Back in the day, when I was just figuring out how to spread my School of Womanly Arts wings, I held my very first classes in my living room. These were tiny workshops with a few handfuls of women that I taught out of my brownstone apartment on the Upper West Side, after I tucked my baby in bed.
Amazingly, many of those women have stayed connected, in community – some of them are on our outstanding volunteer team and I get to see them on the regular. And then others will pop back into my world – like sisterhood tends to do – and catch me up, or jump into an event with me.
A few weeks ago, I reconnected with one of my “brownstone girls,” Meghan Cleary, who is now an author, shoe expert and designer, and founder of MeghanSAYS™, her new footwear line.
She is up to some really fun projects in the world, and has some valuable tips to offer from the front lines of the Pleasure Revolution, and I’m so happy to share her with you today.
Remember the day you walked into your first class with me? What was that like?
I was kind of bowled over, honestly. I came to the School because I found one of your books in Barnes & Noble on my lunch break while I was working on Wall Street. I was so fascinated I read it back at my desk covertly in like 45 minutes! Then I googled you, called the School and I was like, “Hi. I just read Mama Gena’s book and I want to be involved in whatever it is you have going on over there.”
I signed up for an intro class offered at the time and I just remember the first class being so incredibly powerful. The first question you asked is what adjectives come to mind when you think of the word “woman.” And everyone there had all these descriptors we had all witnessed firsthand growing up with our grandmothers, moms, ourselves.
The words that came were tired, overworked, underpaid, not appreciated. The list went on. It was mind-blowing to hear from other women of very diverse backgrounds and ages – the same adjectives.
And you said, “A-ha! So maybe this is why womanhood sounds like a drag. But I am here to teach and tell you about the gorgeous, sumptuous privilege of being a woman.”
I was thinking – um, privilege? I literally think until that point, I had thought my life would be so much easier if I had just been born a man. It wasn’t until that day where I was like – ok, hold on. I want to explore this privilege of being a woman you are talking about. It turned my world upside down.
What role does pleasure play in your life?
Well first, I think there is a misperception around the word pleasure. I think people associate living a pleasure-filled life with hedonism somehow. But what I have learned even more and more throughout the years, pleasure isn’t just what feels good in the moment without consequences.
You taught me that pleasure is a discipline, and in fact it’s kind of serious, the discipline of pleasure. What I mean by that is that it is very easy to just take the easiest road of complaining or being a victim or blaming. But with pleasure, since it is something you have to choose to do in any given situation, it gives you back your power, your source, it elevates others in the situation, it can elevate and change whole groups of people.
And by going for pleasure I don’t mean cracking a funny joke in a tense situation, even though it can be that too. I mean going for the highest good in the situation, letting loose, expanding, breathing air and space into something.
And for women pleasure is absolutely critical. We are conditioned from day one to give to others before ourselves, to be nice, to not make a ruckus. It’s funny because everyone thinks that pleasure is something you get to have after you’ve finished all your work. We have such a linear, 9 to 5 work ethic culture, focused on what you are producing at all times.
Women are not so linear, we often juggle multiple jobs, caregiving roles, run a household – so we absolutely must take breaks to pleasure ourselves and keep the air in our balloons. And I see pleasure and stepping into our power as crucial for the forward momentum of humanity, especially right now.
We must feed our souls and go for what feels pleasurable for us – even when it may seem counter-intuitive to others or to the voice in our head that is just saying go, go, go or you are not good enough, or whatever our internal chatter is.
I will never forget while I was taking one of your classes, Cyndi Lauper was being interviewed on NPR about, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” The interviewer was saying something about it being a fun, light pop song, and Cyndi got really fierce. She said, “You know it takes a lot of discipline to have fun.” And if you think about that video, it is so infectious. All the different kinds of girls from her neighborhood, just free-form dancing in the face of a guy who is kind of a naysayer. Watch that video again, it’s sort of genius – just by being themselves, the girls bring all these different people along for a huge dance party in her bedroom — that’s kind of what pleasure is all about.
