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December 2014

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Dec. 19th, 2014

Collie muse

Struggling with defining personal ethics

Some years ago I had a friend with whom I lunched on a weekly basis. At that time he was on a job team that had something particularly difficult and complex to accomplish. This wouldn't have been such a big deal except that, frankly speaking, the manager was terrible. He wished to hear only that things were finished; he didn't want to hear about or assist with technical details or difficulties. As he became more… disinterested, more hostile to listening to the team members tell him anything he didn't want to hear, he added someone he liked to the team — a guy who was (pardon my bluntness) basically a brown-noser.

Unsurprisingly the team started fracturing soon thereafter, as the brown-noser picked someone to scapegoat to his boss — my friend. It was a rather painful time for both my friend experiencing this, and myself as listener, since I could see what was happening. I tried to gently urge him to start looking for a job right away so he could leave as soon as possible… but he really wanted to believe the team could indeed accomplish its goal. As it turned out, he was right — the team staggered to a shaky conclusion point. The very next day my friend was fired. Because he lived some distance from me, and it was his work that was close to me, we put our weekly lunches on hold.

Fast forward to now: I get an IM (Instant Message) from my friend suggesting I look at a particular web page. I do so; it's some girl's blog. I read a few entries and am not terribly impressed; I'm thinking she seems to be rather… self-centered? Kind of has a chip on her shoulder for some reason… might want to work a bit on her grammar and spelling. Maybe she's still in her teens or early twenties? No idea; don't really care since her chatter about herself is not very interesting to me.

I IM my friend back, asking why I should look at this webpage, and he asks me what I thought of it. I tell him that I don't know the girl but she seems… kind of a prick? He types back: "ROTFL!!" and then tells me: this girl… is the brown-noser — who has had a sex change and is now a she.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

There is an on-going argument in some of the women's spirituality circles I know of regarding trans women. The majority (I think?) of folks seem to see them as just another woman, but there are some — notably some members of the female-centered Dianic tradition — who consider them women who were not born women, and who therefore are not qualified to join their circles, any more than men are.

This is, of course, an extremely complex issue which (since I am not myself a Dianic, so am speaking as an uninformed outsider) I am simplifying horribly in order to discuss some of my thoughts. I would urge you to research it yourself if it interests you, so as to have a fuller understanding of the varying ramifications of the question. My personal issue is that I have some sympathy for both sides.

This disturbs me for a variety of reasons. As someone of a fair degree of privilege who is aware I harbor unconscious and ingrained cultural prejudices, I try hard to recognize them and root them out in my ongoing efforts to become a more compassionate and kinder person. I happen to believe that people should be able to be who they think they are, to some degree — rather than having those in power define what boxes we all must inhabit. For example, I don't think someone should be able to define themself as the Queen of the United States, but I do think they should be able to at least define their personal gender without fear of violent repercussion. This would seem to indicate I think trans women are indeed women in every philosophical sense of the word. There are, after all, women born women who cannot give birth, just as trans women cannot. But on the other hand…

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

When I started the Women's Spirituality program at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology I was surprised to realize there were no men in any of my classes. Initially my hackles went up about excluding men — and then I discovered there were no men because no men wanted to take the classes. So I mentally shrugged and continued my classes with just women. It was a first for me, and it slowly taught me a very important lesson: women really are different when there are no men around. They're more open, more willing to talk and share experiences; shy women who ordinarily say nothing will eventually step forward and speak, even if tentatively.

I found this fascinating, and the classes were intellectually challenging, emotionally engrossing, and truly encouraged me to grow as a person. I was delighted to discover just how much I enjoyed being a woman amongst women — odd though it may sound, I'd never truly experienced that before. I didn't really register that this was happening, however, until my experiences in two other classes — each taken at a different time — where one or two men were also present.

The difference was startling. In one of the classes the single man present didn't understand or agree with one of the basic precepts upon which the class was built. Thus, instead of all of us deeply exploring this fascinating concept, the majority of class time was spent by the professor and one or two of the women trying to educate and convince the man of the concept's validity. I am not a shy person, but I — along with the majority of women there who had already done the reading — spent most of that class in silence. I was too disgusted to try calmly asking him why he hadn't done the suggested reading before class, rather than wasting all our time and money by effectively insisting on a 101 level class for him alone.

The second class had two men in it, and was equally aggravating, though for a different reason. In that case the (female) instructor almost doted on the men: asking them questions about both the class topic and themselves, encouraging them to talk more than everyone else — and perhaps worst to my way of seeing things, hushing the women so the men could talk more. One of these men had the courtesy to try involving the women students as well, and I suspect he was a bit embarrassed about the whole situation. The other man, however, ended up happily monopolizing everyone's time as he rambled on about himself. In a class with two men and 17 women, it would not surprise me to discover he talked more than everyone else combined.

In my admittedly prejudiced opinion, neither of these classes accomplished their stated educational goals, nor would I recommend the instructors to other students. I haven't been in a class with a man or men present where the professor managed to keep the men from monopolizing the course, though I presume it is technically feasible. More difficult, I suspect, would be getting the women to open up while men are present. Further, from the reading I've done women perform significantly better scholastically when no men are present. This does not really surprise me, since I've also read that, for example, black students perform better when no whites are present. What this tells me is that the presence of the culturally powerful silences — even unintentionally — the culturally disempowered… and that cultural training is more powerful and pervasive than we realize.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Which brings me in incredibly roundabout fashion to my personal issue with newly trans women. I know trans women are neither monolithic nor homogenous — any more than any population group can be adequately represented by only one or two individuals. I understand being trans* can be terminally dangerous, and I wouldn't wish that fate on anyone — especially since as a woman myself I too have experienced fear of men in certain situations. However, I am somewhat… put off by the attitudes of some of the trans women I've met or read about. I understand that up until transition they were culturally men, with all the privileges which our society awards (however unjustly) to men — and it can be a shock to suddenly lose that sense of innate superiority.

That, I think, is what bothers me: the feeling that some — not all, of course — trans women feel entitled not only to their previous levels of privilege as men, but also somehow to yet more privilege — due to… what? Their now being women? Their unusual gender status? News flash: acting in a self-centered, arrogant, and demanding fashion isn't pretty regardless of gender. Further, transitioning is not a magic wand of personality-change: if you were a good person as a man then you'll likely be a good person after transitioning to a woman as well. The opposite, of course, is equally true: if you were an asshole as a man, it's a good bet you're still going to be an asshole as a woman.

That, I think, is why I have some sympathy for the Dianics' position in this argument. It's hard enough for women to find safe spaces to be themselves, without having to spend all their time trying to teach a trans woman how to be a woman — how to share space instead of trying to monopolize it. Having someone relatively newly transitioned demanding they be included and treated as the center of attention — just as they were as a man — shatters women's ability to truly share and grow within a circle.

