In her book about self-esteem, Revolution from Within, Gloria Steinem discusses the ways that internal and external power intersect and interact: “We make progress by spiraling back and forth between the inner world and the outer one, the personal and the political, the self and the circumstance. Nature doesn’t move in a straight line, and as part of nature, neither do we.” This spiraling—based on a Jungian idea of human interaction, in which we follow the spiral to a higher level, only to meet a new challenge—is indeed how we make progress as human beings. And it is complicated by patriarchy.
Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that the divine feminine—naming God as She as well as He—is important to me, personally and politically. When I first entertained the thought that God might be female as well as male, I felt a bit like a heretic—as though I’d had a definitely rebellious thought, and one that just might land me in eternal trouble. Goddess was supposed to be a pagan word, vaguely connected to witches (who were vaguely up to no good, I thought), to serpents and temptation and sin. I am Christian, and I didn’t want to stop being Christian, as Jesus has always been my spiritual guide, my sustenance. Yet I needed a feminine aspect to God—and not just an aspect. I needed God to be a woman, as fully as God is a man. I needed this in my soul, but hadn’t named it a need, as I thought such a need was heresy.
In her book The End of Men, Hanna Rosin states that we no longer live in a patriarchy, and that the establishment of an American matriarchy is just a matter of time. Although Ms. Rosin does have some insights about the ways in which our culture is changing around gender, her definitions for both these terms are incorrect—which means that she misses the very clear signs that America is a thriving patriarchy.
In many books discussing media, culture, and sex, the same contradiction is highlighted: our media is becoming increasingly “pornified,” even as we judge and punish any woman who has sex for pleasure. These books then point out the tie that binds the contradictions—patriarchy. Patriarchy is all about a woman’s skirt: one hand is up the skirt while the other points a finger at how short it is. The hand up the skirt is about forbidden fruit, the sin of the body and the woman as vessel of sin, sex as dirty, guilty, violent male pleasure—and establishing male ownership of women. The hand pointing at the skirt is about the sin of the body and woman as flawed temptress, man as weak in the face of his own base lust—and establishing male ownership of women. What gets lost, on this side and on that, is the humanity of sex: connection.
We are in the midst of a cultural shift, a time of awakening to the power of women. As a part of this shift, we need to retell our fairy tales—all the stories that have stripped women of power, defined “real men” as dominant abusers, and upheld patriarchy at all costs. We cannot simply replace the old tales with new ones, for the ancient stories are a part of us, buried deep within our psyches. They have been handed down through oral tradition for centuries. In the updating, we need not replace one form of dominance with another: no, the point is reclamation, a shift toward physical and spiritual wholeness. The movie Maleficient, in its retelling of Sleeping Beauty, has broken new, vital ground in this shift. It is an absolutely thrilling movie to watch as a woman, for it returns to us what has long been lost.