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Being an Authentic Woman

Posted by Stephanie B.

As a woman with an opinion, I have had periods in my life where other people (WOMEN, primarily) get on my case for having an opinion. When they do this, however, they always say it in the nicest tones. "Why are you so critical, dear?" Yet, they are disapproving and critical even in their words of sweetness.

I'm just myself. If I have an opinion about something, I voice it. I see, however, many other women afraid to voice their opinions honestly out of fear of censure, being disliked, or heaven forbid being called a "bitch." Then, out of their own fear and discomfort, they try to censure the women around them.

Yet, I feel it is important that we as women stop playing nicey-nice all the time. Look at all the hurdles Hillary Clinton has to cross in her run for President. First, she's got to appear tough so she's taken seriously. Then she's not warm enough. Then she tears up a little bit and its headline news.

Women need to stop stuffing themselves into nice little boxes. This, I believe, is a major reason behind depression in women and why women are on anti-depressants at rates much higher than men.

Be yourself. That's what I say. Who cares if everyone likes you or not.

Comments (35)
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Iyengar writes in "Light on Life" ....."I am not talking about changing our opnions, although this may happen,but rather about abandoning them altogether.An opinion is yesterday's right or wrong knowledge warmed up and re-served for today's situation. So opinions are rooted in the past, and our examination of memory has shown us that the past can be a minefield....the practitioner of yoga is always trying to be in the present, which is where reality is, and so perfect present awareness in a given situation is his goal....So one of the things we may notice about ourselves on the Inward Journey is that opinions based on wrong perception and information are gradually replaced by those with a more accurate foundation."

Giving an opinion, for the mere sake of giving it, doesn't really serve us at all. I think what you mistake for fear of censure is actually a pausing reflection by those women to see if their opinions are actually accurate.

Iyengar also mentions in that same book, without blinking, that his revered master Krishnamacharya married his sister in an arranged marriage when she was *eleven years old.* How many female gurus have there been (other than the recent elevation of the controversial Gurumayi?)

The irony of that quote, by the way, is that he is giving his opinion on opinions. That entire book he wrote is an opinion piece on how to have a better life.

Beyond that, what would be inherently wrong with giving an opinion merely for the sake of giving it? Are you not interested in what other people truly think? Or are you just interested in polite veneers where we don't truly get to know one another?

Finally, if a woman is pausing to see if her opinion is "actually accurate," I would once again suggest that such a habit is precisely rooted in our societal training that women should keep quiet and not rock the boat. You can rarely prove that an "opinion" is "accurate," (after all, it is a take on something, not a fact), and as such the concern over accuracy is really a means of self-censorship.

You freely mention that anyone who doesn't espouse the ramblings of their mind to anyone and everyone who will listen, without consequence, is somehow oppressed. And somehow, even though you freely advocate for women everywhere to share their opinions, when you come up against one you disagree with, then somehow that person is "rooted in societal training." I would love to meet the person who ISN'T rooted in societal training. The fact that we say "hello" when appropriate or 'goodbye" is the very simplist in societal training.

As for pausing to see if what you say is accurate, or right knowledge, you seem to say that you are not so concerned with the content of what you say, but with the idea that someone might block your mouth from saying it. I'm not obsessed with the idea of oppression, Stephanie. I find freedom through self examination, as per the philosophies and teachings of yoga, buddhism and christianity. I thought because you were a healer, and a wellness therapist, and that you have had some yoga teacher training, that this idea of self inspection would be familiar to you. What is it that you do?

You posted on being an authentic woman, but here however you speak only of fear of censorship and conditioning. It's all pretty when you don't go past the surface of an argument. You don't give any tools for how to really be an authentic woman, you merely complain about how other's have treated you and then give a judging opinion on how they must be lacking. And as you'v shown, you can dismiss anything or heckle it down to whatever you want it to mean. But by my very nature, I am a student of yoga. I teach, but first I am a student. Yoga is my passion. What an accomplished yoga master, as Iyengar is, has to say, I am willing to listen. Because it's a good place

Women up until the 1970's were allowed to practice yoga, but masters who, by lineage, had been men going back to the formation of the brahmin caste, (before then, women WERE revered teachers), anyhow, male masters were not allowed to train women as it would be deemed inappropriate. For fear of engaging inappropriately between the sexes outside of marriage. What you are speaking of in Krishnamacharya's marriage is not a practice of Yoga, per se, but of the practice of their caste and religion, being Hinduism. So that argument is not particularly relevent, unless you want to discuss the socioeconomic differences between the east and the west.

