To commemorate Women’s History Month, we asked several of our women teachers who was the woman who most influenced them and what is the hope they hold for women of the future. We talked with Robin Rose Bennett, an herbalist, writer, and educator who teaches WiseWoman Healing Ways of herbal medicine.
NY Open Center: Who is a woman who has influenced you in a major way?
Robin Rose Bennett: There are many outstanding women, famous and less known, who have influenced me, so I sat down and made a list as I was having a hard time choosing one. Some of the “finalists” were Wangari Maathai, Ursula LeGuin, Georgia O’Keefe, Terry Tempest Williams, and Vandana Shiva. But for today I will choose Alice Walker, whom I had the good fortune to meet when she came to speak to my writing class at UC Santa Cruz back in the late 1970’s. She made an indelible impression on me that has lasted to this day, not least because I’d heard unflattering things about her that were, it turned out, entirely false, and so the first thing she taught me was not to listen to gossip, but to discern for myself; to trust my own perceptions. This is an invaluable teaching, and couldn’t be more important now in the age of spin and counter-spin, when lying has practically become a public art form.
NY Open Center: Can you tell us a little bit about this person’s work and what it means to you?
Robin Rose Bennett: Alice is a writer, of course, and a popular one, but more than that she is a truth-teller. And that makes her a risk-taker, a woman who dares. And she is a lover of Earth; of nature. To me that is the same as saying she is a lover of reality, of beauty, of what is real and vital. Of what is sacred.
And she is courageous in speaking truths that are controversial; that are not “safe” in some quarters, that invite judgment and even scorn, including from people whose opinions she cares about. Yet, she tells her truth as she sees it in her engaging stories and exquisite novels, poignant poetry, and powerful essays. In one essay she wrote of a dream she had where the ancestors lined up for hours to thank her and shake her hand for what she wrote, and she concluded that their affirmation was more important to her than any condemnation she was receiving at that time.
NY Open Center: What is a piece of advice you would give, in retrospect, to your girl self?
Robin Rose Bennett: I’d tell her to relax. I’d tell her to stop worrying about what other people think of her. To be herself. I would tell her that self-expression is more vital to health, happiness and a good life than pleasing others or having them like and approve of you. I’d tell her she was allowed to say No. But, truthfully, I’m not sure how helpful any of that would be because these are truths one learns through experience over time. Perhaps it might be better to simply tell her: I love you as you are. Brush your teeth. Be kind. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes and look foolish, because both are inevitable!
NY Open Center: What is a hope that you hold for the women of the future?
Robin Rose Bennett: Everything on earth, literally, is conspiring to help us awaken! We are listening. Women are awakening. We are coming together and supporting one another; creating connections across all the artificial divides that are used to separate us. My hope is that we are remembering that we must take the lead, without apology, right now, in bringing sanity to how we live within our families and in our world; in the interconnected web of relationships with all beings; including the land, air, and water. Self-respect is essential and comes from within. I see women supporting one another in growing our self- respect and self-awareness; of our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls. This is empowering and gives me hope.