“What happens to a female when all her life she hears sacred language indirectly, filtered through male terms: What goes on deep inside her when decade after decade she must translate from male experience into female experience and then apply the message to herself. What does the experience imprint inside her?”
~Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter.
We live in a patriarchal society, and it’s no secret that everything of authority and importance is referred to through the male lens. In politics, women make up over half the population but are a much smaller percentage of representation in decision-making. Culturally, males hold the reins on who gets radio and tv time, and what stereotypes of women are presented. Patriarchy is pervasive in our language. Social groups are referred to as “you guys”. Go out in the woods with most people, and you’ll hear every squirrel and bird referred to in male pronouns. Male is the default.
I’ve had many conversations with men about this. The problem is invisible to most, because they are automatically included in these terms. Many will say things like, “but you know Man and Men is just the Universal term, right?”. Well, it’s not Universal for those of us with a vagina. It speaks to someone else and, like Sue Monk Kidd points out above, it takes several sideways steps to translate anything into something that applies to women. We often end up––both female and male––internalizing the position that males are more important and females are less important. How could we not?
The damage runs deepest in religion, the one place where we might find unconditional acceptance. The Christian God is Father, Son and Holy Ghost. No vaginas there. Allah is a gender-neutral term, but when translated to English it defaults to He and Him. Even Buddhas and Lamas are presented in male bodies. Our spirit is the most holy expression of our existence. When we, as women, try to fit ourselves into formal religion as a whole being we are like salmon leaping up a steep waterfall. Only the strongest make it.
It is no surprise that participation in formal religion is waning. It is a practice that fundamentally excludes over half of us. It’s up to everyone to create an expanded and more inclusive spirituality, based in the Everything. A spirituality that does not trample the needs of men, but also does not lay the table of male entitlement. A spirituality that not only acknowledges the feminine, but also celebrates it.
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