It’s been almost a year, but they still cut me to pieces. No, I’m not talking about the relationship that I’ve been writing about in "Gluten, Sugar, Love", I’m talking about the shards of shattered pieces that remained when, last November, my bubble burst. A month later, I closed the studio I built as a safe haven for the Divine Feminine. It was a wonderful playground, and I am proud to have held a space where women (and men) were free to express themselves without judgment. But, in the election of 2016, I saw that women are still not free to take their place in the world. I saw that when a woman sticks her neck out, a thousand, sharpened blades will come down to make her draw it back. It was shocking to see how violent a backlash there is to an unapologetically powerful woman and I had to do something about it.
I am proud of the women I’ve empowered within the haven of the Diosa, the women who took the risks I asked them to take, the women who broke through the noise to find their own voice, the women who persisted when they wanted to give up, the women who learned to breathe in the midst of discomfort. But, I was sending these empowered women out into a world that was unfairly hostile to them and I needed to work on creating a safe haven in the world. I realized it was not enough to teach women to fly around a pole within the confines of a gilded cage. I needed to stop hiding, step out of my own comfort zone, and stick my own neck out.
I reached out to a woman I knew who has spoken to many women in my area. I met Jen Maseda when she interviewed me for her Access Framingham Television show, Woman2woman. She is positively open-minded and passionate about empowering women. “I’m going to have a little extra time next year and wanted to use it to work at supporting a local woman who is looking to make a difference.” I told her, “I thought you might know someone who could use a volunteer.” As it turns out, Jen was driving home from the women’s conference in Boston and was wondering why we didn’t have an event like it in Metrowest – an accessible meeting where women could come together to learn from and inspire each other. She wanted to make one happen for us. “I could use your help, Paulina”. Perfect!
It was the first thing I learned from working with the Board of the Metrowest Conference for Women - that I am not alone in believing women have a great deal to offer the world from the proper platform. I am not alone in thinking that being a woman is something to celebrate. I am not alone in thinking it’s time to be authentic. And I am not alone in thinking that with the right leadership, women can make incredible things happen. In a room full of 550 entrepreneurs, leaders, professionals, writers, public service officials, consumers, coaches, creators who all happen to be women (along with a few men who believe in them), no woman could feel alone. It was astounding!
“It’s not the people, it’s the system.”
One of the first messages that resounded with me came from keynote speaker, Dr. Patti Fletcher, when she said, “men and women are different, and that’s ok…..diversity is a reality.” At the core of the writing I have been doing with #Gluten #Sugar #Love in the Diosa Chronicles is the lesson that it’s not about men vs women, it’s about a system that has constructed roles and rules that have put us all at odds with each other and with our own selves. For almost twenty years in a corporate job I struggled with a leaky suit. The uniform adopted as an icon of authority and power never hid the fact that beneath it, I have breasts and hips. And, I didn’t want it to. I never understood why people spoke about being a “girly girl” with derision. And, there was Girl Power Go creator Erin Mahoney, championing the cause I've wanted to hear all my life. I love being a girl! I love the color pink. Why should I be ashamed?
Studies show that what continues to be the most in-demand quality of job applicants are the so-called “soft skills” such as ability to collaborate, adapt, and build relationships – skills that women have mastered, not because of biology -- barn-raisings show us that men are as capable of these as women are -- rather because society has relegated all things “soft” to the position of “other”. In a binary system where there is only the position of 1 and 0, those relegated to the position of 0 have had to hone the ability to collaborate with their oppressors, adapt to the confines of imposed limits, and learn to “get along” to negotiate their needs. A system that only recognizes the positions of “1” or “0”, “black” or “white”, “first” or “last”, “rich” or “poor”, “liberal” or “conservative”, “above” or “below” loses the infinite possibilities that lay in between. Possibilities that are eagerly awaiting their chance to make our world the best there is.
Perfect is a myth. Be authentic.