Iyengars writings in Light on Life dissect, chapter by chapter, the koshas, or levels of beings. Maybe you didn't notice that. Every chapter is discussing a particular kosha. The koshas ARE yoga. There is no seperation unless you are looking just for calisthenics. His discussions on it as a teacher, and what he has learned makes it understandable to the lay person. You can dismiss anything, obviously, as you do so often, as an opinion. Jesus had an opinion on how to live your life, buddha had an "opinion" but what you're missing is that the difference is informed right knowledge.

As for me personally, it's not that I'm not interested in what people think, on the whole. I'm not interested in listening to people who only find room to complain.They lock themselves in a destructive habit, and nothing you may say or do will help them, and it drains my own energy. I choose to walk away and not engage those people.

"Iyengar also mentions in that same book, without blinking, that his revered master Krishnamacharya married his sister in an arranged marriage when she was *eleven years old.* How many female gurus have there been (other than the recent elevation of the controversial Gurumayi?)"

There are many female asana teachers. A guru, however is a spiritual teacher, and that is obtained through, supposedly, deep understanding or enlightenment. I would guess that the reason that there are so few female "gurus" are that they are a)not interested in making a spiritual claim to fame, or b) haven't acheived that level of understanding yet. Which would be surmisable if only because how recently women have re-entered the yoga scene. But I fail to see why Krishnamacharya's marriage had anythign to do with the overall discussion. If your attempt was only to discredit Iyengar through his familial association, well I think you'd have to do better than that. Iyengar is not Krishnamacharya. And furthermore, yoga, as we have come to know it in the west, are due to Krishnamacharya, Desikachar, Iyengar and Pattabi Jois. You are a self proclaimed yoga student, and may someday be a teacher, but look to discredit those very teachers who brought this yoga to the west and revived it, as a dying practice, in India. Please explain?

I have no problem with Iyengar per se, but if you are going to quote him in regards to a topic brought up on being an authentic woman, then I think it is pertinent to point out that he comes from a culture that has some blind spots when it comes to females. The concept of marrying a girl off at 11 is a cultural one but then again so is female circumcision. I would certainly listen to Iyengar on yoga and yogic philosophy, but he really doesn't have anything to say to me specifically about being a woman in America in 2008. I still respect and value his insights on yoga, but I wouldn't go to him to talk to him about being a woman.

And going back to the original topic, I do think a lot of women fear censure, and furthermore, they paradoxically create it by imposing censure in other women. As for getting deeper on the subject, I was not intending to write a thesis here so it's only an opening for a topic, not the final word.

While what I wrote may not resonate with you, it's possible that someone else will read it and find that it resonates with them.

As for people who "complain," I submit that first off, it may be your interpretation of things that makes it seem like complaining to you; and two, if you simply "allowed" people to complain - and stopped believing that they should "not" complain, it would drain you much much less.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You bring up many interesting points.

Fair enough about Iyengar's culture.

Stephanie, I think you and I are discussing two sides of the same coin here. I really think you and I agree on more than what seems obvious on the surface.

What I meant about people who complain, is that 1), sometimes when we judge or complain about others, we shut ourselves off to what they do have to teach us. And 2), that our reactions to others may teach us something valuable about ourselves. In my original email to you, I was not trying to silence you, but to point out those things. And as an example, I gave you my experience of going from extra critical of other teachers to "beginners mind." In other words, a teacher, bad or good, has something to teach. When I notice how they are lacking, it gives me insight into how I would do it differently. And similarly, when I've ended up in a completely horrible class, it enables me to work through it and, oddly enough, stop paying attention and energy to the teacher and how much I dislike what they are teaching or how they are teaching, in order for me to simply see what I would do differently and give me the power to not do what they ask. It makes me more conscious of my body's needs, rather than force myself into a crazy situation I'm not ready for. Does that make sense?

