The Water I Couldn’t See As A Fish

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This is the the transcript of the League of Badass Women Podcast Episode 4: The Water I Couldn’t See As A Fish. You can listen to all the episodes on Soundcloud.

Linai: Internal misogyny is the water I didn’t see as a fish. You know like, fish live, go all their lives and they don’t understand what there is and it’s just so inescapable and therefore so invisible.

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Valerie: Welcome back to the League of Badass Women Podcast. I’m your host, Valerie Orth. For those who don’t know, Power Talks are intimate discussions hosted by and for League of Badass Women members, based on a curated topic by the League. Internalized Misogyny is the first topic in a 2-part series.

This episode features 3 brave badasses who share their very personal stories about where internalized misogyny has played out in their lives, as well as in the lives of women who attended their recent Power Talk in Portland, Oregon.

Because of the emotional content, this was a very difficult episode to edit I’ll admit, so it’s a little longer than the others. And still, while we’re diving into extremely complex territory, this is only a tiny fraction of it, and of the stories themselves. There are more resources in the description of this episode on Soundcloud. Also, due to discussion around domestic violence, listener discretion is advised. OK! Let’s get started.

Linai: Loyalty and keeping others safe, the tradeoffs that you have to do in this journey and understanding the anxiety that comes in sharing your stories and a couple of the members that were here shared really deep stories and even though being a safe space that it was, there was a lot of anxiety and a lot of bravery in sharing very deep stories.

Valerie: That was Linai Vaz, Director of Textiles and Sport Apparel for a major global brand; PhD in behavioral science, former Olympian, and all around empathy advocate. The next badass requested to be kept anonymous.

Anonymous: There were stories shared of a particular generation of women who had experienced, you know all of them had experienced abusive relationships at some level. This was a reality of my own mother as well, who’s of a similar generation, semi-generation older and there was just this hushed silence in the room when this started coming out and it was therapeutic. You know when that therapeutic thing starts happening in some of these Power Talks? I will say, on behalf of the younger generation, it’s like shock because some of us grew up with it, well I guess quite a lot of us grew up with it seeing our mothers go through it and we’re just like, can’t believe this is just so widespread across cultures, across countries and god, like, what a shitty, quite frankly what a shitty world. And it’s still going, we’re still accepting.. and some of us accepted it on some level or allowed ourselves to get into that situation, you know. I’m getting a little bit emotional I guess so I can’t even clearly articulate that because there is this fear that even us more enlightened generation or the ones coming after could still allow themselves to get into those situations. I think that’s kind of what I was on the edge of feeling, was Wow! I can’t believe it’s still happening. We thought these were stories of yester-year, really. You know, marriages, long term marriages that had domestic violence, you know I think that was the common theme.

Linai: My story, I had this idea of loyalty and this idea of shame because I grew up in a Catholic family and also with a family that had never had divorce before and now I was living in a different country. Having to adapt to the culture here, being an immigrant in a different space and had gone through a very difficult situation where there was violence involved, domestic violence involved, and finally having the sense of doing the right thing which was staring me in the face for the longest time. Only when and after I received the permission from my mother over a telephone call from when my lawyer called the police to have the police file, on my behalf, a restraining order which I probably should have done 6 months before. But only when my mom said — this is okay, please go ahead and file for a divorce you have my permission — that was then when I finally said okay, I can do this.

Valerie: Rosemary Colliver is a yogi, in her 20th year of practice, in entertainment law for 18 years, she’s from Los Angeles, now living happily in Portland and is the step mom of incredible teenagers.

Rosemary: One thing that was great is we had from 20-somethings up to 70-somethings and, it was Linai’s daughter. Her first statement was about how much respect she has for her mom and almost to a teary point of what Linai has gone through as a woman and where she has come to and just how she looks up to that so much. But then she had this story about in her job, young, just starting out, brand new from college and the first comment that her supervisor said to her was how pretty she was.

Linai: Like, look this is the prettiest girl in the entire organization.

Rosemary: What kept coming out, things that were resonating or repeated was this shame, self worth, embarrassment, you know all these emotions we put on ourselves for being in that situation, period. She could not have changed what he said to her in their very first meeting, but there was a shame that came with just even being in that dynamic.

Linai: I think that fits also in the trade-off story. In the other story there was a very similar, but again from a domestic point of view, was somebody who came out in the room and saying that from a very early age, 8 years old, if she was going to come here she would out herself and even though she knew this was a safe space was still causing her a level of anxiety and she told her story from a standpoint of the tradeoffs that are necessary for each of you in the world of today. How then she went through this whole charade, so to speak, in order to be loyal to her parents. She married a man, she had two kids, and there was some level of violence involved in the marriage as well and how now she is finally free of that but how powerful the notion of loyalty and to taking care of others and keeping others in her life safe that led her to totally deny herself all these years and now coming to the realization it’s okay, I don’t have to be in this marriage and I don’t have to be accepting of the norms of others for the way I live.

