Occupying Feminism/Religion: Letting Community Consciousness Roam Free By Amy Levin

Becoming involved in the women’s movement means moving from isolation as a woman to community. Through telling my story, I reach out to other women. Through their hearing, which both affirms my story and makes it possible, they reach out to me. I am able to move, gradually, from defensiveness to openness, from fear of questioning to a deep and radical questioning of the premises from which I have lived my life. I experience relief; my anger has been heard, and I am not alone. But I am also frightened; I am undermining my own foundations. The walls come tumbling down. – Judith Plaskow, The Coming of Lilith

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this blog – what it does – in relation to my life, as it promotes the intersection between scholarship, activism, and community. I notice these three elements in most, if not all of the FAR posts, but I’ve been wondering what exactly it means to really embody a life that allows scholarship, activism, and community to mutually mix and inform each other.

Though the movement has spread nationwide (and now worldwide) like wildfire, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in the #OccupyWallStreet movement in New York City these past couple of weeks. Like the critical scholar I’ve (hopefully) trained to be, I prepared for my involvement in the movement by stocking up on anti-corporate narratives and flipping through my ethnographies on consumption, including “Bloomberg’s New York.” However, while mentally gathering my critiques of neoliberalism, over-privatization, wealth, luxury, and consumer-obsessed subjectivities, I didn’t feel the adrenaline rush I had anticipated. Here’s what did give me that blood pumping excitement:

  1. Watching Peter Yarrow at Zucotti Park (of Peter, Paul and Mary) singing a lovely rendition of “Puff the Magic Dragon” with a group of small children holding proportionally sized protest signs
  2. Perusing the books of the “library” that the OWS community set up, full of novels, Marxist critique, poetry, and everything in between
  3. Listening to the “General Assembly” discuss concerns through a “people’s mic” – a process where everyone within earshot repeats what the speaker said to spread the word to the edges of the crowd.
  4. Reading a cardboard sign with the words “tzedek, tzedek,” meaning, “justice, justice” in Hebrew
  5. Marching down to the Courthouse with my NYU cohorts and faculty, donning my Rosie the Riveter t-shirt screaming “We are the 99%”
  6. Feeling like for the first time in New York I was part of a community

Some may disagree with me, or see me as trite, but I see some fundamental crossings between this movement and the feminism and religion movement, and the one that jumps out the most to me has to do with a communal feeling – the high energy that comes from a collaboration of diverse people coming together to celebrate equality and condemn oppression.

I don’t want to in any way reduce the feminism and religion movement by drawing connections to OWS. Although Heidi Hartmann’s “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism” could be useful in this context, my move toward Judith Plascow is one of feeling or affect, not a move to intellectualize power. Plascow’s quote above is one of my favorites – to me, it signifies both her fear and hopeful ambition of the earliest years in the groundswell of feminist theology and Jewish feminism. She’s talking about consciousness raising. She’s talking about community.

One of the elements that make the OWS so effective is that it is undefinable – yes, we are fighting against the power of money, as opposed to people, to rule our nation, but the movement is about recognizing our similarities within the greater pluralistic whole. The movement, like feminism, is complicated and problematic – it requires constant self-reflexivity, constantly widening its lens even as it focuses its goals. The fluidity inherent in the bridging of feminism and religion is exactly why it is so desirable – it accepts its universal drive to unite women and condemn gender and sexuality inequality, while recognizing that the particularities of religious and cultural communities must inform and question the methods and values of the drive itself.

I’ve had lot of people question why I’m protesting at Wall Street. Many are asking how the movement will actually “change” anything, and I start to panic, in the same way I do when someone asks in a snarky way, “what’s wrong with patriarchy?” I try to gather my thoughts, picking my brain for the best way to explain androcentrism in the bible or the commodification of ethnicity, and then I remember something: I have a right to be upset. With the work of scholarship and activism, I realize that there is a community of like-minded people full of anger and contradictions, looking to change consciousness even before we change laws, because in the words of Plascow, “it’s our oppression.”

Categories: Feminist Theology

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8 replies

  1. Nice work, Amy!


  2. I think women often believe these “movements” are about the advancement of women or have feminist elements to them. The “no mic” town halls were feminist, but did women truly get to speak as much as men in these public protest settings?

    Occupy Wall Street is good, in that it does put people in the streets, and does put people out there to unite, support and also transform. All of that is great, but again, I get back to the basics. And the basics are, women have forever been paid 70 to 75 cents on the male dollar–whites, and worse for non-white employees. This is an economic system of keeping women 25% poorer all the time, year after year, and age after age. And men love it when women are poor, because then their are plenty of porn actresses, plenty of prostitutes to buy, plenty of wives to own. Poverty and keeping that extra 25% is huge in the male economy.

