A COMPLICATED CHOICE by Katey Zeh – Book Review by Esther Nelson

Katey Zeh, an ordained Baptist minister, CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and a contributor to this Feminism and Religion (FAR) blog recently published her newest book, A Complicated Choice  Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement (Broadleaf Books, 2022). Not only does Zeh push back against those individuals who are dead-set against giving space to pregnant people to make their own decision about whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, she dares to imagine a world where people are not just free to easily access an abortion procedure, but are also given the support to grieve (if need be) and heal without being bogged down with shame heaped on them by the larger society. 

One of the strengths (given the current religious-political climate in the U.S.) of this slim volume is that Zeh uses Christian Scripture to illuminate the way for pregnant people to embrace their inner knowing, something that helps slough off the stories that our society (collectively) has given them that silences and shames them “from speaking up and speaking out” about their abortions. “There is a culture of silence around abortion, and that silence is shaming and isolating on both a personal and a collective level.” When we break the silence of isolation and give voice to our difficult and painful experiences, we are then free to find healing and wholeness.

Continue reading “A COMPLICATED CHOICE by Katey Zeh – Book Review by Esther Nelson”

Why Can’t a Man Be More Like a Woman? by Carol P. Christ (and Hannah Gadsby)

Women are loving, caring, and clever. Why do men say: “I will not be like that, never?”

In a recent article in Gentlemen’s Quarterly, my favorite comedian, Hannah Gadsby, said:

Hello, the men. My advice on modern masculinity would be to look at all those traits you believe are feminine and interrogate why you are so obsessed with being the opposite. Because this idea that to be a man you have to be the furthest away from being a woman that you possibly can is really weird.

A butch lesbian, Gadsby is not advocating traditional sex role stereotypes. She is questioning them. She continues:

Women are always being encouraged to stir masculine traits into their feminine recipe. We are told to “be bolder!” “Speak up in meetings.” “Exaggerate your skills.” All that Lean In sort of crap. So perhaps it’s time for you, the men, to be more ladylike.

Even as she recognizes that it is becoming OK for women to express so-called “masculine traits,” she understands that so-called masculinity is often based on a lie. It may be fine to “be bolder” (but not when you have nothing to say at the moment) and to “speak up” (but not to the exclusion of others), yet it should not be necessary to “exaggerate your skills” to make yourself look better than other people—and better than you are! No one should not have to be “the best” in order to be accepted or acceptable.

Gadsby feels for the men who are trying to live up to masculine stereotypes:

I can see how it is a tough spot. It is not your fault. You didn’t build this mess. You were born into it, like the rest of us. What I am saying is, I have empathy for you.

And then the comedian’s zinger:

And empathy, by the way, is one of the traits that women are most famous for. You might know it by its other name: “weakness.” But don’t be fooled—empathy is a superpower, and it’s the only one that any human has to offer.


Empathy is a superpower, and it’s the only one that any human has to offer.


All joking aside, this is a profound statement. Many feminists have been saying for a long time that qualities defined as “female” or “feminine” are in fact human qualities that should be embodied and emulated by all.


Gadsby takes this a step further. When she says that empathy is a super power and the only super power available to humans, she is saying that a quality often identified as “female” or “feminine” is in fact the highest value and the most important one for everyone, whether they identify as male, female, or something else, to express. This is a truly radical point of view and perhaps the only one that can save our species and our planet from destruction. Without empathy we and many other forms of life are doomed. And as long as empathy continues to be defined as the opposite of masculine strength, the men who rule the world will continue to turn against the only superpower that can save us.


In recent years I have been inspired by egalitarian matriarchal societies. What is most amazing to me about these cultures is not that women have power (though this is amazing) nor even that there is no rape (this too is amazing). What is most amazing to me is that these societies place values they associate with mothers and mothering at the center.

For the Minangkabau of Sumatra, nurturing the weak and the vulnerable is the highest value. Nurturing the weak and the vulnerable is what (good) mothers do. In Minankabau culture, not only women and girls, but also men and boys, are expected to nurture the weak and the vulnerable above all else. For men and boys, there is no shame in this. They are not considered weak or effeminate (a word that could not exist in their culture) for doing so. Rather they take pride in being able to express and embody the values that ensure the continuation of life.

In The Kingdom of Women, Choo WaiHong writes about an appointment she made to speak with an elder man about the egalitarian matriarchal Mosuo culture. She arrived on time, but before he could speak with her, he fed, bathed, and put a set of small twins to bed. For him, nurturing the weak and vulnerable came first. Speaking about his culture could wait, and so could his guest. In fact, he could not have chosen a better way to explain Mosuo values to the Han Chinese woman who waited while he, a respected elder man, cared for two little babies. In his culture, caring for the weak and the vulnerable is important. It is what people do. And it comes first!


