A Feminism of the Right? by Race MoChridhe


Race MoChridheAs I read Carol Christ’s post, This Is How Liberal Democracy Dies, I was reminded of the women with whom the bulk of my research time lately has been spent—the Madrians, a Goddess movement that flourished in Britain and Ireland from the early 1970s until the mid-1980s. Like Christ, the Madrians believed that society was headed in a self-destructive direction and could best be reoriented through women’s wisdom. Like Christ, they admired Greek culture and looked to matrifocal Old Europe for inspiration. Like Christ, they found in both their experience of womanhood and in the model of that past a blueprint for a radically different kind of politics, but a politics that could scarcely be more unlike Christ’s.

They were environmentalists, pacifists, critics of capitalism, teachers of universal salvation, and often proudly-identifying lesbians, who advocated for women’s leadership in the home, in government, in education, and in religion. They were also Traditionalists, monarchists, and nationalists, who advocated for the fourfold social order, obedience to ecclesiastical authority, and the use of corporal punishment. Regularly seen at Goddess conferences and in the pages of magazines like The New Ecologist, they identified as feminists during their initial years, but by the early 1980s their writings self-identified as anti-feminist, offering a considered critique of a movement they had come to see as aligned with policies of the left which they believed robbed women of agency and sublimated them to a neutered, Enlightenment concept of the citizen that presumed masculine traits and values as its normative ideal.

Their alienation from the feminist movement reminds me of the similar exile into which so many feminists of faith were sent at that same time. Indeed, one of the Madrians’ most recurring complaints about later feminism was what they saw as its complicity in the process of secularization. Both religious and right-wing feminists were frozen out of large portions of the movement and its discourse, told that their views were incompatible with basic feminist principles, and accused of false consciousness. Religious feminists, unfortunately, all too often are still subjected to such treatment, notwithstanding the tremendous strides that have been made in the acceptance of authentic religious feminisms of many kinds, to which FAR so ably testifies.

Yet even as feminism is being unyoked from secularism, its absolute codependence with liberalism and democracy has gone largely unchallenged. The idea of a reactionary or antidemocratic feminist is generally treated with the same risibility as the idea of a Mormon feminist was only a short time ago (and in many quarters, still is). The existence of the Madrians, however, reminds us starkly that such a thing is possible—a reminder needed now, when the old, stable constellations of political opinion are coming unglued, and new combinations of ideas are becoming possible. In the United States, Republican senators cast votes for Hillary Clinton while an openly gay European man—Milo Yiannopolous—became a darling of much of the party’s disaffected base. In France, the candidate of the National Front—Marine le Pen—is the polling choice of liberal French voters anxious to keep their social insurance. English retirees living in Spain voted for Brexit, while Scottish separatists stoke a narrative of Scottish difference in order to maintain EU membership and keep their country open to immigration. If there is any truth to the claim that it is not the strongest, but the most adaptive to change, that survive, now is the time to consider new adaptations.

The Madrians are, perhaps, a relatively extreme case in some respects, but I still hear frustration and disappointment from women even far to the left of them, but still to the right of what is presently the feminist mainstream. Too often, these women feel as though their sisterhood is unwelcome. Besides the injustice, one senses also a lost opportunity.

For nearly a century, the orthodoxy of the sociological and policy establishments was the “secularization thesis”—affluent societies would become less religious over time, leading eventually to rational, Gene Roddenberry-esque utopias devoid of religious conflict and culture wars. The past few decades have exploded this thesis, with religion vehemently reasserting itself as a factor in public affairs all over the world, even in the überaffluent West. Where would the feminist movement be now, I wonder, if it had not found a place at the table for religious feminists whose voices carry into the discourses of this new reality?

Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” is now being shown to be just as fragile as the secularization thesis. For well over a century, the onward march of liberal democracy has seemed to most to be the concluding crescendo of God’s composition, but that assumption, too, may be about to be overturned. In Brussels, liberals turn to increasingly antidemocratic means to maintain the open society of the post-War world, while in Washington, London, and Paris, democratic politicians fire up their bases with increasingly illiberal rhetoric. Meanwhile, and perhaps more momentously, a resurgent Neoconfucian élite in China whispers that everything old is new again, and that the way out of the impasse may lie in the example of the Middle Kingdom.

