An essay about my experience at Marianne Williamson’s Sister Giant Conference
May 20, 2010
Here’s a piece I wrote about my experience at Marianne Williamson’s Sister Giant conference in Feb 2010. I hope you enjoy it!
Here’s the deal. I’m a self-improvement slut. I’ve read a plethora of spiritual books, taken many seminars, listened to CDs, watched DVDs, attended lectures, church services and spiritual conferences, practiced yoga, chi gong, and tai chi, had one-on-one sessions with astrologers, numerologists, psychics, channelers, reiki healers, Science of Mind practitioners, sound healers, holistic healers, and the list goes on and on.
However, for most of my adult life, I’ve stayed away from anything involving large groups of women. I think as a small child, I subconsciously noted that boys got to do whatever they wanted to do, and girls were treated like idiots. So I chose to be a boy. I embraced my male energy and rejected my female energy very early on. This imbalance lasted well into my 30s. And it finally shifted when I read Marianne’s book “A Woman’s Worth” fifteen years ago – and cried through every page. I’m happy to tell you that when Marianne told me about Sister Giant, it sounded wonderful to me, and that is truly a miracle.
My experience at Sister Giant truly shook me at my core and transformed me in a way that was unparalleled up until now. It was the perfect combination of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical activity to satisfy my huge appetite. The seminar began with Marianne speaking to us in her unmistakably Marianne way. By that I mean – her huge heart, her deep wisdom, her laser clarity, her courage, her vulnerability and her vision for the world all form the perfect amalgam to pierce through any obstacles I may have brought to the conference.
Marianne believes that American women are the ones who are going to change the world. That we have the power to solve all the big issues that exist on our planet today. And that this weekend is about rousing the sleeping giant of American womanhood. Sounded like a tall order, but I was excited and ready for the challenge.
She told us that 17,000 children die of starvation on our planet every day. She said that in every thriving mammalian species, the adult female exhibits a ferocious protective behavior towards her cubs. Even the female hyenas surround the cubs while they’re feeding, to make sure the adult males do not eat until the cubs have been fed. Surely, she says, we can do better than the hyenas. As women, we run our households. We love, protect and feed our own families. But we have to start thinking of planet Earth as our house, and we have to start thinking of every single child as our biological children. Starvation? Poverty? Violence? Not in MY house.
The first film that we all experienced together – 500 wonderful, powerful, strong, radiant women – was called “The Burning Times.” This is a documentary about the European witch trials that began in the 1600’s. I am 47 years young, I have 2 Ivy League degrees from Yale and Brown, and I had never heard of these witch trials, during which somewhere between 100,000 and 900,000 women were tortured and killed for either being witches or being suspected of being witches. Keep in mind that the definition of witch is “wise woman.” The criteria for being a witch included any woman who was capable of healing with her hands, any woman who was a gifted speaker, or any woman who had deep intuition. This was so far beyond the Salem witch trials, during which a few hundred women were burned at the stake, and I had never heard of it. In fact, my history textbook in high school barely had any information about the Salem witch trials – it was probably one paragraph in the book, and it was passed off as a joke by the teacher. Astonishing that I received so little information about the history of women in this country and in other parts of the world in my American education. During the European witch trials, hundreds of thousands of women were brutally tortured and then not just executed in privacy, but burned at the stake in public, as a spectacle. Families would come and watch, as a form of entertainment. This was more than just genocide – it was a cautionary tale to any women who might want to claim any of their goddess power. While watching this film, I began to feel physically ill. I felt so much rage and grief and bewilderment and sadness and blame and contempt. It was all I could not to run out of the room, screaming.
What I learned from Marianne is that it is so important to know about our history and our ancestry as women on this planet. It is important to know where we came from, in order to better understand and appreciate where we are now. She said that Blacks and Jews tend to be very well-versed in the history of their people. Blacks are taught about slavery and Jews are taught about the Holocaust, and whatever information is lacking in our educational system is usually supplemented by parents teaching their children about the history of their people. But women tend not to be taught about their history. Even the word “history” means “his story.”
After the film was over, Marianne had us form small groups to discuss the film. The first topic of discussion was our individual responses to watching the film, and the second topic of discussion was how these witch trials might be affecting our individual lives as women in 2010. One of my huge epiphanies is that the gigantic wound of the European witch trials still exists, palpably, in my DNA. It’s in my bone marrow and my muscles and my cells. Even today, as a “modern” American woman in 2010, there are times when I don’t fully speak my voice or my truth. I assume that this is because I just don’t feel like ruffling any feathers or causing a scene or creating a confrontation at that moment. But the reason could be much deeper than that. It could be that on a subconscious level, the reason I don’t fully speak my voice is because a part of me still believes that I could be tortured and burned at the stake for it.
So in order for me to be released from this bondage, it is up to me to learn about the history of women on this planet, to fully feel my rage and hurt and sadness and grief and fear, to release those feelings, to feel compassion and forgiveness and love and gratitude for all of it, and to rise like a phoenix from the ashes, liberated from the historical chains that I didn’t even know were binding me.
I went home on Friday night feeling simultaneously drained from crying, and also empowered with new liberation.
