The Need for a Positive Counter-Narrative of Religious Involvement in Feminism by Ivy Helman

I’ve admired JC for years.  That’s Joan Chittister, OSB the Benedictine nun of course.  I first saw her speak when I was in graduate school and she visited Yale.  I’ve also read a number of her books.    Her life is an example of how religious people support feminist ideals.    There is a story in Beyond Beijing: The Next Step for Women: A Personal Journal that I would like to share with you

Chittister began her historic journey on the Peace Train to the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.  As she  entered a conference room to register as a Peace Train participant, she was handed a large manila envelope.  To her surprise it was filled with condoms. At first, she thought that the woman who handed them to her meant to hand them to someone else.  However, Chittister was told (quite emphatically according to her) that she should distribute the condoms to the health workers she encounters while on the train and in the small towns she visits along the way to Beijing.  Eventually after much thought, Chittister decided to do just that and stuffs the manila envelope into her backpack.  Trying to find some humor in what she considered an awkward situation for a nun to be in she remarked, “Now all I have to do is to try not to die in front of some bishop with condoms in my backpack.”

My first reaction to this story is to laugh along with her.  I am also struck by her thoughtfulness to share the story publicly.  She could have been given the envelope, quietly distributed the condoms and then never told a soul.  But, no.  She includes the account of this feminist action she undertook in her book for the world to read.  What an amazing amount of courage and integrity this woman has!

Chittister shows a side of religion not regularly seen within feminism: the  religious individual committed to feminist ideals who is willing to go public with her religiously grounded feminist opinions. I recalled her story while preparing some lectures on the Civil Rights Movement and Feminism for  my classes this week.  Pouring over pictures and documentaries, I noticed something striking.  The documented history of the Civil Rights Movement includes many images of priests, ministers, nuns, rabbis and other clergy from various religious traditions.  Many of the stories show churches as organizational bases,  Many people of faith from Northern states purposely made the trek to the South to help in the struggle.  The Civil Rights Movement was supported by and intimately connected to various religious traditions within the United States.  But in comparison, the pictures of the Feminist Movement, are devoid of religious leaders.
Where are the clergy?  Both movements share many similar goals like justice, equality, rights, freedoms, access to education and the end of discrimination.  Both movements are centered around respecting and uplifting the worth and dignity of each human being.  Where is the religious presence within the feminist struggle?  It is no secret that Christian, Jewish, Muslim and various other religious leaders played a very public role in the Civil Rights Movement, a role that we don’t see in feminist circles.  Often, when we do see public appearances by religion into feminism, it is often a public statement that directly contradicts feminist aims.  For every hour we spend discussing how to integrate feminism into religion, we should be devoting equal amounts of time thinking about how to integrate religion into feminism.  This is necessary to add power and integrity to our liberation movement.  If religion really is about love, peace, justice, mercy, compassion, an end to suffering and helping our neighbors, which I think it is, then religion should play a public role in support of women’s rights.  Religion should inspire, support and embrace feminist commitments.
Likewise, we need to have serious discussions about how religious people (clerical and lay) can play a more public role within the larger feminist movement to help women find wholeness, safety, access to education, proper healthcare, control over their own bodies, empowerment, their own moral agency, employment and many other goals.  Feminism isn’t just about women, it is about humanity and creating a more just, fair, equitable and safe world – it has the same goals as religion!  We need to stop seeing the two as enemies but as partners.  Religion must support us feminists when we march on Washington, when legislation threatens to take away our own control over our bodies, when injustice causes a woman to be paid less than a man, when women and girls have to walk four hours in one direction just to gather drinking water to name just a few instances.
In as much as religion needs to be better at supporting feminist aims, it is important to recognize all the work religion is doing in the struggle for justice by creating our own narrative.  Those of us intimately involved in the intersection of feminism and religion should do just that.   We need to show others a counter-narrative to both some feminist claims and many religious claims that argue that religion and feminism are incompatible.  This counter-narrative should illustrate just how much and how often religion is making positive contributions toward feminist aims.

Here is what I propose: we do that here and now.  I am going to detail one small but extremely important example that I’ve encountered recently.  In the comments section, please add to this list.  Hopefully, as we compile this list together, we will inspire one another and create a sense of hope and renewed dedication to our common struggles.  Thank you for sharing.

1.  The sign in every bathroom at my shul in Lowell, MA about Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.  It lists a hotline number as well as explains the various options you have if you have been a victim of domestic violence and/or sexual assault.  Some of the options include (I don’t have access to the sign as I write): you have the right to medical care including STI testing, you can choose what kind of treatment you do or do not follow, you have the right to be safe and anti-pregnancy pills can be taken up to 72 hours after rape.

Your turn…

Ivy A. Helman, Ph. D.: A feminist scholar currently on the faculty at Boston College teaching in its Perspectives Program and an Adjunct Lecturer at Merrimack College.  Her most recent publications include:  “Queer Systems: The Benefits of a More Systematic Approach to Queer Theology,” in CrossCurrents (March 2011) and Women and the Vatican: An Exploration of Official Documents(2012).

Categories: Academy, Activism, Christianity, Community, Ethics, Feminism, General, Human Rights, Islam, Judaism, Politics, Racism, Reproductive Justice, Social Justice, Women and Community, Women in the Church

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33 replies

  1. Great that you bring this up, Ivy.

    I think you need to take account of an important demographic here. The most public religious voices in the the civil rights movement were an older generation of male religious leaders–Martin Luther King, Bill Coffin, Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Berrigan brothers, Robert McAffee Brown–with students and others participating. The second wave of the feminist movement had no powerful (male) religious figures supporting it, which is not surprising and don’t get me started about that.

