Why is it that so many modern women are choosing to reject their menstruation which we have seen is a rich source of feminine power, magic, and healing? Previous blogs in this series show that rejection of the feminine and in particular female bodies and bodily functions can be traced back to Greek philosophy and early Christianity. We have seen how fear of the feminine and misogyny was particularly virulent in the early modern period manifesting in the genocide of countless women, and we have seen how modern gynaecology, according to Mary Daly continues to oppress women.
In Feminism and Ecology, Mary Mellor says that “Debates around the nature of sex/gender differences and the impact of women’s biology on their social position has been very much a feature of Western feminism”. Within the feminist dialectic the most enduring and contentious issue has without a doubt been the essentialist debate: Is there an inherent quality of female distinct from male that runs deeper than social conditioning? And if so, what does this mean? Many second wave feminists rejected any essential difference between men and women other than biology while refusing female biology as the bind that keeps women subordinate to men. For de Beauvoir and other cultural feminists of the 20th century there was no ontological difference between men and women other than on a physical level and anything men were capable of women were too. In this way, many women sought to prove they were just like men. Other feminist disagreed and feminism itself splintered into a shattered picture of womanhood.
Within feminism the debate raged: Are women on account of their biology connected with the natural world and the cycles of nature in a particular way? This question, more than any other in the feminist/gender debate has been prohibitive in a coherent meaning of womanhood and points to more than just a split in feminist thinking: it is a wound at the core of the female experience and is instrumental in a perpetual rejection of the feminine.
While the debate remains unresolved and while women are constantly splintering into more and more factions over their basic spiritual and cultural identity, ‘maldeveloped’ technologies such as menstrual suppression, artificial wombs, gender reversal operations and puberty blockers remain largely unchallenged to any significant degree while Misogynist tendencies beneath the surface of our culture remains unchallenged in any truly meaningful way. If these assumptions are not challenged, they cannot be healed… if they are not healed they will prevail. It is not possible to by-pass these issues by suddenly creating a gender neutral or unisex society.
As we approach greater levels of crisis in the natural world and planetary condition, it is not possible to address these issues without also addressing the issue of the feminine. While many eco-feminist are unashamedly making the link between the oppression of the feminine and the oppression of the natural world under dominion of patriarchy, still others, including ecologists would rather avoid the link. In avoiding the issue, especially within an ecological framework that concerns itself with the future of the natural world, is to by-pass a hugely important issue. Avoidance does not address the denial of the feminine, nor does it offer a possibility to truly differentiate masculine and feminine, a task, according to Ann Ulanov “we must wrestle with”.
To take an anti-essentialist position as a safe guard toward biological determinism is to not only reject the female body and inherent feminine qualities that exist in and of themselves, but also diminishes the possibility of opposites – the creative tension which allows for renewal and regeneration. Denying the qualities of woman’s nature and the feminine principle is detrimental for women but ultimately affects all of us in our human connection to and embeddedness within nature.
Fear of biological determinism is rooted in the patriarchal assumption that women’s primary function is to produce children. Just because a woman can produce children does not mean she is obliged to. Before the witch trials, women would have held many positions in their community that did not entail mothering and were not under patriarchal control– herbalists, midwifes, healers, wisdom keepers. crones…
Within a cultural context, essentialism need not mean subordination by the patriarchy- this has been the main and enduring argument used against a gynocentric and female embodied positions. For pagan feminist Starhawk, a.k.a. Miriam Somos, rituals involving menstrual blood and other aspects of women’s bodies that are declared taboo or unclean in male religions are celebrated; she sees ritual as a way of generating energy for political action and the image of the goddess as a way of understanding the immanence – the aliveness of spirit and vitality that permeates the natural world.
We are all connected to nature, male and female, but how we are connected to nature and what those differences are must be addressed, if they are not, I suggest that the feminine will continue to be rejected under the guise of an ever encroaching ‘gender neutral’ society. Esther Harding, an early advocate of Jungian thought views the essence of feminine psychology in sharp contrast to masculine psychology. Harding says: “Without wresting with this task of differentiation, we fall into formlessness and cheap imitation of current personal roles…. we miss our chance to become unique persons”.
In transpersonal psychology we see that opposites are important in coming together to form what the ancient world referred to as hieros gamos. Jungian analysts Nancy Qualls Corbett says that the hieros gamos is “a mystical process in which the disconnected elements are joined together to form a whole” (Qualls-Corbett, 1988 p.70). In her book The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspects of the Feminine, she says: “If we deny sexual difference, we deny the fact of otherness” (Qualls-Corbett, 1988, p.82). A condition of equality does not exclude, and perhaps even demands, difference. According to Nietzsche, “Opposites have an equal inherent value, so that one polar element cannot dominate and annihilate its counterpart”.
The ongoing feminist critique, including some ecofeminist and ‘third wave’ feminism often holds the ‘master model’ of patriarchy responsible for the continued subordination of women and nature but I suggest this view is in danger of fostering a belief in the inherent weakness of the feminine. It is a view that challenges the system by fighting fire with fire and is filtered through logic, the rational mind and fear. Endless books have and continue to be written in ever decreasing spirals and hair-splitting semantics in an attempt to change the system from without when in truth the change comes from within. Expending energy on patriarchy, vying for an equal status in an unequal system and jumping through impossible hoops leads to nowhere.
I am not saying do not challenge the system or patriarchy, my point is to extract vital energy from an endless pit of distraction and illusion and put it to better use by forging a genuine and life enhancing connection with both the material world and spirit thereby becoming conduits of vitality, creativity, and life force. Being embodied helps us to connect but while we dual with the nameless faceless forces of control, resorting to separatist viewpoints we lose energy and are worn down. By constantly battling with this rather elusive entity we call patriarchy we hand our power and precious energy over to a devouring beast who always demands more.
When we finally see that the emperor is wearing no clothes, is he still the Emperor? And if he is, is it not because we continue to call him so?
Though it may be true that modern Western culture is patriarchal, I would argue that women will not find their power within that paradigm and therefore must reinstate a feminine power that does not depend on patriarchy. While some feminists could argue that this position is separatist and excludes women from culture, it is important that women (and men) embrace their own feminine in an empowered way. I am not arguing for a separatist situation where men and women exists in different cultures -that is not possible and more importantly patriarchy is not about men and women- that is one of the biggest illusions – what I am advocating is a feminine revival in which all the exiled and rejected parts of the feminine, for men and women, are brought back into the matrix of consciousness- including and perhaps beginning with the body and the natural world.