Pagans and Abortion

For the anniversary of Roe v. Wade I wrote a blog for Witches and Pagans about my own experience with abortion.

T. Thorn Coyle said it much more eloquently than I did. She said, “Death and life are inextricably intertwined. To deny a woman’s power over the workings of her own body is to deny her right to foster life itself.”

I am rabidly pro-choice. If you choose to have an abortion, at any stage, for any reason, that is your right. No ifs or buts.

The Pagan community is full of empowered women. But no woman can be empowered when she doesn’t have the right to choose what happens to her body. Being forced to bring a child into this world against one’s wishes is not something anyone should have to go through.

When I see people’s reactions to that original blog, I am profoundly saddened by the same sense of shame and ignorance from our community that you can find in any middle-American Bible Belt town.

We are a community that embraces all forms of love and intimacy. Why are we scared of discussing the validity of abortion?

It’s so important to tell our stories and experiences when it comes to this topic.

When I went to Planned Parenthood, I had to walk through protestors who called me horrible things. I had to be admitted through a locked entryway. I had to talk to a nurse behind bullet proof glass and I couldn’t take anyone back with me, when it came my turn to talk to the doctor, for the safety of the doctors and nurses in the clinic.

Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures there is and yet I was unable to have my abortion in a safe and comfortable environment with the care and support I deserved in a world of modern medicine.

I am not a Christian who believes that abortion will send me to Hell. I am a Pagan woman who knows that I have sovereignty over my entire self.

How can we empower women and not allow them to make this most basic, fundamental decision? I am worried that the Pagan community is losing sight of one of the most important aspects of what we are, a community of powerful women.

I recently had an experience at a local Pagan campground. I ran into a nineteen year old who was incredulous that I, who am almost thirty, didn’t have any children. She had two children, both of whom had already been taken by the state because she couldn’t support them. If this had been someone not raised in Paganism, I wouldn’t have been shocked. But she had been raised Pagan and she was just like every other uneducated, Christian girl I grew up with. When did we start forgetting to teach our daughters about how to care for themselves and their families? Was it when we asked that modestly be a value in our community?

I’ve seen a lot of arguments that state that abortion is against the Wiccan Rede. This infuriates me. The long term harm on a woman who is forced to carry a child to term that she can’t or doesn’t want to care for is much greater than the choice to rid your body of a clump of cells. The consequences of bringing a baby into the world that isn’t wanted has an effect on more than the mother who is forced to do so as well. Want to see the threefold law in effect? Then force that sort of pain into the world.

Our society already has unwanted babies it can’t care for. If you tell me adoption is a great option, I would ask, when did you last adopt a child? If you feel abortion is wrong, yet you do not help in caring for unwanted children, you are a hypocrite.

My only regret? Not being able to find Pagan resources that helped me deal with my anger and grief at having to make that decision.

I created my own ritual for healing that I did without any guidance.

I know of only one Pagan book that discusses abortion, and it was written by someone I don’t trust.

Where is our discussion of abortion in Paganism? Where are our resources? Why are we willing to ignore yet another part of the possibility of a woman’s reproductive life. We have maiden, mother, crone. We have menstrual rituals, birthing rituals, croning rituals: where are our rituals to deal with this choice?

Reading back through this, I know I sound I angry. Well, I am angry.

Angry that this sort of conservatism is encroaching on a community that treasures women’s lives.

The cycles of life and death are sacred. That cycle is reenacted through women’s wombs every month. Abortion is as much a part of that cycle as either pregnancy or bleeding.

I refuse to keep quiet about this particular topic. I refused to be ashamed of making the choice that was right for me. I refuse to give in to those who continue to try and entrap women by controlling their bodies. This is a choice that other woman out there go through everyday.

Abortion is a choice that everyone deserves to be able to have.

I’ll echo T. Thorn once again, because as always, she says it better.

I honor the cycles of life. I honor the cycles of death. I honor my power, as a priestess, to hold out a hand to both. I clasp those hands, bringing life and death together.

