The world is not safe for women. Just now the news is filled with these stories: two teen girls in India were raped and hanged; several hundred girls in Nigeria were kidnapped by a group that opposes the education of women; a man in Santa Barbara killed women and men, with knives and a gun, and then himself, in a fit of frustrated hate he explained in a Youtube video and a lengthy email.
The Santa Barbara shooting has sparked a national conversation. Women are speaking out about our experience of the world in blogs and media posts and at #yesallwomen. What emerges from this conversation is that every woman experiences physical danger. The general estimate is that one in four women have been raped. That’s horrifying enough, but the other three women have not gone about their lives unaffected. Every woman experiences the culturally acceptable behaviors that legitimize and lead up to rape. Women are body shamed, slut shamed, catcalled, groped, battered, threatened verbally, and threatened physically, and this can happen without warning, anywhere at any time.
The root of this violence to women is the fundamental worldwide value that women belong to men. Women’s bodies belong to men and women’s sexuality belongs to men. A man can kill a woman because she divorced him, refused him sex, dared to get an education. Depending on where you are in the world murder usually has consequences, but rape is another matter; a man can drug or beat a woman and rape her, and depending on his race and position in the community he might not even be arrested or punished for this. That’s if the woman reports the crime. Raped women are disbelieved, slut-shamed, and silenced so routinely that many do not.
The Santa Barbara guy killed men, and his rant was racist too. Anyone who isn’t a straight white guy – who is gender-queer, gay, a person of color, disabled, old, non-Christian – anyone who is different from the “normal person” can be the target of violence. What the national conversation points out is that every woman, gender-queer, gay, of color, disabled, old, wearing a hijab, and straight and white, every woman lives with the threat and reality of violence, every day. That’s what misogyny means.
Women in the magical communities are not immune from this. When I think of the women I know who are writers, teachers, priestesses, who embody goddesses or The Goddess or the Divine Feminine, I see women who are in charge of their lives, vibrant, spiritual, lovely and loving, bearing the sacred into the world. If you are in the magical communities you know those women too. You know their names, you’ve seen their work, you’ve shared the beauty they create. It’s hard to face, but those women too have been called sluts and whores, whistled at, propositioned, rubbed against, struck, beaten, raped, and even murdered.
Magical women are not just assaulted outside the magical communities, but within them, by men we trust. A prominent Pagan writer was recently indicted for possessing child pornography, sparking a speakout by women who had been harmed by him, and then women who had been harmed by other teachers and leaders. The same mechanisms that protect men and condone violence are at work among us.
This strikes at the core of magical community. Think about what it takes for women to put all of that aside and find the courage to take up our offices as priestess and present ourselves as beautiful and sacred. For Thelemites in particular this strikes at the core of the Law of Freedom. The proclamation “every man and every woman is a star” is not a lived experience for everyone. Every man is a star, and every woman belongs to him. Every woman is a star, and every morning wakes up to fight the battle to stay alive and physically whole and somehow endure the catcalls and groping and threats of violence and death.This week women are breaking the silence of shame and fear that hides rape and all the abuse we manage through in our lives. As usual when women dare to fight back there has been backlash; the national conversation includes #notallmen (are rapists), the dismissal that women are “airing grievances”, and many other examples. The great thing about this moment is that men are speaking up in support. They are telling other men to stop and listen to what women are saying.
This is a moment that we can use to shift culture – if not in the world, then at least in our own communities. If the Law of Thelema is to be equally available to all we must stand against institutionalized injustice. We must stand against racism, and sexism, and any other kind of ideology and cultural behavior that that makes one person less human than the person standing next to them. Standing against violence to women is a good place to start.
Here’s what we can do.
If you are serious about making the magical world safe for all women, don’t demand that the women you personally know educate you, educate yourself. For straight white women this means educating ourselves about racism and gender violence too. If you’ve got a good grounding, seek out a new voice to listen to (for women, this doesn’t mean you have to “understand” the male-supporter-of-rape-culture’s point of view). Once you’ve gotten your education, educate others.
Here are a few good places to start:
If you are a man and see abuse, speak up. If you are a woman and have encountered abuse, and it is safe for you to do so, report it. I can’t speak for every Thelemic organization or magical group, but many have policies prohibiting harassment. Ordo Templi Orientis explicitly condemns sexual harassment, as the National Grand Master of America, Sabazius, spells out in his blog post,
Non-Consensual Sexual Conduct. He says:
All members–women and men–who find themselves victims of non-consensual sexual conduct, are urged to report the incident to the Master of their Local Body as soon as possible. If, for some reason, reporting to the Local Master is out of the question, or has no effect, then the incident should be reported directly to the U.S.G.L. Ombudsman (ombudsman [at] oto-usa.org).
If a woman speaks up, believe her. If abuse happens in your presence, stop it. Even if it’s just a joke. Even if it makes you feel exposed or dumb. Even if the person doing it is someone you admire.
It’s our responsibility to build a community in which women can embody the divine feminine without living under the threat of being targeted by violence just for being women. It is up to us to make and hold a safe space for women to live as freely as men.