Does God have Cleavage? The Avengers and Why the Sheroe We Need is Goddess by Trista Hendren


trista_bkgr_greenMost days I am not certain that anyone really cares about what happens to girls. As a mother of a soon-9-year-old daughter, this burns me.

Because I also have a 12-year-old son, I often end up watching movies I wouldn’t chose on my own. Last Friday, we went to see The Avengers sequel, and I left feeling angry. There were two sheroes shadowed by testosterone; both were highly sexualized. After all the hype over Joss Whedon and his “strong female characters” I began to wonder if the Sheroe we really need is Goddess.

Saturday night we had a lively discussion after dinner with my son’s best friend. I shared my observations on the movie and asked for feedback. They told me the only girl heroes they could think of had “huge boobs.” I asked them why they thought there was not equal amounts of sheroes in movies like this and whether they could think of any movies that were comparable in budget to the Superman, Batman, and Spiderman movies that continue to come out year after year.

The reasoning they gave me was enlightening. “All the girl heroes are just so boring.” For boys at an age obsessed with breasts, this comment was telling.

So, I asked them if they thought it would make any difference if God weren’t a guy. After all, aren’t Gods and Goddesses our first and most important heroes?

Neither boy is unfamiliar with my thinking, however both seemed deeply perplexed by this question. They left the dinner table without answering it, taking their plates to the sink as they exited.

The next morning, Jada Pinkett Smith posted the following to her Facebook wall:

“Here’s what a 12 year old girl asked me today:
“Ms. Jada, do you think girls will ever really matter as much as boys, since God is a man?”

The comments to this post were equally enlightening. Few people seemed to question whether God actually is a man. Even those who did still, for the most part, used masculine language to describe “Him”.

I do not believe women can become liberated so long as we hold on to these teachings and beliefs. Many feminists are insistent on ignoring God altogether, which doesn’t address the problem.

Religious thought seeps in early and is very damaging to girls. If God is a man, and “He” is everything that is good and superior, it is easy to conclude that we as females are, in fact, beneath males. Whether you practice a religion or not, this still has a profound effect on our collective thinking.

My daughter is fearless and radical in her promotion of Goddess. It was her that made me rethink my own assumptions about God when she, at the age of five, could not relate to a male God. Her natural rejection of God as male caused me to completely change course in how I was raising her.

At 7, my daughter started telling boys in no uncertain terms that God is a girl. They would shout back angrily that there was no way that was possible, but she was unshaken. Her friends would tell her—privately—that they believed God was a girl, too.

My daughter’s unbounded strength is difficult for some people to handle. She has the authority most boys grow up with without questioning.God is not a boys name

And male authority seeps into everything. Women today still own only one percent of the world’s wealth. That means that men, mostly white Western men, own the rest. Women, by and large, are still dependent on men for that 99 percent. The way we collectively interpret our religious scriptures validates that dependence.

I vowed that my kids would be raised differently. I hungered to provide my daughter with a different foundation than what I was indoctrinated with. I dreamed of raising her to the heights instead of burying her—as we still do with most girls. I didn’t want my daughter to spend most of her adult life unburying herself as I have—and continue to do.

I would argue that we don’t really want girls to have power. Our society pats itself on the back for promoting a little bit of it, but is scared to death of going all the way. When I have approached organizations that profess to support ‘girl power’ with The Girl God books, they usually (politely) run the other direction. A few sheroes are fine here and there, so long as they’re sanitized, but most people draw the line at Goddess.

Alice Walker wrote, “…healing begins where the wound was made.” I believe most wounds women in the world today experience were brought upon by denying the feminine divine. This is done in both subtle and violent ways. If we want a better world for our daughters, we must begin to refuse the superficial empowerment given to placate us and replace it with what can truly nurture female power.

The sheroe girls need is Goddess. We bend over backwards to thank and congratulate men like Joss Whedon who provide us with a few female sheroes, mixed into the background, but these sheroes are easy for men to swallow because they don’t have to give anything up.

