IN SEARCH OF THE CHEON IL GUK WOMAN: Reflections while reading Sheryl Sandberg’s LEAN IN~
by Robin Debacker
“A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”(p. 158)
I haven’t always been aware of a gender bias per se. Like Ms. Sandberg, when I was a college student I felt we had been liberated and had moved past all that. I also shied away from any association with the word feminist, as those women seemed like such man-haters.
Now, however, I’ve become more aware of the disparities (in the workplace, and in the culture at large) and the subtle and not so subtle messages that women keep receiving from their male bosses, their partners, and even other women.
I recently offered to give the Sunday message at church, as I was inspired about all the Goddess/Feminine Principle writings out there that I’ve been discovering recently, and thought I could talk about the Cheon Il Guk Woman easily (Cheon Il Guk being a term Rev. Moon coined to refer to the place where the male and female principles are equal, balanced and harmonized.) However, on Saturday night I found myself curled up in a fetal position moaning about not being able to face the audience the next day. What happened? I had not expected to feel so SCARED.
I was surprised by the introduction that the MC gave me (he is a man), about the message today being “a little subversive” and so we best prepare ourselves^^. I wondered, why would talking about the feminine aspect of God or humans be considered subversive, but then I remembered, it IS subversive, and that’s the point. Women have not had that freedom, and we all know it on some level. Women feel scared to speak up, and men feel scared when we do.
The fact is that I didn’t know for sure who or what the Cheon Il Guk Woman is, and that was hard to admit publicly, or even to myself. I am confused and have been for a long time about my own femininity, and what it means to be a woman. In my 20’s I became aware of feeling resentful toward my mother for not being a better example in that department, and later toward my husband for not being a stronger masculine force. I’ve felt more like a man than a woman in the relationship with him, often being approached or addressed first when we’re together, and that is confusing at best, and depressing at worst.
Part of the program involved breaking into small groups of 2 or 3 people to talk about what the word “feminine” means to each of us, and share what we think is blocking women today. I sat with 2 other elder women like myself. One of them said that her daughter and friends complain that the matching candidates all seem to be more like boys than men. I knew what she was talking about, as it was my experience with my husband, but I didn’t have an answer.
I got through the talk, but I felt sheepish about not having said much more than that we are all still searching for the Cheon Il Guk Woman. Who is she? I wonder if she’s gotten over her resentment, or if I can get over mine. I do know she’s still fighting, and gaining ground, and that I’d like to be her friend and supporter.
Looking back on this experience, and reading Sheryl’s book, I’m reminded how important it is to have “the conversation.” To lean in to the problem rather than avoid the painful part of conflict resolution. We need to examine our church culture, our school culture, our workplace culture, and our family culture in order to identify the barriers that are holding women back, and to point out gender inequalities when they happen. It feels scary, on both sides, but everyone benefits when we do.
As I walked back to my seat, one of the young 2nd gen girls in our congregation caught my arm and smiled. “Thank you so much,” she said enthusiastically. “Can I have a copy of your powerpoint?” I felt a surge of joy. If she had found inspiration then I could rest assured. One lone voice speaking up, even with fear and hesitation, can make an impact and shed light for others also groping around in the dark.