Re-Membering (via Radfem Hub)
“Continual complicity in the crime of Goddess-killing is mandatory in the Man’s world. Our refusal to collaborate in this killing and Dis-Membering of our own Selves is the Beginning of Re-Membering the Goddess –”
Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, Mary Daly, (1978)
“There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that… You say you have lost all recollection, remember . . . you say it does not exist. But remember.
Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent. “
Les Guérillères, Monique Wittig, (1971)
Gyn/Ecology , and Les Guérillères, were a couple of the first radfem books I ever read as a (very) young woman. I didn’t understand much about the huge social and political powers of metaphor, allegory, archetype, symbolism, not just religious – but secular as well, buried in the foundation stones of main(male)stream culture of the arts, film, music, literature as well as medicine, education, psychology, sociology, history etc.
Partly because I had been educated as a maths/science major. Poetry, art, high-school literary explorations of the Human (ie male) Condition, and male ‘Existential Angst’. Bleh. All those D&M* themes, metaphor, symbolism, belonged to the ‘Humanities’ not the ‘hard’ sciences.
Also, it was partly because I had been raised in a fiercely atheist/marxist family value system. The popular kiddie-bible stories, school nativity plays, (which are impossible to not absorb in Western cultures) – had meant nothing more to me, than other children’s fairytales and comic-books, up there with Rumpelstiltskin and Superman. I didn’t realise how seriously some people took religious mythology, until I was in my early teens when I was bullied at school for saying that Jesus, Santa Claus and Superman etc were all the same to me. Don’t they all work miracles with cool magic tricks?
So, I grew up relatively ‘religion-free’. The first time I set foot inside a christian (Catholic) church, was as a teenager at my father’s funeral where the statue of Jesus on the cross totally freaked me out, with all the gruesome blood, nails, thorns, in large 15-foot high detail. I remember thinking, these people must worship death, and the gorier, the crueler, the more sadistic the death, the more “holy” it is. Later, as a university student, I was puzzled by the ‘cults’ which sprang up in the late 70s, the Jesus Freaks, the Moonies, the New Agers, the Hare Krishnas etc.
When I read Gyn/Ecology, I found a new “language”, or a Translation Matrix, a Rosetta Stone, that enabled me to relate to this abstract part of the Human (sic) Condition, as well as recognise its enormous power over the real world of social politics. Daly spoke of how many common creation stories which have been passed down over time, involve the killing of the original Goddess image, icon or metaphor. Usually involving violent rape metaphors and detailed gory torture-porn descriptions of dismemberment and mutilation of Her female body. Sometimes dismembered fragments of Her body became the separation of heavens and Earth.
The ‘Hero’ always has to go through Trials and Tribulations (*yawn*) with the ultimate glorious heroic defeat of the Female (as powerful Monster eg Medusa, conquering ‘Nature’) before he can take his rightful place as Lord Master of All. Sometimes after he has killed the Female, he must face the Male, his ‘father’. Good Sons overthrow the Bad Dads. Remember Star Wars with Luke and Darth Vader? Myths of Beowulf, Hercules, Ulysses, Jesus, Buddha (list is endless) all contain this element, and which is repeated ad nauseum even in modern contemporary culture. How many Hollywood blockbusters are about the trials of a young male Hero? The film ‘The Matrix’ is a modern classic of the ancient Heroic myth. He is revered as “The One”, ‘the ‘Saviour’, and he is ‘Not Of Woman Born’ which is an important common element, male heroes must not have mothers. All of them seem to have mythical “miracle” births. In modern times however, the female Monster metaphor is more hidden (eg ‘natural disaster’ movies, where “Nature” is the symbol of the Female metaphor, which must be conquered/controlled/contained by the male Heroic Actions).
Daly describes these myths, no matter the form they take in our most modern techno-pornified or primitive ancient cultures, as Re-Enactments of the original Primal Act of Goddess-Rape/Murder. But, it doesn’t stop with men’s Heroic Tales (or Delusions of Grandeur), indeed she argues the Rituals which patriarchal cultures impose socially and politically to Re-Enact Goddess Murder, are manifest far more severely onto females. It is what we experience as “femininity”. In Re-Enacting Goddess-Murder through “femininity” women ‘perform’ or Re-Enact masochistic Self-Sacrifice, Re-Enacts her own Murder, takes glory in it, celebrates it, she must Hurt herself, and hence all other women in a life-long ritual. These rituals vary from culture to culture, over time and space, from ritual FGM, to wearing a mandatory ‘uniform’ eg hijab, sari, veiling, the hairstyles, to widow-burning, to foot-binding, to Western rituals of leg-shaving, high heels and cosmetic surgery (the list of variations on the theme is endless, but all are Sado-Rituals of Femininity). They are meant to be painful, shameful, restricting, sometimes risky of severe illness, injury or death (helps keep population down by selectively killing females). Ultimately, its all designed to remove femaleness, female physical and social autonomy, both physically and symbolically, both literally and figuratively, and replace it with ‘femininity’. For as several feminist theorists have noted, ‘femininity’ is nothing but castrated, re-vamped, mutilated, revised ‘masculinity’, from Greer’s ‘Female Eunuch’ image to Dalys ‘Femininity has nothing to do with Femaleness’.
Daly explains further in that the image and rituals of ‘femininity’ down through the ages, was ‘handed back to us’ by patriarchy, but has always been nothing more than ‘fragments’ of the original Goddess icons. It is important to remember, the Dis-Memberment component with the Rape/Murder. The cutting up and dispersal of the bits & pieces of metaphorical flesh. In symbolism, Daly used the ubiquitous male-twinning of male god icons, in particular the mythology of Apollo and Dionysus to demonstrate how ‘femininity’ is always constructed on the male body base, as the ‘human’ ideal, and that ‘feminine’ social and physical ritualised constructions are based on male-bodied experiences. For the strictly female body experiences of humanity, can never be experienced by the male-bodied, therefore they must be co-opted, owned, controlled, transferred to the male (literally or figuratively, or both), or erased, invisibilised, trivialised, cut-out, dis-membered, mutilated. Femaleness, especially all the “bits” that male bodies don’t have, can never be ‘Human’.
Because the female body is ‘necessary’, patriarchy is forced to tolerate it. Until such time as He (sic) can figure out a way of getting rid of the female altogether. The ‘Final Solution to the Woman Question’. If physical means can’t do it, then social surgery will have to do. If mutilated bodies aren’t enough, then mutilated minds will have to do.
In using the Dionysian myth, as just one particular example of the ‘male-twinning’ into masculine/feminine – Daly points out that Dionysus “often appeared in feminine form”. He ‘confused’ women, for they saw the “fragments”, the pale shreds, tatters and remnants, glimpses and shadows of the imitation and mimicry of femaleness in Him. Another such “fragmented” image was returned to us as the Virgin Mary, an impossible icon of “empty vessel” male-defined motherhood, completely powerless, rendered inert and conquered, the ultimate Self-Sacrificing Masochist. Mary’s words to Gabriel “Let it be Done Unto Me According to Thy Word” is manufactured consent to being raped. Physical rape isn’t necessary if the mind is already raped into submission. Daly calls Mary iconography the most famous trans* or Male-to-Female Construct. As is The Gentle-Man, Jesus, Buddha, the Hero, the Nice-Guy(TM), the progressive liberal, the SNAG, the Nigel. Whether outwardly presenting as male, or female, both are masculine and both erase the female, literally and/or figuratively. Robert Graves, in “The White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth” (1948), also explained this ‘male-twinning’ of the masculine/feminine imagery in mythology, in another way:
” .. (on man’s divinity)… he is divine, not in his person, but in his twinhood. As Osiris, the Spirit of the Waxing Year, he is always jealous of his twin, the god Set, Spirit of the Waning Year. Man is a demi-god: he always has one foot or other in the grave, he cannot be both aspects at once. Woman is Divine because she is complete, she always has both feet always in the same place, in the sky, in the underworld, or on Earth.
Man cannot be both at once except by an intellectual effort that destroys his humanity. Man envies Her, and tell himself lies about his own completeness, and thereby makes himself miserable; because if He is divine and complete, then She cannot be – and his love for Her turns to scorn and hate.
Woman worships only the male infant, not the grown man: it is evidence of her completeness, her Divinity, of man’s dependence on Her for life, not the reverse. She is passionately interested in men however, because the cycle of competitive love-hate between Osiris and Set in their twinning, is a tribute to Her, as they compete for her favour. She tries to satisfy both, but can do so only through the eternal cycling life-death-resurrection to one or other in their turn. Man tries to regard this as evidence of her fundamental falsity, not of his own irreconcilable demands on Her. “
Indeed. Despite all the abstractions that hurt my brain so much, it made so much sense to me. The mysterious abstract ‘Other’ that man has railed so much misery and ‘existential angst’ about, is based in his own other-half. His ‘Twin’. The ‘Other’ is Himself – often in a confusing ‘feminine’ (but not female) form. The masculine/feminine binary of ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’, good vs evil, yin and yang, Osiris/Set, Romulus/Remus, Castor & Pollux, God/Jesus (Vengeful macho father/Gentle son), Right-wing/Left-wing, Cain and Abel … the list is f’ing endless. Where ‘femininity’ is mandatory for females, it remains optional for males. But both masculinity and femininity are about Goddess-Killing, the female is enemy to both.
