(Essay 1) Feminism and the Future of Religion by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

Part 1 of a paper presented by the author at the National Socialist Conference Sydney, 1990.

Feminism/the uprising of women continues to chip away at patriarchal religions worldwide. Though the inroads may be small in some places, they are significant. The stone face of the Father continues to be chiselled into.

Mary Daly … way Beyond God the Father, into Gyn/Ecology and the Archaic Future - she had a clarity of vision.
Mary Daly … way Beyond God the Father, into Gyn/Ecology and the Archaic Future – she had a clarity of vision.

Though there is backlash and resistance to it, it does seem that once a woman has begun the journey Home there is no turning back. So the movement is unstoppable; and it spreads in ever widening circles. Only the naive think that feminism is a spent force; we are as yet only scratching the surface.

In Australia in the Judeo-Christian tradition there has been tremendous movement in the last 15 years, mostly on a grassroots level. Individuals have been increasingly expressing dissatisfaction with, and awareness of, the old patriarchal order of things – right throughout the country, not just in the cities. The old structures at this point remain in tact, but they have become increasingly hollow as a growing number of hearts and minds have departed in the quest for new stories: new stories that leave behind images of domination, hierarchy and dualism.

Throughout the world, in fact, women of many different religious traditions – Buddhist, Shinto, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Native American – and in the context of many different cultures, have been profoundly moved by feminism to look again at the stories, dogma, and practices that they and their foremothers grew up with. For the past 20 years or so, they have been growing in collective and individual empowerment. As a result, the forums now in place for the continued in depth studies of feminism, spirituality and politics, are very strong, very organized and filled with women and some men, of all ages and races. The power in these forums arises from an “understanding of interconnectedness: with all people, all forms of life, the earth and the cycles and seasons of nature and our lives”[1]. And there is a deep commitment to the transformations necessary for the renewal of life.

from the film The Stoning of Soraya M.

This is not to deny the very strong and often barbaric foothold that patriarchal religions still have in the lives of millions of women. Whereas in western christianity, misogynism reached its frenzied peak in the Burning Times of the Middle Ages; in other very powerful world religions today, misogynism is still peaking. That is, we must understand that in some religions the “Burning Times” are still in effect, and indeed it is carried out in this very country. Females today are being mutilated, incarcerated, and murdered as a matter of routine religious practice. And precious little is done to stop it, since it comes under the “sanctity” of religious “freedom”. These religions will require much more disruption from within before anything will change; and it does have to come from believers, those who understand the particular inner workings of their tradition and who indeed are sincerely motivated to move their religious tradition out of what they believe to be, the corrupt interpretations of their founder’s teachings and mystical insights. Whether in fact the original founding insight was “gender- wholistic”, or if this is just the pie-eyed hope of the reforming believers does not really matter. What does really matter is that the foot is lifted off women’s necks. The work and vision of the reforming believers is essential, if the religious consciousness of their group is to evolve, that is to broaden and deepen, to take into account the divinity of the female. Of course, feminism in religion does not mean merely reforming or changing rules and laws that will hold otherwise dominating forces and individuals in check. It is not merely concerned with changing outward practices, but in the cases of suttee, genital mutilation, the withholding of contraception, stoning, and the imprisonment of rape victims, such a change would go a long way.

Riane Eisler, in her book The Chalice and the Blade identifies not only the dominator paradigm of patriarchy or “androcracy” as she names it, as a major force in the shaping of history, but also she identifies a partnership paradigm, which she names “gylany”[2]. For Eisler, “gylany” denotes a linking of both halves of humanity rather than a ranking, and she identifies how the gylanic urge to cultural evolution has also always been a constant factor in the shaping of history, as it struggled to re-emerge[3]. She says that the acceptability of the androcratic solution is not in that it offers a viable answer to the problems of our world, but in the entrenched power of androcratic symbols and myths. “For these images and stories continue to inculcate in our unconscious minds the fear that even to contemplate any deviation from androcratic premises and solutions will be severely punished, not only in this life but also in the next”[4].

St. Barbara by Hans Multscher, dated circa 1450. She holds the chalice, has graceful vital stature and authority

It is here then, in the realm of myth, image and symbol that feminists in religion find the bulk of their work – in the diluting and relativizing of patriarchal/dominator notions, stories and images; and then in the offering of alternatives. And people are reluctant to cash in their old stories, as witnessed in the world-wide rise of fundamentalism. There is a desperate clinging to officially sanctioned scriptures, a “One True Story”, a monolith that will stand rigid and forever. Jean Houston describes this rise in fundamentalism as the “sunset effect” or “the often observed phenomenon that when old traditions, politics or institutions are about to fade out they generally cut loose with a blazing rush of activity that belies their coming mortality”[5]. But the need to change is pressing; faith in androcratic dogma, the power of the Blade, to deliver us is diminishing across the world on a grassroots level. The despair and powerlessness experienced in our age is actually the beginnings of hope. Old stories, symbols, myths and images no longer have the same power, as it becomes obvious that they have failed to provide the vision needed to manifest a better world. People are hungering for new stories and visions. The hope, is that as we search within ourselves and in the background of recorded history, and in pre-history, and deep into the heart of existence, we may find or create new images and stories that serve us and our planet better.

© Glenys Livingstone 1996


1. Woman of Power magazine. Statement of Philosophy.

2. Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade. SF: Harper and Rowe, 1987, p.105.

3. Ibid. p. 134.

4. Ibid. p. 183.

5. Houston, Jean. The Search for the Beloved. LA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1987, p.33.

Read Meet Mago Contributor Glenys Livingstone.

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