I've not yet figured out how I feel about this, but I do know that I don't want to treat all trans women the same because they're not all the same — just as I don't treat all women, or all men, the same. I think I'm going to take it on a case by case basis, and see how that works… and continue struggling to be sensitive to the needs of both the Dianics and the trans women.

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Dec. 16th, 2014

Collie muse

In sickness & health…

I don't usually use trigger warnings in my writing, mostly because I don't expect that many people read my blog, and those that do have not asked me to please do so — which I'd be happy to? -but wevs at this point. However, I'm using a trigger warning this time for… hm. I guess for possibly graphic descriptions of sickness? Therefore: please be warned.

 

I'd meant to write about our new dog right after the posting on the kitties. However, two rather significant events happened which derailed my writing. First, we signed on a house — WOW! I'm still amazed and thrilled by this. Second, we went out to celebrate with dinner that night… and I promptly came down with a hugely and painfully debilitating case of what I think was either food poisoning or stomach flu. I was under the impression that food poisoning usually lasted only a day or two. However, it's six days later, and I'm only today beginning to have enough functioning brain cells that I'm focusing well — which is annoying as heck. I truly loathe feeling stupid and not up to snuff.

I also have a new… what to call it — a new quantifier or descriptor for sickness now. It used to be, on a scale of 1 to 10, that my 10 was something like: "feel horribly icky, will only eat and sleep until I'm more healed up." My new 10 is more along the lines of: "Groggily waking up with agonizingly aching muscles due to whole-body pain-tensing during sleep. Trying to stay unconscious because otherwise am seriously pondering death rather than consciousness. Definitely would rather throw up than eat."

I have learned two important lessons from this experience. One, next time I'm just going to throw up the crap my body is unhappy about so I can get it out of my system as quickly as possible — screw worrying about making it to the freakin' bathroom. Two, I'm going to start getting the yearly flu shots offered by my insurance company in the hopes that this nevereverfuckingEVAR happens again.

So yeah. This threw a huge monkey wrench into my trying to write at least 15 minutes daily — no surprise there. But I intend to just start up again and not beat myself up about it, and if I've not got enough brain cells to write more for my dissertation then I'll just write what I can. Frankly, at this point, anyone that tries to tell me the brain is what drives the body… can bite me.

There's also a curious… I don't know, clarity? sharpness? -of sensory input and tunnel-vision focus one can get when seriously ill. It's like a sort of tunnel vision. So I'm writing about this while my thoughts and sensations are still relatively fresh, since I think it might be useful or interesting for later storytelling.

For example, I think the first symptoms started late Friday night, after a delicious dinner celebrating signing on a house, at a very nice local restaurant. Considering the dinner was some ten or so hours earlier, I'd like to think they weren't connected. I woke up several times that night from about 3:30ish am onwards, and I remember lying on my back in bed with a tummy ache, blearily doing belly dancing stomach rolls because they helped me feel better. Thank you, ATS. ;)

It wasn't until the next morning that I first realized I was truly ill. It was painful to stand up straight when I get out of bed, so I shuffled out to sit on the couch and talk to my housemate. That was when it hit me: first, I was about to faint! Second, my body suddenly and in an instant prickled all over with sweat in an effort to equalize my temperature. I've come close to fainting before – I remember forgetting breakfast one morning, and then later almost passing out during surgery in the animal hospital I used to work at – so I know the signs, and I know to duck my head between my knees and breathe deeply. This time, however, the prospect of putting that much pressure on my poor, pained stomach made me decide that just lying on the floor would be fine!

Admittedly it was more of a controlled fall to the carpet, and once I was there I had to concentrate hard on swallowing repeatedly because I did not wish to be ill right there. It was close, but I managed not to throw up… and I also remember realizing with a sort of vague wonder: my hands are both tingling as if the blood supply had been cut off and is now returning. Now why would they do that? I hadn't been sitting on them or anything…?

When I was finally able to try getting up, with the help of one of my worried housemates, I also remember staring at one of my hands where it rested on the couch, as I got ready to try standing. I wasn't wearing my contacts yet, and the early morning sunlight was falling on my hand… and I found myself dazedly admiring what almost looked like a layer of pearl lying over the skin on the back of my hand – and then I realized it must be the coat of sweat that my body had previously created. Was what I saw truly actually there? I have no idea… because I know I was mildly hallucinatory later on that day as well.

Later that day my sweetie – wait. May I take this moment to say that this last week of caring for a patient who loathes being sick has most certainly qualified him for sainthood? I swear the man has the patience of Job – and I never liked how Yahweh treated Job in the first place! I sure hope I wasn't that bad… but I'm not holding my breath. Plus my sweetie made sure two cats and a dog stayed fed on schedule, balancing who went where so the (still insecure) dog wasn't left alone too long, and so neither cats nor dog met each other unexpectedly – they're not yet used to each other, and we're trying to gentle them slowly into being friends. Oh, and he also walked the dog three times daily for two days alone – once while it was raining! — and two days with me while I was still very low energy. Sweetie, you are truly awesome – thank you so much! ;)

Ahem. Okay, starting up again: later that day my sweetie made me a small cup of one of my favorite soups: French onion dip. He set it up really nicely too: some Ritz crackers and some cut-up cheese chunks for me to nibble at as well if I wanted (he really is amazing). I'm well familiar with that sensation where you don't think you're hungry when you're sick – but then you get a whiff or a taste of the soup and whoosh! Your appetite comes back enough that you can eat a bit, so you don't dehydrate while ill. This time, though… nothing. The soup smelled great, but I was completely indifferent to it – and looking at the dairy products made me hastily glance away and swallow hard. With some gentle urging I tried a spoonful of the broth, to try to kickstart my appetite – and again: nothing. I literally had to force four small spoonfuls of that broth down my throat — and then I really didn't want any more.

I slept throughout that entire day and night, waking only to realize I was in pain from the position I was lying in. I'd roll over and fall back asleep like the dead. It wasn't until late that night, in fact, that it hit me: every time I was waking up, I was strongly stretching my entire, aching body — pointing my toes, rotating my ankles and wrists, rolling my shoulders, and clenching and unclenching my fists. Further, I had a terrible headache – and yet every time I remembered to, I'd been trying to take a few sips of the cool, lightly flavored seltzer water my sweetie had made for me. Surely my head couldn't be aching due to dehydration?

It took me a minute to realize, as I licked my dry lips and lay there thinking: the headache wasn't in the usual place on my skull. In fact, all the aches in my head twinged when I moved my jaws – and it was the long muscles in my legs that really ached too. Apparently I'd been in enough pain while asleep that I'd been clenching up my entire body, as well as grinding my jaw – and I was waking up when the muscular tension was such that I had to shift to release. Fortunately I wear a retainer at night, so I didn't damage my teeth… but wow, was that painful!