In such a world as this, there is real danger to the gains made by the feminist movement over the past fifty, or even one hundred, years. If we wish to secure those gains over the next hundred, we cannot afford to discount allies whose voices carry into the discourses of the right, where the voices of left-aligned feminists go unheard, ignored, or even ridiculed. Feminists of the left need not countenance such voices’ views on systems of government, class relations, or the geopolitical order to see the value in supporting their call for full and equitable dignity, opportunity, and autonomy for women within the movements of the right, so that those movements, now resurgent and reënergized, are not left an easy prey to patriarchalists. Perhaps the time has come to make room at our table both for those feminists fighting to save liberal democracy, and for those feminists who will shed no tears when it passes.

Race MoChridhe is a FAR intern, a Filianist, and an independent scholar of religion with special interest in the intersections of feminism, new religious movements, and Traditionalist thought. More of his work may be found at his website, www.racemochridhe.com, and at his devotional blog, Apron Strings.

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17 replies

  1. Just to put the record straight: I do not admire Greek culture if that means the Greek myths, the Mycenaeans, the Dorians, Socrates and classical Athens, or Goddess forbid, Byzantine Christianity. I do admire ancient Crete which was a pre-Greek, pre-Indo-European culture. I view the Indo-Europeans, including the Greeks and patriarchal and warlike. Not the values I affirm.

    I have long argued that it is important to criticize the myths of patriarchal cultures, whether they arise in Greece, Sumer, India, or elsewhere–because they legitimate warriors, warrior kings, and violence.

    While you raise an interesting question, Race, what I find missing in your posing of it, is a definition of feminism. Is feminism simply about women’s access to positions of power within patriarchal nation-states, religions, myth systems, corporations, etc. Or does feminism include commitment to values? If so, what values? This of course is a debate that has been going on within feminism for a very long time and there is no single answer to it.

    If feminism means a commitment to all women, then I do not find it compatible with white, Christian, or nationalist politics.

    If it further means a commitment to end the violence to women, nature, and “the other” normalized within in patriarchy and patriarchal warfare, then feminism might not be compatible with whole-hearted commitment to any nation state or to the military.

    Recently it has been asked if feminists must be pro-abortion? In my book, a feminist can be personally opposed to abortion for herself, but if a woman denies the rights of other women to make decisions about their own bodies, I would not call her a feminist.

    So my question to you is, how do you define feminism?

    I recommend my definition of patriarchy as a system that includes male dominance, the control of female sexuality, private property, slavery, and war, in which I argue that patriarchy (and by implication, feminism) is not only about male dominance. https://feminismandreligion.com/2013/02/18/patriarchy-as-an-integral-system-of-male-dominance-created-at-the-intersection-of-the-control-of-women-private-property-and-war-part-1-by-carol-p-christ/

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for a thoughtful and measured reply. You are quite right, of course, that definitions are key, whether we are trying to determine what constitutes Greek culture (all culture produced in the territory we now demarcate Greece, culture produced only by Greek speakers, culture transmitted to the West through Greece, etc) or whether we are trying to establish what constitutes feminism.

      You are also right that that is a longstanding conversation, and one without simple answers. Personally, I do think feminism has to do with values, and that it is about more than simply equal access for women to the levers of patriarchal power. One of the values I see most commonly celebrated in feminist discourse is consensus, and it is in that vein that I find myself wondering how we can best go about establishing a cogent and effective definition of feminism without succumbing to a No True Scotsman fallacy that denies the feminism of those who are not accommodating to a given, preferred consensus, and that in this way silences their voices from feminist discourse. I see strong parallels, actually, with the current situation in the United States, where a transition from civic to ethnic identity is plagued by foundational disagreements about who qualifies as an American in the first place, and thus about who is qualified to have an opinion in the conversation on defining Americanness. It is a difficult circle to escape.

      I am not sure, then, that I can begin a conversation on what constitutes the permissible range of opinions within feminism by offering a definition of it. My perspective as a man certainly plays a role in this, as I certainly benefit, like all people, from the work feminism in the society, but have no right, as a man, to define it. I cannot tell a woman who is pro-life, or a woman who voted for Brexit to put England first, that she is not a feminist if she claims to be one. Thus I begin to wonder if anyone can.

