I enter into a lobby of a Soho building in New York. It's me and three other women. We do not know one another, however we're all headed to the same place. We enter into the elevator. Heads remain down. Silence as we go up to our floor. I could have probably been the bigger person and said something, but there were two thoughts in my mind. 1) Elevator Etiquette 2) Everyone was on their devices.
The doors open and the women rush out into a room filled with other women. Women at the front desk. Women on their laptops in the lobby. Women pacing around on their phones. Women waiting in the waiting area. I was diving into a sea of women. I sat down in the waiting area with the waiting women, my eyes immediately drawn to the merch on the wall.
LEAGUE OF UNUSUAL WOMEN.
WHATEVER THE FUCK THEY WANT.
Catchy. Not my kind of thing. Certainly not for the asking price. I'd rather spend that on a film at IFC. I then shot to the magazine stand. NO MAN'S LAND glared up at me. What a perfectly peculiar name for a magazine. I thought, for a place so progressive this would seem to be a bit presumptuous. Surely we, as women, are not looking to create a land without Men. But maybe, Icontinued as the thoughts rolled around in my head, they are.
I should say that The Wing warrants a good review. It does offer all the things that would make a women's club appealing. There is a nursing room for Working Moms. A salon-like area with hairdryers and mirrored-space to apply one's makeup. There are showers. Bathrooms with feminine hygiene products. There's a quiet room should anyone want to meditate .The library books are all stacked with female writers. The cafe is bright with natural lighting. The aesthetic is pleasing to a woman's taste - i assumed as most of the women are paying to work out of this decor. Is it my cup of tea? Not necessarily. I lean darker, sleeker, more masculine. But this isn't my office space.
There are, of course as I've already mentioned, women everywhere. Not a single man. For someone like me this type of territory is a bit unnerving. Not for the female overdrive - although that too is a bit jarring after ten years working in male-dominated industries - but for the lack of connection, eye contact, head nods, even a casual, whispered hello. I understand everyone here means business but with the amount of women in the space, I'd assume there would be at least one woman who'd look my way, and perhaps nod. Instead I felt like I had time-traveled back to my middle school days, when I'd scan the room looking for someone's (anyone's) eyes to look up and to invite me to sit at their table. Perhaps I'm reading the room wrong but based on my years of experience in accessing the temperature of the room, my intuition tells me that this wasn't an off day. It seemed like the norm. I'm not surprised. even in my own Workshops, it always takes longer to melt the ice and to gain the trust of the women in the room, versus the men in the room.
I do realize that this "coolness" could be a subconscious behavior playing out in front of my eyes due to centuries of oppression and inequality which has developed into a sort of survival skill that many of us women have deeply ingrained within ourselves. I empathize - i'll get to why below - and yet, I've learned to move through my bitterness of the unfairness. Yes, men have long held the reigns. Yes, men have quieted our voices. Yes, we've been burned by men. I'll share with you personal stories (keep reading).
However, what's rarely talked about are the women who've betrayed other women. In my experience, the trauma I experienced from being stabbed in the back by a woman, has been that much more deeply painful than any trauma I've experienced vis a vis a man. In the most brutal way, I was tricked, manipulated, made to believe in a woman's kindness and sincerity, only to be stabbed in the back when I was looking. I was burned at the stake. Preyed upon, used, abused, and disposed of. By a Woman. And not just one.
It would be easy for me to hate. Easy to assume that everyone's out to get me, or my job, or my man. However, I choose to believe otherwise by setting a different standard. Which is why when I walked out of The Wing, I walked out with a smile and a loud Thank you! You won't connect with me? No worries. I'll connect with you.
A few weeks later, I attend a class on female conscious sexuality.
It is held in a warehouse type space in the neighborhood area of Williamsburg. The inside of the room is transformed with fuzzy and furry pillows, couches, rugs, a disco ball, and colors galore. There are snacks, drinks, and there are women. Beautiful women. The kind of women a straight woman would break her neck over to get a second glance.
I find a soft and comfortable spot in the middle of the floor and seat myself quietly to observe. The women here are seemingly more friendly. Seemingly more "traditionally" feminine. Everyone seems lighter on their toes, ready to connect, converse and explore. There is a willingness in the room to be open, much to the credit of the two women leading this evening's meeting. We are gathered here to have a conversation on conscious sexuality and to learn more about our feminine power, or "pussy power", as I'd later learn to call it.
