Monday, March 26, 2007
Daly called her sermon "Beyond God the Father," a title she would use often in the ensuing decades. What she said was fiery and irreverent. But what made the event even more memorable is that, at the end of her sermon, she walked out of the church and asked the women in the congregation and sympathetic men to do the same. An assistant minister at the time wrote later. "The few of us who were left behind, sang the final hymn, 'Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,' and wondered what happened."
Well, what did happen? What did that walkout signify? Where did it leave "religion in general" and Judeo-Christianity in particular, for the remainder of the two decades of activism that we now call Feminism's Second Wave?
The celebration of Women's History Month in March gives us an opportunity to explore the sometimes rocky but always intense relationship between feminists and religion.
My conclusion — which may surprise you — is:
Even though certain churches are hostile to the claim of women's equal value to men in the eyes of God,
And even though others still remain unwilling to ordain women as deacons, ministers and priests,
One thing is certain: Many women continue to want some sort of larger-than-life Godhead or Spirit to whom they can express their needs, their awe and their gratitude.
This is not to imply that the relationship of feminism to religion hasn't been unruly.
When early women's-rights advocates argued for equality in the home, in the workplace and at the ballot box, they were met with the argument that women's subordination was justified in the Bible and was the will of God.
No wonder they felt they had to "rewrite" the Bible.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton's 1895 "Woman's Bible" did just that. It gives us the flavor of what today we would call a "deconstruction" of the Holy Book from the point of view of the most significant women's-rights advocate of her time.
Stanton began by reinterpreting the Trinity. "Instead of three male personages as generally represented," she wrote, "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Sprit (presumed male) . . . a Heavenly Father, Mother, and Son would seem more rational."
Anger at the "Good Book" (the Bible) extended to anger at the priests, the rabbis, the mullahs and the shamans for excluding women as persons from the texts and as eligible for various priesthoods.
Some second-wave feminists gave up on Judeo-Christianity altogether and threw in their lot with fertility goddesses, who, they argue, had once reigned but were dethroned by a cabal of ancient males who replaced the idols of fertility with the abstraction of Monotheism.
The order: "Thou shalt worship no other gods besides ME," they argue, was nothing more or less than a cultural plot to keep women in their place. If God were male, then patriarchy would be (and for a long time has been considered) both "natural" and divinely ordained.
Still, many women's-rights activists have always been unwilling to leave their church and so a large number of feminists have striven to change it from within. The first step has been ordination.
Mark Chaves, professor and chair of sociology at the University of Arizona, lists in his book "Ordaining Women" the many Protestant denominations, beginning with the Universalists in 1863, that have ordained female ministers. Today, a large proportion of American Protestant churches allow women to conduct worship services and, in the case of the Reform Jewish Temple, to handle the Torah.
So, why was it not always like this? Why have our traditional religions emphasized male/female differences and reflected in the Godhead male superiority?
The reason is that life was short.
When men died in their early 40s and women often younger (during childbirth), males and females lived very different lives with few overlapping tasks and responsibilities. Traditional religion served them by providing rules and explanations that reflected their reality.
But with ever-increasing life expectancy (in the developed world), far fewer children to tie a mother down and power tools and "knowledge work" replacing hard labor, sex roles and sex differences — especially after age 50 — are no longer as relevant as they once were.
This combination of birth control and industrialization (and I am adding longevity to the mix) is called "modernity."
My view is that feminism and religion are compatible from a feminist perspective so long as religious leaders are willing to modernize their strictures to accommodate modern lives.
Today's great threat to women's continued emancipation, then, comes not from religion per se, but from the anti-modern fundamentalisms, whether Judeo-Christian or Muslim, which, in their determination to stamp out modernity, will restrict women to what they have decided are their "traditional" roles.
"In their sacred enclaves," Karen Armstrong writes about fundamentalism, here and in the Middle East, "fundamentalists overemphasize the traditional role of women because women's emancipation has become a hallmark of modernity."
The truth is many Muslim women embrace modernity — for the same reasons Christian women do. To my ears, Asma Barlas, a Muslim thinker and writer, sounds a lot like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Mary Daly when she argues that "patriarchy is contrary to Islam, because it sets up men as rulers when only God should be seen as supreme."
Which is not so different from what I believe:
Religion, which is supposed to be about the search for eternal truths, should never be used as a means to oppress women.
