This post is an excerpt from a conversation I had earlier this week, where I take issue with the idea that sex roles are necessarily a sign of subjugation.
Some eastern Native American tribes were/are matriarchal. These tribes had less extensive sex roles than European cultures and were less rigid in enforcing these roles, but they did exist. The Delaware were one matriarchal culture with flexible but hardly non-existent sex roles.
Delaware called themselves “A Nation of Women” meaning “we follow the women’s way.” Women owned all the land, even the land men hunted on. Decisions were made by the clan mothers, who were old women, and chiefs carried out their decisions. It was hierarchical, certainly, but not patriarchal.
When European men refused to negotiate treaties with women, only men, the chiefs dressed in women’s ceremonial regalia to participate in the negotiations and called themselves “queens,” because only women could cede land. The whole band would wait on the outskirts of the place where negotiation was occurring. The chiefs would take frequent recesses to confer with the women elders during the negotiations, because they could not make binding commitments without them.
The concept of “chief” itself is a Euro-centric one, that had even stronger male connotations in the 17th century. I doubt that a European man would have bestowed that title on any woman, no matter how powerful.
Delaware women fed everyone, which was another conventional women’s role. The men did not cook or clean the game, usually. The women also distributed the food, all the food, no small thing in a time where food was the most precious material good. Women conducted trade, because women controlled possessions and their distribution. Women’s control over food was an expression not of subjugation but power.
Because young women were often pregnant or breastfeeding, and because women have less upper-body strength, some division of labor by sex would have been natural. Such divisions make less sense today than in the past. For example, when moving from winter to summer habitations, Delaware women would carry all the possessions while men kept their hands free. That was so if the band was attacked, the men, trained in warfare, could fight back immediately. European men saw the amount of heavy lifting Delaware women did and concluded they were severely oppressed.
The modern concept of “gender” is a highly individualistic one, about expressing one’s “true self.” Many, if not most, indigenous American cultures did not see what we call “gender” as an expression of personality. Rather, what we call sex roles were taken as a way of giving to the greater community, based on needs of the whole, not the individual. If Delaware chiefs had to become “queens” to negotiate a treaty for the good of the tribe, they would undertake that sex role. It wasn’t about how they felt about themselves.
American pioneer communities also saw a breakdown in sex roles, with men and women both taking on activities that were highly coded as opposite sex in the cultures they came from. This was done for the survival of the larger family unit. This idea of gender as soul expression is not the way it has always been, even for White Americans.
American Indian cultures do challenge core ideas about matriarchy: that is is always peaceful or always non-hierarchical or always non-gendered. No culture fits the feminist ideal of what a “matriarchy” is, though it’s a fine ideal to strive for.
A book about matriarchies that I love is Matriarchal Societies by Heide Gottner-Abendroth. She only spends part of her focus on the Americas.
She doesn’t fall into the trap of assuming all American Indian cultures fit a certain mold, though she doesn’t seem to have been aware of the Delaware when she wrote her book.
Perhaps the idea of what a matriarchy is cannot be fathomed at this point in history. Right now we seem to define it as an absence: an absence of sex roles or war or inequality or hierarchy. We can’t seem to define it in any positive way, even when studying cultures where women have power. In the 19th century, people defined matriarchy as anything better for women. The ancient Celts were called matriarchal then, though they aren’t today. We probably need to scuttle our current definition of matriarchy (or liberation) and find a better one.
I’ve stayed out of the Rowling row, pretty much, as it has unfolded over the past month or two, despite my long term commitment on this blog to championing free speech. For one thing, I’m not a Harry Potter fan. As a real Witch, I’ve been less than impressed with the series. If you like it, fine, I don’t ridicule fans, but it’s not for me. Another reason to stay out of the controversy is that I’ve posted so much on this issue of censorship that I’m tired of it. I’m really really tired of it.
But I decided to weigh in, to celebrate one media outlet’s decision to listen to JK Rowling’s lawyers (or maybe their own?) and print an apology for libel. That’s the place we’re at, where an unimaginably wealthy woman hitting back over false accusations designed to silence her is a milestone.
