Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lift and Separate

One of the best article titles I've seen in recent memory is from this week's New Yorker. Lift and Separate by Ariel Levy is a review of two books written about the history of feminism. The article is great and brought to mind the societal upheavals of that exciting, confusing time.

My own consciousness-raising wasn't focused on Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan - or Gail Collins - though those women were and are seriously mighty, and thank God for their brilliance. Or, thank Goddess, as we would have said.

Actually we didn't start using the term Goddess until the 1980's when suddenly the feminine divine became a central pillar of the evolving Women's Movement. That's what hooked me, the idea of a feminine divine. I didn't care to crawl my way to the top of the corporate ladder or (Goddess forbid) run for political office or even worse, be allowed to be a soldier, fighting shoulder to shoulder with men. Oh no. But the concept of worshipping something other than an old sociopathic dude with the long white beard, sitting on His throne up in Heaven - that really hooked me.

During the 1970's, the Movement was constellated around throwing off oppression, in other words, we were pissed off, hence the bra burning and other similar protests. Later, after the first ten years or so, we began to unwind the conventionally accepted "wisdom" around the nature of women. "The weaker sex?" Anyone who has ever attended a birth, and has witnessed women in the final stages of labor would never, not ever think of women as weak ever again.

One of my favorite books - still - is Barbara Ehrenreich's For Her Own Good, 150 Years of Experts' Advice to Women, a history of the way in which men turned the medical profession into an heroic old boys club, pushed out the midwives and herbalists who were women and therefore deemed not suitable to be a part of the brotherhood. Whoa! What a book.

Suddenly during the mid-1980's, the idea of reclaiming the feminine divine went viral as we would say now. When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone, was one of the first books I remember about images of feminine divinity. After that, dozens, maybe hundreds of books appeared on bookstore shelves, all at once, it seemed. Of course my old colleague Starhawk's book, The Spiral Dance was among them, as were the works of Marija Gimbutas.

Some of the authors I mentioned in yesterday's post, Jack Zipes, Jane Yolen, Diane Wolkstein and Clarissa Pinkola-Estes (among many others) zoomed in on the old fairytales, revealing powerful heroines underneath the patriarchal veneer of helpless girls abused by their evil stepmothers. It was such a time of revelation, wow!

And so this is the long version of how it was that in Reclaiming we began using myths and fairytales as themes for our week-long summer intensives. I'll write about witch camp tomorrow, Rosaria, I promise!


Reya Mellicker said...

Should also have mentioned the GREAT Joseph Campbell as one of the best myth interpreters EVER. Sorry Joe!!

ellen abbott said...

Oh Reya, I so agree with this. I never read Ms Steinem or any of the others. I just chafed at the double standard from the time I was about 12 years old and became aware. things like my mother telling me to let the boys win at games whenever I would beat them. All the things they could do that I could not. (No didn't want to be a soldier), like not being allowed into medical or law schools, being discouraged from science. You know. I read Merlin Stone's book and many others and embraced the goddess, the first deity. Double standards were not allowed in my relationships. If I keep going this will be as long as your post.

re Campbell, I was totally disappointed in his primitive mythology, the first part so into Freud who I think was a misogynist and a quack. Penis envy? Gimme a break. Women didn't want a penis, they wanted the same rights and opportunities that men had. It took me three tries before I finally read it.

California Girl said...

Just wrote a post about Ehrenrich's new book a couple weeks ago. Her take is interesting and certainly will provoke conversational disagreements.

Meri said...

Oh yes, those patriarchs managed to squeeze feminine energy out of almost every sphere. I imagine myself with a great big caulking gun full of woman essence, plugging it back in to all the crevices left after their misogynistic structures began to crack and fail.

Reya Mellicker said...

California Girl I'll check out your post. I am a big fan of Barbara.

It's interesting that after 20 years of feminist seders and the Shekinah, and all the witchcraft, Reclaiming, Goddess rituals and celebrations, I've returned to the name "God" for the over-arching deity. I believe the divine is an energy that goes way beyond gender, way beyond form.

willow said...

I was just about to say how I think God is a force, without gender, as we know it, and I see you beat me to it in your comment to Calif Girl!

Steve said...

Barbara Ehrenreich is terrific -- I've long enjoyed her books and articles. And I will look for "Lift and Separate"!

