Barbie lives in Barbieland, which for some is a feminist utopia in which women can do anything: be president, have highly professional careers (the entire Supreme Court are female) as well as wear high heels and throw all night parties.
However all is not well in Barbieland: Barbie starts having nightmares and thinking about death, because the people in the real world are sad. So Barbie, accompanied by Ken, visits the real world to find her human family and solve their problems.
In the real world, Barbie is shocked by ‘the patriarchy’. She finds herself subjected to objectification and harassment. When she finds her family, the teenage daughter thinks Barbie is nothing more than a professional bimbo who makes women feel bad about herself.
It turns out this teenage girl is the source of sadness. She has stopped playing with her Barbie dolls because she blames them for men hating women and women hating women.
Ken, on the other hand, feels empowered by ‘the patriarchy. In contrast to his emasculated life on the beach in Barbieland, in the real world He ends up thinking he can do anything just because he is a man. At one point he barges into a hospital thinking he can perform surgery, without any qualifications or experience.
Back in Barbieland Ken changes things. The Supreme Court are demoted to a cheerleading squad, the president ends up serving men drinks. Every night is a ‘boys’ night and every barbie exists just to be ogled for male pleasure.
When Barbie returns she eventually manages to rally the barbies to overthrow their oppressors. Ken and Barbie apologies and the Barbies accept that a new society needs to be established with better rules for kens.
In a hideous postmodern/ commercial twist Barbie meets with the spirit of the Mattel founder. She finds out she is uncertain of her role in the world because there is no set role. The film ends with Barbie returning to the real world: her story carries on ‘evolving’.
At one level this film is a feminist commentary in line with what we might call Bimbo Feminism. This holds that women can embrace femininity and succeed professionally.
It is also a criticism of Patriarchy and especially the manosphere. When Ken returns to Barbieland he convinces the Kens that their rights have been eroded by women. They adopt toxic forms of masculinity in order to reassert their power.
This is also a movie about male as well as female roles. It is about how Kens (men) struggle to cope with increasing female power, many falling back on toxic masculinities.
The movie is also a commentary on the uncertainty of gender identities and how they are open to interpretation.
It also maybe gets us thinking about what use masculinity is at all going forwards: perhaps the future is one of abandoning heteronormativity entirely?
Postmodern feminism criticises the discourse of heteronormativity: gender and sex are fluid!
Postmodern Feminists argue that both men and women need to be liberated from the idea of heteronormativity: the idea that heterosexual male and female gender identities are the norm.
Historically, the idea that there are just two simple binary heterosexual identities comes from men and is one of the ways in which male power over women is maintained, with everything male being linked to the public sphere and everything female being linked to the domestic sphere.
For postmodern feminists, there isn’t a simple divide between biological male = masculine and biological female = feminine. Rather, everything about sex, sexuality and gender identity are fluid, and all gender identities are equally valid.
However, the dominant binary heterosexual male-female discourse makes it difficult for people who don’t ‘fit’ into ‘normal’ gender identities to be themselves, and raising awareness of the oppressive nature of the concept of ‘heteronormativity’ and celebrating gender differences and diversity are two of the main focuses of postmodern feminism.
Postmodern Feminist Philosophy
Postmodern feminism can also be called poststructuralist feminism or ‘cultural turn’ feminism, reflecting the shift away from structural and materialist theories and towards post-structuralism and cultural theories more generally from the mid 1980s onwards.
It was developed mainly by academics in the humanities rather than social science academics or feminist activists and it is much more philosophical than previous feminisms.
Postmodern Feminism is associated with a radical social-constructionist position which holds that there is no reality beyond social construction: discourses (what is discussed) shape the ‘realities’ people experience.
For postmodern feminists discourses are created by powerful groups of males and it is possible to identify and expose male-centred discourses.
Five examples of postmodern feminist thinkers include Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, Donna Harraway, Julia Kristeva and Helene Cixous.
The central focus for these thinkers is the ways in which female ‘subjectivity’ is constrained by textual and cultural forms defined and dominated by men.
