One thing that women of all age groups, races, backgrounds, religions, and sexual orientation seem to have in common is that they question themselves about what is wrong with them in a way that men never do. Dr. Joanne Bagshaw’s book, The Feminist Handbook, highlights this issue and takes the spotlight off women, shining it on the patriarchy and the male-dominated system. On today’s podcast, Dr. Bagshaw joins Alicia Dunams in an eye-opening conversation about dismantling the patriarchal system and claiming our own power to create a better world for ourselves and the future generations.
Listen to the podcast here
The Feminist Playbook: Claiming Our Power To Fight Back With Dr. Joanne Bagshaw
I’m very excited to introduce our guests Dr. Joanne Bagshaw. She is an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist with a private practice in Maryland. I’m glad to have you here. You’re also award-winning professor of psychology and women’s studies at Montgomery College, and you are an author. That’s what we’re going to be talking about. What’s the name of your book again?
The Feminist Handbook: Practical Tools to Resist Sexism and Dismantle the Patriarchy.
That’s we’re going to jump in here on the show. I always like to start with following question, why did you write this book?
I wanted to get my message out to as many women as possible. I’ve been a therapist for decades. One thing that I’ve noticed working with women of all age groups, different races, backgrounds, religion, and sexual orientation is that women question, “What is wrong with us in a way that I’ve never heard men do?” This is throughout the developmental stages of our lives. The message of the book is, “It’s not you. It’s the patriarchy.” By patriarchy, I also mean white supremacist patriarchy. In the word patriarchy, we are talking about a male dominated system and in our culture in the United States, it’s men that have most of the power and their needs are centered, but it’s not all men, it is mostly white men.
When I’m talking about dismantling a patriarchal system, I’m talking about sharing power and resources and taking power and all the power and privilege away, mostly from the men who hold the power in our culture. We’re talking about patriarchy as a system, but how does that play out in women’s heads? I’m a therapist, that’s what I’m working with is how patriarchal system shows up in girls and women’s lives in everyday scenarios.
Two things I want to say. First of all, I was with a client, we were doing a focus group on her particular book that she’s launching and we had four powerful women on the call to support her with the title and subtitle because we were brainstorming that. To introduce ourselves, I said, “What’s your name? Where are you from? Give us one brag.” All the women did not want a brag. What I said to them. I’m like, “If you were all men, you would all have something to brag about.” One in particular said she didn’t feel comfortable with doing that. That’s always been my come from. I don’t know how my mom and dad raised me. I’m a mixed race black woman. I raised in Sacramento, California. My mom and dad were both rebels. They got married and their interracial kiss was censored on the front cover of the British newspaper at that time, back in the ‘60s. My parents are both rebels and I’m always someone who takes space.
I build a space I’m in. I don’t understand often that whole thing about, “We get to brag. We get to share. We get to take space up.” That’s one thing I wanted to share in terms of you. Another thing because I would say 50% of my clients, colleagues, friends, men, and I operate in both. You said something that I think would get the little amygdala going off in men, “We want to take power away.” I heard you say that. How do you respond to that when there’s this feeling of scarcitybecause the thing about power is that’s what they don’t want is power taken away? I want you to dismantle that.
I want them to share power and they’re not doing it willingly. We have to jump in and taking our own power. Even though it’s hard, but that can be as simple as bragging about what you’re good at because you are breaking the gender role barriers and so am I. Some of this stuff may seem second nature to us because for whatever reasons in part or temperament, in part of the way we were race where we were raised, all of that played a role in helping shape who we are, but it’s not easy for other women.
I’m seeing women who assume they can’t find a partner at the age of 30 or 35 because there’s something wrong with them and not because perhaps men still need to do work on themselves, grow and mature so they can meet her where she is and her emotional development. I’m saying she like, I’m talking about one person, but I’m talking about many women in this stage where she thinks, “I must be something I’m doing. Maybe, I need to lose weight. Maybe, I need to change the way that I look. Maybe, I need to be nicer. How do I change and adapt to get a guy?” They’re then not changing and adapting.
