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Kate Orman
News From the House of Sticks
8th-Mar-2009 05:10 pm
Introducing Thealogy by Melissa Raphael has been lying about in a plastic tub for about four years, waiting for me to pick it up and read it. Oh I am glad that I've finally started. It's one of those books that pulls that crazy quilt of understanding in your head into a pattern.

Just one of these stimulatin' insights is Raphael's discussion in chapter one of Goddess feminism's origins in the radical feminist movement of the seventies. Fed up with the sexism in the civil rights movements and the left generally, with "no desire for equality on what remained patriarchal terms", radical feminists left them behind to celebrate "female difference and traditionally female activities and relationships in post-patriarchal context".

Raphael contrasts this with the liberal or "reform" feminism of the sixties' Second Wave which "wanted to minimize the difference between women and men" and "to distance femaleness from biology", arguing that "female difference was of cultural rather than natural origin". Raphael is careful not to suggest that liberal feminism ignores the body and sex while radical feminism is solely interested in them. But these broad differences in approach characterise (for example) feminist reformist movements in traditional religions such as Christianity on the one hand and Goddess feminism, which has left those traditional churches behind, on the other. (And again, Raphael is careful to point out the "fluid" boundaries between these approaches.)

Intriguingly, Raphael also calls this radical feminism "cultural feminism", suggesting that it's the celebration of traditionally female culture that's the project of radical feminism: values such as non-violence, nurturing, and sharing of power, behaviours assigned to women and forbidden to men by patriarchy.

This made my brain explode, so I leapt up off the bed and ran in here to blog it. For one thing, I had an explanation of the indignation expressed by some when I said I was a boy because of the way I behave. (Like many other fangirls, it's just that I'm "gender non-conforming".) I'd said that men and women were different. This rang alarm bells.

For another, I could see the basis of criticisms of Goddess feminism both from within feminism (Katha Pollit) and from feminism's enemies (Rene Denfeld) as distracting from more important issues - but at the same time, it confirmed what I've always known: Goddess feminism, as a movement, is intensely, inherently political. It's not just a cutesy fantasy. It's informed every aspect of my feminism (I worship a dark-skinned androgynous teenage whore. If nothing else, that puts the centre of the universe somewhere else entirely from Yahweh.)and my politics generally (I never could get interested in the environment until I started seeing those rolling hills around the Hawkesbury as Her body).

I was also completely knocked over by a description in the book's introduction of a training program for priestesses which identified a number of different possible paths, including Creatrix (celebrating the Goddess through art, drama, etc) and Scholar/Teacher (sharing research). It was also affirming to read that very many Goddess feminists are solitary, like myself. As of this month's autumnal equinox, I'll have been a Wiccan for seventeen years. I've been berating myself for years now for sliding out of regular ritual, and just writing and reading about thealogy. Suddenly I realise I've been doing it right all along.
8th-Mar-2009 11:48 am (UTC)
As a non-violent, fairly nurturing, hopefully power-sharing (if I ever get any) male, I've never much liked the idea of minimising the differences between male and female, but I do think it would be a good idea to find out what they actually are (rather than what my lot have been saying they are).
8th-Mar-2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
As a biologist, on the one hand I have no problem saying that there are real statistical differences between human males and human females in terms of anatomy/physiology/behavior (because there *are*) . . . but I also know how individual variation (on both sides of the gender line) is quite capable of completely trashing those averaged-out stats when one is dealing with *particular* men and women.

I'm also aware of how weird and blurry the gender "line" really is, even at the most basic levels (e.g. genitalia), so when you get into something as complex as the space between a human's ears, all bets are off.

Which is why I always get irritated by people who work only from the statistical averages and instead of using them to predict tendencies will try to make those averages represent absolute reality for *all* individuals of a particular gender.

In a perfect world (at least by my definition of such), society would ultimately take people as individuals, on a case-by-case basis, and not try to force them into labeled boxes (or quaint little categories, for that matter . . .) ahead of time. But that may be just me. ;)

I've been berating myself for years now for sliding out of regular ritual, and just writing and reading about thealogy. Suddenly I realise I've been doing it right all along.

I've always loved that idea (from a distance, anyway, since I'm an agnostic): your whole life is your prayer/offering, all the time, and one best serves the Divine by getting out there and *doing* things. I like to think that if there are greater Powers out there, that that's how they work.

(Is the icon for this post from the totally pagan Fantasia 2000 "Firebird" sequence? I sat there with my mouth hanging open the first time I saw that, and couldn't believe what I was seeing -- from Disney, no less . . .)
9th-Mar-2009 01:24 am (UTC)
Way back when I was looking for my first real job, there was an exemption for jobs which required "heavy lifting", which were allowed to be advertised for men only. Even then this struck me as odd: what if a woman - say, a bodybuilder - was perfectly capable of doing the work? It'd be fair to say that many, even most, women, wouldn't have the necessary strength, but it makes no sense to interview men who aren't strong and fit enough and exclude women who are. So there's that confusion between generalisation (most women wouldn't be strong enough) and stereotype (you're a woman, therefore you're not strong enough / you're saying no woman would be strong enough!) which Jon raised in comments to the fangenderqueer post.

Hmmm, mentioning a female bodybuilder brings up the cultural influences even on what seem like brute biological facts - it's not just androgens that make muscle, it's using those muscles, at the gym, or, say, in jobs that require heavy lifting.

Yeah, that's Firebird. Seemed like a perfect image for postings about the Goddess. :)
9th-Mar-2009 01:42 am (UTC)
I need to read this book. Off to Abebooks I go (I've already checked the local library and Libraries Australia).
9th-Mar-2009 10:20 pm (UTC)
Nodnodnod. What an interesting sounding book!
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