The healing face of Feminism hovers just out of sight behind your shoulder, but is still always there for you, whispering encouragement and guidance whenever you doubt your own sacredness. Or maybe She has always faced you, bold and strong, with the features of an ancestress or hera pushing you to act on your unique gifts. Have you seen Her?
From the time I was five, in the early 1960s, when an inner voice told me that it was good to question the constrictions on the lives of the women around me, through all the years of making my way through the exhausting morass of life as a contemporary woman, Feminism has been a deep and ever-flowing well of strength and power to which I could always go in times of despair or indecision. Still, it has been by witnessing the trauma of other’s women’s lives that I first truly understood the importance of Feminism’s healing aspect.
Once I began to listen for it, I heard such great anguish in so many women’s voices in circle as they described how their childhood religions made them feel unworthy, left out, sinful and impure solely for being female. Women trapped in abusive marriages because their religion forbade divorce, women barred from their life mission because religious leadership positions are only open to men, women who simply do not want to marry and have children forced into a life they would not choose by religious definitions of women’s roles – I met so many women in each of these situations whose souls, and sometimes their bodies, were battered and in need of tender care. Even when the violence, belittling, and repression had a seemingly secular cause, how could these perpetrators see the divinity within women and how could women’s souls not be wounded by such abuse?
I had been active in political feminism, especially, since my teens, but suddenly I realized that all these women’s spirits had been so devastated by male-centric religions that the political progress I had set as my goal would never alone make them whole. Women’s souls must be healed and considered to be as worthy as men’s before women’s full equality, safety, and happiness can be achieved.
Now I see Feminism’s healing at work all around me, nurturing souls by honoring the sacredness in women in so many different ways. I remember my grandmother tutoring women in her community to read and write. I think of a woman in her 80s who stood in front of her friends and neighbors, perhaps for the first time, telling her story of a lifetime of domestic violence in order to let other women know help was available. I cheered an older woman who had finally found her voice in acting teach other women in a senior center drama class. We can all see so many examples every day.
I have seen three means, in particular, at work in these acts of spiritual healing. First, creativity is a direct channel to women’s expression of their own sacredness as each woman’s artist within guides her to where she needs to go. So often women who thought they were not good enough to be “an artist” or that they had nothing to say are stunned at their own genius that reveals itself in their creative works.
Second, listening in a way that shows that you really want to know what a woman has to say is, in itself, affirming of a woman’s sacredness. Focusing on a woman’s words without giving advice or trying to solve her situation, just acknowledging that you understand, has a magical way of nourishing bereft souls.
The third is kindness. So many women in our world have known so little kindness in their lives that even the smallest act – greeting the harried cashier at the supermarket by name – can be a numinous moment of healing. Simply being kind speaks clearly through action that you value and salute the inherent sacredness of all the women you encounter.
One of the best aspects of these practices is that they heal by meeting a woman wherever she is in her own journey. Even if we do not agree with the women with whom we interact on all aspects of spirituality, politics, or social policy, building this foundation of understanding and empathy as we honor each other’s souls can be the first steps to creating the bonds among a diversity of women that are both healing in themselves and important if we are to make widespread political and social progress.
Feminism is, to me, a dynamic political and social movement; but it is now also the healing spirit within all those who see and revere the sacred in all women. Thinking of Feminism’s healing aspect as a 21stcentury Goddess has brought Her power more fully into my life. As a Goddess, She would have two means to manifest in our world. One is the spiritual healing that women do for each other. The other is activism that changes society, a way of creating a healthy environment for all women to live in. Perhaps her sacred symbolic objects are a mirror to show each woman her own divine worth and a ballot to symbolize the activism needed to act on that. She would look like all women and speak all languages. She might wear a cloak of feathers to fly to all women in need of Her, flowers to represent the blossoming of spirit that is each woman’s birthright, and a seashell necklace as a reminder that our souls are as vast as the ocean. Her story might tell of a time of power, followed by millennia underground gaining the wisdom and strength that comes from sorrow and loss, with an arising in our present time to help us make our world one of equality, justice, and peace. May She shine brightly on you and through you.
11 thoughts on “Feminism: A 21st Century Goddess of Healing by Carolyn Lee Boyd”
Who can define me exactly meaning behind Feminism?
I very much like Rosemary Radford Ruether’s definition on the page “What Is Feminism?” of this blog – “Feminism basically means the affirmation of the full humanity of women.” In my experience, feminism is such a diverse, global, and dynamic movement that further exploring that statement gives feminism many definitions – maybe there are as many definitions of feminism as there are feminists! As I mention in my post, my own definition of feminism has grown from a fairly focused political one to a much more holistic one as I have witnessed the life experiences of many women over many decades.
