So the last time I checked, the myth of matriarchal prehistory was a myth, right? There wasn’t a time when people lived in harmony, when sex was revered and mothers respected, when we didn’t divide the world into Us and Them and try to kill or rape or rob or enslave Them because they’re obviously inferior to Us. Nope. Homo sapiens has been a killer and a rapist since we figured out how to walk with our hands free, free to make tools and then weapons and bash skulls, flense bones, break limbs.
If that’s the case, none of us should be surprised by the events of the past week, by multiple terrorist attacks in Paris, by suicide bombings in Baghdad and Beirut. No one should be surprised that Boko Haram kidnaps girls like herds of cattle, that there are bombings in Kenya no one in the U.K. or the U.S. ever hears about on the news, that Daesh proudly proclaims its responsibility for rape and murder and the destruction of ancient beauties. Why should we care? That’s just the way human beings are, right?
Yet we do care. We are surprised, shocked, appalled. We grieve for dead bodies in foreign countries, dress our social media with symbols of support, and send money to relief efforts. Not only that, but we look at the people around us as people, not just as Us and Them. Yes, there are probably thousands of Americans who would vote for Donald the Dump and believe sincerely that if he just threw out all the Mexicans who are taking both our welfare and our jobs, this country would be great (i.e., white) again. But there are also lots of people who are no longer letting their family or friends, their spiritual teachers, their Facebook friends, that celebrity on Twitter, get away with saying racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or transphobic things. There are lots of people who are challenging that reactionary uncle, that pagan elder who’s just spat out a sentiment worthy of Trump, that clueless celebrity who’s forgotten how far their lives are from ordinary people’s.
That’s a good thing.
I was once in an elevator with my husband and two black men. We were in the central library, before I worked there, and the two men were probably among the many homeless people for whom our venerable building is a reliable shelter during the day. If memory serves, they smelled of alcohol. They were complaining freely to one another, in crude language, about how all the homosexuals were taking over.
Without planning to, I turned on them and snapped, “I wish the homosexuals *were* taking over! The world would be a better place for it!”
I got some rude language in return, but we all got off the elevator and that was that. “I can’t believe I did that,” I said, shaken.
“I can’t believe you did that, either,” said my then husband.
That might have been the first time I talked back to an -ism. It was me against two victims of another -ism, and possibly victims of addiction or PTSD or I know not what. It is harder to talk back to the -isms when they come out of the mouth of someone you love, or respect, or fear, but people are doing it, in so many ways, from posting on Facebook and dealing with the comments to marching in the streets and facing down armed police. And that tells me people believe we can do better.
We can do better than destroy works of art, things of beauty. We can do better than fear and hate people based on what is or isn’t in their pants. We can do better than treat girls and women like cattle to be bred and trans women like monsters ready to invade a cloister. We can do better than divide the world into Us and Them based on genitalia, or skin color, or choice of religion.
We can do better. We are doing better. Because we create beauty. We make art, and we make love, as well as making war. We follow our pleasure, our bliss, our joy, at least some of the time. Why don’t we do it all the time? Why do we distrust pleasure but affirm pain? Why is optimism considered unrealistic, while pessimism is realistic (and here, here’s a pill to help you deal with the depression of being relentlessly realistic all the time)?
There is a knot at the center of our culture, like a knot of pain in the gut, a knot of muscles in the back, restricting movement, a hopeless tangle of the threads that precludes weaving the tapestry anew. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, they are all threads trailing out of the knot; pull one, and it will show itself to be connected to the others. Racism identifies black people with the emotional, instinctual, physical side of human nature, with animals, with the earth, with dirt. Sexism identifies women with animals to be bred, with emotion and instinct, with jars and cars and ships and boxes, with the land, the earth. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, and other queers are feared and hated because they refuse to observe the distinctions between black and white, male and female, pleasure and necessity. Gay men have sex for pleasure, no possibility of reproduction. Lesbians deny the use of their bodies to men. Trans people violate the absolute rule that a thing, a person, a body, must be one thing or the other, not both: One drop of “black blood” and you’re black; a man should act like a man, not a woman; biology is destiny.
I pull on the threads and try to disentangle them, and I can’t; I see the knot, black and bloody and terrible like a clot expelled from the womb, and it is the fear and rejection of women by the cisgender, heterosexual men who are born from them, nursed by them, desire them, and are so utterly terrified of the person who gave them life and nurture and pleasure that anything that remotely resembles her has to be cut off, shunned, destroyed, at the very least controlled, completely. Here are these dark-skinned people whose cultures celebrate women, sex, pleasure–enslave them, take away their mother tongues, destroy their arts and their cities and say they had no civilization. Here are men who sometimes act like women, and women who sometimes act like men, and they have sex not to bear children to inherit the father’s accumulated wealth, but just for fun. Just for fun. Obviously that is a sin!
And don’t let yourself experience pleasure, real pleasure. Don’t enjoy your food and eat just a little too much occasionally. Don’t drink wine and laugh loudly. Don’t read a novel, see a movie with too many women in it, or listen to music until you feel something. Don’t feel your emotions, except for anger, that’s okay, and maybe lust. In place of real pleasure, sense pleasure, there’s making money, or dominating people, controlling other minds and other bodies as you control your own. Make money, keep the wrong sort of people out of your church, and vote for Trump, he’s honest and realistic.
We can do better. We have done better. We are doing better. If the neopagan movement has any lasting good to offer, in my opinion it is the affirmation of the body, of pleasure, of sex, of women, of life in this world, of those things as spiritual values, however much individual pagans fail of the ideal.
I think Riane Eisler was right. In the best-selling The Chalice and the Blade and subsequent books, she argued that human beings were capable of living as partners in cultures based on pleasure, not just in hierarchies and kyriarchies based on fear of pain. Her archaeology and history may be disputed or disproven now, but I don’t think her thesis has been; human beings continue to imagine a world different from and better than the conditions we have. I don’t think we’re capable of living entirely without strife, without conflict–I don’t think we ought to be–but I have hope that we can untie the knot behind our destructive ideologies and learn to trust our bodies, our pleasure, our desires, and our mothers, sisters, daughters, lovers, and selves, as women.
May it be so.