COMING INTO OUR OWN IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN
by Frankie Lee Slater
"How do I tell you what it's like to be a Woman
When so much of who I am resides in the space between words
If only you could see the world through my eyes
And experience what I am experiencing,
right along with me
Perhaps you can
In a Circle of Women
For it is here that I have come into my own
In the Company of Women"
Over the course of my life, in addition to many intimate friendships with women,
I have been blessed with a great wealth of experience in community with women.
The true magnitude of this crystallized only recently - when some combination of
the work I am doing to support women in connecting on a national level and my
turning 45 caused me to take stock. Not all woman have had the good fortune of
experiencing themselves together in community, sadly many in our modern world
have not. Society has fragmented the bonds between women and it is vital for
our well-being that we foster and grow this opportunity anew - for ourselves,
our sisters and daughters, and our brothers, sons and the Earth.
Recently, I was extending invitations to a gathering of A Circle of Women,
the group I started with my friend Marsha Levine in 1991 to celebrate the women
in our lives and the contributions they make, and honor this extremely special
connection which exists among women. Something in the way one woman remarked,
"I don't feel comfortable with just women." indicated she hadn't had the kind
of shared experiences which have shaped my life from the time I was little -
experiences like sitting by my mother's knee, fascinated while her friends in
bridgeclub and she comfortably and respectfully chatted about their families,
hopes and dreams, or learning by their example in community organizations where
they provided good works and modeled so well the principle of service.
Nor, it seems, had this woman had the life-informing experiences in community
with children of her gender which I and my friends found in Brownies and summer
camp; high school athletics where we learned to "excel with" rather than
"compete against," while contributing to the larger whole; in our freshman
women's dorm and sorority in college where we had an immersive experience of
sisterhood and healthy intimacy among women.
What I wish for this woman, and women everywhere, is that she and they may know
at least some of the special joy and sustenance to be found in community with
women - the riches in all the variations of who we are, the many shapes and
movements of the feminine so far beyond the canned media versions; the
individual expressions and ways we cycle through our lives with no "right time"
for anything, not career, not partnership, not children; the empowerment of
sitting in the safety of a Circle, of speaking with a talking stick and being
listened to, really listened to, witnessed and heard; the freedom of simply
being oneself, and giving ones gifts so that all can benefit.
I have had the opportunity of sitting in Circles with hundreds of women, and
also speaking with hundreds more - men, women and young people - regarding the
value such gatherings provide. One question I hear asked, that I'd like to
address right up front, is whether we "dis" men. Except for our very first
gathering, when such things were still lurking on the surface and calling to be
let go, we've easily stayed clear. Actually, our focus is on ourselves, on the
complexities of being women today, our dreams, challenges and discoveries.
It's simply about being women.
Another concern that calls for a response is the issue of "exclusion" and whether
it is ultimately "better" to have both genders together. Everyone who knows me,
knows I'm a great appreciator of men and love their company, indeed I also
produce events where we all come together in the Circle. That said, my feeling
is really quite matter-of-fact - there are many ways to know ourselves in community.
Relating with those of our gender is simply one of these, and an extremely
valuable and, I believe, necessary one on many levels. For it is in the Company
of Woman that we learn the Ways of Women - as women have done with women and men
have learned the ways of men with men throughout the ages. And only when we are
clear and strong and have a healthy sense of our authentic Selves, do we have
this to share in all our relationships.
There's a phenomenon taking place at this time, as evidenced in Paul Ray's now
well-known study regarding the 44-million Cultural Creatives (one quarter of the
adult population!) in this country who favor a refeminization of society.
Commissioned in 1994 by the Fetzer Institute and Institute of Noetic Sciences,
the study identified a new subculture of values that has been evolving in the
United States over the past generation that reflects, "an ecological and spiritual
worldview...a well-developed social conscience and social optimism," and places
a strong emphasis on connection and community.
Every day more and more people are recognizing that to live in balance we must
reunite feminine principles with their masculine counterpart - process with form,
subjectivity with objectivity, pattern with fact, experience with analysis,
the natural with the technical, receptivity with activity, expansion with
contraction, inclusivity with exclusivity, soft focus with hard focus,
interdependence with independence, being with doing. While these are not our
providence alone as women, they are perhaps more innate in us as well as more
engendered by society, and so our Responsibility.
A powerful force is building. Over the course of the last century, women's lives
have undergone a dramatic and radical shift. We are living longer, healthier,
more informed and choiceful lives. The promise of this age is unprecedented -
through our growing awareness, power and esteem, women are quite literally
midwifing a new way of being in the world.
The indicators are very good. Just look at the number of women present at
consciousness-oriented conferences and seminars, of women-owned organizations
and businesses and women in corporate America who are reshaping the corporate
culture through our unique leadership styles.
As Joan Borysenko emphasizes in A Woman's Book of Life, "Our ability to connect,
to nurture, and to make decisions based on present and future needs rather than
past conventions are the hope of this planet and the children who collectively
belong to us all."
I recently co-facilitated a gathering of women from throughout the United States
in the heartland of Oklahoma - an extension of the work I've been doing locally
with A Circle of Women, now about connecting women with women on a societal level
and empowering women's voices to be heard. It was deeply gratifying to hear the
visions women everywhere are having for ourselves and the world, and to see the
courageousness we are displaying - in overt ways such as climbing a 40 foot pole
and leaping into the air to catch a trapeze but, more importantly I feel, in the
subtle ways of sharing the truth within our hearts and finding the permission
within ourselves to be who we truly are.
We are living in an era unlike any other, a time when the wisdom drawn from every
culture, from all of time and creation is available. In this there is great promise.
There is also a great challenge before us. The human family is suffering a Crisis
of Separation that is impacting all our relations including the Earth herself.
As Women we are called upon to nurture and grow our gift of relationality and
help bring everyone together in the Circle. Now is the time to reach out amongst
ourselves, beyond our previous competitions and grievances, our limited ways of
thinking and being, and extend our hearts and hands to one another - to the younger
generations of women and our wise elders, beyond our immediate communities to the
larger community of women throughout the planet.
By coming together in the Company of Women, we are coming into our own as Women -
freeing ourselves to be our true Selves, and creating a tapestry of connectivity
through which we can unite the entire family of the Earth.