I know this blog has been awfully quiet, and I’m extremely sporadic about updates. Generally speaking, something has to really move me to get me to write a post. Fortunately (or not), I found yet another one.
I’ve been lurking around the edges of the recent debates regarding Pagan women who choose to wear some form of head covering, largely because a) despite being prodded back into service by one of the deities commonly cited by veilers, I have not heard a single peep about adopting this practice for myself from him and thus, b) it’s none of my fucking business. I have deep reservations about the practice, and side-eye the hell out of a lot of the rationales of it that I’ve read on various veiler blogs, but it’s not my place to tell other women that they shouldn’t do it. That’s between y’all and y’all’s gods.
What finally prompted me to speak up about this practice, however, was a post someone linked me to, from the most “prominent” group of women engaging in this practice, about a “Wear a Veil in Solidarity Day”.
I’m not going into people’s space with this because I don’t especially feel like being dogpiled by a bunch of butthurt white women. I know damn well what happens when white privilege is called out in majority white spaces. So I’m going to say it here, instead:
Hold the entire fuck up, madams.
The debate I’m seeing, even in the comments of that post, is less about the idea of a solidarity day and going back to the debate of whether or not wearing head coverings is oppressive. I am not even getting into that particular shit here. I do not believe any woman of any faith background wearing any head covering by choice is inherently oppressive. I believe in a woman’s right to choose when it comes to covering or not, for whatever reason–modesty, spiritual power, whatever. Again, what you do in your private spiritual practice is between you and your gods.
This post is not about that, even though I have my own deeply held and well-considered views on the topic. This post is about questioning how largely middle class USian white women wearing veils as a gesture of “solidarity” without examining and deconstructing the white privilege inherent to veiling on a white body accomplishes anything more than feel-good self-aggrandizement for the largely middle class USian white women engaging in this action. (Spoilers: it doesn’t.)
It brings to mind the “solidarity” actions where throngs of socially conscious liberal white people of all ages posted photos of themselves on social media outlets wearing hoodies for Trayvon Martin, in another well-meaning and equally clueless attempt by white people to express support for marginalized people. Completely fucking ignoring the fact that no white person in the history of ever has ever been or ever will be shot merely for wearing a hoodie.
“But Zaratha!” they might say. “Why must you bring race into this?! Their hearts are in the right place!”
I would say their hearts are up their asses, along with their heads (covered or otherwise).
The fact of the matter is that head coverings are deeply racialized in the US and most of the western world. It is not (white) Orthodox Jewish women or quiverfull women or any of the other small minority of white women being beaten and harassed in the street for covering their heads. It is brown and black Muslim women. The hijab is a potent symbol of the Other–brown, foreign, un-American, ignorant, backwards, “terrorist”. The French ban on hijab for instance, like so many other Islamophobic actions in European colonial powers, was as much about forced assimilation of brown immigrants into a mainstream white society as it was about the “oppression of women” (and arguably more). A white woman wearing a veil may be perceived as a threat on some level (most likely thought of as “brainwashed”–by some brown man at home, natch), but at the end of the day she can hang that bad boy up and everything’s fine. Brown and black Muslim women cannot hang up their skin.
“But white women are Muslim too!” Indeed, they are–and enjoy as much white privilege in that area as they do everywhere else. I have read enough and talked to enough black and brown Muslimah to know about the colorism they experience, the preference for white converts over black ones, the preference of any convert over a Muslim-born (brown) woman. As in every other area of life, White is Right.
A veil on a white woman, regardless of what you want to call it or how you wear it, will never have the same impact as a Woman of Color wearing one. It will never have as much effect on your life. The entire narrative changes. And it is damn near irresponsible for white women to grandstand and make a show of being in “solidarity” with women whose consequences for their choice to veil are 10000% higher than some white Hellenic blogger who was moved by Hestia or somebody. The stakes are not nearly as high for you. And lest you think I’m trying to say all Pagan women who veil are white–the stakes are also different for Pagan women of color who might choose to veil. Any physical gesture that sets a woman of color apart, marks us as Other, has harsher consequences for us because our race marks as Other from jump before we even make the choice. And we are far, far more likely to be perceived as Muslim for doing so, with everything that entails.
Pagan women who veil, let me ask you this one thing: if you want real solidarity with hijabi and aren’t just grandstanding to make yourselves look important, why don’t you enter into dialogue with them and ask what you can do to help? More importantly, listen. I follow a lot of Muslimah blogs, and not once have I ever seen a single hijabi call for women of other faiths to start wearing veils in solidarity with them, or even wear them at all. Ask yourself what your motivation is here. Pray about it if you have to. But don’t sit here and act like this foolishness is constructive. If you think it is, you have some unexamined privilege.