When I shared with a friend my interest in the backlash to Rowling’s essay clarifying her positions, my friend dismissed the backlash by saying, “Well, JR Rowling is rich. She can’t really be hurt much.” Rich people might beg to differ on that, but I understand my friend’s point: rich people don’t have to worry about basic economic survival, which is always a calculus in what ordinary people say or write.
The ”these people are rich and famous so they can’t really be cancelled” argument exploded after the Harper’s Letter (as it is now called) earlier this month. That letter argued, in a vague, general way, for more tolerance of honest discussion. Many were offended by this (rather mild) letter, saying instead of listening to these famous writers talking about something that isn’t happening (to them or anybody else) we should listen to MARGINALIZED people, who don’t have platforms, and highlight their struggles, which have nothing to do with the Harper’s Letter.
But here’s the thing. When a woman fights back against cancellation, she’s always too rich or too White or too educated or too straight or too socially/politically connected for her stand against injustice to be justified. The only legitimate woman to give pushback, say the detractors who watch bullying from sidelines, is the WOMAN WITHOUT A VOICE. The very poor, dark skinned, immigrant, non-English speaking woman with ten children, two them disabled – THAT woman is entitled to criticize an online culture limiting free discussion and debate. If only she could.
Because the point of pointing to the WOMAN WITHOUT A VOICE is that she has no voice and can’t speak. If she could speak, she would tell the woman with a voice speaking in a way disagreeable to somebody to SHUT UP. The woman without a voice is the ultimate straw woman. I follow Black women on social media who have been subjected to cancel culture – booted off the birdsite or threatened with violence or disciplined at their job for speaking up. Ditto for disabled women, working class women, lesbians, Latinas who don’t like the X. Where are these people saying cancel culture isn’t an issue for marginalized people, when women with multiple oppressions (sexism alone doesn’t seem to count) are subjected to its bullying tactics?
Little known fact: Rowling ran afoul of cancel culture originally for supporting a working class lesbian student struggling with a life threatening disability. A marginalized woman. This woman, Magdalen Berns, faced a brutal cancellation campaign. You always know when you’ve found your voice: there are people telling you to shut up. The cancelers will justify their attempts to censor women by bringing up the woman without a voice, a woman who might even be have been you, once upon a time. The woman without a voice is the beloved woman of the left-liberal patriarchy because she isn’t speaking. Listen to the voices of women who are speaking. Or at least, don’t join the mob to cancel them.
Well, I got my car back on Thursday. Cost me almost $900. Next week will be busy with stuff I couldn’t get done without a car. Sunday is the final lunar eclipse until November, then Mercury goes direct on July 12. Things should be getting back to normal by the last week of July. I’ve always thought that transits, for me, happen before they happen, though. I think that’s because I’m an Aries, and we always have to be first, but it might be my four planets in Pisces making me more sensitive to vibrations.
In other news, this was quite a week in censorship. Reddit deleted it’s radical feminist accounts as offensive, but left up all the rape porn.
A legal crowdfunding site in the UK deleted, then rewrote, a campaign for a discrimination lawsuit by a lesbian, then told the public they had to because she did something wrong, but they couldn’t say what. Can’t make this stuff up, or keep track of it, or understand exactly what’s going on. EXCEPT that there’s a double standard in censorship for women and men. If a man takes offense at something a woman says, his offense proves that it’s “hate speech.” If a man types something that’s objectively sexist, racist, homophobic, or transphobic–well, he’s a man.
I personally let the stupid mean things people say go, unless they cross the line into violence or threats of violence. Unfortunately, with so much censorship going on, violence still isn’t addressed. Filming a woman’s rape is violence.
The take-away this week–and I’ve said it before–is that social media sites need to be regulated. That includes crowdfunding sites. They’re a vehicle for powerful unelected men to assert their control of the masses. What is the point of women having the vote, when men silence us through corporations?
No exploration of life on wimmin’s land would be complete without a discussion of the mice. Coincidentally, after submitting this article a mouse appeared at my workplace. I caught it and released it outside. It will probably be back.
