Updated: Sep 4, 2021
"Other indigenous cultures around the world may still respect and revere the feminine, but we Western women lost control of our stories a long time ago," says Sharon Blackie in her intriguing book about authenticity and belonging. "The story which 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 such 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. Wanting the knowledge and wisdom which had been denied her by a jealous father - god, she dared to eat the fruit of a tree. Even worse, she shared the fruit of knowledge and wisdom with her man. So that angry and implacable god cast her and her male companion out of paradise, and decreed that women should be subordinate to men for ever afterwards" (p 5 and 6).
The stories we tell about the creation of the Earth and the origins of humankind show us how our culture views the world, our place in it, and our relationships with the other living things which inhabit it. And the key consequence of this particular creation myth is a belief, prevalent now for centuries in the West, that women are naturally disobedient temptresses who must be kept firmly in their place. We are weak-willed, easily persuaded to think or do evil, faithless, untrustworthy, mendacious, and motivated purely by self-interest. The story of Eve in the Book of Genesis is the underpinning for countless measures which have limited the actions, rights and status of #women. No matter what women might achieve in the world, the fundamental message of the sacred texts of the world's largest religious groupling, which for 2,000 years have supplied the foundational beliefs of our Western culture, is that men should not trust women, and that women should trust neither themselves nor each other" (Blackie, 2019, p 6).
Men have had control over the narrative of our culture. We see that in our educational system, white men in particular, have shaped our understanding of our position in the world, our relationships with others, and our position of power. We also see this throughout historical medical texts. As a collector of old books, I shared a blog about an antique medical book, published in the twenties, which offers more context to this point. However, one must acknowledge that this cultural story justifies the centuries-old violence against women which threatens even this enlightened twenty-first century to spiral out of control. This #violence was an epidemic in my own family and within many families I care for within my practice.
I've witnessed the strength and resilience of women. Having been single now five years, following the conclusion of my more than twenty year marriage and enjoying my life greatly, while I feel very confident and independent, I also know that this world is not a safe place for me. Interestingly, most of the men I encounter would find domestic violence or sexual assault abhorrent, these stories are shared again and again throughout our culture. One in four women suffers sexual assault, yet men can rarely name someone they know who has assaulted a woman. One in four women suffer domestic violence, but men can't identify the abuser in their friend groups. Worldwide these figures are even higher. Wars waged have demonstrated that eighty percent of the casualties are women and children. Rape and pillage are modus operandi. Sexual abuse, abduction, forced slavery, forced prostitution - each are the norm - especially in the fine capital cities of America. This doesn't even speak to the daily harassment women suffer in public places or our working environments. We are deeply ingrained everyday by sexism so that so many of us don't even recognize it. The cultural narrative is that women don't matter as much as men, and so it is okay for men to do these things to women.
We tell ourselves things are getting better, that within the last century feminism was born and equality is happening, so we believe equality still prevails. The reality is that not only has this progress stopped, in some cases it is reversing. There certainly is a bit of lip-service to women's rights, but new #inequalities are emerging in our culture. Violence is prolific. Rape is committed with impunity. Sex trafficking is the second largest profiting crime in the United States. Body anxiety and self-hatred are flourishing. The struggle for equal pay is effectively at an end. Domestic violence remains a misdemeanor, even if men ever do face charges.
My best friend was recently beaten by her narcissistic boyfriend. She caught much of it on video, within which you can hear his threats escalate and in the end, he was punching her repeatedly with drunken rage. There is evidence of her being strangled. Her eyes were both bruised and her neck covered was covered with bruises, but even alongside a busted lip, two black eyes, and a bloody nose that left spats of blood scattered throughout their home having searched for a phone to call 911, his charge for domestic #violence remains only a misdemeanor. The state of Florida then proceeds to contact the victim and ask if she feels a protective order is necessary and requests written evidence that this beating impacted her life, and if so, what she suggests his consequences should be but when do we put this on other victims of violence? She was not offered police protection following his release even though he attempted to kill her through strangulation and suffocation which are part of the police report available in public record. A domestic violence victim myself, as is my own daughter, we were both told in response to our calls for help, to get counseling because clearly our own female hysterics were the underlying cause of our beatings.
These same acts which are perpetuated against us, against our daughters and our mothers, is perpetrated against the planet: the Earth which gives us life - the Earth for which women have so long been identified. "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," (Blackie, 2019, p 8).
Oils spills are just unfortunate accidents, yet they repeat themselves far too often. We have nuclear war, even nuclear deterrents to preclude attacks - the most dangerous weapon on earth with the potential of destroying an entire city, killing millions, and jeopardizing the natural environment and lives of future generations. We all believe this will happen, one day. We build fallout rooms as nothing fundamental has changed to protect any of us from a potential repeat of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We have a plethora of ways to not only kill each other, but to destroy the earth in the process.
Certainly women through time have been somewhat complicit to this - having been fairly well-trained for centuries. Women were burned at the steak, literally and figuratively, here in the United States for apparent witchcraft, yet we were taught to fear the witch and not those who hung and tortured her. Women have been incarcerated in nunneries and lunatic asylums if they didn't comply. Women healers were often targets, victims of rape and violence, both of which do wonders for compliance. Men have had their fingers on the button of destruction; they've been the ones in charge.
Can you imagine a world in which men and women live in balance and sustainable way, respecting the planet for giving and supporting our lives and other creatures? How can we empower women? How can we influence the world or even our own countries? Where are the stories of women? Can women rise up again and lead? Can we live in balance with men and the earth? Seems a lovely fantasy, but our norm is to settle for safety and security, even if only perceived. Something does need to change though, as this world isn't working for women. We need to change the stories we tell about who we are - stories matter.
We make sense of our lives and our ourselves through the stories we hear. The cultural narrative is the culture. Stories aren't just entertainment; we are narrative creatures. If our foundational stories of our culture show us as weak and inferior women, then however much we may rail against it, we will be treated as if we are weak and inferior. Our voices will have little impact. Mythology and history should include women who are wise, powerful, and strong. We need to hear about women who were taken seriously and whose voices have been heard. Tell your story. Write your own narrative. Dig in and understand your own dysfunctional ways of being. Confront the beliefs and values you have subscribed to which have caused women and the planet to be in this mess in the first place. Discover your own authentic values and ways of being. Wake your creative power. Rise up rooted, like trees.