Vicki Robin co-edited the "Friend & Lovers" issue (#10) of IN CONTEXT and is a member of the U.V. Family and a co-founder of the New Road Map Foundation. She is currently living in Seattle.
WOMAN AS TEMPTRESS
WHEN I FIRST HEARD tiny Maria D’Amato belt out "I’m a Woman" back in the mid-60s, let me tell you, I walked a little taller. I also walked a little more provocatively. When the belly bulge of my pudgy little-girl body was reshaped by the invisible hands of hormones into breasts and hips, I was re-born as a teen-age temptress. I chanted "I’m a Woman" as my mantra, my anthem, my avenging battle cry against every boy who’d ever passed me by in social dance class.
The only line of the song I ever came close to living was: "And if it’s lovin’ you want I’ll hug you and give you them sweet lovin’ fits". All the rest about washing and ironing and cooking and cleaning was either beneath me (I was an intellectual) or beyond me (in truth, I’d never learned how to do any of it). In fact, when I moved in with my boyfriend after college, I was actually surprised that we managed to nourish ourselves daily, given the volumes I didn’t know about homemaking. Our apartment was always a mess. After all, we were both "up-and-coming," and I was damned if I would be the one to wash the dishes, just because "I’m a woman."
WOMAN AS WIFE
Two funny things happened when we got married sometime in year two of co-habitation:
1) Nothing. I had actually imagined that the wedding ceremony would magically infuse me with real interest in brands of detergent and dusting the furniture. No way.
2) I dutifully and completely unconsciously relinquished my own ambitions and began to live through Him. I passively watched this foreigner in my body shape her days around fixing Him dinner and hanging on every detail of His day at work, as though her life depended on it. In a way, it did.
WOMAN AS OPPRESSED
Given who I was, something had to shift. In 1969, it did. We had reached career crossroads, found ourselves dissatisfied with the sort of success we were headed into, and decided to chuck it all and go on the road. I tasted freedom for the first time in my life. I awoke from the living death of displaced identity and wrote a song that included these words:
Listen, women, for what do you sell your freedom?
Listen, women, for what do you sell your freedom?
I sell it for a piece of bread
I sell if for a place to bed
I sell it for a better head.
And that’s how I sell my freedom, yeah
And that’s how I sell my freedom.
Listen, women, you don’t gotta sell your freedom, no
You don’t gotta sell your freedom.
By 1971, we were divorced. I did one of the first do-it-yourself divorces in California. I wasn’t losing a husband; I was gaining a self.
WOMAN AS EQUAL
In my next incarnation as a woman in relationship, my partners and I were co-creators, helpmates. There was mutual respect for each other’s strengths, mutual sharing of each other’s expertise, mutual encouragement to stretch beyond boundaries into the unknown. Together we built dwellings, roads, our motorhome, and numerous motorcycle, rototiller, and automobile engines. I learned to function and succeed in men’s domains: to negotiate dazzling business deals, to forage knowledgeably in hardware stores, scrap yards, and auto parts houses for all our survival and building needs, to maintain our vehicles. I also learned to butcher and can both livestock and game, to shop with a pittance and cook for an army.
I lived in jeans and sweatshirts in the winter and rubber sandals and sunglasses in the summer. Competent. Effective. Strong. Just. (And, to be honest, often overbearing with my companions, which earned me the nickname "Sarge"…but how else does anything get done around here?). I had a lover at that time who was attracted to my certainty but drew the line when I was certain about how he should change.
Being outside the mainstream, I had never even heard of "women’s liberation" or "radical feminists" until 1976, when I met one who told me admiringly that I was a "real bitch" (her ideal). This demystification of the realms of maleness was not part of an outer movement, but rather an inner one. I was a self-made (wo)man. In 1976, I wrote these lyrics:
It’s not like I couldn’t have made it without you
But making it with you feels so good.
I could have joined the PTA, the SLA, the IRA,
Been a meditator, an agitator, a solicitator, a real man hater,
I could have been a women’s libber, you know your standard fibber
about how good it is…you know I nearly was
I could have been alone today
And been pretty high in my own way,
I could have loved the trees and stars
And my own friends both near and far,
Been out to save the human race
Going to God at my own pace.
WOMAN AS SURRENDER
Naturally, just as I got cozy in this hammock of my identity as a person (who simply happened to be in a very enjoyable female body), life sliced the ropes. Soon after I composed the above song, we began traveling in our motorhome with the intent of being of service to others. Often it felt right for me to inspire tradition-bound women to break out and claim their freedom as I had, but equally often, particularly in projects in mainstream America, it would work best to bow gracefully to sexism and let the man be the spokesperson while I – omigod – served tea and snacks. For this I went to college? For this I got enlightened? I felt gypped. I wanted to be out there where the action was. I gagged on conversations about recipes. I bridled at being ignored. And yet, in meditation and on solitary walks, I saw that, in the larger scheme of things, what occurred was precisely what I would have brought forth had I been running the show. It was my ego that wanted recognition.
