The lights were dimmed so we could watch the slides on the old-school projector click by. I half-yawned in the warm dark as the teacher brought up the first slide, of a big-bellied woman in a cave drawing. “In ancient times,” Mr. Carefoote began, “God was a woman. Women had the ability to become pregnant, to create life from apparently nothing, so it made logical sense that God, who created life from nothing, would be a woman like these here on Earth.” I perked up.
God was a woman once? This skinny 14 year old body could have inspired thoughts of divine power? This so enchanted me that I barely listened to anything else the teacher was saying.
Then the lights went up. I remembered: God was still a man. I slumped in my chair, thinking jealously of all men who live with the privilege every day to know that God, at least the Christian one I had known all my life, was just like them, represented in their bodies every day.
If I had known it at the time, I’m sure I would have greatly appreciated this poem from Mirabai, written circa 1550 CE:
Redeem That Gender:
Living with that guy, how could you have not gone nuts;
I bet he even lied, the coward.
I know why God comes to this earth as a man,
in hopes of redeeming
God knows he owes us women--
for the way those brutes
Even in 1550, apparently, it was easy to get angry at men for the injustices of the world. It’s tempting to look for blame in a world where pay equity still hasn’t quite happened, where images of women being objectified sexually are totally ubiquitous, and where a teenage girl can be raped in Steubenville and all the (female) newscasters can talk about is the poor boys whose lives will be ruined by this tragic situation.
Individual men are, after all, not the problem here. My brother, my male partner, and my World Religions teacher, Mr. Carefoote, never signed on to represent a culture full of brutes that need redeeming. Blaming them doesn’t help, or make me feel any better.
What does make me feel better is that in some pockets of the universe, God is still a woman. As I learn more about Tantric philosophy through yoga, I discover Goddess worship, and the idea that the feminine is the fundamental God source in all of us. Sally Kempton, in her new book Awakening the Shakti, writes:
"True power arises from an inner feminine source—from Shakti. This is true whether the power appears in the cosmos (as in the big bang and the thrust of evolution) or in a human being—as our powers of thought, feeling, and action. In the West, we are used to associating power with masculinity and thinking of the feminine as purely passive, nurturing, and receptive. Tantra tells us that it’s the other way around. From a Tantric perspective, the inner masculine—Shiva—is the source of consciousness, awareness. But in order to act, to stir, he must take energy from the inner feminine."
Shakti is the most powerful thing in the universe. Powerful people like Muhammad Ali, Kevin Garnett, Jesus, Angelina Jolie, and Hillary Clinton are all brimming with shaktipat, feminine power manifested on the ground. How powerful to think that we all, every gender, can perk up like I did in that class long ago and think: you mean, God is like me?
Living in a culture where the feminine is oppressed is not only a women’s issue, after all. Dan Savage posted a recent article referencing a recent study at Louis H Lafontaine Hospital that discovered the cortisol levels (stress hormone levels) of straight men were higher than those of gay or bisexual men. Savage’s theory is that the reason straight men are so stressed out is because they are constantly under pressure from our culture to perform as “real men.”
No one criticizes a gay guy for enjoying musicals or “having a feeling,” as Savage puts it: “Straight guys, on the other hand, never get to stop worrying about passing for straight. And it's not even enough to be a straight man. A straight guy has to worry about being the right kind of man—a manly man, a ‘real man.’”
Perhaps if we understood ourselves as unique manifestations of masculine and feminine in balance, we could celebrate the feminine, rather than trying so hard to tame it, to suppress it, objectify it, own it, or destroy it.