The rest of the week didn't have much in the way of those piercingly clear sensory epiphanies, though I could tell I wasn't completely healed yet due to the lack of energy and the rather groggy mental sensation — I loathe feeling stupid and slow due to exhaustion and illness even more than I hate being ill itself. There were two separate days, in fact, where I lay down for a short nap… and woke up some four or five hours later!

I did have a few nice moments, though — like the pretty stained-glass sparkle of multicolored Christmas tree lights through the cut-glass in the door of a house I was passing one night while walking Goldie, my handsome new rescue dog. That was so lovely… and the wet shimmer at night of beautifully colorful light smears on the rain-slick cobbled tiles of a private road near where I live, reflecting the equally beautiful Christmas lights strung overhead above the street. To me that's sort of the true meaning of Christmas, as epitomized in the beauty and joyous sharing spirit of the season: the giving back a little with both friends and loved ones, and those less fortunate than you, as we all take a moment to be grateful for this glorious, gorgeous old world who shelters and feeds us so generously — spiritually as well as physically — as She whirls us all safely through the universe for another year.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Dec. 5th, 2014

Collie muse

Thinking just to keep in practice

I'm trying to write more often -- it's way too easy for me to get into a no-writing slump and procrastinate on my dissertation proposal. Everything I've read on the process says any writing is better than none, so this is a collection of thoughts all tossed out for consideration. The first one, though, is a request for help on identifying a particular fruit. In the backyard of one of the houses we visited -- we're house-hunting again now that the previous possible purchase fell through -- was a fruit tree. I took one of the fruits to try and identify it, though I didn't actually take a bite of it.

  • Two of the fruits

  • Two of the fruits

  • The fruit cut in half

  • The fruit cut in half




My best guess is that it's an apple of some sort. I remember the sweet-smelling apple trees on our land in Texas, with their beautiful, frothy, pinkish-white blossoms that practically dripped off the trees each spring. The little green apples that were produced were cooking apples for pies, my mother told me. I loved her apple pies, and the horses gladly ate all the apples they could, so I took a bite of one too, assuming it'd taste much like the apples in my mother's pies.

Dear heavens was that a mistake! That apple was as sour and bitter as a lemon to me -- and harder to chew! Talk about not judging a book by its cover. So no: I did not try biting into any of these fruits. :)




A close-up of the odd seed compartmentalization


A close-up of the odd seed compartmentalization


These fruits, as you can see, are more yellowish than the green apples I remember, though they're about the same size: slightly smaller than my closed fist. If you look closely at the photos you'll also see there's a curious series of four separate "compartments" that hold all the seeds. I don't recall anything like that in apples, which is why I'm currently unconvinced these fruits are in fact apples. So: does anyone know what they are? I'd love to know, even though we aren't buying that house.

We are, however, finally signing for a house today -- squeeee! It's both terrifying and exciting to think about -- I'm still processing the idea and figuring out how I feel about it. Ever since moving out of my parents' place I have rented. This will definitely be a first! The new place is rather nice, with over 3000 square feet of living space, a small pool, four fireplaces (who needs four fireplaces?! :), two stories, a gorgeous kitchen, a nice deck out back... enough space for us and pets! Plus the guys have promised that I can decorate to my heart's content, woo! There's a lot of wonderful potential in the house, I think, and once we've moved in and it's warm enough to swim we want to have a huge house-warming party and invite everyone we know!




Ridunkulously kyoot kitty ball!


Ridunkulously kyoot kitty ball!


Speaking of pets: we now haz 'em! We have two gorgeous kitties and a beautiful, sweet dog. I am ridiculously happy with this! I hadn't realized how much there was an empty internal space in myself waiting to be filled with animal companions again. The first photo is of them now, performing a contrary feline yin/yang on my computer chair and doing their best to reduce our minds to mush with their devastating Kitty-Fu KYOOTness attack! Not bad for two rescue girls that couldn't stand each other when they first got brought home!

We are, of course, a geeky household -- and so the kitties are named Mandelbrot and Tesseract. Manders has the uncanny ability to get underfoot as if she is spontaneously multiplying herself -- of course -- while Tessa simply sits quietly across the room in the traditional Zen kitty "meatloaf" pose... but when you turn your back to make dinner -- there she is seated right at your feet, staring expectantly up at you!




kitty Zen meatloaf pose


kitty Zen meatloaf pose


MandaCat is also our ghosty cat -- medium-length fur soft as silken shadows, all in muted shades of greys and dappled blacks, with a gorgeously fluffy trailing banner of a tail. You'd expect the softest and most mellifluous of voices from all that visual and tactile beauty -- but no. She has a fiercely determined meow! Subtlety is not her middle name, either: she thunders excitedly down the hallway for dinner... and if she thinks we've forgotten it's her dinnertime, she leaps up into my lap and flops over on my arms as I type -- or try to -- all the while purring madly like a tiny RC vehicle.




Rescue a kitty - save 9 lives!


Rescue a kitty - save 9 lives!


Tessa is what's known as a "tuxedo cat," with a dashing black cloak flung rakishly across her back and tail, and a mysterious black mask to hide her true identity as she performs her acts of brave feline derring do -- though she keeps her secrets well! So far we've only spotted her looking subtly casual -- while simultaneously doubtless secretly plotting out the logistical details of her upcoming tactical brilliance. She too has an odd voice, though hers goes to the other extreme: you have to feel her throat to tell she's purring, and her call is more of a startlingly high-pitched squeak. Where Manda demands dinner right NOW HEY HEY HEY YES YOU DID YOU FORGET OR WHAT HELLOOOO?! ...Tessa blinks tragically up at you and squeaks as if she's about to faint away utterly from starvation and how could we be so cruel?

They've both filled out beautifully, as the lower shots show -- those are from their first days home with us. Manders in particular was a tiny girl; quite gaunt and thin-coated. She was only a month or two over one year old, and had two nearly-adult kittens she was still nursing -- big strapping black-furred boys that were also eating the lion's share of the food provided by the shelter! When I asked if it was all right for her to be taken from her kittens, the vet's assistant laughed and said she'd probably be relieved to see them go! As she's gained strength, weight, and energy again, she's really blossomed -- now she's the larger cat, in fact, by about half a pound!

Nov. 5th, 2014

Collie muse

Reading & voting: Williams' "Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family & Place"

As I write this I've just spent the past two or three hours sitting in the tire shop and waiting for a tire change. It was busy there; fortunately I knew it might take a while and planned ahead so I had my drink and one of my textbooks to read. The book's cover is attractive: off in the distance you can dimly make out a rust-colored desert background with scudding dust-red clouds reflected on the red surface below — though it's not clear whether that is a mirage or a lake. Up closer to the viewer, and strikingly precise in comparison to the soft, distance-faded edges of the background, flies an osprey. It is a curious choice of bird for the cover: distinctively marked, ospreys are renowned for being extremely poorly suited to captivity. To put it simply, they pine away. This one flies free on the cover, but I still find myself wondering: what is a fish-eating bird doing in a desert biome?

