For anyone interested in primal eating, health, healing, cleansing etc. You may be interested in my sister blog over at Pagan Paleo. You may not… of course! This is a bit of my story over the past few months.
For anyone interested in primal eating, health, healing, cleansing etc. You may be interested in my sister blog over at Pagan Paleo. You may not… of course! This is a bit of my story over the past few months.
It is hard to explain to those who do not know,
the depth of entanglement that can exist between women.
No a longer a moment, but a knotted thread that cannot be unpicked
by even the brightest painted fingernails,
or snipped at by the sharpest, sewing scissors.
A snarl at the core looks with brilliant eyes and says,“yes,I know you.”
Body and soul, I know you.
For we are cut from the same imperfect stuff
and a line of stitching leads us back, always back.
There comes a point where you finally trust that it always will,
for how could it ever not?
They are laughing at us, you and I; the old women
who weave the world and set that entanglement to begin.
We spent so many years wondering where the path would go,
little did we know that we need not have wondered at all.
A cord around the wrist sealed in blood.
A spindle’s mark to keep us.
If there are between us, spells of silence, know this
My Everything Girl, know this;
It is simply because you need never compromise your dreams for me.
They are so precious. It only means I did not know
how to tell you when it mattered.
Sunlight shifts across the balcony.
In the early morning beat of the cicadas,
cyprus and lemon, salt tang and dust
hang in the rising heat.
He spoons thick yoghurt into my bowl,
pauses, pours the yellow, orange and thyme
scented honey over it, slowly.
I reach for his hand, his slim brown fingers,
and kiss them. Still salty
from the sea and last night’s love.
He smiles, his eyes full of a darkness
I have yet to find the bottom of.
Were we still very young there would have been
gauloise to go with the coffee,
sweet smoke drifting through the lemon grove.
But instead of smoke there is a clarity,
a love that becomes more simple for all its complexity of years.
A calm settles around us. I follow his eyes to the horizon,
where an inky blue line joins sky and sea.
“…As she raised her hands to unlatch the door in front of her, a beautiful light shone from them both so that earth and sky and sea were brighter for it…” (The Poetic Edda).
Gerða or Gerð, usually anglicized to Gertha or Gerda) is a mountain giantess who is a member of the Norse-Icelandic pantheon and her name appears in both the Poetic and Prose Eddas, which date from 13th century Iceland. Whilst she is a little celebrated goddess, she is probably best known for being the wife of Freyr, one of the most important gods of the Norse pantheon, who presides over harvest, abundance and fertility. She is also named as being a one of the Asyniur, the goddesses of the AEsir pantheon who reside in the world of Asgard, one of the Nine Worlds from Norse mythology. Gerða is also mentioned in Snorri Sturluson’s Inglinga Saga where she appears as the wife of Freyr, named there as the King of Sweden. Between them they have a son named Fjollnir which means ‘manifold’. She is also listed as having been a sexual partner of the god Odin. Although Gerða is not mentioned in any of the Anglo Saxon texts, Freyr is, so it is possible that she was also known in the British Isles during the Saxon period as well as throughout Scandinavia.
The most famous story in which she appears is the Skirnismal or Lay of Skirnir. After spying on her from afar and falling in love with her great beauty, Freyr sends his messenger Skirnir to woo Gerða for him and to bring her back to Asgard. Freyr’s love for Gerða is such that he gives Skirnir his magical horse and his sword to complete the task. When Skirnir arrives at Gerða’s father’s, hall, he offers her precious gifts if she will consent to be Freyr’s wife. When she is not moved he threatens her, which she also finds unimpressive, saying;
“”For no man’s sake will I ever suffer,
To be thus moved by might…”
Finally Skirnir resorts to a terrible curse which calls madness, rage and longing upon her if she will not acquiesce. Gerða then gives in, saying that she herself loves Freyr, and agrees to meet him nine days hence in the forest of Barri where their union takes place. Skirnir carries the news to Freyr who is overjoyed by the news but devastated that he must wait nine nights for her.