This is a really interesting discussion and I feel that I relate to things both Stephanie and Candace have said here. On the one hand, critical self-examination and the willingness to drop our opinions and thoughts and be receptive to each moment without predilections or judgments is very valuable. On the other hand, I think this kind of spiritual concept can be very esoteric when it comes to applying it to our everyday lives. Depending on who's saying it, it can be used as a tool to relegate genuine concerns or an impetus for positive social change to mere complaints. I've seen how time and again, purported spiritual masters can use this an an excuse for people who are truly oppressed to remain complacent, blind to their conditions, and unwilling to change. (Especially in India, where much of my family still lives.)

I think that part of being authentic means embracing our contradictions: being able to voice an opinion if it's something that is part of how we want to express ourselves while still being receptive to what's around us and flexible in the moment. I think inflexibility is what really can be spiritual people's sore spot. As for myself, I've really struggled to try to reconcile consciousness and openness with my interest in social justice and in bringing marginalized voices to the forefront. I also think that while there is much to learn from spiritual teachers and gurus from the past, like Stephanie alluded to, it's necessary to critically engage with the fact that they may come from eras and cultures that are vastly different from ours. So while much of what they say may be pertinent and they will have a great deal to teach, some aspects of their doctrine will most certainly be colored by the social aspects that aren't pertinent to us. For example, I was reading "Autobiography of a Yogi" recently and was kind of put off by some of Yogananda's assertions about men's God-given spiritual leadership over their wives. And even the Buddha was reluctant to include women in his monastery. The point is, spiritual teachers don't live in a vacuum. I think that as the times change and as we evolve, we have to be more and more cognizant of this.

BTW, Candace, there are tons of female gurus in India with a panoply of followers. One such person who springs to mind is Ammachi, the hugging saint.

Oh, and on ways to be an authentic woman, Candace, you mentioned the possibility of Stephanie offering specific ways one can do this (I'm sure she has tons in mind). Here are some from me:

1) Meditate as much as you can to always be deeply in touch with that most essential part of yourself.

2) Say "yes" and "no" only when you feel like it, and when it's right for you.

3) Learn to love your mind and your body (this might take time, but strive towards it).

4) Spend time with other beautiful, strong, smart, creative, gifted women who are making a difference in the world.

5) Exercise your voice--literally. Therapists have said that things like therapeutic singing and sound therapy are useful for people who are shy or timorous when it comes to making themselves heard.

6) If you find yourself "complaining" about the state of the world and things that bother you, think of ways you can be proactive and work to change those things.

7) Only you know your inner truth. Let others be your teachers but ultimately, only you can be your authority and only you can know what's right for you.

Ah! The Hugging Saint! Yes! Thank you Nirmala. Good stuff you've included here. You know, I was reading a version of that Bhagavad Gita and put it down when the interpretation started discussing the "innate inferiority and stupidity" of women and how we are likely to be cheat on our husbands etc etc.

I agree with your assertion regarding gurus who keep their "subjects" complacent. There are many people who don't have a whole lot of positive things to say about Yogi Bajan as well, to name an example.

Yoga Bhajan...interesting...he (now deceased) is still very controversial due to allegations of sexual misconduct as well other illegal activities...and yet, I go to a huge yoga studio founded by one of his female disciples, Gurmukh. There's another female teacher there who also studied with Bhajan and is fiercely proud of her former association with him. I've decided that it doesn't matter to me what was the reality of his he is dead and the traditions his students are carrying forward are positive...and very female positive as well.

Though I do agree with you, I've found that a lot of women (and men) who claim to simply be voicing their opinions often claim that because they have to. Due to the fact that they too often voice unwanted and unnecessary opinions, they've become defensive instead of learning from the moments they've offended others.

That is not to say that all women who voice their opinions fit into that category. When you say we don't fit into nice little boxes, you are right. We can't be expected to be silent and afraid to stand up for what we believe in. However, there is a middle ground. A person should really choose her battles. Why offend someone just so that my voice can be heard? I'd rather keep quiet in the cases when it isn't necessary that I voice every opinion I have, even if I am keeping quiet for the sake of peace. There's a fine line between voicing an opinion and being plain rude.