This article on Witchvox is a really good take on why so many Pagan shops fail, and I think it’s worth discussing.
I’d like to bring up the fact that Pagans generally have no business sense. Very few Pagans I’ve seen that are like “let’s open a store!” really have any kind of plan. They think that they’ll magically be solvent because ~the universe/Spirit/the Gods/Ceiling Cat~ will provide, to be honest. I think that’s why you see so much butthurt entitlement from them about Pagans needing to “support the community” and shit. Your store shouldn’t need to rely on guilting people into shopping there. Supply and demand, people. It’s a thing.
I’m under no obligation to shop at your store just because you’re Pagan. You want me to shop at your store? Sell shit I want, at a decent price. Plain and simple. One big issue I’ve seen, at least outside of the NYC area, is that a lot of these strip mall type Pagan stores all sell the same shit. Trust me, I lived in the Phoenix area for almost three years, which has more new age/metaphysical/Pagan stores than you can swing a cat at and none of them were really worth repeat visits frankly, except for the one that specialized in herbs (there’s that point about consumables again). The book selection was abysmal–Llewellyn 101 and New Age crystal humping garbage–and they literally all sold the same tacky shit from the same wholesalers at markup. The same gaudy altar tsotchkes festooned with pentagrams, the same tacky jewelry, the same brand stick incense you can get anywhere. Why do we need more than one of those stores in a given area, for real? Communities can’t sustain that.
This is a subject near and dear to my heart because I worked at a shop for a while, and it was the nerve center of the community and a huge part of my personal development (hell, the reason I got a job there was because I hung out there so much they decided to make me earn my keep). And the reason I think that shop survived for so long, in an area that got gentrified repeatedly with ridiculous rent increases, is that it didn’t follow that standard Shitty Pagan Store template at all. That store wasn’t a “Pagan store”, it was an old school occult supply shop of the sort that just doesn’t exist anymore. It didn’t just cater to Wiccans even though it was Wiccan owned, we had everybody shopping there–Wiccans, Santeros (a LOT of Santeros), Thelemites, rootworkers, ceremonial magicians, even “muggles”. It owed more to botanicas than anything. Our book selection wasn’t just the same tired Llewellyn shit, we carried all kinds to have such limited shelf space. We had a Spanish language section, for instance.
Our herb selection wasn’t huge (Manhattan space, lol), but we carried the staples. Our bread and butter was oils and incenses, though. We didn’t sell off the rack oil in fancy labeled bottles. We blended all that shit by hand off of old hoodoo recipes and shit, by request. And yeah, we carried off the rack stick incense, but our major seller was the loose incenses we made by hand, by request. Customers would come to the back, flip through the “menu”, and we would answer questions, etc. The big ticket service we did back there was handcarve and dress candles for people. That was my main job (oils/incense/candles) when I worked there and it was really rewarding, working with my hands and making things for people. It was great watching their eyes light up as I went about the work. Even if the yuppie bastards never wanted to tip. We also did big money in readings–just about half the employees also did readings and on a busy day we could be booked solid just from walk ins (it helped that we had a nice little space out back for it, when the weather was good). And we had some damn good readers. We also did animal rescue and had events in our little space. People had reasons to come to the store beyond just buying crap (which, naturally, gave them more opportunities to make impulse buys).
In other words, our shop was less about selling tsotchkes and more about selling staple consumables and providing services. We knew our regulars–I could be arsed to remember names but I could always remember so and so was a Leo that wanted a candle cause he was job hunting. Very rarely did I ever sell altar stuff, even though we carried it (and some gorgeous statuary of the sort that you don’t see everywhere). Nine times out of ten, I was ringing up oils/incenses/candles with a book or two.
I had no idea other stores were different until I went outside the NYC area and got acquainted with the cheesy PaganMarts that pass for supply shops. Pagan shops that rely on selling the same ol’ shit out of Pyramid Collection or whatever at markup don’t survive for good reason, and don’t deserve to, frankly.
Last week, I got back from a seven day cruise in the eastern Mediterranean which was followed by several more days in Rome (and a day trip to Florence). We traveled to Sicily, Athens, Kusadasi in Turkey, then to Chania in Crete before returning to Rome. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I’d never been on a cruise before, but I jumped at the chance admittedly because I’d always wanted to go to Greece. My roots as a teenage Hellenist were screaming at me that I needed to go. This was pretty much my dream vacation, and despite the fact that I went with my family (born again Christians of the most obnoxious sort, to a one), I had an amazing time.
