The story of Eve receiving the fruit of knowledge from the Serpent in Genesis is familiar, but most people don’t know that Western European artists depicted the Serpent as a Goddess from about 1200 to the 1600s. The earliest example I’ve found is a sculpture from Notre Dame de Paris during the 1200s. The Snake Goddess is coiled around the Tree of Wisdom:
Many illuminated manuscripts show the Snake Goddess coiled around the tree in the same way, like the kundalini serpent winding around the human spine, but wearing a ladies coif:
Suppressed Histories Archive : The Suppressed Histories Archives uncovers the realities of women’s lives, internationally and across time, asking questions about patriarchy and slavery, conquest and aboriginality. About mother-right, female spheres of power, indigenous philosophies of spirit– and the historical chemistry of their repression. Even more important, their role in resisting oppression. A global perspective on women’s history offers fresh and diverse conceptions of women’s power, as well as of men and gender borders. It overturns stereotypes of race and class, and the structures of domination that enforce them. It digs under the usual story of lords and rulers, looking for hidden strands, and reweaves knowledge from the divided fields of history, archaeology, linguistics and folk tradition. So we cast a wide arc, looking for patterns and gaps and contradictions which, where vested power interests are at stake, are trigger points for controversy. Some of the flashpoints are women’s power; neolithic female figurines; gender-egalitarian mother-right cultures; patriarchy; witch-hunts; “heresies” such as goddess veneration or shamans; and the rise and fall of empires, including the doctrines of supremacy and inferiority that prop up all systems of domination.
Cross-posted from: Jen Farrant
Originally published: 27.06.17
Are you self sabotaging your creative work by unrealistic, subconscious expectations?
We had the committee meeting for my concert band last night, and the discussion turned to next year’s programme. We all talked through our thoughts about it and I said that I was worried because I have really struggled with this terms’ harder pieces.
Martin Saunders wrote for Christian Today recently about the experience of attending a conference of the UK’s most influential church leaders and their teams, only to realise that “Ninety per cent of the people in the room were male; if you were to take pastors’ wives out of the equation, that number would look even worse.” He noted that in the UK at least, ‘there’s no doubt women are being invested in’, citing well-known leadership conferences as examples of this – and who could fail to notice the image used to illustrate the piece – Justin Welby surrounded by female clergy? …
We Mixed Our Drinks : I write about feminism, politics, the media and Christianity, with the odd post about something else completely unrelated thrown in. My politics are left-wing, I happily call myself a feminist and am also an evangelical Christian (n.b. evangelicalism is not the same as fundamentalism, fact fans). Building a bridge between feminism and Christianity is important to me; people from both camps often view the other with suspicion although I firmly believe that the two are compatible. I am passionate about gender equality in the church. Twitter @boudledidge
Philippa Gregory and her strong, doomed womenI have a secret which is about to be revealed. Despite my bookshelf being crammed with Blake, Woolf, Eliot and Dostoyevsky, I absolutely love romantic historical fiction. The fatter the book and the glossier the cover the better. And most of all I love my recently discovered Philippa Gregory’s Tudor novels.
Gregory is first and foremost a really good writer. She has a deft use of language and a density of description that means she fully recreates the world of the Tudor courts she writes about, the smells, the colours, the landscapes, the houses and the costumes. Reading her novels, she puts you right there, timid behind the throne, absorbing the action. Secondly, she has a brilliant way with characterisation, particularly in my mind of her female characters. They leap out of the page, alive and strong and passionate, often angry and often sensual. They are full characters who invite your love, hate, distaste and admiration. And thirdly, her books are well researched, from the details of the colour of the gown Mary Boleyn wore at a gala, to the complex hatreds and schemings of Jane Boleyn and Thomas Howard. …
Sian and Crooked Rib : I‘m a Bristol based blogger, short-listed for the Emma Humphrey’s Memorial Prize in 2015, who writes stories, talks about feminism and politics and generally muses on happenings. My first children’s novel Greta and Boris was published in 2014. Twitter @sianushka
A while back, I attempted to compile a list of Welsh BME writers to read on Twitter. Since then, I’ve sat on this for months, thinking and then overthinking it; “is this necessary? Are you really going to be that person? How will people respond?” Yet every now and then, I’m reminded of this little project of mine, whether it is through the tense political climate, or the conversations I have with people.
