Like so many others, I was skeptical of the Spirit Weavers Gathering when I first heard about it. In fact, I think I was the first person to ever write about my skepticism online back in 2014.
I totally get it. People's perception of the gathering can bring up some big issues, issues that are commonly (and thankfully) part of the larger national dialogue these days- about race, class, sexuality, and cultural appropriation- and there is real opportunity for important conversations to happen when people take the time to discuss these issues thoroughly and thoughtfully.
And these issues have been and continue to be addressed by the event organizers and attendees (many of who are women of color and/or economically disadvantaged and/or LGTB) on multiple platforms, something the author conveniently leaves out of her piece. It's an evolving conversation- just one facet of a dialogue happening on all levels of American society today- that she does a disservice to by glossing over so dismissively in her piece.
I would point out too the incredible hyprocisy of a magazine that caters to rich white heterosexual women pretending to care about these issues. As a friend's husband said yesterday while perusing their website's headlines, "12 Shoes Every Woman Must Own? More Justin Beiber Merchandise to Sell at Barney's? How to Have Your Man Look Good, Effortlessly? The Best Wedding Dresses for Your Astrological Sign? That's some bourgeois-ass shit."
As a former Spirit Weavers skeptic (allow me to quote myself from that 2014 post here- "Is it just a bunch of internet posturing? Look how pretty I am in my tribal poncho with a rainbow star swirl overhead that I spent an hour perfecting with my image editing app? Is this true spirituality? What the hell is true spirituality? Am I spiritual; am I a spirit weaver?"), I was intrigued when I first received my friend's text alerting me to an article written by someone who was also skeptical, and I looked forward to seeing what insights she would, from her national platform, add to the conversation.
(Especially because she's the author of a book called "How Sassy Changed My Life"! And Sassy magazine totally changed my life when I was a struggling adolescent in the early 90's! We must be on the same wavelength!)
What I didn't yet realize was that Harper's has devolved into a click-baity, snark and celeb obsessed publication (another recent headline reads "13 Things Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton Have Said About Each Other"), and that I wasn't going to read the well-written, thoughtful article based on journalistic integrity that I was expecting.
That became clear as soon as I read the headline, but I was still thinking I'd find something of value and substance in her piece. Come on, she loves Sassy! I quickly realized though that, alongside all the snark and shaming, homegirl was overtly making shit up in order to embellish her story.
As my favorite crotchety old college professor hilariously wrote at the top of a paper I had written the morning it was due, "factual errors abound."
I was not surprised that someone with such deep anxiety and insecurities around belonging (things she admits to in the piece which, a friend pointed out, basically reads as an exposé on her inner struggles through the experience of a women's gathering) would have such an experience or write such an article, but I was amazed that a mainstream publication would allow outright (and easily disputed by doing a simple internet search) lies to be published under their purview. But I guess that's how it works nowadays?
As one example, Marisa claims that tickets cost $700. In actuality, ticket prices are on a sliding scale with $444 being the lowest tier (available to everyone), numerous scholarships are available and more are added every year, and a work trade program allows 75 women to come in exchange for helping out around camp.
The factual errors and twisting of people's words and intentions continued to abound as I read on, but it wasn't until I got to the two paragraphs dedicated to me and my workshop that I realized just how willing Marisa and Harper's Bazaar were to engage in journalistic deception in order to make the piece as sensationalized as possible.
This woman went in to the gathering knowing exactly what kind of piece she was going to write. It didn't matter what actually happened there, the point was to exaggerate reality, shame women for the shape of their bodies, their hair, their clothing, their livelihood (feminism!), and twist any words that floated her way in order to create a piece that would generate more shares and bring more clicks to Harper's Bazaar's website.
It is an incredibly odd feeling to see actual quotation marks around a sentence you have never said and would never say on a website with millions of followers. Though she didn't pull my quote entirely out of thin air, she put words in my mouth in order to paint me as a total whack job, further normalizing herself and Harper's homogenous readership with the added benefit of further sensationalizing her article.
