Validation and Valediction

I chose not to give a valedictory address when I graduated high school.

This was less of a break with tradition than it might initially seem: unlike most high schools, my school didn’t automatically tap the class valedictorian to give a commencement address. Instead, individuals wanting to give a speech at this event were asked to submit an application in hopes of being selected for the honor.

Obviously, there were many years where the speaking line-up demonstrated how the sort of go-getter likely to become class valedictorian was also the same sort of go-getter likely to want to make a graduation speech.

But not every year. And not my graduation year.

———-

When I tell the story now, I jokingly say that by the time I got to high school graduation, the only message I would have wanted to share with my classmates was something pithy like Fuck off, all of you. And, as I have rehearsed the explanation nowadays, however brassy and outspoken my parents were, I thought that level of candor might have gone beyond their comfort level and thus decided that silence would be the better part of courtesy.

It’s not as if that narrative is too far off the truth.

girls-night-out-quantum-physicsI recall my high school years as miserable ones. My teachers were good, and I’m not going to be so hyper-dramatic as to claim I was entirely friendless or outcast. But the prevailing tone I recall from those years is the unceasing, oppressive  cultural message from my peers that I was too smart for a girl, too ambitious for a girl, and definitely too outspoken for a girl. And despite all my “inappropriate” displays of intelligence throughout my high school career, I think a good number of my peers were shocked to have a girl come out with the #1 class rank, simply on account of my gender.

So yeah, by the time graduation rolled around, I was in no mood to say a fond good-bye to my high school class. Instead, I was ready to close that door and get on to the next stage of my life, in hopes that my intelligence wouldn’t be so scorned and devalued in my college career.*

And yet I know that underneath all the teenage bluster, all the self-protective layers of scorn and judgement I held for my BMW-driving, Reagan-loving classmates, was also a part of me that didn’t want to risk making a speech from a place of fear and exhaustion.  Fear of becoming a target again, of being snickered and whispered at. The exhaustion of feeling as if I was swimming against the tide during so many minutes and hours of my existence. Yeah, I was ready to close the door and move on, but I still can’t tell you how much of that feeling was rooted in a sense of victory and how much in defeat.

———-

My recollections are prompted by a post today on Everyday Feminism titled 5 Ways Girls are Taught to Avoid ‘Smart.’ The author, Kelsey Lueptow, begins by stating “I started censoring myself in the seventh grade.” She then goes on to outline the cultural mores and messages that help encourage her, and me, and however-many bright, ambitious girls besides, into the habits of self-betrayal and self-suppression.

The list hits some of the highlights you might anticipate: the cultural value placed on female attractiveness, the primacy of the marriage plot as a goal for women’s lives, and the social enforcement of passivity — both through the positive reinforcement of “ladylike” behavior, but also through the negative responses to female displays of intelligence (everything from the infamous “bossy” label to more overt verbal/physical aggression).

It all reminds me of this recent PSA by Verizon that got some airplay a couple months ago:

As Amanda Marcotte analyzes in Slate:

This ad gets a couple of things right. The first thing is that the ad focuses on the parents and not the girls themselves. So much of our efforts in trying to encourage girls end up treating them like they’re the ones who are screwing up, either with too much “body talk” or being lame for playing with certain toys. This ad shifts the focus, arguing that girls are born fine and it’s the rest of us who screw them up.

Just as importantly, despite the punch line of lipstick over science, most of the ad is not reductively focused on body issues and beauty. It’s all too easy to fall back on the notion that the focus on looks alone is what’s holding girls back, in no small part because it allows liberals to hand-wring about the “beauty myth” while simultaneously allowing conservatives to scold about the evils of female vanity and sexuality. But this video tackles a much more insidious force holding girls back: the general pressure on them to be, for lack of a better term, more ladylike. It points out how we not only value beauty, but also prioritize neatness, quiet, and safety in girls while encouraging risk-taking and confidence in boys.

I don’t regret skipping out on the notion of giving a valedictory address. We all make the best choices we can at any given moment in life, and I don’t have the kind of time and energy it would take to start second-guessing this decision and all the other human, possibly-flawed things I have done in my 45 years on this earth.

But I do find myself wondering about the level of self-silencing that existed within that choice, and wondering, as well, how these cultural messages against female intelligence cause me still, even today, to silence myself.

* A hope that, fortunately enough, came to pass. Yay for women’s colleges.

———-

Image credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1357755/Why-DO-smart-girls-dumb-men.html

water well

The Well of Intuition

This great power, intuition, is composed of lightning-fast inner seeing, inner hearing, inner sensing, and inner knowing.

Over generations, these intuitive powers became as buried streams within women, buried by disuse and unfounded charges of disrepute. . . . I think we can be confident that things lost in the psyche are all still there. So, too, this well of women’s instinctual intuition has never been lost, and whatever is covered over can be brought back out again.

~~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves, 76

Although my focus with the HCG journey was on detoxing rather than the usually-marketed weight loss routine, I will admit that I wondered whether the experience would support me in being able to move more fully towards intuitive eating. After all, the dietary regimen has given me a chance to get out of the habit of processed food, and I also had lots of opportunity to study the ways that my hungers are sometimes more about emotional needs than actual physical sustenance.