And sometimes pleasure doesn’t mean necessarily silly giggling. If you are going through grief and loss, pleasure might be allowing yourself the time and space to grieve. And the pleasure of not doing anything, merely looking up at the sky or taking a walk with your dog, that might be the most pleasurable thing to refill your artistic tank.
I try to get back on the pleasure train anytime I fall off, which is often, but it is a practice like anything else.
How does that perspective influence your work in the world?
Well, when I set out to create my shoe line, MeghanSAYS™, pleasure and desire were really strong drivers. I had a very strong urge to create shoes that were absolutely fun and a joy to wear, as well as to look at. I had been listening to women for years through my blog, appearances, social media, and I had a pretty good handle on what shapes of shoes felt good to women, what they were looking for that they couldn’t find in the market. The line was created directly from feedback from my audience of women and what they wanted. I polled people on shapes, heel heights, on fabrics and patterns, everything. And fortunately I have a very vocal audience who love to weigh in. I also wanted the line to be very spirited, and incorporate patterns and detailing you don’t normally see at this price point. And while the shoe line isn’t a comfort line per se, I really wanted them to actually feel good – so I added things like rubber soles that were flexible and had a little tread on them, cushions in the ball of the foot, and shapes that hugged the foot. Pleasure was at the center of everything I did design-wise both in the way they were constructed and in the designs and patterns. It was extremely important to me for women who bought my shoes to feel like they injected some fun into their world.
In addition to my shoe line, my work in the world is so varied – I have so many outlets from writing, to shoe designing, to talking on TV, to interviewing people, to writing my shoe column. I would say that my overall work is really being curious. Curiosity has led me down pretty much every path I have pursued, and for me, following my curiosity is one of my most satisfying pleasures in life. I love to ask a question and attempt to answer it, to find out more about people, about things I am interested in, to delve deeper than the surface and find out what is driving things. I am most proud of having the courage and fearlessness to follow my curiosity and trust the pieces come together along the way.
What are your tips to fit in pleasure, self-care, nurturing your feminine – when time is tight and there’s so much to do?
When time is tight I try to do what is right in front of me or what is available to me RIGHT NOW.
So that could mean treating myself to a really delicious green tea, or just looking out the window to take a few moments to take in the outside world and all it’s beauty, really breathe it in. Looking deeply at the people I love for a few minutes. Petting my dog.
I make showers into a whole sensory experience. I’ll grab a scrub or just let the water pour over me, sing.
Gratitude list for sure! That is the number one thing that can just re-set my cranky button in about one minute.
Oh! And self-pleasure, of course. The genius of being an entrepreneur is that you can slip into the bedroom for a few moments whenever you feel like it!
I try to go for what is immediately available rather than put another “should” on my shoulders like I should stop and meditate for an hour, or I should be working out right now. Sometimes you have to make choices in your day to day life because things got thrown or there’s tons to do.
I think over the years I have loosened my grip on the idea that everything has to be “balanced”. If you are living a full, thriving life, sometimes there is no “balance” – and that’s totally ok.
I believe that women are the greatest untapped natural resource on the planet. Do you agree?
It is a well-known fact when you invest in a woman she invests 90% of her earnings back into health, nutrition and education for her family and community – a number that drops to 30 or 40 percent for men. Simply put, women lift up entire communities, and indeed could lift entire nations if given the access to capital, income parity, food, shelter, education, healthcare and reproductive planning. That is a factual, economic illustration of how if women were tapped into as a resource, how powerful the uplift would be.
I was recently at a conference for women writers, called BinderCon (created after Mitt Romney made the comment about binders of women), and I was listening to Jenny Lumet who is an amazing writer. She said something that really struck me. She said how women are “the other” – and what she meant by that was that the entire society we know is set up and run by and for a very European patriarchal structure, and so by merely being who we are, we are in many ways opposite of how society is set up to run. Our “otherness” defines us in so many ways – from the income we make to the care we receive at the doctor’s office.
What I love about your philosophy is the willingness to delve deep into that very “Otherness” and celebrate and amplify all the ways we can empower ourselves via our gender. It’s a very different message than the rest of the world serves us and that’s why your work is so important. I am so happy you are in the world.