Women Spirituality and Activism for Social Justice Through the Waves

—Complex Work and Simple Spirituality

by

Vrinda Jamuna Shakti

[Essay first submitted as course requirement in “Womanist-Feminist Worldviews—First and Second Wave Euro-American Feminists & Women Spirituality Foremothers” with Professors Arisika Razak and Mara Keller, Women’s Spirituality Program, California Institute of Integral Studies] March 2011

When the importance given to comfort (status quo) stagnates the imperative need for social changes, have we considered how much each one of us has to change to reach basic human civility, social  and spiritual justice? There may be more questions than answers at this point. 

Simplicity, brilliance and elegance are usually recognized as the main characteristics of spiritual traditions and the perennial philosophy; while complexity and dangers can be regarded as natural effects and characteristics of the pursuit to solving international conflicts and social injustices through political activism. Here I will attempt to address the significance and the presence of the Goddess in Women’s Spirituality throughout the first, second and third waves and the social injustices that marked each stage; in addition to offering a few notes on the importance of giving emphasis of the continuity in women traditions from pre-first and post third wave movements. The old adage, “Divide and conquer” is a concept worth noting in our eagerness to label and categorize eras and phases of feminism, because by doing so we lose the underlying value of women’s solidarity, and we negate the efforts and existence of all those who fall in between one wave and another, as in the case of “baby boomers.” Are feminist baby boomers considered Second Wave? And what about the daughters of baby boomers who have not identified with the characteristics of Third Wave? As we create categories that divide us, we are open to be “conquered” or further vulnerated. As an uninterrupted and continuous presence, women´s spirituality has remained an intensely unifying principle in women’s efforts towards social justice throughout the ages. Like a kaleidoscopic pattern that integrates diversity in a unifying system, I will attempt to bring close and weave some ways in which women’s spirituality has maintained the bonds of solidarity and tradition.

I write from the standpoint of a revolutionary spiritualist, and also from the standpoint of one who is immersed in womanist-feminist the(a)logy. I say that Vedanta is revolutionary because wouldn’t you agree that the statement, “Only Brahman is real, the world is unreal,” is revolutionary enough? Even though this Brahman which informs us through its attributes from subtle to gradually denser like unconscious, consciousness, intelligence, discursive mind, ego identity, senses and body, which are obviously transient and mortal, in its subtlest, formless aspect It is not. Therefore, Vedanta as a standpoint is revolutionary, because all that is unreal can be created. This world where humans interact with nature is a story waiting to be retold. And woman in all her roles, as teacher, as mother, as elder, has the power to retell this story and, in doing so, redefine human identity, if only She knew her capacity to inform a different and better reality. My humble position within this standpoint is that of one who is daily engaged in growing into this awareness; by no means an overnight attainment. It can take more than a thousand incarnations, but even in a glimmer it informs us of unbound power within.

What other beliefs describe first wave feminists in addition to being identified as suffragists, liberals, Marxists, Socialists, radical anarchists, and members of the abolitionist movement? Cynthia Eller describes the first victories of the foremothers of first wave feminism, “Elizabeth Gould Davis in The First Sex, gives the most extensive coverage to this phase of feminist spirituality’s sacred history, beginning with Mary Wollstonecraft and the publication of her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1791. Others date the first wave of feminism—as many contemporary feminists do—to the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York.” [1] Referring to the Convention, Zsuzzanna Budapest stated, “On this day the most important love gift to both sexes was conceived—equality. The Goddess moved our sisters Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to begin the liberation of women then at Seneca Falls… There is no doubt in my mind that with all that politicking, they instinctively called on the higher powers.”[2]

Furthermore, the present deplorable interplay of global patriarchal violence and exploitation is self-destructive. While others consider that the main issues addressed by first wave feminists were suffrage and unionization of women workers, Eller quotes Diane Stein’s views that, “The first wave of feminism… addressed the issues of women’s rights, of patriarchy and religion.”[3] And Eller goes on to address the important contributions of Matilda Joslyn Gage, Virginia Woolf, and Theosophists Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant to what she calls “protofeminist spirituality.”