The evening begins. We listen and learn about our vulvas. We meditate and breathe applying kegel exercises. As the meditation deepens, women are encouraged to exhale as they would as if nobody were in the room. Sighs. Groans. Moans. Fill the air. I am, for one, a bit more timid in these circumstances. It's one thing to have an open conversation about sex, it's another thing to stimulate and activate our "pussy magic" with a group of women. I'm not usually so in my head but my lack of exposure to open sexuality leaves me feeling slightly out of the moment. Not that anyone's looking, or listening, but I realize that for me it's a privacy thing.
Contrary to what you may see online - and my at times searing openness - I AM extremely private about my private life. This would include my dating and sex life, which includes the who, what, where, why and how. These are intimate details I am not willing to share.
((If you've ever attended my Workshop, you know I talk about setting personal boundaries. Just because everyone is speaking their truth, doesn't mean you have to do the same, in the same way)).
However, I do understand that by signing up for a class like this one, I am more or less insinuating that I am willing to participate in the evening's agenda. So I surrender in the only way I know how to and I raise my hand to ask a question by telling ny story.
I tell my story in the ways in which my eating disorder has affected my sex life. There are parts of me I'd like to heal, I say slowly. Everyone listens. One woman, puts her hand on my shoulder and begins squeezing me in support. Another woman mouths 'me too'. It seems in this room, I am encouraged to make a connection. I feel...safe. Whether or not this outreach is genuine, I cannot be sure. Perhaps it doesn't matter, so I take the support at face value. Thank you for listening, I say.
I exhale. The conversation continues. How to attain and sustain multiple orgasms. How to work your "pussy magic". How to manifest needs through our feminine energy. How to open a man's sexual inhibitions. There's talk of multiple partners and boyfriends. There is talk of wanting to leave the head and entering the body. And then we turn to talk of societal conditioning and how women have been shamed - at times burned at the stake (literally) - for their sexual prowess.
Facebook blocks any pages with sex therapists and "pussy power" experts. Selling sex toys for women? Forget about it. There is an obvious and blatant discrimination within the market.
The gentle outrage felt tangible in the room in the most feminine way. Then we switched topics: partnerships with men. The anger dissipated and a warm thread of need appeared in the room. Generally speaking, neediness is a trait most men will run from. Generally speaking, most women wouldn't dare utter the phrase "i need a man" OUT LOUD, especially not by successful, independent, 'feminist-like' women. I was stunned.
Then we moved into desire and longing. Building up the word NEED to such heights, I started to ease into the concept thinking, "fak, I do need a man". We're told that it is utterly conflicting for men, as it flirts with the Madonna Whore Complex. It's the idea that man wants us to be sexy but not too sexy. Unless we're just going to fuck and be casual, then yes be sexy. But if he's to consider making you his wife? Turn it down a notch! You're going to be a mother! And a mother doesn't desire, need, fuck like that!! For us women, it becomes very confusing.I for one have thought: can't I just be me?
The evening wraps. I receive hugs from women thanking me for telling their story. I squeeze the feminine life out of our host - our goddess leader. I put on my shoes and step out into the Brooklyn night. All good things to think about, I thought as I left the warehouse. I'm proud to have a pussy, with power. With desire. With need. With magic, even. Now how do I apply this to my everyday being?
I began to wonder, if the women from The Wing attended, how would they react to these pussy powered women? Would their feminist movement be rocked, or would it gain more freedom? Then I thought, I wonder how the Men in my Workshops would react to this concept of Pussy Magic and what would happen if we all sat down to have this conversation. It's absolutely wonderful that there is a space for Women to engage in this way, but wouldn't it be something if we could connect in this way ALL TOGETHER?
A few weeks after that, I attended a group for Women in finance, law, tech, start-up, and investing.
It was started by someone whom I admire very much... In my interactions with her, she is without doubt, a fighter for humanity, period. She doesn't side with women or men. From our private conversations, I've gathered that her superpower is her INSANE ability to CARE for others aka, EMPATHY. She's in your shoes before you've untied your shoelaces. However, from the two times I've joined in on the group she facilitates, I've found the energy to be quite masculine-heavy. Not her energy, but the energy of the women in the room. It's THICK. Strong. Barb-wired.
