Healing the Wound that is Female.

Via on Aug 9, 2013

Painting by Elisabeth Slettnes

There is a wound in the world that is specific to women and girls. Many of us take a lifetime to figure out what it is.

Every person is born of a woman, but somehow the traditional creation myth was turned around on its head. Women are secondary, if not cursed, via this tradition.

The textbooks that our children read are still almost entirely male-dominated filled with male-accomplishments. Our spiritual communities are still mostly male-led and refer to God as “He.”

Religious thought seeps in early and is very damaging to girls. If God is a man, and “He” is everything that is good and superior, it is easy to conclude that we as women are, in fact, beneath men. Whether you practice a religion or not, this still has a profound effect on our collective thinking.

“There were no religious images in the churches or synagogues of our childhood that celebrated the birthing powers of women. According to religion’s myths, the world was brought into being by a male God, and woman was created from man. This reversal of biological process went unchallenged. Most of us didn’t even notice the absence of the mother. Although we may not have been consciously aware of her absence in bible stories and sermons, her absence was absorbed into our being. And its painful influence was intensified as we observed the design of our parents’ relationship and the treatment of our mothers by our fathers and brothers. Our families mirrored the hierarchical reality of the heavens. In a society that worships a male God, the father’s life is more valuable than the mother’s. The activities of a man’s life are more vital and necessary than the mother’s intimate connections with the origins of life. The father is God.” ~Patricia Lynn Reilly

If you doubt why this is important, ask yourself why women today own one percent of the world’s wealth. That means that men, mostly white Western men, own the rest. Women, by and large, are still dependent on men for that 99 percent.

If God is male, men are superior.

And women are, by default, inferior.

Sadly, I heard this message loud and clear growing up in a Christian home. I vowed that my kids would be raised different; but, I’ve learned one house at a time is not quick enough for the change we need.

Several weeks ago, I had the usual crowd of boys at my house. My son is 10, so there are usually at least three or four other boys around in the summer. My daughter’s friends were not available, so she was in the house alone with me.

She is a fearless little girl, and went down to the basement where the boys were playing and asked to be included. None of them would let her. She held her ground, but none of the boys would budge. I listened to how things were playing out, content that she was sticking up for herself. She came upstairs after being told in no uncertain terms that they were not going to play with a girl. Their taunting was not mean, per say, but exclusive. She was not welcome in their realm.

So, I told her we could make some homemade lemonade together, which she really enjoys. We made a single cup for her and she took it into her room to savor so I could get back to my writing.

A few minutes later, one of the boys came up and asked about getting some of the lemonade. I looked at him in utter disbelief. He was new to our house, or he would have known better.

“You excluded her from all your play. Now you expect that she will make you lemonade?”

He looked at me confused, and walked away.

Several minutes later, another boy came up, and asked for the lemonade.

I said the same thing to him—three times—and he still walked down the stairs confused. It did not occur to either boy that he could make his own lemonade. Both were insistent about my daughter making it for them. The same girl they had just excluded.

"Urban Buddha" by Elisabeth Slettnes

Our faith traditions are a lot like this. For the most part, whether it is Catholicism or Islam, women are excluded from leadership positions. We are, apparently, unworthy. But it doesn’t stop the men from asking us to make them treats.

The sad thing is that many of these men don’t even recognize what is wrong with this picture.

I envision a world where both male and female are included in the “important” jobs and the grub work. Women should be welcomed into leadership positions—when they want them. And men should be willing to make food, raise the children and help clean up.

I was really shocked by the lemonade incident because it showed me that we are still not raising boys different. The fact that my son or his other friend (who also has a feminist mom) did not correct the other boys tells me that their behavior is an accepted norm.

I believe we often overlook children when we talk about social change. Children are the last people we should forget about because they are the future. If we want to change how future men treat women, we need to spend time with both boys and girls. We need to teach them different values—and model those with our own behaviors.

I believe that spirituality is the place to start. Whether you are religious or not, the deep cultural roots of religion affect all of us deeply. Nearly all world religions practice today on the foundation of patriarchy. But this need not be the case.

Alice Walker wrote, “…healing begins where the wound was made.” I believe most of wounds women in the world today experience were brought upon by denying the feminine divine. This was done in both subtle and violent ways. If we want a better world for our daughters, we must begin to re-balance the divine feminine with the masculine.

The divine feminine is unconventional. She does not belong to any one faith tradition. In fact, she belongs to all of them.

She does not come to us as a Savior; rather, she is the force within us who empowers us to save ourselves. She loves indiscriminately; you do not have to be good to merit her attention. As Mary Oliver reminds us,

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

So many women are still waiting for our father or husband to sign our permission slips—whether it is for an abortion, birth control or schooling. This has been our indoctrination for thousands of years, so there is no blame in that. When we feel the sense of the divine within us, we learn that we do not need permission for anything. Many of the “rights” we are fighting so hard for are already things we innately possess.