Gage captures best the spirit of first wave feminists of her times in the inscription and dedication of her book, Woman, Church and State:

This Book is Inscribed to the Memory of my Mother, who was at once mother, sister, friend:

Dedicated to all Christian women and men, of whatever creed or name who, bound by Church or State, have not dared to Think for Themselves:

Addressed to all Persons, who, breaking away from custom and the usage of ages, dare seek Truth for the sake of Truth. To all such it will be welcome; to all others, aggressive and educational. –Matilda Joslyn Gage[4]

The Goddess in women spirituality is about Spirit identity, fulfillment and freedom; not irresponsible freedom, but sustainable freedom, which includes social and environmental global justice. Most would agree that women are entrusted the most sacred role of birthing life to Earth, but we need to expand on our own concepts about our cosmic role and contributions because women’s role in the creation of humanity extends beyond birthing. Women´s role extends into what Arisika Razak calls the “critical need our society has to make a new model for human interaction.”[5]

Second Wave feminism was characterized again by liberal, Marxist, Socialist, radical, but moved away from an anarchist orientation while exploring social justice and awareness of lesbian, Third World, spiritual and ecofeminism as its main issues. Cynthia Eller wrote that “Elizabeth Gould Davis sums up and draws the natural conclusion from this state of affairs: ‘The ages of masculism are now drawing to a close. Their dying days are lit up by a final flare of universal violence and despair such as the world has seldom before seen… Any and all social reforms superimposed upon our sick civilization can be no more effective than a bandage on a gaping and putrefying wound.”[6]

Patriarchal powers have overstepped the limits of greed, life forms and Earth’s exploitation. Eisler says, “What may lie ahead is the final bloodbath of this dying system’s violent efforts to maintain its hold.  But the death throes of androcracy could also be the birth pangs of gylany and the opening of a door into a new future.”[7] But yet, we need to retrace and reevaluate the sorrowful ways in which women have colluded with their own victimization, fears and ignorance. Women as mothers are empowered with the sacred responsibility to inform the developing individual about her or his identity, and to awaken Divine Consciousness in all. But first, in order for women to promote the emergence of Goddess identity in womankind, we need to embody that which we represent; we cannot give or transmit qualities that we do not have. This bears repeating, before women can inspire the Goddess potential in her offspring and a divine identity in humanity, she herself must embody the Goddess. Whether physically or emotionally birthing the child in its formative years, educating as teachers, mentors, partners and/or encountering the chaos and harm caused by political systems which have been led by imperialist oppression, greed and exploitation of all life forms, women are literally at the center of life.

What we consider our human experience includes consciousness of the physical body and world, and an invisible, or unmanifest, field of mind—personal and collective—in addition to the subtlest energies of unconscious consciousness, all in a continuum. This eludes the grasp of reason, especially in those who follow linear ways of thinking. Still, the responsibility to convey, inspire and transmit this continuum of experience—from physical to mental to emotional to spiritual—is what distinguishes women as Goddess, as mothers and as friends of humanity as a whole. The present state of chaos in the world has evolved after women have endured centuries of oppressive influences that have numbed the innate sense of agency to embody and inspire the qualities of enlightened Goddess and spiritual consciousness in the developing child and on her environment. Therefore, the inclusion of Goddess in women’s spirituality informs women of their identity at the center of life.