These women have spent decades working in male-dominated industries. "Testosterone-heavy" was the catch-phrase of the evening (potential merch?!). I can completely understand, in that, I worked in a male dominated-industry for ten years, one in which most of my colleagues were male and many of them walked around in half-naked in towels in their respective locker rooms. Sports, man. It's a different kind of game.
There is something inspiring in seeing a collective group of women lean into their masculinity and/or strength. That characteristic is something that kept me afloat throughout the years. Acting like a "girl" was unacceptable so I acted like one of the boys even if it killed me inside. They too, like me, carry battle-wounds, ones they are proud of showcasing and sharing because it shows they survived. I am inspired by the tenacity of all the women through the adversity they've faced in their careers; strictly for being Women. They are more than qualified to be in any position they desire - even in sexual positions should they choose to exercise their right - however, qualifications rarely matter in a man's world, which is why I did not hear a singlepositive word spoken about men.
I thought, perhaps the previous time I attended there hadn't been an opportunity to bring up the men in their lives who had proven to act as positive influences in their climbs to the top. We had focused so much on building tables, adding chairs, and creating opportunities for women, that we'd lost time to include the men. It turns out that it wasn't a time thing. Men were not part of the conversation.
I agree - women need equal opportunities. Women deserve them just as much as men. But here's where I think I differ. I don't think that women deserve the opportunities more than men. Because more would mean that we're like them - greedy, controlling, depriving, selective, condescending, etc. For us to feel that we deserve more would mean stooping down to the levels of those kinds of men who purposefully put down women, and enjoyed the process of doing so.
I'd rather be like them, the men who are in support of women. Those who are providing opportunities because of skillset, experience, work-ethic, and talent. You might be saying: who's that?! They exist, people! We're just not looking hard enough.
My goal, as I believe it should be everyone's goal, is to support everyone, no matter their gender, or any other descriptive. So when I heard women in this group take it a step further than the typical feminist rhetoric, my heart sank.
One woman spoke about a group of men suing female businesses. These men are suing only because these business are run by women. I understand. It is totally unfounded and unfair, frustrating, devastating, hair-pulling...just the worst. However, when another, older, powerful woman said, "it's about time we sue the men!" and the rest of the women cheered, my jaw fell to the floor and I had a hard time closing it.
To be honest, I cannot recall anything that happened after this comment or what the remaining 25 women had to share because I was so distraught in
1) myself for not standing up and saying anything
2) for the fact that i had once again returned to "no man's land", a place where men should be banned, shamed, vilified, and grouped into one category.
As the evening closed and the host whom I admire walked up smiling asking for my opinion of the conversation, I had a hard time finding the words. I wanted to give her all the support she deserved but I couldn't piece anything together. I know that had we had the opportunity to sit together and to unpack the evening, she would have felt the same way as I do now, weeks later. Disappointed in myself and the women in the room. I think many would have sided with this feeling but you know, societal conditioning...it's scary being the lone soldier in a room full of hurt people
All I kept thinking was, "but what about the men?"
I can 100% understand the controversy around such a question because majority of women are asking "but what about the women?". However, in the 50 workshops that I've hosted since beginning IN THE UNKNOWN, I have encountered some TREMENDOUS men. Like, really genuine, honest, vulnerable men, leaning into a desire to be seen, heard, and to listen, too.
It took me some time to believe in their motives because this is ME. ALYONKA. The woman whose had a devastating series of reallybad men in my life.
I've had a male boss who's deliberately given jobs to men because I'm a woman, using phrases like, "well, what if something happens and they ask, why did you send a woman? it's dangerous!" -- doesn't get more blunt than that. I've had that same boss deny me equal pay and a raise even though my male counterpart was making double the amount I was making while I was working quadruple the amount he was. I still had to "pay my dues". I've had men objectify me in locker rooms. I've had men objectify me in board rooms. I've had men objectify me on social media and twitter dm's (you know who you are). I've even had men sexually violate me. One preyed on me when I was 17. Rape. A second, took advantage of me at my most vulnerable when I was 26. He is someone for whom I still harbor immense ANGER and HATE, emotions I'm trying to process out of my body and system. I've been with men who've promised me everything, used me for sex or emotional support, and given me nothing. I've been with men who've belittled me, criticized my body and threatened me. I've had a man break my heart. I've dealt with men who've strung me along only to disappear or to close an opportunity the second I deny what they were hoping to get, or turn into a ghost the second they receive what they want.. I can keep going. All I'm saying, is that I have plenty of reasons to HATE MEN.