Anonymous: She denied her true sexuality in order to be loyal to her parents, because she got shamed into it, got married, had 2 children, lived out her life and then got a divorce like last year. It’s quite raw for her still. She convinced herself she was bisexual.

Rosemary: Nobody knew that that’s who she was. She basically felt that in this new environment with these people who didn’t know her that she was going to have to kind of almost relive the same thing. And it was part of some of the stories, these trade-off stories. You know, well I put up with this in order to get to the point where I wanted to be in my career.

One of the stories that came up that was mine is that I realized recently and as I’ve started at a new studio with the owner we were in conversation is this comment that came out about being just one of the boys, one of the guys. That has come up so many times in my entire life — all my friends were guys when I was in high school and it really, with all of this unpacking and kind of prepping and the Power Talk made me think about it is the water that I couldn’t see as a fish for sure, but at the moment that I became aware of that and in this room with my new boss and it’s like — well, do I say something? Do I not? These tradeoffs that we make of like — well I’ve only been here a few days. And this woman had been talking about even after she realized that this relationship and her husband was abusive she went from marrying a man and having children in order to placate her parents, her culture and her family, to then doing a tradeoff for her own safety because she felt that going through the divorce and everything was going to put her children in more danger. So then she was trading off her own safety for what she felt was the safety of her children. One of the takeaways was how can we as the League, or as women or whatever, create safer spaces or tools or opportunities so that those people in that alone moment of feeling they’re making a tradeoff, whether for safety or for their career that they can feel safe stepping in and saying I’m not doing this and I know all these people have my back.

Anonymous: More than half the room had direct experience with domestic violence. Which is actually shocking.

Linai: There were 12 of us. It took a big chunk of the conversation, but we all felt that it was very valuable and very important.

Anonymous: The irony is that some of the self sabotage that we were talking about actually comes from that nurturing tendency that these women had and is that a feminine quality? Don’t know, but all I will say is that that’s what was going on in many of these situations. Like, I will commit to this gender role because… This was, for me, the biggest takeaway and the link to this internal racism thing. I introduced myself saying I’m Indian and that tells you everything you need to know about my internal misogynist. I mean, because, I don’t know… it’s kind of true! And that was actually a realization for me, just going through the material. I can’t believe I hadn’t figured it out before. 35 years later. It’s a very macho culture overall. It’s difficult to say that, right? Because India was one of the first countries to have a female Prime Minister and my father, very proudly, claims that in support of our progressive mentality, but I think he would also be the first to understand that there are these unjustified expectations on women and her role in the family: a very strong sense of duty as a daughter or a sister or a mother. I’ve seen that really, kind of, tie up my own mother’s life.

Linai: The word Machismo comes from Portugeese comes from South Brazil, where I am from. When I came back after years of studying in the United States and with my Masters and my PhD. As a Doctorate I stayed in Brazil for about 2 years — was the most I could actually muster to endure, because about 8 months into my job I was called into the Dean’s Office. As a professor, the only female professor in the whole entire south of Brazil in this Federal State university, thinking, you know, what did I do wrong? What is the problem? Did somebody not like the tone of the conversation, the books that I assigned or something that I may have done incorrectly? And I couldn’t find anything and finally when I went to the Dean’s Office he told me that it came to his attention that people were thinking it was very strange that I didn’t dress sexily enough, like a woman should. At that point I decided that I needed to leave the country.

Rosemary: The other thing that was interesting about that story is that the Dean also referred to Linai as Linai rather than Dr. Vaz. Whereas all the men with Phds were referred to as Doctors.

Linai: And some of them actually just had Masters and would still be called Doctors. So I realized at that point that the honor or the fight or the desire to fight to change the culture would have to be for another generation. It was way too much on my shoulders to try to fight that having at that time, my daughter being 5 years old, I really had the responsibility to just fight it from another level. I felt if I came to the United States back where I felt like things were not like that that what I was and who I knew was not as important as what I know and that had been my experience when I studied here prior to coming back That I realized I had a reverse culture shock coming back home that was much stronger than I would have anticipated, stronger than family ties. The benefits of being closer to family that I decided before, for the sake of my daughter, should get away from that so I could fight it from afar. Hopefully being a good doctor here, in academia here, or whatever the work I could do here bringing “honor” to my culture by being away from it was more important.

Valerie: Next you’ll hear Rosemary discussing a woman’s story — who was at their Power Talk — who had been an executive at Ace Hardware in the 1970s.

