Fertility cult and feminism

If I was to go to a convention wearing revealing clothing then, based on what I hear of the experiences of other women, I could expect lecherous advances from total strangers. It would not be unthinkable that some of them would decide it was ok to grope me, as well. If I was raped by a total stranger and got as far as court, I could expect to be questioned about what I was wearing at the time, in case my attire somehow offered a justification for what had been done to me.

Perhaps if a woman went out in a t-shirt that read ‘I would like to have sex with every man who reads this t-shirt’ then there would be some grounds for taking the clothing into account. Otherwise… what on earth are we doing? Clothing might suggest availability or a willingness to be asked, but no woman dresses up with a view to being insulted, assaulted or raped. Why is this such a hard concept for so many people to grasp?

If a man is mugged, do we ask in court whether his clothing suggested that he was inviting it? Did he deserve it for dressing too wealthy? Of course not. If someone is beaten up because of the colour of their skin, do we blame the skin colour, or the sick prejudices of the aggressor? Well, once upon a time we’d have considered that skin colour was a reasonable justification for violence. Go back to Hitler’s Germany and it was deemed a perfectly good reason to harm people. We used to consider gypsies fair game (identified visually), and gay-bashing was the business of the authorities. Western culture has evolved out of something where prejudice-based violence was not unusual. Where women are concerned, we still haven’t got it sorted. Plenty of places it’s not entirely safe to be transgender, either, or black, or some other ethnicity.

We see a surface, and some of us take that as a justification for aggression. It’s back to that dangerous concept of entitlement again. Something about how you look entitles me to behave in a certain way. This is not a healthy thought form.

One of the ones I’ve found on occasion in the pagan scene is a willingness to patronise: Directed at the young, the inexperienced and those we tar with the brush of being ‘just a bunch of fluffy bunnies’. I happen to like bunnies and other fluffy creatures, but there we go. Why is it wrong to be soft, gentle, harmless and well meaning? I think the world could use a bit more of that, and if the price is more dolphin adoration and conversations about Atlantis… I’ll take that over the condescending attitudes and put downs any day. The one thing fluffy bunnies can be relied upon to do, is play nicely and not attack anyone else. That’s a virtue well worth celebrating.

How do we handle gender issues in the pagan community? I’ve seen an awful lot of scantily clad, nubile young women in ‘goddess’ artwork. I’ve got to say that aside from the Neolithic fat women, the Venuses, there are very few western goddess images out there I can identify with. Pagan archetypes are a step up from the starving supermodels of the mainstream, but they’re still a long way from what real women look like as most of them have large, gravity defying breasts only achievable for the rest of us with surgery. I don’t feel comfortable about this.

From experience, I don’t like the kind of male attention I get if I flaunt my cleavage in public. I’ve not been molested by strangers, but I’ve had plenty of comments that have made me feel uncomfortable, and a bit like an object. My response has been to mostly cover up. I feel more secure out in the world when I’m dressed very deliberately not to draw attention. I very much like the fact that the man I’m with fell in love with my mind first. Flirtation can be fun and playful, but it so often isn’t. It can be threatening, invasive, and then it paves the way to much darker things.

Once you start relating to someone else as not a proper person, but a bit of pleasing meat that exists to entertain you, then it’s a slippery slope. A culture that condones verbal harassment and minor assaults is hardly equipped to deal with rape or domestic abuse. These are not separate issues. It all comes down to looking at a surface and imagining that something we see entitles us to do what we should not.

In the meantime, someone, please, point me at a feminist goddess, because I’m sick of the babes and beauty queens who seem to be far more about male fantasy than female power.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

13 responses to “Fertility cult and feminism

  • Cassie

    An excellent, thought provoking post. I can’t at the moment think of any Goddesses that are portrayed in a way that is more realistic… I think there might be some though…Polynesia… South America…

  • Buzzard

    Hello Nimue,
    Did you want to be in on the Vote?
    The likes of Bobcat would be one for me although I think she would not want to be recognised as a Goddess.


  • ladyimbrium

    You might talk to Hera about being a woman with power- just be sure to look more deeply than the “goddess as jealous conniving shrew” image that seems to have stuck recently….

    Excellent essay and I find myself agreeing with a lot of it. I can’t honestly say that I’ve had the same experiences, however. I simply don’t get the negative male attention no matter how I’m dressed. (part of that may be that I look like an Amazon but, hey) What I notice more is the difference in how I’m treated by people who assume I’m male and the people who assume I’m female. (yay for androgyny) There’s definitely a difference in the amount of competence I’m expected to display. This, I think, is the core of feminist frustration and anger. What I wear should be a moot point.

  • Iodhan Silverbear

    I have a generally supportable hypothesis that modern behavior owes a lot to primitive instinct. Even though the behavior may not be a mirror to the instinct, it is rooted there somehow. There have been behavioral studies that support this, I take it a step further in my own hypothesis as it relates to this.

