Saturday, May 06, 2006


With all the spring fervor percolating lately, Madrigaia (Viva Voce) has found its way back into the CD rotation. This is an incredibly talented seven woman vocal / percussion group from Winnipeg. What I love about them is the voluptuous, raw womanly energy that permeates their songs - the very antithesis of insipid, male-created girly pop.

The album never fails to remind me of a pivotal experience in my sense of what it means to be a woman. It was a bridal shower, given by a patient of mine in honor of her eldest daughter. She was Syrian, a single mother and devout Muslim who had taken her children and fled for her life from a bad marriage. The majority of the guests were women who had immigrated from Pakistan, India, and other Aisian and Middle Eastern countries. These were not women with easy lives - many were my patients, and I had spent a great deal of time observing and working through the pain and isolation of cultural restrictions magnified by language barriers. Many had non-specific chronic pain conditions that I believe were their only viable means of expressing distress.

In that hall though, filled only with women, they seemed lighter - embracing, laughing - Sikh, Muslim, Hindu - there were no barriers. We shared a wonderful feast... and then the dancing began. I suppose it would properly be termed belly dancing, but it was not about costumes - it was spontaneous, unselfconscious, joyful, and thoroughly, vocally, loud. I was drawn into a sense of strength and community that I had never before experienced. My constricted, "escape oppression through achievement" idea of feminism had never entertained the possibility that being "womanly" could be anything but a state of socially imposed deficiency. I felt at once ashamed for having underestimated them, and tremendously privileged to be included in such a sisterhood. I began to see myself and the women I cared for with new eyes, and to celebrate things womanly. I began to see the tremendous creative power in childbirth, and the curvaceous beauty of milk filled breasts nourishing a child.