    The generation of women who articulated feminism’s goals (my generation and the one before it, mostly) came of age in an era when it was almost expected that you gave up your religious beliefs in college–as you were also expected to give up your parents’ Republicanism (if any). Feminists in religion whether working from within or without traditional religions have had to counter a very strong belief within feminism that religion is something you give up somewhere between the ages of 12 and 20.

    That said, I was hired in a Women’s Studies Department; I was a delegate to the first NWSA founding conference, and feminists in religion have not been excluded there — though we sometimes have had to fight to get our voices heard. As for MS magazine, I believe Carter Heyward was on their cover and women’s ordination has certainly been covered. On the other hand, MS has not been particularly open to covering women’s spirituality outside the churches and synagogues.

    I for one have never doubted that I am a feminist and a feminist in religion and that I have a right to contribute to the definitions of both.


  2. 2) The Goddess is an option.


  3. Could it be that a lot of feminists are pagan and the dominant religions don’t see us as religious/ priestesses and therefore we don’t exist?


  4. Yes, that’s true. It is a kind of historical time line — Fr. Grappe was a prominent civil rights activist in Milwaukee. Malcolm Boyd a closeted gay male Episcopal priest always talks about his work with King and civil rights, but he has never been involved in anything feminist. He has been very helpful to lesbians in ministry, but publically there is the big gay male silence. So it was an all male clergy supporting the rights of black men. Only when men’s rights are being trampled on do the met hit the streets. Remember that.

    I think it would be great to see male clergy of all denominations in their own “Men against rape” march, or angry male clergy out in the streets over the low pay women get in THEIR churches… now that would be radical.

    Feminism is both secular and religious, but when it wanders into religion well sparks fly. Think “The Woman’s Bible” and Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Matilda Joselyn Gage and “Woman, Church and State” which only Mary Daly managed to reclaim. Carter Heyward was a huge radical lesbian face to the clergy, and Metropolitian Community Church has a huge international contingent of radical lesbian feminist clergy, but you rarely hear about this in “mainstream” feminism or Ms.

    I think a lot of women like to study religion or go to seminary, but really the root of it all is patriarchy. So they are swimming in a sea of male supremacy trying to make it palatable. The Goddess covens are more powerfully woman centered, but very marginally known around the country.

    I’d challenge liberal male clergy to go out and fight for women’s rights in their male groups. I don’t want to work with men, but I do want to put pressure on men to put up or shut up–pay women in the church more, preach against male attacks on women in marriage– preach from pulpits against males slobbering over vile woman hating pornography– go after male privilege, put men’s feet to the fire on Sunday morning. Hey, I’d go to hear a man in a vestment preach against men underpaying women, I’d love to see male clerical RAGE over this. That action to put pressure on men to FIGHT and work together with other men to make feminist change happen would be great.

    But I’d also like to see women clergy working harder for all women’s spirituality groups so that they become common and not marginal. I’d like to see an all woman mass presided over by lesbian bishops — hey there are a few out there. I’d like to see women take over cathedrals and hold all women’s services now and then.

    Could male clergy get along without their underpaid female secretaries? How about women who are housekeepers to priests getting paid peanuts…. hold them accountable!!


    • Turtle woman. thanks for this, it clarified for me something you said earlier that I didn’t quite get at the time.
      I do see what you mean when you point out that in general men only speak out when it is their own rights being trampled. i thought you were saying earlier that you hated when gay men spoke out on issues that effected lesbians, that you hated when gay issues and lesbian issues were lumped together as if they were the same. I am hearing now that you hate the fact that gay men only speak out about these issues when it somehow pretains to them. This is an entirely different statement. I am still not certain how to move forward though if we don’t at some point allow ourselves to be just human period. For example, if a man speaking out when an issue affecting, for example women, is shot down because he waited until the issue infringed on his world, then should I, as a straight woman, also refrain from speaking my outrage when a 66 year old woman is harmed because she happens to be a lesbian? The act of violence has now infringed on my world. I am a bit hampered in these discussions because there is a bit of a language barrier, in that the discussions are more intellectualized than I usually take part in It struck me that this ‘language barrier’ is constantly riseing up in life, as we bump into others whoes life experiences are so different from our own. It can be difficult to dialogue when we are struggling just to understand each other. Language is so complicated once you step out of your comfort zone, and involves so much more than just the words. It involves so many intricately woven pieces outside the words.


  5. Thank you for addressing this serious chasm in human relations.
    And I thank Carol for sharing with us historical facts and her experiences as a founding mother of women´s spirituality and feminist thealogy.

    Religion and feminism… I admire your optimism, what a testament of faith and hope. I say admire because I see other complex hurdles that we need to address before imagining a parternship built on sand. I recognize that you are very brave to even try this. I am a former catholic pre-Vatican II, to me this means that I have seen Mary demoted and literally erased from its church. I do not write this to dampen your activist positive fires, with this I hope to invite the comments of other women who see from an opposite angle and are able to speak in the defense of religions who may be closer in partnership to feminists and share the good news with us. Here is my less optimistic angle of vision:

    “For every hour we spend discussing how to integrate feminism into religion, we should be devoting equal amounts of time thinking about how to integrate religion into feminism.”

    I could not agree more; but perhaps we need to begin by thinking and discussing a deeper analysis or a deconstruction of cult of personality in religions. Aren´t religions traditionally the perpetuation of a cult of male personality which has historically cohorted with empires, and been at the helm of defining women as subaltern?