So much for all that. Despite all that tedious background, I genuinely am far more interested in Re-Membering the Goddess. I adore, worship, idolise Mary Daly’s playing with Man-Made ‘language’. Through her I first learned of the Triple Goddess, the first Holy Trinity of Maid, Mother and Crone. Three-In-One, and One-In-Three. I fell in love with the images, icons and metaphors that I could actually relate to. I learned how she was constantly being Dis-Membered, Fragmented, torn up into bits and pieces, and how only tattered remnants remained.
The Maid: The Amazon, the Warrior. The Huntress. The Lesbian. She who was probably the first to be wiped out, to be erased, invisibilised, physically and socially. Unencumbered with vulnerability like the Mother and Crone, the fittest, strongest, of us all, She was the biggest threat to man’s supremacy, and the least necessary, so was the first to go. We see glimpses, shadows and ‘fragments’ of Her in modern icons, like Xena: The Warrior Princess. In real life, She is sometimes co-opted , or absorbed into patriarchy, “returned to us” by patriarchy in images of the ‘liberated’ young fuck-toy, the bimbo, the ‘successful independent career-woman with balls’, ‘lipstick lesbians’ and ‘queer/trans’ images. In some cultures She doesn’t exist at all, either as fragments or as co-opted absorbed feminised androgynised males.
The Mother: Skills of nurturance, guidance, comfort, community and security, especially -but not solely, for the vulnerable young – for She also includes the midwives, the nurses, the healers, the carers, the teachers, the mentors of the young. For the ‘oldest profession’ is midwifery, not prostitution. Other ancient professions were teaching of the young the knowledge they needed for survival. For a community, species, to survive, the young must survive. Mothering-in-general. To put that label on prostitution instead, just proves to me just how deep masculinist/patriarchal roots go in rewriting of history, re-wiring our brains. Whatever Her skills, the Mother is the only one that patriarchy still needs, (and maybe not for that much longer) and he only needs her body, and then, only some ‘bits and pieces’ of her body’s organs – so he cuts it from her, fragments and dis-members it yet again, (and again) and controls it all in law, medicine, religion, education (or lack of it) in culture, rituals, traditions. In pop culture, there is a myth about her ‘power’ and ‘privilege’. All lies. She is the most controlled and powerless of all women in reality. Man takes full, sole, ownership of her body, and Her children, from conception onwards. They are his to destroy or not, as he chooses. Only males have the right-to-choose. The law supports him either way, for Father-Rights are the only Human Rights.
The Crone: The wise one, she may have once been a Mother, or an Amazon, or both at times in her life. Her body no longer capable itself, and she has time and space, She helps train the Warriors, She helps the Mothers, She teaches lessons, the arts and crafts of necessity, the Skills of Survival. She was probably wiped out as being unneccessary to men as well. Today, She has been long replaced by caricatures and ‘jokes’ that only men find funny, the nagging shrew wife, the stereotyped ‘mother-in-law’, the Evil Step-Mother, the Halloween witch who eats children, even the earlier Medusa images are long gone.
In my own Re-Membering, I listened to Mary Daly’s Re-Working of the ‘meanings’, putting layers of meaning in such words. For its not just ‘remembering’, as in recovering memories, but also Re-Membering the Dis-Memberment – putting the fragments back together, to make Her Whole. It may not be possible, like Humpty-Dumpty, the Egg – a Female image, but presented in the myth as male – once broken, could not be put together again, but Re-Member – only ‘the king’s horses and king’s men’ tried to do it.
I also thought of the three main aspects of the Triple Goddess, for we have been sundered, fragmented, and split apart from each other as well. We all need each other to Re-Member, no one of us, or one group of us, or one aspect of us, can do it alone, or in leadership over all the others. Like the postcard image above, only by working together can we Re-Member the Whole. We must “Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.”
Noting also that : “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”.
(* = Deep & Meaningful)
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