What I Meant to Say

Wendy Babiak's Visions and Revisions


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Patriarchy Is Poison, Y’All

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Seriously? I had trouble coming up with the title for this post. I must have typed in at least fifteen possibilities. Who wants to hear me harp about the evils of male supremacy again? The truth is, spring has finally arrived up here, the sun is shining, sap is running, I saw my first butterfly of the year yesterday, and I want to be outside in my garden. So this will be brief. But I’ve been reading around online, and it’s hard not to want to chime in. With my recent disillusion with the Orthodox church impelled largely by the stench of patriarchy that permeates it, I may be overly sensitive to stories that trip that wire. But dang it, when in a short space of time I read this story of men in the protestant churches abusing their power over children and this one about whether women should be allowed to teach the Bible to male students (the overwhelming answer is “no,” but they didn’t ask any of the people who might’ve said “yes”), and this one about the Nigerian schoolgirls who’ve been kidnapped and apparently forced into sexual slavery, my boundary for crap I can digest without purging some in the form of a blog post is exceeded and I just have to say, enough. Patriarchy is poison, y’all. And as the author of that last story points out, it predates religion, which is why the atheists who insist that we should just get rid of religion and everything will be hunky dory are so wrong. (Did you ever notice how male the lineup of the New Atheists is, btw?) Religion didn’t create patriarchy, patriarchy poisoned religion, because it poisons everything. It’ll poison a marriage if you let it, it poisons government, it poisons education, it poisons the business world, and yes, quite obviously, it has poisoned just about every religion on the planet. Even Zen Buddhism hasn’t escaped it. Heck, even Wicca has its share of male dogmatists who try to tell women who’ve inherited matriarchal family traditions that they’re doing witchcraft wrong. Really.

So what’s the antidote? Talking about it, clearly, is good medicine. I see more and more men seeking to be allies, and that’s incredibly heartening. But I see others digging in their heels, and not just those in older generations (otherwise I might be tempted to employ patience and just trust that it would fade away as all the old geezers died off). Part of the problem is that the male supremacists have done a good job of convincing people that feminism = female supremacy. That we’re man-haters. That our male allies are gender traitors or somesuch. But it doesn’t. Feminism, as the bumper sticker says, is the radical notion that women are people, too. And should be treated as such. And that’s all we want. We want partnership. And remember: patriarchy isn’t just about men dominating women, it’s also about richer, more powerful men dominating the poor and less powerful men, too. Patriarchy is, essentially, the idolization of force. So feminism seeks to liberate everyone, male and female alike, from this confining culture that tells everyone how they must conform in order to be accepted and to prosper. God has created us each with the imago dei within, and we can be true to that best when we support each others’ flowering without rejecting this or that trait because it doesn’t jibe with preconceived notions about what is masculine or feminine.

There. I feel better now. I’m going outside to play in the dirt.

 


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That Didn’t Last Long, Or: My Intolerance for Intolerance

I tried. I tried really hard to be Orthodox. So much of it felt lovely. But there were these dark shadows nibbling at the edges. The biggest of them sported a familiar shape: patriarchy. Male supremacy has smeared its dirty fingerprints all over everything about it. Dig into the patristics and you’ll discover the worst kind of misogyny. Women told they should feel shame for their very nature. Beyond not having our calls honored, not being allowed into any part of ministry beyond baking for coffee hour. The author of our liturgy may not have denied the existence of our souls, but he and his brethren sure said plenty of nasty about us. 

But every shadow has a bright spot. I followed my husband into Orthodoxy, and he followed me out of it into feminism. He used to take quiet umbrage when I used that f word, when I fingered patriarchy here or there as the underlying source of some problem in our culture. Now, having done his best to participate in this most patriarchal of religions, he gets it. It was too much even for him. As part of our recovery from our attempts to embrace orthodoxy and its inherent misogyny, we read Sarah Bessey’s blessing of a book, Jesus Feminist. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It made me cry, tears of relief. Yes, yes! Please.

The other thing that bugged us was the church’s stance against marriage equality. It’s not like we ever endured a homily about the evils of same sex attraction or anything. It was never spoken. But once, at the diocesan family retreat, sitting at a table with some priests, discussing the possibility of my son’s entering seminary, I voiced a desire to see more of the spirit of John the Baptist afoot, to see godly men speaking truth to power. And one priest piped up with praise for our bishop having written a screed against New York’s legalizing marriage equality. Really? I asked. Is that what we need to be worrying about? What about dropping bombs on children? How easy it is to worry about someone else’s sex life instead of confronting the military-industrial complex that makes our lives easier. But almost since the beginning there has been complicity between orthodoxy and empire. It goes on. Well, it can go on without me.

The real beauty part is that now I’m feeling free again to continue to explore my spirituality outside the confines orthodoxy imposes. The spirituality of my indigenous forebears, for instance. The green magic of my Celtic roots. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still very much a Christian. But what that means is so much more flexible and fluid and life-affirming than what these small-minded men have so far imagined. I know it has everything to do with love, and any Christianity that says I can’t love every one of my neighbors as myself is a false Christianity in my book.


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Why is My Body Your Business? Or: The Boob Blog

Unless you’re one of those folks in the habit of seeing through a glass so darkly that you’re able to deny reality completely, it’d be hard to miss the fact that the female body, or our right to own our bodies, is under attack. I mean, it’s not like we, since the advent of patriarchy several millennia back (see The Chalice and the Blade for more on this), have ever enjoyed full sovereignty, but since Roe v. Wade here in America we’ve at least been granted a certain level of privacy regarding what happens with our girly bits. That looks like it’s about to change. They’ve unfunded Planned Parenthood, states like Virginia are considering Draconian measures to limit a woman’s access to affordable, safe abortions, and this brain trust in Georgia wants to criminalize miscarriage…on pain of death! And in case you’re someone who’s pro-life (I can respect that, if you’re actually pro-life, and not just anti-woman), here’s what illegal abortion looks like. We really don’t want to go back there, whether you think life begins at conception or not. Late-term fetuses delivered live and decapitated: I don’t think that’s what you want. That can’t be what you want. Please tell me that’s not what you want.

Now, I’ve had my kids, the factory is closed, and I could ignore all this. Except not only do I have a daughter, but I also feel a certain sisterhood with my fellow women, and a certain responsibility, as a woman enjoying a significant level of privilege, to defend those of my sisters who suffer under patriarchy and its evil cousin, misogyny. And, truly, the lack of reproductive freedom is one of the more extreme manifestations of that misogyny (and it’s gentler, well-meaning cousin, patriarchy). It does get worse, of course: human trafficking, child brides, morons throwing acid in girls’ faces for daring to learn to read. (For more on this, read Half the Sky.) Life’s hard, really hard, in some places, and women and children, especially girl children, suffer the most.

And all of this bubbles around in the psyche when we encounter manifestations that are less heinous, like the recent VIDA Count, showing the disparity between male and female bylines in top literary mags. Not the end of the world, surely, but does that mean we shouldn’t be concerned? Nope, and it’s not just a matter of fairness. Women’s stories are important. We won’t find our way out of this dark forest, we won’t establish a gylanic culture in which men and women relate as equals, support each other lovingly as brothers and sisters in the human struggle, until women’s voices are heard, truly heard. Imagine how different things would be around the world if we had all been weaned on stories that illuminated what a healthy relationship with the natural world (and each other!) looks like instead of stories that glorified violence and war. I love Shakespeare, but I would have loved to hear what his sister had to say, too.

Coming back to women’s bodies and the apparent belief by some men that they are appropriate objects of interest for their lawmaking and commodification: I recently read this brilliant essay by Lidia Yuknavitch about the cover of her soon-to-be-available memoir, The Chronology of Water (which sounds well worth reading), and the resistance it’s already receiving. See, the cover sports an artsy photograph of a middle-aged woman in the water. Naked, and framed from her taut neck to her ribcage. You got it. It’s a boob. (It’s actually a woman in the water, but because of the way we’ve been programmed to reduce a woman to her bits and pieces, it’s a boob.) Both the author and the editor of this book are women, and so it’s not the hey-hey-baby kind of boob picture we’re accustomed to seeing. It’s much more beautiful, much more real, and therefore much more disturbing to those who’d prefer to forget that women’s bodies belong, you know, to people, people who age, who have moles and freckles, who are subject to gravity (though less of it, in the water). Ms. Yuknavitch does a better job than I can going in to the nuances of the conundrum (she also provides scads of fascinating links), but I have to point out how totally whacked it is that, in this day and age, people still think of the breast as a sexual object.

