Back in 1993 or 1994 I was on sabbatical and was stressed out because I pretty much knew that no matter how much I wrote I was not going to get tenure at the university where I was working. I knew that they valued empirical research and I was writing about theory. As part of my most profound effort to deny and avoid thinking about all of that, I wrote a short essay called ‘why I want to grow a beard.’ The title of that has been popping up in my mind recently, for reasons unknown to me (unless it has something to do with those pesky post-menopausal facial hairs?), but anyway, I thought I would share the essay with you . . . hope you enjoy!
As I sit at my desk, staring out the window, avoiding work, there is a postcard tucked into the window ledge which says, “Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes.” The back of the card credits this quote to a course in miracles.
Today, as I sit and look and think, my mind drifts back to September and the beginning of my sabbatical. At that point I was feeling particularly anxious about productivity, my ability to write publishable material, and my ability to sustain a focus. So, there were days (lots of them) when I would get up, wash quickly (very quickly), have some coffee, and head down to the desk in the sweat suit that I had slept in the night before. After a few days of this, the sweats would walk down to the study by themselves and carry me along for the ride. Ultimately I would find my way to the bathtub and clean clothes; but do note the word ‘ultimately’ that opens the sentence. Well, a dear friend finally said to me, “Next you’ll be growing a beard!” and I got to thinking, could there be some truth in her proclamation? Or was it a plea for healing and help? For whom? Of what? Could it be that it was both true and a plea?
The short simple answer is, of course, it was a plea. The woman wanted me healed of that behavior pattern, and wanted help with improving my contribution to her view of the landscape. (The regular occurrence of a bath and of clean clothes beyond the same two pairs of sweats really is not all that unreasonable, I guess.) But more interesting to me was the notion of growing a beard. Might I want to grow a beard?
What does it mean to grow a beard? Lots of things. Think about men on vacation. Some grow a beard as a sign they are stepping outside of their participation within the traditional institutions of the social structure. Within the dominant society, participants within the more powerful social institutions are expected/required to be straight forward (and straight), clean and clean-shaven. Growing a beard is a visible sign of momentarily stepping outside of one’s role within the social structure. For a man on vacation, it can be a sign of his appeal for personal rejuvenation (healing). For a man on a mission (as were the ancient prophets or contemporary social reformers or revolutionaries), it can be a sign of his appeal for social change or transformation (healing).
I want to be able to do that. I want a sign that ears witness to my stepping outside the social order to call for social change. So what is the parallel sign available to women? Well, truth be known, I don’t think there is one. At least I couldn’t think of one (other than becoming a lesbian and practicing witchcraft, but that is another set of reflections). So . . . but, why not? (Why not as in why is there not on, not why couldn’t I think of the parallel sign.)
Why not indeed. The current organization of the social structure precludes it. In order to be able to step outside of one’s assigned role within the social structure, one needs to first have an assigned role within it. I found myself coming back, yet again, to the recognition that, by and large, women do not have significant roles within the more powerful social institutions. (Oh sure, there are some significant roles that we’ve captured access to, but we all know that if we slowed the struggle for even a minute, the availability of those roles would be gone all too soon. And assignment [as in designated, selected, a position of duty] is very different from captured [as in seized by force or craft]). Women’s assigned, acknowledged social roles stand outside institutions of power and the power of institutions (actually underneath them). Women’s socially defined roles remain primarily nurturers, caregivers. Our backs still too often buffer and cushion the impact of the road our male partners and colleagues walk.
But we mostly know this. Why revisit old wounds? “Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes.” The absence of significant roles for women within the social institutions of power is an appeal for healing and help, all-be-it in a rather contorted form. Until it is an option for women to stand outside the social structure, an option that will only come into being when we stand with significance within the social structure, the social structure and social roles are in need of healing and transformation.
These reflections are a call for these truths to be re-membered, and re-visioned. These reflections are a call for the radical transformation of our consciousness and of society. These reflections are a call for the personal exclusion of women from roles of significance within institutions of power to be understood as a form or appeal for the political healing of the social structure. (Oh sweet mother, yes I said it again, the personal IS political.) In the meantime, I’m growing a beard.
So, I wrote that over 20 years ago. Sadly, I think it is still pretty much relevant and true enough. So sisters, let’s all go grow us some beards!