the Splendid Earth

I am choosing to write about motherhood and the unique power of women to bring life into this world. I am placing significant value and importance to this power that many women have, but the emphasis I am placing on it is for the purposes of the argument I am making in this article: one of the fundamental tenets of patriarchal societies is that women are subordinates because childbearing renders them weak and vulnerable.

Childbearing, however, is NOT definitive of Womanhood. I absolutely believe that beyond social constructs, and beyond even biology and medicine, Womanhood has a mystical existence…fluid and yet distinct, beautiful, multifaceted and Whole. I hope  that those of us who may not be able to experience motherhood will not feel offended or disheartened.  My focus here is narrow and merely conceptual. I invite you to explore my thoughts and share your own.

With great love and respect for each of us, Whatever powers we possess are, in truth, vital and great, and I celebrate them with you.


Isn’t it incredible? A cluster of cells become implanted in a woman‘s  body. She is then able to nourish, protected and transform this cluster of cells, giving it the time and space to grow and ultimately enter this world an entire human being! What a magnificent power! Women certainly feel what a feat this is…their bodies change and redirect resources to support the life (lives) she is carrying…we see this phenomenon all around us. But unless we are directly witnessing it, do we stop and appreciate for a moment the profundity of what is happening? In ancient pagan religions there were many deities that represented the earth, fertility, abundance, and fruitfulness. All of these deities were depicted in the form of women :)

Mother earth, right? Think of planting a seed. The seed cannot grow into its full potential without being ROOTED in soil. In Kabbalah (though certainly not exclusively in Kabbalah), the energy of females is referred to as “malchut”, which can be translated literally as “kingdom”, but also can be defined symbolically as the ground, the earth. And this makes sense given the different attributes of women.

But there is another aspect to being the “earth” or the “soil”: an element of passivity. Earth and soil are naturally “grounded”, (note the pun). Earth is essentially stationary and, (except in the case when it has been angered and rises in defiance causing destruction and chaos in the form of earthquakes – an idea I’d like to explore a little later), earth is passive and receptive. Passivity suggests vulnerability, and perhaps, even a sense of powerlessness; interestingly, women are the “weaker” and “vulnerable” sex.

I’d like to reconcile this dichotomy that lies within the physical existence of a woman. What great power she actually holds! Sterility in males tends to be a more devastating issue. Compared to the options available for a woman who is facing sterility, many men who are sterile will face the reality that their genetic material will simply not be passed on to a future generation. While this can happen to a woman, even a woman who does not have eggs could technically carry and nourish an embryo to birth. And yet, note, how this very ability, the ability to contribute to and then carry a child to term, is also the very attribute of women that has been used as a shackle to tie them down and declare them the inferior citizens of the world. Wouldn’t you say it’s ironic? People in patriarchal societies have taken this unique ability and with it labeled women as passive, vulnerable, weak…and ultimately subordinate to men, who don’t bear this “affliction”.

The earth can appear submissive. If we litter it, if we saturate it with toxins, if we neglect it, it seems like it will just absorb all that we do. One of the greatest, if not The Greatest ecological disaster, the BP oil spill…people are “working” to find a solution, but meanwhile the damage is being done, the earth is taking the beating. Women can seem weak in much the same way. Rape, abuse, sex trafficing, female genital mutilation, honor killings, virginity tests…these are all signs of a general belief in our world that women are passive and will be recepients of whatever is given.

What people forget is that there are consequences to this abuse. Soils will not be fruitful if they are eroded, crops will not be healthy if the roots are being fed toxins…the earth may seem passive but it has memory and what you give it is what you get. Earthquakes, tsunamis, all kinds of natural disasters, pandemics, mutations, defects…and lately most of these types of occurences can be traced to abuse of the planet…a lack of respect for the planet.

Two recent articles sparked my thoughts on women and childbearing. The first was a Sunday Times article on three women who weighed the option of in-vitro fertilization and subsequent single motherhood, to the extent that they acquired sperm for that purpose (from donor 8282). But just as they were about to take the plunge, each of these women “magically” met and had children with men (marriage is in there somewhere).

The second article was the cover story of the May 3rd edition of Time Magazine, The 50th Anniversary of THE PILL. The article outlined the history of contraceptives leading up to the pill and its journey through our society up to its present day status, medically, legally, morally and socially. I loved this article because it was successful at portraying the interplay and co-dependence of “the pill” and the various social progressions in the realm of feminism in this timeframe (1950-today). Many people attribute the women’s liberation movement to this tiny little pill. I don’t know that I can fully embrace that…it rings to me like an oversimplification. And yet, the pill was a tiny sized miracle: Women could finally make choices, act deliberately, and most importantly, act with a greater sense of certainty when it came to their sexuality and its relationship to reproduction.

