I’ve just finished reading The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women, by Harriet Rubin. The book looks at powerful and outrageous women throughout the ages who left their mark on history, and points out the similarities in the strategies and tactics they used to reach their goals. It celebrates women’s unique gifts – passion and intuition, sensitivity, and cunning – and urges us to use them to claim what we want in our lives.
From the foreword:
This book is about war… not the bloody kind, not the kind provoked by Caesar’s hatreds or Sun Tzu’s deceits or Napoleon’s egomania. It’s about the wars of intimacy, where the enemy is close enough to hurt you, betray you, oppose you, whether it be a spouse, boss, client, parent, child. It is about war as a route to power…
In every encounter, one person always has more command over the situation than the other – and may contest you for the things you want. If you lose, you lose your struggle to have a better, fairer, nobler, and sweeter life. Most of us have had no way to express the fight that we keep locked up inside – all those unreached desires – except through tears of frustration or grief, anger, depression, silence, and submission – all of which can mean instant and irrecoverable losses.
I found the book rather timely, as I’ve been pushing myself to move from talk to action, to be the change, and to look for partnerships with others who want to work together on spectacular projects that bring more love and light into the world. In this process, I’m coming head to head with men of influence and power, and uncertain of the role I play here. In a sense, I’m trying to figure out how to be a woman in a man’s world… and then shift that world to the one I envision. It’s disorienting.
One one hand it feels like people want to help me succeed. Plenty of good will, advice, support. On the other, it feels like every time I empower myself a little further, gain a little more confidence, I find myself being tested. Dark forces show up to misguide, manipulate, confuse, divert. It seems all too easy to be pulled off my path, to be convinced of the value of some shiny object or another, to be told who I am or what I should want, all which lead to a loss of clarity of my own reality. (And by “dark forces” I don’t necessarily mean other people, but the darkness inside that is designed to derail – impatience, martyrdom, self deprecation, arrogance.)
As if dealing with these challenges weren’t enough of an effort in and of themselves, having to do it as a woman makes it even trickier.
In many of the conversations I’ve had lately about female energy and leadership, there is a story I’m hearing about what the world will be like if/when more women assert themselves in society. There is a particular story that I hear, mostly from the mouths of men, who tell it with a combination of anger, disgust and fear. In the story, women rise, wrestle the power from the men, and then rule the world as men historically have, while leaving them somehow subservient, stripped of worth, empty.
In my mind, this misses a huge point in what female power is all about, how it’s energetically different than the male-dominated energy, and why women in positions of leadership and inspiration operate on a playing field that is fundamentally different. The story of a world of powerful women does not look the same as a world of powerful men.
I believe in a non-zero sum kind of world, where women “winning” doesn’t mean that anyone loses. In fact, just the opposite – we show that a world of abundance is possible where outcomes benefit all people.
In Rubin’s book, she describes it as “besting surpassing winning.”
She says most women can’t win – not because they’re incapable of fighting strategically, but because no one wants them to win, often including the women themselves. Winning typically means someone else has to lose. But besting is better than winning, because your win does not humiliate the other or rob them of their dignity. Rather, winning is accomplished by achieving the best, offering a clear and inspiring new record (a collective epic win!), a new level of performance, which then serves to motivate everybody.
We demonstrate that our win is everyone’s win, and we model the behavior we want to see in the world.
Ultimately, this isn’t even really about women verse men. Plenty of the men in my network have a deep sense of the possibilities in a world dominated by love, respect, mindfulness and integrity. But it would seem this mentality is still a stretch for many to believe. As I go from expressing my views safely via this blog, to actually stating them directly to keyholders of ‘the system,’ I’m coming face to face with the dominant paradigm, where corruption, coercion, manipulation, and asserting control are the MO.
I’m finding that as I attempt to describe and live a different world, I’m confronted with old power struggles that will take time to unravel and diffuse.
Only a few short weeks ago, I was at lovely dinner with some colleagues and a potential business ally.
The man was successful, by any typical measure, and well aware of the shifting world we’re transitioning towards and the opportunities it suggests. He, like many intelligent people today, wants to pioneer the transition instead of be left behind, and is looking to be a part of the world being constructed by the visionaries and edge riders.
As we enjoyed our appetizers, the conversation turned to the underlying drivers we believe are influencing the shift – the implications of a globally connected species, the self-empowerment of women, the rebalancing of planetary energies, the reacquaintance of our species with healthy emotional intimacy, and the spectrum of feelings we can choose to allow ourselves to experience when we reconnect with our deeper spiritual selves.
He looked directly at me across the table, in the company of the other dinner guests, and said “I’m not going to fuck you.”
I quickly scanned my backlog to see if I had given an invitation, or if discussion of my body were in any way on-topic during polite dinner conversation or business dealings.
I wondered what reaction he’d hoped to illicit from that comment, either from me or from my friends.
I thought to myself, perhaps it’s too disarming to speak bluntly about love and vulnerability in the company of a strategist, and the only assumption to be made is that I wanted to take him to the sack.
Or perhaps it was a power play, a way to signal to the other man at the table that *he* was in fact the alpha male here, that *he* was in control of….. something.
I can’t claim to understand all the games men play. Not yet, at least.
In a state of puzzled amusement, I simply blinked blankly at him and took another sip of my wine…..
Fast forward a few weeks, and I’m reading this book, and the author describes a scenario of a man and woman at a dinner table that had enough similarly in pattern to give me pause.
The man basically says, “I get the feeling you’re brittle, that you’ve been hurt by men, and that you break. And to complicate things further, we’re attracted to one another.”
The author goes on to describe this play as one to make the woman distrust her own knowledge of herself, to be made small through seduction or rejection, and to then conspire in her own destruction.
It makes me ask, both for the sake of other women in this position, but also for anyone challenging the dominant belief structure about “how things work,” how do we go about recognizing these bids for power and neutralize them?
The book calls the women who learn these techniques the “warrior princessas.”
They are both lovers and fighters. They have no need to deal in command and control structures, in aggression, negotiation, compromise. They revel in their emotional lives, in expressing joy, pleasure, and concern. They express their desire with a diva’s virtuosity. They express a kind of love that creates a solidarity between themselves and everything else in their lives, a transcendent love that implies unity among all. A kinship with every person and object on the planet. There is no “them.”
Rubin suggests a method for “besting” is to play against the tensions of people’s aggressions, fears, and assertions of false authority.
She claims all tensions of a strategic kind are governed by four principles:
1. Intensity feelings
Sink deeply into the emotions you feel, whether they be from pain or from desire. Think through your body and abandon all notions of revenge. Demonstrate what Gandhi called ‘ahimsa,’ or refusal to harm others. Be tenderly alert to the vulnerabilities that will be exposed by those in the old system who choose to shift. Lovingly express heroic expectations of them, acknowledging the strength and generosity that could become more prominent features of their character, when they are ready.
We know that change is painful and will incite attack, and old paradigms will not go down without a fight. Can we have the courage to invite suffering, loss and even humiliation, rather than showing our ego is more important than our goal? Can we embody elegance as we steward in new worlds?
2. Incite others toward a big goal or cause
Rosa Parks’ bus incident was symbolic of a larger war for freedom and civil rights. The goal isn’t just about a personal victory, it’s a much bigger vision for the kind of world filled with decent people, something morally and emotionally better than what exists now. When we talk about the opportunities of social technologies, the promise of a peer to peer culture, the liberation of people’s hearts and minds to pursue their own dream — that is the vision that inspires me.
I had my ‘a-ha’ moment about our ability to change things when I realized the awesome power of networks. This understanding is floating in the collective consciousness and resonates with many, many people. If we are clear about what we stand for, our tribes will quickly find us. Push aside ego, jealousy, and sells-righteousness, and instead be guided by your clear and simple truth.
I’ve found the message of freedom an irresistible one. It’s a message of human agency, of personal sovereignty, of the ability of everyone to follow their bliss, and be supported by a loving network of friends who nurture each other’s conscious evolution and spiritual growth.
3. Invalidate and refuse to accept predominant beliefs
Those that bear the trappings of authority don’t necessarily own authority. Your boss controls your job, not you. Let desire be the guide. It is unnecessary to directly fight power. Instead oppose it by disbelieving in “prevailing” power, and acting as if “your side” has already won. Gandhi didn’t directly fight the British – he acted as if the people of India had already won freedom, and merely had to get the British to acknowledge it.
What if you behaved *as if* the world you want was already in existence? If you behaved as if you had your desires? Would that convince others you have them too? Instead of expending energy fighting against something stronger and unbeatable in a head to head combat, simply disengage. As Bartelby said, “I would prefer not to.” Let others be mean-spirited, vengeful, and cruel. Be vulnerable and allow yourself to be hurt. Continue to be open and truthful where others remain hidden. Our strength is in our convictions and the need to hide nothing. The worlds we are building can and will be done in the open.
4. Engage in blocking or slowing down
Blocking means you act in order to deter the authority’s progress away from his or her own goals. The dominant crumbling paradigm is about self-preservation. There is no inspirational message in it… it is simply trying to preserve the house of cards from toppling. How exhausting. As we the change agents suggest new ways of living and being, we find the most confrontational among us are usually just scared, and seeking to control everything they can. They are frightened by what we represent moreso than us ourselves. And it is fine. Let us become the total embodiment of those fears – femininity, creativity, kindness and openheartedness. When they experiment with this other modality of being, where vulnerability or weakness is shown, they will find no attack. Instead, we infuse them with the courage to change and inspire them with stories and possibility and art. In the world we want to create, no one has to lose anything — we all gain more.
I found these principles interesting, in that it’s how I feel I intuitively already operate. The book goes on with various sections about strategy, tactics, subtle weapons… I admit I’m kind of turned off by the language of the book. Even as it speak of leading from love, it feels a bit too calculated. But, the main message is that we acquire power simply by understanding the existence of love as the best strategy in war.
If we want to change anything for the better, for the benefit of all, love is the key.
I aspire to be a brilliantly disruptive princessa, to demonstrate that these new socioeconomic and cultural paradigms we’re establishing are already here, and to live them. I’ll show that we can in fact live with love in our hearts and to not abuse the vulnerabilities of others when they’re exposed. We can know our deepest truths, can align ourselves in thought word and action, and find allies and collaborators with whom this ethic resonates. And we will birth universes and bring magic into the world together. It’s already happening.
So to the dear gentleman from dinner, if you are reading this:
You’re absolutely right. You are NOT going to fuck me.
AND we both have tremendous value to offer the world and each other, and it can be done in partnership, without a contest to determine who is stronger, who will seduce the other, or who will inflict hurt or pain. I decline playing with you in the old control structures, and instead invite you to explore this side where we can respectfully engage in creating something far greater than ourselves together, and to be friends in the process.
I am a woman. I am embracing my power. The world I’m after is more of a playground than a battlefield, an aesthetic, a form of performative art. In it there is intimacy, play, exploration, freedom, creativity and innovation.
If you want to play, you know where to find me.
image found at http://katipunan09.wordpress.com/analysis/love-and-revolution/