Marisa was there undercover, so terrified of being discovered for her deception that she hid whenever she saw the one person she knew (which she writes about in the piece) and presented a false front when she contacted the organizers back in February hoping for a free ticket (which I know because I was forwarded the email by one of the event organizers), writing, "I've always wanted to go to Spirit Weavers. It seems really powerful and also really fun. I have an awesome Buddhist feminist hippie editor at Bazaar and she would love to send me to one of the sessions in June to write about my experience." (Spirit Weavers has a strict No Press policy in order to ensure privacy for attendees, and has denied every reporter who has asked to come).
Her fear of being discovered means that she didn't have a recorder and she wasn't taking notes (or if she did, she paid them no mind when it came time to pen the article), which in turn means that none of the quotes that she put between actual quotation marks are accurate.
I've confirmed this with the other women quoted. This approach to reporting allows her to put her own twist on the words she heard, always fitting them into the overall theme of "these women are crazy let's all make fun of them and pat ourselves on the back for being normal".
Here's what she wrote about me and my class:
At an Herbal Self-Care for Radical Babes workshop, we discuss yoni steaming—offered at Korean spas and written about on Goop, in which one sits over a bowl of boiling water mixed with herbs, and is said by adherents to relieve various ailments, from PMS to infertility—and learn how to make body oil. But really it functions more like a consciousness-raising group, with women chatting about their personal relationship with vaginal health as they trim herbs for redwood-mugwort oil. A girl in a yellow caftan, here with her suburban-looking mom from Ohio, says that recycled toilet paper is bad for you, so she uses a bidet at home.
Our discussion turns to our periods. "My whole life changed when I stopped using mass-produced man-pons," one woman with a shaved head says. "The moon time is your time to drop in on yourself," Amber, the workshop leader, tells us. "I literally haven't had a job in 11 years because I can't work on my moon. I had to find an alternative." She now sells herbal oil blends she makes at home. She says her 10-year-old daughter asks to rinse out her pads, which is, I suppose, a show of how normal periods are at her house, and how much her family respects them. The girl with the shaved head says we can feed our blood to plants: "You give life to them, and they give life to you." She says there's a marijuana farm not far that has fertilized cannabis with menstrual blood for two generations.
I wish to clarify what I actually said for three reasons: being misquoted in the national media sucks, I am already being judged and criticized online for things that I didn't say and that also sucks (I'm plenty used to being criticized for things I did say), and I'd like to further illuminate Marisa's deception through the lens of my personal experience.
My daughter is 9 years old, and the story I shared about her wanting to help rinse out my cloth pads happened when she was 3, as I clearly stated in class. I did not say this to prove how much my family "respects" my period, but as part of a conversation in which many women were sharing their kids' reactions to their periods and our desire as mothers to normalize this very normal human experience.
Yes, I am happy that my daughter is not being raised to be fearful and ashamed of her body and the blood that will someday (not too far into the future) come out of it, as I was. I am glad that she's seen my pads and not thought of them as anything deviant or scary. But she hasn't been interested in washing them out for many years, as you might expect.
Let me break down "I literally haven't had a job in 11 years because I can't work on my moon. I had to find an alternative."
It's true that I haven't had a 9-5 since I last clocked out of my grocery store clerking job in 2005. I remember calling my grandma that night and saying "I hope to never have a job again", her laughing as she asked, "Oh, so you're retiring at age 24?", and me laughing back and saying "Let's hope so."
Not having a job does not equal not working, there are many ways to make money, and I am now at a point where the business I've built is paying the bills. It's been a struggle and there were times I was less than broke, but being home with my daughter (whom I was pregnant with when I quit) has always been my priority. It was a very conscious choice. One I would make again and again.
I'm making money from something I've built while being present for my child (soon to be children; I'm 8 months pregnant as of this writing) and insisting on taking the time I need for self care. Feminism!
It's also true that my life works better when I can stay at home, slow down from the usual frenetic pace of life, and take care of myself on the first day of my period. I've tried to schedule my life to allow that for many years now with winning results, and I encourage other women to do the same.