For International Women’s Day we asked some of our authors to write about this year’s theme Balance for Better, and here Emily Brewin looks at why balance is important in our willingness and ability to celebrate vulnerability in the twenty-first century.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you
Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi, spun this beautiful line in the thirteenth century and it remains relevant today. It also appears in the opening pages of my new novel, Small Blessings, and is stuck firmly to the kitchen wall above the table that doubles as my writing desk. It’s in my mind often, and I like to believe it’s infused my book.
Like all good writing the line’s power lies in its simplicity. Rumi’s Light is God, which I translate as wisdom. The wound refers to the times in life when we stumble and fall and fear we’ll never get up again. When we’re at our most vulnerable. In this place, cracked wide-open, we discover our strengths, face our fears and reach out for help.
But it’s not easy being vulnerable in the twenty-first century. In an age bombarded with images to the contrary, vulnerability equals weakness. Advertising and social media demands the best version of ourselves, better than the next person, all of the time. There’s no room for wounds. Wounds don’t get likes or love hearts or smiling emojis. No one wants to see you miserable.
But partaking in this façade is a problem. We are doing a disservice to ourselves and to our children, who are, and will continue to be, more deeply immersed in this type of communication then we can imagine. As an adult, I know the instant gratification a notification brings and understand the pull of a phone lit up with expectation. I experience the highs and lows when someone comments on a post I’ve put up, or doesn’t. And I’m an adult (or at least I like to think I am), with a mature brain and decades of life experience.
In my day job as a secondary school teacher, I witness first-hand my students’ social media use. We chat about it often. Discuss how it makes them feel as well as the rules their parents impose to govern it. Generally, they say they couldn’t live without it but admit it makes them feel down sometimes, especially on bad days, when everyone else is doing bigger and better and brighter things. Getting more likes, kicking more goals, having more fun. On those days, it’s hard not to compare yourself.
Studies reflect this. A survey by the Australian Psychological Association in 2017 found that although there are positives associated with the use of social media and media technology, they do affect self-esteem. According to the survey, our teens spend an average of 3.3 hours per day on social media, with many logging into their accounts up to fifty times per day, all of which increases the pressure to ‘look good’.
For eons, girls and women have suffered the weight of similar expectations. Advertising dispenses images designed to make us feel bad enough to spend money on products that will ‘improve’ us. But now our boys are falling victim too, and these same unrealistic images are everywhere.
Social media and media technology are here to stay, and for countless good reasons. But balance is better in so many ways, including our ability to stand together, men and women, to celebrate vulnerability.
This is not a gender issue but one that cuts to the heart of being human; to slip and get up again, to be sad or happy or susceptible, and to be loved for it anyway.
We need to show our young people that contentment doesn’t come from the number of hearts on an Instagram post, but from being brave enough just to be who you are.
Emily Brewin is a Melbourne-based author and educator. Her first novel, Hello, Goodbye was published in 2017 while with her second, Small Blessings, was published in February 2019. Small Blessings is a poignant and uplifting tale of an unlikely friendship, secrets, motherhood, innocence and heartache, and ultimately what we’re willing to do for love.