We get to dig in here because I help people write books. That’s been my long standing business, Bestseller in a Weekend. Our business coach and strategists and I do leadership training for my clients all the way into Fortune 500. From a leadership perspective, I believe in 100% responsibility. What I get curious here is, “What about the women claiming the power? What if there is enough power?” I believe in abundance that it’s not limited because as soon as we come from a place that it’s limited and the patriarchy has it, what about claiming what is ours and coming from a place. First of all, I have to say, I’m in a bubble.
I’ve been a business owner for many years, a single mother. I live life on my own terms and my mom didn’t breastfeed. She gave me some magic milk. I see the patriarchy as being a perceived problem. I want you to come back at me at this. If you don’t perceive it as a problem and you create what you need to and racism there is, and their structural discrimination and racism based on prejudice, beliefs, sexism and xenophobia. Talk me through this and help me understand, because I’m sure I can be because I am in a bubble and that’s a privileged bubble.
Is your bubble saying you’re not seeing or getting, because it’s not affecting your life the way that sexism or a patriarchal system could affect the average women in their individual lives?
I could definitely see it how impacts and we can do something about it individually as a collective.
First of all, women’s high rates of PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, depression are all related to living in a sexist culture where we’re told, “It’s not that bad. What are you complaining about? You have everything that you want.” In reality, 1 out of 5 of us will be sexually assaulted in our lifetime. We all alter our lives to some degree around being safe from violence against women, whether it’s being careful where you’re walking, what you’re wearing or who are you with. In those ways, we’re all affected every day. Where else are you stuck? What’s the bubble that you think you’re being protected?
I see it and I hear it in terms of race. It’s all around us. The biggest thing where there’s opportunity for me to grow, being honest, is the thing about it is an American’s are especially around this around individualism. There’s the individual effort and responsibility that each and every one of us can effort forward and then there’s the collective because I truly believe that when one person loses, everyone loses, that’s the type of world. When one group of people or one person doesn’t have healthcare, everyone loses. It’s a dance between individual responsibility for taking agency of whatever situation that you’re in and seeing their structures in place in both ends. That’s what I want you to help me.
What I want to help women do is to stop trying to fix themselves to fit into a patriarchal model so that they can push back against the structures. If we’re busy, let’s dieting and we’re hungry and we don’t have the energy to be activists. If we’re scared to bring up politics in front of our family, because it’s violating some code about what we can and can’t talk about. If we are in therapy, trying to understand how to manage our anxiety, much of this is coming from the outside. I want women to take the energy that we have because that is power and stop trying to fix ourselves and let’s change the world. Feminism is about everyone, having equal access to resources. Not just one group. Back to my statement of taking power away from one group that also means having more women involved in politics. Our voices are represented.
What you shared is right. Justice, feminism, whatever we call it. I call it justice is equal opportunity, is recognizing historical context that has created a system where there is an unequal opportunity, an equal distribution of wealth, recognizing it and then rectifying it. Justice is looking at the world and seeing, “Here’s opportunities for growth, for equity.” With the weight and all that stuff, I want to talk about that, but I want to finish that one point. I truly believe for us to create that equity, is there’s something inside of us that gets to be ignited. I’m careful when speak to client is that women aren’t victims. There’s a Jada Pinkett Smith quote that I would love to say is that, “We cannot heal and play victim at the same time.”
There is a mindset aspect that gets to be addressed in this conversation. Everything that you’re saying yes and the mindset. I went through the self-esteem issues, and one thing I always heard from women, 40 plus is, “When you get to your 40s, that’s the best life.” I’m 40 plus now. There’s something about maturity and age because our brain is not fully developed until we are in our mid-twenties-ish. When you come with age and when life knocked you around a bit, and you have your sense of agency and stature in the world, is it something that comes with age for women?
To a certain degree and maybe in some areas around our sexuality, maybe around speaking up and being more assertive, but when you look at the multibillion-dollar beauty industry and what we’re spending on anti-aging products, when we could be spending some of that money on supporting politicians that will create the world we want to live in. It’s those shifts that I want women to start thinking about and paying attention to.
A way for us to use our funds, resources and what we’re seeing with social media which has given all people and women an opportunity to have agency. The thing that’s interesting that I’m seeing I have a daughter who’s a Generation Z. What about all of these industrious young women who are starting businesses? Some of them are makeup businesses. Rihanna is a perfect example. Everyone wants her to bring back music. I said, “We got enough black female singers. Rihanna get you a billion dollars. That’s what we get to have.” It’s a beauty business. My daughter’s eighteen and she launched her business. It’s for all types of women and it’s little dresses and silk dresses etc. It could be seen as lingerie or nighttime wear and it’s around beauty and sensuality. What I’m hearing you say is a self-esteem issue.