A misconception emerged in the last decade of the twentieth
century that took feminism seriously off track: the assertion that feminism is
about “the rights of everyone.” Yes, because feminism deals with the rights of
half the world’s population, it has had to delve into many issues that also affect
men, albeit in different ways. Feminism has had to address racism, as it
affects women of color. Feminism has had to address class, as it affects
working class women. Feminism has had to address sexual orientation, as
it affects lesbians. But these and other serious problems also need to be
addressed within their own movements, in work performed by women and men: it is
not the business of feminism to solve all the world’s problems. The moment
women ceased to be centered in the movement dedicated to furthering their
rights, feminism itself became a tool for placing women last.
Since feminism has never been popular, it’s debatable
whether defining feminism as “about everybody” has done anything for other movements.
Defining a problem as a “women’s issue” at best frames it as a problem for
women to solve. Since women as a group lack political and economic power, while
shouldering most of the daily work of taking care of others, the group with the
least resources is tasked with solving the biggest problems. Certainly women
should be part of these solutions, but they are men’s problems, too, and men
need to give in real ways, not just in empty grandstanding.
Making feminism about everybody’s rights does make feminism
slightly more fashionable. A feminism about “men too” is a feminism more men
and women can get behind. And since men’s ideas and needs are the draw for the
“everybody feminism,” men quickly become the priority. Feminism that centers
men is (mistakenly) lauded as “intersectional.” Feminism that centers women,
such as childbirth issues, is decried as “white feminism,” although childbirth
can transcend “white feminism” by reframing it in terms of those identifying as
men: chest feeding, not breastfeeding; front hole, not vagina; pregnant person,
not mother. At worst, “everybody feminism” destroys the concept that there can
be a legitimate movement centered on women’s rights.
Feminists who are for women have grown increasingly weary of
“everybody feminism,” cognizant of the deleterious effects of feminist mission
creep on the women’s movement. Nowhere has this mission creep been more obvious
than in the assertion that “animal rights are a feminist issue.”
Feminism is a movement concerned with the rights of women –
adult human females. By definition, it is not about nonhuman animals. The
rights of animals are important – with the growing eradication of whole species
it can be argued that animal rights are more important than those of women –
but animal rights are not the same as women’s rights.
The exploitation of animals in capitalism is indefensible.
Eating animals can be defended as the cycle of life or decried as unnecessary
for human survival, but the wrongness of inflicting suffering on animals should
be a given. There is also overwhelming evidence that exploitative practices of
the meat industry contribute greatly to global warming and other environmental
pollution. The question for people invested in the wellbeing of animals (and
the planet) is not whether animals are exploited by humans but how to reduce or
eliminate that exploitation.
Actually, there is an additional question: how to define
that exploitation. The suffering of animals at human hands is so ubiquitous
that you would think this definition would be obvious, or at least that debate
over the finer points could be put aside until gross injustices are remedied. But
there is a tendency in social movements to equate the suffering of one
constituency with that of another, one in which there is seemingly more
agreement. This tendency is especially prevalent when activists feel their
efforts are being stymied. When people feel like they are losing an argument,
they bring up such an analogy – not to gain insight into their issue or to
explain their position, but to win the debate.
The most famous example of this tendency is Godwin’s Law,
the observation that any passionate sustained argument will eventually devolve
into a comparison with The Holocaust. Another common occurrence brings
Segregation in the South into arguments that have nothing to do with race. Then
there is Sexual Violence Against Women. Apparently it happens to animals too.
To people who use these analogies, the parallels are
obvious. There is hierarchy and violence; there is domination and abuse; there
is perpetration and suffering. But analogies are not equations. People who use
human rights analogies need to think about where these analogies break down.
Infringement on animal rights predates patriarchy. I would guess
(without really knowing) that abuse in 10,000 B.C.E. was milder than today, but
at the end of the Ice Age many species of mammals were hunted by humans into
extinction, and not always because there were no alternatives. Humans moved to
a more plant-based diet partly because we had killed so many animals (though
the environmental changes precipitated the imbalance).