Osprey in flight over Lake Wylie, SC - from wikipedia

Osprey in flight

The cover suits the book, which is titled Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. The author is Terry Tempest Williams; I generally enjoy her writings for her ability to intriguingly weave together personal experience, a deeply compassionate emotion, and ecofeminist themes. This book is as excellent as I expect: she ties together the natural rising of Utah's Great Salt Lake and the ensuing disastrous loss of viable living and nesting grounds for a huge variety of birds and other wildlife due to the pressures of human encroachment… with her mother's — her entire matriline's — doomed struggles with cancer, due to Utah and Nevada having been used as nuclear testing grounds.

There is a rich sweetness sometimes to Williams' writing, like too much chocolate on the tongue: it is a sensuous ecstasy which you know will lead invariably to a sort of painful regret. When I start the book I already know the most likely outcome of both her mother's battle with cancer, and what happens to any biome — no matter how beautiful or thriving or unique — when it butts up against regular human greed. Still, I read. There is a sort of aching tenderness in respectfully witnessing the gift of another's vulnerability and pain — it hurts, but I find myself hoping that pain shared is somehow lessened, despite my not being able to do anything about it. Williams lays bare her heart as she writes profoundly of emotion — guilt and shame, furious rage, frustration and helplessness — and more than once leaves me feeling the sting of sympathetic tears.

I find myself wondering: why am I reading such a sad book? If it were not a class requirement, would I pick it up? I've not yet finished the book, but I have faith in the author's ability to both help me face the unfaceable, and help me eventually feel emotionally uplifted so I can continue the struggle — whatever battle I may be facing. Right now, however… I sit at my kitchen table and feel emotionally wrung out from the book so far. Scattered in front of me are the three ballots I must fill out to vote — a civic duty I take seriously — and I've not yet taken the time to consider how I can vote most wisely. Is a vote just for the sake of voting better than not? Should I vote randomly and maybe help elect something I consider reprehensible, or by not voting fail to assist in electing something worthwhile?

For a moment I feel bone-tired as I bleakly wonder: is there actually anyone in these ballots who can do what I truly want? Do I really think any of these candidates will actually make a difference or help bring about a world of peace, compassion, and generosity?

Fortunately my housemates come to my rescue… with a hot drink, aspirin, and suggestions based on their previous research. I am well cherished, and that caring kindness gives me the internal reassurance of my convictions: I will vote to the best of my ability in order to help create the better world I want to see come about.

I have discovered, over the years, that I am an ecofeminist: I recognize the historical, symbolic, and political relationship which exists within Western cultures between the denigration of nature — and the denigration of women, people of color, and the underclass. I further believe for our continued health, humanity must turn toward ecocommunity: the creation of vibrant and sustainable human communities, a way of being in this world that reflects a respect and love for all of life and has these sentiments as fundamental ethics: healthy diversity and difference, egalitarian interdependence which models power-with rather than power-over, and at its root a love for all the wondrous life on this planet. In such a situation, like Starhawk suggests, I try to continuously work towards that goal… and I vote.

 

* The definitions of ecofeminism and ecocommunity which I present in the last paragraph are directly inspired by or quoted from the following brilliant authors: Charlene Spretnak's "Critical and Constructive Contributions of Ecofeminism" in Worldviews and Ecology, and Karen J. Warren's "Introduction" and Judith Plant's "Learning to Live with Differences: The Challenge of Ecofeminist Community," both from the wonderful Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Oct. 29th, 2014

Collie muse

Thoughts on V. Shiva's "Staying Alive"

I'm reading Vandana Shiva's Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, & Development for an on-line class on Ecofeminism which I'm TAing. The following are two comments made on the class forum at different times.

While reading both the book and the forum comments, I was reminded of a study I read about many years ago (which means unfortunately I've lost it, darnit!) which reviewed war as a profit source. The current common perspective is that war is good for the economy — especially that of the winning side. So the study's researchers examined several wars over the past century or so, and discovered something fascinating: war is not actually good for the economy, so much as it is good for the "captains of industry" (read: the old white guys that own everything already) — but only of the winning side. So not only are these the men who aren't actually risking themselves or their families when they urge a society to go to war, but they're also those who most stand to gain. It's everyone else – including the environment and the poor, especially women and children, on both sides — who will lose in war, regardless of who supposedly "wins."

I have some friends I have amiable arguments with about things like this, and some time ago I said to one of them that current Third World development by First World companies was almost a war on the people there. He scoffed, pointing out that lots of folks made money on that development, and it was good for the industrialization of the countries involved.

I have to say now, though, thinking about it — I think I didn't go far enough in my description. I think maldevelopment (Shiva's descriptive term of the economic and ecological devastation which occurs when First World corporations start throwing their economic weight around in Third World countries) really is a war on the poor, the women and children, and the environment. I don't think it's done maliciously, per se — I think it's worse: these people are absolutely indifferent to the pain, destruction, suffering, and death they're causing in their incessant quest for more profit. In maldevelopment there may be short-term gain for the rich of the non-industrialized nation, but I suspect it's only the already-rich of the so-called First World countries that benefit in the long term, just like in any war.

I wonder if this "war model" can be taken further. Within a society at peace, like the US today, would it be accurate to use Shiva's conceptualization of maldevelopment in regards to, say, gentrification of inner cities that drives out the poor that live there already? Or perhaps to the persistent erosion of reservations, where the land is taken from Native Americans through one or another excuse in order to be sold to developers? Thoughts?

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Well, that was embarrassing! Right after I'm so pleased with myself for discerning the metaphor of war as an interesting new angle on how women, people of color, and nature are treated by the dominant patriarchal/industrialist cultural paradigm… I discover Shiva's done that already! That's what I deserve, I suppose, for thinking the 2010 Introduction would be so much fluff added on afterwards. ;)

True, there's a rather poignant reference to war by Gustavo Esteva but I initially considered the statement more poetic/symbolic than literal. Then again, going back and re-reading his assertion: "development [is] a permanent war waged by its promoters and suffered by its victims" (14), I find myself wondering if perhaps I should be trying to think more literally than metaphorically in situations like this — where peoples' lives are at stake.

Now that I've had a bit of time to mentally review, I have a few other thoughts regarding Shiva's perspective on ecofeminism — although considering my record so far, I'm amusedly sure someone else has already had these thoughts as well. ;)  Regardless, I'll put them forward for consideration, since for me, writing my thoughts down helps me to organize and render them more coherent.