    …”necessary to add power and integrity to our liberation movement. ”
    How can religions, which historically have place women in the subaltern position, be interested in self-destruying by adding “power and integrity” to women? Once religious leaders recognize the “power and integrity” of the liberation of women they would be dangerously close to recognizing Her as Creator of humanity. And this may challenge the cult of the male personality itself! Why? Because, considering his environment, Christ was a perfectly normal, kind and balanced human man. Anything less would be less than human. Shouldn’t normal, good, balanced, and kind be the norm?

    “Religion should inspire, support and embrace feminist commitments.”
    One reason why I believe that religion operates in antithesis to supporting and embracing feminist commitments is precisely because religions were founded and are grounded on the cult of a male personality (which has gone through narrative changes throughout history depending on what “adds power and integrity” to the mission of the oppressor). How then can we expect that religions founded on supermale personality cults, where women have been systematically excluded and defined as the subaltern (See Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak for more about the end of the Mother of God as a potential Goddess in the Catholic church) ever consider the contribution, not to speak of the “power and integrity” of women?

    “Feminism isn’t just about women, it is about humanity and creating a more just, fair, equitable and safe world – it has the same goals as religion!”

    Yes, but women have been historically under attack, and before we convince “religion,” which implies bringing to our side religious leaders, we need to first bring to our side woman who have internalized oppression and stand on the way of her own sister´s opportunities.

    “…important to recognize all the work religion is doing in the struggle for justice by creating our own narrative.”

    Contrary to the opinion of some Christians, I am aware of how much Hindu religion and some Indian spiritual teachers in particular have done for the liberation and empowerment of women within their tradition and other traditions. Dr. Vasudha Narayan has written about this. But I believe that women have yet to create OUR OWN RELIGION aspiring that it “adds power and integrity” to our struggle for social justice, equitable healthcare, end of ethnic “cleansing” also called water/river genocides.

    Imagine how the leaders in patriarchal religions would react if women were to erect a cult or religion around a woman’s personality? For example, imagine a Church of the Peace Pilgrim in All, or a Church of Goddess Mother, Congregation of Joanna Macy, Congregation or Church of Vandana Shiva, or of Arundhati Roy… and the word congregation can be used instead of church… But no, we are not yet interested in promoting the “power and integrity” of women nor of Goddess within our own kind… Imagine, male insecurity or ego can go bizerk.

    I seriously believe that even while attempting to create partnership and goodwill among religions and feminists, feminist thealogists should consider creating a religion based on the inspiration of a woman’s personality. We need to practice promoting one another, how else can we understand male solidarity?

    I apologize if this sounds too revolutionary for some.

    Here I am sharing some of my thoughts, before even attempting to join a discussion.


  6. Likewise, we need to have serious discussions about how religious people (clerical and lay) can play a more public role within the larger feminist movement to help women find wholeness, safety, access to education, proper healthcare, control over their own bodies, empowerment, their own moral agency, employment and many other goals. Feminism isn’t just about women, it is about humanity and creating a more just, fair, equitable and safe world – it has the same goals as religion! We need to stop seeing the two as enemies but as partners.

    I have been enjoying your posts. You have a way of writing that appeals to me, and I feel fortunate being able to respond in this way. I especially appreciated the above paragraph, because I have found myself in the middle of that battle ground – well ,what woman isn’t in the middle, I guess.

    I wanted to add to your list. I had always wanted an education. The short version is that I became trapped in the cycle of poverty, and I was so well conditioned to self-sacrifice and guilt that I would not allow myself to take valuable resources from my family for personal benefit and now that I am approaching my 50s I don’t know if I have the energy or the resources. It is a very real grief I am experiencing, and a common one I’m sure. To your list I would add that religious conditioning should never teach girls that getting an education is selfish. But this is a negative statement and I don’t know how it could be framed as a positive, although my church provides a scholarship that is offered to girls and boys equally, as well as educational mission trips. Had I had that early on I may have invested in myself. I may not have at 17 gone hungry while watching my ex-husband eat. I would have invested in my health and my mind.
    Ivy, if you were to recommend one book to me, what would it be?


  7. I appreciate the gestures made by my sisters who choose to work for change within the patriarchal institutions of church, academia, western medicine, etc.

    I also know that there are a lot of us who cut ballast on those systems a long time ago, who already know ourselves to be free and divine, unburdened by seeking acceptance or carving out a small space within them.

    Those who know the Goddess know that freedom isn’t something you ask or bargain for. It’s something you choose.


  8. Hi Lori-Ann– I’m not an academic, so I can’t speak to academic feminism really. I do read as much women’s herstory and women’s theology as possible. Any way, my point of view is pretty basic: I want a women’s nation, I want places where women run 100% of the show. I am not interested in working with men politically, and I consider feminism to be a liberation movement for the benefit of women. It is not about men’s rights or needs, it is about a revolution of the other
    half of the human race.
    I don’t want to share my resources with men or male centered issues. And I don’t put any value over the primacy of lesbian feminist freedom. Most so-called “liberation” movements are only about men. If something harms men, the men get outraged. Martin Luther King did not give a damn about the rights of women. He did not promote women’s leadership, and he exploited black women’s labor the way any patriarch would. He created a movement for the freedom of black males, and then after that other movements expanded the theme of justice.

