Dissertation blues in a majorly cheerful key, pt. 1
Woohoooo! Current scoreboard in the Collie’s advancement to dissertation candidacy game:
- HRRC approval (as in: the ethics committee): a decision is promised to me by the end of the month at latest, and…
- Dissertation committee approval: three out of three — DONE!! :-D
I’m getting very excited about this — it’s so wonderful to see what was just a rather nebulous dream starting to shape up into something very real and doable by me! I’m so close I can almost taste it! :)
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Interestingly, I’ve been asked more than once why I chose to further my scholastic career by taking something as obtuse as Women’s Spirituality. Part of it, of course, is the fascinating journey of women’s discovery — of learning where to find the cracks in the façade of supposedly endless capitalist progress and utopia for all, or of the insidious ways in which the issues of women and people of color are metaphorically swept under the cultural rug.
An equally dramatic part of my scholastic choice, however, is the vital and unrecognized need humans seem to have for some form of spirituality. I remember an article once which postulated that science was very effective in teaching us what is, and projecting that forward as either encouragement or warning… but it’s not very good at dreaming up a better future. Instead we look to religious or spiritual thought to help us come up with the stories that tell us what should be. That’s the main reason I study Women’s Spirituality: to help me figure out the best should be for our world… AND how to get to it.
I’m in an exceedingly good mood currently, so I’m probably jumping subjects a bit… but it seems to me that listing the ten books and articles that most helped shape my thinking regarding feminism and the human community is also an excellent means of demonstrating how my thinking on how to make a better world has changed and, I hope, matured. This is not to say that other books or articles were not equally important over the long run, and I’ll likely list them later as well. However, I think of them more as a refining polish upon the rough beginnings which were created in my mind by the original ten texts I list below in no particular order:
1) The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future by Riane Eisler
This was the earliest of the ten that I stumbled across — with thanks to Ann for pressing this book upon me! I credit Dr. Eisler for verbalizing for me several critical concepts which up until then had been a sort of grimly understood, inchoate knowing. Some of these fascinating concepts are:
- the fact that history and archaeology are interpreted and written down by those who dominate the cultural conversation — which unsurprisingly leads to an interpretation of the past which is overwhelmingly merely a reflection of the present,
- the new (to me) idea of dominator and partnership cultures, and
- the socially required debasement of the feminine in dominator cultures.
Incidentally, another book on a somewhat similar theme which I recommend along with this one is When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone. The very title alone gave me a visceral thrill — imagine how nice it would be to worship a deity who not only looked like you but also approved of you! It’s one of the books which I feel “polished” my personal growth.
2) Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World by Yang Erche Namu and Christine Mathieu
Another book I stumbled over by accident, this is Namu’s autobiography of her childhood as one of the Mosuo, a remote culture located in China in which women and men do not marry but rather remain in their matriline’s household. While there has been quite a bit of forceful cultural contamination by outsiders, the original society had no monogamous marriage, nor words for the concepts of “husband” or “father.” Instead a man would discreetly visit the room of the woman who’d invited him to spend the night for mutual sexual enjoyment, and would be departed by the dawn. All the women of a matriline, and all their brothers, worked together as a family — which included raising the children of the women who were part of that family.
As the anthropologist co-writer of this slim volume noted, by disconnecting sexual love from who was part of the family, an entire host of issues are neatly avoided. For example, children are given a constant, loving family in which to be raised. There is no divorce, and there is no concept of bastardy. Also, Mosuo men are never trained to consider other living humans their property, such as occurs in marriage within patriarchal societies; and as a consequence the women do not have to struggle with societal oppression. I was very impressed with how smoothly the Mosuo handled both sex and family — I still am. I think they’re on to something brilliant which we should consider long and hard.
Incidentally, if matrifocal societies intrigue you, I also strongly recommend Peggy Reeves Sanday’s fascinating ethnography of the Minangkabau of West Sumatra: Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy. That’s another of the “polishing” books I loved.
3) “Why Women Need the Goddess: Phenomenological, Psychological, & Political Reflections” by Carol Christ
Someday I will write another blog about how revelatory this article was for me. For now, suffice it to quote what I found to be the personally most important section:
A symbol’s effect does not depend on rational assent, for a symbol also functions on levels of the psyche other than the rational… The symbols associated with … important rituals cannot fail to affect the deep or unconscious structures of the mind of even a person who has rejected these symbolisms on a conscious level — especially if the person is under stress… Symbol systems cannot be simply rejected, they must be replaced. Where there is not any replacement, the mind will revert to familiar structures at times of crisis, bafflement, or defeat (Christ, p. 274-275; italics mine).
This is getting long — I’ll continue tomorrow with the rest. For now: Woohoooo! Almost at the finish line for dissertation candidacy! :)