Nancy Vedder-Shults Born on International Women’s Day, Nancy jokes that she was “predestined” to become a feminist. She has been offering ecofeminist and spiritual growth keynotes, workshops, and classes since 1987.
I’ve been organizing two Starhawk workshops here in Madison, so that’s why I haven’t been blogging recently. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that I hope to include an interview with her on this site in about two weeks. Who knows whether she’ll talk about Israel and Palestine, permaculture, the WTO, Wicca, or all of the above. She’s a multifaceted person, and the interveiw may be wide-ranging.
In other pagan news, many of you know that the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs had a problem with religious bigotry about five years back. Evangelical Christian cadets harassed other cadets who didn’t share their faith. There were anti-semitic slurs. And one of the chaplains claimed she was fired for criticizing the proselytizing that was going on. Even the Yale Divinity School issued a report on religious intolerance at the academy.
After much work to correct these problems, there seems to be greater openness in Colorado. In a few weeks, Earth-centered religions– including Wicca, Neopaganism, and Druidism — will dedicate their own worship space. This sacred site will increase the collection of worship areas at the academy that already includes Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist chapels. As opposed to the other indoor areas, the pagan site is a lovely stone circle on the top of nearby hill overlooking the academy. It was created by moving some large boulders that originally sat near the Visitor Center. Here’s what it looks like:
I guess I would have missed it altogether. I never watch the Super Bowl. I never watch TV. I don’t subject myself to its violence and idiocy. I get my information by reading, whether on the internet (more and more) or through print media.
But I’m on the NARAL list, so now I know that CBS is going to subject 100 million viewers to an ad from Focus on Family during the Super Bowl. Supposedly CBS has an advocacy ad policy, but when it comes to “the family,” they don’t seem to be abiding by it. If you don’t know about Focus on Family, they’re a right-wing, anti-choice, anti-birth-control, anti-sex-education, anti-gay organization. They’re against pretty much everything I stand for.
The only thing that made me smile about all of this is the following Youtube video from the Raging Grannies:
If you want to sign a petition protesting the Focus on Family ad, you can go to NARAL.
I have a friend who says that February is the longest month of the year. Even though this seems nonsensical, I know what she means. It’s still deep winter, but the holidays are over, the Yule lights have been put away — and there’s nothing much to distract from the bare, white winter landscape except for the frigid deep freeze. The cold keeps us inside more than usual, so many of us get cabin fever, that restless, bored, listless, frustrating desire for something you can’t find unless you flee Wisconsin for the southlands.
February is the fallow time of year, with bleak landscapes that can either be beautiful in their stark simplicity or deadly boring because of their lack of color and activity. No iridescent hummingbirds hover at our back window these days as they did in summer, and the chickadees, nuthatches, juncos and downy woodpeckers who keep me entertained when they come to our feeder are black-and-white just like the season. The occasional cardinal is the exception that proves the rule. As a result of this lack of warmth and color, it can be a long and difficult time until spring.
This is the season of Brigid or Imbolc, the traditional pre-Christian Celtic holiday for this time of year (February 1st or 2nd), a holiday which has come down to us as Groundhog’s Day when Sun Prairie Jimmy (or Punxsutawney Phil) sees his shadow in the sunlight (or doesn’t). Winter is half over (by the calendar at least), but it’s usually the coldest time of the year. Nature seems to be resting and preparing for the new life of spring. Covered with a blanket of snow, seeds that fell in the autumn are protected until spring when they begin to grow. All plant life seems to sleep in the death-like grip of winter, but the days are longer now, and the increasing sun promises the renewal of spring. Just like Jimmy, we emerge a little from our hibernation to look for the light.
Here in Wisconsin, Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) retorted that Governor Doyle’s State of the State address “was a work of fiction…and Jim Doyle was trying to reinvent himself.” Is this a substantive response, one that can be used for a constructive dialogue about differences? No, it’s politically-motivated name calling.
During the State of the Union address in Washington, we saw a repeat of last year’s incivility when Obama addressed a joint session of Congress and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C) shouted out, “You lie!” This year it was Supreme Justice Samuel Alito who reprised last year’s lack of respect by muttering, “Not true” during the President’s remarks, shaking his head and furrowing his brow as he did so. This was an odd distraction, to say the least, since Supreme Court Justices don’t want to seem partial to issues that might some day come before them, so they usually sit silently when confronted with differences of opinion.