But with power (the power to make choices) comes responsiblity, and almost immediately, the necessity for accountability and defense for your decision. Before, it had been only The Men and God who had executive rights over a woman’s body. What a revolution, what a shock to the system to overturn that norm…to figuratively slap them on their wrists and say, “no, no…I am the source, I make the decisions.”

My objective today is not to evaluate the Pill, it’s consequences or pros and cons. Rather, I’d like to celebrate a movement and a tool that, to whatever extent it may be, granted many women the power which, in truth was always their’s…was their birthright. We can muse about the different reasons why partiarchal ideologies and societies found it convenient to convince women they were powerless vessels…it’s so easy to buy into flawed thinking and to lose sight of reality. When we look at pregnancy and motherhood as something which defines women as weaker and vulnerable we have subscribed to patriarchal renditions of life and creation. Motherhood is not only a glorious power, but it is part of what makes women powerful, indispensible and splendid beings.

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Is “the clock” ticking?

It’s always been interesting for me that of all the 613 mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah, only 3 (THREE!) are considered chovah, mandatory for a woman. The commandments are split up into to general categories, commandments that time restricted and commandments that are not. The Mishnah (the compilation of Jewish oral laws) explains that women are not required to fulfill laws that are time-restricted, and they may voluntarily choose to do the laws that are not time-restricted. This leniency is granted because of their constant demands, children, the household, etc. Requiring them to do all time-based laws would be unrealistic.

Isn’t it fascinating? For a gender that time is so much of the essence,  Judaism decided to give a break on exactly that issue? Women are not bound by time!

As I grow, as a woman, time is becoming more and more of an issue. What do I want to do with my life, when do I want a family, how will it all figure in, if I do this now how will I become successful, if i wait will I be able to have kids and raise them as I want to…it’s actually quite terrifying. I know people, friends and family who have gone through fertility issues, first and second marriages, first and second careers. Culture and society, obviously, play into this a lot. It’s more acceptable now to put off having kids, to pursue a career and make professional success a priority…but is it? I am sandwiched between modern culture and the modern orthodox (Jewish) culture. I would say that at least 50% of the people I went to high school with are married…and that is a conservative estimate. So am I late? According to a woman in our community I am; she once told me, “Nuu, come on, when I was your age (22 at the time) I had 2 kids!” Ehem…

Yeah, it’s a different generation, but different, in a big way, in that it is confused. Mixed messages are all around. Teen pregnancy, divorce, adoption, motherhood at 65, in-vitro at 25. We know we have options, but how can we hear our own voice over all the bantering, all the suggestions, all the PRESSURE?

It’s about perspective…objectivity to be precise. At the end of the day, time is an illusion. At best it is a social construct. “Norms” don’t entirely exist anymore, as far as I can see. I think as a woman who struggles with expectations, ambitions and guilt, the first and healthiest thing one can do is to just throw that clock away all together. It is a hindrance to creativity and a burden. We/I need to always remember that the world is wide and age is a number. This is not to say that one can just float like a dandelion seed  to wherever the wind blows. My point is that life is not about reaching checkpoints in a timely manner. It’s funny, that game “Life” that we play as kids is just like that. You get a job or go to college, you get married, you buy a house and have kids…but we need to remember, that’s just a game. It’s not the real thing. Forget the checkpoints. The only way to have peace of mind is to be efficient in whatever it is you are doing. Live. Whatever you are doing, do it with purpose, with mindfulness and with love.

Once in college I went to career guidance to talk about and plan graduate school. I came into college as a naive, sheltered (very sweet) observant girl from a religious high school. I asked the career counselor, “so how does all this figure in if I get married? How do people balance?” She gave me this funny look as if to say, “You got plans to get married, hunny?” And she said, “I…wouldn’t PLAN around marriage. You do your thing, and if something comes up like marriage, then you fit it around what you are doing.” It was SO incredibly important that I heard that piece of advice.

I think the moral and my message are first, as I said, throw out that old clock. It’s meaningless, a waste of time and causes the secretion of unnecessary stress hormones (bad for the skin). As a woman I know I need to be mindful that I am living for myself and not for a mold or a norm, imposed by others or even by myself.