I have Many Thoughts about this trip, and I’m still processing, while getting over a cold bug to boot, but in a lot of ways it felt like a pilgrimage of sorts, that I was coming full circle back to the place I started. Because when I first started learning about Paganism as a young teen, I identified as a Hellenic Wiccan. Nowadays, my path is more…eclectic, and even though I sometimes loathe calling it that because of the various flakes and lack of scholarship that sometimes go hand-in-hand with it, it’s really the best way to describe it. I haven’t actively identified as a Hellenist in some time, even though I would so totally wear a “Hermes is my homeboy” shirt. He looks out for me a lot, even though we don’t really have any kind of formal arrangement. (Though at this point, I really ought to make it official.)
Even with the eclecticism, and the ever-changing nature of my path, I always seem to gravitate back to the deities of the eastern Mediterranean region. It’s my spiritual “home” for lack of a better term. So physically going to those places was really profound for me, in a way I wasn’t really expecting since it’s been so long since I actively identified as a Hellene.
Greek symbolism and mythos have always been hugely important to me, even before I knew there were actual Pagans still in the world in modern times. I always say that the single most influential book in my spiritual development was D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, which I read for school in the fourth grade. Even though the myths were sanitized for the most part, because it was a children’s book, the illustrations were really what hooked me. They’re ginormous and colorful and have a way of drawing the reader in, making the stories come alive. Those stories and characters were real, and relatable to me in a way the Bible stories I was fed in Sunday School never were. And one thing that struck me about the Bible stories is that God was just so very angry all the time. By contrast the Greek gods in that book weren’t distant and vengeful, though they certainly had their share of fits. They were actively involved in mortal lives (for good or for ill), and they were delightfully human in their foibles. They bickered, fell in love, played pranks, and mourned people they cared about. As a kid, it really resonated with me. It made sense to me. And one of the last pages of the book had a bleak image of broken statues, explaining how the gods were forgotten, and it made me cry harder than anything I’d ever read as a kid. How could anyone just forget them like that? It was baffling to me, and so sad.
Fast forward to my first explorations of Wicca, and when the time came to “pick a pantheon” as it were, it was a no-brainer for me. The first deities I ever worked with as a fresh newb were Apollo and Athena. They were always the two that jumped out at me as a kid, particularly Apollo, since I was always brainy and musically inclined. And they spoke to me. I sang, I played violin and keyboard, and I was a burgeoning writer; Apollo was poking me before I even knew what that was. And as a girl that was always a “brain” and into nerdy male-dominated pursuits, I could relate a lot to Athena. She was instrumental in what I like to call my “Bathroom Floor Epiphany” when I was sixteen, and for that I’ll always be grateful to Her. My first Craft name was Morboriel Parthenos. This is generally what I went by online, and is the name I was published under in New Generation Witches. The “Parthenos” there was deliberate, it was an identification with Athena. And even after I got sort of disillusioned with Wicca, I still called myself a Hellenist. But then I fell away from active practice, and, well, things got a bit complicated and I was disconnected from that for a long time.
When I moved in with Nancy, my abusive roommate, she claimed Hera as one of the house deities, since she worked with Her. Even when I was still identifying as Hellenist, I hadn’t really done any work with Hera, but I respected the rules of the house. One of Nancy’s favorite tactics for emotional manipulation was “channeling” the various deities she worked with, claiming to speak for Them (and, conveniently, Their wishes always seemed to neatly be in line with hers). I had a lot of unresolved guilt issues and a sense that I’d abandoned Apollo and Athena. I’d long since given up music (the violin because of a bitter and racist teacher I had, singing…because I don’t really know, to be honest), and I felt like I failed Apollo and was a bad Pagan. Nancy knew this. And like every clever abuser ever smelled blood in the water and went in for the kill. During one particularly ugly talking board session (one I wasn’t even participating in, just on the outside of), she claimed to speak for Athena and flat out told me She was furious with me for not working with Her anymore, and Apollo was furious with me for giving up my music. I was berated about how I was a terrible priestess and the Gods hated me and that I was never even to think about Them again. That I was utterly alone in the spiritual world. Afterwards, when we were talking about this “message”, Nancy said I just shouldn’t work with any deities at all since I’m broken and a failure and do nothing but piss Them off. And being a former Catholic and someone who still believed in Christian cosmology to some extent, she told me I should work with angels instead because they were “safer and more forgiving of screw-ups”.
Yeah, I got nothing.