I guess we should be happy that the Republicans didn’t resort to the types of pranks they played during that health care speech last September. They didn’t hold up paper signs or interrupt. But House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) made frequent gestures in response to the president’s words, and when Obama asked rhetorically, “if anyone from either party has a better approach” to health care reform, a cocky Boehner stood up and raised his hand. I would call this rude, wouldn’t you? After Obama’s address, Boehner got a little closer to the issues when he pontificated that the president was shoving his job-killing agenda down the throats of the American people. But I doubt that such rhetoric will induce a useful conversation on how to get out of our financial mess and create more employment.
In response to one of the comments on my humorous post “Satan Responds to Pat Robertson on Haiti,” I found this article on the Voodoo view of the quake. Vodou is the earth-based religion of Haiti, so it makes sense that a Vodou priest would view his country as a manifestation of Mother Earth.
By Elizabeth McAlister Associate Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University
Vodouists in the Haitian diaspora are praying on their knees today, just as Catholics and Protestants are. Why did this devastating earthquake have to happen in Haiti, a country already so vulnerable that people live on a dollar a day, where on a good day, the government cannot employ or educate or provide health care for the majority? In Port-au-Prince, they are coping by searching and rescuing, sharing resources, crying, and praying. In Vodou most ritual is about finding balance, putting yourself into equilibrium with the spirits, with your family, and with yourself. In Haiti things are way out of balance. We might say that spirits of death have launched a coup d’état.
My friend and colleague, the artist, educator, and priest of the spirits, Erol Josué, has been praying and crying in Brooklyn. Through Twitter, Facebook, and his cell phone he has learned of at least twenty dead friends in several Port-au-Prince congregations. He told me today that for him, as a spirit-worker, this event is both scientific and symbolic. This is indeed a natural disaster for Josué. But the land in Haiti is a person, he said. We consider it a woman, our mother. “Haïti Chérie,” as the well-known ballad goes. She wants to know, ‘who will make me beautiful, put clothes on me, and take care of my children?’ When you mistreat her, and uproot her trees, when you give her too much responsibility, she is like a woman with cancer. The tumor metastasizes, and explodes.
For Erol Josué, the earthquake was mother nature, the land of Haiti, rising up to defend herself against the erosion, deforestation, and environmental devastation that have been ongoing for the last few decades. “Everybody was smashed to the ground,” said Erol. “Rich and poor. But look how symbolic this is. The Palace is smashed, the legislative building, the tax office, and the Cathedral. The country is crushed. We are all on our knees.” This Vodou priest is not speaking about divine retribution, as has Pat Robertson. God is not punishing us for disobedience. Erol is speaking about a giant natural rebalancing act, a reaction against human dealings with the ecosystem.
Yesterday I posted some ecofeminist reflections on Avatar. Today I want to take on the racism issue that several Goddess Scholars as well as bloggers here at Tikkun Daily have raised. Originally I thought this movie was carefully crafted to bring the (mostly) white audience into an understanding that indigenous people already have — the importance, even sacredness, of their world ecology. The hero is Jake Sully, a human who becomes a Na’vi, thereby moving from one world to the other. He begins by betraying the people who ultimately become his own, so it’s not like his first actions are laudable — he’s actually an anti-hero in the beginning, not meant to be liked. But he realizes his mistake, and fights to rectify the situation.
This plot structure reminded me of one of the most subversive literary strategies I’ve encountered when it comes to women’s issues, used by Jean Auel in Clan of the Cave Bear. Every reader of this book has to identify with the female protagonist Ayla, even men, because she’s the only Cro-Magnon person in it; the rest of the characters are Neanderthals. As a result, men get to experience the degradation of rape, and hopefully understand it from a woman’s perspective.
I think the same sort of thing happens in Avatar. Indigenous folks don’t have any trouble identifying with the Na’vi, but for those white folks for whom that’s a stretch, they can identify with Jake, moving from invader to become a part of the land (indigenous). My first thought was that this narrative strategy might actually win us some allies in our environmental fights. And I recognized it as a part of the strategy that I use in my work — to invite people to become indigenous, i.e. a part of the land they inhabit, something we ALL need to do more of. Pat Monaghan on the Goddess Scholars list summarized this take on the the plot most succinctly by saying
A man, crippled because of his involvement with militaristic capitalism, is helped by five female powers (an Amazonian pilot, a sage scientist, a lover-huntress, a female shaman, and the Goddess herself) to discover that his culture is utterly wrong. Through them, he learns to give up the apparent privilege that comes with the culture and to literally become a being that was not only alien but defined as “enemy.”
