His Terror by Carol P. Christ


The first two parts of Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature, “MATTER” and “SEPARATION,” are written in the authoritative voice of western philosophy and science that declares matter to be dead and the body an impediment to thought, and proceeds to separate the mind from the body. All of this, Griffin suggests, is based in the fear of death.

As Griffin notes, in this equation woman is identified with the body and her voice is silenced. Re-reading these parts of Woman and Nature for the umpteenth time for a class I am teaching felt even more painful than it had before. I was reliving parts of my own story.

I was brought up in the tract home suburbs of post-war Los Angeles in a world of women. Both of my grandmothers played central roles in my upbringing, introducing me to nature and the spirit of life they experienced as we explored trails the Los Angeles County arboretum before it was fenced or when we frolicked in the waves and picked up sand dollars at the seashore south of San Francisco. When I was ten years old my family moved to a new neighborhood that was almost entirely made up of families like ours with small children, fathers who worked, and mothers who stayed home.

In the new neighborhood, I did not find it easy to make friends my own age. My mother had a baby that year, and I voluntarily and joyfully threw myself into raising him with her. The other mothers recognized my precocious maturity and ease with children and soon I was babysitting almost every child in the block. One of the families had five children under the age of five: my job was to feed and bathe all five of them and put them to bed. I was very good at my job. I loved those children, every one of them. With my babysitting money, I bought fabric and sewed all my own clothes. I was very good at that too. I once made a suit with three kinds of lining and bound buttonholes using a Vogue Paris Original pattern. When I started college I learned that everything I knew or thought I knew was irrelevant to the studies I was about to undertake.

A professor in a seminar in the Humanities Honors Program told us that the most important book of the twentieth century was Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. He especially admired the quality of Nabokov’s prose. My parents disapproved of the book. I assumed they did not know what they were talking about. I wanted to understand beauty. I separated the mind, my mind, that was reading the book from the body of the girl lying on her bed trying to figure it out: it never occurred to me that I was reading a book about the violation of the innocence of girls like me, like the little girls I fed, bathed, and put to bed. Nor did I recognize that my innocence was being violated by the professor who insisted that I must read Lolita if I wanted to learn to appreciate the beauty of fine writing. Lolita, Eve, Cassandra, Persephone, the Sabine Women, their names are legion.

The final chapter of “SEPARATION” is “Terror.” In it, a man who is mesmerized by the laws of physics declares his superiority to a woman who, he assumes, cannot understand the intricacies of his thought. She remains silent, but “Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a gesture” that keeps him awake at night.

For a long time I read in a fog of unknowing, but then I woke up. “This is not me I said, you cannot tell me that this is me.”

“And this he hated her for, the outrage of seeming to be like him, of imitating him of mocking his dignity, of forcing in him some recognition, so that he might see himself in her.”

I wrote a paper using his language explaining the flaws in the thinking of his favorite theologian. He tossed it aside in front of the other students with a smirk of disdain.

“And then another thought came upon him, so terrible he could scarcely hold on to it. Suppose there is no difference between them except for the power he wields over her.”

This was the battle waging in the minds of men in halls of the Yale Divinity School, in the halls of the Yale Graduate School circa 1970. It was not only about our voices. It was about his voice and all the voices he had studied telling him telling him that he was not woman, that he was not flesh, that he would not die.

To listen would be the end of everything he knew, everything he thought he knew. He did not listen.

Not too long ago, I learned that one of my professors became a feminist forty years later, in his ninety-eighth year, shortly before his death. Better late than never, I suppose.

Unfortunately the issues discussed here are still with us. The whole edifice of western thought based on the disparagement of the body, of women, of nature, and on the denial of death has not exactly crumbled. While being challenged from a variety of directions its fundamental assumptions are still widely assumed and rarely criticized at their root.

The lessons I learned about from women about the spirit residing in nature and the importance of caring for and nurturing life have yet to become foundational in university canons and curricula. Nor has “women’s knowledge” been recognized as crucial for the survival of of life on planet earth.

 

Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator living in Lasithi, Crete. 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.

Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.



Categories: abuse, Abuse of Power, Academics, Activism, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General

Tags: , , , ,

8 replies

  1. Carol, I am not sure I could read Griffin’s book now. It changed my life, giving me the first ground to live on… All I can do is repeat your words:

    “The whole edifice of western thought based on the disparagement of the body, of women, of nature, and on the denial of death has not exactly crumbled. While being challenged from a variety of directions its fundamental assumptions are still widely assumed and rarely criticized at their root.

    The lessons I learned about from women about the spirit residing in nature and the importance of caring for and nurturing life have yet to become foundational in university canons and curricula. Nor has “women’s knowledge” been recognized as crucial for the survival of of life on planet earth.”

    The latter, “women’s knowledge” is our only chance for survival. All this challenging seems to have changed nothing. the poisoned root remains untouched.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting, thank you, Carol. I see this phenomenon in so many ways – we recoil naturally from that which we fear, such as oppression, disability, illness, and end up ‘hating’ or ‘resenting’ the oppressed because we fear oppression. I will always remember talking once about how we naturally see the humanity and precious, sacred worth in babies and small children of other races and religions and genders, even if we stop seeing it as these children grow up; and a student pointed out that it is not true for children with certain disabilities and differently formed bodies. Women are terrifying both because they are oppressed and because they are powerful. Fear is intensely powerful; only love is more powerful than fear, at least, it can be. How to nurture that kind of healing is a life or death question.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And still, so many people still support Trump. Is it a relapse in evolution, or the beginning of the end for this lop-sided attitude based on ignorance and fear. Here in Canada, our Justin talks “feminism” and has a more inclusive Cabinet, but still acts like a dictator. He hadn’t counted on strong women speaking out.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Carol, this morning I pulled from my bookcase a copy of Susan Griffin’s “WOMAN AND NATURE: The Roaring Inside Her” (pub. 1978). Then I randomly cut the book to see any thought that might appear — and here’s what I read (from the beginning of Book Four, pg. 165), and where Susan Griffin writes —

    “HER VISION
    Now she sees
    Through
    Her own eyes”

    And what a marvelous definition that is, as regards the liberation of women — yes, exactly how feminism sets us free.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have long thought this and am pleased to see her work. My take is that women produce the bodies that feel pain, so she is the source of pain. This idea is only slightly disguised in the Genesis story of The Fall where Eve’s will is the reason for humanity’s losses. She must be subdued to keep men safe, even with violence.

    Like

  6. Thanks, Carol, for this remarkable post! Susan Griffin’s work was foundational for many of us ecofeminists, Goddess feminists, and Pagan feminists. She opened our eyes!

    About 5 years ago, I had an unusual interaction while talking with friends during an intermission at the symphony in Madison. We knew two graduate students in the Philosophy Department and joined a large group that included them. We were introduced to one of their professors, so I asked what she taught. She answered “Plato.” So I asked how she approached his writing, and she asked in reply why I asked. I said, “Since he completely messed up Western culture.” This led her, aghast, to ask, “How so?” I replied that he separated body from mind and spirit, a duality that still plagues us today. She equivocated and said that he had taught other useful things or some such. But I could tell that I had just stated a HERESY that all of those students couldn’t believe anyone would say. I just tell it like it is.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes it is hard for professors to acknowledge that the great men they have spent so much time studying are just plain wrong! And students for the most part will be told they just don’t understand yet if they ask any questions that lead in that direction. And not just plain wrong but massively wrong.

      Just recently I was asked to review an essay that I felt was based on false assumptions that are widely accepted in the respective field. At first I thought that I had no right to say what I thought and then I said it as you did that night.

      Liked by 2 people

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