Now, I’ve worked with Athena, as I said. I know how blunt She is at times. But that? That wasn’t Her. I recognize that now that it was Nancy playing games, trying to control people again like she always did. But at the time, I was so beaten down by her emotional abuse, feeling like I was a prisoner in my own house, that I was willing to accept her as an authority figure because I was so terrified of her. I was willing to believe any bullshit she claimed as a “mouthpiece for the Gods”, because if I didn’t…then what? I would be cast out, thousands of miles away from my home, with no friends. I had Stockholm Syndrome in a bad way. Just the memory of this is enough to make me cry. For as much as she bloviated and laughed off the allegations that she was running a cult (mostly because the grudgewanker with the website was even crazier and more abusive than she was), that’s really what it felt like sometimes.
I can’t emphasize enough the damage this one incident did to me. I was terrified even of thinking about Hellenic traditions after that. Nancy, in her infinite wisdom, decreed that I should work with Hermes because I’m a Gemini and He’s in charge of Geminis. Completely contradicting her previous statement about angels, but, well, that was Nancy for you. The hilarious bit is Hermes, being the /b/ troll he is, promptly turned up and said hi to me. Mind you, even when I was a Hellenist, I never worked with him. I mean, I always liked Him, but He was never really on my radar, which is kind of bizarre when I look back on it. He wasn’t high pressure at all, He didn’t try to put any claims on me or anything. He was just this quiet presence saying, “hey, it’s okay. If you need me for anything, just ask. Also, that chick is dumb, don’t listen to her.”
Have I mentioned I really, really like Hermes?
Anyway, I’ve since gotten actual confirmation that it was indeed bullshit, via my partner who works with Hades, but it did have a really bad effect on me. So much so that when the issue of this trip came up, I was still kind of scared to go to Athens even though the Parthenon was someplace I’d always wanted to go. What if I wasn’t welcome in Her space? I didn’t want to offend.
When we went to the Acropolis, all that just went by the wayside. Climbing the hill–and it is massive–is itself a kind of spiritual experience. It was terribly hot, being August after all, and dusty, and crowded with other tourists. But it felt like I was walking in the footsteps of the ancients, there’s really no other way I can describe it. And when I actually saw the Parthenon itself at the top, cranes and all, I was speechless.
A funny thing happened then. I felt Athena. It struck me in such a profound way that despite all the tourists and the way that site has been not terribly well taken care of, that She was still there, after all this time. Her presence was, well, a little overwhelming. It was a beautiful feeling.
I didn’t know what else to do, really, so I knelt by the main plaque, kissed my fingers, touched my head and my heart and then touched the ground. I said a little prayer, I won’t even begin to pretend it was at all eloquent. I was awed and sort of wibbly and didn’t really know what to say.
I didn’t feel anger from Her, or like I wasn’t welcome on Her turf. I felt welcome. I felt peace. Mi casa es su casa, if you will. She didn’t say anything, but She didn’t need to. And it was like a massive weight was lifted from my shoulders. She didn’t call to me or ping me or anything–that time’s passed, and I understand and accept that I’m not Hers–but I did understand once and for all that Nancy lied to me, about basically everything. That my path is my own, that my relationship to the Gods is my own, and not for anyone to dictate. It’s something the Dark Lady has told me several times, over and over, but Athena confirmed it for me, and I felt really good about it.
That was probably the biggest Moment I had on this trip, but there were others. It’s one thing to read about these things in books, watch TV documentaries about them, and have intellectual knowledge of them, but it’s quite another to actually be there in the presence of history. I know that probably sounds incredibly cheesy, but it’s true. Walking in those ancient places, where people lived and died and worshipped every day was profound. In Turkey, we went on a private tour of Ephesus that I’d booked online in advance through Ephesus Shuttle, and our guide was incredibly well-educated and made a huge difference in the experience. The way she painted a picture of ancient life there made the ruins come alive. We saw the Terrace Houses, which were incredible. The energy there was still palpable. And one big thing that I took away from this stop, and from visiting the big Roman sites, was that syncretism was hugely prevalent in ancient times in the region, even more than I knew it was. It was deeply affirming for me, too.
As an aside, I don’t begrudge Recons at all, even though they admittedly frighten me. I understand that they find value in that particular approach, and I deeply respect the vigorous scholarship that goes into it. I also don’t pretend to have huge ~scholarly knowledge~ of these things–I took like one Classics 101 course in college. But I find the sneering at syncretic approaches sort of…baffling, to be honest. I see a place like Ephesus that was extremely cosmopolitan and diverse in population, where you see monuments and temples for all sorts of deities, and it only confirms to me that there’s nothing wrong with me for being eclectic. It was sort of the thing back then!