When we recognize, both individually and collectively, our value as women, the world will change. The image of a masculine God is built on patriarchy, which is a vision of control through violence, whether actual or implied. When we honor the divine feminine, beating a woman becomes as unacceptable as burning down a church or a mosque. When we return to the divine feminine, rape will become inconceivable. How can you pillage what is sacred?

"Dva Divina" by Elisabeth Slettnes

When we return to the divine feminine, we will stop trying to “save” women in other countries and realize that we have problems of our own to conquer. We will realize that each of us is capable of becoming our own savior. We will re-discover our rich herstory. We will come together as equals and change the world together.

Our collective spirituality has largely been tainted to fit the needs of men and those in power. This has a profound effect on the self-esteem of girls and the women they become. This influence can be seen in their life choices, partners and financial security for the rest of their lives.

It also has an effect on the way their future partners will view them—and ultimately treat them.

It is time for us to think about how to change this.

Adapted from “Healing the Wound that is Female,”published in Advocating Creatively: Stories of Contemporary Social Change Pioneers

 

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Ed: Bryonie Wise

About Trista Hendren

Trista Hendren is the author of The Girl God. The second book in this series, Mother Earth, will be published in December. You can read more about her project with Elisabeth Slettnes at www.thegirlgod.com.

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21 Responses to “Healing the Wound that is Female.”

  1. Amy says:

    What a great article! I've been saying the same thing- that a woman's self-esteem and capacity to love herself are incredible challenges in a world that tells her (us) that she is inferior. The most recent anti-abortion laws that have been passed have made my blood boil. Men still think they are in a position to decide what women can and cannot do, particularly when it comes to our bodies and our ability to earn. We are powerful and we need to claim our rights.

  2. susan johnson says:

    thank you for your thoughts and actions! in my favorite AA meeting (we are allowed to 'cross talk') recently, one of the men i've come to admire, thoughtfully and carefully shared his resentment towards his wife for sitting around watching shows and playing with the two young children instead of being a better housekeeper (or something along those lines), that he works all the time, and that she spends money going to the spa. as equally thoughtful and careful, i suggested to him that perhaps he think about what his values are. work or healthy and vibrant children. that he had spoke about his 'work' as somehow superior and more important than her 'work'. not to mention, the idea of her being a better housekeeper rather than laying around on the couch with the kids! there was much more discussed than just this tidbit but it did reflect my frustration with male dominance even in it's subtlest gestures. i also agree whole-heartedly with your assertions of the "He" God!

  3. KCS says:

    I am assuming you are writing this column to educate women on the unconscious repression of women by men and empowering women to correct this through what you refer to as the role of the "divine feminine" which is a term that hear a lot right now. You, yourself are a mother which is fascinating when considering that in the same article where you condemn men for not allowing women to be in leadership roles and accuse men of mitigating the role of woman, and also accuse religious fundamentals as not even recognizing women role as "mother" in the creation myth. Yet in the same article you completely dismiss the reality of creating a home, a safe environment to raise children, creating an energetic exchange with a spouse, helping to guide future generations and being a mother as a role of leadership, or an "important" role. It is my humble estimation this role of mother is one of the most defining aspects of being female and being divine. It is interesting to me that by the very act of defining what the divine feminine "is not" you are implicitly defining what the divine feminine is by your standards and understanding. With this action you are limiting her, just as you accuse men of doing. What it means to be divine, is beyond the repression of pigeon holing women into another dogmatic belief of what it means to be a woman, it's beyond the complaint of what "a woman should be". It is my understanding that all females are divine. And it's enough to simply be a woman, because we are all divine. Male or female; trying to replace patriarchy with matriarchy or some kind of divine feminine revolution is the exact same thing, just disguised as female empowerment. Even limiting women to the "leadership" roles that a man occupies as being powerful is limiting what it means to be feminine. Your definition of the divine feminine within its own right, is still just as dependent on the female archetype that you dismiss as not divine by implying the only way to be a divine female is to change the model and only attainable by holding "leadership" positions that a man holds. You present this juxtaposition being in existence and you further that with your discussion of the exact opposite qualities of spirituality vs religion and male vs female. Talking in circles and having actually nothing to do with the traditions yoga or the traditions of spirituality or divinity. Modern day spirituality as you identify in this article linguistically is just another name for religion, only it's an individualized religion and is created to be able to distinguish themselves and their line of thought and belief from another. It's still a dogma and a series of structured belief testifying of some kind of pattern or ritual and also encouraging others to ascribe to. And to that extent, it is the ego 's explanation of spirituality and has little or nothing to really do with divine. More with the logistics of how women have been oppressed by men, which no one would argue with. The limitation is in creating a label like the "divine feminine" which implies there is a choice of not being a divine female, as perceived by you, thus pitting women against women and furthering your argument of this viscous patriarchal cycle all in the name "divine feminine". Until we find security in being a woman and losing these needs for labels altogether, we're still functioning within the confines of the cycle no matter what you choose to label it as. See that's where the yoga comes in. The idea of meditation and union, or love, or creation, bringing harmony to mind by channeling our divinity; this the becoming and unity within the individual and identifying that as divine. There must be definitions but constantly modifying something is not enlightenment or empowered, it's just as much of an illusion and distraction away from the discovery of self and the yoking of the mind, body and the soul allowing the necessity of labeling to fade away. I definitely appreciate your thoughts, even though I have my own. Thanks for sharing.