One of the main focuses of postmodern feminism was to challenge thinking in dyads such as male-female and challenge the stability of dualistic ways of thinking, which it sees as repressive and to posit instead a liberating condition of the instability of all categories and truth claims.
In the condition of post modern liberation, men and women are free to choose to be a man, woman, gay, straight, trans or anything else, and identities are never fixed, they are fluid, multiple and fragmented.
Postmodern Feminists are especially critical of science’s dominant role in contemporary culture and its drive to fix gender and sex categories, which is seen as oppressive because this limits people’s capacities to shape their own (gender) identities.
Because of its focus on diversity, Postmodern Feminism is critical of Liberal and Marxist Feminist notions that we need to focus on politics for social change, and of Radical Feminism’s claims that there is a universal sisterhood with shared interests. Rather, there are diverse people who each need to be freed from the tyranny of truth so they can decide on how to shape their own gender identities going forwards!
The rest of this post will explore the work of Irigarary, Butler and Harraway in more depth.
Luce Irigaray argues that all that is known in mainstream society and culture about women and sexual desire is known from a male perspective, resulting in a vision of women she calls ‘masculine feminine’.
One of Irigaray’s aims is to overturn this male perspective, so that women are seen in their own terms, or as the ‘feminine female’.
Throughout the history of Western thought, women have been depicted as not-men, as negative entities which are lacking.
Women’s identity and sexuality are represented in this way because of ‘phallogocentrism’ , the patriarchal view of the world expressed in and through language as defined by men, a vision which tries to ‘freeze’ the meaning of ‘female’ and represent it in negative ways.
The task of theory is to liberate women from seeing themselves in such a way, and to realise that their own sexualities have plural dimensions which have the power to change female identities and escape the grip of phallogocentric culture.
Judith Butler claims that there is no such as sex. More specifically, she means that the sex categories of biologically distinct ‘male’ and ‘female’ do not exist in the real world, these categories are just mental constructions, part of language (discourse), but not real.
In other words, ‘men’ and ‘women’ are just people who have been labelled ‘men’ and ‘women’ they are not, in reality, biologically distinct from one another. We just think these labels refer to real, distinct entities.
This goes beyond feminist theorising in the 1970s, when feminists such as Ann Oakley generally thought that sex and gender were two different things with biological sex being fixed at birth (male or female) and gender being the cultural norms. we attach to these two sexes (masculine-feminie). For feminist theory in the 1970s, liberation meant changing gender norms, but sex-differences were generally seen as something determined by nature, so not up for discussion.
Butler challenges these earlier feminist ideas , by arguing that the idea that there is a natural biological divide between men and women is also a construction of patriarchy.
For Butler, both sex and gender are not just attributes people ‘have’, they are what people ‘do’. People ‘perform gender’ through what Butler refers to as ‘stylized repetition of acts’ enacted through the most mundane day to day body language, movements and general deportment that when taken together give the impression of a fixed ‘gendered self’.
People become a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’ through the acts they perform, they aren’t already a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ at birth.
Feminist criticisms of science
Donna Harraway criticises the patriarchal organisation of science and the gendered categories it produces, which are disseminated through society.
Harraway is critical of the positivist view that science is objective and value free, instead arguing it is a product of capitalism, militarism, colonization and male domination.
Scientific knowledge is no less ideological than other forms of knowledge (or discourse).
Harraway argued that scientific knowledge emerges out of social practices, and is influenced by the backgrounds of scientists, the knowledge created is contingent on them and would be different if constructed by other people in other societies.
She analyses a series of experiments carried out in seventeenth-century England, emphasising that those networks were made up almost entirely of white, European, upper class males, and the male bias within those networks influenced the connection of male to active and female to passive, ideas which have continued to be a central part of patriarchal culture ever since
She also examined how the scientific study of primates was a key development in the political ordering between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, ‘male’ and ‘female’ and ‘science’ and ‘ideology’.
However, because science is social in origins, it is not inherently patriarchal, it could potentially be reorganised to assist in female liberation.