    If women don’t stand up for our own needs, we will lose. We will forever be second class citizens.
    So we’ve got to get this. I am not interested in “human rights” I want the male boot off my neck! I want an end to male terrorism in the streets, I’m sick of their wars, their rape, their pornography, their male gods…. none of this works for me.

    Women are in poverty because they will starve themselves to feed men! That just shocks the hell out of me. Christianity just makes it worse for women, and women cling to it because we don’t have the guts to create a huge religion for the benefit of women. We could do it, we could dump the whole stupid bible tomorrow, we could end this infatuation with patriarchy.

    I don’t care what men think, I don’t want to read what they have to say about feminism, I want them to go out and stop men from raping, I want them to raise the salaries of all women, I want men to jump on men who make woman hating comments. I want a men’s movement to get other men off my damn back. And I don’t want gay men speaking for lesbians. Geeezzz, I want a women’s revolution in which women get 100% of the benefit. That’s what I want.


  9. To all you amazing women, your comments are an inspiration. We must just keep on thinking, keep on writing and keep on our paths because they are the right ones. It is amazing to read all your stories, your experience and your histories!
    I am a 1st generation feminist. I left the Church pre-Vatican II because I sensed there was no place for me. Carol, I am with you on the fact that in order to find our truth, we had to leave the Church. I did not do it as an academic, but just as a gut feeling that the men ‘owned’ it all and there was no place for lay women. I wasn’t even thinking of the nuns at the time. I was not searching for the Goddess at the time, because although, indirectly she existed, I was only thinking of her as an object of art history and never as her place in that history as a female– she was representative of fertility. I could have cared less as I looked at images of the Venus of Willendorf, for example, and admired her curves and how small she was to have survived for 3200 years!
    I returned ot the church and it has helped me and empowered me in ways that nothing else has, but I see the problems as an academic now and I only want it to change becaue it must. All religions must because women are half the table and we have a right to do so–the arguments are so many-biblical, theological, social, cultural, demographically and just plain becase it’s the right thing to do!!
    Here’s what 3 nuns have said about Feminism and I believe this to be the best way to explain to all what ‘Feminism’ IS all about” (to Lori-Ann, you are on the right track):
    “Feminism does not seek to replace men’s’ exclusive privilege with women’s, but seeks a vision that gives advantage to both. Within a Christian theological context, it gives a lens with which to focus experience and sharpen attention to the ways the Spiritual Exercises function for women.”
    Catholicism is a solely male construct that was a response to the Goddess Temples in Syria and the Middle East as well as Greece. Females were revered because they were the bearers of life before the males or anyone else scientifically knew that life was produced by the merging of an egg and a sperm—that both male and female had an equal 50/50 part in producing life. The Northern tribes somehow figured out that their ‘seed’ when impregnating a female produced life because the female egg was too small to be seen back then; women were seen as the incubators of the male ‘life’ seed. This is how you get a male dominated religion that proclaims God the Father, Son of MAN, etc.

    Yes, Vrinda, you are right—all these religions are founded with supreme ‘male’ deities!! So they automatically exclude women. Buddhism is the same. I was reflecting the other day about Siddartha, who left his wife and child to follow his search for Nirvana and enlightenment. It is the same spiritual quest. Has anyone questioned the fact that he ‘ABANDONED’ his wife and child? That he left them alone to fend for themselves? No, because we are caught up in the euphoria that he found his ‘enlightenment’ and a path that led him to wholeness — how quaint. It is perhaps time to question even Siddartha’s motivations as well because they reek of sexism and male excluding privilege.

    However, let’s return to topic. Goddess/Mary needs to be retrieved and added into the equation here because not to do it, is sacrilege. It is time to merge the two in reality and create the both/and equation of religion.


  10. Janice it has bothered me too that Buddha left his wife and child. I wonder if all religions that ask one to leave home and family behind (even when you have one) are anti-woman at base.


  11. “If religion really is about love, peace, justice, mercy, compassion, an end to suffering and helping our neighbors, which I think it is, then religion should play a public role in support of women’s rights.”

    That’s a big if, isn’t it? Isn’t it equally true that patriarchal religions have been about upholding, justifying, and supporting patriarchy? If religions were not patriarachal, then the the Vatican (as symbol of patriarchal religions) would not be criticizing nuns for focusing on the poor and supporting women’s ordination.


  12. Hi, Turtle Woman: I’m not sure about the ‘marginalization of Goddess covens’ but I’m speaking from a British perspective. Many, many women worship the Goddess as ‘solitaries’ within the pagan community. It isn’t necessary to belong to a coven. For me, the coven is more associated with Wicca and Wicca type religions, and there are certainly plenty of followers of the Goddess who are not Wiccan.
    And that word ‘marginal’ bothers me: marginal to whom or what? From my perspective (British pagan) Mormonism is as marginal as you can get. About once in every 18 months I get a pair of Mormon missionaries at my door and I bless them in the name of the Goddess and they go away. But they remain extremely marginal so far as I and most British, never mind pagan, people are concerned. However, I guess that if you live in Utah, Wicca is pretty marginal. So who decides the parameters of what we think of as ‘marginal’ ?
    Vrinda – my own feeling is that any religion based on a human personality becomes a cult. If it is to go beyond that, it has to look to a deity who is something very much more than human. Both Islam and Christianity can become very cultish indeed when groups focus exclusively on the personality of their founders. It is only by looking beyond, to Allah or Jehovah that they can become religions in the fullest sense. Moreover, the idea of cult of personality seems a very male thing to me, both politically and spiritually. Think how Hitler and Stalin used the cult of personality to dominate and terrify their populations.
    In the end, it always comes back for me to the same thing: why try to reform something from within when all that powerful female energy can be used to create something new without? The early Christians didn’t try to reform Judaism or paganism, they just started over.And you can take what you like from the old traditions, in exactly the same way as the new Church did: unable to undermine the huge popularity of Goddess Isis, they simply incorporated much of her iconography into that of Our Lady. Now, we can take her back again.
    Finally, even if the men come across and, after much begging and pleading, give us a little bit of space, why would women want to worship a male god ? The ancient world had a good deal more sense than us about this: they recognized that men liked gods and women needed goddesses. Put simply, it’s easier for a woman to talk about all the things that matter to her (relationships, babies, fertility, menopause, menstruation, concerns about her children) with a goddess rather than a god. How can Jehovah, or any of his priests have the first idea of what it means to deal with these issues ?


