Archive for the ‘feminism’ Tag

Paganism and gender

I have recently been reminded of some of the less progressive attitudes to gender displayed by certain Pagans. Here’s an extract from one of my posts on the TDN forum from a while ago, dealing with this issue:

I don’t feel that feminism has gone far enough in modern Paganism, as gender stereotypes are just as prevalent as they always have been, if not more so. Liberal feminism, while a necessary first step in re-addressing gender inequality, has only altered the balance of power superficially while preserving the unhelpful distinctions been masulinity and femininity that upheld women’s oppression in the first place.

For all the celebration of the feminine the distinction hasn’t altered, women are still expected to be feminine (intuitive, mysterious, maternal) and men are still expected to be masculine (practical, strong), to the detriment of both men and women, and especially anyone who deviates from the norm.

Think of some of the stereotypes of modern Paganism that are still strong today. Think of the artwork in an average Pentacle or Pagan Dawn magazine – the slender nymph, the muscular hunter. Who can live up to these reductive stereotypes, and who would want to?

One of the reasons that I’m turned off by Wicca is the dualistic focus on masculine and feminine energies, with little questioning of how this axis of difference and maps onto biological sex and sexuality. What draws me to Druidry is the plurality, the celebration of all life, of the particular, of the individual.

Someone then asked how Paganism can be compatible with a feminism that on the one hand wants to remove gender differences, and on the other acknowledges them through Goddess and women’s mysteries? I responded:

Not all feminism is concerned with doing away with gender… more with recognising it for the cultural construction that it is. In realising it is arbitrary, yet nevertheless important in shaping our lives, we can be better equipped to navigate through life as men and women. Just because something is a cultural construction doesn’t mean it is any the less ‘real’ to us. Without cultural interpretation we wouldn’t be able to operate as humans … we wouldn’t be able to think or talk about the ‘real’ (whatever that may be).

I’ve heard the word ‘deconstruction’ a couple of times in this conversation and I usually shy away from it as so often it’s used outside of its specific Derridean context. Here, however, I think it is applicable. Sometimes, by focusing on the less dominant part of a binary pairing (in this case ‘feminine’) it is possible to undermine the structure of that pairing, showing how it is reliant on other terms to operate … meaning is deferred … and its artificiality is brought to the fore. Hence the introduction to feminism of French philosophy in the 1980s and 90s and concepts such as ‘ecriture feminine’ (google Julia Kristeva or Helene Cixous). So a focus on the Goddess as the ideal of femininity, on her contradictions and difficulties, is not necessary at odds with feminism.

Someone then suggested that feminism was now redundant now that equality was enshrined in law. My response:

Law is only a part of it. There’s no law to say that young girls can’t starve themselves to death to live up to an artificial ideal of femininity presented in the media as natural. There’s no law to stop women who decide not to have children being made to feel like they’re unnatural. There’s no law to stop the slur of being called ‘unfeminine’ or ‘unladylike’. Society upholds and polices the notion that gender is natural in a thousand different ways.

Paganism seems to be quite positive in this respect, in that a lot of Pagan women seem to have opted out of this cycle of conforming to gender stereotypes compared to non-Pagans. This is a bit of a generalisation, but I would guess that this drops off considerably at the ‘New Age’ end of the Pagan spectrum however. And I’m sure we can all think of a daughter, sister or friend whose life is still ruled by how well they conform to gender ideals.