I would firstly like to say that most publications etc. in Wales are very open to diverse and intersectional experiences in literature. Parthian Books regularly publish books by diverse authors, while platforms such as Wales Arts Review regularly give voice to, and review books by diverse writers. Both are also platforms I contribute to and work with. Yet while this is the case, the Welsh BME voice in literature remains a quiet one. ‘Difficult’ is a euphemism for what has been my search for BME and intersectional experiences in Welsh books. Whether the problem is simply that Wales isn’t as diversely populated as London or other areas in England, or whether there is a lack of promoting and reaching out to writers from different backgrounds who are Welsh, I can’t say. Read more Why I Want to #Read & Discover More, by @Durre_Shahwar #Welsh #BME #Writers
To celebrate Black History Month Wales, I compiled a non-exhaustive list of black writers with strong connection to Wales, who should be celebrated and known about for their work and achievements. The article, published on Wales Arts Review, features brief bios and recommendations to the works of the following writers: Leonora Brito, Professor Charlotte Williams OBE, Patience Agbabi, Eric Ngalle Charles, and Bevin Magama.
The gallery had sold out of the glossy, colour catalogue for Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950 by the time I saw the exhibition last week. But I had a terrific chat with the young woman serving at the museum shop while I placed an order to have the catalogue mailed out (at a discounted rate, no less).
“Isn’t it interesting,” she said, “how contemporary some of those quilt designs are. It’s amazing to think they predated modernism by decades. But not acknowledged, of course.” She gave me a gorgeous, wry smile. “Why would women’s sewing be acknowledged as art?”
Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950 is a wonderful and important exhibition now showing at NGV Australia (the gallery at Federation Square, in the heart of Melbourne). Over eighty works are on display – mainly quilts and bedcovers – and they are variously beautiful, historically significant, poignant, charming and fascinating. Intricate quilts stitched by convict women en route to Australia. Depression-era blankets (called waggas) made in desperation from scrounged bits and pieces. Delicate embroidery commemorating the jubilee of Queen Victoria. Read more Elizabeth Macarthur’s Quilt at the National Gallery of Victoria
I spend a lot of time digging around for cultural records of women. This information is not yielded up easily, and the sources are often problematic for their bias, whether masculine or Euro-racialist and colonialist. So it is gratifying to come across a source that contains very hard-to-find information, in this case historical accounts of female spiritual leadership in the Pacific Islands. I proceed on the assumption that a great deal of information is preserved in oral traditions I don’t have access to, and that documents written by missionaries and “explorers” (traveling with colonial navies) can be problematic because of their biases. Yet they sometimes contain important testimony, as shown by what follows.
The following is drawn from an article “Oral literature of Polynesia” in a book with a most unlikely title for such a subject: The Growth of Literature: The ancient literature of Europe, by Hector Munro Chadwick, Nora Kershaw Chadwick, Kershaw H Chadwick. London and NY: Cambridge University Press, 1940 (1968). The book came to me via a roundabout search triggered by an Hawaiian oral history that set me looking for prophetic and priestly women. It was a story about the prominent kaula wahine Pao. Read more TAULA AND KAULA WAHINE, PROPHETESSES OF THE PACIFIC
So says the Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University in Belfast, in response to how they are managing budget cuts by amalgamating courses such as anthropology and sociology into wider subjects of study, so that instead of 21-year-olds passionate about their specialism, we have instead:
Now, I’m not saying that supporting 21-year-olds to understand the job market and how they can take their place within it is a bad thing. I could have probably done with some of that.