I am a priestess who balances life and death together continuously. I celebrate my ability to do so and to accept the pain and fear of hard choices in all aspects of life. Maybe if I do it, someone else won’t have to. Maybe by suffering and offering up my own pain, I can relieve some else’s.

Women’s rights are a battle we are far from winning, but maybe by speaking up and speaking out against the ignorance of others, we will get just a few inches closer.

And I celebrate other women who have made the same choice in the face of overwhelming fear and shame.

I celebrate those fierce warrior woman who stood up in the past to gain us the rights we currently have. I celebrate those women who continue to fight today to maintain them. I celebrate those who have had the courage to walk through the same protestors that I did.

As a priestess, as an independent woman, as a girl who grew up knowing that my choices defined the very core that makes up “me,” I refuse to give in to fear and hate. To do so goes against everything I believe in and everything I stand for.

You don’t have to approve of my own choice, but I would fight for you to be able to make a different one.

Choice is power. Choice is freedom. Choice is ownership over the self.

Without choice, we are nothing.

Modesty Part III

A few months ago I wrote two blogs (Pagans and the Modesty Issue and Gender Respect in the Pagan Community) about modesty and how I think it doesn’t belong in the Pagan community. I had mixed reactions and I was shocked by how many people thought I was a horrible person for thinking that instead of teaching our daughters to not get raped, we need to teach our sons not to rape. The reaction was, who teaches their sons to become rapists? Maybe we don’t sit our sons down and tell them to go out and rape girls, but by not discussing what rape is, what consent is and that women have a right to dress however they want, our culture drowns our children in the idea that after a certain point girls are “asking for it” if they don’t behave in a “proper and decent” manner. And when people excuse sexual assault because of what a girl is wearing, it proves that we need to talk to males about the fact that sexual assault is never OK.

There is such a lack of discussion about sexuality in our overall society. Here in America, sex is a huge taboo. We have people who don’t want it taught in schools, who don’t want us to have access to places like Planned Parenthood, and for many years being a woman as a “pre-existing condition” could even change how your medical rights were viewed. While this is slowly changing, we still need to talk about these issues as often as we can. The Steubenville rape case should show us exactly why we need to sit boys and girls down and talk about what sex is, what consent is and when it’s not OK to take advantage of someone.

This weekend I had the opportunity to participate in SlutWalk. SlutWalks are organized protest marches that work to shed light on the fact that there is never an excuse for sexual assault; that no matter how provocatively a woman is dressing, she is not “asking for it”. Women and men gather and dress however they feel is appropriate, or in the clothes they were wearing when they were attacked, to march together in solidarity, proclaiming that Rape is never excusable. The original protest started over comments from a Toronto policeman who said “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.

While this protest is not a Pagan protest, its message is just as important to our community as to the larger community. Modesty is something that our entire culture is battling. If we encourage it, it will eat away at our respect and our equality, as we have seen it do in other areas of the world. We are a community of strong men and woman who should understand that whether male or female, it’s our body and therefore our choice. Consent is vital to more than just our sexual relations, and coercion has no place in our interpersonal relationships.

If we in today’s world don’t stand up and speak out about these issues and work to change them, what will our future look like? And until we overcome the very simple idea that women have as much a right to bare as much of themselves as men do, we will not have true equality.

My marching "outfit"

My marching “outfit”

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*All photos were taken by Kenny Klein and used with his permission

Modesty and Amanda Palmer

The whole “modesty” issue just can’t seem to leave me alone. Here’s a for-instance.

Anybody who knows me knows that I’m mad about singer/performer/wife of author God Amanda Palmer. One of the things that I love about her so much is how open she is with her body. From photographs, to tweets, to her blog, Amanda doesn’t care if she has clothes on or not when she has something to tell her fans. Sometimes the point is exactly that she’s at home and in bed and comfortable.

When it comes to nudity, suggestive clothing or simply dressing as she sees fit Amanda Palmer does not believe in shame. She didn’t allow her original record label to tell her that her body wasn’t beautiful and she protested vocally when they censored photographs of her. This is the sort of thing that we need to teach our daughters and sons about. “Modesty” is not the answer, but things like this most certainly are…

Amanda Palmer says about the video “I’m so comfortable being naked at this point that I almost forget … I’m also proud that that video has nudity, but it isn’t sexual or erotic … it’s using the body as a raw canvas, which I love.”