Just look for a minute at the mystical aspect of things: The soul is timeless, isn’t it? So what is age? A number…not more. And we all have as much time as we want to have…we are as free as we allow ourselves to be.

Chag Shavuot Sameach :)

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The Future Stands on the Shoulders of the Women

Since I started this blog I signed up for a bunch of different google alerts, news alerts on specific topics that interest me. I give google some keywords of issues I want news updates on and several times a day (which is one of the settings of the application) I receive emails with links to all possible internet sources on those topics…God bless google. So my alerts are about women’s rights in the middle east, the green movement in Iran, etc. And my eyes have been peeled open by some of the things I come across in these alerts. I realized how silly it is to say that women in the middle east are silenced. It’s just not true. Yes, many are…many suffer at the hands of dogma or regulations, we hear all about those things…but soooo many women are so incredibly active, so bold, so fearless and Eloquent, my God.

The most inspiring event that I experienced in my life so far  was hearing Shirin Ebadi talk at Columbia University. It was 2 or 3 years ago, she was there to give a talk about her new autobiography, Iran Awakening and also about the role of women in world peace.

She is such a sweet and endearing lady…tiny with very round features…big Iranian eyes. I wanted to hug her (and I actually did!) she had a translator for the talk, and at the end she had a lengthy q&a session. One student asked her the star question, “Ms. Ebadi, what do you think is the role of women in the future of Iran.” Ebadi smiled knowingly, and in her tone of voice I could hear her saying (eventhough it was in Farsi), “Listen, hunny; the ‘Future of Iran’… it will stand On the Shoulders of the Women.” Meaning, the point is not the “role” women will play in it….it’s just not going to happen WITHOUT the women. Haha :)

My mom would always tell me, if you look at the countries that are suffering the most, they are the ones in which the women are the most oppressed. That’s because, as we all should know by now…a society will never go very far if it ties up the hands of half its population. Period. It’s logic.

So, yes, the inspring article of the evening is the following: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2010/04/05/feature-02

Let’s just note, please, what this woman looks like…oh, yes, she is in a black burkah

But guess what? I’m alllllll the way here, thousands of miles away and I can identify her words, her name, her message. So I guess forcing us to speak behind a black bag still doesn’t drown out our voices, amazing! And it sure doesn’t make the clerics’ postulations and fatwas any louder.

So how did I hug Shirin Ebadi? :) After her talk they had a little cocktail thing where she was signing books for people. I bought her book and went to her to sign. At this point i knew ummm…five words in farsi. But I managed to walk over, say “salaam, hale shomaa khoobe?” (formal way of saying, hello, how are you?) She responded graciously and said something to the effect of (i believe) “shall I sign this for you?” I answered with my eyes, since i had exhausted my farsi at that point. Then when she was done she asked me, “Farsi harf mizani?” (Do you speak farsi?) And i said something like “ye kam” (a little). She got very enthusiastic, took me by the arms and told me “Learn Farsi, learn it well and use your words, you are Iranian.”

I know what I am. I am Turkish born, and my father is Iranian and has super genes that completely dominated my phenotype :) But she hit it on the mark…words are incredible power. May we use our words to bring peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

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my meaning of life

Hello, it’s such a pleasure to finally be here and to have the honor of your attention. This blog will be a place of exploration, at first for me, and for me it will always be that way. But my hope is that over time this will be a place for exploration for people who are also interested in the things that I have begun to explore.

At this point my aim with this blog and my interests are wide, which is a good thing…lots of food for thought. But here are some of the issues that move me and pushed me to seek a more expansive arena for my thoughts…

I want to learn more about women, women all over the world, their thoughts, their conditions, their convictions, their beliefs, their families, their hopes and dreams, both revealed and secret…the secrets which can be revealed and voiced here.

I want to find a way to connect to women in places where they may be disconnected from a global community. The objective is not to change a culture or a belief, the objective is to add to all of our collective understanding, to respect and build on what exists. If change will happen it can only happen from the inside-out.

I want this to be a place where questions can be asked and answered from life experiences, memories and answers that we hold in our hearts.

I want this to be a place to exchange ideas, and I want this to be a springboard from where we can be inspired to do little and big things to create a loving, healthy global community for women around the world. And this community is crucial, because after all, women nurture this planet, and if this planet has been lacking nurturance it is because the women haven’t been nurturing themselves enough. That will change :)

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