“Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a defiant old lady. The beginning of the 1890s coincided with the onset of Stanton’s old age…During the 1880s and 1890s Stanton had to contend with the symptoms of aging: physical ailments, retirement, financial insecurity, death of friends, family estrangement and generational conflict. But those factors did not define or dominate her old age…She had survived her husband, outlived most of her enemies, and exhausted her allies. Her mind remained alert, her mood optimistic and her manner combative.
“In a period of anticipated and actual dependence for most older people, Stanton became increasingly independent. Personally, she had established the kind of “associative household” she had long advocated and enjoyed her “matriarchy.” Professionally, she supported herself by writing, completing her autobiography and The Women’s Bible in addition to numerous speeches, articles and newspaper columns. Politically, she remained aloof from the merger of rival factions in the [women’s] movement…Psychologically, she shed the last vestiges of dependence. She moved beyond her last confidante, Susan B. Anthony, and came to rely wholly on her own judgment and values…As an old woman, Stanton came into her own. She was honored as a feminist foremother and as a grandmother. She was self-supporting and self-sustaining. Physically crippled, she was otherwise unfettered. … She had internalized her own standard of independence and needed only her own approval.”– Elisabeth Griffith in In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Chapter 11, Self Sovereign, 1889-1902
I know that in the rest of my life, the next half century or so, every aspect of my identity will have to be engaged. The middle-class white girl taught to trade obedience for privilege. The Jewish lesbian raised to be a heterosexual gentile. The woman who first heard oppression named and analyzed in the Black Civil Rights struggle. The woman with three sons, the feminist who hates male violence. The woman limping with a cane, the woman who has stopped bleeding are also accountable. The poet who knows that beautiful language can lie, that the oppressor’s language sometimes sounds beautiful. The woman trying, as part of her resistance, to clean up her act.
–Adrienne Cecile Rich in “Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity,” from here, h/t Letecia Layson
For your inspiration, encouragement, and all-around happiness, once again I offer this video of Gjallarhorn, playing “Suvetar,” Goddess of Spring. Like some of my maternal ancestors, the members of Gjallarhorn are Finnish. This is one of the woman warrior songs I play all of the time to ground me, to connect me with the great river of womyn, as my friend Amazon Night calls it, which preceded me and of which I am part. Following are the lyrics in Finnish and in English. Continue reading
There is some fallacy of human nature that allows people to view practicing as women only as exclusion rather than inclusion. When we gather in an all women rite we are offering a sacred space for the benefit of those attending – the rite is for women, especially if the focus is Women’s Mysteries. Those rites center on menstruation, birthing, and cessation of menstruation, all functions of women who came into this world at birth as female. Even if the rite does not focus on those Mysteries, women need sacred space to grow and heal from growing up in a world that often excludes, puts down, or otherwise attempts to control them as the “less than” gender. Coming together in this way has nothing to do with excluding men – it is about giving women a place of their own.
During the question period of the panel, I spoke about what it means to deride female sovereignty in the context of the intense anti-feminist backlash we are living through now. Margot Adler had mentioned the shrinkage of feminist spaces, bookstores and Women’s Studies. I talked about how that had affected my work, as women’s history got thrown overboard in the stampede to Gender Studies. It’s not because women’s oppression has been solved! I said that this debate has got to get unstuck off the “essentialism” refrain. As long as the issue keeps getting cast only as biological determinism (and I see people in both camps insisting on this discourse in different ways) other real concerns are not being addressed, even effectively denied or misrepresented. We need to have a deeper conversation about the complexities, the differences and the commonalities, between cis, trans, and those who don’t fit this new gender binary. In the current climate such a dialogue, multilogue actually, seems impossible. May the time come soon when we can do so without it turning into a destructive beatdown…. Continue reading
A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman ‘pronubus’ (a best man), overseeing a wedding. The pronubus is Christ. The married couple are both men.
Is the icon suggesting that a gay “wedding” is being sanctified by Christ himself? The idea seems shocking. But the full answer comes from other early Christian sources about the two men featured in the icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus,two Roman soldiers who were Christian martyrs. These two officers in the Roman army incurred the anger of Emperor Maximilian when they were exposed as ‘secret Christians’ by refusing to enter a pagan temple. Both were sent to Syria circa 303 CE where Bacchus is thought to have died while being flogged. Sergius survived torture but was later beheaded. Legend says that Bacchus appeared to the dying Sergius as an angel, telling him to be brave because they would soon be reunited in heaven.
While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Christian church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (512 – 518 CE) explained that, “we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life“. This is not a case of simple “adelphopoiia.” In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the “sweet companion and lover” of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus’s close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as “erastai,” or “lovers”. In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today…
Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the “Office of Same-Sex Union” (10th and 11th century), and the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century).
These church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiated in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John.
Such same gender Christian sanctified unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (‘Geraldus Cambrensis’) recorded.
Same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe list in great detail some same gender ceremonies found in ancient church liturgical documents. One Greek 13th century rite, “Order for Solemn Same-Sex Union”, invoked St. Serge and St. Bacchus, and called on God to “vouchsafe unto these, Thy servants [N and N], the grace to love one another and to abide without hate and not be the cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God, and all Thy saints”. The ceremony concludes: “And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded”.
Another 14th century Serbian Slavonic “Office of the Same Sex Union”, uniting two men or two women, had the couple lay their right hands on the Gospel while having a crucifix placed in their left hands. After kissing the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.
Records of Christian same sex unions have been discovered in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Istanbul and in the Sinai, covering a thousand-years from the 8th to the 18th century.