This is the sort of feeling I want to embody and hope that I can teach to my daughters. Women have a potential to be powerful creatures in ways that men do not. The Goddess encompasses all of these ideas, and when I go into ritual, with my hair uncovered and my body skyclad, this is the sort of feminine power I want to exhibit. I can use my body for many things, most of which have nothing to do with sexuality. But that’s exactly the point; my body is mine. I shouldn’t have to be afraid of what others think. I should not have to cover it up modestly to be free and comfortable in my community. If you want to cover yourself, that’s your respected choice. But covering yourself should never have anything to do with the fear of being hurt or attacked.

Gender Respect in the Pagan Community

For this post, I’ll be referring back to my last blog “Pagans and the Modesty Issue”, so if you’re confused or want to see the actual comments that I’m talking about, please go back to it.

I wanted to expand a little on my last post, because one thing became clear to me from all of the responses that I received was that what we should be talking about in the Pagan community, instead of “modesty”,  is respect.

One of the comments that I received was from a woman that said that she dressed modestly because of how Pagan men approached her. She said essentially that a lot of Pagan men assumed that because she was Pagan, she was “easy” and she was made extremely uncomfortable by this sort of attention. This is not uncommon. I too have had similar experiences. Whether you cover fully or wear nothing at all, you should never be made to feel uncomfortable at our gatherings.

My S.O. has a story about a man in the Pagan community who would go to Pagan festivals and single out the young women who were new to the Pagan community, essentially saying something to the effect of, “Hey! You’re Pagan now. You’re expected to sleep around! Why not start with me?”. Apparently, he was well known for doing this in the community. This man was actually shot and killed later on. He was staying with friends and someone walked into the house and murdered him. They never discovered who did it, but everyone assumed that he had gone after the wrong woman and a person in her life had decided to violently retaliate for the harm he caused. My question to this story is this: why didn’t we, as a community, see what this man was doing and take him aside and tell him that what he was doing was inappropriate and harmful to the community? That somewhere there would be consequences to him, as well as the emotional upset to the women he going after?

PaganDad was incensed that he took his children to a Pagan event and they had to witness BDSM when he, as their parent, didn’t think that that was something his children should witness and that it was not age appropriate. Most festivals will cordon off areas where adult behavior is appropriate and set these apart from where the children are or allowed. I still think this isn’t a “modesty” issue. It was disrespectful of the festival to blatantly disregard what parents would consider to be age appropriate. The festival didn’t take “respect” into consideration. And PaganDad is right to point out that we need to think about how newcomers and outsiders are going to react to these situations. If we don’t take respect into consideration, we are going to lose people who might otherwise join our community.

When PaganSoccerMom tells me that I’m missing the point because  “clothing made for little boys aren’t generally created to make them look sexual beyond their years”, I strongly disagree. I think that little boys get it just as much as little girls do. When little girls are being given Brittany Spearsesque clothing, little boys are getting pants that sit down well below their waist lines to show off their underwear and wife beater shirts to emulate rockers and gangsters. Doesn’t anyone see that this is clearly having the same effect on them? The boys who robbed my Significant Other and I (who are around the ages of fifteen and sixteen) have grown up in this culture, and they are expected to become like the men in their lives. They have been in and out of juvie, they have been under house arrest and the cops all know them. This behavior didn’t start last night, it started with behaviors they were taught that would gain them acceptance in their community. These boys already have blatant disrespect for the women in our neighborhood. How we teach our little boys and young men to act in regards to nudity and modesty is just as vitally important as how we teach to the girls.

PaganSoccerMom also commented that:

“As for my deliberately”not getting it” on the point that dressing our girls in an age-appropriate way is telling them that “teaching them that other people can’t control themselves in reaction to their bodies”, I think we do that every day. We teach them to not walk down dark alleys. Not to leave their drinks unattended. To walk in groups. All these are, at least to me, part and parcel (along with wearing age-appropriate clothing) ways to help keep them safe. There are bad people out there that will do bad things and we have to do things to help keep ourselves safe.”

