Have You Never Met A Woman

Does my loudness offend you?
Does my confidence make you squirm?
Have you never met a woman who refused to conform?

Does my wisdom unnerve you?
Does my intelligence trigger your insecurity?
Have you never met a woman who could think independently?

Are my opinions too much to handle?
Do my questions make you upset?
Have you never met a woman who could speak for herself?

Are my bare shoulders a “stumbling block”?
Are my legs too much for your repressed sexuality?
Have you never met a woman who was comfortable with her body?

Does my light shine too brightly?
Are you pissed about my radical rebirth?
Have you never met a woman who recognizes her own worth?

Is my ambition so unsettling?
My drive and passion a threat, or worse?
Have you never met a woman who knew the world was hers?

Do you have it in you to support my dreams?
Or do you prefer that I stay low key and “help”?
Have you never met a woman you saw as equal to yourself?

© Copyright Benita Grace Joy 2016

P.S. Let Them Stare


Let Them Stare

I wear running shorts when I run. So edgy right? Well, depends who you ask. I know this wouldn’t be that fantastical of a statement usually, except, I’m currently in India. And I’m a grown woman. And here, even in the bustling cosmopolitan city of Mumbai, in 2016, the general fact remains that women don’t wear shorts.

Women exercise in a variety of different outfits including leggings that cover the entire leg, or that go below the knee, or even a kurta and churidar, or other traditional wear, often paired with jogging shoes. But a woman wearing running shorts to run,or even shorts in general, is not a common sight. (Side note: I don’t know what it’s like at gyms and exercise clubs because they are way too expensive for the average person to join. Another blog on that coming soon.)

I’m not saying that women never wear shorts. I’m only saying that it’s rare (other than at marathons and similar sporting events, I would assume), which to me is fairly odd. Now, I wouldn’t have an issue with this if it was a phenomenon across the genders. But the fact is, men wear shorts all the time. And they often wear typical gym wear when they run. Women, on the other hand, are relegated to the mores of propriety and conservatism. Couples exercising together are a strange sight because the man will be wearing comfortable gym shorts and a tee and woman will be in clothes that cover anything and everything remotely offensive. Odd right?

So, I will give you that I am really no one to judge what people wear and how they decide to live their lives. However, I will argue that this general way of things reflects the underlying misogyny that is prevalent in this society. That being said, the point of this post isn’t other people’s wardrobe choices. It’s about my own experience of trying to make exercise a part of my routine. When I jog or run, I wear running shorts that fall a couple inches above my knees paired with a comfortable t-shirt.

The only problem is that the staring is dreadful and incomprehensible. The men are terrible. The women are only slightly better. It’s so bad that I’m usually more exhausted psychologically from the staring than from the physical exertion of running. It’s exhausting when I try to ignore it. It’s even more exhausting when I try to give those people staring my stink eye. Yeah, I typed that right. Sometimes, I give them my stink eye. Or my “What’s your problem?” look. Because I refuse to avert my eyes. Why should I be ashamed when I have done nothing wrong?

These aren’t passing glances or even second looks. I’m talking about full on staring me up and down. If they catch my stink eye, they’ll usually look away. Some look away nonchalantly in an effort to play down the nasty violation they just engaged in. And some look away with the discomfort of being caught ripe on their faces. Yet others will begrudgingly peel their eyes away, only to glance back half a second later with that weird, even scary, animal-like look in their eyes that exposes a sexually repressed society.

I know I’m going to get pushback from well-meaning people who say that I should “respect the culture” and not impose my values on them and to be wise about which fights to pick. But here’s the thing: I’m not imposing anything. And if shorts aren’t part of the culture, why do the men get to wear them? So this whole women-don’t-wear-shorts policy isn’t any kind of cultural issue. It’s a sexism issue. It’s a systemic oppression issue. Furthermore, I don’t think I need to remind anyone of India’s recent history of violence against women that regularly made international news. The militant staring might be a soft violation, but the gang rapes are simply the other end of this same continuum. The only “cultural issue” here is misogyny, sexism, and the objectification and oppression of women. And I’m not sure I owe it “respect”.

And so, here’s what I have to say to the utterly unenlightened men who have no shame, no respect for women, no self-respect, and no sense of common decency and boundaries: You don’t get to win. You don’t get to decide how I feel about myself. You don’t get to control what I wear. You don’t get to take my freedom from me. So take a good look. This is what a woman who is exercising looks like: sweaty, powerful, and unashamed. Not to mention, here’s the bigger picture: this is what a woman in shorts looks like. She has legs—surprise!