But, male centered spirituality keeps sending the message that the authoritative model of patriarchy is valid. “In a seminal article on this topic Carol Christ asserts that religions centered on worship of a male God generate conditions that keep women in a state of dependence on males and legitimate the political and social authority of men.”[8] But, what is Goddess identity or Goddess consciousness? Consciousness, being intangible and abstract, is best described by its effects. Consciousness is the medium through which we are aware of the body, mind, emotions, and Spirit; the subtlest of all energies, which moves us throughout the complex experiences of life. Furthermore, through consciousness, we also have access to waking, dream and deep sleep consciousness, which can guide us into a deeper analysis of our interpenetrating identity from body awareness to transcendent spirit; but such analysis would be the topic of another essay. Goddess consciousness informs the body, mind and personality of women’s identity. And this identity is probably the only power that can emerge from within us to help create an effective change in human consciousness from destructive to creative ways of living. Though consciousness transcends body identification and empirical categorizations, its effect in human aspiration manifests in our drive to know, to exist and to enjoy the experience of uninterrupted awareness, knowledge and bliss—Sat-Chid-Ananda—the Sanskrit term for the Divine unrelated to gender and defined in terms of qualities. Consciousness also moves us to direct our efforts towards an integral understanding of ourselves as women embodying the Goddess potential and ideal by recognizing the interpenetrating presence of Goddess in all men and women leading us to a revolutionary change in identity necessary to preserve the marvel of our humanity. But, first we need to evaluate and change the social constructs and sociopathologies that disrupt the experience of our full spiritual potential. Is it healthy to feel anger when confronted with brutal social injustices?

As third wave feminism’s first voice, Rebecca Walker’s feelings were violently shaken during the time of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings (1992), when African American lawyer Anita Hill testified that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her, “I had classes to go to, papers to write, and frankly, the whole thing was too painful. A black man grilled by a panel of white men about his sexual deviance. A black woman claiming harassment and being discredited by other women… I could not bring myself to watch that sensationalized assault on the human spirit… not about determining whether or not Clarence Thomas did in fact harass Anita Hill. They were about redefining the extent of women’s credibility and power.” Was a woman´s voice, self-worth, and injustice, that of Anita Hill, challenging “a structure predicated upon the subjugation of our gender?”[9]

But, Walker provides us with a clear cut and definitive assessment of this historic case when she concludes, “…its very real outcome is more informative. He was promoted. She was repudiated.” So, if the message to women is to “Shut up. Even if you speak, we will not listen.”[10] But what does being a Third Wave feminist means to Rebecca Walker? “To be a feminist is to integrate an ideology of equality and female empowerment into the very fiber of my life. It is to search for personal clarity in the midst of systemic destruction, to join in sisterhood with women when often we are divided, to understand power structures with the intention of challenging them.”[11]

“I am not a postfeminism feminist. I am the Third Wave.” –Rebecca Walker

How does Goddess spirituality inform us of ways to channel righteous indignation, even fierce anger, into the life force that moves our noblest mission towards social justice? Knowledge, action, even anger and direct experience are necessary for us to be cognizant of our embodied Goddess consciousness. Embodying the Goddess, by adopting a more Integral sense of being, women will help us all develop qualities that overshadow the past social constructs of women’s personality as weak, designed to comply with patriarchal demeaning concepts of women, and deliberately created to categorize women as commodities, excluding women from their position at the center of life.  Goddess consciousness helps women stop colluding in their own oppression. Changing the conversation at home, with all the members of the household, including the spouse and our children is an important first step to changing the negative pathological identities that social constructs have assigned to women. Every woman that follows fashion trends informing her of what beauty is, either to have plastic surgery, to be obsessive about pleasing others by the ways she looks or by molding her personality to compete with men by being assertive or a particular personality type to help her “win” and “succeed” in life, is colluding with her oppressor by being the slave of concepts that feed an economy which spends most of its revenues in feeding the war machinery, and which ends up harming mostly women and children.