    I hypothesize that the male half of our species is more susceptible to this primitive drive than the female half. If the combination of our two sexes were to be viewed as a ladder, then men would be the rungs of the ladder, women would be the supports to either side. While men create the foundation by which we step up, women connect the entire structure and keep it from falling apart. In essence, men are generally trapped on any successive level allowing their offspring to step up rather than themselves. Women are support throughout. Men wish to control this because in general, we can not see the support running up and down to either side of whatever rung we are on and it represents unknown knowledge which is unknown power. Since we tend toward being locked on one level, we are very oriented towards the physicality of the world around us. A measure of that physicality is sex. It is the only point at which we can truly tap into the power of the creation of life and unfortunately, many of us just can’t seem to think our way out of it.

    So when you go to a conference and you see a woman to whom you find yourself physically attracted (for whatever reason), you know that even if they have a boyfriend or husband that they are on their own, without the normal support system they are used to and claiming them sexually is akin to claiming them.

    Now, this is a hypothesis to be certain. I don’t entirely buy it myself. There are elements to it that seem to ring true to me but that does not make them true and this is certainly not intended to dismiss poor behavior towards women. The concept that men do not know any better can be generally discarded if he could be asked to repeat that behavior in front of his mother, wife or sister. If he still does it, then he is the modern equivalent of a caveman but I don’t want to be too preachy about this either…thoughts?

    • Nimue Brown

      Really intersting thoughts there, much to mull. Thank you!

    • Wyrd Anglo Saxon Priestess

      Interesting ideas, but I think it’s our Western culture that teaches men to behave that way or think of themselves that way. It’s very ingrained in men by other men to aggressively go after women. Our movies celebrate it. The print media offers up images of women to sell products and tantalize us sexually. These attitudes are very culture bound, to the extent that we might think they are natural, but they are taught. When women are taught to behave that way, I notice that they do the same.

      • Iodhan Silverbear

        See?!? A guy can’t even have a hypothesis anymore without someone bringing up an interesting point that challenges it! What is the world coming to?!?

        Seriously though, that is a great point and one worth considering. I would still posit that there is some level of instinctual behavior there but perhaps it exists in different manners for both sexes. I have long believed that women fill a more important role in social evolution than men do. When I imagine it as a structure, I see a great ladder that stretches away below us and high above. Men are the rungs of that ladder. We are the base upon which our species creates the leverage to climb. Women are the sides of the ladder. They hold all of the rungs in place and provide a constant and consistent support that runs the length of the entire ladder. In this way, our functions are different but one without the other makes no sense. There is more to this metaphor that I would love to explain at a later date but my allotted internet time for the afternoon is up. ‘Til later!

  • greycatsidhe

    I’ve never seen an off-putting image of Brighid. She is usually dressed in tradition clothing and seems more about her work than sex. I’ve seen few buxom images of her, but I’ve also seen few curvy Brighids. It’s interesting because some of my Pagan friends see her as squat and muscular. Knowing her as a blacksmith, I’m sure she’s got very thick arms!

  • The Pagan Pair

    On your point about pagan art
    My sister went to a metphysical store and met an artist who was introducing her work. She was saying things like “I want to show people what witches really look like, not the image that pops into their head at the word “witch””
    I was at the recieving end of a rather long rant on how that woman’s image of the witch wasn’t what she wanted to be cast with either! It all seemed to be women overly sexualised or impossibly beautiful.

    On the point of fluffy bunnies
    I mistakenly gave in to that one a while ago – not the bullying but the accepting of the label. Then the people who were around kept offering me help to “not be a bunny”… It was a rather unusual experience, and I’ve learnt as I heard someone say (can’t think for the life of me who!) that being a fluffy is a right of passage. It’s a learning experience for young witchlings that’s almost necessary! If you never went through it then there might be a few things you never learnt:
    To see fantasy in every thing
    To seek out knowledge, to fill in the gaps in your fantasy ( eg searching for atlantis, or making the “perfect” ritual)
    and eventually to evaluate the things you learn, both to scrutinise and to view in wonder!

  • n. b. athbrel

    One that just jumps to my mind that may be seen as “goddess worthy” is Lilith, ‘Adam’s first wife’, ‘succubus’, etc. She is really the portrayal of female power, and the rejection of female power by patriarchal society. You may not want to think of her in the judeo-christian light, rather just as a feminist symbol of powerful femininity. As for the modern depictions of goddesses, I would just advise to commission an artist, or draw out your own representation of deity… as the pictures of modern damsels i think is more a reflection on modern society than modern goddess worship

  • Alex Jones

    In my town of Colchester younger women go out in the dead of winter on Friday nights dressed in very little, and it is often said some don’t even wear any knickers on. They dress to sexually attract and predictably they attract that sort of attention.

    In the same town there is a strong Muslim community where women dress in a modest fashion, contrary to what many seem to think they are happy in doing this and dislike the sort of attention that less modest women receive which they feel is demeaning to them.

    I take my lead from the ancient Celtic tradition of women. The Celts have the triple goddess image of a women in three stages of life, which includes the young, innocent seductive type, to the fat venus-like figure, to the hag. Rejecting any one in favour of another is rejecting an element of this female archetype in the pagan tradition.

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