But I don't. Really. I love men. I don't know where I'd be without men. Some of my closest friends are men. My confidantes? Are men. People I want to bounce business ideas off of are men. My favorite travel buddies are men. I love having sex with men. Some of my favorite people to work with have been men. I've had supportive men in my industry - one's who've believed in me for me and not for my gender. My favorite person in the world is a man - my brother. Yes, even with his adamant denial of having a feminine essence, my dad is a good man I admire. I could go on and on, also including the many men I've met over this past year through Workshop who I'd qualify as outstanding men.
They are the kinds of men who would be happy for women at The Wing, yet disgruntled at finding out that something they're publishing is titled "No Man's Land". Not because - we man! we matter only - but because they're about inclusivity. These are the very same men who'd be interested in attending a Conscious Sexuality class to better understand sexuality and a woman's needs. These are the kinds of men that would stand side-by-side with the women who are being sued for being women, by other men. They are teammates, not opponents.
THEY EXIST. THEY ARE OUT THERE.
So, what I'm trying to say here is that I'm wishing we could all just look at people as people.
And yes, I understand that this is wishful thinking, perhaps naive, and potentially life-threatening for me, but I think it's really important to say. If we're to make any steps forward we're going to have to learn how to do this together;
how to have uncomfortable, annoying, frustrating, difficult conversations. We're going to have to learn how to actively listen to EACH SIDE of the story. We're going to have to learn to work together. We're going to have to learn how to care, and teach others to care when they've forgotten how to. We're going to have to heal those who are in need of healing. We're going to have to practice empathy when it's seemingly impossible.
SURE! NAIVE. MAYBE. But maybe not. Because I don't think that this isn't doable, I just think that it feels like a mountain too difficult to climb. YES! When doing it alone! But when we do it together, and we try, really try to listen to one another, perhaps we can find a way to discontinue our need to push humans into sub-groups. Why can't we just belong because we're human?
Oh Alyonka! You're such a dreamer! YUP. I AM.
I'm ready to lead the dream. It's a challenge but I'd like to take it. How? Baby steps. Like, standing up and speaking when the moment presents itself (as it did at the women's investors group). Or doing what is in my power - leading my personal and professional life in alignment with what I preach.
Personally, I'm going to have to have these hard conversations with the men in my life. My Father, my Brother, My Dude Friends, the men i'm interested in. SCARY AF - yes.
Professionally, I'm going to have to facilitate these hard conversations for MEN AND WOMEN.
I've decided that for the month of September, I will ONLY be hosting WORKSHOPS FOR ALL. (One-on-One's. will still be available) Not Men's. Not Women's. Just one workshop for ALL HUMANS.
Why? Because if I'm going to have such a visceral reaction to what I've experienced recently to take up all of this time to write about it, then I need to put this into action as well. I've had these conversations with men and women separately. People are receptive. They want to talk. So, I believe that it's 100% doable. Intimidating but doable. So keep an eye out for NYC dates in September. EVERYONE IS INVITED!
BEFORE YOU SHAKE YOUR FINGER AT ME.
These are my opinions. They do not have to be yours. But I think that if we want to get anywhere we need to start with a conversation, and it needs to be inclusive one.
COMMUNICATION is key. If we're not communicating what we're learning, what we're seeing, what we're feeling, then we're just assuming, and then projecting, spewing, wondering why things aren't changing and nobody HEARS ME!!! Include people in your process of thinking. Allow yourself to be seen. Allow them to understand you. And if they don't? Trust that you've nudged enough for the time being and move on to the next person. You'll soon turn around to see a group of people who are willing to walk alongside you in your quest to slowly heal humanity.
I challenge you. Before jumping into a sub-group, take a minute to Listen. Hear the other side of the story. Put yourself in their shoes NO MATTER how foreign they feel to you. I find that kindness and compassion always win. Then speak up. Not out of Fear (anger, resentment, vitriol, vengeance) but out of Love. See what happens. And if you feel like, write to me. I want to hear when the world around you starts to change.
Talk about League of Unusual Women who are changing Herstory. Just sayin'.