What happens when fifty young women from all over California come together for a 4-day retreat? While mainstream media may portray cat-fights and name-calling among women to be entertaining and the norm-- the outcome of Building Healthy Communities’ inaugural Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat conjured healing, empowerment, community, self-love, and fun.
Sadly, however, the common thread that connected perfect strangers was experiencing or knowing a woman who has experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, interpersonal abuse, bullying, street harassment, sister-hating, LGBTIQ-bashing, low self- esteem and self- harm. When we looked at young women’s everyday struggles through a gendered lens, it became clear that patriarchy, classism and racism are the root causes that impede access to health, education and success. We zoomed in a little closer at patriarchy.
In the center of our sister circle stood a 3-foot cardboard house. This was called the House of Patriarchy and it was supported by four walls: sexism, gender roles, homophobia and transphobia. One learned that patriarchy favors men, masculinity and hetero-normativity. Under this oppressive system, women and femininity appear powerless and subordinate; women and feminine bodies serve as sites where violence and harm are acted upon.
Patriarchy is like the ‘pink elephant in the room’ that gets bigger and bigger if it is not called out or questioned. It has been so normalized that not everyone recognizes it hurting our health and humanity. Putting on our gender lens we see the pink elephant sneaking into institutional, interpersonal and intrapersonal levels such as schools, work, family structures, religion, economics, ethnic cultures, mainstream media, intimate relationships and public spaces. When the room echoed with our tears, anger and frustration we saw how patriarchy operated to divide us despite our collective struggles.
Our young leaders unanimously agreed that the House of Patriarchy needed to be demolished. It was not our choice, our legacy nor our home. In empowering women, femininity, and LGBTIQ people, we dismantle patriarchy and harmful expressions of masculinity. Instead of inequity and injustice being the common denominator that connects young women throughout California, imagine each of us experiencing opportunities of a thriving and healthy community.
Once the model card-board house was crushed, our young women had built a new home laying foundations of love, justice, hope, equality, health and happiness- just to name a few. And slowly, that ever so invisible and oppressive shadow slipped away taking with it our isolation, vulnerability, shame and powerlessness.
In that moment, we celebrated our liberation and invoked the militant words of Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom! It is our duty to win! We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains!”
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