husbands to solely take credit for collaborative works. There was no translation of their remarkable freedom of thinking, philosophical authority, or passion for breaking cultural mores into creating a visible shift, an advancement in womens’ consciousness as a whole. Fundamentally there was no real change to the bottom-line that a womens’ essential value lay in being wife and nurturer.
Next in this thin and volatile thread of women’s march to development came the cultural revolution that exploded in the 60’s. Here was a very conscious effort by feminists to create a paradigmatic shift in women’s consciousness. For those of us who experienced the extraordinary surge of Eros (the Creative Impulse) at this time, there was an unthinkable sense of limitlessness. Like surfing a tsunami, all perameters were swept aside, experimentation and endless exploration of unchartered horizons was in our hands. Personal freedom was the driver, and also the drug….intoxicating.
Forty plus years on, as women we have more freedom, knowledge and opportunity than our grandmothers, if not our mothers, could have imagined…yet for all the positive gains, we are still far from being full players, building on our developmental history, and shaping the next step for humanity. The external structures defining opportunity in our postmodern lives (although not perfect) are no longer the obstacle for women…..
What is it that we as women need to do to change this?…celebrating our femininity, as Elizabeth has written so articulately about in an article titled the Divine Feminine Unveiled does not seem to be the way. Experiencing freedom is not enough …as the 60’s evidence – experiences come and go.
In our work together, encouraged and supported by Andrew Cohen, it is clear that we, 21st century women, must be the ones to develop an inner musculature, a core sensibility and commitment to evolution and higher development that is not just personal or temporal, and can “sink soundlessly into the sea”:…as if it never happened. But a new culture where we support in each other a sense of directionality and vision that goes beyond our personal circumstances.
With women around the world, we are striving to create a new platform in women’s consciousness, building on the strength and knowledge of the past. This is the new woman we are endeavoring to evolve as ourselves–one that is a sound vessel for the Creative Impulse which rages through so many of us at the edge of culture; a vessel where we maintain a clear sense of priorities, where we do not default under pressure to outdated powerful personal impulses. But instead build a culture between us that supports spiritual rationality versus irrational emotionality, to navigate life; a collective consciousness that utilizes our capacities for self-reflection to consciously develop a higher center of gravity for women, one that is aligned with Eros/Spiritual Intelligence, that thrives with ownership, and a sense of responsibility for shaping the future together, as real partners with men…. This is the vision that unites and inspires us as sisters ….and, we have a lot of work to do together!