Wednesday, April 6, 2016

At the Root of the Suffering of Women Worldwide by Trista Hendren

Art by Arna Baartz

“It is a patient pursuit to bring water from the depth of the ground; one has to deal with much mud in digging before one reaches the water of life.”
Hazrat Inayat Khan

ON ANY GIVEN DAY, the world around me crumbles. Like many women I have come out of a less than ideal marriage and attempted to overcome a lifetime of suffering.

After many years, I have moved out of (relative) poverty and struggling to live with my third husband in Norway. Life, for the most part is good. We have moved from the poorest school district in Portland, Oregon, where free lunch was the norm, to a suburb in Western Norway where poverty seems invisible. I realize now, that although for years I worried about being kicked out of our feeble bungalow for lack of rent money, I had it relatively easy. Most women around the world do not. I resonated deeply with Helen Hye-Sook Hwang’s assessment in her recent book, The Mago Way:

“I soon became exhausted, not only physically but psychologically. The “Third World” became real to me. When I saw the indigent of the Philippines, then I knew my own experience of poverty was not really of poverty, just a little inconvenience. I got sick from food and water that I drank in the houses of people whom I visited. A strong rotten smell nauseated me, whenever I passed by the alley where people sold their meat, fish, and fruit. The unbridgeable gap that I found between the people and myself broke my heart. My feelings of guilt, frustration, and anger could find no ventilation. I was saddened when a burglar broke into the house overnight and took small house items. I was speechless when I visited people in a garbage incineration site who lived on trash. My heart ached when I saw an entire family living out of a small cart on a street. Begging children followed me when I got off a bus in new places. Hundreds of girls from the rural area went to the city and became prostitutes. I saw how people were caught in tribal wars and government raids against communists. I saw women used as pawns in the rivalry between the church and the government on the issue of abortion. I saw the wealth of catholic organizations and the affluent people. What I saw is beyond description. I could not even cry. I was in shock, torn by the two worlds – the rich, the west, and the religious on the one side; and the poor, the indigenous, and the lay people on the other side. Shattered pieces of a jar spoke of my heart, as I found them under my feet on my desperate prayer-walk to a grove.”[1]

I often feel frustrated with those who would forget the suffering of others. I know how that feels on the other end. I also know that none of us has it completely easy. The struggle for most of us is harder now in Western society because so many of us are fighting alone.

At the root of the suffering of women worldwide, I believe, is the doctrine of inferiority that most of us were raised on, fueled by the mandate that GOD is MALE and HE made it this way.

But what if God, or Allah, were female? What if “God” is a loving Mother waiting on us to figure Her out?

I have often thought that the world would be in better shape under the reign of a Goddess – or many loving aunties, mothers and grandmothers consorting to take care of us all.

This morning I pondered the upcoming Saudi execution of Palestinian Poet, Ashraf Fayadh[2] for a very long time.

I thought about how it must feel to wait in a cell and wonder about your own death sentence – a beheading at that. That quickly became unbearable for me so I looked for every poem I could find in English and read through them all, wondering what warranted his death. What I found was beauty and piercing truth.

“Children are like sparrows,
but they don’t build nests in dead trees.
And the U.N. agency isn’t responsible for planting trees.”
Ashraf Fayadh[3]

From the onset of The Girl God, I have joked about being put to death. I, however, have the luxury of joking; I am not living in Saudi Arabia. I can still question many things without too much worry.

It is difficult for me to reconcile how I have seen Islam practiced personally, which has been predominantly positive, with the stories I hear on the news. Likewise, it is unbearable for me to think of an all-knowing Mother Goddess who continues to let the world unravel.

When I see the pictures of refugees and the callous comments of those who have so much and care so little, it is all I can do not to cry. I have always been accused of being, “soft” or one for whom the world is just too rough for. My father told me out of college that I could never be a social worker, because it would destroy me.

My Islam, and my feminism, are fully embodied with social justice—for everybody.

My frustration has often lied in the fact that neither ideology seems completely compatible. I don’t feel fully at home either in Islamic circles or feminist ones. I am a misfit. I often think that the only person who completely understands me is my husband.

The comments and posts across the board on social media are often deeply frustrating if not downright hurtful to me.

Islamophobia abounds. Many of the people I love don’t connect the dots—and I think that is mostly because they just don’t talk. This anthology is my attempt to bridge some of those gaps.

In my heart, I believe that Allah is Goddess. In my soul, I know that if we were to embrace Her, the world would begin to heal. In my gut, I feel a deep anger that feminism, for the most part, has not gone into the root of things—and the root lies in the male divinity that nearly the entire world worships, including the hearts of many who don’t even realize they still do.