Because it’s not. Can it be used as such? Sure. But so can the hand. The lips. The toes, if you’re kinky. But we don’t ban pictures of those on Facebook. The breast is not a sexual object, it’s an amazing evolutionary development that allowed mammals to become the dominant class of animals on the planet. I mean, seriously. They’re brilliant. They allow us to make food for our children, and to have it available, any time, anywhere. It doesn’t spoil, and it provides exactly what they need, changing with their needs as they develop. (No wonder formula can’t hold a candle to it.) We should worship the breast, not as some plaything for men, but as the nearly miraculous gift that it is. Preparing to write this (I’ve been ruminating on my own “boob blog” since reading Lidia’s essay), I stumbled across an article about breastfeeding. I found the number of women who expressed revulsion at the sight of a child nursing to be depressing. One woman actually said that the breast is a sex object, and she didn’t want her children to see that! Oh, woe. That we have been so programmed by patriarchy to believe such a thing.

And that brings me back to the VIDA Count and the ensuing discussions of it online. While I saw some amazing, big-hearted responses from some men, mostly I’ve seen guys get defensive about it. What really gets my goat is when we’re told to stop whining, that we got equality back in the 70s, that we just like to play victim. That’s when I think about girls having acid thrown in their faces, or being railroaded into brothels, or left to die of fistulas after giving birth to children when they were children themselves, and too small to do it safely. When I see some young guy rant about reverse sexism, or the evils of quotas, I start to wish that something like the point-of-view gun from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were available. I’d like to see how they like it, being a woman on this planet. Mostly I’d like to see us move past patriarchy into gylany. As my favorite male Muslim feminist points out, patriarchy traps both women and men in its constructs. Seems like we should all be eager to free ourselves, and each other, from that trap.

ADDENDUM:
2/26/2011 — This morning I ran across this, The War on Women, a NYTimes Editorial. So I’m not being melodramatic here.


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Managing Anger, Seeking Silver Linings, Owning My Share: The BP Ecocide

I tried to write a poem today, another sestina-sonnet hybrid. I developed the form a few years ago; the first two are in my book, one as the title poem, the other a poem called “Revelations.” They both deal, in some sections, with violence against nature, though the first deals also with war, and the second with violence against women; both finger religion as a mental toxin encouraging all such violence. The point of both is that all these issues are related. The reading I’ve been doing in Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade makes clear how all of these issues flow from the mindset we’ve all inherited as part of a global dominator culture, of which patriarchal religion has been a tool for control. (I finished reading that book today, and it’s at the top of the list of books in the page I just set up before making this post, “Rec’d Reading.” The list includes a number of books that have helped me develop a mindset that embraces humanity as one species among many, in desperate need of a new way of seeing ourselves in relation to each other and the rest of the planet. I hope you’ll consider reading them if the BP disaster is leaving you feeling like we need to find a better way…which I hope it has! That’s the silver lining I see.)

The poem I tried to start today, “Accommodations,” is going to focus even more centrally on our relationship with the natural world. I’ve had the list of 14 words (to use one at the end of each line, in the folding pattern borrowed from the sestina) since I left Shreveport over two years ago. But when I sat down today to write the first of the fifteen sections, I just couldn’t do it. I’m stuck, blocked by anger and frustration. (I think I also needed lunch.) And despair, largely fueled by the series of pictures posted at Boston.com, including the one above (click on it to see the whole thing).