Animal abuse does not, usually, involve sexual
gratification. Yes, men can do all kinds of bizarre sexual things, but the key
word is bizarre. Bestiality is not normative male behavior, unlike sexual abuse
Animal abuse occurs across species. Animal rights activists
are often criticized for caring about animals yet not caring about people.
Sometimes this accusation is justified, sometimes it is not, but it is an
obstacle in convincing the public to refrain from supporting factory farming.
Occasionally I see social media bios that say something like, “I love animals
and hate people.” I wonder, do the owners of these accounts understand that
dogs and cats are not reading their Facebook posts? Do they think that kind of
post endears them to other humans (unless those humans are so delusional they
believe they are nonhuman animals)? Do they understand what it means to be
human, and can a person who doesn’t understand humans think about animal rights
in a coherent way?
One argument for animal rights as feminism uses a Marxist
analysis of ownership of female reproduction. The idea is that, just as
patriarchy controls women’s reproduction, animal abuse is about controlling the
fertility of female animals. This, to me, is a stretch. Yes, domestic female
animals are used for their eggs and milk. Every animal slaughtered is some
female’s baby. But I don’t think female animals, on balance, are really treated
worse than males. In the rural community where I live, which is very
patriarchal, the marginal agricultural environment supports goats and sheep,
and the females are well cared for. The males, of no use for wool or milk, are
made into burgers. Male deer are hunted and does are left alone. Dogs and cats
are not pampered according to sex, but male horses are usually castrated. I’m
sure there are examples of female animals treated worse or suffering more than
males, but as a country girl I’m finding this a hard sell.
Women’s right are human rights. They’re not animal rights.
The false equivalency between women’s and animal rights
movements has produced a backlash that is in some way understandable. This
should not mean, however, that feminism should leave animal rights alone. When
feminist events become inhospitable to animal rights activists, it does become
an issue specifically for feminists. I’ve noted situations where multi-day
feminist events did not offer vegan options, either as part of the pre-paid
event meals or as option to buy elsewhere in vegan food deserts. Since veganism
is an important aspect of animal rights for many women, this becomes a feminist
issue in terms of barriers.
There are a lot of “feminist” issues that are not
intrinsically about women’s rights. Women in literature has been recognized
from the start feminist issue, with women’s words suppressed or warped by
patriarchy. Women in STEM is a hot feminist issue right now, with feminists pushing
to overturn barriers for girls entering science and tech fields. Yet science is
not intrinsically about women’s rights; it only affects our rights
tremendously. Women and religion is another important area for feminists, yet
is religion itself about women’s rights, or it only used as a tool for
perpetuating male dominance?
Animal rights is a women’s issue when it is an issue begging
for feminist leadership and influence. Animal rights as practiced can have a “ladies’
auxiliary” aura to it, with men defining and controlling the issue and women
preaching to other women about becoming vegan to be a real feminist. It reminds
me of knitting socks to help the war effort. Who controls the philosophy of
animal ethics, or the strategy of animal rights, and why?
There has also been an element (which may now be on the
wane) of the subjugation of women through animal rights activism. I’m talking
about the PETA lettuce dresses and other skimpy clothing, the women re-enacting
lobsters boiling, the women subjecting themselves to animal testing. This kind
of “activism,” whether promoted by women or men, has used animal rights to
express hatred and objectification of women. Young women, motivated by
compassion for animals, have found themselves conned by this movement. I
believe that in some instances animal rights has been used as an issue to
Animal rights need to be discussed within feminism, not as
part of the to-do list of being a feminist, but for feminist influence in a
wider movement. Why is being vegan an issue for feminists, when men eat so much
more than we do? Shouldn’t they be the focus of dietary changes?
Anything can really be about feminism, but the way we know
if we are practicing real feminism, versus “everybody feminism,” is by looking
at how that feminism challenges the power of men. Are animal rights a feminist
issue? Only as they intersect with women’s rights. Only as they affect women’s
right to influence an important issue. Only as they may be used by men to
dominate women. Animal rights should, in the end, be focused on animals, and
there are problems with grafting a human rights model onto animals. Sometimes
we have to look beyond our anthropomorphic lens.