Ordinary consciousness has led our world to its present deplorable condition; where the powerful and the wealthy oppress those who are judged to have less power and wealth. Women informed by Goddess identity will be responsible for pointing out to the moral relativism in our times. Goddess consciousness awakens prosperity in the home, society and the planet. US global and local corporate and political agendas informed by ordinary consciousness have led to exorbitant power in the hands the oppressor that abounds with greed, hatred, and ignorance, while making sure to promote more of the same—through toys and entertainment promoting violence for profit—in the oppressed. The task before us is beyond human comprehension, but a revolutionary transformation in women’s identity to Goddess identity can bring us the redeeming force to gradually birth a new humanity in a few more generations. Knowledge of women’s Goddess identity is the beginning to end the destruction of man by man. We are no longer ignorant. The Goddess movement, the Next Wave, has begun.

As women uncover the layers of false identities imposed upon them for millennia, informed mostly by men—their own offspring—and share with one another the most powerful responsibility of birthing their own Goddess identity rooted in caring for all living systems, including the Earth, that awakened woman will, in turn, empower her child into their God and Goddess consciousness.

This is the potential of all human beings, the prophetic purpose of our being according to mystics of all spiritual traditions. How do we apply our spiritual sense of responsibility in practical ways that help other human beings? Seeking self-improvement and ways to embody the qualities of Goddess must inform us about how to live and promote a simpler life, gratitude and appreciation for the lives of others. Considering that our world has been in a state of ongoing war for more than one century, I bring in the suggestions of Coronel McGregor, a former warrior who questions the motives of our wars, when he says, “We need short, sharp and decisive changes in our military policies. As Madison said, ‘We need to stop our military going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

We were told that a hurricane of terrible destructive power took place approximately once every 70 years or so. In less than one decade we have lived through two tsunamis, the most recent one in Japan. Nature’s forces of destruction have been unleashed by irresponsible probing and applications of “modern” technology. This is the world that we all face now. A world where the children of mothers in the US are involved in terrorizing the children of mothers in many other places, and the monstrous war economy will keep growing until women redefine themselves and her offspring as Divine beings.

All spiritual traditions converge in defining Spirit as the interpenetrating essence and energy that moves matter and all beings. And the Spirit manifests as Goddess in the mothers, teachers and leaders roles, enlightening humanity of their Goddesses and Gods identities. I hope to expand on the unifying force of women´s spirituality and thealogy through distinct periods, events and movements in herstory. We are beginning to study the many ways in which Goddess spiritual traditions have been interpreted and applied; and it has not always resulted in positive social conditions for the men and women who have engaged in goddess spirituality. We need Goddess spirituality that informs women of benevolent and protective identities, as opposed to one possessed of indiscriminate destructive qualities. “The authentic female mind is our salvation.”[12]

Bibliography

Diamond, Irene, and Orenstein, Gloria. Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1990.

Eisler, Riane, http://www.globalstrategyofnonviolence.org/CatalystforChange.html

Eller, Cynthia. Living in the Lap of the Goddess. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1995.

Erndl, Kathleen M. Is the Goddess a Feminist?:the politics of South Asian Goddesses. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Freedman, Estelle B. The Essential Feminist Reader. New York: The Modern Library, 2007.

Gage, Matilda Joslyn. Women, Church and State. (1893). http://www.aren.org/prison/documents/women/4/4.pdf

Lorber, Judith. Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Spretnak, Charlene. Toward an Ecofeminist Spirituality, within Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism (edited by Judith Plant). Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1989.

EFOFEMINIST TO READ AND KEEP LEARNING:

HELENA NORBERG-HODGE

AL SAADAWI, NAWAL


[1] Cynthia Eller, Living in the lap of the Goddess, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), 176.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 177.

[4] Matilda Joslyn Gage, Woman, Church and State. (1983), 3.

[5] Diamond and Orenstein. Reweaving the World., (San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1990), 165.

[6] Eller, Living, 179.

[8] Kathleen M. Erndl quoting Carol Christ in Is the Goddess a Feminist? 1979, 187.

[9] Estelle B. Freedman, The Essential Feminist Reader. (New York: The Modern Library, 2007), 398.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 400.

[12] Charlene Spretnak. Toward an Ecofeminist Spirituality, 132.

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