Twelve Healing Stars is a yearlong project in cooperation with the Temple of Witchcraft that explores social justice through the lessons of the 12 Zodiac Signs. This is part 10.
Back in grad school, we studied the book Failing at Fairness by Myra and David Sadker. The book distills 20 years of research into how America’s schools consistently implant a sense of inferiority in young girls, and then it goes on to show how that unfair socialization plagues women as even as successful, professional adults. It demonstrates that there is always a specter of insecurity which follows women through their careers and documents the damage done to the lives of women1 by the educational system.
In one of the most powerful sections, a class is asked to imagine suddenly waking up as the opposite sex. Most girls were excited to test out being a boy. They respond with things like, “When I grow up, I will be able to be almost anything I want, including governor and President of the United States.” That same girl says that if she were to wake up as a boy, suddenly, “People will listen to what I have to say and will take me seriously.”
The boys, however, were horrified at the thought of waking up as girls. “I would scream,” says one boy. “I would hide in the corners and never go out until dark,” says another. Many boys state flatly that they would kill themselves, one by setting himself on fire and another by stabbing “myself fifty times in the heart with a dull butter knife,” then running in front of a semi-truck.
One group of boys wrote a poem about how awful it would be to suddenly become a girl:
Wake up in the morning
I’m the opposite sex
Look at your private parts and check
Sit up and cry
I’ll do anything but die
Would my friends tease me?
I have to sit down to pee.
Oh no, I lost my hairy chest
And I’m stuck with a big breast.
I’ll hide my hair in my hat
Push in my breasts so they are flat.
I’d have to wear pink underwear
And spend forever with gook in my hair.
Would I like it, no or yes?
What if I get PMS?
Would by name be Sue or Chrissy?
On the 28th day would I act all pissy?
I hate playing with girls’ dolls.
Turn me back so I can have balls.
Children show an unfiltered version of the inequity they learn from society. This inequity, socialized from a young age, carries into adulthood. Failing at Fairness documents that too. The Sadkers write that the early teen years are where young girls fall “from self-confidence to self-consciousness.” Also. boys learn early, if subtly, that they are somehow superior to their female counterparts, and that training can follow them into their professional lives. By now you’ve probably heard about Nobel Prize winning scientist Sir Tim Hunt’s comments about women scientists being unfit to work in a lab because, “You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.”
In response, female scientists pounded social media with #distractinglysexy. Their posts are a perfect, hilarious argument to Hunt’s dismissive remarks:
As effective as the #distractinglysexy campaign was, the very need for it is evidence that women still have many battles to fight. Sexism is real; sexism is deeply rooted in society; sexism painfully obstructs women’s lives2. Society’s relationship with women is twisted into some male fantasy of stereotypes and unrealistic expectations of beauty. Paganism and feminism have a long, intertwined history together. In this time of Cancer, when we see the Earth Mother pregnant with the bounty of the fields, is a good time re-examine at our relationship with the Mother, and her daughters, the women of the world.
I would like to avoid falling into the trap of mansplaining, so from here on out, I’ll leave it to women to discuss the issue.
Silver Lyons, the lead Cancer Minister in the Temple of Witchcraft, emphasizes that, while equal rights may be the goal, “We have such a long way to help bring balance to the rights of women.” She agrees with the findings of Sadker & Sadker, saying that there is, “A lack of awareness and sense of empowerment with women of all ages coming into their self-worth.” Women, she says, “continue to feel unworthy,” and she considers the healing of this problem a major goal in her ministry. Patriarchal cultures, adds Lyons, harm men too, because they “perpetuate the myth that women are less than, which, sadly, can sometimes take away from the genuine work our enlightened brothers are assisting us with.”
Yeshe Matthews (AKA Rabbit) is the founder and High Priestess of the Come as You Are Coven in the Bay Area of California. For her, “feminism and spirituality are inseparable aspects of a single fabric.” Echoing Sadker & Sadker, she says that, “Our cultural biases against women run very deep in our psyches- deep into our language patterns, thoughts, and expectations.” It starts early in life and worms its way into young people of both sexes. “Therefore,” says Matthews, “to counter it, we need to deliberately, mindfully commit to turning our thoughts to the positive, the empowered, and the good about women, their labor, their worth and value as human being, and the gifts of their presence and wisdom.” In short, “We have to teach ourselves to think more highly of women in general.”