Rosemary: She was on a call and they were looking at the very beginning of the world wide web as opposed to the internet, and they had a consumer interface that ACE Hardware was using and of course it had all been constructed by men and blah blah blah. And they were on this conference call and she had been trying to, appropriately and in a professional way, explain what her criticisms were or this user interface and was being spoken over, you know, talked over and mansplaining and everything else was going on around her, and there was another woman on the call who stopped the conversation and directed this woman — I want to know what you think about this user interface — and she said at that point she’d gotten so frustrated that she just said I think it sucks! You get to a point of frustration that when finally people’s ears are open the way you communicate what you are there to be heard for you communicate it in a way that probably doesn’t present it as powerfully as you know, because you’ve gotten to this level of like — well, yeah I just think it sucks.

Linai: Just by calling it out, naming it is really important so that you can be aware of it. And basically the whole story about how the water I don’t see as a fish — if I can name it then I will be able to fight against it and be more aware.

Rosemary: We could spend 3 months, meeting 3 hours a day over this topic. In yoga this morning we were talking about how everything we do in life you know, whether it’s our relationships or.. everything is a practice. It’s a practice that we have to have intention for and take the time for everyday. And I was really thinking about that with this topic. And I think people really came away from it with — this is an active practice that I need to own in my life, in my relationships. It’s not like you take a pill and boom all of a sudden you understand it and you are outside of it.

Anonymous: One of the things I really loved that came out of the discussion was I think we do tend to give ourselves a hard time for when we fall short of holding that standard and there was this kind of like — hey let’s not make the guilt or shame like a meta occurance — to forgive yourself and the importance of doing that and maybe also finding a partner to help you with that. Like an accountability partner where you can share that moment of internal misogyny that manifests itself. Because I think I personally, one of the things I really want to hold myself to like you Rosemary, I was in this “one of the guys” kind of profession back in London, and yes I deliberately moved away from it, but I do ask myself — what will I do when I am back? You know, I ran away — I’m in Portland. It’s easy to be progressive here. It’s easy to walk the talk. What happens when you are faced with the opposite side again? Yeah, of course, I think all of us have spoken out before, but is it enough to keep quite sometimes to keep the peace, you know? Or do we force ourselves to confront and, of course, I think we’d all like to be the person who maybe diplomatically but still brings it up and says hey — calls it out — you know? Even with our loved ones and I think that will take practice.

Rosemary: And I think recognizing, like we were talking with your daughter about, recognizing that calling it out may not necessarily change that person who has committed that act in that moment or even ever in their life. But I think one thing it does for ourselves that we need to do is a part of the tree of forgiveness, I mean I think it is part of that growth is to be able to stand up and say I’m going to be brave. In that you are forgiving yourself.

Linai: Overcoming the internal misogynist by forgiving and being patient by saying no, by keeping going on, by keeping on.

Anonymous: We didn’t force it out, it wasn’t like a deliberate — oh what about abuse? But, you know what? It’s totally natural that the word “abuse” or the notion should come up with misogyny, right? I think that’s my earliest associations with the word — that’s guys who basically hated women and detested them and condemned vulnerability and manifest that through violence. So I do think it was really interesting, I mean horrifying really at some level, but I’m sure this is a memory that many women have and that contributes to their own internal misogyny. Some of us had siblings, myself included, who treated my mother like she was, you know, less than, or sort of condemns, whatever it is, whether it’s a vulnerability, her nurturing or just condemns her, you know, detests her. And a lot of that I put down to her having seen, her being a less powerful character in some situations, right, because she got the abuse that she did, both physical and verbal… And then I asked myself maybe all of us have some of this in us, all of the kids. We must carry some of it and I think I have caught myself. I was ashamed to admit that I had, on occasion, maybe reflected that misogynistic treatment that I had seen my mother subject to, towards her myself as a young person and yes, as you mature and you learn and you deal with your ghost past, you kind of learn to draw it away, but that just sparked that thought — like, huh, how much of this is actually because we’ve seen it at a very extreme state?

Linai: I have, in my effort to assimilate being an immigrant to this country and being thrown here into the world and corporate America and having to, you know, with ambition to succeed and climb the ladder and all of that, really have kind of adopted this persona of being a little bit more aggressive and having the answers and really thinking about how my voice came across and have a little bit less of my mannerisms of being a Latina, have all of that muted down as much as possible so I could be seen as one of the guys and a little bit more measured, less passionate, because if I got one more review that I was too passionate one more time was about to puke and so then I had to train myself to not be so passionate and so that meant being a little bit more of the traits that were not me as a person but maybe be a little bit more of the traits that leadership in corporate America means. So it was interesting that I made that change so successful, which is kind of sad really, but it is a larger story to be told about the things that we have to do and the struggle of tradeoffs that we all have to go through.

Rosemary: I don’t think we can ignore how much misogyny or the patriarchy has been informed or perpetuated via abuse and that it’s like the one feeds the other. And I think it’s just something that cannot be ignored in this kind of a conversation.