And it felt totally different than going to Rome and being in so many places that were once sacred Pagan spaces and deliberately turned to Christianity. I hate to sound like some dumbass fluffbunny crying about “The Burning Times” and flailing about ~teh ebol Chrischuns~ but the spiritual violence inherent in that sort of act was blatantly palpable basically everywhere I went in Rome, and it made me incredibly sad and angry by turns. The Pantheon was probably the worst, though the Temple of Romulus on Palatine Hill was just as bad. It’s what I can only describe as “Fuck You” energy. It’s no good at all.
What all this means for my path, I don’t know. I don’t think I could ever strictly work in one particular paradigm again; my worldview just isn’t like that anymore, if it ever really was. But visiting Greece awakened something dormant in me, and I’m feeling the pull again. Apollo in particular, I feel like I’m being drawn back to, which is sort of baffling to me since I’m a priestess of the Dark now. I don’t know how the Dark Lady would feel about me working with Him again, and given that I’m bound to Her, that’s sort of important. In my head, I know that She doesn’t make dualistic judgment calls about the Light, that She’s really very Taoist in that regard. But She’s also very Dionysian in Her approach to things and has a different kind of energy than He does. I don’t know if they’re necessarily compatible. It’s something I’m going to have to meditate on and seek guidance about.
There’s also some trepidation on my part because of the recon issue, and how I know I could never do that if I incorporated Hellenic ideas into my practice again. I look at the kind of wank that goes on in Heathen communities regarding people who rely heavily on UPG in their practice and wonder if Hellenists are any better (spoilers: not really). My chaote leanings don’t really help me much in this regard (hi, my patron Goddess is from a video game!). But I don’t think ignoring these stirrings is really an option, either, and maybe it’s time my paradigm shifted a little again. I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure this all out. In that sense, this trip was massively helpful to me. Anything that gets me thinking is something meaningful.
CNN is reporting that the West Memphis 3 may be released soon, according to a source close to the case. This is absolutely fantastic news, despite the fuckery of the details surrounding the deal, if true. It’s likely a CYA move on the part of the State of Arkansas to pre-emptively block any wrongful imprisonment suits. Whatever gets these guys out of prison, I guess.
I won’t get into the details of this case; chances are if you’re reading a Pagan blog, you’re already familiar with this particular miscarriage of justice, but if you’re not, Wikipedia and WM3.org are your friends here. The HBO documentaries on the case are also available via Netflix streaming.
At any rate, anyone with an ounce of sense and knowledge of this case knows that those three boys never should have gone to prison in the first place, that they were convicted because they were misunderstood outcasts in an oppressive, conformist, ignorant-ass small Bible Belt town. None of that should be in dispute, period.
But, I do have to say this as someone who has followed this case closely for years and years, when the only people who knew about it were Pagans: I hope and pray that all of the good people who fought so hard for the WM3 remember that, were Damian Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin black, all three of them would have received the death penalty, and all three of them would have been executed years ago, quietly and with little fanfare.
I hope and pray that everyone who followed this case so closely understands that the WM3 situation is more likely the rule than an anomaly for black and brown people in the United States. The same small-town, good-ole-boy, kangaroo, star-chamber system that railroaded the WM3 in the name of mob justice because they were “weirdoes” has done the same thing to black and brown people for years and years and years, with no cause célèbre attached. Few HBO documentaries are made about these other cases (The Execution of Wanda Jean is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, and it should be obvious how that one turned out. Spoilers: she dies).
When I say that my heart bleeds for the WM3, I mean that in all sincerity, with no snark. I was a teenager when the case was first widely publicized in the original Paradise Lost documentary, and began to follow the case through Peg Aloi’s articles on Witchvox. It scared the shit out of me as someone who was first taking steps into both occultism and the Goth subculture, and while I hardly lived in a small ignorant ass town in the South, I experienced a lot of vicious harassment because of my lifestyle and beliefs. I imagine that’s why a lot of Pagans, and alt-subculture people such as goths and metalheads really latched onto this case, each of us saw something of ourselves in the WM3 and wondered aloud if it could happen to us. But more deeply, it also scared the shit out of me because I knew that if I lived in a town like that, and something like that happened, no one would make a documentary about me and come to my defense. Black people are presumed guilty as a matter of course, weirdoes or not, and rarely do people outside our communities care to fly to our defense.