The Dominican missionary and Prior, Jacques Goar (1601-1653), includes such ceremonies in a printed collection of Greek Orthodox prayer books, “Euchologion Sive Rituale Graecorum Complectens Ritus Et Ordines Divinae Liturgiae” (Paris, 1667).
While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, homophobic writings didn’t appear in Western Europe until the late 14th century. Even then, church-consecrated same sex unions continued to take place.
At St. John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope’s parish church) in 1578, as many as thirteen same-gender couples were joined during a high Mass and with the cooperation of the Vatican clergy, “taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together” according to a contemporary report. Another woman to woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century.
The women responsible for the holiday we know as Mother’s Day did not celebrate the day as it is celebrated in the United States. The day as they envisioned and conceived it had nothing to do with telephone calls from children, flowers, candy, or dinners out. It had nothing to do with the mothers and grandmothers with the most children and grandchildren being recognized with carnations and ribbons during church meetings. It wasn’t about Hallmark cards or Hallmark moments.
The women most responsible for Mother’s Day were radicals; feminist revolutionaries. Julia Ward Howe, who penned the Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870, was an abolitionist, sharing leadership of the movement with the likes of William Lloyd Garrison, William Cullen Bryant, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was a playwright, a poet and a mother of six who once wrote of her abusive marriage under a pen name when her husband forbade her to publish. She was a peace activist who worked tirelessly for an end to war and for healing the wounds of war which were suffered by civilians and soldiers alike. She was a woman who began to see and understand the parallels between the institution of slavery in the United States and the enslavement of the people of women.
Julia Ward Howe struggled as we struggle today in an oppressive marriage in which her husband threatened that if she divorced him – as she tried to do and wanted to do – he would maintain custody of their youngest two children. Chattel to her husband, as were all wives in the 1800s, Howe’s husband controlled her inheritance, using this power he had over her to withhold the money which would have allowed her freedom and independence to engage in the political work which gave her life meaning.
If we understand the reality of Howe’s life, then what she wrote in her Mother’s Day Proclamation takes on new meaning for us. When Howe writes, “Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause,” she writes not only of the reality of mothers in bondage to their husbands throughout history, she writes of her own very private and personal bondage – and hell — as well.
Mother’s Day was originally Anna Reeves Jarvis’s idea. Jarvis had been a peace activist during the Civil War, devoting herself to healing the wounds and horrors of war for soldiers and their families on both sides. Jarvis called the very first “mother’s days,” “Mothers’ Work Days,” days set aside to improve sanitation during a time when more soldiers in the Civil War were dying from disease and infection than from the wounds of battle.
It was the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870s, following on the heels of the devastation of the Civil War, which moved Julia Ward Howe to begin a one-woman international peace crusade inaugurated by her Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870. In 1872 she traveled to Europe hoping to promote an International Women’s Peace Conference, but established peace organizations there would not allow her to speak publicly because she was a woman. She rented her own hall and conducted her own meetings, but her attempts failed. She returned to the U.S. and promoted Mother’s Day as a day as a festival of peace; her initiative was successful and resulted in a June 2 Mother’s Day celebration in major cities which lasted 30 years. It was a day in which mothers and grandmothers united to oppose violence and war, a day in which they demanded that men lay down their weapons and work for a peaceful new world.
Mother’s Day lasted only for a short time in its conception as a day of revolution and resistance. When the elder Ann Jarvis died, her daughter began a campaign to revision Mother’s Day as a holiday honoring the individual sacrifices of mothers for their families. The younger Jarvis’s efforts found favor with Woodrow Wilson’s relentlessly anti-Women’s Suffrage administration, and in 1913, Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May Mother’s Day, without any reference to the reason for which it was envisioned by the elder Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe.
Today Mother’s Day in the U.S. is a billion-dollar industry dedicated to sentimentalizing and romanticizing motherhood as patriarchally envisioned, all the while the governments and religions and conservative ideologues in general wage war on mothers by way of forced motherhood, denying them access to contraceptives and abortion, criminalizing them and penalizing them for such things as breastfeeding in public, for their health problems, disabilities, and impoverishment, for their victimization by abusive partners, and for rejecting the abuses of technobirth in favor of birthing their own way, attended by midwives. Today’s Mother’s Day, instead of being a day of resistance to all forms of violence, war, and tyranny, is a day set aside for the perpetuation and repetition of platitudes, meaningless gestures, and consumerism. It is a mockery of the revolutionary vision and work of the women who conceived it.
Howe is remembered in mainstream history as the writer of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but that song was written just as Howe began her public work and before the burgeoning of her own feminist consciousness. Later she would write:
During the first two thirds of my life, I looked to the masculine idea of character as the only true one. I sought its inspiration, and referred my merits and demerits to its judicial verdict. . . . The new domain now made clear to me was that of true womanhood-woman no longer in her ancillary relation to her opposite, man, but in her direct relation to the divine plan and purpose, as a free agent, fully sharing with man every human right and every human responsibility. This discovery was like the addition of a new continent to the map of the world, or of a new testament to the old ordinances.
It was in this spirit that Howe penned her Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870. What might our communities, nation, our world, look like, were mothers and grandmothers to re-member our herstory, now dis-membered by male supremacists? What if we were to reject the mockery which has been made of Howe’s proclamation and this day, in favor of returning to revolutionary militance and dedication to the building of a new world, for our children and grandchildren, for all people? What if we seized this day, taking the opportunity it affords us to remind our children, grandchildren, friends, relatives, all who will listen of the vision of the women whose work originally inspired this day. What if we simply remembered?
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!
Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, Disarm!”
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail & commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesars but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.”