Linai: Once it came out in our conversation, I can’t remember the first person that touched upon, it sort of opened the gates and people felt more secure and more free to talk about it and so it definitely became a focus of the conversation. And I was happy that it did, because it is such an unspoken topic the water for the fish aspect and it sometimes bring shame. I know very few people know my story, because I don’t go about it, you know talking about it all the time.

Rosemary: I’ve always felt that it doesn’t support — well how can people think I’m a badass if I lived in a battered women’s shelter.

Linai: Right, exactly.

Rosemary: But it’s the most, both actually and figuratively, violent way that men say stay in your lane.

Linai: For me it was a realization that I really didn’t have to be in a relationship in order to be myself. And for the longest time, being very young in the story that I shared a teacher one time when I was 11 years old telling me I couldn’t be a doctor because girls could not be successful because they couldn’t stand the sight of blood and me internalizing that, so yeah I don’t like blood so I’m not going to be a doctor.

Rosemary: She might have cured cancer by now. I imagine if Linai had been a doctor she would have cured something by now.

Linai: I internalized this message so much that I was fragile, that I couldn’t be a doctor because an 11 year old I didn’t like the sight of blood and I internalized that as particular because I was a girl and not because I was an 11 year old. I never told that to anybody for the longest time. And then making decisions such as the decision I made at 19 years old to marry, because I thought that I needed to be around, you know, be protected by a guy. And in the kind of violence that originated from that was just coming from the culture that allowed me, that allowed things like that to exist. That I couldn’t be by myself or I couldn’t be a doctor or I couldn’t consider myself successful unless I had a male by my side. To me that was the water I didn’t see when I was back in Brazil, back in this culture that was so machista and so male dominated that in order for me to be okay I did the things that I did. And it wasn’t until much later in life when I freed myself from that or that I call it out the water that I really then was able to understand what happened.

Rosemary: It’s a hard one for me still.

Valerie: Decades ago, Rosemary lived in a battered women’s shelter.

Rosemary: What was most difficult with this topic and with this Power Talk and the prepping for it and the recognizing of the internalized misogyny is that I did so much work after that to not buy into that and it saddens me that it’s still there.

Valerie: To not buy into misogyny.

Rosemary: Yeah I did so much work and it probably is why.. that I do come across much more aggressive particularly in my career. And that was sort of what I took away from that — was like fuck no is anyone ever going to fucking tell me what I’m going to fucking wear, what I am going to eat, who I’m going to hang out with. Like, that was like, like, the.. I mean Butterfingers are my favorite candy bar and I wasn’t allowed to eat them for years. So actually I took a Greyhound bus from the shelter from New Hampshire to Seattle over 6 days. When I got off the bus at the Greyhound station in Seattle I bought 7 Butterfinger bars and I ate all of them. What launched me from that day to the life, to where I am now, was no — it was just fuck no. It was like I will call my shots, I will be me and so it was so hard for me prepping for this to realize that I still… the programming of this world and this society and everything, that there is still these… this water that I can’t see as a fish!

Valerie: I think you all can definitely see it or we… the fact that we are having this conversation now and that you had the Power Talks. You have new friends now probably in the community I imagine from going. You’re out of the water. It’s just a matter of…

Rosemary: I feel like I’m out of the water now, but I didn’t, as of the last 2 weeks. I left the shelter 20.. What was it? The other day was my anniversary, it was 27 years ago. I spent 27 years in the water after thinking I already… so yeah.

Linai: This idea too of not being defined by it. If something like this happens to you and I know when I was in an abused relationship and had to file for restraining orders and have all of that and finally have a voice and say this is not acceptable and it’s okay for me to file a restraining order because I must, to protect myself and my kids. Soon after that then switch was like I’m not going to be defined by this. I’m not going to let this define the rest of my life. This is something that happened because of the circumstances, but I now can be in control and control back of my life.

Rosemary: Amen.

Linai: Topics are very heavy, the discussion very deep, the level of individual bearing souls in front of everyone was surprising in a way to me. The very end and very quiet throughout the conversation was this idea of positivity and sisterhood and a final hope for the future. We were almost like high-fiving at the end. For a moment it was like wait this is sort of odd but it didn’t feel forced or it didn’t feel unnatural and I felt.. I think there was just the liberation from just putting this out there and discussing it and it was a great deal of positivity which was very helpful and very happy to have seen that.

Rosemary: A call to action for a stronger future.

Linai: Really we are in the search for respect and respect is what equality or what feminism is really after.

Rosemary: To be truly seen.

Outro:

Thanks for listening to the League of Badass Women Podcast. Produced by and music by Valerie Orth. Mix and mastered by Dizmix. For more info visit us at leagueofbadasswomen.org. E-mail your questions and comments to Podcast@leagueofbadasswomen.org. Thanks again to our featured badasses of today’s episode and thank you for being a badass.

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