Women have historically been pinned down into either embracing the virgin or the whore archetype. It’s a long time holdover from Christianity and similar religions, and it desperately needs to die. And quite frankly, it belongs under that bucket of “things you need to rethink and toss out when you become a pagan or a polytheist“. In countless esoteric orders I was a part of I heard men projecting their images of the goddess onto their fellow sisters: “She’s Mary to me”, “She’s Isis”, “She’s Babalon”. I’ve had it done to me, and it’s not flattering–it’s creepy as hell.
The constant putting up women on altars and pedestals, even having them as the altars, the romanticizing and fetishizing of the divine feminine as being the pinnacle of ultimate receptiveness with zero boundaries and something any woman should aspire to attain to–none of it is healthy. None of it provides a safe atmosphere for women, and all of it is attention we absolutely do not want, especially coupled with sexual harassment and a total inability to regard our “No, I’m not interested” as being sacrosanct.
I am no longer in those groups and it is precisely why I left.
The over-sexualization and objectification of women in Western Mystery Tradition groups, traditional witchcraft circles, and in pagan and polytheist traditions in general is extremely pervasive and toxic to everyone involved. We cannot use the past or what other people tolerate as an excuse (whataboutism isn’t helping!), nor we cannot claim to be counterculture one moment then use the very culture we are supposed to be veering away from as an excuse the next, either. This is behavior that should neither be condoned or tolerated. Setting appropriate boundaries and having discussions on acceptable behavior need to happen, as well as steps to take for when things go wrong.
I shouldn’t have to attend gatherings where sex and fertility is the core of the reason for the gathering and/or tradition (ie., a Beltaine festival) and be subjected to the male gaze and sexual harassment while present, or have it be assumed that my presence there automatically means consent. I shouldn’t have to explain why magazine covers of Babalon Barbie are offensive, or why endless books by men describing witches as hypersexual women as the desired and only acceptable mold and model are problematic. And I haven’t even gotten into the issue of #Metoo and how that also ties into all of this. Our sexuality as women is constantly being both policed and made policy by men and the women who support those men, and it is not okay.
There is a massive, massive difference between supporting women’s sexuality and objectifying them for it, and that objectification comes in many forms, including the erasing of our humanity by pinning goddesses to us, the apparent entitlement to our sexuality, and not letting us define us. I don’t hear the positions ever reversed in these places; I have never walked into those same gatherings and groups and heard about women’s own relationship with the male component of divinity. Not without it somehow directly relating to the men present. It’s all about the male gaze in these sorts of groups, and it seems that only the straight and bi/pansexual women are the ones embraced. Interest in men by women is both assumed and desired as the default and the crippling heteronormative thinking remains. Somehow the notion that women just might fall under the category of “other” or “uninterested” gets left out of the discussion, and it’s alienating to those of us who aren’t a part of the het/bi/pan bucket.
And the fault of these issues rests not just with men but with women too. Women need to be less complicit in these affairs as well. Listen to your fellow women and stand up for them when they speak up. Just because you think you are comfortable, doesn’t mean that they will be–and their voice needs to be heard too. Too often it happens where sexism is so ingrained and institutionalized that it doesn’t even occur to us how wrong it is until we look at it with fresh eyes. I have been in the scenario where I was on the end of the table of that discussion due to both my boundaries and consent having been violated. The woman who was hearing me out accused me of being a prude. That is unacceptable, out of line, unconscionable.
Women: trust your sisters. Hear them out. Don’t dismiss them.
It’s time to rethink longtime honored thoughts on many things, and it’s okay to do so. Women are more than their bits and fertility status; this is offensive to cis and trans women both. This is why the “Maiden-Mother-Crone” model has always left me cold–I avoid it like the plague. Having genuine sexual freedom and being sex positive for all genders and sexual orientations means freedom to both do and not do. Regardless of whether or not you are an aromantic asexual or a polyamorous pansexual, no should mean no, and the circles and groups I partake of should be more than just for men looking for their Playboy Goddess or sex magic partner. We need to reconsider our language, our imagery, and how we communicate with each other in general.