Evaluations of Postmodern Feminism
Much of Postmodern Feminism isn’t grounded: it is not based in empirical evidence, rather it is based on freewheeling philosophy.
Deconstructive methods are purely negative, there is little positive about what we should do beyond criticising dominant discourses.
A 44 year old mother of three was sentenced to 24 months in jail on Monday for using abortion pills to abort a foetus at just over 30 weeks, whereas the legal limit for abortions is currently 24 weeks.
She obtained the pills in March 2020 during Lockdown through the ‘pills by post scheme’ and lied to the authorities, saying she was under the 24 week limit. She got found out because she had to call emergency services having taken the pills, and the police were called by medical staff after she arrived in hospital.
She was prosecuted under the 1861 ‘Offences against the person act‘ which outlines a maximum possible life-sentence, but the judge residing stated she’d received the sentence for lying rather than the actual abortion, had she not lied he probably would have given her a non-custodial sentence.
Relevance to A-level sociology
You can apply victimology here. It seems to me that this woman is a victim of unfortunate circumstances and an outdated criminal justice system.
She got pregnant during lockdown, when access to abortion services would have been restricted, and came to a late decision to abort, by which time the only way she could do what she thought was right was to lie to the authorities.
She basically did this under extreme stress in the middle of lockdown with a lack of support, and apparently has suffered huge emotional trauma as a result.
I mean let’s face it: there are no legitimate arguments against this so this isn’t surprising. (Religious arguments aren’t rational thus not legitimate, because if they’re not rational they aren’t arguments, just faith-based opinions.)
There will obviously be a strong Feminist argument for changing the law here so such women can’t be prosecuted, I mean theoretically women can still go to jail for a life sentence for aborting a foetus at 25 weeks, and this is just overt state control over pregnant women’s bodies in modern Britain.
The fact that this law hasn’t been changed is a criticism of Liberal Feminism: clearly here social policy hasn’t been updated in so long that it’s not sufficient to protect such women when they need it!
Hopefully there will be an appeal very soon and this woman will get out of jail much earlier than 12 months (she’s serving half in jail), because her being in jail doesn’t serve any positive functions: not for society, not for her children and not for her.
Possibly the fact that this law hasn’t been updated for so long is because Parliament is still largely a patriarchal institution which is failing to adequately keep up to date with issues of gender justice.
I guess this also a test case for the Functionalist view that media reactions to laws will result in them changing, hopefully this will be the case here sooner rather than later!
Some Feminists argue that early sociology was ‘malestream’ – meaning it was mainly focused on studying boys and men and theorising about women’s roles by Functionalists (for example) was itself patriarchal. This post explores whether sociology is still malestream today.
Malestream sociology is a term developed by Feminist theorists who argue that early sociology was dominated by men and thus produced a biased male-centred account of the social world.
According to Abbot Wallace and Tyler (2005) early sociological studies and theories variously ignore or distort (through a male lens) the experience of women and girls altogether; fail to acknowledge that women are subordinated to men; and fail to take account of the fact that women’s experience of this subordination is an important factor in explaining women’s experiences and positions in the social structure.
The material below should be useful to students studying the the theory part of the theory and methods module and is summarised from the book linked and pictured immediately above.
Five Feminist Criticisms of Malestream Sociology
Abbot, Wallace and Tyler (2005) identified five main criticisms of ‘malestream’ sociology which have been developed by Feminists.
Traditional sociology was mainly focused on studying boys and men in most fields of study.
Studies using all male samples have been generalised to all people, including women.
Areas of social life which have traditionally been part of the female-domain were neglected in early sociology – for example there were no sociological studies on housework or childcare until the early 1970s.
On the rare occasion when women were the focus of sociological studies they were often theorised about in stereotypical ways. For example Pollack, who studied female criminals argued that women tended to commit more ‘devious’ (hidden) crimes such as murdering by poison (which often went undetected) because they were used to faking o*****s from their partners which made them good at hiding crimes.
