A New Moon Tarot Spread

I developed the spread below in order to tap into the power of the new moon this weekend. I invite you to pull out your deck and see what this underappreciated stage of the lunar cycle has for you this month.

                1

                 2                              4

                3

 It’s supposed to look like the moon! Not shown is the optional fifth card.

  1. What is gestating: This card represents things that are in the works and that need the darkness of the new moon to continue to ripen. Basically, leave well-enough alone. Don’t focus too much on them. Just let them incubate.
  2. What is hidden: This card reveals an aspect of your life that you are blind to—something perhaps that it may be good to begin shining a light on as the moon waxes again. It’s likely an area that is spreading difficulties in multiple parts of your life.
  3. What needs to be shed: This card represents the things in your life that need to come to an end and be released. Take some time to symbolically shed and mourn their passing this weekend. Don’t carry them into the new month with you.
  4. What needs to begin: This represents the new seeds in your life that you are sewing right now. Have you already started to bring them into the works? Or are the seeds still waiting to be planted in the rich soil of your life? Got on that. It’s planting season.
  5. Optional guide card: If you feel the need for more information or guidance on how to begin using the knowledge gleaned from the four cards above, you can draw an optional guide card. It may apply specifically to a single card in your spread, or it could tie them all together somehow.

The Demonization of the “Feminine” in the Battle of the Sexes

One of the great debates of our era is in regard to differences between men and women. Scientists and psychologists set up countless experiments to see whether men and women have different intelligence levels, strength levels, skills in vocabulary or object rotation, mathematical abilities, brain sizes, relationship drives, sexual desires…you name it, they’ve probably tested to see if there’s a difference between the sexes.

There tend to be two sides to the argument:

  1. Men and women are different
  2. Men and women aren’t different

Both sides find statistical evidence and cogent arguments to support them.

But what neither one realizes is that the argument isn’t really about whether gender differences exist. The real argument is unstated, thus unrecognized and unable to be resolved.

There’s a logical fallacy at play here called an unaccepted enthymeme. Okay, there’s two unaccepted enthymemes.

The first is that gender is binary.

But the second, and I think in regards to the sexism debate, the most important one is: If men are different from women, men are better than women.

The two sides of the debate are really rather absurd on their own because the answer to both sides is ‘yes.’

Yes, men and women are different from each other. In general women have a uterus, though that is not true for all women. In general men have testicles, thought that is not true of all men.

Yes, men and women are very similar on many levels. There’s enough evidence now to suggest that mathematical abilities only differ because of classroom socialization. Everyone has varying levels of testosterone and estrogen within them. We all have a basic human need for connection. And it’s a myth that men are only interested in sex and not in relationships.

But when you add in the unstated value judgment that men are better than women, that “masculine traits” are better than “feminine traits,” then the debate becomes so much more than just the absurd question of whether something objectively is or is not.

Feminists could argue until the world ends that women are just as capable as men, but unless we actually address the underlying assumption that certain traits are “less than” others, we will never be able to actually resolve this issue.

And this is where the construct of gender comes in because those devalued traits aren’t even exclusive to women. They are human traits, but because they’ve been stereotyped as “feminine,” they’ve been deemed worthless—so even men who possess those traits are looked down on in our hypermasculine culture.

Take emotionality for instance.

If a guy cries, he’s made fun of for being a “girl.”

If a girl cries, she’s accused of being “too emotional” or “too sensitive.”

Being in touch with your emotions is not a quality that we associate with a savvy business person or a political leader because, as a society, we value emotional intelligence less than analytical intelligence.

For that matter, we value quantitative research (stats and numbers) more than qualitative research (interviews and actually listening to someone’s experience of something).

We value aggression more than negotiation—just look at how many “action” movies exist that immediately resort to shooting people up as opposed to sitting down around a table to resolve differences.

We value conquering more than nurturing, competitiveness more than cooperation, judgment more than understanding, assertiveness more than congeniality.

As women attempt to work their way towards equal representation in the workforce and government, they are essentially told to be more like “men.”

But the traits that men (and women) are supposed to avoid are human traits! They are necessary to our society as much as the other traits are. They’re the glue that binds humanity together, without which our elevated primate species wouldn’t survive.

Somehow, I think ancient cultures understood that better than we do now. Perhaps being closer to death by predator, act of nature, or just plain bad luck did something to help them recognize how important a balance of both was.

There is a time for emotion and for logic, for assertion and for congeniality, for aggression and for negotiation. There are times when we should conquer and times when we should nurture, when we should compete and when we should cooperate, when we should judge and when we should seek to understand.

If men and women could be equal but different (not in the icky Complementarian way) without it being good or bad, would it really matter so much about whether there were differences? If people could be equal but different, with different mixes of different traits unique to them, without being shoved into boxes of masculinity and femininity–If we thought of the “feminine” traits as being as valuable as the “masculine” traits, would we even feel the need to defend ourselves when we were called “sensitive”? Goddess forbid that actually be a compliment and a sign of capability rather than an insult and an assumption of weakness.

I used to be interested in whether men and women were different. I wanted so badly to prove that those differences didn’t exist.

Now I just wonder why it matters.

Four Ways to Legit Pamper Your Vagina

Every year, as some are aware, I have a month dedicated to honoring the female body and celebrating the vagina. It usually involves a party, reading, and lots and lots of crafting, followed by a post (like this one) passing on something I created, learned, or did in the hopes that more women will get inspired to celebrate their beautiful bodies.

This past year, I’ve also been undergoing physical therapy to treat damaged muscles in my pelvic floor. I discovered that physical therapy involved a lot of self-care in order for it to be effective. I also discovered that many of the books I’ve read don’t really go into vaginal self-care in depth, and it reminds me that, even with some fantastic sex/body-positive books for women, we still have a long way to go in disseminating all the information a vagina-possessing person could use.

So today, I’m going to share some of my favorite yoni luxuries.

1. Massage!

I love massages. If I could afford it, I would be getting a professional massage on a weekly basis. But for some reason, I had never thought to try massaging my belly and pelvis. I’m guessing most women haven’t because it’s not exactly the kind of thing you see Cosmo printing on the front cover.

However, there are lots of little muscles in the lower abdomen and around the outside of the vulva that can get tired and sore. The pelvic muscles benefit from a little bit of kneading just as any other muscle (especially around menstruation).

Obviously, it’s easiest if you have a partner who gives good massages and wouldn’t mind offering a non-sexual spa hour to your outer pelvis and abdomen; however, if you don’t have the partner or the willingness from the partner, there are ways to give the gift of a massage to your own belly. You can even create your own massage oil with coconut oil, olive oil, or sesame seed oil.

2. Yoni Steam (aka, vaginal steam)

Douches are bad for your vag. Let’s just put that out there. The vagina is a brilliantly functioning, self-cleaning machine and DOES NOT need to be washed out. Douching will only knock out of balance the flora of bacteria and yeast that keep that pussy healthy.  (Just look at these wet pussycats to get an idea of how angry your vagina gets when you douche.)

That being said, steams are awesome and super simple. Basically, bring a pan of water to a boil. Remove from heat (and probably turn off your stove), add in some herbs or essential oils. Some of the ones I’ve loved and that are beneficial for the yoni are rosemary, rise calendula, and lavendar. Then sit over the steam pot, naked at least from the waste down, at a comfortable distance from the heat so that you feel it but aren’t in pain. You can get special chairs with holes in them, or you can just improvise in your own way to find a comfortable arrangement. The steam rises and relaxes the muscles, and the essence of the herbs works its magic on the mind and body. If you want to contain the steam for longer, wrap a blanket around your legs.

There’s been a recent surge of interest in yoni steams as a “beauty treatment,” which saddens me because it’s such a luxurious experience of self-indulgence and love on its own that it almost seems sacrilegious to turn it into yet another beauty standard. But it remains one of the “beauty treatments” that actually offers pleasure and health benefits, like a sauna for your lady bits.

3. Baths

This one seems so common-place that I shouldn’t have to put it down, but I do because I was told for years that baths were bad for women only to find out that it’s just the opposite. The first thing my physical therapist assigned to me when I began treatment was to take lots and lots of baths. Heat and water are healing and supporting, and I don’t know why we have developed a fear of their power.

4. Yoga

Add this to the list of health benefits for yoga: makes your vagina happy.

It’s more about the stretching actually, but yoga is my favorite way to get the stretching in. Poses like cobra, the arching cat, happy baby, child’s pose, goddess pose, garland, and basically any pose the stretches the abdominals or relaxes the pelvic floor is great.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So go pamper yourself. Or help your partner/friend/whatever pamper herself. Not everything that happens “down there” has to be sexual or medical. Sometimes it’s just plain sensual. Happy yoni-loving!

Social Media as Relational Hide and Seek

When I first left the cult, connecting with groups of survivors over Facebook was one of the few ways that I was able to maintain a sense of connection while being simultaneously shunned by many of the people I loved most. It was a lifeline, and I’m unashamed of how much of my time I spent on Facebook during those years.

However, Sherry Turkle recently delivered a TED talk about how social media can create the illusion of connection and intimacy while distancing us from each other as well as ourselves. Her talk hit a nerve with me. She mentions her former (and currently still surviving) hopes that social media and technology would provide ways in which we can deepen our self-reflection, thus deepening our intimacy with others.

