You are viewing the "patriarchy" Archives

What’s In a Name: Good Girl – Feminist – Witch – Woman

Posted on:  Nov 29, 2023 @ 10:00 Posted in:  Goddess

Words are a fundamental part of our humanity. The physiology of our brains is designed to make sense of ourselves and our world through language. We name things with words, and then load value and meaning onto these names. Every aspect of our shared society, interpersonal relationships and inner self-talk are dictated by these word-names.

How we name ourselves and each other matters deeply. These names can either trap and diminish us, or heal and free us to become more fully, deeply our Selves.

There’s immense power in names. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the names people give to us, and the ones we give to ourselves. This naming can either narrow or expand who we are, and how we engage others and our greater environment.

Oppressors, those who conquer, dominate and control others, have used this power in names throughout history. Take away the names people give to themselves —  taint and distort them, make these names a weapon — replace them with other, socially acceptable, domesticating names — and you’ve set up a system of control that becomes a normal, entrenched part of our social fabric. And not just names are taken away, but also language, story, dance, art, and other forms of culture, self-identity and expression.

All marginalized groups — on the outside of the white, male, heteronormative, Judeo-Christian ethos that dominates our Western society — have been impacted by this system of control through names.

My Story of Names

I’m a white woman of British descent, born into a working class family of moderate means, and raised in a middle-of-the-road city in the eastern part of Canada.  My upbringing was mainstream, banal and seemingly innocuous. And this is my story of names.

If I had the conscious awareness to name myself in my youth, I would have called myself a good girl.

I was a domesticated creature — nice, sweet, pretty, and well behaved.  I did what I was supposed to do: work hard at school, follow the rules, hang out with other nice girls, date boys that my parents approved of, and keep a smile on my face, even when boys and men said and did not nice things to me.

No one in particular, and everything around me, gave me this name and the very narrow band of personhood that went with it.

In my early adult years, I named myself professional woman.

This was just another form of my good-girl domestication, set by a hyper-masculine corporate environment.

I had the right qualifications to excel: an MBA, competitive instincts and workaholic drive. The price of admission was to mask my womanhood in an androgynous wardrobe of black, gray and navy suits, to emulate the work-hard, play-hard ethos of the successful man, and to keep a smile on my face, even when men diminished and sexualized me.

Like so many women, these straitjacket names of good girl and professional woman squeezed my bigness of being into a half-life dictated by rules that I had no say in, and that were designed to keep me small, tame, fearful and disconnected from my true nature.

In my late twenties, something woke up in me and I found a new name for myself: feminist.

I rebelled. I wanted to live an authentic life, in alignment with my undomesticated womanhood and my true, deep Self, outside of the dictates of a male-dominated, woman-negating society.

With this new name came seismic shifts. I left my corporate career and returned to graduate school to become a feminist academic, studying power, change and organizational gender issues. I became educated about the deep-rooted and daily discrimination faced by women, and the negation and undervaluing of the qualities and skills we bring to society and the workplace; and I made a commitment to myself to become an agent of positive change.

In my early thirties, as this journey of claiming my true, undomesticated womanhood deepened, I found another new name for myself: witch.

Again, this new name came with immense transformation.  I discovered the Goddess and Wicca, and with them a whole, hidden story of feminine Divinity and power, and a wild, delicious, empowering, life-centered reality that was the antithesis of my years of domestication.

My world became infinitely bigger and more nourishing. For the first time in my life, I felt whole, inside-out powerful, and my Self.

Now in my early sixties, I fully inhabit my reclaimed name: woman.

Piece by piece, I’ve been reclaiming the lost fragments of my true, untamed womanhood, until I’ve come to know and honor my Self as woman, outside of the strictures of a society that fears and distorts women and feminine-based power.

I now know that my womanhood is a complex thing, woven of many, diverse threads: feminist, witch, writer, dreamer, dancer, wild thing, mother, partner, friend, ally, and so many other things that are too big and mysterious to name.

I’m whole, sacred, a being of infinite love and resilience, honed and evolved through my personal story and shared woman history of light and shadow, beauty and wounding, and the wonders and horrors of this mundane and magical world.

This unique expression of my whole, sacred womanhood transcends biological gender, and joins me to a greater movement and kinship of feminine-identified beings who are evolving what it means to be a woman, and dismantling the word-names of a male-dominated, woman-negating, hetero-normative culture.

The outer voices have lost their control over me and there’s no squeezing me back into the half-person I’ve been. Woman I am, and woman I will be, on a journey of self-discovery and evolution that will last all the days of my life.

The Power and Shadow of Names

In my journey of names, my life and womanhood were profoundly, positively transformed when I shifted from the names of good girl, and its adult variant of professional woman, to feminist and witch. Yet I was discouraged from claiming these names for myself by well-meaning friends and family members.

In our shared culture, feminist and witch are dangerous names, weighed down by negative projections and horrific histories. Good girls — nice, sweet, pretty, and well behaved — are safe, happy, and well-adjusted.  Free-spirited, empowered women — feminist, witch, or any other name you choose to give yourself outside of the dictates of a male-centered society — are an aberration, heretical and dangerous.

Anyone can be a feminist or a witch, these names aren’t inherently gendered, but on a collective, shadow level, they’re associated with women and feminine-based power that fall under the general category of uppity women who don’t follow the strictures of nice society. Uppity women throughout history have paid a price for their independence and deviance from male-defined, cultural dictates.

This negation of uppity women has been burned into our collective psyche, literally. During the Burning Times of the 14th to the 18th century, the name of witch was demonized by the Church and used to justify the brutal rape, torture and murder of an estimated sixty to hundred thousand people, predominantly women — healers, practitioners of witchcraft, community leaders, independent women and other marginalized people caught up in the madness. Any indication of women’s spirituality, feminine-based power or an uppity nature could condemn you as a witch.

