Sunday, 8 May 2016

Sunday Book: If Women Rose Rooted, by Sharon Blackie


You know it’s a good book when you feel compelled to scribble all over it, underlining sentences, writing YES!! in the margins. This book isn’t just good, it should be required reading for every woman over 16 and men too.

It makes important statements.  I was one of those women in the 70s and 80s who felt excluded by feminism because I actually liked men, and I was also worried by the messages it gave out - that you could have it all, that you could shatter the glass ceiling by storming the men’s elevator, dressed in a suit.  Equality became simply the right to walk in men’s shoes.  “There were a lot of women who believed that the only way to succeed was to out-man the men," Sharon Blackie observes.  Feminism dis-empowered women by devaluing the qualities of Femaleness that made them powerful. Feminism inadvertently reinforced patriarchy instead of challenging its fundamental values.  A 19th century poet observed that ‘There is no equality that does not take account of Difference.’  To make people ‘the same’ is not to make them equal.

One of the passages I underlined in the book is this:
. . . when women seek success and ‘equality’ in a male-dominated world, then in order to achieve it we must act like men, play by their rules and, if they deign to allow us, join their societies and institutions.  We are judged by masculine criteria for success - and inevitably we fall short, because we are not men.”

We live in a deeply patriarchal world – most politicians, lawyers, scientists and corporate directors are men.  You have only to look at photographs of international conferences - the G20, COP21, NATO, the UN, the European Commission, to see the truth of that.  Rows of grey suits with the occasional woman in a coloured jacket - like something from a ‘spot the odd one out’ game.  There are good reasons for this.  It begins with a story common to three of the world’s major religions, who have shaped, and still dominate, a large part of the world’s history and politics.  It affected me, as it affected Sharon, at a fundamental level it is hard to escape from.
The story I was given to carry as a very young child, the story which both defined me and instructed me about the place I occupied in this world, accorded no . . . significance to women.  In this story, woman was an afterthought, created from a man’s body for the sole purpose of pleasing him .  In this story, the first woman was the cause of all humanity’s sufferings: she brought death to the world, not life.  She had the audacity to talk to a serpent.

This story has had consequences, not just for our major institutions and the deep psychology of our culture.  It has led us to the current crisis, both economic and climatic. The world that men have made isn’t working. “Our patriarchal, warmongering, growth-and-domination-based culture has caused runaway climate change, the mass extinction of species, and the ongoing destruction of wild and natural landscapes in the unstoppable pursuit of progress.”  More women live in fear of violence or displacement than ever before.  Something needs to change.

And what needs to change is the empowerment of half the world’s population by realising the potential of older stories which validated the particular strength of women – mythologies we categorised as pagan and therefore as forbidden knowledge. These still exist among indigenous, First Nation people – where the male and female principles are in balance, two halves of a whole, each equally valuable and both necessary for a healthy environment.
Sharon Blackie near her home in Donegal
The environmental consequences of a male dominated, corporate, capitalist culture, are catastrophic. Think Alberta Tar Sands.  First Nation women are among the most prominent groups resisting their expansion, and they are being very effective.  They aren’t hampered by a cultural narrative that tells them that ‘God had indeed given humans dominion over nature – and over women’.  It was this thinking that ‘paved the way for the nineteenth century Industrial Revolution, which systematically laid waste to the planet on a previously unimaginable scale, and at an unprecedented speed.’  It also fostered the belief that ‘we are separate from nature’ and above it, which has had such tragic consequences.  Sharon Blackie knows about this stuff - for quite a long time she was part of the corporate culture in Britain and the USA.

In ancient times, women were often the guardians and protectors of the natural world.   Sharon Blackie wants us to re-take that role.  We need to “remake the world in the image of [the ancient] stories.  To respect and revere ourselves and so to bring about a world in which women are respected and revered, recognised once again as holding the life-giving power of the Earth itself.  We can reclaim that image in each of us: the creative, ecstatic, powerful feminine that each of us embodies in our own unique way. Lacking it, it is no wonder that we are grieving, alienated, imbalanced – that we cannot find a way to belong to a world which denies us permission to be what we are, and which teaches us to cover up not just our bodies but our feelings, our dreams, our intuition.

This may sound a bit ‘new agey’ and I can hear a slightly mocking, sceptical laugh or two out there.  But it is a profound truth.  If we are going to save ourselves from the terrible consequences of human-created climate change, then women have a big role to play.  Throughout the Climate Change Movement, it is women – many of them First Nation – who are leading the way.  Naomi Klein is among the most prominent female voices in the world today.  If you’ve read This Changes Everything (and if you haven’t, why not?) Then you must read ‘If Women Rose Rooted’.


If Women Rose Rooted . . .  The power of Celtic woman

by Sharon Blackie

September Publishing 2016

4 comments:

  1. I will read anything Kathleen Jones recommends on Facebook because she is such a great writer. This completely resonates with me. Recently I found I couldn't continue listening to the Sixteen's MISERERE after I'd read the words - all that dreadful stuff about being conceived in sin (the woman's sin, of course) - no mention of love.

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    1. Thank you Enid! I agree with you about the Miserere - the words anyway. Wow, did those medieval monks and minstrels have it in for women! I had to read medieval texts for my degree and the level of hatred towards the female sex was almost unbearable. According to one, we were a 'festering, putrid source of sin'!

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  2. Ciao kathy, Every decade or so another book comes out about the role of women and particularly women in the workplace. Now, I joined a saleforce of men back in the early 70's and was treated really badly "Your sales figures are only that good because you flaunt yourself to the male buyers" etc. Well, non of this turned me into a feminist, I did not burn my bra in the 60's because I did not want floppy boobs. I have always loved being a girlie and became a successful business women because I did my job well and was not agressive. I like having the door opened for me by gentlemen. Of course here in Italy, we girlies are treated with less respect than in northern Europe. Doors are not held open for you and rarely does an italian man move over to let you pass. But so what, that is the culture. In the sixties I carried a ban the bomb sign, but I did not support the bra burning brigade, I felt these girls must have been lacking in confidence to have to do that. I will read Sharon's book as it will be interesting to have a younger modern woman's view. I'll let you know. Salute June x

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    1. Thanks June. Yes, it would be interesting to have your views. Sharon was very successful in the corporate world and writes about it very clearly.

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