      I don’t think, therefore, that I can justly answer the question, “How do you define feminism?” but I can affirm a commitment to all women in their efforts to define feminism for themselves, including the efforts of those who seek to define it in ways with which I may disagree, or even in ways that I may find inimical to (what I might personally perceive as) its purposes. I know, and am committed to, women of many diverse ideological persuasions, and it seems to me that feminism belongs to them, as women, if they wish to claim it. Otherwise, what is the freedom that their mothers and grandmothers fought to bequeath them?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hadn’t heard of the Madrians for so long. I used to receive newsletters from them (snail mail to me in Australia) in the late 70’s. I still have some in stored files. At the time I think their perspective was very good for helping to change my mind: that is, helping me to think from within my female being, for envisioning a matristic world. I don’t remember their more conservative views … though I will take another look at the literature I have.

    Re secularisation of feminism: When I gave a paper on Women and Religion at a (secular) Women and Labour conference in Melbourne in 1980, the conference organisers did not include it in their publication of conference proceedings, although the paper received a lot of media interest. Feminists were not supposed to have anything to do with religion. And then on the other side, for women who were studying theology: “When in the early 70’s, Alice Hageman from Harvard Divinity School USA, suggested to the then all-male teaching faculty that (a) women’s concerns be included in the curriculum (b) a chair in Women’s Studies be established (c) there be ultimate parity of women with men among faculty and students, she was bombarded with probing, defensive, hostile questions, …” (

    Things have changed a lot since then for me and for many. I did opt out of theology and christianity in the late 70’s, though went on to doctoral research of Great Goddess over the decades: and there is now plenty around that combines feminism and religion, and gynocentric worldview – cross-culturally.

    It seems to me that both the left and the right have problems in terms of women’s agency, and neutering women, and idealising patristic values and modes of being.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank the Goddess that things have so changed in the discourse on religious feminism, and thank you for the rôle you played in that. Everyone who worked to bring the intersections of religion and feminism to wider attention and deeper consideration in those days deserves a grateful acknowledgement, I think.

      You are certainly right that the problems of patriarchal assumptions and of dismissing women’s voices and agency reach across all sectarian lines. I am reminded of a quote our own Kate Brunner recently brought to my attention, that “The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source.” (Lucretia Mott) This could, perhaps, equally be said of ideological movements, political parties, and social philosophies.

      On another note, what a small world it is! I am currently working on compiling a digital archive of original Madrian materials, and have been corresponding with a number of individuals in Britain and America who have copies of their publications in an effort to collate what has survived and to get it digitized. If you wouldn’t mind, whenever you get around to pulling those files out next, letting me know which documents you have, I would be very grateful. A number of people have been surprised to find that they were the only ones to keep a particular article or newsletter!

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      • oh awesome … I love the synchronicity of the Universe! I will let you know about what documents I have in the files for sure. I am so glad you are doing this … I am in a process of having to empty my stored files as much as possible. Perhaps email me so I can stay in touch glenys@pagaian.org

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  3. Thanks Race. I agree with Carol — what I find missing in your posing of it, is a definition of feminism, not just what that means, but why it’s so important now.

    Feminism and protecting the environment is one of the most important concepts regards the importance of feminism in our time, that is, its influence regarding concepts and laws that work effectively to protect nature. Charlene Spretnak, a prominent ecofeminist, also had a major influence in the development of the Green Party.

    Starhawk too has contributed some very fine writing on spiritualism and ecofeminism. Carolyn Merchant is another great writer, especially her book on eco-spirituality, titled: “The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution.” There’s lots more books by great women writers focusing now on eco-spirituality — women have kept that movement alive even into the present. I read this morning that Rosemary Radford Ruether, author of “Sexism and God-Talk,” has written 36 books and over 600 articles exploring the intersections of feminism, theology and protecting the environment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sarah, please see my response to Carol, above, regarding defining feminism.