Imagine a world where girls learned to be powerful instead of submissive through our churches, mosques and at home. Imagine a world where their Sheroes were Goddesses instead of sexualized supersheroes.

Our collective spirituality has largely been tainted to fit the needs of men and those in power. This has a profound effect on the self-esteem of girls and the women they become. This influence can be seen in their life choices, partners and financial security for the rest of their lives. It also has an effect on the way their future partners will view them—and ultimately treat them.

It’s time for us to become really intentional about what we want for our daughters. If we continue  to attempt to superficially empower girls through movies like The Avengers, we will never overcome the root of our oppression.

Trista Hendren is the author of The Girl God series. You can read more about her projects at www.thegirlgod.com.

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Categories: Activism, Children, Feminist Theology, Gender, Gender and Power, General, God-talk, Goddess, Symbols

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21 replies

  1. I agree with much of your article (thank you for it!)………but I have to comment that Hollywood has produced some remarkable and empowered heroines that have been significant new models for girls , and as someone who grew up in the “I love Lucy” generation, I’ve applauded every one. Among them Sigurney Weaver in “Aliens”, the women of James Cameron’s Avatar, the heroine of the Hunger Games, and all the way back to Captain Katherine Janeway of the Starship Voyager………….I remember only too well growing up with the movies, when all the women could do was faint, scream, and wait for some man to rescue them.

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    • I would agree with the above, but add that, like Ms. Hendren suggests, those are not enough. Those strong characters are so few and far between. We can rally around those characters, but we are in desperate need of identifying real women and creating more narratives with them and groups of women at the center of the story to become more of our modern cultural narratives.

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  2. Fabulous question in your title and an interesting and challenging read, thanks Trista.

    On powerful, women heroes, I remember a very successful international TV show called XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (aired in the late 1990’s). Xena was a fine fighter, but the most fun part was her companion, Gabrielle, who had a wonderfully zany sense of humor. Various Greek goddesses appeared now and then in the show too, for instance, the difficult and irrepressible Aphrodite.

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    • I LOVED Xena and Gabrielle, Sarah! Thanks for recalling them and starting my morning with a big grin.

      My question is: “What if the one we call ‘god’ is neither male nor female?” What if the one we call “god” is a creating Spirit, permeating, enlivening, sustaining all that is? What if It must create because It’s nature is Love and Creativity? What if It’s “physical manifestation” is neither male nor female, but all of us, including non-human beings? If such an idea became “popular”, how would it effect society?

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      • Such an idea will probably never become popular, because human beings can’t help but anthropomorphize their Gods. This means imagining Them with sexes, genders, sacred images, myths, etc. Even Abrahamic monotheists – Jews, Christians, Muslims – can’t help but do this. Most people cannot emotionally relate to Deities that are so abstract as to have no anthropomorphic qualities. As a polytheist, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this; it’s one of the few ways that three-dimensional beings can understand and interact with beings that transcend the three-dimensional plane. But more attention does need to be paid to proper Goddesses in Western culture; They are not dead or gone by any means, and They still have a lot to offer people even today. Which is why I liked this post quite a bit.

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  3. My daughter (11) is an avid reader of the Ms. Marvel comic book series.

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  4. Yesterday a woman who was raised a conservative Roman Catholic told me her daughter asked her: How long is God’s hair? And then the daughter asked: Is she beautiful? Oh yes, her mother answered. She is very beautiful.

    When she was young, my daughter wanted to see the Goddess. She is everywhere, I said. My daughter looked at the trees and said: These are the branches of the Goddess. Then she looked at her hand in mine. These are the hands of the Goddess, she said. The memory still moves me to tears.

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    • That is utterly gorgeous. I pray my daughter sees the Goddess in our entwined hands too.

