Editor’s Note: Written by Margaret Johnson. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Several years ago, at 35 years old, I converted to Islam. As I began to practice the religion, I unexpectedly felt an awakening of my feminine energy. Growing up in America, I rarely received any encouragement for my femaleness: I grew up distrusting my intuition in favor of verifiable facts, I learned to keep the discomfort of my menstrual cycles to myself and continued on those difficult days as if they were like any other. It was widely accepted by my female colleagues that we would be penalized in the professional world in if we had kids too soon or had too many. I had little notion of what feminine energy was and I was blind to just how hyper-masculine our Western culture is.
Part of being Muslim is praying five times a day. After converting, I began to learn the prayers right away, starting with one prayer a day and working my way up until I had incorporated all five into my daily schedule. Along the way, a curious thing happened; for the very first time in my life, I began looking forward to my menstrual cycle. Women are excused from the daily prayer during this time of the month. I had been having my period for more than twenty years and, for the first time in my life, I was being told, “Rest, take it easy, you are excused from these duties.” And who was telling me? My Creator. This was a kind of care I had rarely received, and it initiated in me a gradual thawing, an uncovering of my long-suppressed female energy.
Eight years after my conversion, I took a spiritual journey to Turkey with two other converts and a Turkish guide, who was a deeply spiritual man. It was Ramadan and my first time spending the holy month in a Muslim country. After years of experiencing Ramadan in the United States as a mostly solo endeavor, I had an immersive, cultural and spiritual experience with shared sahoors and iftars, strangers opening their homes, preparing feasts of food and love, exchanging gifts and peace, with so much harmony and tranquility. An unprecedented level of care and nurturing enveloped me once again.
One day, in the early pre-dawn, we visited the Eyup Sultan Mosque in Istanbul. This mosque was built next to the grave of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (known as Eyup Sultan in Turkish), the last survivor of the close circle of companions around the Prophet Muhammad. As our group walked towards the mosque and turned the corner after our sahoor at a nearby restaurant, I was shocked to see the street flooded with Turkish women during the very early morning hour. Dressed in silk scarves and pardesüler (long tailored, fitted overcoats) they streamed toward the courtyard where the women would pray. I joined the stream of women and I felt the physical sensation of my heart splitting open and God’s mercy whooshing in. The ice cracked, the hardness of my heart suddenly softened.
A week later, I returned to the United States. As my spirit transformed from this experience, this new love-soaked energy, I wanted to create, serve, to be of use, nurture, love. I could not calm down. My husband asked, “What happened to you over there? Did you have brain surgery?” “No” I replied, “I had heart surgery.”
That supreme nurturing, not only by the Most Merciful, but by my Turkish hosts and their embracing culture, gave me a sense of worth tied to my own humanity. That feeling of being worthy birthed this powerful female energy.
One year ago for the first Women’s March, I metroed with my close Jewish and Muslim friends to downtown D.C., where we converged with epic, Hajj-sized crowds filling one mile of Independence Avenue and spilling over to cover our National Mall. Sister protests were organized in 550 cities and towns in the United States and in more than 100 countries in every corner of the globe in an unprecedented show of solidarity. Women and men from all orientations and human expressions converged to stand together and say, “We matter. You will not marginalize us, dehumanize us, commit violence upon our bodies. We have worth. We will occupy physical space with that worth.” We came together in crowds so huge and so peaceful, there was no denying our worthiness.
Since then, we have seen an explosion in the #MeToo movement. The #MeToo movement is many things, but at its heart is women refusing to no longer be treated as unworthy.
With our polarized identity politics in this nation, we have rushed headlong into post-modernist truisms that everyone is unique, everyone’s “truth” is equally valid. In giving highest value to living out our individualized truths, we have ignored that we are asking for this acceptance inside a system of gross inequality and a perverted patriarchy that all too often gets expressed as violence against women. In this rush to claim our personal truths, we skip over a greater truth: that such a thing as feminine energy exists, that women’s procreative and nurturing energies are vital for healthy societies. All manner of wisdom traditions, including Islam, support this greater truth.
Leaping so quickly to post-modernism, our identity politics have taken shape within the space of toxic White male supremacy that rests on a specific social hierarchy. In our society that claims to be a meritocracy, one’s place on the social hierarchy inevitably sears degrees of worthiness. In a way, our country birthed a bastardization of patriarchy, but it is not a bastardization in the traditional meaning of the word. It is a bastardization where patriarchy is born without the balance of female energy (as opposed to an unknown father) and without the notions of care, nurturing, support and appreciation that emerge from it.
In this patriarchy, as the stories from #MeToo amply illustrate, women have been asked to squeeze themselves into a male-centeric society and way of doing things. You want a seat at the table? Well, they say: we set the rules, and you must conform to our way of doing things, and you must do whatever we ask, and in the way we like it, or you cannot have access to the keys we hold, and if you try to inject your vision, to infuse your essence, then we will stamp that out, we will squash you, we will remind you that we are the top of the hierarchy, and you are lucky to have a seat at the table where a few crumbs might fall your way.
How can the resulting psychology of this be anything but women feeling a deep and abiding sense of unworthiness?
The Women’s March was a collective of women standing up and saying, in response, that we are worthy and we will be seen and heard. We will not be reduced to pussies for you to grab.
Women refuse to be considered unworthy any longer. Times Up! If our Western culture decides to stop trying to contain and control feminine energy, what ways of understanding will replace it? How do we build a society that values the masculine and the feminine, that gives space to the grand diversity within masculinity and femininity without either seeking to minimizing or control the energy of the other? We must all claim our worth, not as a way of asserting superiority, but in a humility that acknowledges our humanity and our authentic selves.
Margaret A. Johnson is a sociologist, small business owner, and interfaith bridge builder. She is writing a memoir on race in America from the perspective of a white girl who grew up in a racially segregated town in SE Texas in the 1970s and 80s graduating from “the last high school in America to integrate” via forced busing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.