Sunday, January 29, 2012

We Are Woman

The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source. ~Lucretia Mott

I've been a feminist as long as I can remember.  Thanks to my mother, who encouraged her daughters to be independent, strong, and socially conscious of sexism, I have, despite my varied intensity on the subject over the course of my life, always had a deep and abiding passion for the social equality of women.  I had a brief crush on a boy when I was 12 years old who asked me in all seriousness, "You don't really believe in all that Women's Lib stuff you talk about, do you?"
"Of course I do!" I retorted, "Why would I say that stuff if I didn't believe it?"  All of a sudden, he didn't seem that attractive to me anymore.  Mom would blast Helen Reddy's song, "I Am Woman" on the stereo and we would sing loudly and pump our fists:

I am woman, watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my loving arms across the land
But I'm still an embryo
With a long long way to go
Until I make my brother understand

Oh yes I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to I can face anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman
!

Who else but a woman would use the analogy of an embryo?  I liked this verse most of all because it spoke of joining together with men to create a more equal society.  Because as long as I've been a feminist, I've also loved men.  Or maybe I am just fascinated with men as being so different from myself. Regardless, I believe in a society that simply accepts people from the inside out without regarding them as inferior based on physical characteristics. 

I have not lived consistently with my feminist convictions.  I married a man who was extraordinarily sexist and violently abusive towards women.  I am the man, I have the mustache, and so I tell you what to do! No joke, he actually said that.  He viewed us as "equally matched" in our fights, "You have your tongue, I have my fists.  We're equal."  However, in true feminist form, I sought the support and help of other women to leave him and his abuse, and along with my female lawyer soundly conquered him in court.

You can bend but never break me
'cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
'cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul


While I won't go so far to thank my abuser for it, my experiences with him certainly served to deepen my convictions about equality for women and particularly to work toward freedom from violence in our relationships with men.  I went on to work with domestic violence victims and survivors, hosting support groups in my home and creating and maintaining a website for victims.

Even when I was neck-deep in fundamentalist Christianity, I wasn't content with the more conservative interpretations of women's role in society.  I would counter those views with what I believed to be the authentic message of Christianity: mutuality.  I did the requisite Biblical research and made a sound case, but received the censure of my church's pastor who said I was unfit for service because I believed and espoused that women could and should serve as clergy.  In leaving the church, I was freed from the task of having to prove what I believed to be obvious: men and woman are different, yes, but functionally equal.  I wondered what men were afraid would happen if they admitted this.  I also wondered why they refused to take advantage of the vast resources of half the population.  Just as my pastor relegated me to organizing women's tea parties rather than Bible studies, many men seem content to ignore the treasure-trove of creative insight and intelligence in their counterparts. What does it benefit them to do this? 


In the long run, Women's Liberation will of course free men -- but in the short run it's going to COST men a lot of privilege, which no one gives up willingly or easily. ~Robin Morgan


It really chaps my ass that women have had to fight for what should be naturally acknowledged as true.  The Greeks were very much into dualistic philosophies and they acknowledged that both masculine and the feminine traits were to be found in everyone.  The problem was these characteristics were ascribed value judgments and those deemed "feminine" were seen as less appealing and needing suppression. But here's the problem with dualism: it neglects the whole.  The Sanskrit word Tantra transliterates as the weft and warp (duality) of the weave (nonduality), the directions of the threads that create cloth. If one of these dualistic pairs did not exist, neither would the cloth. Equality doesn't exclude the differences or polarities, it includes them, accepts them, and weaves them together to make a whole -- whole person, whole society.  Suppression or devaluing one side of the duality makes for a very unbalanced, weak "whole," or rather, something that is not whole. 

The Empress in Tarot is representative of the feminine part of the duality, while The Emperor represents the masculine.  Neither is greater, together they form a pair.  The Empress comes first in the deck, interestingly, but that doesn't mean better.  If it means anything, it means every man was born of woman.  While the feminist movement has enlightened many, we still have entrenched ideas about feminine things being inherently "lesser" than masculine. While women are commended (and simultaneously ridiculed) for exhibiting traditionally masculine characteristics, men are rarely applauded for exhibiting their feminine side unless they do so in a distinctly masculine manner.  A man who bakes cakes is a "Cake Boss" whereas a woman who bakes is, well...a woman. 
 
We've begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters. ~Gloria Steinem

The Empress is the archetypal "mother" but not all can identify with that.  Instead of viewing her as a noun, try instead to view her as a verb.  In a commentary written by feminist Gloria Steinem, she explains:
"Think about it: As a noun, mother not only excludes half the human race, but is also limited by fertility and age and intention...
As a noun, mother may be good or bad, willing or unwilling, on welfare or rich, worshiped or blamed, dominating or nurturing, accidental or chosen.
Perhaps that’s why the noun mother is so easily taken over by profanity; or by war, as in “the Mother of All Bombs;” or by war-makers who honor Hero Mothers for birthing soldiers.
But when mother is a verb—as in to mother, to be mothered—then the best of human possibilities come into our imaginations.
To mother is to care about the welfare of another person as much as one’s own.
To mother depends on empathy and thoughtfulness, noticing and caring.
To mother is the only paradigm in which the strong and the weak are perfectly matched in mutual interest." ( Mother As A Verb by Gloria Steinem)
 Another funny thing about archetypes and dualities is that they aren't really meant to describe actual men and women, but only traits and characteristics, with no value judgment placed upon whether these characteristics and traits are better or worse.  They simply are. Men express "mothering" naturally and as easily, and many women really suck at it.  The mistake is made when we assume that feminine archetypes belong to women and masculine archetypes belong to men.  They don't, they are meant to be balanced within each of us and therefore balancing our societies.

Patriarchy is the result of too strong an emphasis on the masculine part of the duality, too much value given to that particular warp of the cloth.  While it has its benefits, such as strength, survival, profit-making, and logic, it is lopsided on its own.  Technology and business are examples of masculine archetypal structure and energy and while extremely beneficial, when they ignore the feminine elements they become destructive and ultimately self-destructive.  Only when feminine archetypal energy is integrated into these institutions will they thrive in balance with nature and with our own long-term survival. 



To me, feminism isn't about who's better or who screwed everything up.  It's not about forcing men to shoulder the blame for everything wrong with the world, even though, come on guys, you've made the lion's share of decisions for quite some time now, so take responsibility.  It's about awareness and what the hippies used to call "consciousness raising." What does it really take for people, both men and women, to realize we need balance?
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