Monday, October 27, 2008

When God was a Woman

Younger Women’s Task Force-NYC Metro Chapter hosts monthly book club meetings. See the end of this post for more information.

by Jessica Perl

I’m always proud to display the books I’m reading on the subway, particularly when they have provocative titles or covers. When God was a Woman was certainly no different; I imagined some people might be intrigued by this title. One day, I was standing in a crowded subway, holding on to the overhead bar. There was a woman sitting directly in front of me, and the cover of the book was practically in her face. I could see her eyeing the book and reading the blurb on the back. I immediately felt a rush of excitement – here’s the moment I live for! I’m inspiring someone to think differently, to see an alternative side to the predominant ideologies we are taught today. Just then, however, I noticed her shaking her head and glaring at the book with unmistakable disdain. I noticed she had a book in her hands as well. My gaze shifted downward to see what it was, and I could only chuckle when I did. It was the Bible.

Clearly, not everyone is open to the idea that before God and Jesus, many inhabitants of the Earth believed a being with breasts ruled the Heavens above. But honestly, why shouldn’t this idea be a shock to people? It’s not something highly publicized, this part of our history really isn’t fodder for any major motion pictures. In fact, it doesn’t even get much play time in high school social studies classes! And even if you go searching for more information on this topic, you’ll find, as Stone herself did, that not much has been written about the civilizations where women held the dominant positions. Additionally, the material that Stone was able to dredge up, she found much of it to have been written by male scholars who, more often than not, injected their religious and social biases into their findings. In response to one scholar’s research that provided a quick dismissal of the idea that skulls of animals were hunting trophies of a prehistoric tribe simply because they were found in the grave of a woman, Stone questions, “Might these authors be judging the inherent physical nature of women by the fragile, willowy ideals of today’s western fashions?” (Intro, xxi). (As this book was published in 1976, we can only hope more objective and valuable resources have since emerged.)

Despite efforts to minimize or erase it from the dominant discourse of our history, existence of female dominated civilizations cannot be denied. There have been numerous excavations of ancient temples and artifacts, as well as accounts of travelers passing through the regions way back when, that exist today to clue us in to the truth of the past. One account from a traveler describes how women, and only women, were involved in the public affairs of daily life – they held public office, fought wars, and engaged in trade. It was the men who were relegated to taking care of the children, the home, and other domestic efforts.

Stone gives a great overview of the violent and forced transition from the goddess-worshiping practices to the current male-dominated religions of today. Some of the events will really leave you horrified. In writing this book, though, Stone does not call for women of the world to rise up in arms and wage a war to take back what is rightfully ours. Rather, she states her purpose for women as this, “With [the understanding of these civilizations], we may be able to regard ourselves not as permanent helpers but as doers, not as decorative and convenient assistants to men but as responsible and competent individuals in our own right. The image of Eve is not our image of woman” (Intro, xxvi).

For anyone who wants to delve further into a more shielded facet of history, for anyone who wants to know what it was like when women were on top, When God was a Woman is a great place to start.

YWTF-NYC’s November book club meeting will be about Christina Page’s How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. Check out our Meetup site for more info on upcoming meetings.

Jessica Perl is an active member of YWTF-NYC.