Thursday, April 07, 2005

Reflections on Cunt:a declaration of Independence

Note: I will use "cunt" in this post in the manner that Inga Muscio uses the word as a positive word for female genitalia, and will use it in contrast to the word phalus, as a religious symbol of power.
My wife brought home Inga Muscio's Cunt: A Declaration if independence, and left it on the dinning room table. So, I have been reading it over breakfast and coffee this week. Being a White Male I should probably play it safe and not comment on the book, yet it seems irresponsible not to reflect in an open forum on the book and what Inga Muscio preaches.
First though about being a White Male. That reality is an accident, and in the US initially my Swedish immigrant ancestors were not recognized as White, we like anyone else who could earn that (and aboves not all were in the running, my ancestors were at least in the running so that is a difference) designation had to first assimilate, and loose our mother tongue. In my case German, Swedish and Norwegian. Now in the grand historical scheme of things I am still European and thus apart of that segment of the world that has played the game of empire and subjugation. But also, I come from the European peasant and lower bourgeois. Like many who have come to the US we came because we were poor and oppressed in our own country, and for a time we resisted assimilation. As for Male, biologically I have a penis, but I have never warmed to the dominant interpretation of what having a penis means in our culture. Namely that I need to seek to be on top of the heap at all times, I must prove my virility by avoiding all things labeled as feminine. Among my peers I tended to prefer the company of women, though that was always complex and at times bound up with erotic attraction. But I never identified with the female perse either. The cultural dictates that men were these collections of attributes and women were these other and binary opposite attributes never fit with my experience.
I begin with this deconstruction of my own "White Maleness" not to deny that White Males tend to look at me and say he's one of us (even if a quirky one of us). I am not seeking to deny that I benefit from this identity, that being Goth and and artist skew, but to say that it is a label I have never accepted but also that it is a label I have never been able to refuse either. I have a penis and given that I am German and Scandanavian my skin pigmentation is pale, and am hazel eyed and was a blond child. You can't get any whiter than I, and an penis is a penis after all and I can grow whiskers quite well. This deconstruction is intended to show that in my own experience of masculinity and femininity I have never fit the "patriarchal" categories of our society. I refuse to wear the costume of the White Male the suit, it fits me poorly, the tie is anathema to me and my wardrobe. I keep one tie hanging around in case I need to apply for a job in a "White Male" corporation who will not hire me if I interviewed in a skirt.
This deconstruction of the "White Male" though was not the invention of a little boy born in Chicago and raised in the Central Valley of California. I owe this deconstruction of the "White Male" to my religious and familial upbringing which are impossible to detangle. I have an impeccable Lutheran Christian pedigree. My German family have been Lutherans as far as we can tell since the Reformation, that is my family has no other religious familial memory, though none of my german-American family except my Father stayed close to any type of lutheran in the US. On the Swedish side of the family, we were also Lutherans since the time the Reformation came ot Sweden, and were part of the Lutheran Pietist revivals in Sweden. (For those of you who do not know this these revivals are what eventually formed the Evangelical Covenant Church, my denomination). My religious upbringing was not particularly patriarchal. To use anthropological terms I would say it was a mixture of patrilocal and matrilocal social organization. I was never taught that women were particularly inferior nor was I thought that men were particularly superior. Men and women were creations of God as human beings. Men and women had particular roles but there was nothing particularly cosmically significant about them except in that women gave birth and men did not. This was seen as significant but it was never given clear definition of this significance, though this fact did underlying the reason for women tending to have certain roles and men having other roles. admittedly men were pastors, but that did not mean the only men were leaders. The board of deacons (if you are raised Baptist or any kind of congregational you will understand the power deacons have in congregational churches) consisted of men and women. Besides the pastor those who conveyed to me the Christian faith were women as well as men. It was also in my childhood when the ECC decided to ordain women to pastoral ministry. I of course cannot speak to what this mixture of patrilocal and matrilocal social organization and hierarchy did to the perceptions of girls and women, but it does effect my own perceptions and relationship to patriarchal and capitalist society dominated by the White Male. I state this all as prolegomena to my reflections on Cunt because it comprises a differing particularity, and all this affects how I understand the reality Inga Muscio is also attempting to confront and understand.
What confronted me when first is that Muscio conflated "White Male", patriarchy, capitalism and Christianity. Given what I have written above one should recognize that such conflation would not fit with my basic experience of the world. Even if it can be claimed that Christianity and Judaism are primarily patriarchal (a claim I would dispute) patriarchy is not the invention of these religions. Patriarchy has its pagan manifestations. In fact, I think this conflation makes Muscio's appeal to prechristian religiosity fairly shallow. If there is a remnant of patriarchal structures in the Bible it comes through the use of imagery of a warrior sky god, whose greek name is Zeus. That is the Father of the gods. Or in Babylonian mythology Marduk. If you want to locate the mythological origins of the military-industrial complex that makes up our White Male power structures you will find it in pre-Biblical mythology in which the masculine principle founds itself and the world on the destruction and mutilation of the feminine, in Babylonian mythology the Battle between Marduk and Tiamat. In this mythology the feminine is the Chaos out of which the Father Marduk kills and then creates earth. The origins of patriarchy are not (contrary to Muscio's claim (admittedly she makes this based on other women's writing) that patriarchy is the fault of saviour oriented religions. In fact it is in pre judaic ancient polytheistic religion in which masculinity is both a violent and creative force that brings order to the world.
