There is a wound in the world that is specific to women and girls. Many of us take a lifetime to figure out what it is.
Every person is born of a woman, but somehow the traditional creation myth was turned around on its head. Women are secondary, if not cursed, via this tradition.
The textbooks that our children read are still almost entirely male-dominated filled with male-accomplishments. Our spiritual communities are still mostly male-led and refer to God as “He.”
Religious thought seeps in early and is very damaging to girls. If God is a man, and “He” is everything that is good and superior, it is easy to conclude that we as women are, in fact, beneath men. Whether one practices a religion or not, this attitude has a profound effect on our collective thinking.
“There were no religious images in the churches or synagogues of our childhood that celebrated the birthing powers of women. According to religion’s myths, the world was brought into being by a male God, and woman was created from man. This reversal of biological process went unchallenged. Most of us didn’t even notice the absence of the mother. Although we may not have been consciously aware of her absence in bible stories and sermons, her absence was absorbed into our being. And its painful influence was intensified as we observed the design of our parents’ relationship and the treatment of our mothers by our fathers and brothers. Our families mirrored the hierarchical reality of the heavens. In a society that worships a male God, the father’s life is more valuable than the mother’s. The activities of a man’s life are more vital and necessary than the mother’s intimate connections with the origins of life. The father is God.” ~Patricia Lynn Reilly
If you still doubt whether this is important, ask yourself why women today own only 1% of the world’s wealth. That means that men, mostly white Western men, own the rest. Women, by and large, are still dependent on men for that 99%.
If God is male, men are considered superior.
And women are, therefore by default, inferior.
Sadly, I heard this message loud and clear, growing up in a Christian home. I vowed that my kids would be raised differently. But I’ve learned that “one-house-at-a-time” is not quick enough for the change we need.
Several days ago, I had the usual crowd of boys at my house. My son is ten, so there are usually at least 3-4 other boys around during the summer. My daughter’s friends were not available, so she was in the house alone with me.
She is a fearless little girl, and went down to the basement where the boys were playing and asked to be included. None of them would let her. She held her ground, but none of the boys would budge. I listened to how things were playing out, content that she was sticking up for herself. She came upstairs after being told in no uncertain terms that they were not going to play with a girl. Their taunting was not mean, per say, but exclusive. She was not welcome in their realm.
So, I told her we could make some homemade lemonade together, which she really enjoys. We made a single cup for her and she took it into her room to savor so I could get back to my writing.
A few minutes later, one of the boys came up and asked about getting some of the lemonade. I looked at him in utter disbelief. He was new to our house, or he would have known better.
“You excluded her from all your play. Now you expect that she will make you lemonade?”
He looked at me confused, and walked away.
Several minutes later, another boy came up, and asked for the lemonade.
I said the same thing to him – three times – and he still walked down the stairs confused. It did not occur to either boy that he could make his own lemonade. Both were insisting that my daughter make it for them,the same girl they had just excluded.
Our faith traditions are a lot like this. For the most part, whether it is Catholicism or Islam, women are excluded from leadership positions. We are, apparently, unworthy. But it doesn’t stop the men from asking us to make them treats.
The sad thing is that many of these men don’t even recognize what is wrong with this picture.
I envision a world where both male and female are included in the “important” jobs and the grub work. Women should be welcomed into leadership positions – when they want them. And men should be willing to make food, raise the children and help clean up.
I was really shocked by the lemonade incident because it showed me that we are still not raising boys differently. The fact that my son or his other friend (who also has a feminist mom) did not correct the other boys tells me that their behavior is an accepted norm.
I started writing children’s books to change dynamics like this. I wrote a book called The Girl God, which deals the spiritual inequality in all faith traditions. After completing books on Mother Earth and Palestine, I fully intend to write a book for boys too.
After I wrote the first book, I had a specific type of illustration in mind that was very different from most children’s books. Many contain very simple illustrations, whereas I wanted pictures that were stories within the story. When I saw the paintings of Elisabeth Slettnes, I knew she was the one.
