Disclaimer/Trigger Warning: This post includes content about rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, violence.
The recent, meaningful discussions on this forum about how so many of us feel broken due to our own personal histories have fortified and inspired me. I’ve marveled as women have spoken up so honestly and even brutally about the effects of trauma, rape, cold and dismissive mothers, abusing fathers and so on.
Some of you know my own story. I am a survivor of my father’s childhood abuse and then a rape at knifepoint in my early twenties. I carry a deep and abiding sense of shame. This feeling has always flummoxed me. Why should I feel shame when I didn’t do anything to create my own abuse? Shouldn’t my father have felt the shame? The rapist? Why did I get saddled with it? I was the victim (and survivor), not the perpetrator. But shame is indeed the feeling I carry and I’m not alone. Why is this feeling so pervasive? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some clues about where to look.
Its been thousands of years since women’s bodies have been honored and respected as sacred by our culture at large. Once upon a time there were Great Goddesses. The Goddesses got demoted and a God took Her place in most religious systems. Why did She give up her power? How did power systems convince people to relinquish our connection to Her? It was done by using the tools of patriarchal systems, those of shame, fear, and guilt with a strong smattering of rape and other violences. Not surprisingly those are the very same emotions that so many of us have integrated into ourselves.
I have two daughters. They are adults now and I had the privilege of seeing them grow from babies into women. It was not smooth sailing. Puberty was a bitch.
I remember looking around at the landscape of young girls 20 years ago. I had read studies about how the self-image of young girls plummets at puberty. I looked around at “period products.” All the product ads proclaimed how wonderful life is when using their pads, tampons, etc . . . No one even needs to know that a girl has her period. At first, I loved this message. Even with our periods, we can be just like men and ignore what’s going on with our bodies. But then I realized that it was the ONLY message out there – and that’s a problem. Talk about a separation between mind, body and spirit!!!!
I remember seeing Cindy Crawford, in her prime, doing an infomercial on some beauty product. As part of her pitch, she was pointing out all of her beauty flaws. I thought that if she has flaws, then what chance do I have? And what about my daughters? And then I got angry. Shame that was OK for me, was not OK for them.
Menstruation seemed like a great teachable moment. In the hopes of counter-acting society’s ugly messages, I designed a ritual called Moontime Celebrations. It is based on a similar concept to the fairy tale Snow White where she is given life-gifts at her birth. I wanted my daughters to have life-gifts at this body-changing, adult-making, revolutionary moment of their lives. I gave them jewelry with symbols representing gifts I wanted them to have. For example, I gave one of my daughters a necklace with a dragon charm. Here are my words: “This will remind you of your inner power. The dragon was an emblem of the ancient Goddess when she showed her inner strength. In an age when women are at risk for abuse, no one will victimize this face of a woman. She has the ability to throw fire where it is appropriate, such as when she needs to protect herself or great wrong is being done. This gift of dragon energy I give to you.”
- It was hard for my daughters. After all no other mothers were doing Moontime rituals. They were embarrassed, maybe even shamed.
- Before menopause I used cloth pads. I would soak them before washing and use the water to fertilize my vegetable garden. My vegetables did very well. My daughters were mortified. To this day we can’t eat a cucumber without my oldest bringing up how they were once fertilized. In fact, she does a standup comedy routine in which she describes what it was like growing up with her “weird” mother. She ends by revealing a cucumber. At her last performance it was one I gave her from my present-day garden. I no longer have fertilizing blood to contribute. The good news is that she is hilarious. It’s good to laugh.
- I once called into Howard Stern’s radio show and explained my use of menstrual blood. He called me disgusting and hung up on me. Really? He can talk about sex from here to eternity, but women’s blood is too icky?
- How is it that the most fertile, powerful aspect of our magical female bodies inspires disgust and shame? I can offer some prescriptions for healing: More rituals. More bonding. More connection with the earth. More focusing on the blessings of our bodies rather than our flaws.
- I think I did this ceremony as much for myself as for my children. I realize as I write these words how deeply I still need them for myself.
- I work daily to let go of my own feelings of shame. As I age, I grow ever more intensely aware of how I need this body to live. And what a gift it is. Yes, my bodily experience has brought me deep seated in-the-gut pain, but it’s also brought me joy and blessings – my three children among them. When I can, I practice mindful eating, playful exercise, joyful movement, sonorous chanting. Sometimes I get too overwhelmed and I can’t. This much I have learned: the more I can be fully in my body with all my senses engaged, the more healing and the less shame that I feel.
Janet Rudolph has written three books on the subject of ancient Biblical Teachings. One Gods: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible, When Eve Was a Goddess: A Shamanic Look at the Bible, and the just recently released book, When Moses Was a Shaman. For more information visit her website at /www.mysticpagan.com/
23 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Shame by Janet Maika’i Rudolph”
Bless your journey and your ability to laugh with your daughters. Next, maybe your daughter will laugh at patriarchy and not at her mother who was suffering from it. You are so right, we who were victims of so many forms of abuse are not the ones who should be feeling shame. Rather it is the perpetrators and those who keep silent and those who in myriad ways keep on keepin on proppin up the system.
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Thanks for your words of support Carol.