I wrote a poem recently attempting to grapple with the BP ecocide (as Michael Rothenberg of Big Bridge aptly called it), using a haiku form. Each stanza was a stand-alone haiku, at least in form, if not in content. I wrote it in response to the call at Poets for Living Waters. One of the stanzas goes like this:

Anger clogs my throat.
I’m mired in helplessness like
an oil-soaked seabird.

The stricture of the haiku form allowed me to distill and control my anger and despair, and own up to my own guilt. Because I do feel guilty. I may not indulge in excessive driving, I may garden organically, I may live without central air, we may buy some local food, but we DO drive, we DO buy food that’s shipped from elsewhere. I live within an infrastructure that relies on petroleum. Period. We all do. I don’t think there’s really one of us who can’t, shouldn’t, in some measure, own this.

What we’ve done down there:
generations will watch it
help it, heal. The scars.

And yes, it will take generations to heal this. The scope of this spill has yet to be grasped. And the scars may well be permanent: there’s no recovery from extinction. In an older, long poem, “Dreaming the Earth,” I wrote, to close it:

Finally, I weep. I weep a sea She can bathe in
a sea of tears of contrition, an ocean
that swallows my soul. Exhausted
I sleep. I dream
we threw out ideas about
boundaries and race.
We see ourselves as one species
among many
each one a voice
in the Divine Chorus.
Never mind how many have been silenced
in the eternal loss of extinction
never mind that we will never be able to ask
the beautiful questions each one was an answer to
we light a galaxy of candles
and forgive our Ancestors
then do our best
to right their many wrongs.

It’s going to take work from all of us. Work, humility, patience. My best friend from high school, Deanna Graff, has been an inspiration to all of her friends, collecting dog and human hair from salons in the city where she lives to make booms to help clean up the spill, working with Matter of Trust. This is something we all can do. We all can do our best to drive less, to walk and to bike, which will be good for our own health as well as the health of the planet. And we can put pressure on our legislators to pass the Clean Energy Act. It will take a thousand little actions, but it will be done. We owe it to future generations to let this be a wake-up call.

Sing, then, all of us.
Sing over the ocean’s bones.
This song of sorry.


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Unveiling

Now that my book has finally been published, I’ve been working on the appearance of my little blog. I’m still in the process of settling into our new home, and with spring here (as much as it comes in fits and starts in Ithaca, hot and steamy one day and a few days later shocking the redbuds and forsythia with snow showers),

I’ve been bitten by the gardening bug again, intent to establish a new hummingbird/butterfly garden, which I haven’t enjoyed since we left Shreveport over two years ago. I’ve missed the company of those critters; in myth they’re messengers between the worlds, and I’ve found them to serve just such a function in my real life. Through their fragile beauty and sudden appearances (and disappearances) they parallel perfectly the state of grace mystics have written of since, well, since folks started writing.

This is how it happens: you’re moving through the mundane world, and through no action of your own you’re suddenly confronted with reality in all its divine presence. Your heart breaks open and you realize that the armor you’ve been wearing has fallen away, useless, and further, that it’s been preventing you from experiencing the joy you were made to live.

I know that sounds airy fairy. And some who know me might be disappointed to discover that I’m not a strict materialist. Then again, I’m nervous about the unveiling of my book, because neither am I keen to embrace religious dogma, and the book makes that eminently clear. In fact, in some of the poems I downright reject religion. I mean, dang, look around. Religion has been nothing but a divisive excuse for violence for several millennia. I’ve been reading Riane Eisler’s seminal work, The Chalice & The Blade, which substantiates a suspicion I’ve long held, that Christ’s message in the gospels, one of compassion and egalitarianism, was hijacked by imperial Rome for purposes quite counter to it. And don’t even get me started on Islam. Though patriarchal dominance was in place, and justified through myth, for thousands of years before those two prophets made their entrances on the world stage. One has to go back to the Neolithic to discover a time when both halves of humanity lived in partnership. But I digress.

In addition to my book now being available, I’ve also got three poems put up recently at Big Bridge; the third, “a posteriori,” comes near the end of my book, and pretty well encapsulates the thrust of my endeavor. I know I’ve said this elsewhere, but yes, I really am writing in hopes of saving the world, from us, and for us.