However, having been out of my dietary/cooking routines during the four days of the retreat, I’m not sure that intuitive eating thing has really kicked in. Instead, I can recall several moments when I kept eating — taking cashew after cashew out of the bag for a snack, or going back for that extra little bit of egg salad at lunchtime — well past the point of physical hunger. Responding instead to emotional tension or anxiety.

I don’t say this out of some self-flagellating, confessional instinct. After all, as I’ve said before (and will surely say again and again): I am not striving for a perfection movement.

What instead interests me is the awareness that I don’t yet have a lot of faith in my ability to eat intuitively.

Or, quite honestly, in any level of my intuition.

water well
http://brianmercerbooks.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/when-the-well-runs-dry-part-1/

The concluding movement from the weekend was a highly creative and individualized one, a movement that very much asked us to tune into our intuition. And although I have enough admiration for Clarissa Pinkola Estes that I will not choose to argue with her when she suggests that the well of intuition can always be mined and revived, I still gotta say that my intuition is feeling pretty far underwater.

I’m still too much trapped in my brain, caught up in the fear of “getting it wrong” to have the kind of surrender, the clear channel that allows my intuitive wisdom to come to the fore. And, as with my witnessing around those “extra” cashews, I am trying to name this in the spirit of honest self-examination rather than in a blaming/shaming tone. ‘Cos that sort of beat-up is the same kind of mind voice and ego eruption as the ones that kept me bottled up during the weekend.

Now I know, even in my self-imposed containment, I had some small offerings of intuition to make. And I also take some comfort in trusting that my faith and believing were contributions of their own flavor — perhaps an energetic support to those individuals who were more able to open up their creativity and intuitive insights.*

Still, it’s an area where I can keep studying, an area I can look to grow and express more fully. Which is why I started listening to the audiobook of Women Who Run With the Wolves during this morning’s commute. It’s probably well past time for me to become acquainted with this classic of feminist spirituality.

* Yeah, I know: coming up with this kind of justification to feel better about my contribution does serve also as a between-the-lines admission that, however much I’m trying to stay in witnessing rather than in self-castigation, there’s a little bit of that “mad at myself” piece going on. So, yeah: that happened.

A Swing and a Miss

cute-marshmallows-unohana-the-fanpop-user-35316539-500-313In my mind, I’ve been much less active on JALC than is actually the case. I’ve done 4 posts in the last 7 days — which, although less frequent than I’d wish for under ideal circumstances, is perfectly respectful for the kind of bananas week I’ve had…

And the only reason I’m taking about any of this is to take note of the strong internal pattern I still have around score-keeping. Figuring out what the standard is, constantly calculating to see if I’m measuring up or, instead, if I am failing. Because part of my system still clings to the limiting belief that to fail is a deeply catastrophic thing to do.

This is all very front of mind because earlier today, everyone in my company had to take the marshmallow test. Not, not this marshmallow test, this one:

The experience definitely got my mental wheels turning about my fear of failure and the ways I let that suppress me and hold me back.

I’m certainly not alone in this challenge.  Since I follow Edutopia on Twitter, I remembered seeing this article last summer:

There is a major disconnect between schools and the real world on the notion of failure. School teaches us there is only one answer for every problem. And if we don’t get it, we are a failure. This dissuades students from trying — they fear failure. We need to teach students how to make friends with failure. . . . Schools have this failure-thing, the F-word, all wrong. They focus on getting the answer, but it is the questions and the mistakes that are actually more instructive. It’s in these spaces where we learn. . . . Education’s focus on the right answer and the grades has made students afraid to ask questions. Deborah Stipek, Dean of Stanford’s School of Education, writes in Science that schools incubate the fear of failure, which causes stress and anxiety to perform, which do not enhance learning.

And when looking for the Edutopia post, I also found an article advising teachers “How to Help Kids Overcome Fear of Failure,” and this excerpt from a new book, Fail Fast, Fail Often:

[S]uccessful people take action as quickly as possible, even though they may perform badly. . . . Instead of trying to avoid making mistakes and failing, they actively seek opportunities where they can face the limits of their skills and knowledge so that they can learn quickly. They understand that feeling afraid or underprepared is a sign of being in the space for optimal growth and is all the more reason to press ahead. In contrast, when unsuccessful people feel unprepared or afraid, they interpret it as a sign that it is time to stop, readdress their plans, question their motives, or spend more time preparing and planning.

So now I have a new book on my to-read list, and a line of internal questioning. Because for all the ways my fear of failure jams me up a lot of the time, it is also true that in some realms, I have a strong experimenter on board. I wouldn’t be doing my consciousness study, or my detox journey, or even the blogging, if I didn’t have that aspect to me.

In some things I can summon the freedom of exploration and expansion, and in some things I haven’t yet made that leap. Now the process is to try and shift more of the latter group into the former.

———-

Image credit: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/unohana-the-fanpop-user/images/35316539/title/cute-photo