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STS project diary 3 – Gender and Secondary Traumatic Stress

Third meeting of the Secondary Traumatic Stress Building Resilience project

– Gender part II –

April 11 and 18 – both participating cohorts

The second Gender module took us into a deeper discovery and understanding of the 3 platforms of awareness: briefly introduced in the first module on Gender.

The platforms are layered: the first one is shaped by basic needs,  internal automatic responses to whatever a person meets,  (the capacity to walk, talk, run for shelter, seek safety, respond to heat, cold, hunger, and thirst, the protocols of civil society, gender needs and expectations, all that is learned by repetition, fashion, culture, etc). The societies or cultures into which we are born, and live our lives, overwhelmingly shaping our priorities, values, and initial identity.

Pregnant couple holding pink baby shoes

Is anyone born with a clean slate? Not really… Researches show that babies in the womb are processing everything the mother is going through, and are very sensitive to the surrounding environment. We are born already pre-programmed as the carrier of the bloodline, genetic code, and DNA of society, family, tribe, and all the prejudices, beliefs, behaviors, that predetermine the kind of future that it allows.

The second and third platforms are, in contrast, developed from within: from conscious, internal choices, reasoning, values, qualities, and enduring principles and purposes.

Terms – such as character, charisma, gravitas, intactness, leadership, maturity, refinement – are commonly used here- and these features are developed over time; not, for the most part, automatic.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg – 1933 – 2020 An inspiring woman who has defied all odds with her intelligence, determination, and uncompromising principles, becoming an avid advocate for gender equality and women’s rights.

Resilience appears with the development of the second and third platforms. Inherently latent, it accompanies the active drive to improve and become the change needed, to develop the internal strengths and qualities – for example, intactness under stress, tolerance, understanding, forgiving, patience with others and especially oneself –  as we manage irrationality and reactivity of the “male/female automatic pilot” of ourselves.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela – 1918 – 2013 the anti-apartheid South African leader, imprisoned for 27 years, yet he deliberately chose compassion, the magnanimity of spirit, and forgiveness over violence and retribution despite many calls for revenge and harsh punishments.

In the second part, we all took a walk down the “Garden of Words”, (based on projects with communities across four continents). It presented phrases, terms, collections of words that describe qualities, behaviors, natures of the three platforms. We discussed our responses, shared stories about these poignant descriptions of our common humanity.

The next part had an unexpected turn, in a question-answer session, where women could question men about the character features strongly present in the masculine gender – for example, the wildness of youth, the solitary and rapidly focused mind, the inclination towards minimalism. Men could also ask women about the features strongly present in the feminine: the desire to connect and work together, to nurture and maintain, the role of warmth.

There was more, these only name a few moments. Some deep, as we glimpsed the self-made fires within each other and the part that gender plays within. The workshop left us perhaps with more questions than answers and a little more respect for the depth of human life that surrounds us all.

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