“What Would Happen If One Woman Told the Truth about Her Life?” by Carol P. Christ


According to poet Muriel Rukeyser, “the world would split open.”

This poem accurately describes what many women experienced in consciousness raising in the 1970s and what many women experience today in the #MeToo movement.

For many of us the world did split open. We began to take ourselves and our experiences seriously. To do so we had to question received wisdom encoded in such questions as: “What was she doing there in the first place?” “Was she drinking too?” “Why didn’t she change out of her bathing suit?” Underlying these questions is the assumption that: “whatever happened, she must have asked for it.”

A lot of people are wondering why congressmen and voters who claim to uphold Christian principles are not more outraged about credible allegations of sexual assault against a child whose name was Christine Blasey. What this question fails to address is the fact that the Christian principles (if any) held by conservatives are steeped in patriarchy. Liberals may argue that Jesus would have cared about the girl, and I believe they are right. But the Christianity that developed after his death was centered on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all of whom are male. This Christianity is patriarchal to the core: its deep message is that power belongs the hands of males and that male power is not to be questioned.

My mother loved her mother, her sister, and me deeply. But she also loved my father who was a patriarchal male, and she raised two sons who, though they loved their mother deeply, also became patriarchal males. If she and my father were alive, she would be one of those Republican women who doubt Christine Blasey’s story, or who dismiss it because it happened a long time ago, Blasey was not actually raped, and we all know that boys will be boys.

Many years ago a friend in her twenties who was visiting our family was pinched on her bottom by a friend of my father’s at a Christmas party. My friend said nothing at the time and only told me several decades later.

This admission made me wonder: had this happened to my mother too? My father’s friend was patriarchal to the core and a heavy drinker. I did not want to be near him because he bullied me and ridiculed my father when I surpassed my father in height. I find it hard to believe that this man did not touch my mother and other women in her circle inappropriately at some time too.

But if this happened, then why did she and my father continue to socialize with this man? I doubt that my mother would have told my father. I doubt that she would have told anyone. Even my friend did not tell anyone for decades.

What is going on here?

When I first became a feminist, I tried to share my new insights with my mother in letters. Finally, she wrote back, “Are you trying to get me to leave your father?” That was the end of our conversations about feminism.

My mother understood, as most Republican women do, that sexual abuse and rape—and other forms of abuse–occur. But she refused to continue our conversation about feminism for one simple reason: she was not going to leave my father.

She understood that if we continued it, her world would split open.

The world splitting open is cataclysmic: nothing can ever be the same. For my mother, divorce would have meant losing her home, her financial security, and her position in the community as a married woman. We all know that none of these things are easy. Besides that—my mother loved my father. So she denied or refused to take seriously the socially sanctioned abuse of women (including of herself and of me) by men. (What the psychological and physical cost to her health was, I can only guess. My mother died four months after her 72nd birthday. My father survived and thrived for another 26 years and died four months after his 98th birthday.)

This is why white married women continue to support the Republicans even in the face of clear evidence that Republican men care more about their own power than they care about the abuse of women and girls.

It really is as simple and as complicated as that.

They are afraid.

They do not want the world to split open.

 

Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator living in Greece. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol  has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger. Carol will be speaking at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Re-Imagining Conference at Hamline University in St. Paul Minnesota on November 1 and 3; on at the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto, Canada on November 5; and at Memorial University of Newfoundland on November 7-10.

 

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Categories: abuse, Abuse of Power, Domestic Violence, Feminism, Feminism and Religion

Tags: , , , , , , ,

20 replies

  1. So true! I believe that the patriarchy does affect womyn’s health.Patriarchy creates such a toxic environment that it wears one down.I a)so agree that white womyn are afraid of their worlds’ splitting apart. I wish that these womyn could know that your world splitting apart can sometimes lead to wonderful things.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. When a caterpillar’s world splits apart the creature that emerges is a butterfly. This can happen for human women, too. My mother had the courage to leave my extremely patriarchal father. She started over, taking my younger sister with her, by climbing onto a bus leaving Oklahoma for Washington, DC, where she’d been offered a government job. I was overseas at the time but joined them a couple of months later. We were so poor that Mother made white-flour biscuits for breakfast on hot summer mornings and boiled coffee in a sauce pan—we didn’t even have a coffee pot. Nor did we have much furniture: we ate at a card table lent to Mother by her sister-in-law. My mother and sister had chairs to sit on but I sat on an upended Samsonite suitcase.

    But Mother triumphed. Told by my father she was too stupid to get any kind of job other than washing dishes, she took courses at night from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at night, earning certificates in journalism and editing. In time she rose to the position of GS-12 Program Manager.

    Yes, I can understand that after a lifetime of being told she’s inferior in every way, a woman could lack the confidence to start over. Not many women would have the courage my mother had. She thrived: my father did not, dying of a heart attack four days before what would have been his 58th birthday. The great tragedy of his life is that he didn’t know what he had when he had it, and once he realized it, he could never get it back. My mother was the best event that ever happened in his life, just as my husband is in mine.

