An inflammatory ending
Jeanne Arnold’s Journal Times Commentary on April 10, 1980
The newspaper’s bold-type headline, quoted over many other possible choices in this commentary, surprised and shocked even me when I opened the Opinion Page. I like the bio info better than the headline. Oh well. So it goes. I bet I got lots of readers on this one but no one talked to me about it—one way or the other.
The paper printed my photo but omitted my professional position and Mother Courage Bookstore’s name)
Jeanne Arnold is a partner in a downtown bookstore that specializes in women-oriented books and women artists’ works. She says the church could be a leader in a movement toward equalizing the status of women.)
Erase fathergod image
Dedicated persons are searching for a common language that equalizes women’s places in society instead of the present language system that ignores women’s existence.
People need a language that tells the truth of women’s intelligence, courage, endurance and power leading to equality in a male-dominated world. Words are needed that elevate women from the subordinate position reflected by the use of the generic “he” standing for all persons and symbolizing all gods as masculine.
A recent Ralph Trower column headlined “Altering hymns to please feminists a sticky subject” may be a faltering step toward some awareness of this issue, but it was just a superficial beginning of a subject that needs more clarification.
What more meaningful way to begin to equalize the status of women than at a spiritual level—the base of meaning? What better way to use the enlightened leadership of thoughtful people to erase the stern, judgmental fathergod image created by primitive male mythmakers in their need to answer religious/power questions of their time and sustained by resulting anti-female traditions across all major cultures and world religions?
Think about it.
Humankind’s earliest artifacts consistently showed reverence and awe of the female—her body was the source of life. She bled painless in rhythm with the moon; her body miraculously made babies, both female and male. Then she would provide food for her young by making milk.
Her body itself was a living symbol of the major experiences of life.
Paternity was not recognized for a long while. In primitive cultures, copulation was not usually associated with the miracle of new life. After males discovered their biological part in the process, women were forced into possession rituals like marriage to sustain the property rights of sons.
This father-right not only established an institutionalized oppression and/or dependence of women; it also created in most religions a set of rituals to supersede and subvert what women did naturally; a religious one-upmanship that has lasted for centuries. For example, in Christianity the right of baptism subordinated the awe of birth; communion superseded loving food/breast nutrients; life after death judgments supplanted maternal love that accepts children with trust and without exception.
Generated by male-dominated religions, their power not only usurped women’s place as a spiritual being, it trivialized women’s emotions and physical well-being. Centuries of rites to “purify” women and to break down their reinforcing sisterhood networks have mutilated and murdered women.
Though outlawed by the British in 1829, millions of Indian wives of all ages were burned along on their husband’s funeral pyres in the “custom” of the Indian suttee. Indian widows, even those in their teens, starved to death; young wives were burned to death in “kitchen accidents” or “dowry murders” if they failed to bear sons or if their parents reneged on their daughter’s dowry money; women died in childbirth from filthy, destructive methods of delivery.
In China, the thousand-year-long horror of foot-binding crippled millions of girls to become marriageable and sexually desirable to Chinese males. It was banned in 1912 but still existed, even now in some areas. Women were made physically dependent and distrustful of their mothers and sisters who were forced by their masters to repeat the torture they endured.
To purify the church from witchcraft and sexual impurity supposedly caused by women, the church directed the burning of an estimated nine million European women accused of witchcraft during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.
The leap from Eastern, Oriental, African and European history of oppression of women to today’s Western concepts on the subject is easy to make when women continue to be dominated by fear of physical violence in the streets and at home or by indifference or misunderstanding by many of their medical and psychological needs.
And, rather than take the lead in elevating and educating the women who are the major supporters of religious principles, the established church powers continue to cause women harm by the denial of their true self-esteem and of their potential as full human beings.
What harm would there be to “mutilate” a few pages in hymnbooks to neatly rephrase our praise to all people. It’s such a small step in the healing of the mutilation of centuries of women.
As more women every hour become more aware and highly conscious of what has been and is happening to them, changes will have to be made toward a truly universal truth and equality for all. The church could lead that movement.
“Mankind” can be humanity, human beings or people.
“Brotherhood’ can be friendship, unity, kinship, community oneness, companionship.
“Faith of our fathers” could be of our forebears.
It’s so easy to do and such a simple step to begin reordering a new spiritual value system for all that celebrate the godliness within us all, that enhances rather than diminishes, that unifies rather than isolates.
Hopefully in some enlightened churches in our communities, some members will be able to sing back to the angels on Christmas Eve, “Peace on earth, good will to all!”
And it will mean so much more.
(The scenario goes like this.)
“Randy! You’ve got to get rid of her! Jeanne’s really an embarrassment to me. She’s gone too far, that damn lesbian feminist witch. This is the last straw.” Nick slapped the folded newspaper down on his desk. “Writing a letter to the editor to erase the Father God Image. For Christ sake, can’t anything traditional be safe anymore without some feminist like her bitching about it? Get rid of her, Randy, but be careful that she can’t find grounds to go to court for harassment or discrimination. This could be a test case for new legislation now that more women are trying to sue.”
“I’ve already called her and she’s on her way down to my office now. I don’t think she’ll try to take us to court because she has so much to hide, being a lesbian and all. And she’s written this heresy, her commentaries to the paper, her lifestyle—her negative attitude about us. It sets a bad example for the employees, especially the women.”
A surprised Nick asked, “She has a negative attitude about us?”
“You can’t tell? She seems loyal to the hospital and staff, but she’s not loyal to me anymore, that I know.”
“Listen Randy. Don’t you hire any more Unitarians. And don’t you become a Unitarian either! We have enough of them and they are nothing but trouble. They are! Jeanne’s inflammatory commentary is about the worst example of what can happen. She took on the whole Goddamn Christian community—and men! It’s a good thing she left out her hospital title and only identified herself with that damn bookstore! Jesus Christ! I feel sorry for her ex.”
Graphics by Mary Nelson
Next week— With bodies like Goddesses
Full Moon at North Beach
UNsung Women: the UN-known Herstory History
Our first Unsung Woman will be announced soon!
Submit written nominations about past or present women from Racine/Kenosha whose contributions to the wellbeing of our families, churches, schools, communities and beyond who have not or have been UNder acknowledged.
Four UNsung women nominees will be selected from January through May, 2022
The nominator is asked to provide:
• answers to Who, What, When, Where, How and Why details of your nominee’s herstory in a document or resume format.
• photographs, drawings, illustrations to enhance herstory;
• a reference person or documentation serving as evidence of proof.
Submit your nomination details to <firstname.lastname@example.org> with your name and where you may be reached.
Please do not nominate women who have already been “sung.”