I think that it is ridiculous to put women under the gun for having opinions. Men, just the same, need to know when to keep quiet, and coming after Hillary for being too tough or not tough enough is ridiculous. That's politics, though; she is not going to be looked at as simply a person. She's going to be judged as a woman. I'm sure she can handle it; she's no dummy and she's no stranger to politics.

I do find that people don't like me quite as much as they might if I didn't have opinions on things. However, I don't voice them rudely or try to force anyone to agree with me. It's their issue if they can't accept that I have different ideas and ways of doing things!

Thanks, Stephanie, for getting a great discussion going!

Teresa, I relate to what you're saying. For me, it's a matter of deciding when it's appropriate for me to voice an opinion as well, and that's something I decide on a case-by-case basis. For instance, perhaps a friend is talking to you about something really difficult for her, and it's more appropriate to listen rather than lecture or offer feedback that may not be received well at that point. Then there are times when I'd prefer to listen rather than offer my own opinion, particularly if I feel that it's not necessary at that moment. Of course, if my opinion is something I feel particularly passionate about and I want to engage in discussion about it, that's different. Everyone has to understand that fine balance between tact and criticism is different for everybody, men or women.

The times when people most often attempt to shut me down are on the Internet when I am simply writing an opinion about something. In these cases, I am not being rude; I am simply stating my opinion. People have a very low tolerance for opinions they disagree with...they can literally hate you for them...especially women it seems (on both sides).

Teresa brought up Hillary Clinton and she's a good example. I heard a woman today - a woman! - go off about how Hillary is going to "cave" because she cried. But then another woman was going off that Hillary was too "soft" on Bill and she didn't respect her for staying with him. Geez oh pete. The woman is damned if she does and damned if she doesn't. She's either too tough or too soft. People are so much harder on her than they are on the men.

There's a book that I am reading that is an eye-opener when it comes to female brainwashing in this country. It is about all the feminine training in the mid 20th century. We still operate along some of those assumptions today. I highly recommend it - it is scary! It's called "Pink Think." Among other things, they used to tell women to not have opinions around men.

The Internet is rife with criticism issued against women who write blogs/state opinions. I look at message boards and blogs, and a large majority of comments are what I'd classify as hate speech: racist, misogynist, etc. I think it's generally reflective of a very real ethos that exists in our society around trying to shut people up.

While my tangent regarding opinion and tact is kind of unrelated to what I think the nut of your discussion is, I do believe that a lot of our tacit assumptions/ideas about who can speak/who can't/under what circumstances that is acceptable have to do with gender and power.

It's tough being a woman with an opinion, but imagine how much worse it might have been 40 years ago.

And while it may be hard for Hilary and I admire her going for president...I am still going for Obama! I hope he is on the ticket...and wins the whole thing!

Here's an excellent article to read about the presidential election and the epidemic of unacknowledged sexism against Hillary Clinton:

An excerpt pertinent to this discussion:

"Goodbye to some women letting history pass by while wringing their hands, because Hillary isn’t as “likeable” as they’ve been warned they must be, or because she didn’t leave him, couldn’t “control” him, kept her family together and raised a smart, sane daughter. (Think of the blame if Chelsea had ever acted in the alcoholic, neurotic manner of the Bush twins!) Goodbye to some women pouting because she didn’t bake cookies or she did, sniping because she learned the rules and then bent or broke them. Grow the hell up. She is not running for Ms.-perfect-pure-queen-icon of the feminist movement. She’s running to be president of the United States."

Wow. That's it in a nutshell. I actually heard a young women gripe about Hillary not controlling her husband over the weekend. Um, excuse me, show me someone who hasn't been cheated on and I'll show you someone who is probably clueless...

I am dismayed by how younger women don't seem to "get" how fantasticly brilliant Hillary is, and why it is important to elect her - I think they are too young to understand all the fights that women had in the 70s...and since they grew up during the Backlash (read Susan Faludi, anyone), they aren't aware of the sexism going on around us all the time.

There's a reason why more older women support Hillary overall. We know what's at stake and we have been to more consciousness raising groups.

I could say more...but I will just say, read that link.