A mother does not favor one child over another; she loves all of her children. This is difficult to accept for those who did not grow up with this sort of a mom. But the mothers I know do the best they can every day to love and provide for their children, often at their own expense. We are fiercely protective of our children.

But things happen, don't they?

When we moved to Norway, I assumed we would live in somewhat of a progressive, feminist utopia where I didn’t have to worry as much about my young daughter. A few months into her schooling here, all of that changed. My “Little Goddess” as I often call her, the one who inspired The Girl God, was assaulted by an older boy in her class, who was twice her size.

This was not a new thing entirely—it had been building up for several weeks—as most abuse does. Several days before, he had put his hands around her neck, as if to strangle her. I was deeply concerned because he was 3-4 years older and so much bigger, so I contacted the school. I was told by her teachers that they would deal with it immediately.

No one thought to inform me of her condition ahead of time, so I met her at the train stop with cuts and bruises all over her nine-year-old face. She had been pushed into a large rock pile, headfirst. Apparently, the teachers thought it best to pretend like nothing had happened. She was expected to go right back into her studies.

For two full days, I fumed. I did not sleep. I thought my head would explode. I was so angry I wanted to slam my body into a wall. I let the teachers and the principal have it. We immediately pulled her from that school and placed her in another. We went to the police and filed a report. I did everything I possibly could short of retaliating physically (which did cross my mind). In the end, nothing really came out of it. It was just “one of those things that happens.”

But that’s exactly the problem with a world that expects females to just absorb their abuse. This incident will likely stay with both me and my daughter for the rest of our lives. My daughter still has rage, anger, fear—and the hurt from the isolation that has arisen from this to deal with. I must help her find the tools both within herself and the world around her to cope. As her mother, I have lost my illusion that there is any place on this earth that will ever be safe for her as a girl-child. I have had to facilitate my own sort of grieving process around this.

No matter how hard we may try, mothers can never completely hide their children from the harshness of this world. Just because you create something doesn't mean you can protect it.

It was then I realized, again, the unrealistic and unspoken expectations of the Mother. We really put too much on Her, just as we do with most mothers. No rest, no pay. Her needs always relegated to last place. Retiring in poverty, alone.

We have an obligation to our mothers that many in the West have forgotten. Just as she cared for us in our youth, so must we care and protect her in her old age and ill-health. In the United States, the numbers on women and retirement are staggering.

“Seventy percent of women retire in poverty after a life-time of institutionalized discrimination in the workplace without equal pay or compensation for staying home to care for their families.” Karen Tate[4]

Our lives are both individualistic and communal. In the West, we tend to veer too much to the individualistic side, at the expense of community. This vicious cycle hurts the individual as well. We don’t have the family support much of the world still enjoys.

Women, particularly mothers—and even more so single mothers—are usually entirely on their own when it comes to the bulk of the household chores and child-care.

I know from my own life that it’s nearly impossible for women to fight against patriarchy for all women when they are fighting so hard against it every day in their own lives.

When you live under chronic stress for years on end, you end up being sick half the time, which makes it very difficult to get much done. It is also very likely to contribute to chronic illness, cancer and addiction.[5]

Women around the world need compassion and support. Too few men are stepping forward. And I mean that in a practical sense too: men need to do their fair share of the housework and child rearing. Women need to have some space in their lives to ponder, to write and to explore. Without that space, nothing will ever change for females.

-Trista Hendren, an excerpt from the Introduction to 'Jesus, Muhammad and the Goddess'

[1]Hwang, Helen Hye-Sook. The Mago Way: Re-discovering Mago, the Great Goddess from East Asia. Mago Books, 2015.
[2]After an international outcry, Fayadh’s death sentence has recently been overturned and changed to an 8-year prison term, 800 lashes and public repentance.
[3]Fayadh, Ashraf, “The Last of the Line of  Refugee Descendants” Instructions Within. Dar al-Farabi, 2008.
Translated by Jonathan Wright. via Arabic Literature.
[4]Tate, Karen. Goddess Calling: Inspirational Messages & Meditations of Sacred Feminine Liberation Thealogy. Changemakers Books, 2014.
[5]Van der Kolk M.D., Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books, 2015.

1 comment:

  1. One man stepping up is better than none, particularly if that man is a raging feminist and unwilling to accept the patriarchal status quo. My mother totally restarted her life, getting a double degree and masters in cultural anthropology. She did it herself. She had been married to a preacher and after her divorce she went on to a career teaching on an Cree Indian reserve. Her lifelong interest in herbalism got her involved with an enormously respected medicine man and once she hit menopause, she was considered neither male nor female and so was allowed to work with him as his assistant,
    What I do not fully understand is how anyone, male or female an accept the totally patriarchal religions. They are the heart of misogyny. I personally reject them all, not just for their patriarchal BS but also for their financial enslavement of humanity and their willingness to go to war to promote their dogma.