A South American shaman unwittingly changed Cate Montana’s life. Now, with her new book “Unearthing Venus,” Montana hopes to change other people’s lives by starting a discussion about the role of feminine values in society.
It was 1999 and Montana was the Northwest Bureau Chief for the Native American newspaper “Indian Country Today.” She was interviewing a man named John Perkins who told her a story about a young shaman named Ipupiara who came to the United States from the Amazon rain forests of Brazil.
About six months after he came to the U.S., the shaman asked Perkins where all the women in the country were and what they were doing, Montana said.
“They’re doctors and lawyers and bus drivers and raising their kids and being wives,” Perkins recalled saying. “Why do you ask?”
The shaman said in his culture, men and women had distinct jobs. Men hunted, fished and cut down trees for huts and canoes. Women raised children, cooked and gathered wild edibles.
“But there’s one job that only the women can perform,” he said. “It’s the most important job in the whole tribe. In fact, the survival of the tribe depends upon the women doing this one task.”
Perkins was curious. So was Montana.
The shaman said, “It’s man’s nature to be aggressive and driven and to hunt until there’s no more game left in the forest, to fish until there’s no more fish left in the rivers, to cut down the trees until there’s nothing left to cut down.
“It’s woman’s nature to be in touch with her body, in touch with the earth, in touch with the needs of the community and in touch with the needs of the environment. It’s the woman’s job to tell the man when to stop.”
It’s that story that changed the way Montana looked at her life and the culture around her.
“Unearthing Venus” is the tale of Montana’s experience as a woman trying to “be like a guy in a guy’s world,” throughout her career in television network news and print journalism. As she travels the world, exploring different cultures and the value they place on feminine characteristics, Montana awakens to her own inner female.
There’s nothing wrong with masculine values, Montana said. What’s wrong, she said, is the absence of feminine values to balance the masculine ones. Feminine values like compassion, community, and mutual support have sat on the back burner in our country’s male-dominated culture, she said.
It’s like a boat on the ocean, she said. If everyone runs to one side and stands on the rail, the boat will flip over.
“Now we’ve got men and women all pressed against one side of the rail doing the heavy competition, resource-grabbing approach to life, and the boat is tipping over,” she said.
Montana said she wrote the book to start a conversation about what can be done to restore that balance.
Montana said she doesn’t think the strides women have made through the women’s rights movement and feminism would have been possible without women making some sacrifices and playing by the rules of a male-dominated society. But now that women are at least on the same playing field, it’s time for a paradigm shift, she said.
“I think we’ve done what we had to do, and it’s only now that we are evolving to the place where we can have this conversation,” she said.
Montana describes in her book a journey of self-discovery that took her across the world, to the Amazon River Basin in Ecuador and Peru, the camps of shamans in the Andes, the provinces of southern India, Chile and Costa Rica.
“And most of all it took me into myself, to unearth those missing qualities of connection and a greater aliveness and concern with life that is what the feminine, what the female does,” she said.
Montana said she was amazed by the spirit of people in the Third World countries she visited. Families bonded. Kids were happy with half-inflated soccer balls and a rope swing. People were concerned for the earth and treated it well.
People seemed happy there, and when she came back to the U.S., people seemed pressed and exhausted by their lifestyles, she said. It was a shocking comparison.
“To see that … incredibly poor people in Third World nations were by far obviously more happy than most people in the U.S., that was a wake-up call,” she said. “And much of it was because they still were in touch with matriarchal values as well as patriarchal values.”
Men tend to be protectors, seeking power and resources to keep the species safe. But when that instinct isn’t balanced out, it can become a negative quality, Montana said.
“At a certain point, it goes beyond safety and security and it goes into the lust for power and control, and I think that’s where we’ve gotten caught up, is the tremendous lust for power and control that we see in corporations and in politics,” she said.