I may have given the wrong impression about my daughter. (Warning, mom brag moment coming up). She is a public interest lawyer who works for the NYC Commission on Human Rights. So she fights and very effectively again entrenched power systems. I can only take credit by being her first source of material (along with the rest of the family) when she does her stand-up routines. I do think, no I know, it was very difficult for her to have a mother who was so different than the other mothers though.
Sounds like a wonderful daughter!
Yes, Carol, Thank you, she is indeed.
Carol, I had to laugh as I thought about this discussion. Maybe that dragon energy, rejected at the time, has worked its way into her being.
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You are not alone. Many of us, perhaps all of women, carry the burden of shame for something we played no part creating.. Men like women have stopped asking why we are still in shackles of patriarchy —living an unexamined life. Older women like us, need to keep speaking out. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Let that be our legacy for our daughters and sons.
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Yes, yes, Edith, good words. I love that you say how this can be our legacy. It gives us some purpose and direction. How can we make that legacy bigger I wonder?
Thank you for this post, Janet. My history is similar to yours, including having a daughter who considered her mother’s practices weird. She was such a powerful priestess in her girlhood, but puberty, at least temporarily, turned me into the enemy, and she wanted nothing to do with celebrating menarche. She’s in her thirties now, a beautiful strong woman. But that time was a painful for both of us. Interesting, my computer does not recognize the word menarche. In fact it suggests archenemy as the spelling I am seeking. I shall add menarche to the dictionary forthwith! Thanks again for this post!
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Hmmmm really menarch not in the dictionary. How odd is that although on 2nd though maybe not.
I am not at all surprised that you your daughter is a strong, beautiful woman, look at her mom.
I am fondly reminded of your character Maeve Ruad from the Magdalene Chronicles (which I loved) and how she smeared menstrual blood on her face and on others. What great scenes you envisioned and created! Oh my, can you just imagine that in our modern world.
Interesting but not a surprise.
Language is important and English still needs a lot of work.
When I was reviewing the draft index for the Encyclopedia of Women in World Religions last year before publication, I found many things missing or slanted. For example, there was no index listing for “Creatrix” or “immanence,” while both terms had actually been used in the work dozens of times. Women’s bodies and related topics were often missing. There was no mention of menarche, menstruation, menstrual blood, womb, yoni, vulva, vagina, sexual satisfaction, rape, or purity and modesty (important topics for women in many of the religions). After I sent in my corrections to include those terms in the index, the final version still did not include rape. Instead, it was listed as sexual abuse.
Thank you Susan de Gaia for your important work in reclaiming our shared vocabulary. Ugh! It infuriates me that our society at large still sees rape as a sexual act. It is an act of violence and power and control. Maybe next edition?
Thank you for your post, Janet. I had a similar experience with my daughter. I belonged to a women’s spirituality group when she got her first period, and the group created a special ritual for her, to celebrate her becoming a woman. She sprinkled fairy dust on the participants and received a red heart-shaped necklace. I also watered my plants with menstrual blood. My daughter thought I was strange, but now she is a strong, successful woman. We did the right thing! Thanks for being strong!
Yeah Katherine. I love that you followed the old ways as well. It just strikes me how we have all been operating in a wilderness and separate from the culture. I think (I hope) there is more openness now. I wonder if there is some way for us to come together and bring all these beautiful rituals more out into the open?
You’re a survivor! Blessings to you!
Thank you for your blessings Barbara.
Strangely, even though it contains your pain, I really enjoyed your post. It reminded me of a book by Diane Stein that I had about female rituals and that I found so empowering.
Fertilising vegetables is a great use of menstrual blood, and really, what more would you expect from Howard Stern??!!
Thank you senlowes2013. I had to look up Diane Stein. Her work looks interesting.
LOL about Howard Stern. I know, I know. All I can say in my defense was that I was young and naively hopeful. Although I think I would do it again, because you never know where a planted seed will take root.
Well, that’s true, isn’t it? Lots of people listening to the radio at that time may well have got something new from it!
True but you are also right, I don’t think the soil over there was all that fertile.
Thanks Janet for your post. Rape and abuse hurt-you and all women. An inspiring book I just read,
Chanel Miller’s book, “Know My Name”. Chanel is the victim in the Stanford rape case. Her book
recounts how she got support, has survived and is beginning to thrive. At the end, she says-“And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. ……….you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day……
I am with you.” Chanel Miller. She is on You Tube and finally able to talk about it. Thanks to all the women who participate in feminist work. We are behind Chanel and each other. Viking is the publisher and I got my library to order it. If you can’t find it or afford it, let the group know and we may be able to help you get the book. It’s worth it. Blessings on you, Janet. Love, prosperity and life flourishing for you.
Thank you for your generosity and your blessings megreenlaw. Thank you also for bringing up Chanel Miller. I did see her interviewed on 60 minutes and I think she is a powerful speaker with a powerful message. And she expresses herself so beautifully! I am so glad you reminded me of her book. I will be able to get a hold of it on my own. I appreciate your offer of the help and your saying those words are do make a difference to me. Mahalo.
Janet, thank you for sharing and speaking out about the issue of shame that is so misplaced upon women in patriarchy. I’m not sure it even needs to be said (given our increased awareness since “Me too”), but of course I relate to so much of what you wrote here.
I hadn’t seen your name before and now I look forward to reading your books!
Thank you Susan for your words. I hope you enjoy my books. I love to discuss, hear comments (positive and negative) and generally dive into the works. Feel free to contact me through my mysticpagan website if you are inclined.