But what I am saying is that when you have the head of a university basically denigrating the joy and wonder that humanities research can offer an undergraduate student, encouraging them to take on post-grad study, potentially becoming a world specialist in their field and inspiring others behind them – well, something has gone very, very wrong in the way we think about the value of education and specifically university education.
This week, the Project 3:28 report on the numbers of men and women speaking at Christian conferences and events in 2015 was released – the third annual report produced since a small group of people got together – first in conversations on Twitter, and then over dinner – to talk about the way platforms are dominated by male speakers. All of us were interested in the issue of gender justice in the church; all of us were concerned that Christian organisations were not doing enough to represent a diverse range of speakers, gifting and expertise.
Three years on, I’m really encouraged by the conversations that Project 3:28 has started. I’m particularly encouraged by the organisations that have contacted the working group to let us know that they’re being proactive about finding more women to speak at their events. It’s clear to see that effort is being made, because these are the organisations appearing in the top half of all those ranked. One of our longterm aims for Project 3:28 is to be able to set up a database of women speakers, listing areas of expertise and experience, so we’ll no longer hear that ‘we didn’t know any women to ask’ or ‘we couldn’t find anyone’ – but in the meantime, seeing that certain organisations are committed to a more equal balance of speakers is a really positive step.
Yes, the events ranking lowest for gender balance of speakers are the ones that are openly more conservative
It’s clear, that despite small increases in the number of women speakers, that they’re probably going to continue to rank lowest because of their beliefs about the circumstances in which women are permitted to teach – even as some streams become more proactive about recognising the gifting of women and more open to them preaching and teaching.
But the events ranking not far above them are officially egalitarian – so what gives?
Some organisations have some catching up to do. This was something that particularly stood out for me when analysing the data from the Hillsong, HTB Leadership and Focus conferences. Having a basis of faith that says women can lead and teach doesn’t always translate to women actually doing these things. Sometimes that’s down to historical patterns of appointing leadership, how people are noticed and given prominence. Sometimes it’s because of old boy’s networks that rely heavily on in-crowds of people who socialise together, speak at events together, and are all on the same committees together. Sometimes it’s because of events looking for the biggest names on the Christian festival circuit to sell their programme to prospective attendees – names that are more likely to be male, because that’s how conference culture works.What’s clear is that those organisations whose theology is essentially egalitarian, but are low ranking, could do much better.
What about other elements of diversity?
Project 3:28 looks at the balance of men and women speakers. Someone asked us this week whether or not we know anyone specifically doing work on racial diversity at these events. We don’t – but we think it’s a really important thing to think about. We’ve explained that because of the way we compile the data, it would be more difficult to look at racial diversity because it’s much less easy to make a judgement about someone’s race from looking at their name on a programme. Just as the majority of conferences are male-dominated, they are also dominated by white speakers – that’s clear. They’re dominated by middle class speakers and able bodied speakers. So there is much work to be done in achieving diversity that reflects the church as a whole.
We haven’t covered every single event and conference here
That’s true. When we looked at the data for 2013, we started with a group of events based on what we could find at the time. We have stuck with this list to enable better comparison year on year. But we know there are numerous events that we have left out. Some people have already made suggestions of others we could look at next year. If you can see any we’ve obviously missed out, let us know!
What about the balance of men and women on the main stage versus seminars and smaller talks?
We chose not to include this data, again because so far we’ve stuck with what we can compare year on year. However, my counts differentiated between main stage speakers and other speakers and I can confirm what some people have asked: male speakers dominate ‘main stage’ sessions at festivals. At many events, women are also more likely to show up as speakers at sessions focused on subjects that have more traditionally been considered a woman’s domain – marriage, children’s work, family life, mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s not problematic in itself to see women speaking about these topics, but just as many women are gifted teachers on other subjects that are more likely to be seen as the preserve of male speakers.