It is difficult to know how Gerða was honoured historically as very little of her lore remains. As the wife of a fertility god, and a mountain giantess she is often associated with the earth and fertility and may have originally represented the cold of the winter earth being coaxed to life by the warmth of the sun, which is closely associated with Freyr. There are certainly elements of the ancient dynamic of the union of earth and sky about their marriage. Yet, such explanations may be overly simplistic and Gerða’s guarded response to Skirnir’s wooings, despite her own love for Freyr holds important clues to her nature. Those who work with her in a modern context generally agree that she is a goddess of reserved temperament who hides hidden depths and passions that she does not reveal easily. She is often described as wearing brown and earth-coloured gowns which cover her completely with her hair in a long dark plait that reaches to the floor.
Further indications of her nature can be found within her name. Gerða in Old Norse means ‘fenced in’ or ‘to guard’ and she is often associated by modern devotees with the concept of Innangarð meaning ‘inside the enclosure’ – that which is tamed or safe sanctuary, and Utengarð, meaning ‘outside the enclosure’ – that which is wild, dangerous or chaotic. These two concepts most usually refer to physical spaces, but may also be used to denote cultural, psychological or social states too. Gerða is often associated with the peace and safety of Innangarð, holding the sanctuary of sacred space and as such she may be called upon for healing.
Gerða’s close association with the earth, healing and the guarded enclosure has meant that she has come to be associated with walled gardens, particularly herb gardens. Planting and tending an herb garden is a way to honour her and she may enjoy offerings of herbs, teas, or essential oils. However, her name may more accurately denote her as a goddess of the physical boundary or barrier that divides the inner and the outer, rather than of the spaces themselves. As such she can be seen as the boundary between the wild and the tamed, keeping the balance between the two which makes human society and culture possible. Humanity has always sought to moderate the environment in order that existence may be more viable or comfortable. We seek out new modes of agriculture, medicine and technology, build libraries, and fly to far flung corners of the globe, but there must be a balance. In seeking to overly control our environment, separating ourselves from nature, we risk damaging or changing it beyond recognition and compromising our own survival at the same time. This may be seen not only in humanity’s relationship with the environment but in our personal relationships too. In working with boundaries, Gerða can teach us how far we can or should push this fragile balance in order to obtain what we need.
Gerða and Freyr represent the meeting of two very different peoples, the Giants and the Gods, between whom there is often fighting and disagreement. Consequently, as a couple, they are often called upon to bless marriages between people for whom being together is difficult, perhaps coming from different religious or cultural backgrounds, or opposed by family or friends. Their love shows us that there can be harmony between two seemingly opposing worlds but that this needs to be negotiated and considered with care.
Hmmm, two posts in a week; I think I need my head examining. Still, as is the way with most of what I write, I start out journalling and end up sharing if it seems the thing to do. This means that most of what I write doesn’t make it, but sometimes you seem to have spent a few months having your head kicked in until you learn something. So that means a lot of journalling. This is the first time I’ve written about this and it feels like it takes courage to do so, not least because my take on this subject is probably so very different to the usual pagan/druid approach and at the very least may be somewhat controversial.
I think mostly though, I’m writing simply to find myself present in the world again as I’ve seriously frightened myself over the past month or two, sinking into a place I have felt completely incapable of extracting myself from. That’s unusual, normally I have a handle on it. I know the signs, I shake myself, refuse to submit to it, give myself a good talking to, determined that the muddy puddle will not suck me down. I’ve watched my Dad, utterly consumed with it for the past three or four years and I WILL NOT be there. Decision made, no arguments. You see, this ‘it’, this thing more normally called ‘Depression’ is interesting; firstly, I should probably say that I don’t call it that quite deliberately, not in relation to myself anyway, others do of course chose to use the word and that is fine, everyone deals with it in their own way, I’m not devaluing that.
If you read this blog regularly you probably know that I have a vivid imagination and like to tell stories. Personal mythology and imagery is such an important tool when the rational will not do, and so I prefer to think of my depression more as a muddy puddle with a whirlpool in the middle. Not a small whirlpool either, but one of those Pirates-of the-Carribean-Calypso-made-this-and-I-can’t-see-the-bottom whirlpools. My mud puddle is a selfish, clawing thing that likes attention and validation, it’s hungry and it wants feeding. To give it a label, particularly a medical label, makes it a THING, and that makes it happy and self-important and rather more powerful than I like to think it deserves, so it doesn’t get a name. It also makes it something that you can apparently treat, medicate and solve, and 20 years experience on and off of flolloping in the mud puddle tells me that this is not so.