So these are the ways animal rights becomes a feminist
issue: 1) Ensuring there are no barriers to participation by vegan women in
feminism; 2) Pushing for meaningful participation by feminists in the animal
rights movement; and 3) Countering the way the animal rights movement is used
to further subjugate women. To base analysis of the subjugation of animals on
the subjugation of women, however, is unhelpful. Most people, men and women,
care less about the suffering of women than that of animals, and making animal
rights about feminism extends the mission creep of “everybody feminism” from
men to animals.
I was reading Iphigenia in Aulis this week, and another thought struck me about this myth.
The Greeks performed a ritual to Artemis prior to attacking Troy, offering Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia to her priestesshood, in order to secure favorable winds and other blessings from the goddess, who was venerated along the coast of Asia Minor. Buttering up the gods of the people you planned to attack, trying to get them to move over to your side, was an ancient war strategy. The story goes that Iphigenia was going to be killed at the altar, but by a miracle Artemis substituted a deer (or sometimes, a bear) at the last minute. This made a better story, but it (probably) was an embellishment. Maybe as part of the ritual to Artemis a deer was sacrificed. Maybe Iphigenia initially protested being relegated into chastity. Her mother almost certainly wasn’t onboard with the plan. But I’m not going along with the miracle substitution.
I was thinking this week about how Judy Grahn and other feminists have viewed the Trojan War as a last stand against Western patriarchy, the defeated Trojans representing the matriarchy. The all-women priestesshoods were relics from the matriarchies, their continuation an uneasy truce, or even a condition of surrender. As patriarchy gained a firmer hold, the Witch hunts of the Catholic (later Protestant) church sought to eliminate these relics of female power. The persecution of Dianics by American Witches are a continuation of that quest to subdue female power under male domination. Thinking of the autonomous priestesshood as a term of surrender puts the attacks on Dianics within Paganism in sharper focus. The three major methods of maintaining female subordination under Patriarchy are violence, economic oppression, and religion. Destruction of religious self-determination for women is an essential part of patriarchal control on the left and the right.
Iphigenia means “mother of strong children” and is probably an early name for Artemis or another bear goddess who became merged with Artemis. It later became an honorary title for her priestess. There are conflicting versions to the following story, but this much is not in dispute: The hero Agamemnon, leading an offensive against Troy, made little headway with his fleet due to unfavorable winds sent by Artemis, whom Agamemnon had offended. After consulting an oracle, Agamemnon offered Artemis his eldest daughter Iphigenia, thus earning the implacable wrath of his wife, Clytemnestra.
King Agamemnon of Mycenae was on the wrong side of Artemis from the start. His father had failed to honor a vow that he would sacrifice a prized lamb to the Huntress, and there is no record that the son felt an obligation to make good the pledge. Agamemnon, so capable in manly pursuits, once slew a white stag with a single arrow and boasted that Artemis could do no better. So true this boast: the beast was a member of the Virgin’s chariot team, and she would never have slain it.
When Queen Helen ran away with the Trojan prince Paris, Agamemnon took command of the retaliatory mission. Here was a chance to lead a great coalition and gain heroic stature. So much more the pleasure of Artemis, whose sympathies were inclined toward the Trojans, in thwarting Agamemnon’s plans. As the fleet readied to embark, an unfavorable northeast wind stranded them in the harbor of Aulis for weeks. Some say the goddess was miffed over the killing of a hare and cursed the whole expedition. Impatient to sail and bewildered by the persistent bad wind, Agamemnon called for an oracle. A chicken was gutted and the seer declared Artemis must be coaxed with a sacrifice of Agamemnon’s oldest daughter.
At first Agamemnon demurred. His wife would never surrender the girl, he protested. The military cohorts devised a scheme: send a messenger to the mother explaining that the demigod and prince Achilles wished to marry the princess, and she must come at once.
