Tag Archives: feminist

The Book of Babalon – a review

I first encountered Anna McKerrow when I had the opportunity to review her Greenworld trilogy. That was a glorious YA series heavy on the Paganism. Her latest title, The Book of Babalon is not for younger readers – it is resplendent with sex magic, and also digs in with the kind of abuses modern women continue to face. It’s glorious, heartbreaking, rage-inducing, enchanted stuff.

If you’re not familiar with the Goddess Babalon, this book would work as an introduction and may send you off on a journey. Do read the author’s comments at the end to see what is rooted in fact and what isn’t!

This is an unapologetically feminist book, telling a story that very much demonstrates why we still need feminism. It’s also full of the sorts of things angry patriarchs would like to shut down – sexual expression, the right to body autonomy, the right to say no. Lesbianism, witchcraft, divorce, abortion… all those things they tell us will happen if women either take up witchcraft or get into masturbation, or both!

This is a story where triggering content is handled with care. No punches are pulled, but none of the horrors are glorified or dwelt on too much. You know what’s going on. If you’ve been there… you know exactly what’s going on. Too many of us have been there. All the things women are not encouraged to talk about – the blood, and the miscarriages, the shame, the stigma, the desires and the dissatisfaction are in these pages. These are stories we need to tell each other.

It’s a powerful piece of writing, and I read it in large, intense bursts because I did not want to put it down.

The story then… Woven through this novel is text in here from an imaginary Book of Bablon, written by Scarlett Woman, founder of an organisation called Bablon. The book within the book explores her history with Bablon, and anyone whose read any 20th century occult stuff will find this familiar, especially around how women can be both ‘goddess’ and totally objectified at the same time. The story itself follows several Bablon members using magic, activism and other avenues to fight oppression and get some control of their own lives. The characters are engaging, and between them they capture a broad range of female experience.

It’s a powerful story, underpinned by substantial philosophy. If you’re already into smashing the patriarchal structures we live in, this is for you. If you think we don’t need feminism any more, this book is especially for you. We’ve got a long way to go on the road to equality.

Buy the book – https://www.amazon.com/Book-Babalon-Anna-McKerrow/dp/1890399698 

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.

Celebrating the good ones

A few years ago, talking to Damh the Bard, he made the important point that you cannot have strong, empowered femininity without also having strong, empowered masculinity, and that the reverse is equally true.

By contrast, an ex of mine was generally of the opinion that empowering women displaced men, pushing them out of jobs, out of their identity as bread winners, into a no-man’s land of frustration and barely suppressed rage. (I have no idea what said ex thinks these days, I try to avoid his opinions as much as possible.)

There are, I have no doubt, people of both genders who see any power in the hands of the opposite gender, as a threat to them. There are times and places where this is true. But when we disempower one gender, really speaking, we disempower both. That ‘man as bread winner, dominant and running the world’ archetype, beloved of my ex, tends to mean that a man not in full time employment doesn’t have so much sense of self, and that’s no kind of win. Money, authority and identity can easily be blurred by this mindset. The historical gender attitudes that pushed men out of parenting and locked women in the home made us all unbalanced, diminished us all.

Is it possible to have any kind of enforced power imbalance without diminishing everyone? Money is so often the reflection of unbalanced power. The greater the gap between rich and poor, the more fear and possessiveness there is likely to be for the rich. The fear of being taken down, of being stripped of wealth, of the revolting peasants. The need to control others is born out of fear. People who do not feel the need to dominate are, on the whole, going to be a good deal happier.

Author Jean Roberta pointed out in a blog some time ago (sorry, I cannot remember where) that gay and lesbian couples have a big advantage over straight couples. There are no assumptions about how they are supposed to relate to each other, who is supposed to have which role. As a consequence, they have the freedom to build relationships that are much more rooted in the nature of the individuals. Straight people can learn from this.

As a Druid, relationship, and the idea of relationship is central to a lot of what I do. I’m fascinated by how we imagine ourselves in relationship, by historical conventions, social norms, and questions of what is natural, and what is pure construct. So much of gender is imaginary, and yet there are some pronounced physical differences, which are especially relevant in a child-rearing couple. The reality of pregnancy and birth does change what each person can do.