No man should seek the meaning of life in patriarchy.
And no woman should accept any religion that assigns her a role that is at best secondary to men.
Most people who remember the glory days of feminism in the 1970s think first of the consciousness-raising sessions, of Betty Friedan and Kate Millett and of Jane Fonda in a shag-helmet haircut. But if you spend much time in galleries and museums, you know that feminist ideas roared through the art world too, at a time when it was even more of a boy's club than it is today. How much more? Until 1986, H.W. Janson's History of Art, the standard college text, did not include a single woman among the 2,300 artists mentioned in its pages. That year it was revised to admit 19.
Nobody is saying the word equality yet, but a lot has changed since then, a lot of it thanks to women artists and scholars in the '70s who proved that art was women's work too and could go places the guys hadn't taken it. Nudes with a woman's point of view, works that use household arts like weaving, videos and photographs that ask what gender is all about in the first place--there's plenty of that around now, some of it even made by men, all of it indebted to the feminist explosion of three decades ago.
Suddenly, this has become the year to look back on all that and take stock of the ways feminist ideas have entered the bloodstream of art for good. Not only are there big, boisterous exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York City, but on March 23 feminist art's most resolute artifact, The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, goes on permanent display in a specially constructed gallery within the new Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Say what you will about it, that it's middlebrow, elementary and literal-minded (which it is), but as a vessel to express a collective longing to rescue great women from oblivion, The Dinner Party has held its ground. In the absence for now of any better contenders, it's the Liberty Bell of women's history.
And what is it, exactly? A table in the form of an equilateral triangle. Along each of its sides are 13 place settings--think Christ and his 12 disciples--each assigned to a significant woman from legend or history, from "the primordial goddess" to Sojourner Truth and Georgia O'Keeffe. The table rests on a triangular white ceramic-tile floor that bears the names of another 999 women painted in gold. And on the plates? Most of them carry more or less vaginal images, some merely painted on the plates, some rising in high relief. In a world that has seen The Vagina Monologues, not many people will be shocked to hear that an artwork might focus on women's genitals. But in 1980, when The Dinner Party went on a hugely popular national tour, all those pudendal things caused some people to take a deep breath. As late as 1990, when a proposal was made to house the work on a Washington campus, Republican Congressman Robert K. Dornan could still denounce it in the House as "ceramic 3-D pornography."
Dornan is gone from the House. And The Dinner Party is handsomely installed at its new home in Brooklyn in a darkened triangular enclosure with reflective glass-lined walls. Designed by Susan T. Rodriguez of Polshek Partnership Architects, the space isn't as much a gallery as it is a shrine. (Can we get something like this for Michelangelo's Pietà?) And the work itself? The Dinner Party has been compared to the AIDS quilt, which seems right--up to a point. The quilt is a genuine piece of collective folk art, whereas The Dinner Party, though it required the work of roughly 400 volunteers, is still guided by Chicago and her unsteady taste, skills and judgment. But like, say, the World War II Memorial in Washington, it speaks to feelings so powerful you can almost forgive its shortcomings as art.
Chicago, who was born Judy Cohen in 1939, started out making big minimalist sculptures and hard-edged abstract paintings, some of them quite good. But in the early '70s, under the influence of feminist thinking about personal experience, she took a turn into work that was confessional, therapeutic and maudlin. In The Rejection Quintet from 1974, color drawings similar to the vaginal emblems she would use for The Dinner Party are combined with hand-lettered texts describing various personal humiliations. The drawing is adequate, the sentimentality nothing short of Victorian.
It was also in 1974 that she started work on The Dinner Party. It took Chicago and her volunteers five years to produce. A good part of their labor was devoted to the elaborate cloth runners, the real glories of the piece, that commemorate centuries of anonymous women's crafts. Each of those features needlework and decorative techniques--quilting, braiding, embroidery--appropriate to the woman whose plate it sits beneath. But even those runners can't rescue the plates, which are literally heavy handed. And the work's overall appeal to pious sentiment can remind you sometimes of the most hectoring kind of patriotic art. In a way, The Dinner Party is feminism's version of Washington Crossing the Delaware--or it would be if Washington had made the trip with his fly open.