Of course there is depression that is related to chemical and hormonal imbalances and whilst there is a huge amount of overlap on this spectrum, that is a slightly different thing. In any case the causes of depression are debated and whilst the seratonin theory is widely accepted, it’s just as widely questioned, particularly by psychologists, see Seratonin and nurogenesis. Whilst this is only an article, it’s actually quite good and will point you in the direction of actual research if you’re interested. But either way, I’m not talking about that, I haven’t the space. Nor am I talking about the kind of pathological, acute mental health conditions that get you hospitalised. I’m talking about the 40% of depression that antidepressants don’t work for, the kind of depression that happens for other reasons, and that happens to lots of us because sometimes, we are just not that great at dealing with the things that the world throws at us. Because sometimes those things are just too big and too much, and staying sane and functional is sometimes a very big ask. This is worth a read, again, just an article, but it points to some interesting World Health Organisation research about differing rates of depression around the world.
I deliberately use terms such as ‘mine’ and ‘my’ when I talk about my mud puddle, as they are incredibly important. This is me after all, a part of my soul, not something that is seperate, not someone or something else, not something that happened to me, not something I suffer from, just me. The decision to take ownership is a powerful one. There is a tendency, in modern health care to set the disease apart from yourself, to make it something that attacks you from the outside, that you become a victim of. Not something that you can own, that you create from the inside as a response to the world, something which you actually can make choices and decisions about. But I feel that this approach makes me powerless. The mud puddle is not something outside of myself, but something right in my middle, integrated, inseperable, an emotional tide that must be swum. If I’m to own it and have a any sort of autonomy with it, it has to be mine. This too is controversial; the debate surrounding the degree to which we have a choice about depression will run and run. It’s easy to write off this kind of approach when you don’t want to believe that you have a choice, but there is a stack of research on the subject suggesting that it makes a difference, which is well worth an explore if you are inclined. Personally I believe that choice is not everything (clearly it’s not) but that we have much more of a choice than we imagine. Whilst we can’t always control what happens to us, we have a choice about how we respond to the shit that does happen. I also believe (from very personal experience) that one of the symptoms of depression is that it robs us of the belief that we have a choice at all. That’s also important; it robs us of the belief, it does not rob us of the choice. Our ability to chose is in direct proportion to our belief that we can choose. Believing I am helpless is step one towards being swallowed by the whirlpool. Remembering that I have that choice not to remain there, not to allow it to define me, is what helps me claw my way out. Every single time.
The other things that help? A sense of humour. Having important people in my life who don’t give it the time of day either. That’s not to say that they aren’t supportive, but they don’t engage with the depression or validate my “poor me, I feel so awful” outlook, recognising that’s not helpful. They engage with me, in just the same way as they do when I’m ok. I have other friends who deal with chronic physical pain and in just the same way, they will articulate that engaging with them as a person not the disease and not being defined by it, is what they need. Again that’s not about not being loving and supportive but about remembering that this is a person, whole, a bit broken, a bit messy, but a person not a disease. Being normal, is so helpful, not being affected by someone else’s pain, emotional or physical is vital. As a midwife, being with women in pain is what I do. You don’t need to take it away, or feel it, or be overwhelmed or frightened by it, you just need to be there through the process. I believe that this is true whether the pain is emotional, physical or a bit of both.
It’s easy of course to tell me that my mud puddle is not, cannot be that bad. If I cope with it (usually), if I can get out of it (mostly) and am not medicated (never yet!), but this particular brand of mentalness, and I apologise for the irreverence but it’s important in maintaing my perspective, runs in my family. Lots of us are just a bit crazy. There are a number on medication, a good few in counselling and a few admissions to the local unit. As a health care professional myself, I know exactly how I would be diagnosed and probably what I would want prescribed for me, should I chose to go down that route. So I’m not speaking from the position of someone who doesn’t know how it feels. But here is the thing, the usual medical approaches don’t and haven’t helped so many people I know. The people I know using those approaches are the people who don’t seem to make any real improvement, or actually get worse.
Please don’t imagine that I’m saying that medication or medical expertise should not be utilised and is never needed, it absolutely has a place. I just cant help wondering how often we actually pathologise what is essentially normal in so many, many cases. This robs the individual of power and autonomy. Again, over pathologising mental health is another debate all of it’s own and one we are having regarding postnatal depression and the emotional changes following birth, in midwifery in particular. But (and this is my observation only, both professional and personal) the people who seem to cope best and get better, whether they take meds or not, are those who maintain the belief that they have some choice and responsibility, and refuse to believe they are helpless.
