This is a response to the post Female Mentors by Pumpkinember on the blog Bitterfurball. Thank you for your words, I’ve recognized my own experience in what you say, and wanted to respond on this day for women. I’ve really struggled to negotiate scholarly life minus female mentors and mostly feel on my own, without much of an idea of how to ‘be’ as an academic. I’ve come to accept this but your beautiful words also got me thinking about the women that have mentored me, in various domains, throughout my adult life. Here’s three that come to mind. They are, as you say,
real women, in public and intellectual spaces, to whom you can reach out, and who offer support and advice. … Strong, driven, successful women, mentors, in this new space, who display feminist forms of leadership that reject hierarchy and deference, and embrace empowering others and collective responsibility.
- Heather M—A counselor and Baptist minister with a particular focus upon somatic therapy and healing, Heather showed me how to love, respect and nurture the human body, especially those bodies traditionally rejected by society, the homeless body, the addicted body, the body in agony. As I worked alongside her in the inner city of Sydney, Heather’s work carved out spaces for the body in pain. These were not miserable spaces, she brought great vitality and body intelligence to facilitate colourful and diverse expressions of life. A feminist leader and forerunner in her own denomination, Heather also deeply challenged me to appreciate and listen to my own body rhythms.
- Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak—the eminent postcolonial theorist, Spivak has encouraged me to go to the limits of my own intellect, and then keep going. It is thrilling to spend time in the presence of a great mind such as Spivak. Her work is not always easy to read, but there are many rewards in Spivak’s academic writing and thinking. She is the one who tells me that I must take the risk to go beyond the political limits and habits of mind that construct women, especially non-white women, as disempowered others. It’s only through epistemic humility and questioning how we mute and objectify women that powerful voices can be heard. Spivak gets right inside my heart and mind and does not let me escape this challenge.
- Leanne M—a mother, scholar and spiritual innovator, Leanne has shown me what compassion looks like in the day to day environment. It is stepping outside of oneself to give to the other. And it is to do this over and over, sometimes in a self-sacrificing way, sometimes with joy and sometimes when tired and preoccupied. This is the sort of compassion that raises human beings, in the words of Elizabeth Johnson, exhibiting ‘mutuality of life at the deepest level, a quality of intimacy and familiarity that is genuinely person-creating.’ But it is not a compassion that stops there, Leanne’s nuanced interactions with nature have taught me much about the interconnection of all things. Compassion is not only for humans, but looks outward to the living planet, giving attention and drawing sustenance from the world around us. This is not an idealized characteristic. Leanne’s kindness, as I have seen it, is robust enough to be present with weakness, darkness and decay and yet love anyway. Her compassion is responsible and powerful.
Pumpkinember your perspective is sharply observant, there is a scarcity of academic mentors for young women coming up; but looking more broadly at my own life, I am surrounded by a web of women, multifaceted individuals who inspire, comfort, challenge and hold me accountable. For this, I am thankful.
Happy International Women’s Day 2015!