As it happens, feminist ideas were the force behind some of the smartest, most powerful art of the past century. You're reminded of that all through "Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution," a pinwheel of an exhibition that runs through July 16 at the Geffen Contemporary outpost of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. "Wack!" which was curated by Cornelia Butler, starts with a bang. It's called Abakan Red, a coarsely woven, more or less circular bolt of red cloth. Suspended from the ceiling almost to the floor, it was made in 1969 by the great Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz, an early adopter of "humble" women's crafts like weaving as high-art techniques. She also understood how abstract images could be adjusted until they hinted again at something human. So the quasi-vaginal slit that runs the length of her piece shifts it from the realm of mere geometry to something much more intimate. And the scale, roughly 13 ft. in diameter, makes it not so much a thing as a place, enveloping and pulsing with red life. That's a lot of psychic reverberation for one piece of humble cloth.
"Wack!," a hugely enjoyable show, immerses you in the plucky, unfettered atmosphere of '70s feminism. After centuries in which men had the last word on how women's bodies were seen in art, it was finally the turn of women to see what to make of themselves. So Ana Mendieta, a Cuban refugee, traveled around the U.S. and Mexico making deep impressions on the ground in the shape of her silhouette. These she filled with rocks or flowers, making feminist earthworks that used a woman's body, not the steam shovels favored by the guys, to connect with nature.
The energies of that moment subsided, but they never died out. If it hadn't been for all that weaving and sewing, for instance, the embroidered work of Egyptian artist Ghada Amer would be hard to imagine--to say nothing of Mike Kelley's stuffed-animal art. That's the point of the other big, smart new show "Global Feminisms" at the Brooklyn Museum. Organized by Maura Reilly and art historian Linda Nochlin, it concentrates on art made since 1990 and demonstrates that the concerns of the '70s have spread around the world. Jenny Saville's big nudes, for instance, with their masses of battered flesh, are descended from the questions women asked then about the abuse of women's bodies. There's even a residue of feminist thinking in Study of a Boy 1, a haunting photograph by the German artist Loretta Lux, in which a woman's gaze inspects, or "studies," a wary little man in the making. Feminism lives--and in mysterious ways.
As an inspirational and pedagogical device, The Dinner Party has a long life ahead of it too. For generations of schoolkids it will offer a first encounter with the honor roll of women's history. Who can argue with that? With luck, some of those kids will go on to discover O'Keeffe, Agnes Martin and Sally Mann. Or Kara Walker, Janet Cardiff and Kiki Smith. There are some names in there you don't know? Look them up on the Internet. You can bet a few smart kids will. That's how they'll find out how much more art can do.
Monday, March 19, 2007
I'm starting to think so.
The amount of men (with websites) out there who are bashing Hillary Clinton only reaffirms my belief that America is so misogynistic that it has deluded itself into thinking "women are already equal" and that "America doesn't need a Female President".
The sheer amount of bashing only proves that WE ARE NOT YET EQUAL.
Maybe under the law we are equal, but society itself (in particular the men in society) DOES NOT TREAT WOMEN AS EQUALS.
Only when women are treated equally by society and all men will we ever truly have equality. Until that day we will always be in a constant battle against barbaric women-haters.
So yes, we need Hillary. We need a woman president. We need to teach people that we are equal and we are not going to be swayed by anything less than full equality.
Its one small step for Hillary. One big step for womankind.
"Clean my toilet bitch. Go make me a sandwich you lazy cunt. I need a beer refill you stupid whore!"
You get the idea.
There are literally tonnes of websites that fit that generic description, their primary motivation being to bash women, degrade feminists and piss on equal rights.
But I'm writing here to say that its well past time women stand up and confront these misogynistic jerks. CONFRONT THEM and show them you are not going to be bossed around with their manipulative statistics that claim women aren't date raped, that "patriarchy is a good thing" and "women should go back to the kitchen and stop messing up the economy".
Their Misogynistic lies are all about getting attention to soothe their male egos (and possibly make a buck off advertising on the side by posting complete garbage that will make people like myself fuss about it).
Well I'm not going to fall for that trick. Thats why I'm not going to post any links to their idiotic websites and instead I'm going to re-post their garbage on here and then analyze it so we can see these lies out in the open for everyone to see (and without the pricks making $ off the attention).
I feel its important that other women out there do this too. Confront the Lies. Confront the Misogyny.
Because Misogyny will only continue to perpetuate UNLESS people confront it.
Its a battle of the sexes alright and we have to stand firm and fight for our rights.