So the Sheild Maiden? Well, she’s another of my stories, my personal mythology and she is of course associated by many with Freya. She’s my medicine and my saviour. The image of the Sheild Maiden, striding forward into battle is one that is common in popular culture at the moment. She is historically rather debatable, but I’m not sure that matters overly much and she captures the mind and the imagination nonetheless. In a man’s world, I think we understand warriors best on the battlefield and so that is where she has ended up. Although as women, we do fight in the wider world, for our children and families, for justice, for peace, in the armed forces, for so many things, women also know that sometimes the greatest battles are the emotional and hormonal ones in our very centre. This is where the magic of the sheild maiden lies. Those battles require courage, bravery, toughness, fearlessness, skills of attack and retreat and strategy. I find her within myself as the emotional warrior, she who is not afraid of what is at the bottom of the whirlpool. It’s she who says “ok, lets see whats down there this time” and walks all the way in when she feels it sucking at her toes, rather than being swept away. However scary it is, she knows that we may not have much choice about going in, so we might as well make the most of it. She makes the choice to explore and she makes the choice to fight her way out when she’s ready, bloodied and wiser, with scars and trophies but alive to fight another day. I scared myself this time, at how long it took to find her but I did and that gives me the courage to believe I will next time too.
My gods, it’s been a while since I wrote here. Over a year in fact. As a person who has a driving, burning need to write, I don’t do a lot of it in my spare time, although I do, every day, for a living. This means that my blog gets rather neglected as a result. Often I wonder why it is that I don’t write, when it is so important to my well being. Having thought about it over the past few days and having been prodded by a husband who knows how important it is for me, mostly I have come to the conclusion that I self censor a lot of the time as I have trouble believing that a) what I have to say is of any interest to anyone but me, and b) why would anyone else care? I think that mostly comes not from a place of self-depreciation, but from a total lack of ego and much of the time, a need to hide from the world. But I also realise deep within me a fear of being misunderstood and misconstrued, of giving the wrong impression or the wrong end of the stick. I seem to do that a lot, whether through my own absolute inability to communicate effectively or through others misreading of the story. This, and a bit of a ‘dark night of the soul’ over the past few months has led me to consider some old patterns I thought I had dealt with pretty throughly and to work more deeply with the idea of narrative and story as ‘reality’.
I realise over the years that I have come to understand my life and the events I look back on as a series of stories. Some of these stories are probably true and a pretty good representation of the facts, some are probably half true, others not so much, and some I am sure that I have fabricated to suit my own perspective almost entirely. We all live our lives through stories, we are all story tellers. We write new stories to explain the world and our experiences every day, just as our ancestors did. As a pagan and animist, these stories are important because in both the telling and listening they can reaveal much about ourselves, the world around us, and the realtionship we have with ourselves and other people (other storytellers).
We craft the world (much of it crafted for us by parents and others to begin with) from a very young age, putting the bits together with glue and sparkley paper, building the tapestry that we eventually call life. Each of these individual tapestries is our own stitch pattern and colour scheme, unique and personal, beautiful, disjointed, messy. If another were to look at your at your tapestry they would undoubtedly recognise some of the images and patterns, sharing your perspective and understanding. Yet, some may be unrecognisable to others, the colours jarring or the pictures blurred, even if the events were shared, our perspectives of the same event, the things it meant to us, may be interpreted in very different ways.
I grew up being told that I was difficult, demanding, precocious and asked too much. I still carry this narrative, still tell this story because on a very deep level I still believe it to be true. When I don’t find the nourishment I need (because I ask too much!) I escape rather than wanting to be seen as unnaceptable. Consequently throughout my life I have been told that I come across as proud, aloof and sometimes arrogant. Actually what this really is, is a terrible case of shyness and a rampant innability to deal with the world, or people despite sometimes making a really rather passable pretence of it, and a deep sense of pain at my own percieved unnaceptability. I know that this has me running for the hills so very often, distancing myself from others as a defense mechanism because somewhere along the line I have learned (rightly or wrongly) that I’d rather be alone than get it wrong/cause hurt/cause offense/make too many demands.