The knotty problem of wives
Something we have looked at informally, and something people have asked us about, is the number of women present at festivals only as a ‘husband and wife act’. This varies quite a bit between the events, but we felt it was difficult to represent these numbers with integrity. Some women have a ministry with their husbands, some independent of their husbands. Some speak in their capacity as a ‘leader’s wife’. It’s difficult to make judgements about the data here without seeming critical about the women involved – and that’s not what we would want to do, at all, because we know they are gifted teachers and leaders in their own right. Our general feeling is that many events could be more committed to finding single women speakers, women who lead churches on their own and women whose husbands are not in ministry.
Things are improving…but there’s still some way to go
Women have the knowledge and the gifts. Organisations need to be more intentional about seeking them out and inviting them to speak.
We Mixed Our Drinks: I write about feminism, politics, the media and Christianity, with the odd post about something else completely unrelated thrown in. My politics are left-wing, I happily call myself a feminist and am also an evangelical Christian (n.b. evangelicalism is not the same as fundamentalism, fact fans). Building a bridge between feminism and Christianity is important to me; people from both camps often view the other with suspicion although I firmly believe that the two are compatible. I am passionate about gender equality in the church. Twitter @boudledidge
So starts Patti Smith’s glorious homage to the temperamental nature of the creative life. M Train is one of those books that not only lives up to the unanimous praise of reviewers, it exceeds it. It’s a book that envelops you in an absorbing journey through the “the twisting track of the mind’s convolutions”, as inimitably described by Smith herself. Unrestrained in the rawness of her reflections, Smith is a writer so incisive that you read her words with a sense of wonder and envy.
M Train is the latest book to join my beloved collection of works by women through the ages. As with all writers I admire, there’s the vain hope that through some mysterious process of literary osmosis, I might emulate a speck of their talent and output. A grandiose delusion indeed but in the words of another talented storyteller I’ve recently been binge-reading, Brene Brown, “it’s like walking toward a star in the sky. We never really arrive but we certainly know that we’re heading in the right direction”. Read more Women & writing: A celebration of true greatness by @AliyaMughal1
Cross-posted from: Halo Lit Mag
Originally published: 18.04.16
Here at Halo Towers (yes, we have an actual castle), we’ve been talking a lot about kindness recently. We figured it was worth sharing some of those thoughts on here, so they’re down in writing and you know what to expect from us if you ever submit your work to Halo.
NEWSFLASH: Creative writing is hard. NEWSFLASH 2: Submitting your writing is even harder because you’re making yourself vulnerable—you’ve not only produced something that you think is good, you’re sending it to someone else in the hope that they’ll think that it’s good as well. You’re asking to be judged, by a stranger, on something you’ve put your heart into. It takes guts.
I decided to found Halo – which is a literary mag just for women’s short fiction – because I wanted women writers to have an opportunity to be heard. But, women are notoriously reluctant to submit their work anywhere – often, we’re basically convinced we suck. In order to encourage women to come forward, I knew there needed to be a level of kindness and openness in our interactions and online content.
Why does the Oxford Dictionary of English portray women as “rabid feminists” with mysterious “psyches” speaking in “shrill voices” who can’t do research or hold a PhD but can do “all the housework”?
The Oxford dictionary he was talking about was the one that comes with Apple devices (Macs, i-Pads, i-Phones), and his question was about the examples that follow the definition of a word and illustrate its use in practice. The ones he reproduced included the phrase ‘a rabid feminist’ illustrating the metaphorical usage of ‘rabid’; the sentence ‘I will never really fathom the female psyche’ exemplifying the use of the term ‘psyche’; and a series of examples featuring women and female voices in entries for ‘shrill’, ‘grating’ and ‘nagging’. He also reproduced entries for the words ‘doctor’ and ‘research’ where the examples referred to doctors/researchers as ‘he’.
