Thursday, 1 April 2010

Goddess, feminist, women-only

A post about the Goddess movement. About manhating. About what others think about women-only Goddessing (or feminism) and the particular case of transgender women.

Quotes are from this page by a Goddess priestess, except where I show I'm quoting Robin Morgan.

"The Goddess movement, as I would define it, focuses on an awareness of the primordial creation force which is found within ourselves and in the world around us. We call this force the Goddess, …”
Mostly YES but why limit the Goddess to the Creation theolgy? That leads to dualism. Goddess as immanent is so much greater, more whole, radically different from the supernatural boss figure (in drag).

… I believe is inherent in the Goddess movement is the idea that most modern religions are primarily intended to bring power and profit to some corrupt ruling elite. At best they are misguided, and at worst, they are nothing more than patriarchal systems of domination and control.

If that is true it is remarkably ignorant and limited. While much of Christianity is bound up with corruption, terrorisation and control, there is much that is not: house church for example or some Celtic church traditions. Buddhism is sexist in the final analysis but not cruelly so, and much of it affords a substantial degree of female freedom. Liberal Islam is almost as as aghast by what we hate about women’s suppression as we are.

.. there was a much more natural and genuine form of spirituality which existed long before people began to seek power and profit through religion. … offer great hope”


“"women only" … discrimination … a serious problem”


“Unfortunately, Goddess groups which are not open to men have already made a very bad impression on the general public.”

Yes but why? Why are a minority of women who get together to do their own thing seen as such a threat? Why is “women together” seen as dangerous? Why is this immediately described by outsiders as manhating – on very little evidence?
The majority of women-only work is peaceful and frankly not interested in men as part of the group. Members may or may not have much to do with men. that’s not the point.
But for men, who typically find it very tough to be treated as irrelevant! not their usual experience, this IS the point. Understandable they find it uncomfortable and in the case of weak stunted men, enraging.

I am one of the lucky few who shares my life with a strong, caring man who wouldn’t dream of criticising me when I want to be women-only. I know he’d be very shocked to read that a Goddess woman criticised women-only work and assumed it was about manhating. (I include his reaction not as central to a debate between women, but as an interesting additional point.)

So let’s now look at manhating. Perfectly sensible. A natural response to a world where far too many men hate women. Why shouldn’t we hate them in return? If you’ve suffered at their hands right on. If you care deeply about those who have suffered at men’s hands, right on.

Why do we have to be NICE? That’s part of the whole oppression feminine insy pinsy sweetie pie footbinding put on women for centuries. Strong women don’t need to be NICE - unless we genuinely feel it.

Yes liberation will in the end include us all. Yes there are men who care, who help, who have reworked themselves into maturity. Goddess bless them I say.
But I will not accept any feminist or Goddess thought police telling me or other women we have no right to hate, nor that it has no place among us. Hate is strong. Hate is healing. Hate rebalances.

I would not support the torture or murder of men to punish them, for two reasons.
They are children of the Goddess too. Whatever a man has done to outrage a woman or women he was once an innocent baby. Somewhere deep buried that original Child is still there. It may tragically be too far buried beneath his damaged distorted adult self so that all we can do is quarantine him. But for the sake of what he once was I do not support torture or killing him.
Secondly being civilised means not killing the killers, not torturing the torturers, unless we're in the heat of immediate reaction.. We don’t build peace by using (extreme) violence. A measured dose of discipline to curb a dangerous person, yes, or to protect others. But in a civilised society we examine even that to see if restraint or discipline is tipping over into unnecessary violence.
I think women do need to think seriously about how we are going to wield authority over dangerous men. The world cannot be safe and sane until we do.

But hate? yes at times I do and I strongly support others who feel it too.
Robin Morgan my beloved mentor elder sister helps out here.
“I hate not men but what they do.”

To my memory there was a great deal achieved by strong separatist women holding apart, being angry, hating.
I actually SAW men working it out. Oooh er ... If I don’t treat my lady better – she might go and join THEM.
Fear in moderate doses is educational.

“Many feminist groups have made it clear that they don't regard transgender women as genuine women,”

Good. I’m glad this is clear that “some” feminist groups take this position.
So it is clear that some don’t. Which means there are places for transgender women to go. So, no problem.

Or yes there is. Two problems.

Before looking at these two problems I feel I should “come out” as one of those who does not accept a transgender woman as a full woman. Yells of horror from the gallery? no I will not be silenced. I don’t.

I would go out of my way to support their rights to fair and decent treatment. I would defend a transgender woman being bullied – if she needed me to. But that doesn’t mean I HAVE TO accept her as a woman.
I will also call her a woman, as a courtesy, as ‘she’ or ‘her.’ etc. Politeness is a civilised grease that eases our connections and as such I value it highly.

But just like a transvestite, or an effeminate gay man, this is not being a woman. Being a woman is about being a PERSON shaped by FEMALE experience.