    There is the theft of women’s labor within the het marriage system. If you live with men, you will have your resources stolen. It’s a given that it’s built into the het system of ownership of women’s time. Raise children, get out of the paid work force and you are screwed economically.

    So no matter what “Wall Street” reforms are out there, will women’s material situation fundamentaly change? And does academic feminist scholarship really address this? It seems in the west within liberal seminaries etc., it’s just knee jerk hatred of business and capitalism in general. I’ve never met a pastor who knows jack about business or finance, for example.

    Are the large gatherings in the “Occupy” movement mostly about men’s gatherings? Is it about
    tokenism when women speak? Are large blocks of town hall meeting time about women only speaking for an hour, while the men listen? NOW THAT would be radical in my book.

    Women’s labor has been stolen for over 800 years, according to women’s herstorians here and in England. A system of monetary theft from women IS the system. Corporations rely on the unpaid labor of women to prop up the men who run Wall Street. Powerful men depend on wives to make them look good when they are charged with sexually harassing other women… Maria Shriver comes to mind here. DSK’s wife thinks her husband is just fine.

    It’s not a Wall Street system or a Communist system that steals from women, it is the male system that will keep on doing this as long as women are sitting around listening to men at the meetings. A radical thing would be for women to mass in protest… and do the speaking for 90% of the time. It would create a whole new social dynamic. But, the women are going to go back to the unpaid servicing of men (het marriage), the unpaid child raising, the interrupted “careers” to take “time out” to raise children in the first place, and this is fine and dandy for rich men, poor men, beggermen and thieves. It changes nothing fundamentally at all, but a lot of women are going to “feel good” about “Puff the Magic Dragon” and hey, I love “Puff” but it ain’t feminism or true women’s revolution.


  3. Radfem hub blog has an excellent radical feminist article getting at the issue of 99% vs. 51% at Occupy Wall Street. And males assulting females at these mass demonstrations… both the male police and the anarchist men. It is the same old “leaderless assembly” where men seem to do almost all the talking almost all the time.

    Robin Morgan got it right the first time with her “Goodbye to All That” and the never ending anti-women, male sexual entitlement to women’s bodies that is the very backbone of “mass movements.”

    Again, we don’t ever seem to get to the bottom line of 25 cents less on the dollar as part of a social system hundreds of years old… so one wonders just what anarchist men have to say about this.
    Freedom for men, is not the same as freedom for women. And I’d go back to the Greenham Common model for women’s protests …


  4. Amy you well describe some of the feelings many of us also had in the 60s and 70s protests that were both countercultural and political. We can do both feminism and politics with men. Our fight is with injustice and 1% of the country controlling more than half of the wealth is unjust. I cannot recommend more highly Cobb and Daly For the Common Good for a nondoctrainare analysis of what’s wrong with liberal capitalism. And we need the Vagina Monologues too.


  5. But what about the male theft of women’s resources? What about what those anachist men are actually doing on Wall Street… “interviewing” women protesters on film, and then posting this as porn? Honestly, what drives me bonkers about feminists these days, is they can’t focus on the fact that women make 75 cents to 78 cents on the dollar… white women, and it only gets worse. Think of how the math plays out for 100 years of this? It makes all the complaints about the very few Wall Street men who make millions, but every man uses his wife as a comodity. It’s much bigger women…. where is the huge feminist presence pointing out the 51%? Where is the outrage at the danger to women protestors whose images are being turned into porn? You would not catch me dead at a mass protest with all those men in it!

    What about feminist outrage over male math, the male exploitation of women? What about the fact that over 100,000 women were driven out of Wall Street jobs, and that high level women got fired on Wall Street? What about Elizabeth Warren getting passed over for the consumer finance protection job she championed?

    I see really none of this covered in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and as Robin Morgan said so long ago…”Good bye to all that”— and yet, we just don’t want to fight this battle do we women.


  6. Hey, radical feminists are pointing out that Occupy Wall Street is still same same old male dominance, and the reports of rape and sexual harassment of women at these demonstrations are coming in. Women either are going to get this or we aren’t, and I’d say after 40 some years of this male leftist nonsense, we’d at least get a clue, that this is not about an economic revolution that will address the central issue…. and that is, women are the sex class, and are paid less deliberately, and that this has been a huge problem. I don’t see this being addressed at all in those Occupy Wall Street crowds, and we are getting direct reports of just how male centered the assemblies are, just how few women get to speak.

    We can babble all we want in academentia, but this issue of what women get paid is central to feminism, it is central to the issue of all women who continue to give slave labor to men’s service, both as “volunteers” in church settings, and marginalized bystanders on Wall Street.
    It is a men’s movement, with male leaders, and male posturing… and that’s all it will ever be. Where is the outrage women? Or are you just going to set up the tents for the men? Head bang in wonderment at the “liberal feminism” run amuck.


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