The point of this intervention was not just to criticise a few specific entries, but rather to draw attention to a pattern of sexist stereotyping in the dictionary’s illustrative examples. But when Oman-Reagan tweeted to Oxford Dictionaries, citing the ‘rabid feminist’ example, whoever was running their Twitter account that day chose not to acknowledge the deeper point. Instead he was told that (a) the ‘rabid feminist’ example was authentic, and (b) that ‘rabid’ isn’t necessarily a negative term. In the ensuing arguments (first on Twitter and then in lengthier pieces like this and this) the main issue became whether Oxford was endorsing a view of feminists as mad fanatics, and then compounding the offence with its dismissive responses to criticism. Read more A rabid feminist writes… by @wordspinster
What does it mean to go out of print in a digital world? This is question I had not thought about until I joined Authors Alliance today. I learned about this group through my colleague, Dr Orla Murphy. Authors Alliance is a group based on the promotion of “authorship for the public good by supporting authors who write to be read. We embrace the unprecedented potential digital networks have for the creation and distribution of knowledge and culture. We represent the interests of authors who want to harness this potential to share their creations more broadly in order to serve the public good.” Basically, I agree with the aims and I fully support anything that helps to promote readership and protect the rights and freedoms of authors.
Korean tradition holds that the first shaman was female, Bari Gongju (also transliterated as Pali Kongju). Her name means “Princess Thrown-Away.” Her father cast her off at birth for being a girl, the seventh in a series of daughters. He tore her from her mother’s arms, locked her in a jeweled box, and cast her into the ocean. Turtles or dragons rescued her and brought her to a peasant couple, who raised her. She eventually became a mudang.
Her story turns on her filial behavior, years later, when her parents became sick. The Mountain God appeared before her and told her that her parents were sick. Only water from the Western Sky Heaven could cure them. Bari Gongju went to the palace and, disclosing her identity, said that she would undertake the dangerous journey to find the water.
It was a long journey through the spirit world to the Western Sky. Disguised as a boy, Pali Kongju passed between the North Pole Star and the South Pole Star. She met the Old Farming Woman of Heaven, who made her plow and sow a field by herself. Then she had to get past the Laundress of Heaven, who forced her to wash all her laundry from black to white, causing a monsoon. Finally, she reached cliffs that led to the Western Sky. Once again, golden turtles came to her rescue, forming a bridge to get her there safely. She found the well with the water of life, protected by the Guardian, a rather disagreeable old man. Still dressed as a boy, she asked him for some of the water, but when he learned she had no money to pay for it, he refused. [Tara, online; i retain her spelling in this excerpt.]
But Bari Gongju convinced the Guardian to let her become his servant. After three years of work, she was no closer to getting the water. Then the Guardian discovered that she was female, and asked her to marry him. She did so, and bore him seven sons. Only then did he give her the elixir of water. She returned to find that her parents had just died, with funeral ceremonies underway. She sprinkled them with the water and brought them back to life. They gratefully offered her a place in the palace, but she refused.
She returned to the spirit world, where she became a goddess who helps souls of the dead journey to the otherworld. “Except for Cheju [Jeju] Island, Pali Kongju is regarded as the ancestor of modern shamans in Korea, even though she has been known by many different names.” [Lee, 169, note 9] She is a prototype celebrated in rituals in which the mudang enact the story of her passing through a portal of the Underworld. They wear sleeves striped with a rainbow of colors.
A Lakota Medicine woman
The wana’gi wapiyé Lucille Kills Enemy treated Mel Lone Hill for recurring pneumonia in the early 1950s, when she was in her 80s. She came to Mel’s house to doctor him when he was near death. “She had to go find me on the other side. She was probably the only one I knew of who was that powerful.” [St Pierre and Long Soldier, 199] Here the account of the shamanic journey is missing – which is not to say it did not exist, only that it does not appear in print – but stories of soul retrieval from “the other side” recur over and over in the annals of shamanic healing, all over the world.