How true this story is, I’m not sure, but either way I often end up feeling lonely and it’s difficult sometimes to make friends. It is a good example of the way in which the stories that we tell ourselves become true because they affects us profoundly in our day to day lives. Most often we do it to ourselves completely, tying ourselves in emotional knots in the attempt to tell the same stories we’ve always told, often from childhood. We hold on to these stories as an important part of our reality and sometimes, whilst rewriting them would ultimately brings us freedom from the things that stop us from achieving our potential, change is difficult and painful and sometimes strikes at the core of who we understand ourselves to be and the ways that we protect ourselves from the world.
In doing it to ourselves, it is also interesting to consider how often do we do this to others, making assumptions about what they are thinking and feeling to fulfil our own narratives. I know that I am a master craftsman at making up the bits I don’t understand and of filling in the gaps of what something unspoken might mean, or what was meant or inferred by something else without having had that conversation about where that person really is. This is neither honourable or constructive and usually ends in misunderstanding. This was brought home to me recently in a conversation with someone at a pagan event (I’m sure he won’t mind me using the conversation as it was all in the spirit of burying old hatchets), where he told me that the first time I’d met him many, many years ago, I managed to piss him off within about five minutes “Me??” I said incredulously, “how on earth did I manage that? I’m nice! I hate conflict.” Apparently he had arrived late at a workshop group and whilst I have no recollection of the event or of the meeting, I know the sort of workshop it would have been, one where a group has to create a scene or a part of a ritual that then gets put together to make the whole, I’m sure you know the sort of thing. It’s generally something I avoid like the plague; too many people, opinions and disagreements. He went on to tell me how I had basically looked at him like he was shit on my shoe and then given him a job to do that he was less than happy about! Luckily his telling was quite comical and we both laughed about it, probably realising that neither of us had handled it well. As the laughter settled I started to puzzle over my behaviour. It was so hard to think of a time when I would have deliberately behaved like that. Eventally I realised that I had probably been shy, awkward, just about coping with the group as it was, hoping I could disappear as soon as possible, and hiding my fear and uncertainty behaind a facade of cool and capable. I suspect that could easily have been construed in the way he percieved it, which I am certain would not have been my intention at all.
But this got me thinking. If he had been so very, very wrong about me in that situation, how often am I so very, very wrong about others, perhaps colouring the scene to actually reflect my own insecurities rather than seeing what was intended? How often do I feel hurt, rejected, unloved etc. because of my own hang ups, ending up doing my disapearing act because of something imagined rather than ‘real’? Probably all the time. It also got me thinking about how responsible we are for what we put ‘out there’ and how we share responsibilites for misunderstandings. It’s not ok to say “your reaction to me is your problem”, because that gives us the excuse to behave as badly as we want and take no responsibility for it. I would like to suggest that whilst we cannot control how others react to us, we have a responsibility not to behave like an idiot. If I behave badly, I can expect someone to respond to me badly. Ultimately, every action or inaction is a choice.
So in that way, however difficult a task it may seem, we have a choice about the stories we write, both about ourselves and others. I have the choice not to disappear when I hear the message that I am difficult and unnacceptable and in being conscious that is a pattern I can start to retell the story in a different way. Not that that’s easy and I certainly don’t have the new story yet, but I’m working on it. At the same time, I’m working on letting others tell their own story, without adding my own chapters (assumptions) and certainly not without a conversation. Because, if we hope for the freedom to tell our own stories in our own way unhampered by the misreading of others, then we must offer others the freedom to do the same.
So, I am a feminist. There, I have said it. It’s often a word that makes people squirm and for so many (lots of them very good) reasons. It’s a name, an ideology, I have identified with on some level or another for most of my adult life and feminist theory is now a subject I am lucky enough to teach my undergraduates. It is always an interesting challenge to pick apart their many preconceptions about what feminism is and very definitely is not. Yet, the word is also something that makes me profoundly uncomfortable sometimes and it is usually other feminists and my resultant association with them that is the reason for this, rather than society’s attitudes to feminism itself. After all, feminism has a bad name, it makes people uncomfortable because it challenges some of the very deeply entrenched behaviours and attitudes of society, which is why I love it. It also says some profoundly stupid, although usually well-meaning things at times, which is why I don’t. I’ve been wanting to write about this subject for sometime, but to do so probably means revealing things about my own nature that it often feels uncomfortable to share. There will always be judgement on a woman for not behaving as she should and that is as true within feminism as anywhere, it’s just that here we tend to be seen to be letting the side or the sisterhood down.
