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.

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Pagan Women and the Wishy-Washy

The first time I met a particular friend of my S O, she declared that she liked me immediately because I was a Pagan woman with a job.

This confused me.

While I grew up with a very traditional Christian father and a mother who had converted for my father’s sake, I was extremely lucky that both of my parents also taught me to think for myself; to seek, to question, to form my own opinions and most importantly, to read. I grew up in a solidly middle class white collar family in a medium sized industrial town in central Ohio. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would graduate from high school, go to college and then get a job and support myself. My parents raised me to take care of myself. Through anything else that occurred in my life, I knew I would work and support myself. Becoming Pagan didn’t change any of this. I didn’t know that it was supposed to.

Most of my friends are the same way. Even though some don’t hold the traditional nine-to-five sort of job that I do, they work hard to do what they love and to support themselves and their loved ones. In my group, I am very lucky to be surrounded by extremely strong women who support not only themselves, but often their families. Ohio is not a good place for jobs right now and our women have kept everyone afloat for a long time. Pirate women weather the storms of life with feet firmly planted and shoulders braced against the wind.

One of the things that originally attracted me to Paganism was its characteristic of empowering the female, seeing the feminine in the divine and in most cases, balance between the sexes. I hated how the women in the Christian communities that I grew up around had no influence on their own lives or their families’. And it infuriated me even more that they refused to claim power for themselves. I had several moments in my own family settings where I was expected to be in the kitchen preparing dinner, taking care of the children, and then cleaning up, while the men didn’t feel the need to help at all, just because they were men. Where is the fairness in that? All the women in my family work just as hard as the men, but the kitchen is a woman’s place in the Christian household, and women obviously don’t deserve time to sit down and rest. Almost all of the women that I know in the Pagan community are well aware of their power and have equal decision making roles in their family life. Our men celebrate our power. My S O loves me for the determined woman that I am.

How then, do the women in our community have this reputation for either not working or not being able to take care of themselves?

I won’t argue that as a whole, the Pagan community can be very flaky. But all of the Pagan women I know are extremely capable people and for the most part, much more mentally healthy and stable compared to many of my non-pagan friends. I’ve noticed many more instances of abusive relationships, an inability to stand up for themselves and an inability to live without a boyfriend in my friends who are not pagan. I’ve always felt that making sure that womanhood is sacred in my life has enabled me to embrace my feminine power and all of the authority that comes with being a woman. I don’t need someone else to take care of me, I am a strong individual. I can do whatever I put my mind to.

While I am lucky to have a very supportive partner, I know that if he wasn’t there, I could still make it (not that I would ever want to!).

So again, why do our women have this reputation? Don’t we have an obligation to be all that our goddesses demand of us? If you look at most our sacred myths, the women have to make very hard decisions. When Persephone disappeared, Demeter nearly destroyed the world to get her back. And in the end, Persephone made her own decision in regards to herself (anyone that tells you Persephone ate those seeds without realizing what she was doing, doesn’t understand mythology). Whether you simply worship the God and the Goddess or worship individual deities, I feel that the Goddess, in whatever form she takes, demands that we take responsibility for our lives.”Follow your highest ideal; strive ever toward it.”

The current political trend in regards to women’s rights infuriates me. Our lawmakers have obviously forgotten that this is not a Christian country. How dare they instill their morals on me and mine. My body is mine. The decisions regarding my body are only mine. My sex life is just as valid as any man’s, whether it be for procreation or recreation. If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t get one, but don’t go out of your way to try and shame the women who do make that decision.

Even if abortion and birth control are legally banned, I know exactly what I can get down at the local herb shop, which is another amazing thing about the women of the Pagan community. We have not only the ability to decide for ourselves what to do with our bodies, we have the knowledge to do it without the help of mainstream medicine and without someone we don’t know “giving us permission to do it”. Our wise women, herb wives and hedge witches have carried this knowledge through the generations for centuries.

So where does our reputation for being unempowered come from?

Oh—And the friend who had decided to instantly like me because I was a pagan woman with a job, later ended up hating me because of it. She couldn’t stand that I had boundaries that I was willing to stand up for. If there is a real need, I will give you everything. If you’re being lazy and just don’t want to get off your ass and do something for yourself…well, I have very little patience for that. I don’t see being a Pagan as an excuse to not take care of yourself. In fact, I think that you have an obligation to take care of yourself to the best of your ability, if only to keep your covenant with whatever gods you worship.

I think that more of our women need to stop and say “look at all the amazing things that I do!” and “look at what I do for my family, my community and my gods!”. We need to get rid of this overwhelming blanket belief that Pagan women aren’t capable of and willing to put in the same hard work as the men. Why are we letting the majority, the monotheistic world, spread their misogyny into our community?

Pagan women are amazing people. I would not be the person I am without the Pagan women in my life. Take the time to stop and tell the Pagan women in your life how wonderful they are and thank them for all that they do. Maybe if more of our women know and believe this, it will be easier to undo the self-sabotaging notions that have crept from the outside world into our community.