Stories about the co-founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Yeshe Tsogyel, retain aspects of shamanic culture even though firmly placed within a Buddhist context. She is described as a khandro, or dakini, rather
than as a “shaman.” It is through meditation that she acquires siddhis, or powers: “Where shale and snow met, I found the mystic heat’s inner warmth…” [Dowman, 94]
These powers include the classic shamanic art of spirit flight: “The fledgling dakini-bird nesting in a crag / Could not conceive how easy was flight /Until her skill in the six vehicles was perfected; / But her potential released, wings beating with hidden strength/ Breaking the back of even the razor-edged wind,/ She arrived at whatever distination she chose.” [Dowman, 160]
Thangkas often show Yeshe Tsogyal wielding a phurba, a ritual knife that Himalayan shamans use in healing. It also has an esoteric significance as “remover of obstacles.” Without enumerating all the parallels between Buddhist adepts and Indigenous shamans, I’ll simply note that her siddhis extended even to the power to revive the dead: “In Nepal, I resurrected the corpse of a dead man… My body became a sky-dancing rainbow body…” [Dowman, 94]
Inanna and Ishtar
Returning to the theme of shamanic goddesses, both Inanna and Ishtar are winged, and emanate the me (powers, rites, skills, and offices) from their shoulders. Among these me are religious offices, the scepter, staff – the caduceus occurring first in the Mesopotamian iconography of Ishtar—magicianship, descent to and ascent from underworld, various arts, and five different kinds of drums.
The drum figures in a story of Inanna planting a magical huluppu tree in her garden. In its three levels came to live the serpent, the wild-woman Lilitu, and Anzu the thunderbird. Inanna caused the magical tree to be felled and a drum and drumstick made from its wood – but gave them to Gilgamesh. So the shamanic power is displaced from Inanna to the male hero, ultimately with negative results.
But it is Inanna/Ishtar who descends to the underworld, passing through its seven gates. She did not perform this pre-eminently shamanic act to bring back a dead soul, however, but as a journey of spiritual discovery and transformation.
Other ancient parallels
Other shamanic women are described as having the power to raise the dead to appear before the living, though not to revive them. The “Witch of Ein Dor” called up the shade of Samuel at the command of Saul. This king had himself persecuted such women, as the biblical account explains; but he set aside the death penalty when he himself needed their services. Her actual title in Hebrew reveals her shamanic dimensions: Baalat Ob, “Mistress of the Talisman,” or to put it another way, “medicine object.”
The Cumaean Sibyl had the power to conduct Aeneas to the Underworld. Mount Cuma overlooks the bay of Naples and a group of volcanic fumeroles called the Flaming Fields. The nearby crater lake Avernus was known as the entrance to Tartarus, land of the dead. Ancient writers referred to an oracle of the dead in this place in the time of Odysseus. [Strabo, V, 4, 5] The rock of mount Cuma was riddled with wide underground galleries and chambers and caves “from which a hundred wide tunnels, a hundred mouths lead, from which as many voices rush: the sibyl’s replies.” [Aeneid VI, online]
According to Livy, the first sibyl came to Cumae after the burning of Troy, but Virgil shows a sibyl already living there when Aeneas fled Troy. Arriving in Italy, he came to consult the Cumaean sibyl, addressing her as “O most holy prophetess, you who see the future…” [Aeneid VI] The old seeress Deiphobe sat in silence, gazing at the floor, and slowly entered trance. She agreed to help the Trojan hero descend to the underworld to search out his father. But first, she told him, he must seek the golden bough (mistletoe, “sacred to Proserpina”) as an offering to the guardians of the gates of Hades.
