Part one of a four part series.
When I first heard about the newly launched Yoga, Sex and Feminism, Tantra Vinyasa conference in Dallas this year, I was excited and intrigued. But I’ll admit it, I was also a bit skeptical. Yoga and feminism? Yeah, I got that. Yoga, sex and feminism? I wasn’t so sure these three went together. I wondered if “sex” was thrown in as an attention-grabbing tactic to generate controversy and promote the event.
Setting my inner skeptic (and, my internal cynic) aside, I decided not too judge too harshly without further investigation. Admittedly, I didn’t agree with everything the conference website stated or promoted, but I was impressed by their line-up of speakers and workshops, including “queer and trans- yoga,” as well as their stated commitment to activism in the pursuit of social change.
To get a better sense of the conference, it’s mission and it’s impact I decided to interview two women I know and highly respect; Vajra Ma, the conference’s keynote speaker, founder of Woman Mysteries of the Ancient Future Sisterhood and The Tantric Dance of Feminine Power and Dr. Melody Moore, clinical psychologist, yoga instructor and co-founder of Embody Love Movement.
Melanie: As you both know, I attribute feminism and yoga as the two most influential aspects of my life and have written about their intertwining influence frequently, notably and most recently in my chapter on feminism, yoga and body image in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice. To me, yoga and feminism have the same intention. They’re both about awakening to the reality of what is. They’re about raising consciousness and allowing us to untangle ourselves from oppressive social systems as well as our own mental state. They ultimately lead to social and personal transformation.
Unfortunately, they’re not always easy bedfellows. From my own experience, in many of the personal and online conversations I’ve engaged in, I’ve found that many feminists have dismissed yoga as simple navel gazing and cultural appropriation while many yogis have replicated the larger culture’s disdain for feminism. So I was certainly thrilled that other members of the wider yoga community were connecting these two liberating ideologies and practices.
I want to start this interview series by asking each of you how you came to identify with feminism and label yourselves as such.
Vajra Ma: I came to feminism directly through feminist spirituality, specifically through Dianic Wicca as taught from a feminist understanding by Ruth Barrett. In addition to this, two books sparked my irrevocable feminist awakening, Gyn-Ecology by Mary Daly and The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, an anthology edited by Charlene Spretnak.
During this same period of time I was studying subtle body/internal movement. From the beginning of my feminist awakening, feminism has been deeply linked with the awakening of the subtle body.
Melanie: That’s exciting, Vajra. One of the eras of feminist history that I am particularly interested in and share with my own students in my Women’s Studies classes is feminist spirituality. What about you, Melody?
Melody: My initial introduction to feminism did not come until I was 20 years old, a junior at Pepperdine University, when for the first time I met a girl who self-identified as a feminist. At least she was the first girl that ever told me so, and took the time to explain to me what feminism really meant. Prior to our relationship, I had been reared within the confines of the Bible belt by Christian parents and in a church community that upheld the biblical principal that “wives must submit to your husbands,” who were to be the head of the household. Really.
Since that never sat well with me, I was immediately drawn into my new friend’s passion for books, music, and art made by feminists, for feminists. She lent me books and I read voraciously: Betty Friedan, Toni Morrison, Gloria Steinem, Susan Sontag, Carol Gilligan, Alice Walker and so many more authors that were opening up my heart to a new understanding that I, as a woman, mattered.
I began listening to, almost exclusively, Riot Grrrl Music. I fell in love with Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and my all time favorite, Sleater Kinney. I attended the first LadyFest, a festival by women for women, in Olympia, Washington. I subscribed to Bust Magazine. I so strongly identified with Feminism that I attempted to start a Feminist Society at Pepperdine, but the proposal was officially denied legibility as a formal club by the University. It was 1998. I’m hopeful that things have changed since then. My identification as a feminist was solidifed as I understood it to mean that women and men were equally valued and had equal potential. I knew that I wanted to be part of a society that supported my input and my contribution just as much as it would were I born male.
My immediate dive into all things Feminist was very much about personal empowerment. As the third child born to my father, I was “supposed” to be a boy. Because he so desperately wanted to share his traditionally male hobbies and pursuits, my dad had been very attached to the idea that his third and last offspring would be male. Although my dad had the best intentions, and loved me dearly, his perceived disappointment in my gender being female was well known to me and deeply felt by me. Without his awareness, it led me to believe that my being a girl was not enough. Not for him, and therefore, not at all. For this reason, my finding the feminist movement, and my discovery that being female was seen by some to be a gift, rather than a curse, was, in fact, transformational.
Check back for the next installment of this four-part interview series on Monday, December 10.
Ed: Kate B.