I wouldn’t say that I would say partly self-confidence because I’m a therapist and I would say self-esteem because in my world self-esteem is our internalized belief that we got unconditional love from our parents. That’s a psychodynamic perspective. I would make that distinction. I wouldn’t say necessarily self-esteem, but I would say self-confidence. We both agreed that as women age, we grow more assertive. Some of that is our maturity, our experience in the world, our changing hormones and we’re access to testosterone. There’s a whole thing that happen. That’s great. Back to the beauty industry, using beauty products isn’t inherently patriarchal. That to me, is back to the second wave of feminist where we’re not going to wear lipstick.
If you wear lipstick, you’re not a feminist. For women to claim leisure in beauty and is empowering, rather than, “I must do this to maintain my privilege in the world.” That’s the difference. Beautiful women have a certain amount of privilege. Beautiful culturally derived beauty, thin but curvy, there’s privilege that comes along with that. That’s what I like to dismantle. What if we enjoy beautiful clothing, sensuality, playing with makeup, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but let’s take the pleasure back in that for ourselves.
The way we were raised, where we were raised, and all of that played a role in helping shape who we are. Click To Tweet
Thank you for that, because that goes into beauty bias and there is a beauty bias. The word that you used is dismantle. Since you’re a professor of psychology or AASECT Certified Sex Therapist. Part of that is neuroscience, if we speak into, “Can we truly dismantle the way our brain is programmed?” There’s a management of it. We can manage it, but can we dismantle it because there is this bias, this whole thing about beauty and asymmetry in terms of a face. We’re talking about the way our brains are programmed and teaching young women how to manage that and add social media on top of that. I’d like you to speak into that.
We can certainly change our brain. Our brains are plastic. They grow and change through experience. It’s neuroplasticity. What I do is I help people do that individual basis in your relationships. If you can start in your personal relationships making these changes, then that’s how the world can change. There’s so much that goes on in couples. Particularly heterosexual couples that is still reliant on gender roles and especially, in couples that identify as liberal or feminist or valuing equality, they’re still relying on outdated scripts about gender and who should do what and how things should be and who should look and what certain way. Imagine if in each of these relationships, we could all shift those dynamics, how that would have a ripple effect in our children and their children and in the people around us and our sphere of influence?
I call that the conscious climb. It’s to change that part of our brain as to moment by moment choose how we’re going to be in that moment. It’s training our brain. That constant choosing, that conscious path we got to change our brain that way.
Even as you practice this stuff. Even if it’s unfamiliar and you’re not sure you fully believe it, if you’re changing a sexist dynamic in your relationship, even the act of doing it and repeating it will change those brain pathways. That gives us a lot of hope. If we focus on helping change our individual lives, that helps to change the culture around us.
That’s where the individualism comes in.
The personal responsibility, too.
Not that like, “I made it to the top. Meritocracy is awesome.” That happened for one person. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen for everyone. That’s why I marry the both and there’s the individual and personal responsibility and then there’s the compassion and empathy of looking at the collective. Not everyone thinks the way you do, it came from the same social narrative, historical narrative or whatever different cultures, belief systems, ideas, faith. There are many things out there. Even though your life may be was easy, or as a woman, you’re like, “I was able to navigate these spaces or I’m able to speak up,” not everyone is. It’s holding your space and personal responsibility and then saying, “How am I responsible? How can I support? How can I serve others who maybe need some support in this area?”
Not everyone is collective minded. As we see in politics and as we can remember in 2016, 51% of white women voted for Trump. That is a perfect example of not considering the collective. I’m holding my breath into my own anxiety about the upcoming election 2020. Let’s hope that white women in particular have seen that equality is not what equality would be fora middle-class white woman. Equality is helping marginalized group of people who are more oppressed rise up. If we can help lift those people up from a collective perspective, then everyone has access to equality.
Why do people not want everyone to be equal?
We’re saying people, but I’m talking about white women. I’m going to say, not wanting to give up their racial privilege.