On Saturday we watched “Iron Jawed Angels,” an HBO feature film about Alice Paul and the women’s suffrage movement. Although this was not a documentary, a women’s studies professor from UCLA came to speak to us and told us that the film was highly accurate historically, with the exception of a couple of characters being composites of more than one person. Once again, I was floored by the fact that a well-educated woman like me had NEVER heard of Alice Paul. And that I knew nothing about the women’s suffrage movement. The only thing I ever remember hearing about the women’s suffrage movement was in the movie musical “Mary Poppins” – there’s a song with the lyric “Well done, Sister suffragette!” But I had no idea what that meant.
Hilary Swank portrayed Alice Paul. And I proceed to watch this film, completely captivated by the story of how Alice Paul and many other women were unjustly incarcerated and tortured for months, in order for women to get the right to vote. Not just the right to vote, but to be seen as equal members of society. The right to vote was secondary to the bigger picture. I was astonished that I had never heard this story before. And I began to think that if I wasn’t taught about this in my supposedly excellent public school education in a suburb of Washington D.C., then I bet young girls are CERTAINLY not being taught about it today. And I believe that if more American females knew about the women’s suffrage movement, we’d be more likely to vote and get involved in politics, knowing what these revolutionary women endured in order for us to have this right.
The third film we watched was a documentary called “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”, about the women of Liberia who ended the civil war there. (“Civil war” – now that’s an oxymoron!) I must confess that I don’t remember some of the specifics of this film – what I do remember is that a handful of Liberian women, both Christian and Muslim, came together and used peaceful protest to end the war. They got t-shirts printed up and they sang songs and they linked arms and staged a sit-in. Their message was “We Want Peace Now.” And it worked. It also led to Liberia electing Africa’s first female President.
What did I learn from this film? That it starts with one person. That peaceful protest has worked in the past and it can and will again. That we as American women simply must rouse the sleeping giants of our pure potentiality and unleash our enormous ability to heal the world. We can provide food, money, abundance, hope, education, love, compassion, kindness, justice, and peace.
Marianne pointed out that it’s important to work first vertically, and then horizontally. Working vertically means to get a depth of knowledge, understanding, forgiveness and spiritual awakening around major world issues. Once that’s in place, it’s time to work horizontally – meaning to spread out and go into the world taking inspired actions. One problem with the spiritual community can be that they only work vertically, ignoring the world of politics and not taking action. One problem with the realm of politics can be that they only work horizontally, from a place of anger, contempt and self-righteousness. It’s time for women to be the glue between these two communities. The symbol of the cross is a vertical line and a horizontal line, and the place where they intersect is the strongest part of the cross.
On Sunday, Marianne brought in an organization called Results.org – a wonderful team of people who are experienced in streamlining volunteer efforts and political action to be the most effective. We began the morning by standing in line to give our zip codes and have Sister Giant volunteers look up who our Congresspeople are (on their computer terminals). It was jarring to realize that most of the 500 women there had no idea who their Congresspeople were.
We learned how to write an effective letter to our Congresspeople, and that handwritten letters get read before typed letters or emails. We learned that hand delivering is more effective than mailing. We learned that a plethora of letters on the same day about the same topic is more effective than scattered communications.
We were invited to get up on stage and read our letters aloud, if we were so moved. I was one of the people who was moved to do so. Since I am in the entertainment industry and a big believer in the power of laughter to transform, I began my letter with humor. The content of my letter, as instructed, was about my recommendations for the allocation of Foreign Appropriations Subcommittee funds to address global hunger and global poverty. And I chose to end my letter with another issue I’m passionate about – gay marriage rights. My fellow Sister Giants were laughing and cheering while I read my letter, and stood up after I finished. I caught the bug of what it might feel like to be a politician.
After the letter-reading session was over, Marianne got up on the stage and asked “Is Suzanne still here?” So I stood up and said “Yes, I’m here” and she said “Can you please see me after the seminar today?”
A woman who I knew at the seminar said to me, regarding Marianne’s request: “Oooh, you’re in trouble.” She assumed that Marianne was going to reprimand me for going off-topic at the end of my Congressman letter. I assumed that Marianne wanted to get to know me better and join her team of activists. Well, after the seminar, I approached Marianne and she gave me both her home phone and cell phone numbers, said, “You’re so funny. Can you please call me? I’d like to hear what you have to say, and I want to see how you can help us.”
This began our friendship.
I also signed up to be a Results.org volunteer, and I became a member of the Sister Giant Facebook page.
I got so excited by this conference, I decided that I want to replicate it for all of my female friends who were unable to attend. I was so blissful for this new knowledge and perspective and journey that I went home and purchased all 3 of the films we watched. I also took copious notes all weekend, and I will be gathering all my favorite women together regularly, to continue the conversation.
If you are also inspired to do something like this, here are the links to buy the three films we watched:
The Burning Times (as part of a trilogy)
Iron Jawed Angels
Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Here’s one thing I know for sure. That what I learned and experienced at Sister Giant was deepened exponentially by the fact that 500 women went through it together. That the power of a group, the power of a community of like-minded people, is beyond measure. And the lessons I learned will continue to resonate and propel me forward for a very long time.
Thank you, Marianne.
I love you.