Firstly, I was fascinated by Shiva's clear (to me) spiritualization of her ecofeminist perspective. It appears there is no doubt whatsoever in her mind that the feminine and nature are sacred, conceptually embodied as Prakriti. I happen to agree with her regarding the sacrality of life in general and women and nature in particular, but I find myself wondering how she is seen by the secular environmental movement, both ecofeminist and other. I would consider it a great shame if the publicly adamant secularism of US society caused a damaging rift between spiritual and secular environmentalists. On the other hand, I also find myself wondering if patriarchal arrogance does the same: rendering "regular" environmentalists unable to work effectively with either ecofeminism or Green party members who follow all ten of the party's precepts — including the one about feminism as an inherent goal of Greenness.

Secondly, I had previously read an article or two of Shiva's regarding "maldevelopment," and was familiar with the conceptualization of both women and nature as sacred and deserving of respect. I was also peripherally aware of the growing industrialization of farming, and had a vague internal sense that commoditizing things such as seeds was most likely a bad idea. However, until reading this book I had not really registered the shocking (to me) realization that industrialized farming was actually creating rather than solving hunger (xxii). Shiva's tracing of the direct links between the starvation and poverty rampant amongst displaced indigenous peoples, and the destruction of their land for supposed development by global corporations, was quite eye-opening. I'd never seen this laid out so clearly before.

I was also surprised and delighted to read Shiva's assertion that indigenous farmers working with the land can produce more and a wider variety of healthy crops, with less harmful chemicals, than can the giant agribusinesses. I'd suspected the potential efficacy of long tail distribution in sales for a while now; to see it verified in this realm also is personally quite satisfying. I want to read her research data so I can point others at it, but… wow, this is so nice to learn! Not only is it relevant for indigenous populations, but it's becoming increasingly so for the rest of the world as well. As a personal example, in the upcoming elections Prop 1 is supposed to invest in the state's water infrastructure… at least partly by building more dams. While I've not read up on it yet, I'm leery of any ballot measure which is heavily supported by the almond farmers — since that's the most destructive local monoculture agribusiness* I know of.

Finally, I love learning new things, especially when they're accompanied by that enlightening shock of recognition that this is something you already know, but didn't realize until now that you knew. I felt that wonderful and exciting sensation when reading about the preferableness of the slave's standpoint — because "he represents a higher-order cognition which perforce includes the master as a human, whereas the master's cognition has to exclude the slave except as a 'thing'" (53). I was also impressed by Shiva's care in ensuring she is not emulating what she critiques. While she refers to Prakriti as the feminine principle from which all life arises, she also notes it is not unique to Indian women — that both women and men, indigenous and industrialized, can benefit from the non-gender based philosophy of embodied feminist values as activity and creativity (52). To date her clearly ecofeminist solution to the issues we face — including cultural, spiritual and environmental damage — is one of the best and most comprehensive solutions I've read so far — and also, I suspect, one of the hardest to implement in the US.

* I had to laugh when I ran my spellchecker over this before posting… and realized I'd typed "agrObusiness" rather than "agrIbusiness." Considering "aggro" is slang for aggressive hating, threatening, or pre-emptive attack in computer gaming jargon… I guess my non-conscious mind was trying to tell me something? ;)

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Oct. 23rd, 2014

Collie muse

Literarily denuded! :)

So I'm thinking about books and research, as I'm driving back home from turning in yet another handful of library books, several of which were brought to me via the courtesy of Interlibrary Loan -- a true lifesaver for me, in regards to getting some of the less well-known works which I'm reading for either class texts or dissertation proposal research. Consider this a shout-out of gratitude to the San Jose Public Library system, which is linked with the San Jose University library as well, thereby marvelously expanding their collection!

My housemates have been real troopers too, in that they have allowed me to borrow library books using their cards as well as mine. This was enormously helpful during my two comps classes, when I had to check out, read, and review -- and manage, since if I accidentally got an overdue book fine it was my responsibility, not theirs -- about 35 books per three-month semester. I get my brain candy from the library too, which is a financial blessing in that I don't have to pay for a book which I'll tear through in about an hour or three to relax, then likely be done with forever -- since I tend to only read those once.

So I'm still driving, and considering all this as I drive: via the miracle of the internet, when I call for them, these marvelous books come from all over the country to me! It is thanks to the internet also that I can so easily find the varied, unusual, and sometimes eclectic works I need; I can likely count on one hand the number of times the vast and wondrous US interlibrary loan system has failed me. Further, I've had these books, magazines, and articles being placed on hold for me, checked out to me, reviewed by me, and returned by me for... goodness, it's been well over five years now! That means for the past five years I've had anywhere from one to 15 books stacked on my desk in the library book spot, so I don't misplace them -- though that is not a perfect system, since they do tend to wander with me while I'm reading them. Nevertheless, there is no dust or random other-stuff in that always-filled spot of my often-messy desk.

Except, it just occurs to me... for today. For the first time in all these years I picked up all the books to return. There are no library books sitting at home waiting for me. I am... library-bookless!

Can you DO that?!

Uh-oh. Should I turn right around and drive back to the library and hastily check out a book, so my academic-street-cred remains untarnished? Or... wait, wait! I have four books on hold! It's hardly my fault the system lagged a bit in book transport to me, right? Okay, good -- I should still be in good with the academia-nut crowd. If anyone gives me a hassle before at least one of those books arrives, I can always loftily inform them that my sadly library-bookless condition is merely symptomatic of the epistemological ramifications of oligarchic violence produced and maintained by and within the consumerist industrial-war system -- then make my escape behind that shield of impenetrable verbal nonsense.

Whew, that was close! :)

Sep. 24th, 2014

Collie muse

"Toward A Queer Ecofeminism" by Greta Gaard

The following is a quick review of an article read for the Ecofeminism class in which I am a TA — yay! I'd like to figure out how to TA more… though apparently you cannot TA for a class you haven't actually taken. Considering the changeover in classes occurring in my program in the past few semesters, that appears to leave all the older students out in the cold. I'm going to have to ask for clarification on that policy.

Re the article reviewed here, it's quite fascinating and I recommend it strongly. It can be found on-line: Toward a Queer Ecofeminism by Greta Gaard. If you end up reading it, I'd love to hear your thoughts in comments below. Enjoy!

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

In "Toward A Queer Ecofeminism," Greta Gaard argues that application of queer theory to ecofeminism will strengthen both. I was fascinated to read her usage of the same statement I saw early on in some religious studies, when feminists were just beginning to address androcentrism in both the organized religions and the academy. In both cases these scholars note it is not enough to simply: "add [women/queers] and stir."