  13. Let me begin by saying all of this discussion has kept me busy reading. I would like to thank everyone for participating. I’m not sure if I can comment on every issue raised but let me say a few things.

    First, Carol, I agree with your comment that in the early days of the women’s movement things were different regarding clerical participation within feminism. Things were different back then and (however much it makes me shudder to say this) religion had yet to be fundamentally challenged, critiqued and inspired by feminism. But, what about clerical participation now? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying male clerical participation would legitimate the movement or is needed. What I am saying is that people who have power also need to step up and help empower others; it is part of their responsibility.

    I would agree with those of you who commented on the active participation of Goddess women and men active in feminism. That is a contingent of people who care deeply for justice between people, nations and for the environment.

    Regarding books I would recommend, Lori Ann. Where does one begin? I guess it depends what you are interested in. There is a short little book by Naomi Goldenberg that I return to time and again called Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions. Goldenberg’s thesis is still quite striking and discusses Christianity and Judaism specifically. I also really like Starhawk’s Webs of Power. Her religious focus is Goddess-centered. I use this book often when I teach about how religion inspires activism.


  14. Hi June, I think I should define marginal a bit more. How much information is available in easily found forms about coven membership or even solitary wiccan practice? Can you find a place to worship the Goddess every day of the week? Is it easy to get to, could a woman just wander in off the street? How well funded are Goddess groups? Just how much funding can they command, compared to the millions of dollars that male cults like Mormonism and Catholicism funnel off of women to keep the male machine well oiled? I guess that’s what I meant by marginal.

    And you are right, the original Goddess religions before the event of male tyranny and terror systems took over the world are powerful. Christianity stole the trinity from the Triple Goddess, and the priests stole motherhood in the form of baptism. Mary was once the Goddess, and virgin births were part of Goddess cultures as well.

    The Goddess is available to all women who want out of patriarchy and the worship of men and male systems, but it hasn’t gone far enough to be easily found by the average woman on the street. It’s kind of like true radical lesbian feminism, not easily available to the masses of women who are lesbians but have so suppressed this within themselves due to the male worship/sexual control machine, that women “discover” this in themselves in their 40s, 50s, and even 70s, for example.

    Women’s freedom will be marginal as long as resources are stolen from women within patriarchy.
    The theft is so huge and so all pervasive, that if you created a balance sheet to identify every pound or penny of the theft, women would be in shock. As long as men keep women poor, rape them, own them as slaves (unpaid wives), as long as childraising is paid less than a bank VP, we have male ownership of female bodies, bodies used to breed the next generation of patriarchs.
    In this system, you don’t escape, any more than immigrants can prevent their children born in the new country from becoming just like the inhabitants of the adopted country.

    Well I’m wandering a bit here, but this is what the marginal issue is about big and small.


  15. I think the Vatican is still in a second wave backlash attack on women— birth control, bishops meddling in American politics, and now the censorship of nuns. The intent is clear. It seems that we go through this over and over and over again. Women need to pull the energy plug from these organizations. Nuns in Los Angeles actually rebelled and left the church to create their own community in the late 60s, for example.

    Male supremacy flourishes as long as women live with the oppressors, and go to the communities that don’t ordain or have women in positions of leadership. Every other male racial minority would be up in arms about this, women the colonized continue to support this machine. Until the plug is pulled you will have no true women’s liberation. It’s really that simple, and even this simple truth is just too much for women that have too much invested materially in the male system. It’s kind of like the occasional indulgences that cult leaders dole out, and women’s kindness and non-violence is subverted and used by men to fuel the machine. Keep the gasoline coming on the fire, and it never goes out.


  16. Hi, Turtle Woman, and lots to unpack in your post. First let me say that I have total respect for your anger, and believe that such anger is the engine of change.

    Second, and here I may have to part company with you for a little of the way, I want to emphasize that the Goddess is there for ALL women, regardless of their sexual orientation. Looking again to the ancient world, we recognize that gender and sexual distinctions were made in a far more generous and nuanced way. (You could be this, you could be that, you could be a little bit of other, and maybe something else tomorrow)

    Next, this issue of access, and here I can only speak for the UK. I live in Dorset, which is a largely rural county, some way from London. I am, however a Londoner born and bred, and have also lived in Wales and Ireland. In my experience, it’s rather hard to AVOID pagans, never mind having to search them out in Britain! If you want an idea of pagan groups in the UK look at the Pagan Federation web site. London, of course, has huge, and growing numbers of pagans, many with open and well advertised meetings. Here in Weymouth we have two Druid groups plus a large pagan population (supporting a shop and a local band) plus a couple of covens in nearby Dorchester. Apart from all this, there are many solitaries,like myself – Wiccans, Dianics, Hedgewitches and so on.There are also numerous ‘recon’ groups as well as special interest organizations like ‘Pagans for Archeology.’ all over the UK.