There was never a subject that feminism had more to say about than sex and of late, I have found myself reading some ‘interesting’, well-intentioned, but rather misguided articles and opinions which have sometimes downright disturbed me. As usual it’s often the fault of Facebook, where these things get shared with abandon without much more thought than it takes to click a button. But I am worried about the perpetuation of some of these ideas and the effects that they have on women, men and every gender and none in between. It is the (apparently) feminist ideas that tell me how as a woman, I (or indeed anyone) should or should not behave and express my sexuality, the school of thought that suggests that if you are male you are responsible for rape culture by default, the articles which turn women into victims by removing their personal responsibility and autonomy and imply to us, often without meaning to, that all men are dangerous sexual predators just waiting to do harm. It is the feminism that compounds and protects those very stereotypes that it set out to dismantle in the first place, that concerns me.
Because Feminism is really an umbrella term covering a collection of ideas and movements, I should probably start by defining feminism as I understand it. This is coloured very much, as a Heathen woman, an animist and my relationship with the Gods, particularly Freya, the goddess I am devoted to. For me, feminism is the understanding that all people should be equal, politically, economically, culturally, socially and sexually and that no person should be at a disadvantage in any of these things as a result of their gender. To experience disadvantage on the grounds of gender is to experience sexism. I also consider that freedom is an essential component of feminism believing that no one has the right to limit to the freedom of another where that person is acting with consent and within the law. This means that ultimate personal responsibility is also essential because freedom cannot work sustainably without a conscious understanding of how what we do, directly affects others. Freedom does not mean the freedom to abuse because that again, limits the freedom of another. When talking about feminism, I tend to steer clear of a definition based solely in gender, or describing it as being only about women or women’s rights. Sexism disadvantages all of humanity and ultimately all people would find advantage in liberation from it. However it is true that feminism found its roots in women’s emancipation and suffrage and much of the work of feminism today is still focussed upon women and their lived experiences, because it is women who are so often the most likely to experience disadvantage because of their gender.
If such terms mean anything to you at all, I would best describe myself as a sex-positive, third-wave feminist. This means that I consider sexual freedom to be absolutely essential and a source of women’s power, and I believe that modern feminism needs to reach for equality far beyond the entrenched gender stereotypes of the previous feminist waves. It also means holding the belief that we are now free to define feminism for ourselves as individuals. For me that does not get much more complicated than believing in freedom, equality, autonomy, respect and absolute personal responsibility. My feminism also believes that I don’t have to be defined by my gender, but as I take complete and utter, unbounded delight and joy in being a woman, I often chose to do just that.
As a Heathen woman I am devoted to the goddess Freya. This means that I consider my primary purpose is to serve her, to celebrate and manifest her in the human world in a way which is positive and I seek to learn her mysteries, journeying into the depths of her being and stories. For Freya, so many of those mysteries are about the very many ways of being a woman: Lover, Priestess, Seer, Healer, Witch, Wife, Whore and kick-ass-independent-take-no-shit Shield Maiden. For me she is the ultimate goddess of women’s freedom and agency and a guiding principle of my life is that of striving for my own freedom and the intention never to limit another’s as far as I am consciously able. This means examining my own demands, jealousies and insecurities within my relationships with others on a fairly constant basis. As an animist, it means doing it with the non human world too. Sexism is simply one means by which an individual’s freedom can be limited, but then so is racism, abuse, homophobia, and the manipulation of others to make them behave as we would wish, and the dreadful generalisations that seek to strip a person of their individuality and autonomy.
So why the lengthy preamble and why am I writing about this anyway? Well I suppose it comes back to having been ‘told’ a few things online very recently by supposed feminists, that as a feminist myself have made me concerned. I’d like to address a few of the things that have made me hopping mad over the past month or so and look at why, despite having been espoused by feminists, these views really have nothing to do with my understanding of it at all. Those things have included such crazy things as being told that my love of dressing up in corsets, high heels and other ‘girly’ paraphernalia is not helpful to my sisters because it panders to sexual stereotypes and makes other women feel they have to conform to that idea of sexy. What the hell? Seeking to limit another woman’s freedom of expression and telling her how she should dress is not feminism. Next, that sexual submissiveness, power games, and BDSM even within consensual adult relationships, are demeaning and abusive; ergo a large part of my sexual identity is just dirty and wrong and damaging to myself and others. Hmmm, how affirmingly sex-positive. To my mind curtailing another womans sexual freedom where she choses and consents is also, not feminism. But perhaps the most short-sighted and stupid thing I have read to date is that if you are a man, you are part of rape culture, whether you like it or not.