Are they subconsciously choosing that or consciously choosing that?
I think it’s a little bit of both. I do think that there’s some individual variances in that. What we see particularly with liberal white women is a lot of ambivalent. They do value with quality. They want equality for everyone. They are in theory anti-racist, but when it boils down to how these changes might impact their own privilege then they get anxious and they’re like, “I don’t know if that’s what I want.” There’s this ambivalence that plays out. I have worked with people who have access to that ambivalence.
It’s a real powerful, honest place to get to because if you can acknowledge it, then you can transform it. If you’re going to be in denial and say, “I’m a liberal. I do care about these things,” but not be willing to make any changes in your own life, which could be about school systems. It could be about, not buying that house in a gentrified neighborhood. There could be all personal decisions that you need to make that live those values that you are ambivalent about making those decisions.
Speaking to the audience out there, what are some steps to support women in terms of living their truth, living life fully expressed, being able to walk in a room and know you belong. That’s how I feel and not everyone feels that way.
I would take a step back. The couple of messages that I give to women consistently, I started with the first, “It’s not you, it’s the patriarchy.” That is a mindset shift. Honestly, identifying with that it’s not you, it’s a patriarchy and identifying with feminist beliefs, the research supports does change your self-confidence and self-esteem. That’s one step. Number two, is I’m consistently helping women to set boundaries and structure their lives around self-care.
We are conditioned to put other people first, to be people pleasers, to care about other people all the time and not our own selves and that shows up structurally and the way that we run our lives. Why aren’t you going for a walk in the morning if you like it? Why aren’t you resting, reading a book or spending time with friends? Self-care is different for everyone and obviously, self-care for many people is access to health insurance and not necessarily luxury items.
When I think of self-care and it’s that concept of self-care and please correct me if I’m wrong or if there’s another perspective, originated with white women.
It originated with black women back in the early feminist and civil rights movement, and then the wellness industry “white women” co-opted it.
Can you share more the history of how it was founded with black women and how the wellness industry co-made it?
Many black women felt excluded because they were excluded from the feminist movement and also not valued by the civil rights movement because of sexism. They created their own collectives to focus on inequality and healthcare saying that, “Black people would flourish if we weren’t living in poverty, dealing with racism and had access to healthcare.” They formed collectives and advocated, the civil rights movement early in the ‘60s did advocate for healthcare, for black communities. In the ‘70s, we did some feminist collectives if you are familiar with the book, Our Bodies, Ourselves where women were talking about women’s sexuality, this was information that was accessible to the average woman about our own bodies and how they functioned and that became popular.
It was around the time of the wellness industry sprouted up around the time of 9/11 and PTSD. All of a sudden, it was self-care and self-care meant going to yoga, which meant buying expensive yoga pants, going on retreats, taking a luxurious vacation. All things that we’ve all enjoy, but aren’t necessarily self-care. The wellness industry if you look at it, there’s segments of the wellness industry that they’ve gone so left that in the circle that they’re now involved in conspiracy theories and in spreading messages about QAnon and child sex trafficking and anti-vaccination. It’s incredible.
It’s interesting what you speak into because I want to broaden this out. I’m glad we’re talking about this. I’m grateful you wrote this book and the work that you do in the world. I know my come from. I was coaching my clients and one of my clients is writing. She has a pro-life nonprofit, and it supports women who choose to have their child. When you choose to have your child that means pro-life is not just getting the baby here, it’s making sure the baby is fed, schooled, housed and taken care of all of those things. she’s educating the Christian Church on, “Don’t leave us at the delivery room.” That’s when it all begins.
If we focus on changing our individual lives, that helps to change the culture around us. Click To Tweet
One thing that I’ll say that I’m going to acknowledge myself. Truly, one of my values is being nonjudgmental. It’s something that I live my life by. I was thinking about this because I want to create a space for everyone to live their truth. Whoever comes to me, I consider them leaders and someone who’s doing a nonprofit or whatever your belief or value system is. I was thinking into this and I’m like, “I love supporting this person and what does it look like?” The people say I’m prochoice or prolife. It’s like, “I’m both. I’m prochoice and I’m pro-life.” What I look at it is that both choices will have spiritual consequences and spiritual opportunities, both choices have physical world consequences and physical world opportunities.