I like the kind of empowered men who use their strength to nurture, shelter and support those weaker than themselves. I like the kind of men who have too much self respect to ever force sex upon a woman. I like the kind of men who delight in powerful, capable, liberated women and would never be so undignified as to whinge ‘I feel like you don’t need me now, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do’ when faced with female success. I like the kind of men who know how to love, admire, and enjoy women, who knowhow to be friends with women. A man who needs to crush a woman in order to feel superior, is not, in my book, any kind of ‘real man’ at all. He’s a waste of space. I wish I’d come to understand that one a bit sooner, I could have spared myself years of having to apologise for success, for happiness, for capability.

I’m writing this today in no small part because I want to celebrate the good men. The ones who support, and do not crush. The ones who make the world a better sort of place. The good guys. And mine in particular, because it’s his birthday, and he is so worth celebrating.

Happy birthday Tom.

And to all you lovely guys out there, you who are man enough not to need to knock anyone else down, power to your paws.

Facebook Feminism

By the time I discovered feminism, the call to sisterhood and the demand that traditional, female roles and work be taken seriously, had weakened. Growing up in the 1980s, I saw a world in which ‘feminism’ seemed to be about being more like men than the men were. Equal rights meant out to work, with padded shoulders, ruthlessly pushing forward. To my child self, feminism looked too much like Margaret Thatcher, and I wanted none of it. I also encountered plenty of the man-bashing variety, and I didn’t fancy that much either. Years later, at college, I encountered theories of social feminism, of accepting and respecting female roles and history, and all that. I also saw it was a theory, not a practice.

But I was at college in that distant time before Facebook.

Women on Facebook talk about their work, their men, their kids, parents, dogs, dreams and efforts. They post photos of cakes that went well, and cakes that didn’t. Images of things created, rooms decorated, frocks worn. All the traditional things that women have always done, now recorded by digital camera and timeline, and shared, with love. I have one amazing friend called Sharon who is actively reclaiming femininity through the medium of Facebook, and it’s lovely to watch. She’s not the only one, but she’s the most self conscious. It’s femininity on her terms, not anyone else’s. Then, whoever shares, other women and the odd bloke, pile in with observations, congratulations, and friendly noises.

In western culture we equate femininity with emotion, and emotion with irrationality. To show your feelings, to weep, rant, or whoop for joy, is to be emotionally immature. There are some other women who will haul you over the coals for that, even more readily then the men. These would be the women who have donned the suits and attitudes of a still very masculine workplace, and who want to get as far from traditional femininity as they can.

On Facebook, something else is happening. Yesterday, a woman posted ‘I just want to cry all the time. This can’t be normal adult behaviour’ (Or something like that.) Within minutes, other women were there, saying no, I have days like this too. I weep over this as well. Don’t beat yourself up. The anxieties of parenthood, the tears of menstruation, the grief and frustration of the world all sneak out in those few lines of status update. And in the unreal space that is Facebook, we do what many of us would not dare to do in a public, physical space. We say ‘me too.’ We share, and acknowledge and take seriously experiences and emotions that are fundamental to being female.

It’s terrible when you think it’s just you. All the shiny looking women on TV are never spotty, screaming with pre-menstrual tension, covered in baby vomit and holding a cake that failed. All the magazine celebrities shed elegant, solitary tears over betrayals. They don’t howl until their faces are red and snot drips from their noses. At least, not where we can see them.

I have met a lot of men along the way who believe that women are incomprehensible, irrational, unpredictable, unreliable. We’ve all heard the argument that our hormonal cycles make us crazy. I know from doing psychology, that as a culture we view calm rationality (allegedly male traits) as healthy adult behaviour and emotionality as being both female, and neurotic. That’s a hard world to live in, and a bloody unfair one. Rather than fight for the value of emotion, for the power and blessing of being able to express, so many of us have gone along with the pressure to be like men. And you know, I’m not even sure all the biological men are really ‘like men’. I think they’re even more squeezed and restricted by this insane understanding of what being human should mean.

I’m a fine example though. Up until I went through an emotional breakdown last year, I found it almost impossible to cry in front of anyone.

It isn’t easy, to go online and say ‘bad day.’ Just to manage ‘black dog’ or ‘bit gloomy’ is a hard confession to make. But when you do it, and others pile in and remind you that you aren’t alone, aren’t a freak, or incompetent, that’s worth so much. I am very grateful for Facebook. Now all we have to do is figure out how to get that little bit of revolution offline and into the real world.