The Same Thing We Do Every Night, Pinky…
by Ruby Sara
Greetings to all my sisters and brothers on this steel gray day in the not-so-wild midwest! The robins are out in full splendor – nibbling at the tired wastes of still nourishing rose hips, and looking full and fat in the skinny branches of the trees.
Today is Blog Against Sexism Day, in honor of International Women’s Day. Because there are an enormous amount of incredibly insightful, laser-sharp fabulous feminist blogs in existence, I rarely focus overtly on this issue, though it is, like ecology and other social justice issues, not possible to compartmentalize it away from my spirituality. And, of course, it certainly is not possible to ignore the continued interplay of gender issues within my religious communities. The truth remains – we Pagans, by virtue of having soaked in our culture’s poisonous worldview like everyone else (no matter how hard we continue to fight against it, and should), have our own bevy of hangups about gender too. Therefore, I have determined that today is the perfect day to write a little post about something that has my Wonder Woman underoos in a bit of a twist lately. If’n yer of the persuasion that topics of this sort are unappealing to you – you may want to pull yer hat down over your eyes there and have yourself a nap. I won’t be offended – and it will save me from having to wrestle through angry comments later, when I’d really rather just shake hands, say “friend,” and leave it at that.
Lovely. Now, in the immortal words of that beloved lady with the talking umbrella, Mary Poppins: “Line up, close your eyes, and jump!”
Over the course of the last several years, I’ve noticed a growing trend among some Pagans to join the ranks of what I’ve come to not-so-fondly label the “feminists are pooheads” contingent. Subsets of this group include the “feminist Goddess-worshippers are oppressing me as a Pagan man” group, the “feminists are wacked out monotheistic crazy people who don’t believe in scholarship” group, and on occasion can also include the “I’m a Pagan Republican and I feel woefully silenced and ostracized by those wretched hippies and their tragic insistence on social and ecological justice” group. It should go without saying that I’m in disagreement with these statements (and that the statements themselves are biased based on my own prejudices against anti-feminists and republicans..I am tragically unenlightened, it’s true – no miraculously preserved corpse that smells like roses for me). I’ve also been increasingly aggravated/disturbed/pissed off by the many comments I’ve read from members of these groups that have involved misogynist invectives of an incredibly hateful, violent nature (one in particular that springs to mind was from a fellow who, in illustrating his “righteous” double condemnation of feminists and “fluff-bunnies,” expressed a deep desire to strangle all feminists with rabbit entrails – deplorable violence against women and animals is hilarious, after all, and then, just like our good friend Ann Coulter, you can plead to being merely a harmless chortling jokester and accuse your detractors of having no sense of humor).
Now, the majority of these folks are just simply plain old anti-feminists in Pagan clothing (from denim to crushed velvet). There’s nothing remarkable about them – you can have all the same fruitless, agonizingly exhausting arguments with them as you can have with any other run-of-the-mill anti-feminist. And golly – I’d rather not.
However, that first subset up there, from folks who believe that feminists and in particular feminist Goddess-worshippers in the Pagan community are oppressing men, has been gaining some visibility in the wider community lately, and it is something that I have been chewing on. First, I would like to highlight an excellent article I read last year in response to this supposition. I am eternally grateful to Brown Recluse for articulating so many excellent points. You can read the entire article on Witchvox here.
A few highlights:
In short, I believe that there’s a crucial error in arguing that Pagan feminism oppresses male Pagans. To many of us, male privilege looks so normal (and why shouldn’t it, when we see it so much?) that any small reduction of that privilege (focusing on the Goddess more than on the God, having more women in leadership positions in Wicca—not every religion, or most religions, just in Wicca—or using gender-neutral language) can look like an attack on men. This is why so many people are convinced that feminists hate men: because when inequity is the norm, a desire for equity reads as an attack.
…equity does not mean women radically changing a practice which appeals to (go figure) women in order to accommodate men. It does not mean giving up one of the few spaces in which women can enjoy that practice, in the name of an “equity” which is almost never reciprocated in other spaces. And it doesn’t mean changing what gives any of us joy in order to suit someone else. We shouldn’t—and we won’t—give way to demands that every group perpetuate a privilege which is already far too powerful.