It's not that I don't like Hillary either. But I like Obama more. I'm not going to vote for a woman, simply because she is a woman. It's not about her marriage, or her tears, or anything else people find to complain about. I like Obama's message, the movement he's creating, his experience and his "freshness" on the political scene and in his views. That's not to say I don't appreciate what was going on in the 70's, and the 60's and the 50's, for that matter. That's not to say I don't recognize the importance of women's continued fight for equality. She's just not my pick this year for the real issues our country is dealing with right now, from the war, to bipartisanship, to poverty and government spying. America has been asleep at the wheel and in the meantime our government lies in bed with big business and has sold our civil liberties to the highest bidder. Even Obama's campaign contributions are coming from the citizen and not big business. That says a lot to me. The majority of the people in this country are working class people who struggle with paying their rent, feeding their families and an uncertain financial future. The last thing we need is to continue to give our leadership positions to rich white politicians who know nothing about true financial hardship and have vested interests in the building up of big business. In the past, these are the very politicians we elect to take care of our citizens, the majority being working class, and in the meantime our leaders are getting rich off of ignoring the troubles of the majority in the interest of bedding up with oil companies, health care companies, war-mongering companies, etc. Obama has declared that he will fight to get America out of the oil industries and bring green energy to our country so that we are self sufficient and self reliant. I believe in that!

"Obama has declared that he will fight to get America out of the oil industries and bring green energy to our country so that we are self sufficient and self reliant." Hillary has said that too. She is also the overwhelming choice by most of the poorer and less educated Democrats - it's apparently the rich white liberals from college campuses upset about the war who are pro-Obama. So I don't see how anything you said about Obama is better than what Hillary has proposed. It also appears that you are voting *against* her because she is white? (As if Obama doesn't come from privelege, being the distant relative of Dick Cheney?)

So basically, you're saying you'll vote for a black man because he's black but you won't vote for a woman because she's a woman. Yes, that does sadden me. I have absolutely no problem with blacks voting for a black man to represent them. What really amazes me is how many women will NOT vote for a woman to represent them!

You start your comment saying you won't vote for a woman just because she's a woman, and then later say you don't want to vote for rich white people. Amazing. So it's OK to vote for a rich black man instead...affirmative action only applies to blacks? Hello...we have a glass ceiling still, in case you didn't notice.

If you think that sexism does not play a part in all of this, just read the following comment I found on the Huffington Post today about Hillary:

"SHREW FROM DAY 1If Hillary's new campaign strategy is to reinforce misogynistic stereotypes about shrill manipulative women it's a winner. Hillary's tone-deaf flatfooted harping foreshadows a painfully bleak HRC presidency."

What a horrible, sexist comment!

It is clear to me that America is much more ready for a black man to be president than a white woman. And I'm glad that people are more open-minded about race relations, but it truly shows me how close-minded we are on gender. We are so surrounded by sexism every day we can't even see it anymore. I am very disappointed with the young women of the next generation coming up who can't see the forest for the trees. I despair that I will never see a woman president in my lifetime. Hillary is an amazing, brilliant woman, and I am absolutely dismayed that so many young women don't recognize that in her.

Um what? I'm not voting "against" her or for Obama on the basis of race alone. Just like I'm not voting for Hillary on the basis of genitalia. I just don't think the issue is as simple as all that. I'm sorry we disagree, but you chose not to read the rest of what I wrote in that comment. I'm just excited about some new ideas that I think Obama has to offer. And frankly, I find Hillary to be.....nasty. She fights nasty. But that's my opinion. You are obviously passionate about your vote and have heard some things in the media you don't appreciate. But I'm not the originator of everything you dislike,sweetie. And you are good at making your point, but less effective at making others SEE your point. Arguing politics is like arguing religion. Each is staunch in their own beliefs and views and will spend more time trying to sway the other than ever accomplish anything at all. I was simply stating my view on why I wasn't voting for Hillary. It wasn't an attack on you personally, (which I can't find myself say about your response ) and it doesn't make me anything but opinionated. Isn't that what this whole post was about? Hmmmm. The water's not so fine in here for differing opinions.

One thing though....Stephanie, unless your photo is dreadfully outdated, please realize a) you're not that old and b) you and I are indeed the same generation. You are not old enough to be my mother...

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