Gender Reconciliation: Make America Friendly Again
We need to make friends with what is, not what should be
John and I attended a Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (GERI) workshop at the Bahá'í International Community at the UN a couple of months before lockdown, and were just recently reunited at the 30-year GERI anniversary celebration and the launch of their new book at the Omega Center.
In December 2019, along with 15 men and 15 women, John and I spiraled through the Gender Equity & Reconciliation process.
Over 3 days we made visible the violence, shame, arrogance, belittlement of our gendered world as embodied in each of us – where control is the mantle of men and perfection the mantle of women with little room for our humanity.
I shared and was witnessed in the pain of being excluded by women for being man-sized (height-wise) – turns out I’m not the first woman to be excluded by other women for not being picture-perfect female. Even though this is a seemingly benign and typical scenario, for all women who experience this it can disorient us and disconnect us from our own sense of value. More than that, exclusion can perpetuate self-hatred, food disorders, cutting, and even suicide.
After the facilitators created a solid foundation, one of our first process exercises was silent witnessing. Women and men are separated into opposite sides of the room, and a series of questions are asked and when your answer is yes, you stand up. The questions range but could be, for example, “Have you ever been the recipient of violence from a man?” I am struck by how every man stands having endured violence from another man as well as a little over half of the women. I was struck how almost every woman or man who received violence as a child perpetrated violence as an adult. And even more shocking was how both men and women are equally, but in different ways, navigating violence and domination – especially as inflicted by other men.
Ultimately every person was witnessed in whichever wounds they carried, which ranged from tyrannical assault to feeling invisible. Whichever end of the spectrum you were on, all of us swam in the transformative wisdom and power of our individual and collective broken hearts.
But in light of October’s BreakBread prompt on the power of words, I turn to these words:
Now, those are some loaded words. “Gender” and “Equity” are culturally front and center and “Reconciliation” – now that’s a word I’d like to dig into.
Let’s start with equity. “Equity” in particular is something most people want. It shows up in our society as a rule book, a list of shoulds, laws, mandates, ways of speaking. Yet it’s a thing out there that we can never quite get – an unattainable ideal. And when good-intentioned people inadvertently fail at being equitable, they get criticized, even canceled for getting it wrong. This is why the equity movement has had such a backlash and is so stigmatized as “woke fascism”. The push toward equity is important but gender equity won’t be realized through a rule book.
In order to move toward gender equity we need to get beneath the surface
– into the invisible, unseen, and unsaid – where wounds fester keeping us stuck in a perpetual cycle of hatred and violence.
That’s why I love “Reconciliation” – a powerful word – a word that tugs at my broken heart, befallen by riffs and wrongs. To reconcile is to willfully step into the hot fire of conflict, rage, pain, grief, shame and suffering and… risk being heard, witnessed, received, and dare I say loved. This is no easy task and one you likely won’t want to take on in the boardroom, the trading floor, or the halls of congress where the walls of power are held together by a rigid and brittle status quo.
Reconciliation is rooted in “re” which means “again” and “concile”, which means to “make friendly”. So at its root it means to “make friendly again”
– sounds sort of pollyanna to me and brings to mind a church lady gritting her teeth while saying “I’m sorry”.
Who really wants to “make friendly again” when deep rejections, violence or thingification happens? And in our world, “making friendly again” is not usually the desired outcome – which could explain why the American judicial system is more of a revenge system than a restorative system of justice where the individual who does harm has the opportunity to take responsibility, to witness the impact of their crime and find ways to right the wrong.
To truly move into a new era of healthy vibrant gender equity we need more than rules, we need to “make friendly again” by making gender wounds visible – even if the wounds seem “small” because a thousand scars build a wall that we eventually don’t notice.
When these wounds are skillfully revealed, witnessed, received, honored and transmuted – we reconnect to our broken hearts, and are made whole again. And it is then, that we can become friendly again.
Check out GERI’s new book: Gender Equity & Reconciliation and you can check out our podcast interview with Will and Cynthia too. For more info about restorative justice listen to our podcast with Baz Dreisinger.
October’s BreakBread Prompt:
Words have power. How have you wielded (or yielded to) the power of words? And what’s a moment or story when words lifted you up or tore you down? Extra credit: find some words, yours or someone else's, that hold power for you and share them!