It took me a long time to break free from the thinking that kept me bound in an illusion of acceptability. “It’s a yoga studio” we had to tell my neighbors in order to secure a lease. It was a year of losing money in group classes and market share before I finally installed poles and started giving pole dance lessons. Even in the safe haven of my studio I had to warn the younger women to be cautious about putting what they did “out there”. The violence against women who venture to explore their strength, power and freedom is shocking and extreme. Along with the desensitized skin of their arms and legs needed for advanced pole tricks, my girls needed to develop the figurative thick skin. Judgment falls hard and heavily upon a woman who plays with a prop so closely associated with sex work in a society that hasn't learned to explore other possibilities. My girls are scientists, engineers, healthcare professionals, operation specialists among other professions. They are neck deep in environments threatened by their "soft" skills, seeking to keep them bound. Their environments demand perfection in exchange for “permission” to take space despite the fact that my girls have well-deserved their positions through their accomplishments. My students need to feel free of the fear of making mistakes. They need to let go of having to be perfect. They need to know what it feels like to fly.
And, at the Metrowest Conference for Women, there was panelist Michelle Holmes Mercier reminding me of the myth of perfection. No matter what we do to please others, to be accepted by others, it will never be enough. Giving in to the pressure to hide your curves, or, as in the case of my dancers and I, to hide our sensuality and strength, only serves to give power to the shame imposed upon us for something that should be celebrated. Of course it’s frustrating to be objectified and sexualized for engaging in an activity you recognize for its athletic challenge, of course its scary to embrace the shape you’re in, so let me tell you from experience, nothing you do will keep you from being sexualized and objectified and judged by those who want to control you, so you may as well do what you want. The trick is in learning to assert the self, YOUR self, in the face of judgment. To introduce new possibilities to the limited categories people rely on to make sense of the world and you.
Realizing that you were born perfect and that you are inherently perfect and that the perfection of your true essence is not in how you look, dress, or what you do or earn, but rather, in your recognition that underneath our clothes we are all as naked as the day we were born is it. Beneath the things that separate us, we are all one.
“Leadership is about inspiring people
to do the best they can and
go further than they thought possible.”
to do the best they can and
go further than they thought possible.”
The differences that separate us, the uniforms we don, the roles we play, we do so for a reason. What distinguishes us is the gift we have to give the world. Our challenge in life is to overcome the obstacles that keep our gifts within the confines of all that is “safe” and conforming. The most rewarding aspect of taking risks is learning to break free, celebrate, and grow. This is what keynote speaker Nicole Sahin’s message brought home to me.
It is unpleasant to stick your neck out. It is tiring to hold the shield up in a system so hell-bent on holding on to the rules that put a minority in “first” position. It requires patience and perseverance to motivate others to take one more step beyond stigmas and judgments But nothing worth having is ever easy. And the rewards of leadership are never cherished more than when the blood, sweat and tears you shed on behalf of a dream gives birth to that epiphanous “Aha!” moment in others.
Being a leader means that you have to stick your neck out so that others can move forward. It requires that you build an incubator for talent and rewards you when the incubator you build spawns it. Sometimes the biggest gift we have is in inspiring others to use theirs - taking the blows so that others can do what they do best. In and of itself that is a reward, but that there are also financial and recognition rewards of the like that Globalization Partners has enjoyed is exactly what I needed to remember.
Living in a bubble, remaining trapped behind white picket fences, experiencing freedom within the confines of a safe haven, only feeds the system that thrives on our insecurities and division. Sticking our necks out, developing that thick skin, “opening our own doors” and asserting our selves is what we need to do right now. Realizing that when you do you are surrounded by hundreds of like-minded #extraordinarywomen and men is the most exhilarating aspect of participating in the Metrowest Conference for Women. The talent and excitement in the room, all born, not in protest of a system, but in celebration of women and their gifts, all of it right here in our own back yard, was inspiring and huge. I look forward to what will flow from the well that Jen Maseda and this fabulous board has tapped.