To the women who stare, I say: Take a good look, sister. And allow me to let you in on a little secret: You can be free too. You can say no to patriarchy and misogyny and discrimination and the backwards notions that have held you down for so long. The metamorphosis itself can be uncomfortable, but when you finally taste the sweetness of freedom, oh darling, there’s nothing that can stop you.

I’m going to keep doing my thing, and take the advice a couple of my best girlfriends gave me a few months ago: Let them stare. I know I’m breaking convention and shaking up status quo. And I’m okay with that. I’d rather introduce people to a new way of living instead of crawling back into the oppressive box I worked so hard to break out of.

So let them stare because their eyes are opening to a new and beautiful reality. Let them stare because they have nothing better to do. Let them stare because ultimately they want to be you. Your body is nothing to be ashamed of.

© Copyright Benita Grace Joy 2016

P.S. Creative Sabbath, Navigating New Realities, and follow my travels on Instagram!


Letters to Brené #1: On Leaving A Cult

[Note: I wrote this very personal piece somewhere around October 2014 in the wake of all that took place mid last year. I couldn’t post it when I wrote it because everything was still spinning and it was too early to sort through the barrage of emotions crashing on every side. I feel like the time that has passed since, and the physical and emotional distance, has allowed for *some* healing. But I will admit that there is a long way to go. However, I do feel somewhat ready to put this particular piece, vulnerable as it is, out there. There will likely be future posts on the ups and downs that come with the healing process. For now, here’s an unsent letter I wrote simply as an exercise to try and process scary emotions.]

Dear Brené,

First off, I hope you can forgive me for using just your first name and leaving out the respectful title. Chances are you will never read this, and that’s okay because it’s simply an exercise to help me process emotion and not much more. Secondly, thank you for writing your incredible book on shame and vulnerability. “Daring Greatly” changed my life and continues to change my life.

Today I want to tell you about something really painful that I went through when I very publicly left a “church” that I had been a part of for close to five years. I put church in quotations because they are actually a cult. Shortly after I left, the “pastor” of this group was criminally charged with sexual offenses involving another ex-church member. The cult continues to maintain his innocence, but I wouldn’t expect anything better from that group anyway.

I feel so many emotions connected to this experience, but one of the strongest emotions I have been feeling over the past few months is shame. I keep wondering why I feel shame when I didn’t do anything wrong and when they are the ones who should be ashamed for how they scam and take advantage of people. And yet, within this process of healing and creating a new life for myself, there are still moments of overwhelming shame, embarrassment, humiliation.

I feel ashamed because I couldn’t see it for what it was. I feel ashamed that I told others that they should be a part of this “church”. I feel embarrassed that I threw myself so sincerely into something so twisted. I am embarrassed that I defended the crazy practices advocated by its leaders. I feel humiliated that I fell prey to the con because I would generally consider myself an educated, smart, intelligent person. Not only did I join, but I allowed myself to become consumed with it, thinking that I was “serving God”. I can’t believe that I even declined other opportunities to do amazing things because I thought this was where I was meant to be, where God wanted me to be. A big part of me feels like people will now think I am stupid or foolish or gullible and question my ability to think clearly in the future. Ultimately, I’m embarrassed that I even have to write this and that I’m sitting here heartbroken and having a pity party about my own foolishness.

There were times when the shame was so debilitating that I hardly knew what to do with myself. I found myself isolating and withdrawing from all social activities. I let text messages and emails pile up without responding. I didn’t call my friends or reach out to anyone. Overall, I felt pretty depressed and estranged from everything that I thought was my life. In some ways, I needed the distance, a break from what was, so I could think clearly for the future. But then, my “break” turned into full fledged isolation and avoidance. Then again, who’s to say how long such a “break” needs to be. In any case, it was a whole lot of guilt and shame and fear all wrapped up in self-pity.

At first, I couldn’t name the shame. That took some time. But once I was able to call it for what it was, I could at least figure out what to do next. So I pulled your book off my shelf and found your 3 steps to overcome shame:

1. Practice courage and reach out

2. Talk to myself the way I would talk to somebody else

3. Own the story

And so, that’s what I’m doing. I started talking to my brother, my sister, and a few trusted friends, some of whom had been through a similar experience. I thought about how I would have supported another person if I knew they were just coming out of a cult, which led to a very healthy level of self-compassion. And I’m learning to own my story. I’m refusing to be a victim. I’m practising vulnerability, and pressing on. Writing helps. But I’m taking my time with publishing these short reflections. I remember what you said about waiting to share a story until it has been processed in a safe way.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom with the world.


P.S. 7 Reasons to Leave a ChurchThe Shunning, and The Universe Washed My Feet

© Copyright Benita Grace Joy 2016