To Tend and Befriend, part 1
It’s summertime for me now, and I’m gleefully starting my readings for Fall semester, which doesn’t start for another three or so months — this time I won’t get caught short on time! I’m going to try reading all the books that really interest me first, so I have plenty of time to ponder them. Next semester (Fall 2013) will be my second and last comps class, and I’ll be writing my 30 to 50 page comprehensive essay on “Women & World Religion.” As someone who has no love for the usually ignorantly rigid, androcentric hierarchy of the “big five” organized religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism), I’d originally thought to choose the other program category, “Women’s Mysteries, Sacred Arts, & Healing” — especially since I want my dissertation to be a useful means of women striving for a healthier culture.
However, my instructor gently insisted that two of the subsections I’ll have in my comps (namely, “Theorizing Patriarchy Past & Present” and “Women’s Cultural History” — though there’s also “Women At the Forefront of Healthy Cultural Change”) are really not about women as healers — and also that the Women’s Spirituality program label of “world religions” means all religions. That includes not just the “big five” mentioned above, but also unaffiliated religious beliefs such as women’s spirituality (of course), as well as ethnic or indigenous beliefs, non-religious theists, Shintoism, Vodou, African traditional/diasporic religions, spiritism, animism, paganism and neo-paganism, agnosticism, secular humanism, and all the other religious beliefs which are ordinarily swept under the rug as embarrassing deviations from the “normality” of the five big organized religions. While I was initially bummed at having to make this change, on further reflection I had to agree that “Women & World Religions” is probably the better choice, if for no other reason than that it will look better on a CV.
There’s also quite a bit of personal amusement at the fact that the third fastest growing “religion” in the entire world today (after Christianity at 31.5% and Islam at 23.2% of the world population) is the often-ignored and poo-poo’d collection of “Unaffiliated” — at 16.3% in 2010, but growing so rapidly that it’s up to 19.6% by 2012! Think about that: that’s 1/5th of all US citizens that are tired of the often officious arrogance of the organized religions. Even more astonishing, these numbers means that not only are one in six of all the people in the world today choosing to leave these often-unreasonable organized religions — but also that, as of 2010 (the date of the statistics mentioned above) there are actually six countries where the religion of the majority is “Unaffiliated” (76% of the Czech Republic, 71% in North Korea, 60% in Estonia, 57% in Japan, 56% in Hong Kong, and 52% in China)! If you’re curious, check out the statistics on “Irreligious & Atheist” by country as well — it’s almost startling.
Seriously though, are the major religions actually surprised at this growing mass defection from their ranks, considering the unmitigated mess they’ve made — and are still making, for heavens’ sake — of the world today? I know several truly wonderful, devout women ministers, rabbis, nuns, and laywomen, and I cannot help but wonder how much more amazing their work of ministry would be if they didn’t have to struggle on an almost constant, daily level with the thoughtless arrogance of the organized religions’ worldview. I have enormous respect for these courageous, sincere women who stick with their religious home in the face of often-hostile religious bureaucracy (Pope Francis, I’m looking specifically at you — shame on you and your predecessor for your treatment of the American nuns!)… but I also wish they didn’t have to waste so much of their energy on dealing with dogmatic stupidity.
So anyway, back to my original purpose for writing today: I’m currently reading Shelley E. Taylor’s 2005 book The Tending Instinct: How Nurturing is Essential to Who We Are & How We Live, and I’ve got to say this is definitely one of the fascinating ones. I’m slightly over halfway through, but there’s enough intriguing information that the little post-it note flags are a colorful ruffle along the book’s edge, and I’m starting to write about it soonest, to get these cool ideas down right away.
What perhaps impressed me the most about this book was the tenacity of cherished false beliefs. For example, this book was written in 2002 — surely enough time for scientific recognition of the blindly androcentric self-aggrandizement of early anthropological works performed by Western males. In fact, to my knowledge the issue was thoroughly (and ruefully) discussed as early as 1999, by both women and men, in Manifesting Power: Gender & the Interpretation of Power in Archaeology. In that book, Susan Kent’s perceptive article “Egalitarianism, Equality, & Equitable Power” pointed out quite clearly how white male anthropologists (usually unwittingly) twist what they see to fit their unacknowledged and pre-conceived notions.
The fact that the overwhelming majority of food which feeds a tribe comes from gathering rather than hunting is (as always) blithely ignored by such anthropologists, of course — they invariably privilege what they consider the masculine with their descriptive of their observational subjects as “hunter/gatherers” rather than the more accurate “gatherer/hunters.” Further, despite the women being exposed to more daily danger than the hunting men, their work is usually ignored and reduced to a passing paragraph or three. Particularly hilarious are ethnographic examples where the hunting done by men is described in lush and loving detail, while the women who are killing the exact same animals with the exact same tools are dismissed by the ethnographers as simply “knocking down vermin” with their “digging sticks”! As Kent notes:
The danger hypothesis [i.e. regarding hunting as more dangerous than gathering, therefore also more prestigious] is conceived by Westerners and shows their regard for male versus female associated activities. … hunting is perceived as “naturally” masculine for reasons that are often either ecological or biological, despite ethnographies that suggest otherwise… Hunting, and not gathering, is accorded status by equating it with manliness and masculinity… The importance, value, and status attributed to hunting (and other men’s activities) are not necessarily the result of how a particular foraging culture views hunting, but are a projection of Western culture. (34)