    Thanks for this inspirational post, Carol. I think it helps all of us understand what at first seems incomprehensible, which is why some women reject feminism. It is too painful for them to contemplate or to act on.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Very pleased, thanks Carol, to see you addressed the problems that appeared recently during the hearings for the appointment of a Supreme Court judge, and where a woman shared her painful experience of sex abuse by that person. That action of speaking out by Christine Blasey took great courage. And I think that not only women but probably most men also understood how courageous she truly was.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brava!!! I remember 1991–the nomination of Clarence Thomas, who almost never speaks in arguments made before the court–and the accusations of sexual misconduct by Anita Hill, who has commented on the current hearings. Thomas was defended by a dozen old white Christian men, some of whom are still sitting on that same committee today. I remember how the TV sitcom Murphy Brown commented on the Thomas hearing and stirred up a hornets’ nest of negativity among those white men in the Senate.

    Here’s my question: why does this have to be happening again? The world should not have to split open again. Women should be believed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, Carol. I would just add that many non-feminist women are completely unaware of how brainwashed they have been by patriarchy. It’s the water we ALL swim in, and feminists see it only because we have tinted it with red dye! After being a feminist for 50 years (OMG!), I still catch myself at times having patriarchal thoughts. The difference is that I recognize their source and immediately take action to correct them.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. Well said. And you are spot on. When I told, I was about 13 or 14. My grandfather had been molesting me when I went to his house to visit for some time by then, I’m not sure how long. But when I refused to go visit him, they were going to send my younger sister. I exploded and told. My mother became hysterical and screamed at me; no one in the family believed; my mother carried that pain, but my sister didn’t go. Many years later, in a conversation with my mother, she revealed her father had also abused her, too. Her brief comment was that even after she’d had babies, he’d come up behind her and feel up her breasts. Now I understand why she screamed at me for telling: it rocked her world and she didn’t want to believe she hadn’t protected her daughters.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am so sorry Janet. This should not have happened to either of you. And it is high time mothers realize they must protect their children against abuse! My mother did not protect us well enough either, though thankfully we were not sexually abused.

      Liked by 2 people

      • My mother certainly did not protect me. She was also a “father’s daughter” totally male identified. She passed this quality onto me and I surely paid dearly for it. But now, I am wondering what happened to her to force her into male identification…

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh Carol, you are so right. I had to face this kind of thing when I was 33, and had a five year old daughter. My husband, who had been having sex with other women for some time, finally crossed my very low line or tolerance and moved his girlfriend into our home. I moved out and got another place, but did not immediately ask for a divorce. There was an attempt at reconciliation that included a move out of state at my husband’s request. Actually, what he wanted was to get rid of me, not to reconcile, and as usual, I fell for his line. Once I had found an apartment in Evansville, IN, he left immediately and went back to his girlfriend in Lexington, KY, where we had previously been living. At this point I asked for a divorce, and my world broke open. Our friends took his side because they thought I had left him, and I had no support in my new town. He agreed to pay child support, but never did, and the State did not go after him. I found myself with a small child, penniless, and in a strange place. I was never cast so low, but when you are that low, there is no place to go but up.

    I eventually stopped blaming myself, became a feminist, managed to go get scholarships and grants, and went to college. I became a nurse-midwife, and found my true vocation in life. Eventually, I also found the love of my life, Unfortunately, I lost my daughter in the process, as she decided to live with her father when she turned 13. My life, after my world cracked open, has been a very good one, my daughter’s, not so much. Still, I shudder to think of what would have happened to me and her if I had somehow managed to “save” my marriage. I would have had to be like so many women – never willing to see, never willing to act, and never willing to grow. My only regret is that I did not act sooner, unfortunately, I had been conditioned by society to play my diminutive part.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. You nailed it Carol in one essay… I want the whole world of women to read this essay. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. For me, I found my Mothers’ past in my Ancestry DNA. I understand why she deserted me. I have forgiven her 100%. I am grateful I have grown into a compassionate human being.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. So many amazing stories of courage and hope in this thread! This is a wonderful post, and so true for all women in one way or another. I agree that I wish all women could read it! What I have found is that it is impossible to keep your world from splitting open — all our worlds split open at some time, usually many times over a lifetime, whether from finally standing up to and speaking out about abuse, or serious illness, or loss, or just the chaos of life in western society. The more you try to keep your life in a comfortable little shell, the harder it will be when it does break open. Watching women split open their worlds on their own terms is always inspiring and poignant and a reminder of how miraculously strong women can be when they trust themselves and determine to live life in a way that’s true to who they really are.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Carol, you’ve really hit the nail on the head! I am very fortunate that my mother divorced my abusive father. Mom also got her GED, went to college, and joined the Women’s Movement. We actually graduated from community college together. Mom recently asked me if my father had ever molested me. I told her no, but said he may have been afraid to because she always said if anyone laid a hand on her kids she would hunt them down and kill them, and she was an excellent shot when she was younger! Mom had been assaulted by her brother-in-law when she was 13 and when she told her mother her mother told her not to tell her father because it would cause trouble for her sister! Mom loved her mother dearly and her mother was a strong woman who stood up to my grandfather, but in this instance she really let my mother down. Anyway, I am incredibly lucky that my soon to be 84-year-old mother is a feminist. So many women are afraid to open their eyes, as you have so wisely pointed out.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Excellent! You have captured so much and I resonate with it all. Passing it along because sometimes when the world splits open new possibilities for life emerge. And THAT is exactly what needs to happen. Patriarchal constructs are death-dealing forces.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. My god, Carol, this was powerful. Thank you.

    Like

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