Lovely! I agree with you that creativity, listening, and being kind are healing to the people at both ends of a transaction. I call listening “being fully present” in a conversation or interaction. If only more people would be creative, fully present,and kind. Think how much better the world would be.
I think women have been creative, fully present and kind for eons, but this has not stopped male supremacy one iota. Women as a class should radically rethink what it is to be this to rapists, oppressors, bosses, and men who think they own women. Feminism to me is about the awakening of women worldwide, half the population, to put a stop to the other half’s reign of terror. It is naming the agent of this terror. When I’m with women I feel this feminist revolution, and I fully support the rise of women globally. When women all over the world wake up, we’ll see something new.
I agree. The political and “spiritual” feminist perspectives must come together. While we heal, we also have to face what men have done for eons, as you say. It is painful, and on top of the pain of self-debasement and self-hate that most women suffer because of patriarchy and patriarchal religion, probably too painful and incredibly alienating. So most women feel safer not calling it out. Also, one runs the risk of jeopardizing relationships with one’s closest partners, who may be a man. I am lucky my partner is a feminist man, but not all women enjoy that…
anyway, thanks for your insight! Agree fully, in the spirit of Mary Daly!
I resonate with this post profoundly. Thanks Carolyn. The inner voice you mention I understand as the true self, our own immortal spirit as guide.
An absolutely beautiful blog:)
I love this post! I’ve often said that feminism saved me. It came at just the right time in my life that I didn’t knuckled under to the assumptions of my place as a woman in our patriarchal society. So why not the goddess Feminism? In a very real way, the movement is the power of all the women in it, the power to heal, to be compassionate, and to create a society that allows all women the respect and opportunities they deserve.
I don’t mean to be rude, but i’ve always wanted to know how one can be a feminist and hyphenate your name? Why do women do this? It signifies that you belong to someone else other than yourself. Unless your partner has done the same, i don’t see how hyphenators, especially those married or partnered with men, can really be fully feminist.
I don’t take umbrage at your question, although I don’t really understand the term “fully feminist.” I’ve been a professional feminist for most of my work life. First I taught Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then I facilitated feminist spirituality workshops and spoke at retreats or other conferences. Now I’m offering feminist life coaching and spiritual companionship. I raised a feminist daughter and influenced many of her female friends to become stronger in their feminism. So I think I qualify as fully feminist.
Actually there’s a very interesting story behind my name change. I got married as a radical feminist in 1970. This was already a contradiction, since at the time I believed that marriage was a patriarchal institution. But to maintain my relationship with my mother, who was going crazy because I was living “in sin,” I decided to marry the man I was pretty sure I would spend my life with. (I seem to be a feminist who lives out her contradictions). I intended to keep my maiden name. But I returned to my birth home right after the wedding during a time when I had to get my driver’s license renewed. I don’t know to this day if my mother hoodwinked me or if it really was true that I needed to do something prior to the marriage to maintain my birth name. What happened is that on my driver’s license I wrote: NANCY VEDDER SHULTS rather than NANCY VEDDER. So all of a sudden I was Nancy Shults, something I never wanted.
Returning to where I lived after this visit with my folks, I started to look for a new job. While interviewing I had an experience I will never forget. The prospective boss came out and called for “Mrs. Shults.” No one responded. A few minutes later, he came out again. “Mrs. Shults,” he said, and again no one responded. The third time, I stood up quickly and said, “Oh that’s me,” to which he said in a paternalistic tone, “Oh you must be a newlywed.” To which I responded in my mind, “And that’s one of the reasons I was never going to change my name.”
Fast forward 5 years when the Supreme Court said that women could take back their maiden names just by using them. By then I had had had a few publications under the name Nancy Vedder Shults and become used it. So I approached my husband Mark and told him that as a celebration of our 5th anniversary, I was going to hyphenate my last name and wouldn’t he like to join me. He thought about this for a couple of months and finally told me that he didn’t want to go through that kind of identity crisis. Well, I knew that experience from the inside (and he had also had a few publications under the name of Shults by that time). So I hyphenated and he didn’t. But when I got pregnant, I insisted that our child have both of our names, i.e. my name Vedder-Shults. Now that she’s an artist in NYC, she goes by Linnea Vedder. So in my little nuclear family of 3 people we have three names. Times change and so do people.
Thank you all so much for your wonderful and insightful comments. I always learn so much from all those who respond. That’s one of the joys of this blog – the chance to hear both where we share common ground and where we can learn from others’ points of view.