Thursday, April 23, 2009

like God: women speak

First, there's a helpful description written by Nancy Mairs of "feminine discourse" (at the end of this post).

And also there's linked here a poem "LIKE GOD (TAZRIA)" beautifully and profoundly written and spoken by the incredibly talented Rachel Barenblat after which she says,
The Hebrew word for womb is רחם / rechem; the Hebrew word for compassionate is רחמן / rachaman. Every time we call God Ha-Rachaman, "The Compassionate One," we're also subtly hinting at the existence of God's womb. (Kind of brain-breaking if one presumes that the word "God" is masculine, isn't it?) The ability to nurture new life in the womb and then bring it forth into the world is something women have in common with God -- at least on a metaphorical level.
And here and here and here is Suzanne's important series "McCarthy vs Wallace" in which she most carefully and insightfully writes explaining and exposing: "Once again, this is the level of [patriarchal hierarchy] scholarship used to keep Christian women out of leadership positions in the church."

And Gitl Wallerstein-Braun writes here to begin her essay on fundamentalist "Judaism and feminism" with a story of her own:
It was some twenty years ago, when I was summoned to meet the principal of the local ultra religious girls school attended by my four daughters. I left the meeting shell shocked by the unexpected rebuke I was given. Across the other side of the desk from me, the deadly serious young man castigated the immodest cut of the neckline of my dress.

This experience switched me on to the subversive agenda to keep us religious women in our place; from asking any questions about the disproportionate sacrifices we were compelled to make for our ancient way of life. We were denied all academic and literary stimuli. We were expected to endure the often devastating physical toll of multiple pregnancies and child births. So it dawned on me that our communal religious ethos may represent some issues other than teaching the fear and love of the Lord.
And there's Zohra Moosa, who writes here in answer of a rather logical and rather typical question of separation, of Islamic "Faith and feminism": "I was asked directly whether I found it difficult to reconcile the two, whether there were inherent tensions I had to navigate and how did I square my religion and my belief (the two were conflated in the question) with my feminist convictions."

And Asma Barlas writing again voices here that:
I do not like to call myself a feminist; yet, the label continues to stick!

The truth is that long before I learned about feminism, I had begun to glimpse a message of sexual equality in the Qur’an. Perhaps this is paradoxical given that all the translations and interpretations that I read growing up were by men and given that I was born and raised in Pakistan, a society that can hardly be considered egalitarian. Yet, the Qur’an’s message of equality resonated in the teaching that women and men have been created from a single self and are each other’s guides who have the mutual obligation to enjoin what is right and to forbid what is wrong.

But, then, there are those other verses that Muslims read as saying that men are better than women and their guardians and giving men the right to unfettered polygyny and even to beat a recalcitrant wife. To read the Qur’an in my youth was thus to be caught up in a seemingly irresolvable and agonizing dilemma of how to reconcile these two sets of verses not just with one another but also with a view of God as just, consistent, merciful, and above sexual partisanship.

It has taken the better part of my life to resolve this dilemma and it has involved learning (from the discipline of hermeneutics) that language--hence interpretation—is not fixed or transparent and that the meanings of a text change depending on who interprets it and how. From reading Muslim history, on the other hand, I discovered that Qur’anic exegesis became more hostile to women only gradually and as a result of shifts in religious knowledge and methodology as well as in the political priorities of Muslim states. And, from feminism, I got the language to speak about patriarchy and sexual equality. In other words, it was all these universes of knowledge that enabled me to encounter the Qur’an anew and to give voice to my intuition that a God who is beyond sex/ gender has no investment in favoring males or oppressing women either.
Now Nancy Mairs. She is not claiming at all to speak for God or even like God here. (She has written another book in which she discusses the Dynamic God: Living an Unconventional Catholic Faith.) But here I wanted you to hear. To see her description of feminine discourse - as you yourself think about faith, perhaps your own faith, and perhaps even God. (Oh, and you have to get through a few paragraphs of patriarchy first, the dominant implication of a "chain of immortality" that is male first, but what's so new about that? Please be patient.)
. . . . What is hers by right he [the father] must take [from the mother] by force, through law, by giving it [Jacques] Lacan's Name-of-the-Father: "the patronym, patriarchal law, patriarchal identity, language as our inscription into patriarchy. The Name-of-the-Father is the fact of the attribution of paternity by law, by language." With his own tongue the father has named the baby. Now it is his. . . .

Once he gets her settled into domesticity, however, and gets a baby, the baby seems to belong to her, not him. They are forever together, nuzzling each other, rocking and humming and babbling. This doesn't much matter if it's a girl baby, since some stranger will one day get his own baby out of her; but if it's a boy baby, it's of his line, and he must wrest it away from its tricky mother and insert it into the chain of immortality he is forging. "No," he bellows, louder than Rumpelstiltskin, at the cowering child behind her skirts. "You can't have this one. This one is mine. He is my son." And named by the father, the child becomes a man.

In order to get what he wants, then, the father must have power to coerce those around him to meet his demands. To have power is to alienate oneself, however, because power is always power over and the preposition demands an object. The fundamental structure of patriarchy is thus binary: me/not me, active/passive, culture/nature, normal/deviant, good/bad, masculine/feminine, public/private, political/personal, form/content, subjective/objective, friend/enemy, true/false. . . . It is a structure, both spatial and temporal, predicated upon separation, not relation. It demands rupture, the split into halves engendered by the abrupt erection of the phallus: those who have and those who have not. It speaks the language of opposites.

Which is not women's language, since women, for a variety of reasons, live in a polymorphic rather than a dimorphic world, a world in which the differentiation of self from other may never completely take place, in which multiple selves may engage multiply with the multiple desires of the creatures in it. . . . The difference that emerges here is not the polarity intrinsic in the dominant discourse, which reduces "woman [explains Domna C. Stanton] to man's opposite, his other, the negative of the positive." No, this is an absolute and radical alterity that enfolds the other, as in pregnancy a woman's immune system shuts down in such a way that she shelters and nourishes, rather than rejects and expels, the foreign body within her: "Cells fuse, split, and proliferate; volumes grow, tissues stretch, and body fluids change rhythm, speeding up or slowing down. Within the body, growing a graft, indomitable, there is an other. And no one is present, within that simultaneously dual and alien space, to signify what is going on [observes Julia Kristeva]." Feminine discourse is not the language of opposites but a babel of eroticism, attachment, and empathy.

--voice lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer, pages 40-42.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for including my poem in this august company. I haven't read Nancy Mairs in a long time, but now I want to do so again.

And now I'm off to check out the fulltext versions of each of the posts you referenced alongside mine...

J. K. Gayle said...

It is a delight to read and to hear your poetry and your commentary! You do hear those parallels between your work and Nancy Mairs's work, don't you?

Suzanne continues her important series beyond the posts linked to here; and I'm also looking forward to more essays at NewStatesman on Faith and Feminism.