Abbot et al themselves suggest that early theorising about women’s roles by Functionalists was kind of ideological. For example, Parsons developed his social systems theory in which ‘every existing role had a function that contributed to the maintenance of the whole’ – and women’s role within the family was to be the care-givers and domestic labourers.
In the final point above, what Parsons (and Functionalists more generally) failed to consider was that their conception of women’s roles in society was itself part of a patriarchal world view which itself contributed to maintaining that patriarchy.
Feminising Sociology – Differential Progress
Abbot and Wallace accept the fact that sociology has become less malestream since the 1970s, but progress towards including the study of women and the inclusion of women in studying society has been variable, depending on the general topic areas.
Some topic areas have been more fully reconstructed from feminist perspectives – such as cultural sociology, and the sociology of the body, identity and sexuality.
And then there are some areas where Feminism has not made much of an impact such as social theory and the sociology of class and stratification.
Dealing with MaleStream Sociology
Feminists generally agree that something needs to be done to make sociology less male-dominated, but disagree over what strategies to adopt.
Some Feminists emphasis an ‘integration‘ approach – suggesting that Feminists need to simply fill in the gaps of existing research. However Abbot and Wallace reject this approach, arguing that any Feminist research that is ‘tagged on’ to existing malestream sociology will be marginalised. In short, this approach does nothing to tackle the subordination of women within sociology itself.
Separatism supports a ‘sociology for women by women’ which argues that women need to break away from malestream sociology and conduct their own research completely apart from established sociology. Abbot and Wallace are more sympathetic to this approach but suggest there is a risk that such a separate Feminist sociology would still end up being marginalised by the dominant malestream established sociology.
A third approach, suggested by Abbot and Wallace is that of ‘reconceptualisation‘ – in which existing sociological studies and theories are reworked to fully incorporate the experiences of women; and any future research is to be rejected unless it can explain the experiences of both men and women fully.
In this final approach, the idea is to embed Feminism into sociology such that the discipline can apply to all genders, not just men, and while difficult to achieve Abbot and Wallace believe that progress is possible.
Is Contemporary Sociology still Malestream in 2022?
Abbot and Wallace made the observations above in 2005, almost 20 years ago now, so you might like to think about the extent to which their observations are still true today.
Certainly in A-level Sociology text books if you read through the social theories sections, the vast majority of the theories are by men, but this might just be because these text books are themselves dated and contain limited material from after 2010 themselves!
Certainly there are sections on sex and gender inequalities within every major topic area, so gender issues are firmly embedded within the specification but I am not convinced they are dealt with as thoroughly as other areas.
One area that is severely lacking IMO is the broader study of sexuality, beyond just men and women but looking at the experiences of LGBTQ individuals.
This is an interesting question for A-level sociology students to consider as they progress through their studies.
Sources/ Find out More
Part of this post was adapted from Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives 8th Edition.
Abbot Wallace and Tyler (2005) An Introduction to Sociology, Feminist Perspectives
Angry Wimmin, part two of the BBC’s series ‘Lefties’ is a good resource to use for teaching Radical Feminist Theory. Part 1 below is especially good for the families and households module for A-level sociology.
It involves interviews with real women who were involved with Radical Feminism in the 1970s, and you get to hear in their own words how they thought ‘men were the enemy’, although their views may have changed now as the documentary consists of women looking back 20 years later!
We get to hear about what it was like living in Feminists separatist households – women households, where men weren’t allowed – one woman goes into how she left a heterosexual marriage, taking their child with them to go live in a woman only household; another talks about how her brother wasn’t allowed in the house when he came to visit her – they had to have conversations in his car instead.
We also get to hear about some of the bizarre experiences of political lesbianism – where women became lesbians for ‘political reasons’, even if they weren’t gay. Once actual gay woman talks about odd this was for her – when one non-gay woman decided she wanted to sleep with her to become a ‘proper Feminist’.
NB – I don’t think these radical feminist views were every very popular, these are extreme, but this documentary at least shows that were really was a movement of women who practiced such things!
A Marxist-Feminist response to covid-19 demands that the political response to the pandemic puts people, and especially essential-service workers, before the interests of capital.