It’s an interesting thing that I’ve been thinking about it. I live in a place of being in the middle and I’ve questioned. I’m like, “Is that even a place to be in the middle to be super inclusive of it all?” I was doing some corporate coaching the other day and the donors of a particular private college were saying, “You are too liberal. We don’t want to donate because you don’t support free fought all the way around.” What would it look like to suggest to that donor is, “What would you suggest in terms of a potential speaker to come to the campus that would speak about these particular sides of the issue?”
I would say, “I have been aware of this place where I meet in the middle.” I don’t know if that’s even leading into a question or I’m stating something. I thought about that. As I explore my own spirituality and what that looks like and my leadership and what that looks like, I’m wondering, “Are there people out there who are in the middle?” I don’t call myself a feminist. I choose not to use labels. I’m pro women and pro equality. That’s who I be. The thing is, our brain is programmed to label people so we can put them in little buckets.
In psychology, we call it heuristics. We like to categorize people very quickly. We all do it. It’s part of human nature.
It’s part of human nature and we put them in the buckets.
We decide based on what bucket they’re in, how we’re going to feel or think, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it just be aware of it.
What does it look like not to put people into buckets? What does that look like? I know you’re a professor of psychology. That’s why when people look at me, “What are you?”
They need to put you in a bucket.
I help people out by saying, “I’m in mixed race black woman.” I know people feel, “Now, I know what to think. I can relax.” I’m a trained mediator and I call it nonpartisan peacemaking. What does it look like to be in the middle and to be like, someone can have this belief and there’s a lot of gray in between?
Most of life is in the gray area. I talk about that a lot with my clients. Where I would get stuck or where the edge would be for me is if someone’s beliefs stop on other people’s rights and that’s the difference. If somebody having a prolife organization, meaning that they support women who are pregnant that want to keep their babies and then they follow through and help them raise that baby. I’m 100% for that. In fact, I’m an adoptee and 1,000% for helping women who want to mother their children. That’s supremely important. What I’m strongly against is any use of deception. If you are saying, “My agency doesn’t offer, discuss or talk about abortion.” These agencies do and that’s your choice and your rights to make that choice.
What I talk about with is when your beliefs value structures impede on me? Where that is, I call it the slippery slope. When we’re traveling down from the heuristics, cognitive schema, into racial bias and racial bias is turned into prejudice and discrimination and then when we fall off the cliff, that’s when policy and systems are created based on that those unconscious beliefs. Those unconscious, implicit and explicit beliefs. We have plenty of evidence where policy, structures and systems have been created because of those beliefs and that’s what we get to dismantle.
We’ll have the energy to dismantle it if we stop trying to fix ourselves to fit into the system and that’s the message of the book.
We need that energy. It’s loving who you are, stepping out using your voice. If someone doesn’t like you bless and release.
Who cares? We don’t have to be liked. Not everyone is going to like us.
I always bring the spiritual component into it. It’s like, “Thank you and keep it moving.” Women get to create structural change, beautiful change to ensure everyone feels seen, heard, affirmed, understood by getting out of their own way, seeing the structure, noticing it, and then not playing with it, running for office, running for whatever, starting a business and that’s what is made available. Having an eighteen-year old daughter and being 44, I share this with my daughter and I can see where the stuff about body images which I experienced as well and for me, it’s like, “I had that experience, bless and release.” It served me, I learned something from it and what can I do with that? Please share with our audience any other lessons that you want to leave with them before we learn more about you and how they can find out more about you?
I want to see women center their selves and take up space. Setting yourself in your life, structure your life so that your needs are met in our priority.
How can people find out more about you and your book, working with you?
My book is available anywhere. Books are sold. My preference is to buy from an indie bookstore, but whatever works. You can find me on Instagram @Joanne.Bagshaw and my website is JoanneBagshaw.com.
Thank you for sharing the work that you’re doing in this world to empower women and by empowering women and women being empowered creates more empowered people.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Thank you for joining us with this episode.
- Dr. Joanne Bagshaw
- The Feminist Handbook: Practical Tools to Resist Sexism and Dismantle the Patriarchy
- Bestseller in a Weekend
- Our Bodies, Ourselves
- @Joanne.Bagshaw – Instagram
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!
Join the The Authoring Life Community today: