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If Women Ruled the World
How to Create the World We Want to Live In â" Stories, Ideas, and Inspiration for Change
By Sheila Ellison, Jane Evershed
Inner Ocean PublishingCopyright © 2004 Sheila Ellison
All rights reserved.
The Courage to Be Ourselves
Be yourself. The world worships the original.
— Jean Cocteau, writer
* * *
We Would Trust Ourselves
Lisa Loeb, singer-songwriter
I grew up in Dallas, Texas, in the 1980s, a conservative time, in a fairly affluent part of town where people were very well groomed. There was a sense of security in having your hair done, your lipstick on, your nails manicured, and your clothes stylish and tidy, almost more so than having your thoughts in order and your opinions developed. As a young girl, I sometimes felt that there was too much emphasis on the outside and not enough on the inside. This made me uncomfortable, yet somehow, fulfilling the basic expectations of society made fitting-in an easy process, by simply checking items off of a list or following a book of rules.
When I arrived at Brown University, I felt slightly relieved. I was finally in a place that valued creativity more than fitting in. I realized that my reservations about placing so much emphasis on what everyone else thinks were based on some truth — I could feel much more like myself when I no longer had to waste so much time on those superficial things.
This made it easier for me to write and explore my creative expression as a musician. In fact, I wrote a song freshman year with lyrics that said, "Don't be afraid to be yourself, you'll get nowhere being someone else, and if you do, it really won't be you going somewhere." This was a revelation: that you really only succeed if you act like yourself; otherwise, it's as if it's not you at all.
As a songwriter, I'm often asked for advice by young musicians, and I've realized that the best thing I can do is to encourage them to find their own voice, musically and lyrically. If they concentrate on fitting-in, they'll lose the only thing that really sets them apart from others — their individuality.
Don't get me wrong; I do think that there's something to empathy, and to respecting and understanding society's values and the community's expectations, but one must also trust oneself and one's own inner voice. Even now, I'm sometimes faced with making decisions about inane subjects such as which outfits I'll wear in certain situations. A short skirt at a work-related meeting with men? Hmm. No, that might give them the wrong idea, or it might make them even more interested, and I don't play sexy to get what I want in business. Deciding what to wear on stage? Well, the miniskirt is cute, comfortable, and a small item to pack in a suitcase, but a feminist writer might think that I'm not strong enough if I'm wearing a girly skirt and makeup. It can go both ways. In the end, especially with these silly superficial choices, I just go with my gut, and assume that some subtle expression of my values and myself will make my intentions clear.
Going to an all girl's school for 11 years, I had to wear a uniform, and as kids, we girls would think, "Hey, why do they want us to all look alike? Why are they taking away our individuality?" As it turns out, that was the point — to emphasize the inside. Being well groomed can give you an easy starting point for fitting-in, and there's nothing wrong with that, but if women ruled the world, we could start by focusing on the inside, and not think so hard about our choices and what they mean to everyone else.
Singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb debuted at No. 1 on the charts in 1994 with "Stay (I Missed You)." She has released five CDs since, recieved two Grammy nominations and a Parent's Choice Award for her children's album "Catch the Moon."
* * *
Peace Would Begin with Me
Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world. — Etty Hillesum, writer
Wherever I go in the world as a professional peacemaker, I always find more women ready to take on the work of peace than men. Maybe it's because women and their children account for 80 percent of the casualties of today's wars. Maybe it's because women are naturally more "relational" than men. Maybe it's because women, as givers of life, value that which sustains life over that which destroys it.
Whatever the reason, I am fascinated by how women take so readily to the understanding that "peace begins with me." I think of Rawda, a Palestinian woman who, like Nelson Mandela, was jailed by her "enemies" yet discovered in prison a commitment to come back to her community as a nonviolent peacemaker instead of an angry activist and went on to participate in and train others for Israeli-Palestinian dialogues.
I think of Katie, a Greek Cypriot woman, who nearly walked out of her first encounter with a Turkish Cypriot but stayed because she realized that if she wanted to bring peace to her island, she would have to learn to open her heart even to the ones she "hated." She went on to run dozens of bicommunal dialogue groups and started a bicommunal choir.
I think of Sonia, who survived the rape camps in Bosnia and found peace in her own heart to work with other traumatized victims.
In my own life, inner peace has been a spiritual as well as practical journey. I have a sanctuary in my imagination — a place I go to feel that deep sense of calm, that vibrant sense of being, that heightened sense of connection to all that is, which I call inner peace. I first learned to go there thirty years ago, when I had a near-death experience on the operating table, during my second radical mastectomy for breast cancer.
That experience opened the doorway to my spiritual journey and showed me that, not knowing when I would die (and having no more fear of death), I was free to choose to live my life full of peace, joy, and love. Having defied all the statistical expectations (I was in the "zero" percent survival category), I also realized I was here on Earth for a purpose — to serve humanity by calling the people home to peace.
Since then, I have learned (and taught) many skills for building peace, but the single most important one has been the ability to drop into that place of deep inner peace at will, and to amplify the energy field of that place for those around me. I have seen that practice calm trigger-happy wild young boys with AK-47s at road blocks in Liberia; I have seen it open the space for transforming tense and potentially violent confrontations into a fruitful dialogue.
I have worked with women from all over the world, and I find that they have a deep capacity for finding this place of inner peace, and from it, they're able to open their hearts to reconciliation and healing. I think it has something to do with being mothers. We carry the seeds of life to fruition. We nurture, we listen, we comfort, we maintain relationships. We are connected to our children — and to the life force — in ways that men can never be. Being closer to the cycles of the natural world, we intuitively understand when the circle of life is shattered and needs healing.
In Bosnia one day the following poem came to me:
We are broken
And we will not be mended
Until we remember
That we are unbreakable.
Women get it. And because we get it, we are the mothers of peace — from the inside out.
Louise Diamond, Ph.D., is a professional peacebuilder in places of ethnic conflict around the world, president of the Peace Company, and author of The Peace Book: 108 Simple Ways to Create a More Peaceful World.
* * *
Self-Respect Classes Would Be Part of Our High School Curriculum
How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but to be someone. — Coco Chanel, designer
While strolling through my high school's quad last week, I could not help but notice the outfits of the shivering young girls around me. "Isn't it 35 degrees out?" I mumbled confusedly to myself as scantily clad girls rushed to the nearest warm classroom. Standing there, I thought back to my freshman year, three years ago, and reminisced, "I think I used to wear outfits like that, too. What happened?" I could have walked away from that thought with a mere chuckle. But seeing the obviously uncomfortable clothing those girls were sporting got me wondering: Why?
Of course, the answer flashes before my eyes the second I turn on the TV. Music videos, with rappers "singing" about the four women they screwed last night, tell young girls only one thing: He'll like you if you're sexy.
I can remember my behavior the first two years of high school. I never expected a boy to want to have a real conversation with me. Whenever a gang of guys would approach my scantily clad self at a football game or at a dance, I acted flirtatious and coy. All I wanted was for people, male or female, to like me, so I gave up my pride and forced myself to be what I conceived to be "likeable" in dress and manner.
Luckily, a friend came into my life who taught me to have self-respect and dignity. But not all girls have been so fortunate. Now, in my senior year, I observe a few of my classmates still acting the way I once felt I needed to.
Just Think envisions a country where media education is an integral part of standard education in every classroom across the United States. Their mission is to teach young people to think for themselves and to understand the words and images the media portray. They are doing their part by offering innovative media education programs and curricula to youth of all backgrounds (www.justthink.org).
As teenagers, we're influenced by images in the media — through videos, songs, and movies — on what makes a girl sexy and how to act around guys. However, I don't think the videos, songs, and movies should stop being produced. The problem does not lie within the media necessarily but within ourselves. We need to learn and then teach our younger counterparts the art of self-respect. If women ruled, we would create mandatory classes for high school freshman girls that would teach them how to reject the promiscuous messages of popular culture. We would teach them that outer beauty isn't as important as who we are inside, and that self-confidence is more attractive than a short skirt. In these classes we could hear stories from female mentors about the choices they made regarding sex, alcohol, and dieting — and we might learn how to reject the ever-present belief that to be accepted and liked you have to act like your peers.
If women ruled, we would teach young girls to be themselves without worrying about impressing their peers. We would teach them how to get out of frightening and threatening situations.
I am waiting anxiously for the day when my high school quad is teeming with warmly dressed, comfortable girls strolling with heads high. Until then, I will sit down with my little sister and talk to her. In doing so, I will begin to undo the mentality that pop culture has woven into the minds of American teens. I believe that is our responsibility, as women.
Janel Marie Healy, 17, is a senior in high school. Although she is still a student, she hopes to begin a career in children's literature soon.
~ Something to Think About ~
We Would Unlearn All That We Know
As a woman, I know how to cross my legs in a way that best hides my cellulite. I know how to best display my cleavage when I want to win an argument, get out of a speeding ticket, attract attention from a man, or avoid doing something.
As a woman, I know how to cover a pimple, how to find a swimsuit that will best cover my stretch marks, and how to remove my body hair and just accept the pain. I know that when a man gets angry, I'm to keep my mouth closed and wait for him to calm down.
As a woman, I know that my female friends will compete with me for a man's attention and my male friends will try to sleep with me. I know never to put my drink down at a party or trust any man who offers to make me a drink.
As a woman, I know that I will never be president. I know to expect to make less money than my male coworkers. I know that I will be accused of "PMS-ing" anytime I disagree with something a man is saying.
I know that I am expected to be thin with large breasts, have white teeth and clear skin, and smell like roses, everywhere.
If women ruled the world, we'd be raised with equal power and opportunity. Men would not treat us like objects; we wouldn't allow it. If women ruled the world, we would unlearn all that we know and learn how to love and accept ourselves, regardless of our supposed "imperfections." — Raegan Thurlow, 24
Portrait of a Woman
The portrait of a woman
A mysterious silhouette
Artistically, so subtle
No one dares to forget
The oil on the canvas
Blends a gentle tone
Brush strokes tell a story
Of a girl who's not alone
Her eyes speak chapters
Of a fight she vows to win
Soft and flowing lines
Her mouth turned to a grin
The landscape behind her
Is filled with many faces
Distantly waiting shadows
Loving, safe embraces
Self-portrait is her duty
Only she can use the palette
A collage of several forms
Stronger than a statuette
Deanna Davis operates her own child-care facility from her home and loves releasing her passionate creative side through gourmet cooking, writing poetry, dancing, and various arts and crafts projects. She is 33, a proud mother of two, and resides in Sacramento, California.
* * *
We Would Celebrate Our Strengths and Not Focus on Our Weaknesses
What are your inner gifts and talents? Most of us are reasonably articulate about our deficits and weaknesses — how many we got wrong on our spelling tests, how many things we failed to accomplish during any given day. We become fluent at explaining our incompetencies, but look straight at our gifts and talents and then mutter, "Oh, that old thing?" — Dr. Dawna Markova, educator and writer
I was always a good student. I was able to sit and listen in classes, diligently taking notes and responding to questions. I skipped grade 8 and fast-tracked through high school. In contrast, my sister was athletic but had trouble sitting still in class, completing assignments, and listening to her teachers. School did not seem to ignite her imagination.
We both graduated and went off to different career choices. After college, I felt lost. My path wasn't laid out for me, and I found it hard to set goals and envision my future. If I was given a task, I was great at completing it, but I couldn't seem to come up with the big ideas myself. I drifted through several jobs, and my personal frustration increased. Why couldn't I seem to get it together? How had I gone from being a success in school to failing in the "real world"?
Out of school, my sister seemed to thrive. She became part of a group that went into organizations and helped them build effective leadership teams. She was great at brainstorming options and coaching people in aligning their goals within their personal and professional lives. She became the "idea" person and partnered with others in her organization who were good at procedure — so her ideas became reality.
It wasn't until I took a workshop on intellectual diversity that I learned some reassuring facts: people process information differently, and we all possess unique talents and thinking strengths.
There are people who learn by listening, people who learn by seeing, and others who learn by doing. While I could sit and listen to a teacher's voice all day, the same teacher's voice would space out my sister. My sister later found that if she was able to move around while she was listening, she could remember every word. While talking and listening made me more aware, it was movement that brought my sister into focus.
Excerpted from If Women Ruled the World by Sheila Ellison, Jane Evershed. Copyright © 2004 Sheila Ellison. Excerpted by permission of Inner Ocean Publishing.
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