Below I summarise an article from Spectre, a Marxist-Feminist journal, based in the United States, which outlines seven ways we should be responding to the pandemic.
I’ve re-worded some of the material to make it a bit simpler to understand, as it is written in typcically ‘Marxist’ language/ Hopefully I haven’t changed the meaning too much in translation
Better funding for life-making institutions
Social reproduction services such as the health care services and education have been undermined by years of cuts. The crisis has shown us how essential these are, and so we should maintain them at a higher level of funding going forwards.
Better pay for essential service workers
We need to recognize the real value of nurses, care workers, cleaners and the people who do the basic work of society. They need better pay and conditions
Bail out people, not corporations
The article suggests that some CEOs are sacking people while keeping their high salaries, we need to make sure bail-out money doesn’t go to the shareholders of companies who have cut jobs
Open borders, close prisons
This is the most contentious to my mind – but they remind us that migrants and prisoners are probably some of the most effected people in all of this – the former because their livelihoods are decimated with border closures, the latter because they are forced to be inside in crowded conditions.
Stand in solidarity against domestic violence
Governments need to make sure domestic violence services are funded appropriately to meet the spike in DV since coronavirus
Use solidarity against capital
Ordinary people all over the world are stepping up and voluntarily making sure their neighbours and the vulnerable are getting what they need during this crisis. The governments need to follow their lead in provided assistance – help the people, but take the lead from the people, based on need.
Use solidarity to change society
This moment can be the moment when the left push forward with a pro-people, anti-capitalist agenda, it needs to be dynamic and global.
A few thoughts on the above
IMO there’s little to disagree with in the above statements with maybe the exception of the borders/ prisons point.
I like the idea of building on the voluntary work and renewed (or just new?) respect key workers now have in the eyes of general public to really push forward an economic recovery agenda that emphasizes rebuilding society based on basic individual needs, a recovery which puts health, care, education, essential services at the center.
It will be interesting to see if this is going to be the case!
I read a very interesting article called in Dissent online magazine which seems to be a ‘Marxist-Feminist‘ analysis of the Coronavirus.
The article’s called ‘Social Reproduction and the Pandemic, and consists of a Q and A session with Tithi Bhattacharya, a professor of history at Purdue university and co-author of a book: Feminism for the 99%, which hints pretty strongly at her left-leaning and Feminist views!
I’ve included a summary below, but if you’d like to read the whole thing yourself, then I’ve included a link below.
Social repdoduction theory
Bhattacharya is a ‘social reproduction theorist’ – social reproduction theory sees the real source of wealth and value in our society as coming from human labour associated with ‘social reproduction activities’.
Social reproduction activities are those required for making and maintaing life, such as producing food, education, maintaing health, transportation, caring for people and various ‘domestic chores’ such as cleaning. The institutions associated with such ‘life making’ activities are the health-care sector, education and public transport. Typical ‘life-making’ jobs inlcude nursing, teaching, caring, and cleaning, sectors dominated by female workers.
Bhattacharya suggests that the capitalist system does not value ‘life-making activities’ because the capitalist system emphasises the importance of ‘thing-making’ and ‘profit-making’ rather than ‘life making’. Thus ‘life-making’ jobs such as nursing and teaching are undervalued and the workers poorly paid.
Social reproduction theory aims to analyse social events keeping in mind the fact that the really important work in society is ‘life-making work’, work currently done by women!
How Coronarvirus criticizes Capitalism
The coronavirus has been tragicially clarifying in two major ways:
It highlights that care work and life-making work are the really essential work of society – in lockdown we are keeping the essential services going such as nursing and refuse collection, no one is clamouring for stockbrokers or the leisure industry to be kept running.
It also highlights how incapable capitalism is when it comes to dealing with a crisis – once again we require the public sector to come to the rescue, the sector that’s been undermined by cuts for a decade.
Many of the jobs in America that are on the essential services list (the ones that are allowed to stay open) are paid at minimum wage, or $10 an hour, and many workers have no paid sick time or health insurance.