Certainly, what falls in with a lot of Paganism’s ruminations about gender can be frustrating in its occasionally overwhelming emphasis on gender essentialism, and there is a place to discuss the nature of “women’s space” in the context of what makes a “woman,” or in the context of a fluid understanding of gender as a social construct, including transgender issues. These are all wonderful places to begin some really rich dialogue about gender and gender roles within Paganism. Like all Pagans everwhere, I’m never opposed to healthy verbose wrastling. Yay dialogue! Yay anarchy! Yay mess!
However, to posit that the establishment of women’s space or women-only circles, or the emphasis on Goddess-worship within some Pagan groups, or the ongoing discussion/disection and rejection of Patriarchy within a Pagan context, consitutes the oppression of males as a class within Paganism, is ridiculous. Oppression requires institutionalized power. Systems. Laws. Sanctions. Rules. Acculteration. There are no Pagan groups that hold these things as such at this moment in time. If one group strikes an individual or several individuals as an overly hierarchical bunch of yuck, that person can schism (this happens all the time for a million reasons) and start their own group, with all of the same resources, capabilities, and agency the first group possessed. In many ways, because of the continued privileging of men as a class within mainstream American culture, men who choose to tell any particular Pagan group to jam it because they feel discriminated against have more agency, power, resources and ability to start their own groups in some areas than women do.
While it is plausible to believe that there may be individual women who have interacted in a shitty way with individual men in certain circumstances - treated them poorly, degraded their person etc., and there may be some folks who conflate patriarchy with men for whatever reason (patriarchy is a system that benefits men and is for the most part run by men and all men are privileged enormously by it in some way, but patriarchy is a system, a worldview, and there are men in this world who do recognize it and fight against it [and, when they do not conform to it, are abused by it], so while I think one must be careful to remember that patriarchy does exist and that is does privilege men, it is an error to equate the system with the male sex) - this by no means constitutes a systemic worldview, a system of oppression. This is basic asshattery (some of it, it should be acknowledged, coming from places of immense hurt and abuse instigated by patriarchy in the first place) – folks who abuse others for any reason should be quickly called out by their communities, and often are.
To argue that feminism is or is becoming on par with patriarchy as a system of oppression is a wildly false comparison on several levels. It does an injustice to the strong tradition of powerful thinking and movement for serious change in our communities, and it ignores the flowering of communities of radical equality, radical diversity and critical thought of which I am proud to be a part in the Pagan sphere.
Friends, I love Paganism. I love it in all its craziness, in all its weird/wyrd stew. I am happy to find around me healthy, strong groups made up of women-only, men-only (I’m in happy love with the Radical Faeries, for instance), and all the happy mixed bag groups of a million genders (wha? there’s more than two? oh yes my friends), a million identities. The gods and goddesses are not so easily categorized – why would we be? Feminism is about calling out and eradicating systems that squelch creativity, restrict access to radical holistic health, restrict the creation of authentic community, restrict the practice of authentic freedom, restrict the appreciation of Beauty, and restrict the manifestation of real choice – it is a method, a tool, and a worldview by which we can continue to worm our way out of an old worldview that postulates greed, hierarchy, abuse, eco-destruction, and the systematic cultural, emotional, spiritual and physical degradation/annihilation of whole peoples based on their gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other coded designation assigned to them by the privileged class operating in a top-down system of control. That we Pagani are so creative and anarchic and weird and freaky and sexy and crazy in the face of this crap-machine is a precious gift. Thus, for me, Paganism and Feminism are natural friends. And both, after all, are made out of people, with all the diverse mess that comes with them.
For all that (goodness – uh, there seems to be a lot more than I intended), I’m sure I haven’t articulated it as fully or as clearly as I meant to. Always, I decline the dubious honor of the last word – I am one voice among many good voices. Always, I give myself up for loved by the Mama. Always, I am in love with that Radical Isness that Moves Through Everything, and the Good Earth that tells its stories and makes illustrations of its truths. The Good Earth is a Teacher. Seek Her out. Seek Her underneath. Seek Her through.
**I should tell you that I’m not terribly interested in engaging in any enormous debate about this subject. I needed to get it out – and it’s out. I’ve gone ’round that mulberry bush a million times with many different people – in this thunderdome, two folks enter, and no one leaves… until they finally choose to. I chose to a long time ago because I wanted to spend my energies working for change in other equally legitimate ways. If you want to debate these issues, or read more about feminism, etc., there are thousands and thousands of amazing sources available to you, and debaters ready to engage you that are fresh, articulate, fiery and will duke (and duchess) it out with you better than I ever could. Peace through dialogue, friends.