First, I have a totally off-topic remark. I LOVE “womon” and I have group to appreciate “womyn,” despite hating the term at first.
Now down to business.
It’s been a year since I’ve discovered radical feminism and, in the process, I learned about the phenomenon of women-only religion.
To me, the idea of choosing a spirituality is similar to the idea of choosing a sexual orientation. You can’t make yourself, or someone else, into something they are not naturally inclined to be. You can choose to partner with women, live with women, celebrate women, and all around be woman-centered, but that does not make you a lesbian. Lesbian is a sexual orientation that describes women who are attracted to, and partner romantically and sexually, exclusively with other women. You don’t need to be lesbian to be woman-centered. Indeed, I think it’s powerful for straight and bi women to make the choice to be woman centered in defiance of not only their personal desires, but also cultural mandates that they be available to and serve men. It takes strength, agency, and imagination to be a lesbian in a straight world for sure, but it’s so unnatural for lesbians to be with men (since they’re lesbian, right?) that they know pretty early on that this life is not for them. However, it takes just as much strength, agency and imagination, of a different sort, to have the option of being with men, enjoying men’s company and the privilege that comes with it…and yet *rejecting* it. Hats off to straight and bi women that do this! Anyway, my point is that even though not only lesbians are woman-centered, you DO need to be women-centered in your sexual and romantic life to be a lesbian. You know…a Londoner is English but an English is not necessarily a Londoner.
So what’s this got to do with religion? Just as you can’t choose to be lesbian when you are not, you also cannot choose to have an authentic spirituality for political reasons. You cannot force yourself to believe what you are not inclined to believe because politically and culturally, it makes sense.
I am not a Dianic Wiccan, a dyke witch, or any flavor of practitioner of woman-centered spirituality and I couldn’t be any of those if I tried. I am Roman Catholic, which fosters an (unfortunately) very male-centered culture. I do not believe in a goddess. I do not practice rituals that invoke the powers of menstrual blood. I believe in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Mary Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, the communion of angles and saints, and I participate regularly in a ritual that involves flesh and blood (Eucharist) which both men and women have. I was not raised Catholic, either, so my upbringing had nothing to do with it. Even if I was raised Catholic, we all have the choice as adults to follow or not follow what we are raised with. I have been away from my parents’ influence long enough, involved with feminism of various stripes long enough, and have researched a number of religions and meditated on my own beliefs long enough that I can honestly say this was a choice. Right or wrong choice? I might never know this side of Heaven. But…it was a choice nonetheless.
There’s nothing wrong with practicing woman-centered spirituality. Lots of women, myself include, long felt left out of male-centered religions and were critical of regressive ideas and traditions, long before we heard names like Dan Brown or Christopher Hitchens, and long before our young, same-age peers and even our parents knew that other religions existed or that you could be good without God. It is in our blood to stand alone, even with threats of death or Hell. Some women find the solution in various forms of paganism, and some still in specific forms of paganism such as Dianic Wicca that explicitly center women. Religions that were all but erased from the Earth to uphold patriarchy as the natural order of things and punish “uppity” women. I know that sects such as Dianic Wicca have been under attack by liberals and transactivists in particular because their religion is woman-centered. I defend the right of every last human, and particularly every last womon, to choose her spiritual path, to live a life free of persecution of all kinds, and to be able to practice openly and authentically *with the people of her choosing.* If that means Mount Athos is restricted to Orthodox Christian men, so be it. If that means Dianic Wiccans exclude people with male genitalia, so be it.
I won’t be joining the rituals though. It would be insulting and inauthentic for me to do so. However much sense it might make politically, however personally freeing it might be for me to not have any patriarchy in my spiritual life, however consistent it might be with how I live my life otherwise…none of these reasons is going to woo me into a faith that does not feel natural to me. I would no more practice such a faith than I would expect a Dianic Wiccan to get married in a Southern Baptist Church so she can stay “part of the family.”
If you’re not part of a woman-centered spirituality, what are you as a feminist womon to do? You could strive for changes that make your religion more feminist, but that is also inauthentic. You cannot make a religion what it is not without changing the religion itself. The good news is that women have been part of patriarchal religions since they were devised, and as such, there is a long line of women creating women-only spaces, defying men, creating and defending feminist traditions, and being stronger and more capable than men in power ever dreamed women could be. There is also, thankfully, a long line of men who have stood by the women in their lives and in their religious culture, in solidarity and out of respect for the dignity of human life and the human person. I think of St. Jerome, who in the earliest days encouraged Christians to educate their daughters as well as their sons and the priests and bishops today who want women in leadership positions in the Church. I think of all the pacifist nuns that challenged war and patriarchy, started orders in defiance of their bishops, Muslim women in this day and age who challenge domestic violence, female gential mutilation, and who retain their last names after marriage. Jewish women of all stripes who fight to keep their women-only spaces safe in an age where women are being erased, who excel in business and academia, and all women everywhere, regardless of their origins, regardless of the spirituality that defines them, who insist on doing “woman” different and do so in spite of the risks.
I know that no matter where I go in life, my original inspiration for strong woman is the Blessed Virgin, who crushed the Serpent beneath her feet, who was among the first, with several other women, to experience the risen Christ and Pentecost. The most powerful, most stainless human on Earth AND in Heaven (hence her title of Queen) was a woman. I can’t help but fall deeply in love with that.
None of this erased legitimate criticism of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, or religions like Hinduism and Buddhism that, in spite of the protests of ignorant Western progressives, have their own horrifying abuses of women and humans in general to answer for. My message is but one simple message…despite a lack of common spirituality, we share a common value that underlies all of our religions, all of our feminisms, all of our steps we walk and breaths we take. We believe and worship the dignity of the female. That is the essence of all woman-centered religious life everywhere and is the center of the life of every feminist, and if you look hard enough, can be found in every patriarchal religion on Earth. The dignity of the female, a creator and a destroyer, a sustainer and an educator, both a logical and magical being, and most of all, a state of being distinct from male. It cannot be bought, cannot be manufactured, and will not be taken away.