(self portrait by Ashley Wells Jackson, used with permission)
Others have chronicled more expertly than I can First Wave feminism’s fight for suffrage, the Second Wave’s push for economic and legal equality, the Third Wave’s concerns with race, class, transgender rights, and sex positivity, and the emerging Fourth Wave’s use of social media to advocate for reproductive justice and deconstruct the gender binary. Readers of this blog already know about the Goddess movement and feminist earth practices. As Pagans, our theologies, our guiding beliefs and principles, emerge from lived experience. Most meaningful for this month’s theme of feminism, then, is for me to share some of my lived experiences as a woman.
Like many other women, I have been cat-called while walking outside. “Hey, what’s your number?!” Sometimes the harassment isn’t verbal, as when a man simply leaned on his horn and out of his truck window, leering suggestively, while I was jogging in my neighborhood recently.
I have been sexually harassed, both physically and verbally, at work.
When I was pregnant, strangers, both men and women, approached me and touched my belly without asking, or made unsolicited comments about the size and shape of my body.
I didn’t have many stretch marks on my abdomen or suffer tearing during my first birth. My son was born two months prematurely, so my pregnancy was relatively short, and my baby was relatively small. My care provider observed all of this out loud during my postpartum exam, and concluded, “Well, looks like you’re going to be a normal person again.” Then he left the room. I was suffering from undiagnosed postpartum depression at the time.
My own mother made unsolicited, unkind comments about the size, shape, and appearance of my body after childbirth.
Women’s bodies are considered public property, open to comment based on appearance, which is judged according to the heteronormative, stereotyped desires and opinions of men. The comments and other harassments are not about attraction, not about an inappropriately expressed desire to connect, but instead are the assertion of dominance. We women live in men’s space, and we need to be reminded. Sometimes even by other women.
And gender oppression is not just for adult women; it harms people of all ages, gender identities, and gender expressions. I struggle to find books for my daughter to read, in which the hero’s journey is undertaken by a female protagonist. Flat female sidekicks and female villains abound. When my son was five, he was ridiculed for liking pink ribbons and unicorns. He has since learned to stick to the socially approved grey, brown, blue, and green camouflage color palette for boys when he’s in public. Family members gift my son building and science toys and my daughter dolls. The messages couldn’t be more clear.
I share these experiences in order to make visible the sexism and harassment that other readers either do not experience on a daily basis or do not see. I share in order to show that the Goddess movement, while an important source of validation for women, was not enough to extinguish the violence of gender oppression. We symbol workers and magic makers still have work to do, both inside and outside the circle.
Tell your stories, when you experience gender oppression. Listen to others’ stories. Ask uncomfortable questions, and be ready to stare fiercely at the even more uncomfortable answers. Learn to recognize the everyday harassment that occurs, and speak out when it happens. Write letters. March in protest. Vote. Energy follows intention. Every small act of rebellion against gender stereotypes and oppression is a powerful magical act, whether or not you have ever dared to believe in magic.
Pagan in Place is a column devoted to place-bound paganism. My goals are active engagement with my environment via meditation, walking outside, ritual, journaling, storytelling, and acts of social and environmental justice. Being pagan in place is about getting out of the house, putting foot to ground, and doing my holy work directly, at the closest creek, at my neighborhood park, at the community garden, and in my own backyard.
The Author: Anna Walther
Anna Walther practices place-based paganism in Austin, Texas. Her practice is inspired by the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft and the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Anna’s interests include sacred spaces, ritual art, ecopsychology, biophilia, and environmental ethics. She attends First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin with her husband and children.