Biblical accounts counter this violent and misogynist mythology with a fairly peaceful and genederless origin of the world. God is first creator before God is identified as Father, God is also spirit that hovers over chaos. Biblical religion posits the ex nehilo and nonviolent origin of all things in God who is neither male nor female. Masculinity and femininity are not divine principles but are parts of the order of creation that this genderless God of pure spirit creates out of Love and for the sake of the creative act.
In Contrast Muscio offers merely the reversal of the Babylonian mythology the triumph of the Goddess over the Great Father (though for the sake of Goddess and Great Father somehow find that place of equilibrium after the regained triumph of the Goddess.) What Cunt does not seem to recognize is that this mythology of the Goddess (I am unclear to the extent to which she sees the Goddess as an independent being, or is simply the mythological expression of femininity) simply working within this violent mythology of eternal and primordial conflict between Goddess and Father, feminine principle and masculine principle. Christianity and Biblical faith repudiates this gendered and genital first principal. It is neither cunt nor phalus, nor the two in equilibrium that is the origin of our world but cunt and phalus are derivative. Feminine and masculine are simply part of the created order, created by that which is other than the creation other than feminine and masculine. The source of life is neither Goddess nor Great Father.
However, Cunt is not mainly focused on Goddess worship, though it is its underlying premise. Muscio's intent is to uncover and speak the destructive reality for women of White Male patriarchal capitalism. This criticism of our current system resonates with me as the above deconstruction of my White Maleness should demonstrate. I of course cannot existentially relate to what that means experiencially for women, though I have seen its results both in my wife Kate, and my sister Dianne. The encouragement to know and love ones body to view periods in a life affirming maner and as simply part of what it means to be a women are what I hope for all women, Kate in particular. My mother never seemed to think of her period as dirty or unspeakable. Menstration has always been part of my world, even though never a direct experience. It was shocking to me when I first began to be aware that Menstration and cunts were viewed as dirty. I still have trouble getting my mind around that some men actually view women as inferior and weak.
It should come as no surprise then that I find Muscio's matriarchal system and Goddess worship to be the wrong path. Primarily because it assumes power to be limited. At best this limited power can be shared, at worst women must take back power that was lost, violently if necessary. Muscio still functions within the need for human sacrifice that the Mythology of Marduk and Tiamat exemplify and which is the mythological foundation of much (not all) paganism. The sacrificial logic is found most clearly in her treatment of abortion. Abortion is not for Muscio a good per se. In fact her account of going to an Abortion Clinic is quite horrific, I would commend it to anyone considering an abortion. For someone who remains "pro-choice" it is a revealing indictment of abortion clinics. For Muscio the issue of abortion has to do more with a feminine verse masculine way of terminating a pregnancy. Her horrific experience at the abortion clinic has to do with the fact that the abortion clinic is dominated by the sterile masculine view of medicine as oppose to feminine Goddess oriented herbal and wholistic medicine which can be used to abort a fetus without violence being done to the womans body. Yet, Muscio does not escape the logic of violence and sacrifice. The choice she provides women is between a sacrificial violence against both woman and fetus and a violence directed towards the life of a fetus a woman carries in herself because that life gets in the way of the life of the Woman. The Goddess does not tolerate any life that demands sacrifice from the woman. All must be sacrifice to the Goddess and femininity. Life can only exist on the terms of the Goddess. The fetus is then the last human sacrifice. Though Muscio denies humanity to her fetus (though she in contradiction to this denial has a funeral and period of morning for her fetus, that is her sacrificial victim).
This is in deep contrast to Biblical faith which first condemns all human sacrifice, allowing for animal sacrifice and then in rabbinic Judaism and Christianity ends even animal sacrifice. In Christianity due to the incarnation and self giving of the God who is other than male or female in Jesus Christ. Who succumb to the inherent violence of both the masculine and feminine who seek to found themselves on either cunt or phalus. God Father Son and Holy Spirit submits to the violence of a world system bent on violence and the belief that power is limited to show that power is distributive and infinite when it finds its origin in the creator God who is not bound to the created order of male and female but is the origin of both female and male.
The mystery that will never be acceptable to Inga Muscio and the Goddess is that this God other than feminine and masculine other than Goddess and Great Father, Marduk and Tiamat, Reveals God's self in the form of a male Jew, with penis, and is revealed under the name of Father Son and Holy Spirit. The difficulty for Patriarch and Matriarchy to understand in this revelation is that to (as Gregory the Theologian states clearly) Father does not mean God is masculine and to identify the Holy Trinity with the masculine principle is idolatry as much idolatry as to attribute the origin of life the Goddess. Patriarchy and Matriarchy are both idolatry, but you don't reverse the effects of the mythology of Marduk and Tiamat by calling God Mother. Christianity than has both (it seems to me) both patrilocal and matrilocal ways of ordering itself. Christians will be confused if they see the origin of all evil either in Patriarchy or in Matriarchy or the Goddess. Neither Goddess nor Great Father Marduk are our true origin or our saviors. Only The Trinity who is totally other and the origin of both masculinity and femininity is the origin of all things and our savior.