I’ve really been enjoying the Avatar discussion, both here on Tikkun Daily and on the Goddess Scholars List I belong to. I waited until I’d seen the film to read any of the posts, because I didn’t want to prejudice my reaction to it.
The GoddessScholars’ discussion reminded me a lot of a Women and Science Fiction class I taught in the 1980s. In my classes I always had a check-in before we began (despite the fact that they were university courses), because then we had deeper discussions. One of the odd things about the Women and Science Fiction class that semester was that there was a sizable minority (about 7 women out of 24) who were big football fans. When they checked in they would say things like, “I’m doing great. The Packers won.” Or: “I’m really down. The Vikings lost.”
The discussion I remembered as I was perusing the GoddessList concerned the subgenre of Sword and Sorcery. This subgenre is a lot like Dungeons and Dragons — magic is real, and life is more or less medieval, and battles take place with swords and magic (and battles take place pretty frequently). When I asked whether the class thought Sword and Sorcery was amenable to a feminist message, there was a clear split between the football fans and the rest of the class. The fans were sure this subgenre could be used to send a feminist message, while the others were astounded that anyone could hold such an opinion when the writing was rampant with violent images of battle.
Like my students, some of the women on the GoddessScholars list believe (as I do) that feminism is only compatible with pacifism, while others think that there are situations where war may be necessary and (perhaps) just. Some of the women on the list are also survivors of interpersonal violence (as I am, as a rape survivor) and didn’t want to submit themselves to film violence that might trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a result, some of the GoddessScholars have avoided Avatar despite its Goddess content.
I actually hold a different opinion than these polar opposites. Although I’m a pacifist, I believe there can be anti-war literature and films that involve warfare, for e.g. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. War is shown as so horrifying that almost any reader or viewer, even those who started out believing in the possiblity of a just war, ends up repudiating that view.
Yesterday in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Satan resonded to Pat Robertson’s recent attack. See for yourself why he thought Robertson was making him look bad:
Dear Pat Robertson,
I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I’m all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I’m no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth — glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven’t you seen “Crossroads”? Or “Damn Yankees”? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there’d be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox — that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it — I’m just saying: Not how I roll. You’re doing great work, Pat, and I don’t want to clip your wings — just, come on, you’re making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That’s working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.
LILY COYLE, MINNEAPOLIS
Another letter writer believed it might be another God who was offended by the Haitians:
I’ve been reading the GoddessScholars list and surfing the web looking for eulogies of Mary Daly, the radical feminist theologian (from theos, ancient Greek for God) who made thealogy possible (from thea, ancient Greek for Goddess). And in reading through several of them, I’ve been remembering how important she was to me in the early 1970s. At that point in time, I could buy every book on feminism that came out, and I did. But not each one opened up my mind like Beyond God the Father.
I can tell from my notes that although it was published in 1973, I must have read it in 1974. At that time I was a graduate student in the German Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a founding member of the Feminist Criticism Collective. Feminist literary criticism didn’t exist at that time, so we were creating it as we went along.
Here are just a few of the important ideas I found in Beyond God the Father:
1) That women had “the power of naming stolen from them, and that the liberation of language is rooted in the liberation of ourselves” (p.8)
2) That in the women’s movement, “[W]omen are hearing ourselves and each other, and out of this supportive hearing emerge new words” (p. 8). I guess I must have forgotten that Daly originated this thought, because a couple of years later Nelle Morton said it again as a slogan, and that’s when it stuck for me. Morton said femininst “women were hearing each other into speech.”
3) That we needed to overcome “methodolatry” (p. 11).
Nicholas Kristof wrote his Sunday NY Times column this week about “Religion and Women.”It’s both a discouraging overview of women’s oppression here and abroad and a hopeful look at how many of the best-known leaders of our time are beginning to agitate for women’s equality, and very specifically, their equality within religion. Following up on his links, I discovered that The Elders, a group including Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, Gro Brundtland, and Ela Ghatt (founder of SEWA) began an initiative this summer called “Equality for Women & Girls” that states:
Religion and tradition are a great force for peace and progress around the world.
However, as Elders, we believe that the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority, is unacceptable.
We believe that women and girls share equal rights with men and boys in all aspects of life.
We call upon all leaders to promote and protect equal rights for women and girls.
We especially call on religious and traditional leaders to set an example and change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions.
The Elders are fully committed to the realisation of equality and empowerment of all women and girls.