      Trista, as always, you are a Prophetess of the Divine Feminine Herself. I hear her clearly in your words. We must return to the wound and heal our fractured relationship with Her. She awaits expectantly with open arms to heal us–male, female, transgendered, queer, asexual, eart, wind, sky, water, animal, fish, plant, tree.

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  5. I’ve taught my son and daughter that God is equally masculine and feminine. I usually refer to God as “She” just because it’s so imbalanced towards “He” when we humans discuss Her. Since my Son objected to this, I have moved to alternating.

    Funny thing is, when some family members heard kids refer to God as She, they were corrected and told that God doesn’t have a sex. Yet they have no problem referring to God as He. Hmmm…

    Thanks for the good, brave work you do, Trista, and for inspiring us all to rethink what we’ve been taught.

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    • Thanks for providing that balance for your family. I would hope that our sons can understand that your decision to normalize to “she” for “G-O-D” is still a good idea and is well grounded in principle. I hope our boys can learn to handle not having to alternate for a while. They should be stronger than having to have to require changes from our predetermined decisions when they are for the right reasons. Normalizing to “she” for creating balance is good for our sons…and their fathers and uncles,etc,…

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  6. So, Trista, what can I do? I have also spent my life digging out my buried power, denying femininity because I thought that feminine was weak, masculine was strong. I know better now but don’t know if I have enough years left to make a lasting mark in support of the subjugated Goddess. Is there someplace for me to put my own power to use for the cause?

    I am raising a soon to be 10 yr old boy. Where do I look, how do I direct him? I want him to be true to himself, which he seems to be doing naturally. But oy, middle school, the influences, even the delivery of subject matter in the classroom…I can’t help but feel helpless in the face of it.

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    • I can tell by your comment that you are doing far more than you give yourself credit for. Just keep at it! Boys need us too – I have a book I wrote for my son called Tell Me Why that you both might enjoy. Love and light to you!

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  7. As always… a mind and soul soothing, questioning, and inspiring read. Yes, She DOES have cleavage!

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  8. Wow!
    “God is not a boy’s name”
    Completely agree with you on this post. I never really thought about it or rather I’ve just learned to accept things for what society has made it. I want to teach my future daughter strength and that as a female we do matter. Thank you for a great post!!

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  9. I believe that “God” or “Creator” is asexual and is a blend of male and female energies. When men can embrace their feminine, and women their masculine sides then we may observe a far more equitable society. Scandanavian countries have a good percentage of females in senior government positions and theirs is a far more just and equitable working environment for females and males. Regardless of differences between a male or female “god” surely their values would be very similar. Biblical texts invariably have been written by men, so who knows what unvarnished Truths existed 2000 years ago?

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  10. Very much enjoyed this post, Trista! I remember seeing Joss Whedon quoted as saying, when asked why he writes strong female characters, “because you’re still asking me that question.

    I joke, half seriously, that I long to write a book about what all the females in Middle Earth were doing while the Fellowship of the Ring was slogging the ring across the mountains. I have the same question about most superhero films (and Star Wars as well). What are all the women doing while all this crash and bash is going on?! When I cover history with my own sons, I look at the cataloging of war dates and helmet styles and ask them to consider: “who invented jelly?” “Who figured out how to make bread rise?” “Who wove the fabric of society together?” THAT is the kind of history I’m interested in!

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  11. May I please entreat you to abandon that wretched neologism “sheroe.” We don’t pronounce “hero” as “hee-roe,” with which “sheroe” is obviously supposed to rhyme. Instead, let’s use the word “hera,” which is not only changes the masculine “hero” by adding the feminine ending “-a” but also honors the queen of Mt. Olympus, the great goddess Hera, who was diminished by being forcibly married to that awful serial rapist Zeus. Let’s use “hera” to talk about our female heroes in movies, video games, comic books………and maybe in real life, too.

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  12. Love to you Trista and your courageous daughter! Thanks for this article and your Girl God series – it’s wonderful and I”m so proud to call you sister!

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