Each week, our nation presents us with opportunities to examine the manifestations of sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination around us. Journalists write articles, actors and sports figures give interviews, hashtags trend—we share information and debate issues, sometimes with a feminist lens but often without one. Most of the time, our media examines the issues of patriarchy as if they are isolated, as if they arise only from the particular dysfunction of a specific person or small group of people. Rarely do we make connections between a particular issue and patriarchy, or the societal framework that supports and reinforces male domination and female submission.
American culture has traditionally divided people into two sexual camps: “gay” and “straight.” This division is largely the result of patriarchal masculinity, which relies on homophobia, as well as sexism, to establish the foundation of “real” manhood—a real man is not gay, and he isn’t a woman. Men are expected to prove their manliness by repeatedly proving their heterosexuality. Being “straight” is also portrayed as the norm for women—Betty Friedan’s famous reference to the “lavender menace” summed up homophobia within the women’s movement, and the population at large. Despite patriarchy’s insistence on the clear divisions of a binary sexuality, however, people have always been people—and, as Alfred Kinsey first demonstrated in 1948, sexuality is a continuum.
Today’s post is brought to you by my husband, Dr. David Magill, who teaches literature and gender studies at Longwood University:
A week ago, I delivered an address on Longwood’s campus at the request of the Inter-Fraternity Council and a group of their men who were promoting the “It’s On Us” campaign at Longwood. However, turnout was lower than anticipated by the organizers, and many of my friends wrote me to say that had not heard about the event in time to attend. So I wanted to post the comments here. I have edited my remarks to better fit this space, removing particular phrases that sound better when speaking than writing. But the substance is the same, and I hope sharing it here can help get these ideas to a wider audience.
People of faith are often taught that there are certain building blocks of religion that you don’t mess with—to even entertain picking them up and turning them over in your mind approaches heresy. In many faiths, including my own, one of these building blocks is the idea that God is always and only male. Entering into a feminist dialogue as a person of faith asks you to confront this idea, to dust it off and wonder why it is heresy. And when you do, all heaven breaks loose—you encounter the Divine Feminine. Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak, edited by Trista Hendren and Pat Daly, brings together women who have encountered the Divine Feminine in a variety of faiths, creating a deeply necessary and deeply moving dialogue. It is a book that will feed you, challenge you, comfort you, and teach you.
Some physical places suffer from spiritual wounds, the invisible but indelible scars of the past shaping the present in ways both conscious and unconscious, acknowledged and unacknowledged. I live in such a place, one of the five towns that was involved in Brown v. Board of Education: Prince Edward County, Virginia. I have lived here for six years, and in that time I have had two children in the school system: they have both had positive experiences with engaged and engaging teachers. They have also, at times, been bored—the work too easy, the tests too constant, the focus too much on rote memorization. That is a problem with our education system throughout this country—ask any teacher. Another problem with our education system is that a majority of the kids in school are living in poverty, much of it the result of institutionalized, and often unconscious, racism. Much of it the result of our history. Put these things together in a town like mine, a small town with two universities and a significant black population that lives in poverty and remembers, in soul and body, the five years the schools were shut down to exclude black children, and what do you get? You get a day like I had last week: a spiritually significant day in a town struggling to heal its psychic wounds.