What she is still missing is that we live in a rape culture. While we tell little girls not to get raped, we don’t tell our boys not to rape, and this is what needs to change. And instead of reacting to it in the Pagan community with the old monotheistic notion of “modesty” (look at the example of the Middle East to see how that’s worked out for everyone involved), we need to address the larger issue of respect, and how both sexes need to deal with each other. I, as a woman, should be able to walk down a dark alley completely naked and not have to worry about a predator jumping out and violating me. Now, I know that we don’t live in a perfect world and while this is the ideal, as a woman, I do avoid dark alleys and I don’t leave my drinks unattended, but if we ever want to make it to this ideal, we need to start by teaching our children that you need to respect women.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that we ignore the men in our community. That the Pagan community is not always masculine friendly. There’s the old joke that our priests are just altar boys that are there to assist the priestess. My S.O. has a book out called “The Flowering Rod“, which is about men’s roles in spirituality. His contract with his original publisher is up and he is shopping it around to some of the bigger Pagan publishers, who all keep telling him that no one wants to read about men’s issues in Paganism and that they are only publishing things marketed to women. How can we be a healthy community when we ignore half of our community?

One of the things that initially drew me to Paganism was that I saw it being a balanced approach to masculinity and feminism. The Christian church became abhorrent to me because of how they told me that as a woman, my health and my issues weren’t important enough to address outside of the patriarchal context. I’ve always considered myself to be a feminist, but one of the things that makes me angry in feminism is when we go so far as to want to exclude men entirely. If we want to have a healthy community, we have to treat men and women equally, and I think that in the Pagan community, we have the unique opportunity to actually do that.

We should not be telling our women to dress more “modestly”, we should be telling everyone that the people of both sexes have the right to be treated with respect on all issues. We need to acknowledge the role that our men play and more fully integrate them into our practices so that they aren’t left standing on the outside of our community. Until we do this, we are going to continue to have problems with the ways men and women interact. And yes, I’m sure we’ll always have bad apples, but women are often just as guilty in their behavior as men are, and until we address the wider issue of gender equality, our community won’t be able to move forward on any of these issues.

Pagans and the Modesty Issue

When I was a child, my parents taught me to respect my body. They explained the changes that my body was going to go through at an appropriate age. They also explained sex and contraception, and told me that they would always be there to help me if I needed them. Most importantly, they told me that if I ever had any questions, no matter how embarrassing, to come to them to ask: they would tell me the truth.

My parents were both teachers and understood the importance of teaching me how to respect my body. Were they trying to encourage me to have sex? Definitely not! In the midst of all of this, they lectured me on the morals and ethics and possible repercussions of a sexual relationship. They gave me a very balanced view of my own body. And while they were at it, my father gave me some good rules for being aware of situations, so that I wouldn’t easily walk into bad ones. This was all wrapped up with a dollop of good common sense.

The term “modest” was never brought into any of it. And remember, I was brought up in a Christian household.

I associate the word “modest” with monotheistic religious values. I know that this is not the only meaning or context of the word, but usually when I hear about women dressing “modestly”, it’s in a religious context rather than anything having to do with age appropriateness or basic common sense. When I hear about women needing to dress “modestly” all my hang-ups about the patriarchal society that we still live in come to the surface. I think of all the Right Wing conservatives who keep hacking away at women’s rights and seem to want to take us back to the Dark Ages.

“Modest” is also not a word that I associate with Paganism.

And yet…this word seems to be cropping up a lot these days in Pagan forums. It started with the issue of women veiling. OK, I may not agree with that, but if your patron/ess is telling you to veil, you veil. It is also the decision that you, as an adult, have made for yourself. I can get behind veiling for religious purposes. There are Pagan groups out there who veil (or robe, or hood)..but not for being “modest”. I see modesty as a way that patriarchal society controls women and tries to control how they regard their bodies. But of course, I’ve already made my thoughts on this subject known. (Read Star Foster’s blog Veiling: A Different Take On Pagan Womanhood for more on Pagan women veiling).