Now, this is the one I am going to look at in detail because not only is it ridiculous, it’s also really dangerous and damaging to all involved, feminist ideologies, the way that feminism is perceived in general and above all, men! I have no doubt that the chap who wrote this piece is an honourable well-meaning gent and it’s sad really that he’s the one on the end of my pointy stick, having put together such a coherent piece which has been widely shared. But really I have chosen it as just one example of this kind of thinking I have come across. Whilst the writer of this article does not claim to be feminist, the ideas it describes are clearly feminist ideology and so it is fair to offer feminist critique of it. The first and most obvious point is that in stating that all men are part of rape culture you commit the cardinal offense of defining a gender by something a person does or does not do. Third wave feminism rejects essentialist definitions of gender that rely on such generalisations believing that the individual, their experiences and their personhood are more defining characteristics than gender. Secondly, to define an entire gender in this way is to suggest that rape culture is a biological characteristic of maleness, if this is so, it is inherent and cannot be changed. Therefore, there is little point in making the recommendations the author goes onto present in order to help men counter rape culture. Because he’s already told you that whether you like it or not, you are it, you can’t help it, and you’d better get used to it. The whole thing is a nonsense, not to mention it compounds our ideas of a binary gender structure, it really only speaks to heterosexual gender normative ideals.
Whilst the argument is fairly easily dismantled, the biggest problem with it is that it is so alienating, particularly if it gives the impression that all feminists think this way. I feel alienated by it because I don’t hold men responsible for ‘rape culture’ (I actually hate that term and could argue with that too, but I simply havent the space here!). I’ll say it again, I do not hold individual decent men, responsible for ‘rape culture’ by virtue of their gender. Please guys, you don’t need to do that for my benefit, I would much rather judge a person for their actions and behaviour because I’m the kind of pagan who believes in honourable relationship. That doesn’t mean that you have permission not to be a decent and honourable human being, guys, it just means that the rape and abuse that happens in the world is not your personal fault. If I were to hold men responsible, as a woman, what would that mean? Well the exact same thing I complained of earlier, I turn women into desperate victims without agency, freedom or responsibility and I fall into the trap of perpetuating the belief that all men are dangerous sexual predators. Conversely, the implication that men are the only ones who can change ‘rape culture’ is to suggest again that women are always in need of the protection of the ‘good guys’ who have changed their behaviour, from the bad behaviour of the guys who haven’t.
My husband feels alienated by it too, as do most of the men I have spoken to about it. He rejects the idea completely that he is part of ‘rape culture’ and I completely agree with him. I reject the idea that the other respectful, wise, honourable men I know are. It makes him angry that he cannot offer an intelligent counter argument even. To do so opens him up to the accusation of being blind to the ‘rape culture’ of which he is supposedly a part, and is therefore in denial. He is sweet, respectful and kind, already does the things listed as countering ‘rape culture’ and yet still he is guilty as charged; a part of it. Apparently. It is emasculating because it takes his voice, it is dis-empowering because he feels vilified, and it compounds some of the ideas that he has grown up with that he should keep his sexuality safely hidden in a box because it is dangerous. Not only this, but simply blaming a gender for the problem simplifies things beyond belief and goes nowhere to addressing the other factors which are so much bigger: War, poverty, destructive ideologies, capitalism.
So what is my point at the end of all this, other than to express my concern and discomfort; perhaps nothing other than that. Perhaps it’s to wave my Shield-Maiden sword for all the good guys I know who don’t deserve that kind of crap. Perhaps it’s for all the women who fly in the face of sexual norms, playing at the edges of what even feminism finds acceptable, the submissives, the ones with dark and strange fantasies, the sluts, the daddy’s girls, the hedonists, the ones in heels and corsets, the ones who like power games, the ones who refuse to be told what to do, even by the sisterhood; the women like me. Perhaps it’s to give feminism a different voice.
Or perhaps it’s just for Freya, it usually is.