Then the sibyl guided Aeneas on a journey to the realm of the dead. She began with an offering of four steers and a heifer before “a wide-mouthed cavern, deep and vast and rugged.” Entering the cave, they descended deep into the earth. When challenged by Charon, she opened her robe to show the golden bough, and he allowed them passage. Aeneas communed with his father’s shade, and then the sibyl brought him back to the world of the living. [Aeneid, VI, 50-1000]
Teresa de Cabora
A modern Mexican woman underwent an otherworld journey that was precipitated by a traumatic attack. A ranch hand beat and raped Teresa Urrea when she was only 15 years old. She remained in a coma for months; doctors then pronounced her dead, and she was very nearly buried. But she revived, sitting up next to the coffin that had been brought in. During the months when she appeared unconscious, she had experienced visions and became transformed into a healer with deep prophetic insight. She began curing people suffering from cancer, blindness, stroke, and paralysis.
Teresita became known as la Santa de Cabora, and thousands of Indian people came in a steady stream to the Cabora ranch to see her and be healed by her touch and gaze. This daughter of an Indian teen and a wealthly rancher in Sinaloa was a skilled healer even before her extended near-death experience, having trained under the midwife/curandera la Huila and a Yaqui medicine man.
But Teresa was a political visionary too. She became an inspiration to Indian rebels as a prophetess of Indian rights and a forerunner of the Mexican Revolution who co-authored el Plan de Tomóchic, one of the most radical declarations of human rights ever written. It called for new laws “declaring both men and women, whites and blacks, natives and foreigners, rich and poor, have the the same rights, duties and privileges and that they be absolutely equal before the law.” We have yet to attain those goals today.
For more about medicine women’s journeys in the spirit, take a look at the video Woman Shaman: the Ancients (released in April, 2013).
Covell, Alan Carter, Folk Art and Magic: Shamanism in Korea. Seoul: Hollym (1986)
Tara the Antisocial Social Worker, “How a Woman Becomes a Goddess: Pali Kongju” The Daily Kos, Aug 19, 2009. Online: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/08/19/769300/-How-a-Woman-Becomes-a-Goddess-Pali-Kongju Accessed Dec. 29, 2012
Lee, Jung Young Lee. Korean Shamanistic Rituals. Walter de Gruyter, 1981
Dowman, Keith. Sky Dancer: The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel, Ithaca NY: Snow Lion, 1996
Mark St Pierre and Tilda Long Soldier, Walking in the Sacred Manner: Healers, Dreamers, and Pipe Carriers-Medicine Women of the Plains Indians. New York: Touchstone/ Simon & Schuster, 1995
I’ve always loved reading ghost stories at this time of year. Nothing else seems to hit quite the same spot the wind is roaring like a lost soul outside and the rain is battering against the windows in truly biblical fashion. As the nights draw in there’s always that primeval part of us that draws closer to the fire but is mindful of the fury outside. This is something that writers have always understood and those writing before homes were lit with the flick of a switch understood it by far the best. My favourite ghost stories always seem to date from the mid-19th to early 20th century, when the gothic imagination was at its height. I grew up reading M.R. James and E.F. Benson, first discovered in the volumes that made up part of my dad’s Everyman Library – hundreds of uniform cloth covered books with matching paper jackets that lived in special glass fronted bookcases in the dining room. Read more Who’s Afraid of the Dark
I have to admit, I had never heard of Helen Sharman until I saw this tweet from Samantha Gouldson, the official science reporter for our member Jump!Mag last night.
And, I’m not in the least bit shocked that the British media is erasing Sharman’s record as the first British person in space more than 20 years ago. It’s pretty much par for the course. It’s exactly what the media did when Andy Murray won Wimbledon in 2013 claiming it was Britain’s first win in 77 years completely erasing Virginia Wade and Ann Jones.
So, the question posed as the title for this post prompted a twitter discussion between myself and a friend the other day. The discuss got a bit heated, which some could see as a bad thing, personally I see it as a consequence of debate between passionate people. What came out of that debate though, is that I’ve thought about this question a lot, I assumed that everyone understood why this is an important issue and why we should be focussing on it now, but it seems that assumption May be wrong. I’ve been thinking about how best to explain it, and so I approached my friend to see if he’d be ok with me writing a post on this subject. I want to make clear, this is in no way a continuation of some imagined disagreement. He’s happy for me to write this, and I’m looking forward to coffee with him soon. There’s no personal vendetta here.