When will we ever learn? Oh when will we ever learn?


Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who will soon be moving permanently to Heraklion, 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.

Bent on Kindness by Esther Nelson

Recently, with some fear and trepidation, I underwent spinal surgery.  When the surgeon visited me the day after my operation, he assured me that the procedure was a success, even though it will take several weeks to ascertain whether or not the surgery relieved my symptoms.  Healing from such a procedure takes time.

I have nothing but praise for the dozens of people responsible for my care during my six-day hospitalization.  Nurses, nursing care helpers, my surgeon along with the team in the operating suite, doctors-in-training, physical therapy workers, occupational therapy people, cleaning personnel, and the folks who regularly brought me healthy and delicious meals—all of them were respectful, empathetic, and kind.  And they were not kind just to me.  I overheard several hospital employees reply thoughtfully and considerately to a pugnacious patient in the room next to mine.

Continue reading “Bent on Kindness by Esther Nelson”

 Fish Tails: A Grandmother’s Legacy by Sara Wright

When the two year old pulled the silvery gold fish out of the pond to the cheers of her five and seven year old siblings, parents, and grandmother, I shuddered involuntarily.

The young perch impaled by sharp hook was gasping for oxygen as the adults allowed the fish to hang helplessly while pictures were taken. Afterwards the group watched the fish flounder, still gasping, on the bottom of the boat. The toddler was applauded for her catch, while the terrified fish flipped over and over attempting to escape back into the water. It takes a while for a beached fish to die a death of asphyxiation. Continue reading ” Fish Tails: A Grandmother’s Legacy by Sara Wright”

Nurture Life: Ethics of Goddess Spirituality by Carol P. Christ

Nurture life.

Walk in love and beauty.

Trust the knowledge that comes through the body.

Speak the truth about conflict, pain, and suffering.

Take only what you need.

Think about the consequences of your actions for seven generations.

Approach the taking of life with great restraint.

Practice great generosity.

Repair the web


In Rebirth of the Goddess, I offered Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality as an alternative to the Ten Commandments. The touchstones are not commandments delivered from outside the world, nor are they accompanied by the promise of reward in heaven or the threat of punishment in hell. Rather, the Nine Touchstones are based upon observation of the world and rooted in the insight that human and other beings are connected in the web of life. They are intended to inform all our relationships, whether personal, communal, social, or political.

As I review the Nine Touchstones two decades after I first intuited and reflected on them, I marvel at my younger self. When I write, I often enter into a kind of trance in which words emerge from a place in myself that lies deeper than my conscious rational mind. I do not know that I know something until the words take shape on the page, and even then, their meaning unfolds over time. Something like this must have happened with the Nine Touchstones. I was drawn to the Native American teachings expressed in several of the touchstones even though I did not fully understand their context or meaning at the time. I was drawn to maternal values without knowing that they are the basis of ethics in egalitarian matriarchal cultures. Continue reading “Nurture Life: Ethics of Goddess Spirituality by Carol P. Christ”

Rita Trumps the Donald by Esther Nelson

esther-nelsonThe phrase “politically correct,” words we hear over and over again these days, has a history. Some of that history, far from definitive, is captured here.

The following quote, taken from this blog, resonates with me:  “…maybe we should drop the phrase [politically correct] from our lexicon. Not because it doesn’t describe anything, but because it describes so many things that you can’t use it without worrying that people won’t understand what you’re talking about.” (I see it similarly to the word, God. I often find that in conversations about God, each participant has their own idea(s) about what God is or isn’t.)

Today, though, I’m interested in how Donald Trump uses the phrase “politically correct.”  When he says, “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap,” what is he saying?  What do we hear?  I agree with Colby Itkowitz (“The Washington Post,” 12/09/15) that the phrase “politically correct” is often “used as a put-down, a way to brush off the offended person as being overly sensitive. So while Trump is asserting his right to free speech, he is at the same time calling into question the listener’s right to complain about what he’s saying.” Continue reading “Rita Trumps the Donald by Esther Nelson”

What If There Are Sex Differences But Biology Is Not Destiny? by Carol P. Christ

carol p. christ photo michael bakasTheories about sex differences have been used to keep women in the home and to justify male domination. Because of this, many feminists run as fast as they can from any discussion of them. Last week while thinking again about this question, I realized that the debate about essentialism often turns a flawed syllogism that goes like this:

• If there are sex differences,

• then, biology is destiny.

In fact the conclusion does not follow from the premise. The syllogism assumes that there if there are sex differences they must inevitably determine behavior.