I began to taste the sweetness of non-doing. I began to notice that during a meeting I could merely think of a solution and then quietly watch that thought, like an invisible tugboat, shift the direction of the battleship-like deliberations. Without the pressure of performance, I could see the invisible weft of motivations, fears, desires, and intentions that determined the patterns that emerged as daily mundanities shuttled back and forth across life’s loom. I saw subtlety and innuendo. Shades of meaning. I came to relish this secret affair that life and I were having while others talked and I washed dishes, served tea, pulled on stockings and put on makeup. For the first time, I felt the profound power of my own femininity. In 1982 I wrote:
When we make love, my love
I am the earth.
No matter what manner of mighty achievements
I may have thrust up for the world to acclaim
Become soft, yielded, fertile earth
Yearning to conform to you
Morality, ethics, principles, ideals
Where are they in this
ecstasy of total femininity
of the imperative from within my womanly being
for being surrendered to your slightest touch.
I am woman
I am your wife, my husband
God of all
I am the earth.
Surrender. What an absurd farce that struggle for "equality" seemed from this perspective of woman as man’s point of connection to the energies of life. The servant is the master. The master is the slave. Surrender is power. To yield is to be released. Envy men? You’ve to be kidding… when I can dissolve into one fluid orgasm after another, flooding my body, his body, the earth with the living waters of ecstasy?
WOMAN AS QUEEN
The first lesson I ever learned about God is that She’s got a great sense of humor – and usually the joke’s on me. Just as I slithered into this warm bath of blissful letting go, She turned on the cold water – full blast.
From deep in my soul, from far in the distance, a new sound emerged. Sirens and alarms. All hands on deck. The ship is sinking – spaceship earth, that is. We are, as a species and as a planet, in uncharted seas. The maps of life that men have made don’t cover the territory ahead. Women to the helm! Stop dreaming in your kitchens that washing Christ’s feet is your only true chore.
It was not enough to be a (wo)man. It was no longer enough to be life’s wife. I (and my sisters) had to show the way in the best way a woman can: by being the way. It was like getting yanked by forceps from the womb of my entire pattern of relationships. This new assignment had nothing to do with personal relationship at all. Beyond needs, wants, and desires. Beyond nurturance. Beyond pain. Beyond and beyond and beyond. I was no longer a commoner; I was to be a queen. Maturity. On my 40th birthday, July 6, 1986, I sent out a letter to all my friends that was more like a declaration of Self made into the ears of the Universe, a resignation from childhood and an acceptance of my assignment on earth. Some excerpts:
"My 40th birthday is somehow different. Along with my accustomed sense of expectancy, there is a deeper knowing that I am entering the part of my life that will most truly represent the work I am here to do. While I feel a little retarded in saying this, it’s taken me all this time to grow up. I emerged from the long chute of education at 21, very developed intellectually, but with no skills in living. The intervening years have been my schooling. I feel at home in the man-made world, skillful in a few areas, but more important, skillful in attitude, unintimidated and confident in the face of the new challenges that keep appearing in my life.
"In this past year, a feeling has been rising in me which is now bordering on a passion: more than anything else, I want to find the ways to give back to life all that I’ve been given. I am done with ‘getting it’ and have moved on to ‘giving it.’ While I am personally little invested in what forms this giving takes, I feel challenged to move beyond a willingness to do whatever is needed and wanted in the world around me to being willing to discover and develop whatever is my particular assignment. I am ready to harness all of me – body, mind, and spirit – chutzpah, exuberance, articulateness – towards getting the job done.
"So for me, 40 is a doorway into a larger arena. It is reporting in for active duty to life, with all my wits about me and my heart wide open to the adventure and privilege of being alive. It’s exciting to have arrived at an age I used to associate with encroaching compromise and resignation and to feel so very opposite, so new and courageous and fulfilled."
WOMAN AS ?????
What’s next? I don’t know. I follow the rhythms of an inner pulse and dance with the melodies of life. Supple. Flexible. Protean. Perhaps at 80, the me of today will look as unformed as a babe, as foolish as an adolescent. From Rilke:
I live my life in growing orbits
which move out over the things of the world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.
I am circling around God, around the ancient tower
and I have been circling for a thousand years.
And still I don’t know if I am a falcon,
or a storm or a great song.
One hint: the following poem, given to me recently by a friend, resonates with she who is being born within me even as I write:
I want to live to be
an outrageous old woman
who is never accused of being
an old lady
I want to live to have ten thousand lovers
in one love
there are at least two of me
I want to get leaner and meaner
color of the ground
till I discorporate
from sheer joy.