    Now, the point here is this: while very nearly all pagans recognize a God as well as a Goddess, the Goddess has priority. So even within the broader Pagan community, there is an emphasis on Goddess. (It’s a bit like the ratio between Jaweh and Mary reversed). Nevertheless, there are women like myself who want to go further. We respect that many women, while giving Goddess the highest place, still want to balance things with a male deity. But we feel a devotion to Goddess and Goddess alone. We may work as solitaries or we may join groups like the Fellowship of Isis. We may train as a priestess with the Goddess temple at Glastonbury, or possibly with courses like the one offered by Marion Green. Or again, like myself, we may just go it alone. Glastonbury (in Somerset) has now what is claimed to be the first Goddess temple in Europe in two thousand years, and it’s thriving.Go online and check out the Goddess conference, held at Glastonbury, and open to all women – yes, right off the street. There is worship, outreach, teaching, and everything else you would expect from a powerfully emerging new faith.

    In short, its easy to get connected: perhaps that’s because we are a small country Perhaps because all this happens against the background of the ancient sites which form such an important part of much Pagan practice: I have Stonehenge and Avebury a couple of hours drive away, Glastonbury less than a hour, and the countryside around where I live is littered with ancient hillforts, barrows and standing stones. Or maybe we Brits are just cranky ! Anyway, I think it would be almost as easy for a woman to find her way to the Goddess in the UK as to the nearest Christian church or mosque – and probably easier than to, for example, a synagogue or Jain temple.

    Finally, I want to address this issue of funding. The Goddess temple at Glastonbury is self-funding, deriving income from priestess training and donations. But that’s a temple, and needs at least some money. I don’t see why small local groups need funding at all. In fact, I deeply mistrust the idea of funding for Goddess worship. In the big American style churches, funding often seems to lead to corruption. So no, I don’t think any pagan groups in the UK, including those of the Goddess, can command even thousands – let alone the millions which, as you say go to the Catholics and Mormons. But hey, just stop and think a minute. Surely this is a GOOD thing? From my very limited view across the pond, it seems to me that in the USA, religion has become as much a career move and a way of making a living as a matter of inner light. Of course, ministers have to be paid, and temples repaired, but why should the Goddess want ‘millions’ when she has all the earth and starry heaven at her feet ?

    My apologies to everyone for such a long post. But the points Turtle Woman raises are important, and I wanted to answer them as best I could.

    Blessings June


  17. Just a ps The Pagan community is hugely diverse, and I feel it’s important to recognize that. Wiccans worship a male as well as a female deity, though they tend to give preference to the female. However, some of the whackier northern traditions can be a bit male oriented, though women’s skills are foregrounded in Seidr practice. All Wiccans are Pagans, but only a small group of Pagans are Wiccans. Most importantly here, those who worship the Goddess exclusively (in all her many forms) are certainly not Wiccans. Moreover, Ceremonial Magic seems to appeal mostly to men (for what to me are very obvious reasons!) whereas women appear more comfortable within the ‘Traditional’ groups. I only mention all this because there seems to be some confusion between the terms ‘Wiccan’ and ‘Pagan’. J.


  18. Thanks for this discussion. I was at a Catholic event recently where supposedly progressive people talked about being “Berrigan Catholics,” by which they meant peace-makers like Dan Berrigan. The fact that he went over the fence at the Seneca Army Depot to protest nuclear weapons and tried to close an abortion clinic the same day (this was some years ago) led me to try to engage him in dialogue. My thoughtful letter received a post card reply that he was far too busy working on HIV/AIDS to deal with such matters. Any wonder I recoil at the notion of “Berrigan Catholics” ? Mary E. Hunt


  19. June, excellent information. I think funding is key for all women’s and feminist endeavors. England has such a fantastic tradition of the Goddess, and you can really feel this when you are there. All great info. Whether pagans worship a male god or a female goddess, I do know, that I prefer the Dianic traditions in the path pioneered by Z. Budapest. I believe lesbian nation is a unique and powerful aspect of the freedom of women, uncompromised. Anything that can advance the spiritual power of lesbians I’m for. Hetero women have all kinds of resources, but I tend to get annoyed at the “liberals” because they just provide more free labor for the male run churches. And it won’t create a revolution at all, it’s just hetero family tribalism.

    As for the Berrigan Catholics, well they always have cared little for feminism, and seem to have no understanding for it. Even Mary Daly noticed at how Daniel Berrigan dismissed radical feminism because working for peace is more important, both she and I were deeply suspicious of the anti-war groups, because they were male dominated and woman hating. So we were on to this from the get go. Thanks for the info on the abortion clinic and Berrigan. I got on his case many years ago about how we should put patriarchy on trial as the source of all war. He didn’t like that comment very much, and struck me as arrogant and dismissive of women. No big surprise, they’re pretty all much like that.

    Women as the majority have a unique position of power, and could be more powerful by pulling the plug on patriarchal pandering and enabling. We could do that, and men fear the day when women really do wake up, walk out, and create. It’s why radical feminism is so hated and reviled and dismissed, because it hold the key to that power.

    I just don’t have patience with men of the cloth, they bore and annoy me.


  20. Dear Turtle Woman (and, of course) everyone else posting here) I understand and respect your identifying with the Dianic tradition (spellcheck doesn’t like ‘Dianic’ !!!) but would like to go a little further.

