The title of this post is no typo–it’s done purposefully. In fact I was inspired by my Facebook feed this morning. Our past is a little convoluted, and I can’t say that we’ve said more than five spoken words to each other face to face, but I have a friend whom I deeply admire. I find her inspiring–intelligent, witty, with a keen sense of justice and little patience for willful ignorance. I think she’s beautiful in every way you can imagine. Among the myriad of awesome that describes her is the fact that she’s a feminist.
Thanks to our friendship on Facebook, the more I comment and click on her posts regarding feminism, the more suggestions I get in my feed from the Facebook overlords to read external articles and sources on feminism. You know how popular it is right now to make a statement by taking a picture of oneself holding a sign with a message, usually stating position on something controversial such as whether birth control should be covered? Well, for every movement, there is an answering movement that will use the same strategy to lend strength and credence for the opposite stance. In this case, apparently there are women out there who believe that feminism is not necessary in our post-industrial Western culture. The article I saw today was one feminist responding to these women who do not believe that feminism is necessary. Her goal was not to attack the women directly, just their reasoning. I have to applaud her for this because all too often opposing sides take the route of personal insults instead of academic arguments, and she would be a hypocrite as a feminist to belittle these women as people not because they are women, but because feminism is about humanity, not just one gender.
I personally feel that the label “feminism” is a misnomer. It developed because historically there was an established gender hierarchy, and when the philosophy was changing from women as subordinate to the genders as equals, the gender that needed identity and strength to rise up was the female gender. Men were not considered to be in need of help for equality because they had the majority of the jobs, power, and legal rights, and rather than “bringing men down” to meet the social status of women, the women wanted to rise up to equal status with men. Why take a social step backward? Since the movement was not meant to decrease men’s status, the label was pro-female instead of anti-male…feminism instead of demasculinaztion, or something similar. Fundamentally I agree with this, though I would argue that the men did need help–the men needed feminism to help them see women as partners for equality. Feminism is not about women being better, it’s about the genders being equal. If the title weren’t used for other philosophies, now that women have made so many strides toward equality and we’re oh-so-close, I would rather we call it “humanism,” a philosophy about equality despite all of the beautiful things that make individuals so different.
I hope it is readily apparent what this has to do with Wicca. As a religion with both a God and Goddess, where the women are High Priestesses and men are High Priests, fertility is sacred and balance is a central tenet, gender equality is a cornerstone of Wiccan philosophy and culture. There are many ways in which Wiccans approach the gender issue, however.
The first is as “women are better.” It is true even for my own coven that a circle can operate with a High Priestess alone, but not a High Priest alone. He is her partner in all things and her protector. But, it is she who channels the power of the Goddess, and she who is considered to be the ultimate conduit for life and power. Many traditions apply this to their deities and they believe that the Goddess is to be worshipped first before the God. She is the focus, She is the most powerful. Some even go so far as to be female-only, such as Dianic covens, and they do not allow men into their inner circles for any reason. It can also be more subtle–using “Oh Goddess” instead of the colloquial “Oh God.” Many of us use this phraseology to differentiate between our Pagan path and the more common Abrahamic or male-deity based faiths. Using “Goddess” to facilitate conversation is not necessarily stating that women are better, but purposefully regendering idiomatic phrases is a way of saying women are just as worthy, if not more worthy, of being included into common gendered sayings. It’s only negative insofar as it can create some confusion in casual communication or may be used for shock value instead of creating an open dialogue on gender inequality.
This leads me to the second approach: “women need healing.” For decades, centuries even, women have been second-class. We have fought tirelessly for basic rights–to vote, get an education, to be writers, choose our mates, and so forth. We have lived in patriarchy where men have ruled countries, held public offices, run churches, and they are automatically assumed to be “head of household” by virtue of their gender. The laws of inheritance favored men in history. People approach Wicca with healing in mind. Wicca is not patriarchal; arguably, it’s matriarchal. Again, most covens are not considered “valid” without a High Priestess. We practice in a circle with our men–all equal as priests and priestesses. The focus on the female and power equality has much to do with healing the negative effects experienced in one’s life from living in what is still a patriarchal culture. Many women state they find strength and empowerment in practicing Wicca. Women focus on the Goddess not because She is better but because they are trying to rediscover and reclaim their identity as female.
The last way I was to describe how people approach Wicca is as a religion for equality and peace. ALL people come to it looking for acceptance for exactly who they are. There are some groups where the men have their own rituals, no women present, and vice versa, but both genders also come together. They recognize the differences and powers of both genders separately and as a whole. Homosexuals tend to gravitate to Wicca because, despite its veneration of fertility, Wicca also preaches the value of love, all love, and so they find peace and acceptance in this religion when they cannot find it in other faiths. There is also the recognition that the respect of fertility has less to do with one’s own sexuality and more to do with where we come from, i.e. the parents who bore us. God/Goddess are not just seen as God and Goddess, but ultimately as one Supreme Being–as in my tradition. The gods are simply two sides of one coin, and the coin does not have value if it is missing a side. In our three-dimensional existence a coin literally cannot exist without both faces. They are equally dependent on each other. Out of this recognition we find balance, and in balance there is peace, understanding, compassion.
I’m not going to say there’s a right way to approach Wicca. People come to it out of a variety of needs, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For me it was the latter approach–peace and equality. I know women who came it because they were battered, raped, abused. I know women who came to it because they were oppressed and tired of feeling inferior in their culture. I know men who came to it because they were tired of misogyny. I know men and women who came it because it just made sense to them. None of them are wrong. I would posit, however, that the goal of a Wiccan path, based on our philosophy, is the same for everyone–healing and balance. What is the purpose of any faith? It’s not to get into Heaven. It’s to live a good life. What is a good life? Happiness. Health. Peace. Whatever the reason a person is drawn to Wicca it is to reach a common goal–wholeness.