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How to Be of Service to Women Leading

Family of cardinals - Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about you—wondering how you are, what you’re making of all these headlines that feel like battering rams to the psyche.

Last week I was offline—not celebrating our “independence”, but mourning the loss of a matriarch…the mother of my beloved.

The theme MOTHER has been really present this week.

A family of red cardinals built a nest in the willow tree right outside our window. We watched as the mom sat on the nest and the dad, all bright red and vigilant dashed from here to there bringing her twigs and bugs and berries.  Family of cardinals - Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash

Her safety was paramount in his eyes. She was the center of his universe and he seemed to take great pride in his job.

It was beautiful—almost poetic—to watch him serve her with such fierce devotion the week after the US stripped women their reproductive rights.

I could not stop watching the birds in the tree. It felt hopeful, offering me something beautiful to focus on.

When I was a mother in labor, I remember feeling so grateful for the service of my beloved. As I worked to bring new life from inside my body, the outside world became blurry when my contacts blew out from hours of pushing and my eyes swelled shut. Periodically, I would open my mouth, like a bird, and I’d feel my husband put a straw to my lips so all I had to do was suck.

No words spoken.
No questions or answers.
No explanation or instructions.
No debates, defensiveness or denial.
No profuse gratitude or even recognition.

Just receiving nourishment.

So new life could be born.

I want more women to feel like that lady cardinal in the nest. And I want more men to be like that proud male that makes their needs paramount.

Safe. Protected. The center of a universe.
If only just for a week.
Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Can you even imagine that world?

I’m trying to. Desperately.

But as I heard stories told this weekend about a mother who was loud, angry and opinionated, I wondered what my future might hold. I feared it, actually.

Would my sons talk about how I was an angry woman that was always fighting against something–pushing for change that never came? Would they talk disparagingly about my loud protestations, my passionate disagreements and my fierce stands when I felt my voice, perspective, visibility, or rights were being disrespected or dismissed?

Would I be reduced to one emotion—the one we never want women to express—to such a point that people would forget that I was the one who created their life?

Let’s talk about anger.

Because women are angry. Really, really angry. As you know.

Something bad has happened—something unjust, not right, horrific—and we know this is just the tip of the iceberg. Human rights are now on the chopping block.

Anger is an appropriate response to all this. And yet? We’re shamed, shushed, silenced, told to “move on”, “be more productive”, and “get over it.”

I’ve written a lot about anger over the years—in fact, it’s the number one topic that comes up in the 1:1 work with my clients. Number. One.

  • I wrote about anger advocacy in this post, mapping out exactly the process we use to stem, quell or just shut down a woman when she’s angry. And if you think I’m just talking about men, think again…about 75% of my conversations are examples of how women do this to other women. It’s how the patriarchy has trained us—we do a lot of the dirty work.
  • I wrote about the power of naming anger in this post rather than shaming it, exploring how its been misunderstood and undervalued, and is desperately in need of a rebranding. I took a stand for how it points us to something that is deeply meaningful, like lava rising from the depths to offer us insight—and inspiration.
  • I wrote about how these hard emotions live deep in our bodies as women in this post, and take lots of space and conscious energy to rise to the surface—and how easy it is to stuff it, ignore, or distract ourselves from the truth embedded in our anger.
  • I wrote an entire chapter in my first book, Unscripted, sharing my own personal history and experience of anger, eventually discovering it was a tool to tap into deep truth—but only if the passage is open for it to flow. I explore how its expression is a privilege, given almost exclusively to men who are lauded publicly, while women have been burned at the stake.
  • I also wrote a chapter in my second book, Ignite, this one about how anger intersects with leadership—because it does with women. All the time. It’s just that we don’t talk about it openly because it’s not safe—or apparently ladylike (whatever that means…). But it’s super powerful and the leaders I work with tap into it on a regular basis as fuel.

So yeah, I’m no stranger to anger. We go way back.

But recently? I’ve felt like a hag version of Greta Thunberg.

I’ve felt repulsive, antagonistic, aggressive.—even scary. Way beyond dangerous.

What’s your relationship to anger these days?

From where I sit, women—especially white women—have some work to do with it so we can use it more powerfully to affect change in our world.

I’m re-reading the book The Power by Naomi Alderman—a book President Obama named one of the best books of the year in 2017. Billed as a “our era’s Handmaid’s Tale”, the story unfolds about how girls—and then their mothers—start waking up to their power that is distinctly electric. As in “ouch, you shocked me!” electricity.

In the beginning the girls don’t know how to use it—they are unpracticed, not skilled, and rather dangerous. They also hurt each other. Then they practice, learn how to harness and control their powers—and then teach each other.

This is what we need to do with anger.

So many people talk about how they’re “not comfortable” with anger—as if someone expressing their anger in the heat of the moment is ever comfortable. It’s why our hearts pound and we feel like we’re “too much” immediately afterward, checking in with everyone and their mother to make sure we’re still “okay” (which is code for loved, safe, accepted, valued…)

It’s practice we need, not comfort. So wanna practice?

Try these things on for size and I promise they will help to widen your narrative of what anger is and how it can be used—positively, productively, and with purpose.

  • Watch this TEDx talk by Chameli Ardagh as she explores the “fierce face of the feminine” and her own story of finding her way into it. I’ve watched this more times than I can count.
  • Check out Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper. As a black feminist, she explores her own experience of anger, and in doing so shines a light on white women feminists—how we behave with regard to anger and what we can learn from them. I devoured this book.
  • Pick up Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister (and when you do, be sure to notice the f*ck hologram on the cover…) Again, she explores the differences between black women and white women when it comes to anger, and shows how this has played out in history and shaping of our politics.
  • Take a peek at Lindy West’s book The Witches are Coming—especially if you like snark, satire and a quick wit. I started it last week and can’t put it down. Brilliant.

So this is me, flying over to your nest late at night with a twig, a bug and a berry.

Maybe your beak isn’t open, and that’s okay.

But feel me doing a fly by your tree.

 

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