    The thing I especially love about Paganism is its recognition that there are many paths, and many gods. Polytheism together with animism is the absolute core of all pagan practice, and it seems to me that this radical tolerance is the most wonderfully subversive thing about the whole movement.

    I deeply believe that many of our problems stem from the oversexed monotheism of the established religions. Yaweh, as we all know, is a jealous god: his big hang-up is to have all eyes on him and him alone and that is incomprehensible to a real pagan So although I worship the One Beloved Mother, as a pagan I recognize not only a diversity of gods but a multiplicity of ways of honoring both Her and all the others.

    I’d like to pick up on the funding issue as well: many churches (and synagogues and mosques) pride themselves on how well- funded they are, as if cash in the kitty were somehow proof of their spiritual effectiveness. Now this seems to me to be an essentially male way of understanding things: material success is what matters, and material success is something that is measured by financial success. One of the things we can do as women is simply refuse that set of values. Being a priestess is not the same thing as being a CEO, and nor should it be !

    If you are interested in the Goddess at Glastonbury, check out and

    Blessings, June.


  21. Hey June, I just had to laugh about Dianic and spell check! Actually, I’m not all that interested in “integrating” male and female. I want as much women controlled space as possible, I don’t want men in my spirituality or in my spaces. There are plenty of people who get co-opted into hetero-tribal funding (churches) I’m just not going there. I don’t see why women can’t get a city, a town, a country, and entire thealogical system designed 100% for women. That would be radical, everything else is a compromise with oppressors, rapists and robbers. (Kind words I use for men).


  22. Hi Turtle woman and everyone else: I can’t remember where I talked about ‘integrating’ men at all, but what I do know is that here and in many other comments I’ve made on these pages I’ve raised again and again my belief that women need to worship separately from men: they need their own altars, their own gods, and especially their own Goddess. As I previously asked on this page, how can a woman discuss, for example, her menstrual problems with Yaweh or any of his priests ?

    In the ancient world, women could (and usually did) worship apart from men when they wished, and I believe that separate worship (separate rituals, separate prayers, separate deities, the whole thing) is the only way for women to fully realize the extraordinary magical power of their spiritual selves.

    Like you, I’m not remotely interested in begging a little corner for myself and my daughters: I want my own space, my own power,for myself and for them. Nor do I see why I have to explain again and again that I am as worthy, and as able as the men, just so I can be permitted to polish church benches.

    But I’ve said all this many times, how can you misunderstand me ?
    However, I do NOT believe in discrimination between lesbian and hetero women, and perhaps this is where your disagreement with me lies. I think ALL women are daughters of the Beloved Mother, ALL equal in her eyes, and ALL worthy of her love. In my view, to discriminate against any group of women at all is just another form of exclusion. Besides which, what about celibate women ? Bi women ? Gender is deeper than sexual practice – and the emphasis on the latter seems to me very much a hangover from the traditional religions. (As evidenced by their hostility to any form of sexuality outside church-sanctioned marriage)

    And I would want a boy-child bought up to love and honor the Goddess even though there would be rites of her worship which he would never attend. Perhaps he would grow to be a pagan, honoring both God and Goddess. The important thing would be to give him the knowledge and confidence to make the choices for himself when he came of age.

    The second point of disagreement between us is that matter of funding. I SO dislike the very male concept of success as measured in wealth. I wholly agree that in the commercial world, which determines much that happens in our lives, money is power, and to have this kind of power women must have money.But there are many other kinds of power besides money. Besides, when it comes to spirituality,money does not empower, it corrupts.

    Many blessings, June


  23. I’ve been debating for the past week or so, how to respond to the comments that this blog has inspired. I was hoping for comments that would draw on resources within various religious communities – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Goddess-centered traditions, etc – that support the feminist movement. While I received a few good examples, I am quite dismayed at where subsequent comments have gone. Everyone is free to have their own opinions and I truly value freedom of expression. However it concerns me that in a blog that stresses the way in which feminism seeks to build up the dignity of all human beings and works for a more justice, humane, peaceful and fair world, there would be comments that are so disparaging to men. I think it is extremely important to recognize how much patriarchy has also hurt many men, some more than others. Of course, there are also many men that benefit from patriarchy as there are many women who do as well and we should definitely question and challenge that, but just as I think religion and feminism need to work together to change the world, I am also convinced that the world will never be a better place until men, women and the spectrum of genders and expressions in between unite for change. How are we helping the place of women and minority genders when we continue to degrade other human beings? Given that the Holy One created the world, everyone and everything is part of that creation and it would be a great injustice to treat some as less deserving of our respect. Of course, this also comes with the requirement that oppressors need to acknowledge how, when and why they behave in patriarchal ways and many aren’t doing that. This is a big problem in religion and in secular society. Nevertheless, I am convinced that creating a matriarchy instead of a patriarchy is not the answer. An egalitarian society is!


    • Ivy, I greatly appreciate this response. I have been shying away from the site a bit because I from time to time felt like an enemy of the state, so to speak. My interest in the subject matter is very high, yet I have felt at times that any contribution i could possibly make to the conversation could only be met with an angry door slam. My preogative is to exit a conversation that i feel will waste my time by its pointlessness. And I certainly don’t want to waste someone else’s time with comments that are of no value to them. It isn’t that I can’t accept another person’s worldview or the anger that they are experiencing, or even acknowledge that that anger can be justified. Although there is a power in anger that can be a catalyst for change, there is anger’s weaker cousin and he/she leads only to blindness.
      I had asked you for book recommendations, which I have appreciated, and have been doing the bulk of my reading away from the fray in order to expand my own horizons in a peaceful manner. Thanks for the opportunity to respond. i wasn’t going to say anything about this.