One suggestion is for ‘pandemic pay’ – pay these workers more as they are now being called on to risk their lives.
The uneqal response in India
Bhattacharya also focuses on the unequal response to the virus in India (her home country) – there is a lot of poor migrant labour in India, and because of lockdown closing public transport, millions of such workers are now literally having to walk home hundreds of miles to their home villages.
Meanwhile the Indian government allowed wealthy middle class Indians stuck abroad to come home on special flights, despite the borders being closed to everyone else.
She goes on to suggest that capitalist governments in the global south might well use the virus as a means to clear out the slums of the unwanted, i.e. just let it kill a lot of people.
Coronavirus and the domestic sphere
Battacharya thinks that this is a positive time for us to reconnect with families, and we might even see a rebalancing of domestic labour with men doing more housework than usual, but she also reminds us that there will probably be a spike in domestic violence for those unfortunate enough to be caught in absuive relationships.
‘War-footing’ not an appropriate analogy…
Some really interesting thoughts on why the ‘war footing’ isn’t an appropriate analogy:
Firstly, we need to ramp-down production rather than ‘ramping it up’ (like we normally would in a war) – because we need to think of minimising the social contact through global supply lines.
Secondly, we need to redefine ‘troops’ – they are not soldiers, but our care-sector and essential service workers.
Coranavirus and climate change
An interesting final thought – we need to deal with climate change with the same sense of urgency as we are dealing with this pandemic!
Radical Feminists emphasize the patriarchal nature of some mainstream religions such as Catholicism and Islam. They argue that such religions have developed in patriarchal societies and have been ‘hijacked’ by men. Men have interpreted religious doctrines in order to justify their positions of power.
Radical Feminists also believe that religion often serves to compensate women for their second class status within religion and society more generally. For example, by providing psychological rewards if they accept their role as mothers and limit their horizons to fulfilling that role well.
However, Radical Feminists do not necessarily see religion as inherently patriarchal. Historically, for example, Goddess religions have celebrated the creative and nurturing power of the feminine. It is really men hijacking religion and downplaying the role of women in the development of some religions over the past couple of thousand years which is the problem.
It follows that women can use religion to lead fulfilling lives, but need to fight oppression within mainstream religions organisations to do so, or even to develop their own unique, individual paths to a feminine spirituality.
The mind map above summarises the following Feminist perspectives on religion. Please click the links below for more details:
Eight mind maps covering the sociological perspectives on beliefs in society. In colour!
52 Pages of revision notes covering the entire AQA ‘beliefs in society’ specification: from perspectives on religion, organisations, class, gender ethnicity and age and secularisation, globalisation and fundamentalism.
Three 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ practice exam questions and model answers
Three 10 mark ‘analyse using the item’ 10 practice exam questions and answers
Three 30 mark essay questions and extended essay plans.
The content focuses on the AQA A-level sociology specification. All at a bargain price of just £4.99!
I’ve taught A-level sociology for 16 years and have been an AQA examiner for 10 of those, so I know what I’m talking about, and if you purchase from me you’re avoiding all those horrible corporations that own the major A-level text books and supporting a fully fledged free-range human being, NOT a global corporate publishing company.
Carol Christ is critical of any religion which is based on the idea of there being ‘one true God’ or ‘one true interpretation’ of what religious practices people should engage in.
And although the Enlightenment challenged the authority of the church, Carol Christ is also critical of Enlightenment thought.
In the Enlightenment, knowledge was held to be something independent of the individual, and thus objective and true. The Enlightenment also championed the ‘rational man’, someone who was dispassionate and detached from the process of uncovering true knowledge.
However, Carol Christ believes that detached, objective knowledge is not actually possible, as it is always tied up with the values, beliefs and interests of the person who creates that knowledge.
In at least two significant ways, the Enlightenment attitude towards knowledge is similar in that of traditional religious organisations’: they both believe that the source of ‘true knowledge’ is external to the individual and yet within both traditions, knowledge is basically created by men and reflects male values.
