Breaking cover


There have been two books that have been very significant to me in past months: Sharon Blackie’s If Women Rose Rooted and Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

Both dig deeply into story-telling traditions, bringing rich tales about women that are not only nourishing, but connect and help give shape to a way of being that although always there, hasn’t been named, appreciated and validated in the same way up until now.

The books open up an exploration of the unconscious, the intuitive ways of knowing in a way that suggests they are compatible to the intellect and analytical capacities, can work collaboratively. Over the months since I’ve been reading them it feels like a vast new landscape has opened up, one that is resonant and abundant, full of rich imagery and myth.

But while I’ve come to appreciate my instincts and intuitions far more than I ever did, it also feels somewhat dangerous to acknowledge them openly. My own prejudice about Dr Estés.’s book, my resistance to reading what I dismissed as a cliche, is indicative of how harshly we can judge these aspects of ourselves. There’s pitfalls aplenty in calling this ‘feminine’ and the associations in both books with women and nature. Women have long been confined because of this linkage and the ‘othering’ by men who aligned with rational masculinity that they deemed superior.

But the richness and wisdom that is present in these books strikes me as being desperately needed right now. Frequently it’s drawn on in the lives of individual women and in women’s spaces, but as women in Spain (and elsewhere) have shown, it can be a rich resource in our communities.

How we make that transition from the personal, intuitive space is something that is occupying my thoughts at the moment, because it seems such a difficult shift to navigate. Women may be allowed a voice in ‘their’ issues, but to what extent do they get to shape collective space? And when they do, how much pressure is there to adapt to male expectations, to present oneself as ‘rational’ to effectively adopt the current culture?

Friends told me that Ada Colau, the mayor of Spain and Manuela Carmena, her counterpart in Madrid, left an interviewer speechless during a recent TV interview. They were respectful and honouring of one another, talked about the need to find an alternative path through the troublesome issue of Catalan independence. A recent article by Colau is revealing not only of the values that shape her perspective, but of how she seeks to bring them to the centre of politics.

Both Colau and Carmena are representatives of a wider movement among women to not only ensure that women are involved in politics, but that they effect its very culture, not playing the familiar power games, seeking consensus and cooperation. This has been referred to at times as the feminisation of politics, but it seems to be more about rebalancing, about finding ways to work that draw on all abilities and capacities but don’t allow one to dominate the other. It’s about unity and holding things together despite apparent differences and paradoxes, seeking a way forward that brings as many people with it as possible.

Colau, Carmena, and many other women in the movements they represent are very consciously bringing their relational knowledge and capacities into the political arena, challenging the polarities and the ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality that has dominated politics. How can we follow suit and bring the knowledge, skills and understanding that we so often privatise or reveal only amongst ourselves out into the open?