      • I think I can clarify how I have been experiencing my visiits here a bit more than that. I have been feeling that my failure to hate men may be seen as a weakness in intellect and even be a source of pity and entering a conversation from that starting point isn’t all that enticing. These thoughts of mine detracted from my ability to feel fully involved. I felt myself stepping further and further back, less willing to share my thoughts.


  24. Hi, Ivy. I’m not sure if your response was in any part directed at my comments. If so, I need to clarify a little. I do truly believe that women need a separate space in which to worship, but this in no way disparages men: on the contrary, as in the ancient world, it seems to me that such a separation allows a great deal of respect on both sides. Further, I know of no woman in any of the Goddess traditions who is not a feminist, and who does not see her feminism as part of a broader commitment to all kinds of progressive ideas, especially those connected to the Green Movement. And the Green Movement is a very good example of men and women working together for a more balanced world.
    Nor do I think that by saying women need their own space for worship I am trying to create a matriarchy !!

    My position is, in fact, a difficult one. I think that male and female spirituality (like sexuality) is essentially different. Further, I think (believe, know) that women have immense power both magically and spiritually, and that they need to work either alone, or with one another, but separately from men, in order to develop and use that power (this is how the stereotype of the covens developed, of course !).
    However, as I explained to Turtle Woman, I can’t accept the ‘hard’ Dianic position, which excludes heterosexual women (see my comments). Nor do I think that wanting my own deity and space and means to worship Her in any way denigrates men (some of whom truly are my best friends!!!).

    It is an historical fact that as soon as women lost their temples and priesthoods and sacred colleges, and were co-opted into the monotheistic systems, they also lost autonomy and respect. I don’t believe that any of the monotheistic systems will ever give women an even break, no matter how hard we work for it, because monotheism itself is antithetical to women’s spiritual power. The monotheist system will always confine and limit women because women will always represent a threat to the single male voice. It’s not that women are (as priests, mullahs and rabbis have tried to convince us) less spiritually able than men, but that they are in many ways more so, and for this reason their power must be contained if men are to hold their own. Anyone who doubts how far this is the case might want to think a little about how women have been made to keep silent, or bind their hair, or have not been allowed to approach the altar, and all this because of the very real danger that an unleashed woman is seen to represent.

    I believe that men and women can and should work together as we try to create a society which honors all its children. And I believe women are better fitted to this (and other) tasks if they come to it with a deep, true knowledge of their own inviolable dignity and spiritual autonomy.


  25. Lori Ann, no feminist worthy of the name is ever going to make you feel uneasy about standing up for your own, sincerely held beliefs.
    Now, the idea that ‘all feminists hate men’ is a libel that has been thrown at the women’s movement since way back when, most frequently by the kind of men who are terrified of the idea of equality. Men are our sons, our fathers, our brothers,our sometime lovers and our best friends. Many men have supported the rise of feminism, both at a political and personal level.

    The women’s movement, like the Black Power struggle has, from time to time thrown up the idea of a ‘separate nation’. To me, this seems immoral in principle and unworkable in practice. Further, one of the most important jobs any woman has to do is to raise her sons to be good men. I can’t see how this is possible if she has to hand them over at birth (as a radical separatism would have to mean).

    For me, and for the vast majority of feminists, the justice we seek is a justice for everyone: and it simply isn’t possible to build a just society which is based on any form of discrimination (hate) of any kind.

    It does not follow from all of this that we should think men and women are the same in every way. In the sixties and seventies a lot of mileage was made out of the idea that the differences between men and women were socially engineered. Watching my grandchildren grow up confirms what I knew all along, that this simply isn’t the case. Men and women have different strengths and different weaknesses. We need to work together to get a balance. One of the most fundamental differences, in my belief, is that where men have greater physical strength, women have what I can only call ‘magical’ power. I know that by saying this I will call down on my head a storm and a fury far worse than any blown up by the relatively genteel suggestion that men and women should work together for a better world, but I believe it to be true.

    Now, does anyone want to discuss that ? Lots of Love, June.


    • Thanks for your well put reply to my comment. I appreciate that. I agree with what you have said. Also I am not shocked or dismayed by talk of women’s ‘magical power’ at all. What can be more magical than bringing forth a life? That’s quite remarkable on its own. But I think you are referring to something more than that. In general women have a way of seeing the world that is more intuitive than men. We feel as much as we see. I think too that it is easier for women to stay organically in tune with creation. We can’t really ignore nature’s rythyms, because our bodies are constantly aligning themselves to it. Ideas about magic are interesting in themselves, and I don’t see a problem with addressing that in relation to women’s lives. I am thinking as well of archtypes and imagery that have arisen out of our senseof/belief in magic. There is a dreamlike quality to these types of images that have arisen within our collective psyches which I think have the same quality to them as magic.


  26. Lori-Ann, thank you for your kind response. I agree with much of what you say, and am thinking of submitting a guest contribution to address some of these issues.


  27. It’s a shame that much of America seems to have forgotten about the Christian left. Right wingers have been doing their best to claim copyright on Jesus and those of us in the secular circles often forget the role that faith has played in many of our favorite causes. An range of important people and ideas get lost in the process.



  1. 4.21.2012 A Spectrum of Opinion «
  2. Is there space for women in the Catholic Church? | Stained Glass Ceiling

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