Clytemnestra, whose ambitions were wholly channeled in securing an advantageous match for her beautiful daughter, hastened to Aulis with Iphigenia, where a comedy of errors—or perhaps a tragedy of errors—awaited them. Agamemnon’s secret letter to Clytemnestra exposing the ruse had been intercepted, and the strong-willed matron arrived against her husband’s expectations demanding a marriage contract. Achilles, innocent and uninformed of the subterfuge (and married to someone else besides), was protesting there had been a mistake. Priests were completing preparations for Iphigenia’s dedication. The bamboozled daughter was balking at the plan, and her mother began begging Agamemnon and then threatening him. Surely there was a face-saving way out of the mess, by declaring Achilles an unknowing partner to deception if nothing else, but the fact remained that ships were stuck in harbor and men were itching for war.
Iphigenia, realizing her father’s ambitions and her country’s future revolved around her, finally stepped forward and declared she would go to Artemis. Iphigenia was as loyal, devoted and obedient as she was beautiful. Or maybe filial duty and patriotism were just a piece of it, and Artemis herself seduced the girl. Perhaps Artemis promised her adventure in a far flung country. She could be mistress of a great temple. The possessions of rich ladies who died in childbirth were sent to this temple, and Iphigenia’s beauty could be displayed against the finest fabrics and jewels.
Iphigenia’s acquiescence stirred a whirlwind. At the altar of Artemis the priests raised their knives to slit the girl’s throat, but at the last moment a bear cub was switched in her stead, and Iphigenia was swept on a red cloud to the land of Tauris. The same wind that whisked the new priestess filled the sails of the Greek fleet, and they were off to conquer Troy.
In offering Artemis the coveted maiden, Agamemnon was given the favorable wind he requested, but the act never improved the disposition of the goddess toward him. Later she abandoned him to the wrath of Clytemnestra.
It would be inaccurate to say the sacrifice of Iphigenia turned Clytemnestra away from her husband, for he had earned her hatred long ago. There comes a point, however, where dislike becomes disloyalty, and the proud mother had envisioned a greater future for her daughter than being exiled in a remote temple wearing dead women’s clothes. That the victorious Agamemnon returned from the war to be trapped in his wife’s net should surprise no one.
Iphigenia did not learn of her father’s fate for many years, until her brother Orestes was cast ashore at her temple under mysterious circumstances. As high priestess, Iphigenia presided over the slaying of refugees at the altar of Artemis, and during the pre-ceremonial interview learned of his identity.
What was Orestes doing in Tauris? Orestes admitted he was running from the horror of his actions. He had killed Clytemnestra, with Apollo’s approval, to avenge her murder of their father. After the filthy deed, Orestes was called to account before the Olympians, where Apollo spoke in his defense. The gods quarreled over his fate along political lines until the goddess Athena cast a vote with Apollo, tipping the verdict in Orestes’ favor.
An acquittal won through a brilliant defender and a stacked jury does not automatically erase the pangs of conscience, however, and Orestes had committed a horrendous deed. The Furies, sister deities who rule the conscience, tormented him for his crime until, driven to the edges of insanity, he consulted an oracle for a remedy. The oracle instructed him to steal the sacred statue of Artemis at Tauris and carry it to Brauron, where he was to build a new temple to the goddess. If he was unable to carry out this feat, Orestes declared, he might at as well die in Tauris; he could not go on living with this torment.
Surprisingly, Iphigenia decided to help her brother. She had grown tired of her exile and longed for the customs, faces and clothing styles of her native country. She told the Taurian king that Orestes and his companion were polluted by matricide and must be cleansed before sacrifice. That much was true; Orestes was not fit to have his throat slit on the altar of Artemis. She further told the leaders of her host country that she was borrowing the statue of the goddess for the purification rites. Iphigenia was certainly the double-crossing daughter of Agamemnon
Miraculously, with much adventure and intercession of the gods, the brother and sister eventually reached the ancient shrine in Brauron. A new temple was built, with the sacred image installed therein, and Iphigenia was named high priestess of the complex.
The presence of an important temple to Artemis so close to the city was an honor that made the Athenians nervous, as the wrath of Artemis had already sparked so many misadventures. Every family that could spare a daughter for a year sent the girl to Brauron to attend the goddess and learn the Brauronia ritual. The girls were called little bears and charmed the goddess with their dances. In this way, Artemis extended her healing side to Athens, protecting against plagues and enhancing the survival of infants and their mothers.