In the aftermath of the bombings in Paris, as we are praying for the city—and, belatedly, for Beirut, as well as the other places in this world that are or were or will be under terrorist attack—the Dalai Lama has said we should not look to God to fix the problems that people have created. We got ourselves into this mess, and we must get ourselves out of it—via nonviolence, humanistic values, and harmony. He believes in prayer, but thinks change must start within the individual and expand to communities, small and large. While I agree that change starts within and expands outward, I name this inward focus both the point of prayer and the locus of God in the world. This is what I mean—what I have always meant—when I say that we need the Divine Feminine.
I recently had the pleasure of talking with Brenda Chapman during the Empowering Girls panel of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival. Brenda is an American writer, animation story artist, and director. In 1998, she became the first woman to direct an animated feature from a major studio, DreamWorks Animation‘s The Prince of Egypt. She directed the Disney·Pixar film Brave, becoming the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Brave was a very special movie to me, as it was the first film I watched with my daughter that depicted a female protagonist who claims the right to her own life, body, and story. Listening to Brenda’s perspectives on creating that story, as well as what has shaped her as a feminist and a writer, was truly a gift of an experience, and I am thrilled to be able to share it with you. So pull up a chair, get a cup of tea, and prepare for a good read—this is a conversation to savor.
So yesterday I was reading Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born and underlined this: “Until men are ready to share the responsibilities of full-time universal child care as a social priority, their sons and ours will be without any coherent vision of what nonpatriarchal manhood might be.” Rich, the mother of three sons whom she loved dearly and fiercely and mothered with difficulty as she tried to navigate her own needs as a poet and a person, goes on to discuss the reasons men must divest themselves of patriarchy for themselves: “Every woman who takes her life into her own hands does so knowing that she must expect enormous pain, inflicted both from within and without. I would like my sons not to shrink from this kind of pain, not to settle for the old male defenses, including that of fantastic self-hatred. And I would wish them to do this not for me, or for other women, but for themselves, and for the sake of life on planet Earth.”
Periodically, we see a woman in the news asking, with incredulity, what year it is. Do we really, in this year (2012 or 2015 or…), have to be asking this question or fighting this battle? Wasn’t this resolved long ago? Haven’t certain rights been won—like the right to vote and the right to sexual autonomy—so that we can use them as bedrock upon which to build a future, secure in our knowledge that equality and America go hand-in-hand? Well, yes. And no. Progress comes in waves, and after each wave there is a counter-wave. Because progress works this way, we hear and see the same ideas—and fight the same battles—many times in a century.
In 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Act as the result of the crusading of one man—Anthony Comstock—who believed that birth control led to far too much sexiness and sexual enjoyment in America, and ought to be outlawed. The Comstock Act defined contraceptives as obscene and illicit, and made it illegal to send birth control through the mail or to cross state lines with it. The act spawned similar laws—known collectively as the Comstock Laws—in twenty-four states. Fortunately for American women, Margaret Sanger believed passionately that a woman had a right to her own sexuality, which included both sexual enjoyment (an important component of sexual health) and reproductive choice. Margaret Sanger was the answer to Anthony Comstock—in 1916 she was arrested for opening the first birth control clinic in America. A few years later, in 1921, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, and in 1923 she founded the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, which was renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942.