Female experience means being a little girl, relating to others as a little girl with all the power and vulnerability that involves. It means approaching puberty via menstruation, early, late, or painfully finding it doesn’t happen as expected. The growth of breasts, early, late, or adapting to something not working right in a female body. All the complex weaving of female hormones as we grow up mixed with deeply conditioned stereotyped feminine trappings going baxck to being a tiny baby. The massive issue of mothering, of living in fear of pregnancy or yearning for it. The pain if it is found to be not possible, or for a few the relief.

None of this happens for transgenders as it does for "born women." They are not women but men who have adopted some of the physical characteristics of women. That is different.

I could not possibly share women’s space and open out my inner feelings as a woman in that space if it included a transgender. It wouldn’t be women’s space – to me.

I am glad there are women’s spaces that are not so restrictive. I'm glad transgenders have women's space to go. But I do not see why I or other women MUST accept a restriction on how WE can be fully women, in order to include someone on a profound level with us. That is forced spirituality and a horror.

Taking this to an extreme what if all women-only groups refused access to transgenders? Or all women-only groups a particular transgender can get to? Well then there would have to be special groups for transgender women. There's always online options too.
But this extreme argument is pretty artificial. Goddessry and feminism - contrary to the critics view of them - are robustly independent so groups are not uniform, following party lines. Well some are but there are plenty of others. So the variety is likely to provide an accepting group.
Last resort for the lonely transgender is - start one! It's no more than many born-women have to do if what they want is not available to them. Nowadays there are plenty of books with loads of ideas on what to do to get going.

Back to the two problems I mentioned of women-only space that excludes transgenders.
One is that it is hurtful for transgender women to feel excluded. That’s especially hard in a society that already hurts them so much.
So OK we accept that, face it, work with it.
It doesn’t have to mean we hurriedly tidy it out the way. Forcing women to accept a transgender among them in their most sensitive personal sharing times, hurts THEM. So why select who is best to hurt? Why is the outsider, the newcomer, more important than the womwen who have created the group for what they want of it?
I do think keeping the dialogue going is important and shows respect for transgenders. So we can better understand each other, too. But understanding doesn't mean feeling that we are born-women have to fall over backwards to be a service system for what transgenders need. We MUST break out of always putting others first if we are to be fully human and not female slaves. (See Valerie Saiving's excellent analysis.)

Second problem is excluding transgenders plays into the hands of those only too eager to put us down. You see they’ll say, these radical sisters are harsh, narrowminded, cruel and nasty. Not POLITICALLY CORRECT. Oops oh dear bring on a trolley full of wittery feminine apologies and we’ll buckle down to being good ittle girlies and toe the line. I DON'T think.

We’re the women that men warned us about! (Robin Morgan again).
Nowadays it’s not just men of course who warn us about becoming one of “those women.”
Bitch they say. Slut they say. Hag they say. Monster Fat Old Worthless Dangerous Evil Witch BadMother DumbBlonde Manhater … all this hurls at us to push us back in line. To make us be the good girls who beg for approval. Who act NICE.
So play together NICELY girlies and share the sandpit with the nice transgenders who are so cute and sweet how can you resist them poor things?

No thanks. A woman’s right to choose includes who I choose to accept as a woman.
Not on the big things like jobs, medical treatment, freedom from harassment and violence. But in the personal area of who I choose to share MYSELF with.

Which to me means I will defend transgenders politically and socially against injustice that bars them from getting what they need. But getting needs met doesn’t involve the right to join any private group you want. It has to balance against the members of that private group and what THEY want.
Otherwise the next thing is we have to include is transvestites, or effeminate men. Which might be fine with some but not with others. I don’t expect to be included in a group that only wants black women, or only wants seriously disabled women, or only wants young women, or only bisexuals. I accept their right to exclude me so why is it so awful to exclude transgenders?

We have to be free to create our safe spiritual PRIVATE spaces around OUR needs. That must not be dictated by anything except OUR needs.


  1. You read my reply on the list we both belong to, but I had to comment here. WELL SAID!!! XO

  2. Absolutely...there is nothing here that I disagree with. A terrific essay. rachel xx

  3. I agree with what you say here, but I wonder, what would you do about the fact that many transwomen, especially if they are post-surgery, can pass as biological women? That is, you can't tell from looking at them wheter they are trans- or bio-. Do you trust that they will tell you that they are not biological women? Chances are at least some of them would take your no-trans policy as a challenge and join your group anyway, hoping that they won't be identified as trans.

  4. Prima Vera I have never yet met a trans who I could not identify as one. But then I have long experience in gay and alternative cultures.

    I am worried and angry that UK law was changed so that a trans-woman can now conceal what she is from a marriage partner because she can get a female birth certificate. Many men would not be able to tell the difference and it must be considered that the major reason for marriage is to have children.