I hope and pray that the WM3 finally receive justice, and that those murdered children finally receive the justice that has long been denied them by a corrupt and incompetent system that was hell bent on making examples of the local town “freaks” and that was more interested in getting an angry mob off their backs than in actually solving a horrific crime. But I also hope and pray that the energy and attention that has been put behind this movement to free the WM3 doesn’t vanish and dissipate, and that people who never gave a second thought to the oppression of the in-justice system until it impacted three young white boys will turn that energy and passion toward the many black and brown people who have suffered as much as the WM3 and never received any attention or help. The Innocence Project is a good place to start.
Update: They’ve been set free.
So I was thinking about this whole privilege thing, and it occurred to me that Christianity is never really looked at in this way, but–well, in the west at least, and particularly in the US, Christian privilege is alive and well and pernicious in the mainstream culture. It’s a part of the kyriarchal systems of oppression and one that rarely gets unpacked. So I did a bit of googling, and I found this checklist. Sadly, the original site seems to be down, but I got hold of it via the Wayback Machine. So, the following is the work of Dr. Lewis Z. Schlosser, a psychology professor at Seton Hall, who designed and conducted workshops on Christian privilege. It should go without saying that this is very much western/US-centric, as Christians obviously do not share these privileges elsewhere in the world. But just because Christians are persecuted in China, does not mean they are not privileged in the US (a bingo card argument if I’ve ever heard one). I don’t necessarily agree with every point on here, even as a Pagan, but the vast majority of it I can definitely understand and I think it’s good food for thought and discussion.
- It is likely that state and federal holidays coincide with my religious practices, thereby having little to no impact on my job and/or education.
- I can talk openly about my religious practices without concern for how it will be received by others.
- I can be sure to hear music on the radio and watch specials on television that celebrate the holidays of my religion.
- When told about the history of civilization, I am can be sure that I am shown people of my religion made it what it is.
- I can worry about religious privilege without being perceived as “self-interested” or “self-seeking.”
- I can have a “Jesus is Lord” bumper sticker or Icthus (Christian Fish) on my car and not worry about someone vandalizing my car because of it.
- I can share my holiday greetings without being fully conscious of how it may impact those who do not celebrate the same holidays. Also, I can be sure that people are knowledgeable about the holidays of my religion and will greet me with the appropriate holiday greeting (e.g., Merry Christmas, Happy Easter, etc.).
- I can probably assume that there is a universality of religious experience.
- I can deny Christian Privilege by asserting that all religions are essentially the same.
- I probably do not need to learn the religious or spiritual customs of others, and I am likely not penalized for not knowing them.
- I am probably unencumbered by having to explain why I am or am not doing things related to my religious norms on a daily basis.
- I am likely not judged by the improper actions of others in my religious group.
- If I wish, I can usually or exclusively be among those from my religious group most of the time (in work, school, or at home).
- I can assume that my safety, or the safety of my family, will not be put in jeopardy by disclosing my religion to others at work or at school.
- It is likely that mass media represents my religion widely AND positively.
- It is likely that I can find items to buy that represent my religious norms and holidays with relative ease (e.g., food, decorations, greeting cards, etc.).
- I can speak or write about my religion, and even critique other religions, and have these perspectives listened to and published with relative ease and without much fear of reprisal.
- I could write an article on Christian Privilege without putting my own religion on trial.
- I can travel without others assuming that I put them at risk because of my religion; nor will my religion put me at risk from others when I travel.
- I can be financially successful without the assumption from others that this success is connected to my religion.
- I can protect myself (and my children) from people who may not like me (or them) based on my religion.
- Law enforcement officials will likely assume I am a non-threatening person if my religion is disclosed to them. In fact, disclosure may actually help law enforcement officials perceive me as being “in the right” or “unbiased.”
- I can safely assume that any authority figure will generally be someone of my religion.
- I can talk about my religion, even proselytize, and be characterized as “sharing the word,” instead of imposing my ideas on others.
- I can be gentle and affirming to people without being characterized as an exception to my religion.
- I am never asked to speak on behalf of all Christians.
- My citizenship and immigration status will likely not be questioned, and my background will likely not be investigated, because of my religion.
- My place of worship is probably not targeted for violence because of sentiment against my religion.
- I can be sure that my religion will not work against me when seeking medical or legal help.
- My religion will not cause teachers to pigeonhole me into certain professions based of the assumed “prowess” of my religious group.
- I will not have my children taken from me from governmental authorities who are aware of my religious affiliation.
- Disclosure of my religion to an adoption agency will likely not prevent me from being able to adopt children.
- If I wish to give my children a parochial religious education, I probably have a variety of options nearby.
- I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence and importance of my religion.
- I can be sure that when someone in the media is referring to G-d, they are referring to my (Christian) G-d.
