Healing the Patriarchy From the Inside Out – Not Just From the Outside In
In the 1980’s, I took a leap of faith into a journey unlike any I’d taken before. Having been a psychotherapist in private practice for over a decade, poetry started flowing through me … poetry related to women and the healing of our wounds. *
It began with the wounds to our menstrual time,1 a call to turn what had become known as “curse” back into the sacred time it truly was on all levels of being – continuous cycles of birth, death, and renewal, month after month after month, leading us home to our deepest core selves.
It deepened further and expanded to wounds to our sexual selves through incest and other forms of sexual abuse, blatant and subtle, personal and cultural … wounds that had disconnected us from our own experiences of birth, growth into fullness, and death (orgasm itself is known as “la petite mort,” meaning “the little death”.) Painful wounds that had disconnected us from union – with ourselves and others.
It stretched across our lives into wounds experienced in our elder years, when “menopause” had also been seen as a curse, as a time when life was over; and when women had been seen as “useless hags” instead of as the wise women we truly are.
It reached into our emotional and spiritual selves through our feelings, our sense of connection, and our own deeply feminine power.2 It brought to light the profound power of our feelings (used well), out of the shadows of the wounding – humiliating degradation of feelings as “illogical,” “irrational,” “too sensitive,” “weak,” “crybaby,” “hysterical,” and more.3 From the very beginning of this journey, it called me to call women to become our true selves, or as I came to name it, “ourselves in truth and love.” 4
Many women were helped to heal through my poetry readings, workshops, newsletters, and then audio recordings. Many were helped to discover and work to heal deep wounding and trauma through these opportunities. This work I was so deeply called to was referenced by other women responding to their own parallel call, including Lara Owen in Her Blood Is Gold, and Alexandra Pope in The Wild Genie.
Many men were also deeply touched by my work, which surprised, yet delighted me. There were times in poetry readings and workshops when men were moved to tears. It was such a blessing to see in relation to the wounding I was helping to bring out into the open.
It didn’t take me long to realize I was not only working to help women heal their own wounding and trauma, I was also being guided to help heal the patriarchy in our country – and our world.5 Actually, this was evident from the beginning, from my very first audio recording, ”The Call of My Blood Mysteries.” In some poems it was more subtle: “A Menstrual Journey: The Old and The Dark” and “A Menstrual Journey: The New, The Light, and The Possibility.” In others it was downright obvious: “I Live in The House of My Father.” This poem named the psychological, emotional, energetic, spiritual levels of the patriarchy we grew up under. Here’s the beginning of the poem:
“I live in the house of my father.
I cannot feel.
It looks like I have a mother,
but elsewhere she lives,
not with me.
I live alone in the house of my father,
and I dare not feel.
Feeling is safe only with a mother
to hold me, feel me, let me know I’m safe.
It looks like I have a mother.
Not really. I don’t.
She lives in the house of her father.
No mother has she,
so she cannot feel either,
neither herself, nor me.
So I live in the house of my father,
and I dare not feel.”
This expression of the effects of the patriarchy not only reveals its impact on women, it also reveals the consequences for men. Men who cannot feel, men who dare not feel. Men who cannot feel their own authentic feelings. Men who cannot connect with themselves deeply and vulnerably. Men who cannot connect with others undefendedly (but not defenselessly) … because they lived in the houses of their fathers, with mothers who lived in the houses of their fathers.
If I had spoken only of this aspect of the patriarchy, it would touch every other aspect that existed and exists.
Without knowing how to feel safely,
without knowing what feelings it’s in truth to act on,
without knowing what feelings are guides to follow for healing,
without know what feelings it’s in truth to only explore safely
with someone else or ourselves,
without knowing the boundary between having feelings and
acting them out . . .
we inevitably contribute to the patriarchy, with or without our
Without being able to feel, we collude with the patriarchy. Without being able to feel and know what to do with our feelings, we feed the patriarchy. Without being able to feel safely, connect with ourselves and each other deeply and safely … we become part of the patriarchy.
My book and my blog6 illustrate how important our feelings are – both our conscious and unconscious feelings. Here I’m reflecting that importance in yet another way – through the lens of the patriarchy.
Some all along have been focusing on ending the patriarchy from the outside in – efforts and steps that needed and still need to be part of the response to the patriarchy, just not the only response. Those efforts brought to the foreground the truth that men were not the only participants in the patriarchy. Women also acted in behalf of the patriarchy in many ways, both passive and active. Among limitless examples are these: Not only men, but also women who were misogynists, who hated women, including themselves. Women who handed their daughters over to their husbands – consciously or not. Women who supported male sexual abuse and harassment – like the women who supported Clarence Thomas against Anita Hill. Women like the Chief Elder played by Meryl Streep in the recent movie, The Giver, based on the 1993 novel by Lois Lowry. Women, like the wives and female “enforcers” in Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, The Handmaid’s Tale, revived in Hulu’s video series last year.
Others, including me, were focusing on healing the patriarchy from the inside out. Healing the patriarchy as it exists within each one of us, male and female. Healing the vicious cycle of the patriarchy within that has been wounded by the patriarchy and that, as a consequence, wounds from the patriarchy. Amongst us was Sue Monk Kidd, who followed and shared her journey from “daughter of the patriarchy” to “dissident daughter” to her own “feminine soul.” 7
As time wore on and our work went deeper and broader, we realized that there would, at some point, be a backlash from the patriarchy to our healing work. That backlash has been coming for a long time. And now it has come with a vengeance. It is right here in our country and world today, trying to impose its power and force upon us all, acting out in destructive ways – destructive to all of us, even those who are most obviously active in enforcing its distorted power.
This doesn’t mean we were unsuccessful at our healing steps. It means we were so successful that the patriarchy in all its forms, in all its embodiment was threatened and instead of surrendering to a healthier way within and without, it prepared to resist.
We will not give up in the face of the patriarchy’s vengeance and fear. We will once again surrender – in the best sense of the word – to our call to heal the patriarchy… not just from the outside, but from the inside out.
Not just in others, but from within our very selves.
Here are vital clues to help in our healing …
Patriarchy is not just about men. Their part in the patriarchy may be the most visible, audible, and palpable. But … the patriarchy is about men and women, and even children. It’s about all of us.
Patriarchy is not about politics. Politics is one of the venues through which the patriarchy has its most visible, most undeniable impact.
Patriarchy is personal. It is communal. It is global.
Patriarchy is about human nature in the need of growth, evolution, and healing.
The patriarchy’s greatest weapon is to get us to not feel safely –
to not heal and go through our own renewal.
Without being able to feel and feel safely, we all lose.
Without being able to feel and know what to do with our feelings safely, we all lose.
Without being able to feel safely, connect with ourselves and each other deeply and safely, we all lose …
individually and communally.
© Judith Barr, 2017
*The original recordings of this poetry have been transformed into mp3’s for current day audiences.
1 “The Call of My Blood Mysteries,” mp3 by Judith Barr
2 “Weeding Through Distortion to The Truth,” mp3 by Judith Barr
3 “Feeling: A Form of Prayer,” mp3 by Judith Barr
4 “Woman, Come to Your Self,” mp3 by Judith Barr
5 “Healing The Feminine Betrayal of The Feminine,” mp3 by Judith Barr
6 Power Abused, Power Healed, by Judith Barr
7 Dance of The Dissident Daughter, by Sue Monk Kidd, HarperOne, 1996.