    • Trista Hendren says:

      Thank you for your feedback. I do think you have made some assumptions here about me. There is not room in an article to articulate everything I think and feel about the divine feminine. That would require a very thick book.

      "Yet in the same article you completely dismiss the reality of creating a home, a safe environment to raise children, creating an energetic exchange with a spouse, helping to guide future generations and being a mother as a role of leadership, or an "important" role." – This could be an entire article- or three. All of these things are VERY important to me.

      One thing that really helped me in Al-anon was, "Take what you like, leave the rest!"

      Sending you love and light.

      • KCS says:

        Hi, Trish,

        No assumptions about you intended outside of what you presented in your article, and your reference to raising the children as "grub work" in paradox to the "leadership positions" of men:

        "I envision a world where both male and female are included in the “important” jobs and the grub work. Women should be welcomed into leadership positions—when they want them. And men should be willing to make food, raise the children and help clean up."

        The pairing of conventional male roles as leadership and mitigating the roles traditionally associated with motherhood in this statement implicitly demeans the role of mother even if that was not the intention. That the power is held in these "male leadership" roles. And the "grub work" will only be validated when a male is relegated to it.

        It is wise to take what we want and leave the rest but and it's quite brave to write an article like this because it allows for the opportunity to have conversation, especially among women in this regard. It is important to use our voices to have conversations about what doesn't resonate, especially if we seek to become enlightened and transform together. The lemonade example shows the same callous treatment of the boys as they treated your daughter, and doesn't really further the argument of the divine feminine but rather solidifies the reversal of these roles, now the woman lording the desirable result over the boys, it’s functioning within the same realm of power struggle, male vs female just reversed. nothing is learned or communicated, just withheld.

        Finally, I have a plethora of sisters, both friends and blood relations, who are lovely, powerful, divine women all respectively and in their own right. I understand pitting the lines of conventional and unconventional can be necessary for argument in an article, it does imply one is better than the other or more "divinely feminine". That's not an assumption, that's just the logistics of what was been . It does allow for a fabulous feminine conversation and more over, a celebration of being female, the divinity that exists within each and identifying the truths and strengths that implicitly make us women and become unified in that.

        Light and Love Always.

    • BAM says:

      Were we reading the same article? Although she exposes the continued challenge women have in gaining equality, there is no place here where she dismisses the role of mother or home maker. Instead she elevates the role of building a house, home and raising of the children to the job of a partnership. I believe this celebrates the role of mother while saying that this is not our only place. I think it this article creates an expansive look at equality and shared work where women and men are respected. For now the scales are still largely unbalanced.
      I don't think that encouraging a society to celebrate women in religion and spirituality equally with male in any way pits "women against women" as you claim. I did not find a suggestion from her that she believes we should replace patriarchy with matriarchy, but rather that when one character is absent and the other is elevated in our religious and spiritual upbringing, it has detrimental consequences.

      • KCS says:

        Yes we were. Maybe with a different level of consciousness.
        "The divine feminine is unconventional."
        This directly implies that if you are a conventional female you are not divine. I have many sisters and friends who have chose to live a very "conventional" life and dear sister, it does not make them any less divine, or brave, celebratory of their womanhood. By pitting the lines of conventional and unconventional it does imply one is better than the other or more "divinely feminine". That's not an assumption, that's just the logistics of what was been written. It does allow for a fabulous feminine conversation and more over, a celebration of being female, the divinity that exists within each and identifying the truths and strengths that implicitly make us brave strong liberated women and become unified in that.

  4. micaquan says:

    love this!

  5. Alison says:

    Hi an interesting article, thanks

    Cab I point you to a western Buddhist tradition that is headed by women? Not in a women only way, just how it is :-)

    Google new kadampa tradition

  6. Trista Hendren says:

    Thank you Alison – Ironically, it is all pictures of men on their website, but I will look into it more.