- I can easily find academic courses and institutions that give attention only to people of my religion.
- My religious holidays are so completely “normal” that, in many ways, they may appear to no longer have any religious significance at all.
- The elected and unelected officials of my government probably are members of my religious group.
- When swearing an oath, I am probably making this oath by placing my hand on the scripture of my religion.
- I can openly display my religious symbol(s) on my person or property without fear of disapproval, violence, and/or vandalism.
I know this is a seemingly odd choice of topic for a post on a blog that’s ostensibly about Paganism, but with the huge amount of overlap between the Pagan community and geek subcultures, I thought it was relevant. And, well, it’s my blog, piss off if you don’t like it, because this post really needs some signal boosting.
I think that when we engage with this bullshit, it’s important to remember that the source of this mess is a kyriarchy that consistently values women’s worth solely by their “fuckability” according to the heteronormative male gaze. And it’s also a culture in which geeky pursuits are firmly coded as masculine, and where female geeks until very recently have been mostly invisible. I think a lot of female nerds are understandably resentful that we went years and years without having any acknowledgment that women could be nerds at all, and when we finally started getting some, it was only a very narrow range of women getting all the attention, generally for all the wrong reasons: because male nerds thought they were “fuckable” according to conventional standards. When was the last time we saw a female nerd/geek in pop culture that wasn’t conventionally pretty, since Revenge of the Nerds? Even the rare women who are expressly coded as “nerds” rather than as the unattainable “hotties” nerd boys drool over are attractive (ie. Willow Rosenberg, anyone played by Felicia Day, etc). The message then becomes that the only female nerds worth talking to/about are the “hot” ones. Even in the one subculture that supposedly values intellectual pursuits and the socializing doesn’t (ostensibly) revolve around sex or dating rituals, looks are still the only thing that matters about a woman.
This, after years and years of strict policing by our male counterparts: don’t be too girly, or you’re not a True Nerd. And if there’s one thing nerds of any gender fear more than anything, it’s the “you’re not a true _____” argument. Even nerdy pursuits within the subculture are subject to this: the sheer amount of vitriol hurled at “fangirls” on sites like TV Tropes, the amount of abuse given to fandoms/fannish pursuits that are dominated by women (ie Twilight, fanfiction, The Sims, casual games), the whining by misogynist dudebros that “girls are ruining ______”, etc. A startlingly and not-at-all-coincidentally high number of feminine-coded things are enough to get you tossed out on the curb as not a True Nerd. The ever-present threat of being outcast-even-from-the-outcasts is a scary thing, especially for the younger ones among us.
Mix all this together and season liberally with a toxic culture that denigrates anything and everything feminine even as it pretends to put it on a pedestal, and it becomes all too obvious where this internalized misogyny in nerdgirls comes from. Unfortunately, instead of fueling much needed critiques of sexist pop culture, this resentment boils right back into the same femmephobia and nerdgirl policing that’s been the price of admission to geekdom for women since time immemorial. There’s a good reason why some of the loudest misogynists in our nerdy subcultures are women, it’s because there’s only three categories for women in it: Nerdgirl, DM’s Girlfriend, Squealing Fangirl. And you won’t be accepted into the first one (the only one that gets any kind of respect) unless you’re suitably de-sexualized/de-femmed/not threatening to male supremacy. If you’re a little too femme, a little too pretty, a little too fond of shipping/fanfic/slash, a little too willing to call out misogyny? You get outcast to the other two boxes, which might as well be Outer Siberia for all the respect they get. That there is now a Hot Chick category emerging is cold comfort to a lot of women (particularly those of us who are brown, fat, unable/willing-to-pass-trans, disabled, etc. and thus are automagically excluded from the Hot Chick category by 90% of mainstream geekdom no matter how hot we are; more on that in a bit). More times than I can count, I’ve specifically been able to mark a distinct difference in how I’ve been received and treated in nerd spaces depending on how femme-looking I am at a given time. I’ve worn the exact same geeky t-shirt and gotten completely different reactions if I wore it with jeans or a skirt, or had makeup on or not. Without fail, if I’m more femme-presenting or even slightly deviate from the Acceptable Nerd Girl Uniform (jeans, neckbeard-sized geeky t-shirt, and at most plain chapstick)–even in an alt-femme/femmegoth manner–I alternately get hit on or dismissed as DM’s Girlfriend and not to be taken seriously. There’s hostility and suspicion that I’m an interloper, a “muggle” that doesn’t belong.