But I’ve also seen the discussion start to branch out elsewhere in the community.

The PaganDad wrote a blog called “Control Yourself”. I go to a lot of festivals, all of which are “family friendly”. And I even think it’s one of the best part of festival to get to see all these little kids running around together and having a good time. The pirates have marshmallow fights with the fairy kids every year. But sex and ecstatic behavior are also a part of a lot of people’s worship/practice in the Pagan community and festivals are places where we Pagans go to let some of these behaviors out. It sounds like, in his situation, that particular festival was probably badly handled, but unfortunately, a lot of Paganism is just not really child friendly. If you take your children to Pagan events, you have to realize that there is the possibility that they are going to be confronted with very adult situations, and I’m not just talking about sex. A lot of what we do in Paganism is very adult subject matter that children just aren’t going to be able to easily understand. There is a reason that most groups won’t accept children.

Another flurry has been going on over the recent blog by Friendly Atheist blogger Amanda on “The Ugly Side of Modesty”. This blog voices her objections to SecretKeeperGirl.com, a Christian website that is trying to teach girls tricks to make sure they’re dressed “modestly” in some really creepy ways. Amanda says: To be clear, this has nothing to do with peer pressure, purity, or an individual’s empowerment: This is about control. There is no sane reason that an eight-year-old should be worrying about whether or not their potential future cleavage is showing when trying on clothing. Advocating this kind of insanity only creates paranoia and concern over the nebulous, constantly changing, unseen forces that dictate “modesty.” And I think this sums the issue up pretty nicely. When you start talking about modesty in these contexts, its all about control and nothing else. So what’s my upset here? The conversation comes to me via the blog Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom and her response called “Modesty, a “laughable non-problem” for Pagans?” .

Pagan Soccer Mom makes a very good point that little girls shouldn’t be dressing like adults. We can probably all agree that there is a level of age appropriateness that should occur. I was extremely disturbed by some of the comments that showed up after she posted the blog, like:

We teach our 8 yr old who acts 30 that it is important to show that she deserves respect in how she dresses. We don’t allow belly shirts or shorts that are too short. She hates showing her belly but will walk around the house without any guilt and we have to remind her that daddy doesn’t need to see her body.When she forgets a towel or other piece of clothing.[Sic]”

There’s something about the line that “daddy doesn’t need to see her body” that somehow, just really creeps me out. Is the child’s father a pedophile that she needs to protect her child from? This line is oddly reminiscent of the language in the SecretKeeperGirl ads.

One woman made a very valid point, she said:

I don’t see much of a correlation between modesty and self respect. But that’s just me and those are both dependent on an individuals definition of morality, current social construct, culture, etc. Maybe if humans weren’t consistently being raised to see the human body as a purely sexual object it wouldn’t be an issue? *shrug* my personal opinion is that the modesty=self respect issue just continues to support the “she was asking for it by the way she was dressed” aspect.

Pagan Soccer Mom’s response was:

I don’t think anyone here is saying that an 8 year old girl is “asking for it” when her parents dress her up in something that isn’t age appropriate.

But I think that she’s deliberately missing the point here. When we teach girls to be “modest” in these contexts, we are teaching them that other people can’t control themselves in reaction to their bodies. We are, in effect, creating victims. Why aren’t boys being taught to be “modest” as well? Why are we still encouraging young girls to become victims of society’s double standards? Self respect is acknowledging yourself and all of your own decisions to create a healthy, confident lifestyle. The young Pagan girls that I’ve met, those raised at clothing optional festivals, have had some of the healthiest understanding of and respect for their bodies of any young adults that I’ve encountered. Why are we letting this monotheistic ideal seep into our community?

I think that the Charge of the Goddess sums all of this up pretty succinctly. “And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye are truly free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in my praise. For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and mine also is joy on earth; for my Law is Love unto all Beings…Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” I don’t see “modesty” having anything to do with this at all. We need to raise our daughters to be empowered, responsible and self aware, not “modest”.