An alternative to both is what Carol Christ calls ‘embodied spirituality’ in which
‘we think through the body, we reflect upon the standpoints embedded in our life experiences, histories, judgments and interests…. Embodied thinking enlarges experiences through empathy… Empathy reaches out to others, desiring to understand the world from different points of view.” (1997).
Carol Christ argues that through such knowledge, traditional theology (in which men interpret religion) can be replaced with a new thea-ology, which means ‘reflection on the meaning of the Goddess’.
She believes that if embodied knowledge is the basis of spirituality, then we can overcome dualistic ways of thinking such as rational and irrational and mind and body because The Goddess is found all around, in everything, forming a web of life which integrates all things into a universal whole.
Historical Representations of the Goddess
Symbols and statues of the Goddess have been found in a wide variety of civilizations going back 25000 years.
Mythical stories which pay tribute to an Ancient Mother Goddess whose fertility and abundance give nourishment to a culture date back to prehistoric times.
One of the earliest examples, from the Paleothic era, is the ‘Venus of Willendorf. She is fat, showing her abundant life-energy, and representing the nurturing and support which mother-hood offers.
Later examples from the Mesopotamian era are the clay figurines of the Ishtar (circa 2000 BC) in her characteristic breast-offering pose which suggests her function as the Goddess of all nourishment and fertility.
A more recent example is found in the Macha Earth Goddess – a fertility goddess who was worshiped in ancient Ireland by the Picts before the arrival of the Celts and adopted by them. She is associated with war, horses, and independence.
How individuals can find the Goddess
Carol P Christ believes that people need to find their own spiritual paths through personal experience.
Christ had something of a traumatic time discovering the Goddess for herself. As a student of theology, she became increasingly frustrated with traditional interpretations of God as male, with God always being associated with the father, with Kings, and even with war. This all built up to a head one evening when she shouted out
‘I want you to know how much I have suffered because you let yourself be named in man’s image’, after which she heard a female voice in her head that said ‘In God is a woman like yourself. She shares your suffering.’
Christ’s ideas on the Goddess were further developed by attending a workshop led by a woman called Starhalk who saw the Goddesss as Mother Earth, who was found in nature and in the spirit, emotions, mind and body of everyone.
Her understanding and spiritual awareness developed further in a women’s spirituality group called Rising Moon.
Carol Christ ultimately believes that personal experience has to be the starting point of valid knowledge. She believes that every woman on a spiritual path has a story to tell and their own spiritual journey to go on, but each finds a similar power through the Goddess.
In terms of Feminism, everyone can work together with other Feminists and valid spiritual knowledge can be co-created.
Evaluations of Goddess Religions
While it is hard to doubt the authenticity of Carol P Christ’s views (i.e. it is clear that she really believes what she saying), there are certain problems with this approach.
Firstly, It is difficult to evaluate an approach which rejects empirical research. It is difficult to assess its reliability or validity.
Secondly, it is difficult, if not impossible to make generalisations from personal approaches – for example, it is easy to find examples of religions which are not patriarchal.
Sources/ Find out More
Haralambos and Holborn (eighth edition) Sociology Themes and Perspectives
Feminist Karen Armstrong argued that women were central to many spiritual traditions in early history.
She pointed out that in early history, there were very few effigies of male gods, while symbolic representations of the ‘Great Mother Goddess’ were numerous. In the Middle East, Asia and Europe, for example, archaeologists have uncovered numerous symbols of the Mother Goddess. One common representation is of the mother goddess as a naked pregnant women, which seems to place fertility as central to early spirituality.
Armstrong argues that female figures began to be written out of religion with the acceptance of monotheism. She suggests that this process originated with Yahweh, the god of Abraham, and writes…
‘[this] God of Israel would later become the God of the Christians and the Muslims, who all regard themselves as the spiritual offspring of Adam, the father of all believers’.
This type of Feminist analysis seems to suggest that it is not necessarily religion itself that is patriarchal. Thus, unlike Marxist perspectives, we do not need to eradicate religion in order to achieve female liberation. Rather, we, need to ‘get back’ to more female centered spiritual traditions and develop a female-focused spirituality.