But that’s not what she has been observing in our current trends. In her estimation, social media has become the drug that prevents us from recognizing how lonely we are or how vulnerable we are.

Social media has changed considerably in the six years that I’ve been using it.

Or maybe I’ve changed.

It’s kind of hard to tell because I am guaranteed to influence my own experience of social media.

It never occurred to me how much Facebook was different until I tried to switch to Ello. In the beginning of my Facebook days, I remember having actual conversations, some deep, some not so deep, and posting reflective thoughts…probably on the level of a blog.

But at some point, that changed. The format changed, but so did the posts. Which came first? I don’t think it’s possible to tell for certain. But there’s no denying that now my online activity consists mostly of watching silly videos, posting and/or liking pictures, and scrolling through an endless stream of meaningless information.

The deep conversations still happen, but not to the same degree that they did.

I’ve always been the person who defended Facebook whenever others criticized how shallow it was, how time-consuming, or how “not real human” it was…because my experience had been that it was incredibly meaningful. But in watching Sherry’s talk, I realized that my current use of Facebook has become shallow, time-consuming, and human distant.

At this point, I could probably go on a hiatus in order to focus on my real relationships. I wouldn’t be missing much of what happened in the time I was gone, and I probably wouldn’t be losing many relationships since I can contact most people in other ways…like by writing letters that say real things in them.

But more important to what Sherry is, I’ve noticed that Facebook is where I sometimes turn when I’m lonely.

As an introvert, there are times that I want to be alone. I become incredibly unpleasant to be around if I don’t get solitude to reconnect with myself.

However, as an introvert, it’s also hard for me to reach out when I want social connection, so in moments of acute loneliness, I hop onto the Internet to feel less alone. Part of that is from the habit of knowing that the Internet is where I would find comfort during my transition. I wouldn’t trade that aspect of social media for anything.

But Sherry  is right, I also sometimes use it to distract myself from my own vulnerability. There are times when I want to be around friends, but seeking companionship comes with the risk of rejection…

So I prefer to like a friend’s status, post a song that expresses my mood, or upload a picture of what I’m doing rather than pick up the phone and take the chance of hearing “no” when I ask if someone wants to hang out that night.

I long for the intimacy of close friendship, and I’ve worked hard to cultivate live friendships as well as the online ones. But at some point in the process of Facebook becoming the lifeline that kept me from being entirely isolated, it also became the barrier that keeps me isolated.

Sad, I know.

Especially since I know that most of my friends aren’t really rejecting me when they say, “no.”

But Facebook arranges it so that I don’t have to look into why it’s so painful and scary to face that because it has given me the means to pretend that I’m being very social and very open about my life and feelings without ever actually knowing who pays attention and who doesn’t.  It also gives me the means to hide from my own realization that I’m playing this game.

Thankfully, I think Sherry had the solution right. I can transform my experience of social media by transforming my relationship with myself and others. Rather than using Facebook (or Twitter, or Instagram, or Ello) to escape from my own loneliness, I can use it to deepen my self-reflection, to increase my vulnerability to my relationships, and to explore the incredible depth of real, messy relationships.

Remaking Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day can be a nauseating holiday. Those who are alone are reminded that society finds no value in being single. Those who are in relationships find a day celebrating “love” to really be about spending money on cheap gifts, flowers, and chocolates likely made by underpaid workers.

Sometimes it seems like you’ve basically got two choices: jump on the ridiculous band wagon or hide in your bed all day trying to ignore the outside world.

Or…potentially there’s another use for this overblown holiday: activism.

Below are some of my favorite posts over the last few weeks showing how others, both past and present have been remaking Valentine’s Day.

Buzzfeed’s List of Vintage Valentines Fighting for the Right to Vote:

What a brilliant way to capitalize on a holiday than by sending Valentine’s Day cards to politicians. One was even created by using a politician’s name as an acronym. Awesome use of Valentines. Awesome way to link a holiday to a political movement. I say we reclaim that and send Valentines about a woman’s right to her body to today’s Congressmen.

 

 

Veronica Varlow’s Awesome Survival Guide for Valentine’s Day: 

Veronica has a little bit of everything in this guide, from altruism to self-care to designing dates with your honey.

“Single and 17, I was pissed when Valentine’s Day rolled around. I thought it was an evil reminder that I wasn’t one of the hand-holding couples walking down the halls of school. But instead of sulking the day away, I bought these cute Snow White Valentines’ and wrote: ‘Valentine’s Day is Dumb, but You’re Awesome’ on every single one and then I picked 16 random lockers and stuffed the Valentine’s through the vents. I somehow felt more powerful doing that – rather than wallowing in my own singledom sorrow – I took the day back.” -Veronica Varlow

Ms. Magazine’s List of Ways to Make Valentine’s Day Feminist

Number one on the list is, of course, to celebrate V-Day.