Right, so that’s the disclaimer out of the way. 🙂
Before I explain the why. I suppose I’d better explain the what. What is the women in STEM issue. For those that don’t know STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. And currently we have a problem in STEM subjects and careers. That problem is the low uptake of women. This is not just a recruitment problem, in fact you could argue it’s not a recruitment problem at all. Since girls tend to like and do well in STEM subjects through high school. The women in STEM problem is being referred to as the “leaky pipeline” – at each further stage of education and career progression the proportion of women to men drops. It starts at A-levels, with fewer girls doing a-level in STEM subjects despite out performing boys at GCSE level. Fewer still continue to study STEM subjects at undergraduate level, and fewer at post-graduate. This trend continues through career progression, for example in academia, after PhD, fewer women become lecturers, then fewer become senior lecturers; on and on. Women disappear. Despite clear interest and aptitude in STEM subjects they vanish. But we don’t know why. This is the women in STEM problem.
Matt Haig is a famous and celebrated author. This week he was also the centre of a Twitter storm when he began tweeting about feminism and masculinity. He tweeted that he wanted to write a book about masculinity. Not everyone was pleased about this. He tweeted,
“Maybe I am missing something. There may be too many books about and by men, but not many looking at the perils of masculinity. Am I wrong?”
“Unless you want to DO AWAY WITH MEN, then we need to look at what masculinity is and why its current interpretation causes problems…”
I wrote this poem five years ago. I have tried to edit it, to improve the language, to make it better but I can’t. I don’t know how else to say this in a more ‘good poetry’ way – so I have left it because at the moment it says what I want it to say. My mental health problems have been severe over my life and I have made some very poor behaviour and relationship choices. Like many other women, I think about what my life would have been like if I had not had a violent abusive father. If I had grown up with few problems and had fulfilled whatever potential I had. If I hadn’t been such a damaged teenager and had been able to stay on at school and go to University like my brothers eventually did. If I hadn’t been so desperate to get married and have children but had been able to wait till I was really ready. If I had been a mother who was not driven by anger and despair and fear but one who was able to give her children a more stable childhood without screaming rages that made them fearful of me and my responses and reactions. I have said before that the guilt I feel about the way I was as a young mother will stay with me forever – no matter how much insight into and understanding of the reasons why I was the way I was. I cannot do any more to fix this although I still try. I no longer have rages, they ended many years ago when I realised why I was so angry. Now I have fear and this immobilises me and creates feelings of despair and pointlessness. But I am still here and I have a good life and I do enjoy many parts of it – friends family lots of interests. There’s bits of me I quite like and many bits I do not like and actively scrutinise and judge far more harshly than anyone else could!
I am a girl
I am eleven years old
soon I will sit my Eleven Plus examination
and I will go to Grammar School
to not go to Grammar School
would be ‘unthinkable’ says my Father
My Mother is beautiful
I have a handsome Father
so he says.
I have two brothers
they are both younger than me
and I love them both
I am a woman
I am sixty three years old
I have three children and nine grandchildren
now I have only one brother and I love him
I have good friends
I have a job a house and a car
I enjoy most of my life
sometimes I go a bit crazy
then I take pills
this has been happening on and off
most of my life
I have friends who understand me
I have children who don’t
This is not their fault
This is my fault
But it is His fault in the first place
If I try to imagine a different girl who is eleven
If I try to imagine a different life
then I can’t imagine a different sixty three year old woman
I have no idea what she would be like
at least I know who I am
this sixty three year old woman
I know her crazy as she is
I am glad I have the children I have
I am glad I have the friends I have
But the life I have is difficult to live
Carregonnen: I do life writing in poetry and prose about child abuse and mental health – politically I am a radical feminist. [@Carregonnen]