One story that has marked my life as a feminist is that of Sarah and Hagar. This is a story of pain and enmity among women under patriarchy that despite its age, is still relevant to illustrate the negative effects of the androcentric socialization. But it can also hold an inspirational feminist reading that leads us towards a reflection on the amazing possibilities of a shift in the way we women look at each other.
Feminism is a political practice, an ethics for living based in an option for women. It is not or should not be a Diploma, a chair where to work from 9:00am to 5:00pm, or an excuse to act from our own privileges against other women. In private and in public, in academia or in the street, in sexual, cultural, intellectual and religious affairs, a feminist is a feminist, without excuses or regrets.
This year I was part of the anthology “Jesus, Muhammad and The Goddess” with an essay called “The Wounded Goddess: The History of Sarah and Hagar From a Feminist Outlook” from which I want to share some excerpts with you, as follows:
I see in what happened to Sarah and Hagar the story of a wound that has its origin in harsh spiritual violence. A wound infringed by patriarchy to the souls of each one of them but also, to the tie that could awake empathy for one another in behalf of the Divine Feminine. The relationship between these two women is influenced by a religious belief founded in male privilege: God promised a son to Abraham. Unlike other promises made by male characters in the history of humankind, this one cannot be undone and must be fulfilled no matter what, because is a divine decree and God’s word is always a definitive truth.
The atavistic wound to Hagar and Sarah allows patriarchy domination and control on the bodies and lives of these women. Sarah and Hagar–how their lives intertwine in accordance with the wishes of male authority, the way which their identities, potential and agencies are put in trail against each other to meet a man’s need–is the depiction of the universal and original performance of women in the history of patriarchal domination over us.
The paradigm of enmity in the relationship of Sarah and Hagar is instilled as a constant in the relationships between women. The alienation imposed by patriarchy through enmity not only separates women from their own identity as individuals, but separates us from our spiritual and divine dimensions. This separation also becomes a distance from other women veiled by an ignorance of what we share in common as gender and also in the specific, regarding our life stories. This enmity is not always a feeling of antipathy, but is always evident in the inability to be empathetic. It affects our potential to know ourselves and recognize ourselves in other women.
This wound is, according to Mexican Feminist Marcela Lagarde, a “Gender’s rift” and is made of all those insurmountable barriers that prevent women from recognizing and identifying with each other. Women put aside what we have in common and emphasize the difference, to make other women feel inferior and justify power over them.
As for Sarah and Hagar, our goals as women have been set to please men and infringe suffering in members of our gender. Is not enough to KNOW how this operates. The wound between us has been made at soul level so, any attempt to heal it must first address our spiritual essence, the Divine Feminine. This Divine Essence that dwells in us has been denied to women along with our lives, as was denied to Sarah and Hagar. It has been denied, because it is a source of power, autonomy, sisterhood and freedom for us.
Sara and Hagar are mythical characters for us. They lived in a world very different from ours, but we constantly recreate them when we compete against or are unfair with ourselves or with other women. When we are silent to abuse, when we use our privileges to cause pain or take advantage of other women, or when we judge other women’s reality assuming ours is perfect and universal.
Feminisms challenge the stories that patriarchy has built on us to legitimize our submission and, at same time, they enable sisterhood as a tool for counteracting enmity among women. Sisterhood starts in an effort to deconstruct the notion of what it means to be a woman in patriarchy, as a process that begins with the rejection of enmity and being bounded as victims, advancing toward friendship, to rescue our particular stories, meeting with what we have in common, searching for new times, new identities outside the patriarchal models that define us and link us in destructive ways.
This friendship between women is a conscious work toward the recognition, promotion and support among women in a patriarchal and violent world. It has nothing to do with being friends in the traditional way. This would limit sisterhood to only those women we know or to those who are in our circles. Sisterhood is the commitment to love all women as our friends, to prevent patriarchy from dividing us and making us suffer.
We will never win in Patriarchy, no matter if it seems so. Patriarchy will be always the foreign land where our voices are not heard; a desert where our questions will never have an answer. Only a shift of awareness to a daily and committed practice in behalf of gender justice, in all our relationships among women, can change the enmity for sisterhood, heal personal and cultural wounds inflicted by spiritual violence in our souls, repair the rift between all the Sarahs and Hagars of our lives, and bring opportunities to all women for holding and enjoying the part of heaven that belongs to us.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a Writer, Mentor and Community Educator in Capacity Building for Grass Roots Female Leaders and Advocates. A Feminist who is an Independent Researcher of Gender and Islam on Feminist Hermeneutics, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. She blogs in Spanish at Mezquita de Mujeres, a site dedicated to explore the links between Gender, Religion and Feminism as well to Women from the Global South as Change Makers in their communities.