For years now I have always taught two different class themes around the hallmark heart-candy-palooza of Valentines Day. In the first theme I bring out my copy of Eve Enslers The Vagina Monologues and I read from her prologue.
“I was worried about vaginas.” She starts.
It usually shocks the people who haven’t heard it before. I mean, its not like you planned on paying twenty dollars to come to yoga and have your teacher sit you down and say that word we shouldn’t say.
I know. Shocking. Horrible. Waste of time and money. Call the swami swat team.
You came for peace and calm and the teacher is saying vagina. How are you supposed to sit comfortably and meditate if you are thinking about vaginas. Tough eh?
But that’s the thing; yoga is meant to bring us to the edge of what is uncomfortable physically, emotionally, culturally and cosmically. Krishna says to Arjuna that the battle must be fought, regardless of opinion. Yoga is the practice of confronting what seems separate and integrating it through a process of investigation, parsing out, bringing back together and discovery. The fact that it is tough to hear or read vagina--the fact that it is squeamish--is partly indicative of like the rest of society, we as yogis are not above the devaluation of the female body, form and psyche.
If you think gender inequality is not present in yoga, look again, its right in front of your face.
I was once denied a time slot at a studio because I wasn’t a man. I had been told I would get another class soon. A few months, later I was told, soon. A few months after that, still soon. My class did well by the numbers and I met all the criteria. So when a prime slot became available I hoped I would get that one. I did not get the slot. Even though I had built a following, been at the studio a while (longer than the person who got the class actually and I was told seniority of service to the studio was a major factor in getting classes) and met every teaching criteria except for one, I was a woman, not a man. When I asked, I was even told explicitly that’s why I didn’t get the class. I was told they needed the power of male energy in the slot.
I never told anyone this actually. I was too shocked, hurt and embarrassed. I let it go at the time because it didn’t seem worth it. It felt like a fight not worth having. But I should have said something. The fact that I didn’t is an example of the weeding away of the female psyche and presence in our overbearingly male dominated, misogynistic world. I should have made a stink, not for myself, but for everyone.
Me believing I should have been granted that slot makes me entitled. But for the male teacher who wants time slots, its not entitlement. It is just he trying to break into the female dominated yoga teacher industry.
A male teacher who is strict, clear and sets rules in the classroom is referred to as such. A female teacher who is clear and strict and has rules is mean. I have been called mean. I have been called a bitch. I have been told I yell at people. And my personal favorite was being called “an angry teacher”. I do not see my male contemporaries being told they are yelling or being dominating. I see them being praised for being so clear and robust.
If I express outrage, I am hysterical. And yoginis don’t have rage. They smell like rose petals and sweat gold. (I mean we do, but you get the point). If a man is expressing his outrage he is speaking up for his people.
It goes on and on. And it continues to become even more twisted in a see of double standards no matter who the teacher is or how they identify.
In yoga, as a female teacher I should look sexy to sell my brand but not too hot because then I am ‘selling out’. I should look awesome in my really tight spandex. But I shouldn’t flaunt what’s underneath it. I should be sexy but not sexual. I should look like sex but never say the words. The man showing off his ‘yoga body’ is strong and virile.
But also If a man wears tight spandex shorts to practice in, especially if he is the teacher, then he must be trying to get some or he is gay. And he should get looser shorts.
A man who sleeps with his female students is just another guru gone awry. Well, tisk tisk and shame on him. A female teacher who sleeps with her students is a slut and a home wrecker.
In our efforts to reclaim what is right and righteous and reset the course, we have decided to go on guru hunts against all male sexual predators in yoga. I actually think that is a good thing. Perpetrators should be brought to justice. There is no such thing as consent when it comes to a relationship where one of the parties has power and privilege over the other, such as in the student teacher relationship.
But that happens in every permutation of relationship regardless of sex and gender. The goddess can perpetrate too.
Though, to be honest, I sometimes wonder if the goddess has been forced to perpetrate because in her subjugation she has been left with no voice and few options. The world listens when things are loud and obvious and stick out, but easily ignores the subtle, subliminal, non-verbal and internal.
We both patronize and tear down the male guru and we both vindicate and validate the female who does the same.
We ask women to sell their yoga bodies but we criticize them for doing so. We ask yoga men to keep it in their pants but teach shirtless.
Not to mention yet, that very few of us have taken it upon ourselves to ensure that yogis regardless of how they identify are welcome. The fact that I am using man and woman and a binary scale to define and distinguish people who do yoga is incredulous. I know people who do yoga who identify with the pronoun ze or they, not he or she.
The belief that we are better off as yogis meditating above it all, rather than living down on the ground in the blood and the dirt and do the battle we were asked to do, is a belief instilled within us through privilege and dominance, usually male.
The whole system has literally been fucked.
For me, reading works by and standing in solidarity with people like Eve Ensler who are using their whole bodies to be the example of healing, reclamation and bold buoyant presence in a sea of misogynistic madness for all beings is hope inducing.
So yes, like Eve, I am worried about vaginas too. I am worried about our double standards. I am worried about the ways we have formed yoga into just another egotistical escapade. I am worried that more of us are not worried. In some ways we have become obsessed with getting poses of perceived value instead of being poses of inherent worth. When one sex wins the species goes extinct. So like usual, I’ll be bringing Eve to class this Valentine’s Day. And like always I bring all unheard voices every day.
You would not expect your teacher to do your practice for you. So why do we think social justice is for any one else but us?