Elisabeth’s illustrations depict animals that are also people, and are often set in nature. I love how she blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, showing our connection to all of the Earth’s creatures.
I don’t believe children get enough exposure to art. We don’t encourage them to use their imaginations in our media-saturated world. I wanted a book where kids could sit and look at the pictures for hours – and be inspired to draw their own interpretations.
It was also important to us to show women’s bodies as they are. Children are exposed to Photo-shopped images so early. Barbie’s and princess movies also show unrealistic body types. I recently read an article about a 9-year-old girl with severe anorexia. I really believe both boys and girls need a daily dose of reality if we are to change these trends.
I began to address this reality by publishing The Girl God. Ultimately, I decided there were other areas of social justice I wanted to address with children, communicating this intention through the publishing of more books. My intention with these books is to empower women and girls through the knowledge of the divine feminine. My hope for boys is to inspire an appreciation for nature and a longing for social justice all over the world.
Here is a description of my creative process: I decide the issue I want to address, and wait for the story to come to me. I share my writing with my partner, Elisabeth Slettnes, and she begins to work on the illustrations. I also compile quotations that will support the storyline and begin to collect the necessary permissions. I generally try to obtain quotes from all the major faith traditions, along with writers who have inspired me over the years. Alice Walker, bell hooks, Raffi, Audre Lorde, Vandana Shiva and Sojourner Truth are just a few of the people we have quoted.
I hope our books will be available to women and children everywhere. Every time I have a bit of extra money, I send them off to libraries, schools and shelters in various parts of the world. So far, the books have traveled as gifts to Egypt, Kenya, Somalia, Cambodia and Lebanon. We are working on translations into Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Norwegian, Danish and Italian.
Every week, I receive emails from men and women who have been touched by our book. People are using it in ways I never would have imagined. One Sunday School teacher wrote to say she was sharing the book with her all-boy class because she believed they needed the divine feminine as much as the girls do. An art therapist wrote to say she was using the book with teenage girls in therapy, who were also drawing themselves as “the girl god.” I did not intend for the book to be used by women and teens, but that has been a large draw for the book. Many women have written to say that the book has helped them to heal their inner child.
I believe we often overlook children when we speak about social change. Children are the last people we should forget about because they are the future. And, when you read a child a story again and again, you transform the consciousness of both the parent and the child.
The divine feminine is unconventional. She does not belong to any one faith tradition. In fact, she belongs to all of them.
She does not come to us as a Savior; rather she is the force within us who empowers us to save ourselves. She loves indiscriminately; you do not have to be good to merit her attention. As Mary Oliver reminds us,
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
So many women are still waiting for our father or husband to sign our permission slips – whether it is for an abortion, birth control or schooling. This has been our indoctrination for thousands of years, so there is no blame in that. When we feel the sense of the divine within us, we learn that we do not need permission for anything. Many of the “rights” we are fighting so hard for are already things we innately possess.
When we recognize, both individually and collectively, our value as women, the world will change. The image of a masculine God is built on patriarchy, which is a vision of control through violence, whether actual or implied. When we honor the divine feminine, beating a woman becomes as unacceptable as burning down a church or a mosque. When we return to the divine feminine, rape will become inconceivable.
How can you pillage what is sacred?
When we return to the divine feminine, we will stop trying to “save” women in other countries and realize that we have problems of our own to conquer. We will realize that each of us is capable of becoming our own savior. We will re-discover our rich herstory. We will come together as equals and change the world together.
Our collective spirituality has largely been tainted to fit the needs of men and those in power. This has had a profound effect on the self-esteem of girls and the women they become. This negative influence can be seen in their life choices, partners and whether or not they will have financial security for the rest of their lives.
It also has an effect on the way their future partners will view them – and ultimately treat them. The time to introduce woman’s spirituality to all children is now.
Alice Walker says, “…healing begins where the wound was made.”
I hope our books will signal a beginning of that healing process.
Adapted from Hendren, T. (2013). ” Healing the Wound that is Female.” Published in Advocating Creatively: Stories of Contemporary Social Change Pioneers. (In press).