      I agree with you that an intersection of feminism and environmentalism is one of the most pressing areas in which good work can be, and must be, done. This is also where I see some of the greatest opportunities for left/right collaboration across the political spectrum. Conservatism in general (and especially the kind of Traditionalist conservatism to which the Madrians were attached) tends toward a pronounced anti-industrial streak, a distrust of large agrobusiness, a skepticism toward genetic modification and large scale environmental engineering, a preference for locally-managed resource stewardship, and an enthusiasm for various offshoots of the Arts and Crafts movement that all open profound opportunities for dialogue and common action with environmentalists on the left. This is precisely the kind of arena in which I think greater reconciliation between feminists of the left and of the right could yield tremendous benefits.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Feminism and the fate of the planet that we live on are inextricably tied together and these two, perhaps more than any other facet of feminism need support from ALL feminists regardless of political persuasion.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This post is really thought-provoking, as are the comments. Thank you so much!

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  6. Can you explain Traditionalist?

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    • Used in the technical sense, as aligning with the “Traditionalist School” exemplified by René Guénon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and Frithjof Schuon, all of whom were commonly referenced by the Madrians. Much of their teaching, in fact, resulted from cross-pollinating Traditionalist ideas with the work of Marija Gimbutas and the writings of figures like Merlin Stone.

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    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditionalist_School

      If this is correct it sounds like a form of Platonism? Also it seems to ignore that most “traditional” religions and philosophies enshrine the subordination of women–and nature.

      Anyway it was not a term I was familiar with.

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      • Yes, that’s it, and it certainly has a resonance with Platonism (though it encompasses a much broader sweep). As it applies to this conversation, a key point of Traditionalist thinking is that, just as the comparative study of religions reveals a common core of teaching that, by its universality, may be known to be true, so likewise a comparative study of cultures reveals that a proper and necessary pattern of social order exists as a natural function of those same metaphysical and religious teachings. This order is hierarchically organized in service to the society’s guiding spiritual principles (i.e., the particular revelation on which that civilization is founded), and diversified across the various social estates. Though periodically renewed with the arrival of new religious dispensation, it is subject to a kind of entropy as the world progressively declines on a spiral pattern (the old pattern of gold, silver, bronze, and iron ages). Democratic and egalitarian movements were, for Guénon and other Traditionalist writers, signs of a very advanced stage of decline, as spiritual principles gave way to mass materialism (exemplified especially, though by no means exclusively, by Marxism).

        The innovation of the Madrians was to add a component of gender theory to this, as most Traditionalist writers (with the notable exception of Julius Evola) had paid no particular attention to gender as a locus of analysis. The Madrians drew on emerging insights from comparative mythology and from archaeology to argue that, contrary to what had often been assumed, patriarchal structures were not a universal feature of the Traditional order, but were instead a universally occurring early stage of decline, perverting the Traditional matriarchal order. The rise of masculinity and the values associated with it to social dominance, they argued, was the root of most other forms of decline.

        This is what I find intriguing in terms of interrogating our understanding of feminism—the Madrians (to my mind successfully) articulated a vision of a society in which women, as women, would be wholly autonomous, in which their dignity would be equal to or superior to that of men, and in which the philosophical underpinnings of political, economic, and environmental relationships would be rethought out of women’s experience. Yet this envisioned order had far more in common with feudal Japan or the Europe of the High Middle Ages than anything we think of now as a feminist utopia. Hierarchical and hieratic, it was a vision of a matriarchal society governed by an intricate formalized pattern of etiquette intended to link all human actions back to their centre in God, singing lays of its legendary warrior princesses whose feats held anarchy at bay, and preaching obedience to just authority as the fount of all other virtue. What is more, they viewed all of this as arising not merely in juxtaposition to the values that emerged from their experience as women, but as logical necessity from those values and experiences (the best presentation of this in brief form is a short book by Miss Alice Lucy Trent entitled “The Feminine Universe: An Exposition of the Ancient Wisdom from the Primordial Feminine Perspective”). For them, the division of social estates, the preservation of private property and the nuclear family, the establishment of warrior codes and of a kind of religious orthodoxy, were not masculine traits, but human ones, which patriarchy, far from creating, had merely perverted from their nobler, truer feminine expression.

        At first, they called this (one kind of) feminism. Why would we not?

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