    Z Budapest has a great quote…."Anything that sets up hierarchy will leave women out, I guarantee that.

    Even the Buddhists, who I like—who is the female equivalent of the Dalai Lama? There's always going to be a male chosen to be the top of that particular path. Even though he himself admits that there have been great female Bodhisattvas and adepts, you never know their names. I wouldn't trust something like that with all my heart and soul, would you? They are so seductive. It's wonderful to applaud these splendid males in their robes. They are not violent, they are not going to hurt us, they want something good. Females like to see males like that because it makes us feel better, it makes us forget that every minute a woman is attacked in this world, either raped or killed by somebody near and dear. And trafficking in women is on the rise in Asia, where Buddhism is practiced, where Hinduism is practiced. You have to look around with open eyes and see behind those good books, because everybody's holy book is a very good book. Nobody's holy book says it's O.K. to traffic in children. But when you actually see what effect this religion has had on people, then you see what the power of this religion is. Can it transform society? Can it create a better world? And then you ask: What are the women doing in this religion? The answers to these three questions will tell you if this is an effective good book or if it can be just passed by, if it's already passé."

  7. Patrick says:

    I'm ambivalent because I agree with your concerns and applications, but not your diagnosis of the problem. I've always thought the Mary Daly line which you paraphrase ("If God is male, then the male is God") could only be true for the most wooden-minded literalist (of which there are many, admittedly). If it were true, replacing "God is male" or "the father is God" (which no monotheistic religion I know of actually teaches officially) with the Divine Feminine would just mean women/mothers are god (including the abusive ones). Spartan soldiers worshipped the goddess Artemis, but this didn't stop them from raping those they conquered or their large population of slaves. I'd be no more pleased about the psychological effect of the worship of Cybele by castrated priests on my sons than I am by the effect of patriarchal monotheism on my daughters. Better to reconceive how we think of religious language and metaphors for the divine from the ground up, I think. My father is not the Great Father, my mother is not the Great Mother.

    btw there's a typo in the url in your bio (missing an "L").

  8. rajat Ghosh says:

    the mother of these religion, HInduism has more female gods then Male, history has been rewritten to change the true facts by new religion, hopefully it will be rewritten to include the women, giving her place as it really is , Though creation us a male female process, not Just male or Just Female.

  9. The incident with the lemonade doesn't prove anything about boys that you claim it does. Kids that age often play in single-sex groups and that includes girls as well. I remember being the only boy in the house when my sister brought several of her (always female) friends around when she was about that age and frequently I was excluded or my ideas rejected. This was particularly difficult as I had no real friends at that time and no interest in the things other boys did (e.g. football).

  10. Ankita Mandal says:

    A profound truth expressed through such simple words.

  11. goddessspiralhc says:

    Thank you for continuing to put yourself out there Trista! The conversation around patriarchy is obviously very challenging. Regardless on whether we agree on all points it's still needful to rethink how the religious myths affect our societies subliminally. Much love!

  12. irishguy says:

    I love your writing. I respect your views. I agree with most of them. But as a Man who grew up with female fertility symbols all over the place, and some powerful female family and historical figures, my take is a little different. I feel we are all divine. I have a sense that boys are girls are trained early to be different. I also have a personal sense of being attacked when I read articles as this one. I have tried to get to the bottom of it. What I have come up with is that there seems to be an assumption that because I am male I am oppressing women. I have cooked and cleaned all my life and had a partner of mine accuse me of being more feminist than most women she knows. I guess my point is somewhere in the lemonade story. Did the little boys ask the little girl to make them lemonade because she was a little girl? Or did the child without lemonade ask the child with lemonade if it could be made? It's an important question for me. Yes those in power are is someways the enemy, but not all men are in power or even empowered.

    • Trista Hendren says:

      Well said. My husband sounds a lot like you. I probably don't state often enough how much I love and appreciate the supportive and/or feminist men in my life.

      With the lemonade, it was painful clear that my daughter was excluded because she was a girl. And that she was asked to make the lemonade for the boys because she was a girl. The boys had snacks of their own and were free (as always) to help themselves to anything in the house.

  13. Holli says:

    HI Trista,

    I was just doing a google search for "feminine wound" (term used in Sue Monk Kidd's book – didn't know if you read that one) where we both came up. I found Sue's book from one of my own readers over a year back and started blogging about my journey out of the Christian Church and the dogma. I'm birthing my own baby business now, and it is all around this topic of helping women to "divorce" (which actually means to burry that which is already dead…or at least that is my definition) gender, gender roles, abuse, patriarchy, dogma…all of which is rooted in patriarchy thought (you can call this inner patriarchy), so they can see they have their own authority to radically accept themselves just as they are – divine energies of the feminine. I would LOVE to talk with you at some point. I've also looked at Patricia's info…

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