Lyons adds, importantly, that “The oppressed woman creates an oppressed society,” and our evolution as humanity will be easier once we “free ourselves from struggle,” and, “this starts with healing the feminine principle.” “If we negate the Mother,” whom she defines as all women, “then we teach our children to negate women.” Looking back at the work of Sadker & Sadker, we can see that this negation begins early.
As in many cases where an oppressed group stands up for equality, feminism has been saddled by its opponents with an unfair reputation. If you can’t attack the ideas, you insult the people. Lyons suggests we start with, “Educating ourselves,” especially in understanding that feminism, “isn’t about women hating men; it’s about the aggression, oppression, and subjugation of a human culture,” and through that violence, “Women have greatly suffered through the loss of their sovereignty.” It’s not about elevating one sex over the other, but about achieving actual equality in all realms of life.
The key, she says, is “radical listening.” She suggests “holding a container for our sisters to be heard,” and, “safe and sacred space to rise up and have their voices heard and honored.” Men can be part of the struggle if they “Rally with their sisters in support of their right to choose what is correct for their bodies; see women as [their] sisters to be heard, [their] mothers. [their] daughters, and not [their] servants, whores, or minority.”
Matthews also states the importance of listening to female voices. She says it is especially important to, “Listen when women speak on subjects related to mathematics, science, engineering, economics, law, medicine, natural living, safety, ecology, [and] architecture” to bring balance back to these overly masculine fields. She also suggests that we consciously “support women business owners” as well as fight for employers to offer more paid time off for “post-partum or post-adoption,” health care that is not based on religion, workplace child care, “flex time and unique schedules for mothers” and other caregivers, and “task-based rather than hourly labor.” This could be a radical difference in the workplace, but it could also make for happier, more effective employees, thus benefitting the business as well.
But there is more to women than motherhood and career. Matthews advocates embodying the nurturing aspects of women by “caring for, supporting, and befriending elder women,” ensuring that they are “well-provided for in their wisdom years” and “treated with dignity.” This goes beyond being a caring society; it also recognized that women “have value in our society beyond their reproductive capacity or physical objectification.”
Finally, Matthews suggests that we vote for more women and support those who run for public office. She qualifies that applies mostly to those who run on a “pre-woman” platform, a nurturing platform characterized by being “pro-choice, pro-ERA, pro-socialized medicine.” Women in politics often have more difficulty than men because they are “shouted down, underfunded, picked apart for their physical appearance, slandered, and degraded when they make the effort to represent their ideas to the public eye.” Anyone who remembers the depictions of Hillary Clinton during the socialized medicine debate can sympathize with this.
Magickally, both women agree that women need spaces to be together and to become empowered. Lyons believes that it begins with women’s “blood mysteries,” their natural cycle, and “releasing the barbaric language of it being a curse and arriving to their innate power.” She suggests creating a sigil empowered with moonblood to heal this relationship. Matthews emphasizes freedom. She calls for “ritual and social spaces where we can be free in whatever way suits us.”
This includes, if needed, “being separate from men.” She says that it is important to be “free form the male gaze and the ways it influences women to act toward one another as well as the incursion of male energy itself.” “Feeling free is the kind of greatest ritual gift we can give women,” she says, and “we should give that to women on their own terms.” Matthews recognizes that not all women need this type of space, but for those who do it is empowering.
Matthewss spearheads CAYA’s Mothers of the New Time working. She designed it to, “Elevate the feminine, honor and value women, and create change in our global and local ideas around women, freedom, sustainability, community, and ecology.” You can join this working here.
For men, Lyons advises performing ritual to “heal the wounds patriarchy has created that have harmed the women you know and love.” While some of these wounds are apparent, others have occurred down the ancestral line. She asks men to “heal that same bloodline” to heal the wounds passed down from centuries of patriarchy.
Paganism is a modern religion. Historians argue over whether ancient societies were matriarchal, but we do know that modern people have inherited a legacy of sexism and patriarchy that started before Christianity and has been passed down through 2,000 years of domination by a religion that imposes the will of a monotheistic, male god. I often think of modern paganism as the Goddess weaving a new religion to bring balance back to that patriarchal legacy. Yes, we need both a Yin and a Yang, and yes there is more to gender than the binary, but it may be that we need to spend some time empowering the Yin because the Yang has become bloated and tumorous. Only by empowering the marginalized half of humanity can we stop failing at fairness.
1NOTE: Gender exists outside of the male-female binary. That is a whole other post.
2NOTE: Comments that deny or justify sexism will be deleted.