These horrific events have left a deep scar and shadow on our human psyche through our fear and distrust of women and feminine-based power.

Call yourself a feminist and you tar yourself with the societal stereotype of the feminazi: an angry, aggressive, male-hating woman battling for female supremacy.

Call yourself a witch and you conjure up the frightening specter of the wicked witch: an evil, devil-worshipper who uses their power to harm others.

These are lies and distortions that feed on our fear and distrust of women and feminine-based power. To use these names is to risk misunderstanding, discrediting, censure, and rejection. But to not use them when they speak to your soul and true Self is to remain small, silenced, powerless and domesticated.

Feminist and witch are power names that can bring balance and wholeness to our lives and world by: giving women and feminine-identified people back their self-knowing and sovereignty; honoring the beauty, power and qualities of the feminine side of our human nature; and reclaiming the Divine as Goddess.

What my story of names taught me is that there’s only one way to release the power in a name, be it feminist, witch or whatever power names we claim for ourselves and community: confront and step past the shadow in these names, and claim them as our own, not just for ourselves, but also in service of our greater society.

Your Story of Names

How we name ourselves and others matters deeply. These names can either trap and diminish us, or heal and free us to become more fully, deeply our Selves.

What is needed is greater awareness of the power and shadow in names, and a conscious commitment to heal, claim and evolve the names and language that shape our personal life and collective society.

You can start by exploring your own name story and those that apply to the groups you’re part of. Consider the defining features of your humanity, for example: your biological gender and gender identity, skin color, sexual orientation, ethnic and cultural heritage, religion or spiritual practice, socio-economic status, and the history of your people.

What names have been used to domesticate and marginalize you and the groups you’re part of? What names have empowered you and helped you grow and evolve?  What names do you choose for yourself? What are the shadow and power in these names?  How can you heal and reclaim these names? How can you support others, especially marginalized groups, in healing and evolving our collective names and language?

Your journey of names is a lifetime in the making. The more consciousness you bring to this journey, the more you can find and claim the names that capture your true, deep Self, and heal the shadow in the names that can set you and others free. And perhaps someday, names will be used to connect us to ourselves and each other in power and beauty, and in the making of a better, kinder, saner world of acceptance, love and justice for all.

Artwork by Nick Gentry

The Wounded Beloved: Exploring Your Inner Gendered Tear

Posted on:  Sep 30, 2016 @ 7:00 Posted in:  Goddess, Pathwork

Listen to the podcast.

I’ll be totally honest with you; I was a reluctant recruit to the notions that men too are wounded by our patriarchal world and the negation of the feminine aspects of our human nature, and that they need women’s empathy and support in their healing.

Then one day, my best female friend challenged me. I’d been sharing with her my exploration of the Goddess, the sacred feminine and magic, and my recent healing work with my mother and feminine nature. She stopped me midstream and asked, “What about men and their wounding, Karen? How are you going to help them heal?”

My response was something along the lines of, “Not my problem. Let them figure it out on their own.”

Let’s reach for a shared reality in which gender is a liquid quality that doesn't limit us but morphs according to our individual configuration of our sacred feminine and masculine natures.

Not long afterwards, the Goddess came to me in a dream and gave me my marching orders, “I want my Beloved back.” And from there, many dreams and healing moments later, I realized that the tear in the outside culture between men and women was inside of me. And that I could only mend this tear, inner and outer, by extending the same loving concern and compassion for the wounding and pain of men as I did for myself and for my women kin.

Man or woman, gay, trans or straight, victim or privileged, we’re all born into a misogynist world that force feeds and constrains us within narrow, damaging male and female stereotypes and roles. For some the harm is direct and brutal, for others it’s more subtle and subtext, and none of us can escape the ever-present cultural negation of women’s ways, values and spirituality, and the mirror distortion and limitation of men and masculinity.

Your Gendered Tear

In this exercise, I invite you to explore the gendered tear inside of you, but gently so.

…read more

HeForShe and SheForHe: Healing Our World Together

Posted on:  Sep 25, 2016 @ 10:00 Posted in:  Goddess, Pathwork

Listen to the podcast.

This week marks the two year anniversary of the UN’s HeForShe Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality. HeForShe invites men to join and support women in the fight for women’s equality and strives to reframe feminism from its man-hating stigma to a movement that seeks to benefit men and women alike by embracing the feminine side of our humanity.

My soul responds to this initiative and its mandate with a big yes! In the many seasons of my life — from my academic studies of feminism, gender issues and Goddess theology, my work as a gender equity consultant, my perilous healing journey with my own woman’s story in a misogynist world, my travels with the Goddess into the mysteries of the sacred feminine, and my Path of She writings — I’ve been on the trail of the lost powers and ways of the feminine elements of our humanity.

Together we can reweave our world into one that is inclusive and respectful, where we can live and express our whole humanity from the bigness and beauty of our feminine and masculine natures.

In my journey, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: what ails humanity, men and women alike, is the degradation and repression of the feminine half our nature that holds not only our nurturing and emotive capacities, but also our anchor in Mother/matter: our bodies, the natural world and the mysteries of the Divine feminine.

HeForShe may not speak of our disconnect from Goddess, the Earth and our bodies, but it acknowledges that men and women share the wound of patriarchy and asks men to reach across the gender gap in solidarity with their women kin.

I would add that we women have to reach back, SheForHe, so we can heal our world together.

Walking in the Other’s Shoes

The saying goes that we can’t understand another person until we walk a mile in his/her shoes. This most definitely holds true in the case of men and women. Only by actively increasing our awareness of the other gender can we begin to understand the world through their eyes and experiences.

…read more