Continuing reading, I was delighted by Gaard's use of some of Plumwood's theorising from her brilliant Feminism & the Mastery of Nature, which we'll be reading soon. For example, while reading Gaard's suggested dualisms — to be added to the specifically incomplete list provided by Plumwood — I felt almost a sort of relief at the addition of categorizations which my non-conscious mind knew were missing but didn't yet know to recognize. Indeed, after re-reading the list of "white/nonwhite, financially empowered/impoverished, heterosexual/queer, and reason/the erotic" (p. 2) there was a part of me so aware of the rightness of their inclusion that I found myself perplexed at how we could ever have missed them in the first place. I felt a similar sense of recognition of rightness when I read: "The oppression of queers may be described more precisely, then, as the product of two mutually reinforcing dualisms: heterosexual/queer, and reason/the erotic" (p. 4). I wonder if there were men who felt a similar sense of intellectual relief upon first having the religiously based dualisms pointed out to them by feminists? I would like to hope so.

Regarding Gaard's analysis of Plumwood's "linking postulates that connect such dualisms" (p. 3), I was curious to see Gaard apparently did not consider queers to experience #5: Homogenization. On the other hand, perhaps what I've seen which I considered homogenizing was applied only to gays, and not to lesbians or transgender? I do not know enough about it — especially since I tend to ask a particular relative to stop, or get up and leave the room, when he starts speaking disparagingly of "the homosexuals."

After establishing the conceptualization of the "master identity," Gaard goes on to note the specifically cultural construction of sexuality, and the attendant cultural association of "natural" with "procreative." She then explores the "crimes against nature" argument against queers, noting the historical construction of the linkage between any form of non-procreative, non-heteronormative eroticism as being "contrary to the order of nature" and "bestial" (p. 11), and thereby requiring the civilizing imposition of order by the master identity, via the justification of both Christian and nationalizing/colonizing ideologies.

I found Gaard's examination of nationalism quite illuminating, as up until that point I'd not really considered its colonizing ramifications. However, as she quotes from Parker et al, "'national identity is determined not on the basis of its own intrinsic properties but as a function of what it (presumably) is not.' Inevitably 'shaped by what it opposes,' a national identity that depends on such differences is 'forever haunted by [its] various definitional others'" (p. 11-12). Indeed, I find the close ideological ties between nationalism and masculinity quite fascinating: they are both defined by what they are not — feminine, of nature, and/or erotic — which says to me, tragically enough, that they cannot exist without a feminine/naturalistic erotics to subjugate.

Gaard closes with a call for a queer ecofeminism, which she asserts will both challenge and ultimately reject the endemically violent colonialist mentality. She suggests liberating the marvelous diversity of erotics so as to create a Western conception of it which fundamentally links it with reason, culture, humanity, and masculinity as well as emotion, nature, and femininity. In that way she believes we may finally create a society which is truly eco-egalitarian.

I close with some of my favorite excellent comments made by Gaard which I found particularly (and sometimes also creepily) perceptive:

"Attempts to naturalize one form of sexuality function as attempts to foreclose investigation of sexual diversity and sexual practices and to gain control of the discourse on sexuality… the eroticization of nature emphasizes its subordination" (p. 6).

 

"The native feminized other of nature is not simply eroticized but also queered and animalized, in that any sexual behavior outside the rigid confines of compulsory heterosexuality becomes queer and subhuman. Colonization becomes an act of the nationalist self asserting identity and definition over and against the other…. The metaphoric "thrust" of colonialism has been described as the rape of indigenous people and of nature because there is a structural – not experiential — similarity between the two operations, though colonization regularly includes rape" (p. 12).

 

"In patriarchal Western culture… masculinity is defined not only as independence but as 'not-dependent.' The process of socializing boys into men involves denying dependence on the mother; that dependence is then transferred to the wife. Male superiority is preserved by the social construction of a 'wife' as 'submissive… economically impotent, and in many other ways… inferior and nonthreatening to her man. In short, a wife is to be below her man, not above.' Men have… by their technologies worked steadily and for generations to transform a psychologically intolerable dependence upon a seemingly powerful and capricious 'Mother Nature' into a soothing and acceptable dependence upon a subservient and non-threatening 'wife.' This 'need to be above' and to dominate permeates male attitudes toward nature…. Colonization can therefore be seen as a relationship of compulsory heterosexuality whereby the queer erotic of non-westernized peoples, their culture, and their land, is subdued into the missionary position — with the conqueror 'on top'" (p. 12-13, quoting Elizabeth Dodson Gray).

 

"[I]n a patriarchal system that conceives of nature as female, there is a clear and necessary connection between the development of science as the rational control of a chaotic natural world and the persecution of women as inherently irrational, erotic, and therefore evil creatures" (p. 13).

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Sep. 19th, 2014

Collie muse

Clearing the decks to write

Finally had a bit of a breakthrough on my dissertation proposal — hallelujah! Working now on getting a dissertation committee Chair, and figuring out all the astonishing amounts of paperwork that must be filed as well. Gah! The Chair is harder than it sounds — this person must be a professor at my school and should be familiar with the niche subject I'm interested in researching, in the niche field which is my corner of the Philosophy & Religion department. Another gah.

So this means I'm frequently kind of out of brain juice, so I'm taking this moment to try and help out a sister scholar who is doing some research for a personal project on menstruation. If you're willing to answer a few interesting questions regarding menstruation, would you head on over to her site and check it out, please? :)

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

A friend asked how I center myself and clear my thoughts prior to writing. Like her, I truly enjoy writing, but I too have had difficulty clearing my mind and getting my butt into the chair and then getting my ideas out there. I've found that scheduling regular writing times is an imperative for me — otherwise there is always something I can come up with to distract myself… and you can only floss the cat so many times before she runs at sight of you! :)

However, I think my friend and I differ in how we see the first 10 to 15 minutes after we've sat down to begin writing. She feels hers are wasted simply trying to figure out how to begin… whereas I tend to use them to just blather on however I want — and at some point I start sliding into the requisite mind-set to write good academic prose. That's what this is, in fact: me calming my head down enough to get into a good writing fugue. I start by tossing out the random thoughts that would distract me — like, have you ever had a song that you heard as a kid that you've always tried to find since then, but haven't been able to… and then all of a sudden one day, there it is on the radio?

That happened to me recently — much to my pleasure at rediscovering the song. I had heard it a few times on the radio when I was a kid living in Florida with my family — maybe it had been just released? I don't know… but I hadn't been able to hear the whole thing without interruption. When I finally had a chance to do so, my mom was taking me to buy a long dress for… I think it was a cousin's wedding? I vaguely recall a tiny boutique dress shop in the deep shade of huge old, Spanish moss-draped oaks. I was not wild about dresses — I felt I looked awful in them — but I was hoping this time a long dress would make the difference.

And somebody grabbed me
Threw me out of my chair
Said, "Before you can eat
You gotta dance like Fred Astaire!"

I truly craved the ability to look elegant and graceful; to float effortlessly across the floor as I danced with my admiring partner, the way everyone else seemed to be able to do. I was young; I didn't realize everyone else was as panicked about looking stupid and clumsy as I was. So the song really spoke to me when it came on, while I was in the changing room. The man's voice was a bit nasal, nervous and uncertain sounding — the way I usually felt inside — as he repeated himself several times in the chorus:

You know I can't dance,
You know I can't dance,
You know I can't dance —
I can't dance!

But the singer decides to give it a try because he's desperate. There's a spoken, "Hmm… now wait a minute…" — and then, like The Little Engine that Could (another childhood favorite), the singer encourages himself as he gives it his best shot:

Of course I can dance;
I'm sure I can dance;
I can dance!
I really hit the floor!
Ah, it feels good!
Look at me dancing!

…and that's when he discovers not only that he can indeed dance — but that he loves it!

You should have seen me moving
Right across the floor-
Hand me down my tuxedo!
Next week I'm coming back for more.

Needless to say, my teenaged angst took a bit more than that to be defeated, but I still had this on-going, incredible urge to dance — just no real understanding of how to do it. Oh, I took the occasional square dance or clogging class… but I lacked the confidence or the knowledge to go out on a weekly basis to some place with music, that wasn't a singles meat market, which would allow me to simply dance for the joy of it.

Curiously enough, it was a somewhat desperate situation for me (like in the song) which finally taught me how to relax enough to just dance. I was at a party some friends were throwing, and they'd turned the backyard into a dance floor by the addition of a stereo system turned to face out of a bedroom window, and a good DJ. Two nice young men I rather liked realized I really really wanted to dance, but had no idea how — so they each took an arm, lifted me up off my feet, walked me out into the middle of the dance floor (dance grass? :) — and refused to let me leave until I danced with them!

They were good enough friends that they knew I would find this sort of exasperatingly funny rather than frightening or annoying, and I knew them both well enough that I was aware if I insisted on leaving they would not stop me. However… I still wanted to dance! They were right there with me, encouraging me to: "just move! It doesn't have to be perfect — just let your body sway!" — and so, in a sudden fit of nervous courage I gave it a try — and it worked!

I can dance,
Oh yes, I can dance!
Look at me dance on the floor movin'!
I feel good!
I can dance!

Holy cow did I dance! I had a wonderful time! I wore both of my friends out, but kept dancing with others as they cycled on and off the dance floor. I danced all that night with the astonished, delighted shock of someone who had no idea how easy it was, and had a lot of wasted time to make up for — and I didn't stop until they turned the music off at 2 am and laughingly said, "Collie! Go home!"

With the advent of the internet I tried occasionally to track down that song I'd heard so long ago, but the lyrics "I can't dance" never brought up the song I remembered. It was one of those wistfully pleasant memories where I wondered sometimes if it had really happened the way my memory said it had — because I couldn't find any trace of the song anywhere.

All this came rushing back to me as I was driving to my American Tribal Style belly dance class on a recent Saturday morning — when the song came onto the radio! I was shocked and utterly delighted, turning up the music loudly to hear all the words, and singing along with the bits I remembered — correctly even, woo! When it ended I listened carefully for the singer and song title — and that's when I realized why I'd never been able to track the song down on the internet. The title was "Long Tall Glasses" — but it was also known as: "I Can Dance"! All these years, my insistence on the "can't" in the lyric had kept me from finding the song.

So to Andrew and John, who carried a nervously protesting (and probably heavy) me out onto the dance floor and stuck with me until I started moving: thank you so much, guys! In retrospect, I'm really glad you did that. And many, many thanks also to Leo Sayer, whose song was one of the first steps in my  nervous determination to someday do something I deeply wanted to do: dance.

After all, it may have taken me a while, but now I know I can dance! Can I write a great dissertation? I think I can — I think I can! ;)

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Sep. 7th, 2014

Collie muse

Grumpy mutterings

I hate being sick. Hatehatehate it with the fiery passion of coughing exhaustion coupled with the urge to rasp out: "just kill me now!" I really despise having no energy to even get out of bed… and I loathe having that groggy-foggy-headed case of the stupids. Memory check says: yes, I am smarter than this, dammit!

I had my tonsils removed when I was 5 or so – no biggie, as far as I remember. So why do the stupid things have to partially grow back, and then get infected now?! Swallowing should not feel like ground glass on the back of your throat!

To be fair – a mental state I consider highly overrated when I'm in pain – I should mention this is partly my own fault. A few nights of way too little sleep, coupled with enthusiastically overdoing it physically, coupled with not taking my vitamins for almost a week… and I'm not really surprised I'm ill. I'm not wild about my Trader Joes's Women's multivitamins, though – especially having to take five of them a day. Admittedly, they noticeably perk me up when I take them religiously, but I don't enjoy having to take them scattered throughout the day – I want to take them all at once and have it over with, you know? But if I do that, they make me nauseous. I'm totally open for suggestions on better vitamins to take, audience!

What I'd really like is some useful little tool that I can use to tell me what I need more of in my diet. Think how convenient it would be, with its chirpily cheerful little voice:

"Good morning, Collie! I see you're up nice and early. Please place your finger upon the sensor pad." I do so. "Thank you! One moment please… there we go. Are you ready for your nutritional review?"

Me: "Yes, please."

"Okay! I detect you are currently low on vitamins C and E, and on iron. You can augment your diet for those missing elements by eating some leafy greens. Examples are: asparagus, avocado, broccoli, cucumber, kiwi, and spinach. Would you like more examples…?"

-and so on, blah blah blah. That would make planning out what to eat for the day significantly easier, I think. Of course, knowing how my life can occasionally get, I suspect it would go much more like this:

I shuffle blearily into the bathroom in my shortie robe, squinting at the bright light – then wince at the piercingly chirpy machine's greeting: "Good morning, Collie! I see you slept in today. Remember, a regular sleep schedule is an integral part of a balanced diet and exercise regimen! Please place your finger upon the sensor pad." Muttering about intrusive mechanical nannies, I do so with a minimum of fumbling. "I am not detecting your finger upon the sensor- that is not a finge- there we go! Thank you! One moment please… please hold your finger still upon the sensor pad…"

Having gotten tired of just standing there and waiting while my apparently excessive nutritional failings are being analyzed and silently clucked over by an overly chatty machine, I've started brushing my teeth. Finally I hear:

"There we go. Are you ready for your nutritional review?"

Me: ""Eff, bh'weave."

"I'm so sorry, but I'm having trouble understanding you. Are you ready for your nutritional review?"

Me: "Yeff! I faid 'eff!"

"I'm so sorry, Collie, but I still could not understand you. Are you ready for your nutritional review?"

Me, getting irritated, "Fp'oopid mafine! I faid yeff!" Small splatters of toothpaste foam are now decorating the mirror from the emphasis of my trying to be more articulate with a mouthful of electric toothbrush and toothpaste.

"Oh, dear! I'm detecting significant auditory distress, Collie, which when combined with your worrying nutritional analysis indicates a dangerously high possibility of potential health issues such as dizziness, fainting, or even possibly epileptic seizure. I have notified the closest hospital to send out an emergency vehicle…"

-and so on!

Weirdly, when I mentioned this to a friend, I found out there is indeed a machine being worked on that will be able to detect one's current health status. I was rather intrigued until I heard what it was: the toilet! I shudder to think of the psychological turmoil which could ensue due to being critiqued for one's, er, "technique" by one's toilet… :)

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

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Jun. 2nd, 2014

Collie muse

The unexamined dissertation: not worth writing?

As some who read my blog may know already, I'm currently struggling with the process of writing my dissertation proposal. Despite writing being one of the things I do best and most easily, and for various reasons that aren't important right now, I've had some nervous procrastination issues with writing this proposal. Thus my adviser suggested I take a moment and consider carefully: why do I want to write about the subject I've chosen for my dissertation? So I've been engaging in some self-reflection.

At about the same time I was thinking about this, a family member emailed me, talking about something she'd heard recently: that there is a need for all peoples — not just the indigenous — to de-colonize themselves. As I was dashing off a quick reply to her I was first distracted and slowed, then thoughtfully intrigued by a number of associated questions which occurred to me, which were all wound up with these issues. I realized my relative had indirectly asked me some very interesting and critical questions which (also indirectly but importantly) affect my attitudes about the work I'm engaged in currently — questions such as: how do I define feminism? Why am I a feminist — and a spiritual one, at that? What is Women's Spirituality? Why Women's Spirituality instead of mainstream religion, or even "mainstream" paganism?

Perhaps the easiest question for me to answer is what I think feminism is. I no longer believe feminism is the old "equality with men" argument — although I used to. Currently I agree with bell hooks' marvelously clear definition of feminism: "a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression" (Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, p viii). The reason I agree with hooks, rather than still believing that feminism is the struggle of women to be equal to men, is because I understand that this old definition misses a trick. Consider what it means if feminism is indeed no more than a movement wherein women aspire to equality with men: doesn't that imply that being female or feminine is somehow… lacking?

Further, once I'm being treated as equal to men in my field, why should I care if other women are not being treated equally? I've succeeded, after all. If those women were really feminists, they'd all be trying to be a man too, right? I can just ignore the question of why it is that anything associated with the female is still denigrated; I can just hire some "non-feminist" or "lesser" woman or feminine-behaving man to clean my house and raise my kids. I'm making as much money as a man, after all — I've won the feminism game, right? I'm entitled to the same rat race and running the same increased health risks and having the same occasional confused feelings about how empty my life feels as I bust my chops for a family I rarely get to spend time with. Yay, equality with men!

Yeah, that's a big steaming pile of no. Let me try again.

So why am I really a feminist? Because to me, relative financial equity between white males and females — at the expense of people of color — is still not good enough. It's racism and it's unhealthy for the species; we certainly need more and better social change than just that. There needs to be an ending of oppressions — and like the eloquent bell hooks, I want that lack of oppression, and the ensuing egalitarianism, for everyone. If we end sexist oppression then we are not valuing any gender or skin color at the expense of all others.

Let's take this a step further: if we considered the feminine to be as respected and cherished and valued as the masculine currently is, then we would shatter our currently deeply limiting gender roles. Biology is not destiny! Women may be able to give birth, but what if they don't want to? What if they want to earn money hand over fist or fight on professional sports fields or lead as politicians and judges and priests? Why shouldn't they? Men may occasionally have heavier muscle mass than women — but again, so what? What if they'd rather cook creative dinners for their families or raise and teach children or nurture those in need? Again: why shouldn't they? If we end sexist oppression, then all these possibilities for a wonderful, productive life are equally valued rather than sometimes denigrated, and all of us will have more fascinating options to live well open up to us.

This is also why I study Women's Spirituality. My definition of this field is cribbed somewhat from all my foremothers in Women's Spirituality, of course, as well as more recent friends I've meet in person and on-line through my studies. To me, Women's Spirituality is the uniquely feminist intersection of spiritual/religious and political action. It embodies a sociocultural critique which uses Goddess iconography, cultural mythologies, and individual spiritual experiences as an expression of the Divine, primarily presenting nature, women, and women's bodies as being of immense spiritual value, sacred and worthy of devotion, and deserving of defense against damagingly regressive androcentric perceptions of both Nature and Woman.

Consider this: modern organized religions purport to be for all people — and yet at least half the population of the world is pretty much excluded from at least one form of significant membership in them: the clergy. It is as clergy that the most meaningful participation, interpretation, and explanation of these religions emerges — and yet, in all of the so-called Big Five (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism), women are most commonly regarded as inferior to men — if not outright denigrated. For those few religions whose dogma (sometimes grudgingly) allows women as clergy, there is still a struggle for female clergy to become ecclesiastical peers with the male clergy. Further, in this struggle, what do these ecclesiastical women face? More worship of Man — because the deities of all these big, dogmatic organized religions are overwhelmingly male! In fact, only Hinduism permits goddesses — and even there, modern perceptions of the religion most commonly promote the male at the expense of the female.

So we have God the Father, Lord, He — but while man is culturally believed to be of the mind and intellect and heaven and yearning upwards towards enlightenment… how do we culturally and religiously epitomize women? She is most often cast as being of the flesh: earthy and dark and dirty (as in: our cultural horror at menstruation and the messiness of childbirth), and of the emotions (hysterical, over-emotional, illogical), and animalistic (pussy, bitch, chick, etc.). In the US (my natal culture) it would appear the male has been sanctified at the expense of the female: we are actually raised to denigrate what is female and what is considered feminine. This is a trap I fell into just as much as many other women and men have: even as women struggle for financial equity with men, they're taught to believe the feminine is somehow less worthy than the masculine. Think about what that teaches us: Man is Holy, Sacred! -but women are… well… Man's servants? Come on, ladies — isn't that good enough? Sheesh, so demanding!

The five biggest religions in the world today are created by men and for men, with completely and sometimes only male deities. There is no religion today which is created specifically by women and for women, which promotes the sacred nature of Woman. In the presence of such a gaping abyss in women's lives; when there is such a crying spiritual emptiness for women… how can I not study Women's Spirituality? Until we value the female and the Earth just as greatly and reverently — Goddess the Mother, Great Lady, Queen of Heaven and Earth, She — I will continue to be a spiritual feminist, and seek to encourage and highlight the healthy cultural necessity of balance with and connection to the Divine Feminine.

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

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