The Marketing and Exploitation of the #MeToo Movement in the Ayahuasca Community
I’ve been living in Peru off and on for the past two years, after experiencing incredible healing of an “incurable” autoimmune disease with shamanic retreats and ceremonies.
As a woman, I’ve found that there are unique challenges and issues when working with the medicinal plants. I had started to write about this topic when I first arrived to Peru, and then #MeToo happened, adding another layer of complexity.
This put another spin on things, as more women started to speak out about being assaulted, feeling unsafe, and inappropriate behavior they had to contend with when taking the medicinal plants in retreats.
These stories need to be heard and need to be addressed. But as more women speak out, things continue to feel out of balance, as I see more marketing for all-women retreats, and the peddling of curanderas (female healers) as the answer to everything.
#MeToo and Marketing
In the ayahuasca community, we need to have conversations about safety and predatory behavior. Women getting assaulted or feeling unsafe during ceremonies is wrong, dangerous and exploitative. It creates an overall atmosphere of distrust and fear.
But you know what else is exploitative? Seeing this as a marketing opportunity, turning it around and hosting an all-women retreat. Because who is really benefitting here? Is it the women on retreat, or the people choosing to cash in on things? To me, this feels equally distrustful.
And what are we really saying when we don’t include men in ceremonies, whether they are participants or healers? It seems to create more of a division without addressing the bigger problem.
Curanderas and Curanderos (Female Healers and Male Healers)
Putting all curanderas on a pedestal is not the answer either, as they can take advantage of men in a different way. It is known that some plants are used to seduce (for love magic). I’ve seen curanderas wear pieces of jewelry carved in the shape of a penis. Based on our conversation, these were not decorative.
I’ve heard other curanderas state matter-of-factly that they wanted a boyfriend who is a foreigner, because they will provide money and support. This is not to single anyone out, but more to show how ideas are being cleverly marketed to sell consumers a particular image and idea of safety.
At one point, I was looking for and trying to learn from a curandera, feeling that I needed to have a woman help me in my learning process.
On two separate occasions, women who considered themselves teachers tried to convince me that they were the female teacher I needed. It felt very manipulative and insincere, especially as they repeated my own words, seemingly preying on my weakness, and they were clearly looking for financial backing.
Physical assault and harm is certainly the most extreme form of manipulation, but we still need to look at the bigger picture of how the #MeToo movement is skewering things to the opposite extreme. Having an all-women event may protect women from inappropriate and wanted attention from men.
But it still is not a perfect solution; it’s only marketed and sold that way to vulnerable consumers.
Likewise not every single male curandero has committed sexual misconduct. This is not to discredit the many stories that women have been sharing. However it feels unbalanced when it is repeatedly implied that all men are bad and not safe.
My intention here is to show that no one is perfect. Healers are, we are, after all only human. We are all looking for our own inner balance. This building up of one side while tearing down another feels counterproductive. And when one group is benefitting financially it feels extra messy. When we make sweeping generalizations we don’t acknowledge the other side.
It’s important to be discerning and to do your research when embarking on a spiritual retreat. Take time to look at what is being promoted and marketed, and by whom.
Using Sex to Sell
What happens when the selling and marketing of ayahuasca and the medicinal plants adds some sex to it?
Sex, after all, always sells.
But what exactly are we saying with this?
I’ve seen advertisements for all-women ceremonies and retreats using sexual and provocative images of naked women, along with flowery language that never talks about the risks. It feels outdated and over the top.
These retreats seem to play into the very stereotype that we wish to break. Given that it is always recommended to abstain from sex and to keep ones energy clean and clear during ceremonies and retreats, I can’t help but think that they are sorely missing the point.
There seem to be conflicting messages at play here. We want to own our sexuality, to protect it and feel liberated. Sexual energy is life force energy, and understanding this is a crucial part of spirituality and working with the medicinal plants.
But using sex to market and advertise just feels twisted and misleading to me, especially in these current times.
How Do We Market Spirituality?
On the flip side, is this any better or worse than the many advertising photos I see of someone meditating with a plant, eyes closed and looking serene? The very idea of taking a selfie while meditating is just absurd, completely contradicting the idea of “going within”.
All it does is turn spiritual work into a commodity.
We all need to look at our intent and be clear with what we want, whether we are seeking or selling something. The path has a lot of roadblocks and pitfalls, and things may not be what they seem. Seeing the truth is not about ignoring or negating what we don’t like. Sometimes the truth hurts. It should encourage us to tune in deeper, and to learn how to trust ourselves.
Sometimes in order to gain balance, things need to get out of balance to clearly see the other side. The pendulum needs to swing to both extremes before it finds stillness in the middle. This is what I see happening now with the emphasis on women’s retreats and curanderas.
I continue to learn from both male and female mentors, as every person and every interaction has a lesson for me. Some lessons are easy, some funny, and some are more challenging than others.
One of the first things I was told when I first arrived to the jungle to start my dieta (retreat with medicinal plants) is that I needed to have more balance. This idea continues to unfold in ways I could never have imagined.
It seems to be a continuous process that involves seeing, embracing, understanding and integrating the opposite energies in me, in life, and all around me.
#MeToo is a movement against sexual harassment and assault. Feminism is about equality. As a friend just said to me, it’s time to take off the masks and see what lies beneath.
I can stand by my sisters but I don’t need to exclude my brothers.
You can read more about my incredible healing of an incurable disease in the Amazon jungle here: