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.