I like the way feminism, and most -isms, evolve over time as society changes.

Reya Mellicker said...

It's almost organic the way movements build up energy, then burst open, then mature and eventually bear fruit. I mean "organic" as in alignment with the natural world.

Hilarywho said...

Thanks for passing along the info about the New Yorker review - as someone who got a feminist education in her early 20s by being a dedicated reader of Ms. magazine I'm sure I'll find it of interest.

Reya Mellicker said...

Hilary - It's really great. You'll love it!

ellen abbott said...

Yes, I tend to use the term 'god' to refer to 'the all that is', but I say it, think it, mean it without gender. god has no gender really as it is the sum total of all. I had to stop using it for awhile though in order for it to lose it's common associations.

Reya Mellicker said...

The sum total of all. Yes. It's that thing that makes everything more than a sum of its parts. Genderless. By saying Goddess all those years I brought my own mind/heart into balance about the gender thing.

Mrsupole said...

I was a soldier during the Vietnam war.

I am not sure how much of a feminist I was at the time, but I actually joined because I did not think it was fair to ask the men to serve, if I as a female was not willing to also serve. And I must say that I really did enjoy using an M16 on the firing range. When I got out they told me that I was now part of the Inactive Army Reserve and that they could recall me to duty until I was 65. I'm not sure if that means I'm still a soldier, but I think anyone who has served, always thinks of themselves as part of the military. I still have all of my military gear. My boots still shine to this day.

The sad thing is that women are still not allowed to hold a Combat MOS (Military Occupation Skill). Even though women have been put into combat situations, they are not supposed to be able to fight. I am one of only, I think less then 10, women who have ever held a combat MOS. We were put into it by mistake. They quickly fixed the error, but because we had already been trained, they kept us in our field. I graduated top of my class and excelled above the men, who were not happy to have a female do this. I guess these attitudes still exist that somehow women are unable to fight alongside men. They can die with them, but are not supposed to fight with them. I wonder if things will ever truly change if women continue to be treated differently by the military.

I also am not sure if you remember how at one time they did not even let women work at McDonald's. I was also one of the very first females to work there. It helped to pay for my college tuition. The managers, at the time, treated us as inferior to the males. We showed them we could do the job as well, and more efficiently. I like to think that I had some part, a small one, in paving the way for other females to hold positions once only held by men.

I have also had other jobs supposedly only held by men, but I will save that for another time.

I think there are many jobs that I glady leave to the men, but the ones I can do, I feel I should get paid equally to my male counterparts. Does this make me a feminist? Maybe, maybe not, but it probably makes me an equalitarian.

God bless.

Ronda Laveen said...

I do so remember seeing "When God was a Woman" for the first time and the pictures of the Goddess figures. And felt the resonant "ahhh" shudder through my body cellular recognition. And, yes, Starhawk's books. I never heard of Gimbutas. Thanks for the link.

Mrsupole said...

Whoops, I also wanted to write about how a few weeks ago, we were helping youngest grandson study about the Iroquois Indians. They said that it was the females who made the decisions for the tribes. Each matriarch had the final say for their clan. I found this very interesting that there were Native Tribal societies that placed women in the power of authority. During this time for the Iroquis Indians, there was peace and prosperity for them. When they no longer held the females in high esteem, things changed. This happened after the males of the tribe started following the ways of the European men.

I think females think differently then males and will look for a more peaceful solution to a problem.

I have always wondered why, with women raising the children, there has been so much violence in the world's history. But then again, men think mostly with the side of the brain that is more aggressive.

I am so thankful that I do not live in one of the countries that treat women as subserviant slaves. I think that I would have been beaten and probably murdered for my views. I am not sure if these women are stronger than me for being able to live that way, or if they are weaker, for putting up with it. Either way, I do pray for them and that things will someday change.

And I too like what you said about there being no gender for God. I just think of God as all being. God is God. God is great.

I like your thought, "the sum total of all". That is a really wonderful thought.

God bless.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

I'm always a few weeks behind in the new yorker so I appreciate the head's up... and the double entendre title, that's a kick!

Reya Mellicker said...

Mrsupole you are SO interesting! Thank you for all your thoughts.

All of you, I mean it! Wow.