What’s a Crusty Old Feminist To Do?

Feminist Gloria Steinem
Feminist Gloria Steinem

Many years ago, I had a job knocking on doors in support of the Equal Rights Amendment for the National Women’s Political Caucus.  One woman I met stuck in my mind.  She answered the door in a tee shirt and bikini underwear.  She was thin and attractive, but seemed ancient to me at the time.  I think she must have been younger than I am now.  She identified herself as a “crusty old feminist from the Seventies,” and eagerly signed my petition and wrote me a check.

We remember what happened to the Equal Rights Amendment.  It wasn’t the first time I championed a losing cause, nor the last.  Somehow, over the years, I have now become a “crusty old feminist” from the Eighties, which was really the last decade feminism had any real meaning or political clout.

I try to tell myself (and my daughter) that it is perfectly all right that feminism is currently a non-issue, or worse, a joke.  After all, things have gotten much better for women.  My daughter never considered choosing a career based on her gender, and never expected less pay than her male colleagues receive. 

This week I read that a Hasidic newspaper in New York altered a now-iconic photo to erase Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Director of Counterterrorism Audrey Tomason from the situation room during the raid on the bin Laden compound.

The newspaper has apologized to the White House, and to the State Department.  No apology could change the fear, shock and disgust I feel about this story.  That this happened in 2011, in the United States of America, is nothing short of terrifying.

About the incident, the newspaper is quoted as saying "Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging women, which is certainly never our intention," it continued.  “We apologize if this was seen as offensive."

There’s that modesty word again.  That’s the same word they use to oppress and abuse women in some Islamic sects. 

Some Christian denominations are also guilty of extreme sexism, although modesty isn’t always the excuse.  In Christianity, there is a belief that God has established specific roles for men and women and we need to honor those roles to please God.

I know that all three religions include moderate sects that appreciate women in expanded roles.  But what is it about the Abrahamic religions that encourages misogyny amongst their conservative wings? 

I believe that tolerance is our best first step toward world peace.  I believe in freedom of religion, and the need to accept cultural differences.  But how can we be tolerant of religions who confuse modesty for misogyny? 

When I was a young feminist, I believed that men and women were essentially psychologically the same.  I thought the emotional and behavioral differences between the sexes were a matter of cultural programming, or nurture versus nature.

When I gave birth to a boy, I was very careful to not “gender-ize” him.  Nonetheless, it became clear to me very early on that boys are wired differently from girls. 

As I studied metaphysics, I came to understand some of the differences from the perspective of chakras and energy.  Even though men and women are different from each other physically, psychologically, and energetically, shouldn’t we be able to be equal partners on the planet?  Can’t we celebrate those differences, and work together to enhance each other’s strengths?

Tarot is my first and best go-to book of spiritual wisdom.  The Major Arcana of traditional tarot portrays womanhood primarily in two cards, The High Priestess and The Empress.

The High Priestess can represent perfection in womanhood.  Is there a similar card that represents perfects in masculinity?  Not that I can think of.  Interestingly, the High Priestess is, by tradition, virginal.  The perfect woman is a virgin.  In light of the great concern for modesty, this is a bit disturbing.

The Empress, of course, is the card of motherhood.  These two feminine cards, cards two and three of the Major Arcana, express the energy of the virgin and of the mother.  Those are exactly the only two acceptable roles for women in the extreme Abrahamic doctrines.

Admitedly, this is no surprise.  Its medieval Catholic roots undeniably taint tarot.

I have questions on both a political and spiritual level.  If feminism is laughable in post-feminist culture, how can we defend ourselves from being (in some cases quite literally) erased?  If tolerance is the path to world peace, how can we continue to tolerate the oppression of women in the guise of religion?  And where is the spiritual paradigm for gender equality?

Tainted though it may be, I turn to the random operation of tarot for insight here.  The card I drew is Two of Wands, the card of Dominion.  We can always dream of a better future.  We have dominion, we have power, and we have possibilities.  That the card is a Two, and that the image is of a person contemplating a globe, says male and female can find a way to be equal partners on the planet.

So what’s a crusty old feminist like me to do?  Same thing I’ve always done- dream, imagine and work to manifest a more perfectly balanced world.