What if there are sex differences, but we have a choice as individuals and societies as to how to negotiate them? This suggests another possible syllogism:

• If there are sex differences,

• we can choose how to respond to them as individuals and societies,

• because biology is not destiny. Continue reading “What If There Are Sex Differences But Biology Is Not Destiny? by Carol P. Christ”

Does Masculine Have to Be the Opposite of Feminine? by Carol P. Christ

“Furthermore, like Obama, [de Blasio] projects a masculinity that is empathic and introspective — anathema to the patriarchal attitudes that dominate hierarchal institutions like the police.”

I wish the analysis that accompanies this quote had been mine, but maybe I should be glad that it comes from an insightful young man who goes by the name liamcdg. He argues that the real beef the New York police have with Bill de Blasio is his challenge to their definition of masculinity as dominance, or shall we say white male dominance.

As noted by liamcdg, in the NYPD version of reality, parents should teach children to comply “to comply with New York City police officers even if they think it’s unjust.” In terms of competing definitions of masculinity, the NYPD version is that men in power should be respected simply in virtue of their position, even if they are acting or appearing to act unjustly. In other words we should respect the powerful because they are powerful.

To be empathetic is to be able to put yourself in another person’s place, and in its literal meaning, to feel the feelings of another. In the recent public conversations about race and the police, both Obama and de Blasio have invited white Americans to put themselves in the place of a black man stopped by the police for little or no reason and to ask themselves how they would feel in that situation.

In so doing, liamcdg asserts, Obama and de Blasio were not only trying to explain the feelings of those on the other side of the racial divide, but they were also redefining masculinity. We all know that according to traditional stereotypes, the realm of feeling is the realm of women. And of course we also know that real men don’t cry. Yet what is happening to black men is enough to make anyone who feels their feelings want to cry.

The conflicts between de Blasio and the police and between Obama and a large segment of the older white male voting public may have as much to do with the challenge to white male privilege as it has to do with any particular event or issue. White male privilege involves a complex interconnection of race and sex. It is about the power that comes or is expected to come to one simply by virtue of being born into a white male body.

In recent weeks I have been asking myself why the police are so upset. After all there is room for improvement in any profession. Over the past few years I have also struggled to understand why some people object so strongly to the idea that women have a right to control their own bodies, to choose birth control or abortion. I am coming to the conclusion that the vehemence of the protest is rooted in the perception that the patriarchal edifice is crumbling.

Forty years ago, inspired by the feminist movement, men began to speak about redefining masculinity. This was easier said than done. It is so easy to accuse men who criticize male power as domination of being “sissies,” “girls,” or “gay.” Even men who might want to discuss the subject may be afraid of being labeled.

I say the fact that the NYPD is turning its back on de Blasio is one measure of how far we have come. I suggest that the NYPD recognizes that a different definition of masculinity and male power is being born right before their eyes. And it is this that they cannot bear to see.

We have been taught that feeling and feeling the feelings of others belongs in the feminine realm. What if it doesn’t? What if in the end male power and female power are much the same? And what if they both begin with empathy?

Perhaps we really have “come a long way baby.”

According to Heide Goettner-Abendroth, whose work I am fond of discussing on FAR, matriarchal societies defined the power of males and the power of females similarly.

What if Freud got it wrong? What if males do not have to differentiate themselves from their mothers by becoming “not like” women and girls? What if masculinity and femininity are not polar opposites? What if all any of us has to do is to learn to embody the qualities of those who nurture us?

We are beginning to glimpse a different world. Any thoughts on how to bring the NYPD and other older white males into a new world along with us?

Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter) spring and fall–early bird discount available now on the 2015 tours.  Carol can be heard in interviews on Voices of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess Alive Radio, and Voices of Women.  Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions and the forthcoming Turning to the World: Goddess and God in Our Time. Photo of Carol by Michael Bakas.


Reciprocity, Empathy, and Reconciliation: The Roots of Human Morality in Our Primate Ancestors by Carol P. Christ

carol mitzi sarahA link to a talk called “Moral Behavior in Animals” by Franz de Waal recently found its way into my email inbox. I am a big fan of Franz de Waal because his findings confirm what I always believed—that animals are intelligent. I followed the link and other suggested links and spent most of the evening listening to de Waal.

De Waal began his studies of animal behavior at a time when instinctual behaviorism was academic orthodoxy: the idea that animals can think and feel was “poo-pooed” by “scientists.” As de Waal observed ironically, everyone who has a pet knows better than that. But academic researchers continued down this path, expressing contempt for ordinary people who thought their pets were intelligent and the likes of de Waal who suggested that scientists might be colossally wrong.

De Waal’s discovery that chimps almost always “reconcile” after fights by touching hands, hugging each other, grooming, and even kissing, led him down “the garden path” to his discovery that what he calls the “two pillars of morality”—“reciprocity and empathy”– are found in primate social systems and in those of other higher mammals including dolphins and elephants . Continue reading “Reciprocity, Empathy, and Reconciliation: The Roots of Human Morality in Our Primate Ancestors by Carol P. Christ”

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