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|
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