May 31 2012

Grad School (part 12)

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Naturally, the weirdness in class today arose from the discussion of Feminine Spirituality. The professor asked if there were any reactions to the readings. One woman in the class, naturally mentioned that she found them very empowering. Lots of nods and such from the class (I should mention, that I am one of two males in the class, and the only heterosexual one between us). She asked again if there were any responses, and so I decided to be the sacrificial lamb. I brought up my problems with Merlin Stone’s essay. The fact that there were no footnotes. The fact that she interspersed her research with inflammatory remarks that she would not back up with even an example, let alone a documented source.

Case in point:

The pattern that emerged after the invasions was an amalgamation of the
two theologies…over the next two thousand years, this synthesized religion
often juxtaposed the female and male deities not as equals but with the male
as the dominant husband or even as Her murderer (Stone, 1982, pp. 14-15).

Which I’m fine with, until we get to the “Her murderer” bit. No explanation. No “see Myth A, B, and C”, no footnotes, NOTHING.

Edward Chiera comments ‘it is strange to notice that practically all the
existing literature was put down in written form a century or two after
2000 B.C.’ Whether this suggests that written language was never considered
as a medium for myths and legends before that time or that existing tablets
were destroyed and rewritten at that time remains an open question
(Stone, 1982, p. 15).

And I might add, maybe the dog ate them. Maybe aliens landed and took them as souvenirs. NO attempt at supporting this claim. Nothing.

[Robertson Smith] observed that, upon the acceptance of male kinship, the
woman was placed in a subordinate status and the principal position in the
religion was no longer held by the Goddess, but by a God. Though Smith
presented the change as taking place rather naturally, the transition was
actually accomplished by violent aggression, brutal massacres, and
territorial conquests throughout the near and middle east (Stone, 1982, p. 21).

Okay. Again. If you’re going to disagree with Robertson Smith, that’s fine. BUT TELL ME WHERE YOU’RE BASING YOUR CLAIM FROM.

None of this is too much to ask from a paper that is being asked to be taken seriously in an academic environment. So, I point this out. I point this out nicely, and from the angle that I am frustrated by this sort of academic incompetence, because I want to learn, I want to understand, but if baseless charges are going to be levelled at my gender, its going to be a turn off to those of us who want to take the article seriously, and learn from it.

So, then, of course, the classmate I knew would jump my shit for pointing this out, jumped my shit. For pointing this out.

She wanted me to understand that women are angry (I’d kinda figured that out some time ago), and that they’re feeling oppressed, but that wasn’t my contention. My contention was shoddy research.

I also found this in an interview with Don Frew in Modern Pagans put out recently by RE/Seach.

But the Goddess movement still clings to what is sometimes called a “Gimbutista” (lampooning Marija Gimbutas) outlook. But those with a more informed, skeptical view of history question her theory that the world was once covered with matriarchal sites. There’s a very simple way to analyze her views: just continually ask yourself, “How do you know that?”

If you unearth a small, hand-sized statutte of a woman with large breasts and a prominent vulva, well, how do you know it’s a fertility goddess? How do you even know they had gods or goddesses in that culture at all? Lots of cultures don’t have gods or goddesses. Was the statue found by the hearth or out in the yard? Maybe it was a child’s toy. If it WAS a goddess figure, maybe they made earth goddess figures in stone, which survives, and hunting god figures in wood or antler, which doesn’t, giving a skewed picture of their beliefs. Many explanations are possible.

One example Gimbutas cited in The Civilization Of The Goddess involved the burial of a man with a head wound, with a woman buried next to him. She says something like, “Obviously, the man was killed in combat and when he was buried, the woman was killed to follow him, like the Indian practice of suttee.” But how does she know? Maybe she died years earlier from disease and the grave was reopened to bury her husband with her. Or when she died, HE was killed with a blow to the head to follow HER into the afterlife. Or they both died in the same raid, but her damage was all soft-tissue, not leaving marks on her skeleton. How do you really know? It’s all speculation.

Marija Gimbutas made a lot of statements that have no support. More reasonable people would say, “Here’s what we found, and here are some possible explanations” instead of presenting it as, “This explanation is the only possible answer.”

One of the reasons I’m opposed to the “in the ancient days everybody woshiped the goddess and was peaceful” idea is that I think it’s disempowering. I think you cannot posit such a Golden Age without asking, “Why isn’t it still there?” You have to say, “It fell; it fell to the evil, nomad male invaders.” Meaning “It’s a system that, whenever it experiences outside pressure, it wil fail to survive.” What kind of system is that to hold up as an example?! Personally, I’d rather go, “It looks like pretty much everywhere has been a patriarchy. Isn’t it great that we’re now moving beyond that? We are learning the error of that; we are learning how to value everybody and incorporate all these voices into a more egalitarian, balanced view.” Isn’t that a much better picture of the future?

There are articles that say, “The problem is not patriarchy; the problem is having a monolithic view. There’s every reason to think that any culture that is wholly Goddess-focused would have just as many abuses – albeit of a different type – than anything that is fully God-focused.” So, I think that balance is the name of the game.

And yes, I would have liked if Frew had given some sources for these “articles”, and I’m just as annoyed that he didn’t. The only difference is, this was an interview, rather than an academic paper.

Our discussion was cut short on the matter, because we were running out of time. After class, I went up to my classmate, and she apologized to me for “not letting me have my space on the subject” (I love California, but sometimes with phrases like this, I want to roll my eyes). I told her that it was no big deal, because I think we’re ultimately arguing for the same thing. But that as someone who genuinely wants to understand and acknowledge this sort of thing, it is frustrating when things are presented and not backed up. When personal anger intrudes on a well constructed argument. I didn’t say it, but its the reason I don’t watch Fox News, either. So, we came out of it friendly, and with a good understanding and respect for each other.

Which is good. Which is very good.

Weirdly though, I had two women in the class approach me on the way out, thanking me for bringing up the points that I did.

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