“Contrary to popular usage, the “V” in V-Day is not just a derivative of Valentine’s Day. V-Day is actually a global activist movement fighting to end violence against women.” –Emily Mae Czachor

Bonus: 

Spring-boarding off of Emily’s awesome list, another alternative is to turn Valentine’s Day into a day to celebrate (or fight for) the right for people to love whomever they love. We’re up to 37 states (I think?) that have legalized same-sex marriages, and the number is ever growing. What an exciting political time to be witnessing!

Get involved.

Be part of history.

 

Pride, Accomplishments, and Degrees: On Being a First Generation Graduate Student

Women in my family don’t go to graduate school.

Women in my family barely get degrees at all.

Perhaps it wasn’t so unusual for the times that my grandmother never went to college. Even with a high school education, she was able to do a variety of things from teaching kindergarten to having a real estate career.

My mom received only slightly more education, obtaining an associate’s degree rather than the four year degree she had initially intended to get. Unlike many women in the cult, she didn’t go to her IFB school in pursuit of her M.R.S. degree (where you get a husband instead of a diploma), but like most women in IFB schools, she left with one.

I also didn’t go to Bob Jones University to find me a man. Even though the pressure to “date” was astronomically high for girls there (especially those who were deemed fit for being a preacher’s wife), I managed to avoid a serious relationship until my junior year.

When I dropped out just before beginning my senior year and got married, I seemed to be on my way to fulfilling the pattern set up for me by my foremothers. There was little expectation that I would get my bachelor’s. My mother clicked her tongue as she told me that I would regret my decision later.

Dire predictions weren’t far behind my vows:  “First comes love, then comes marriage. Then comes baby in a baby carriage.” If betting were allowed, I suspect that half the cult would have put their money on my being pregnant within a few months.

I was still determined to graduate, though. In spite of, or perhaps because of, their anger, disappointment, and expectations of my failure, I fought like a banshee to transfer to a new university…a secular one, where I realized that the three years I’d spent previously at BJU were as good as wasted.

When I finally received my diploma, it didn’t strike me as particularly unusual…except maybe the timing. I was aware that I had broken “out of order” by marrying first and graduating after, but it never occurred to me that I was doing something momentous for my family history.

This past week, though, I realized that not only am I one of the few women who received a four-year degree in my family. I’m also one of the few who has received a secular degree from a non-religious school (even considering my extended family, I can only think of one other cousin, two if I count the men too).

Now I’m working towards a Master’s.

There’s a part of me that feels incredibly out of place with this realization. I’ve never considered myself on the spectrum of “first generation to go to college” before, but I suppose on some levels that’s what I am.

What is it that makes one generation conform to the norms and expectations that they’ve been taught and makes another generation break out and do things that have never been done before?

There’s nothing in my upbringing that would suggest I would leave a cult and fight to create a life that didn’t follow the religious, gender, or cultural roles I’d been given as a child…but somehow, even as I seemed to repeat familiar patterns, I changed them—changed me.

It’s hard to believe that in a time when women earn more bachelor’s and master’s degrees than men that my realization is such a big deal, but it feels like it’s completely transformed my perspective.

I spent so much of my time as a child trying to be “the best”—to gain the pride, approval, and affection of my parents through my achievements and academic performance. But it was always in the shadow of my father’s accomplishments. If I got an A on a test, he would tell about getting an A+ on his seminary test. I simply couldn’t outshine him, but I continued to try. For some reason, I thought that would guarantee my parents’ love.

Of course, I realize now that basing my worthiness on my academic performance is ridiculous. My parents’ approval is tenuous and fleeting, and I’ve come to accept that they will never truly be proud of who I am since pretty much everything about me goes against their beliefs.

Nevertheless it’s a struggle that still crept in even just a few years ago, the childlike anticipation of praise when I finally got my undergraduate degree, followed by the bitter disappointment of realizing that it wasn’t good enough…just like everything else.

It’s ironic that my parents can’t recognize the accomplishment that I’ve already made. The nuances of breaking my own glass ceiling are lost on them.

But I see it. I know that despite how much of a failure they think I am, I’ve already done more than they have. And in seeing it, there’s a kind of comfort that even if I fail, I’ve already succeeded. For the first time, being proud of myself is all that I need.

 

 

New Posting Schedule for the Spring

As my second semester of grad school gets underway, I’m making a few adjustments to the schedule of the blog. Typically, I’ve been posting on a weekly basis; however I realized last semester that weekly posts felt a little bit hectic to me. Therefore, I will be switching to posting every other week, which will hopefully give me time to feel like I’m creating quality posts without neglecting other responsibilities. During breaks I hope to resume weekly posts.