Also, note that a fair bit of this is racially charged: if you’re a WoC or otherwise othered, even if you manage to slip into the Hot Chick category, you have to defend your cred twice as much, because WoC get even less representation as nerds than white women do. Does anyone really believe Felicia Day would be remotely as popular if she were fat and/or brown and/or trans, really? She constantly gets held up as a Nerd Chick icon, while Rosario Dawson and Mila Kunis (who as a dark-haired Russian is “swarthy” in comparison and exoticized)–both just as thin, cis, and pretty–constantly get their nerd cred questioned. Aisha Tyler is another one who undergoes scrutiny. Things that make you go, “hmm”, indeed.
For a group of people who are outcasts basically everywhere else, all of this is some pretty powerful incentive to STFU and play ball with a fucked up system. For far too long, it wasn’t immediately obvious that there was an alternative to femmephobic assimilation if you wanted to be a female nerd and participate in nerd culture, especially if you were young and socially awkward to begin with. We’ve always been our harshest critics in large part because we’ve been terrified of that sort of shunning. This really ought to be another Geek Social Fallacy, btw, because that’s just how prevalent it is.
So what’s the answer? Other than continuing to call it out where we see it, and talk and talk and talk this shit out? I think it’s critically important to continue to seek out and build our own nerdy spaces where heteronormative male gaze bullshit is not centered. Backlash be damned. I don’t think it’s coincidental that I only began to unpack and dismantle my own internalized femmephobia when I stopped hanging out so much in straight white cis dude fannish spaces and more in female and explicitly queer dominated spaces. I’m not advocating separatism for everyone, by any means (personally, it’s how I manage to keep my blood pressure to a reasonable level, but do what you gotta). But, seriously, there’s enough decent nerds out there that we don’t have to put up with this nonsense, and we don’t have to engage in this kind of self-destructive policing. We never had to–not really–but there’s just no excuse for this bullshit now, in 2011. There’s a metric fuckton of us and we need to recognize that and keep on creating our own communities, where this kind of nonsense gets checked at the door. My life got infinitely better when I found some and was able to be myself. It’s no longer important to me whether or not some theoretical dudes recognize me as “one of the tribe” anymore, because my participation in nerd culture doesn’t rely on them or their approval.
It’s why I laugh off microaggressions like the recent trip I made to GameStop, in which the male clerk informed me that “I didn’t look like a gamer” (another notch on my belt for identities I possess that I “don’t look like”, next to queer, poly, and Pagan. I’m a fucking ninja!) and proceeded to hit on me, after I coolly informed him that I’ve been gaming probably longer than he’s been alive. The simple truth is I feel like I’m at an age where I have nothing to prove to anyone as far as geek cred goes. My back issues of Macworld sit comfortably on a shelf next to copies of French and Italian Vogue, and my Anne Rice novels sit right next to my copy of the Dune Encyclopedia (mint hardcover obtained for $80, thank you). I design recipes based on fictional video game and fantasy novel cultures. So if I waltz into the local comic or game shop in a corset with my face covered in MAC Studio Fix, you can give me the stink eye all you want to. You’ll be hating me even more when I get home and roflstomp you in Soul Calibur 4.
I will not apologize for rejoicing in Osama bin Laden’s death. Not as a New Yorker, an American, or as a Pagan and Sorceress.
I’m a native New Yorker, born and raised, and have lived all but three years of my life here. I worked in the Financial District, and spent many good times at the WTC. I even had a job there. So 9/11 wasn’t some horrific abstraction on television for me. It was the day that calling in sick saved my life. I spent a good few hours that morning with no idea whether or not my sister (who frequently had meetings at the WTC), or my mother (an RN who was a Red Cross volunteer) was still alive. Not to mention the friends I have, including at least one NYPD officer. I passed the smoking wreckage on the Q train every day, and breathed in the miasma that killed so many of our first responders. The firehouse down the street from me lost guys. I lost neighbors. Like so many other New Yorkers, I had PTSD and experienced anxiety attacks for months afterwards. It was a very long time before I could hear planes overhead without having a panic attack, and I still can’t view footage of the buildings collapsing without being triggered.
The witches, Pagans, sorcerers, santeros, mambos, adepts, magicians, root workers, priests and priestesses of this city–magically-oriented folks from every tradition and walk of life imaginable–spent days, months, and years working that site to ensure that the souls of the dead could find some measure of peace and move on to rest. Some of those dead we counted as our own. My Craft father’s own mentor-teacher, and a much respected elder in our local community survived the attacks. He was a janitor who was in one of the buildings as it collapsed, and literally walked out of the wreckage. He later succumbed a couple of months later to heart failure, and 9/11-related stress and health concerns absolutely played a role in his death.
And as spiritually oriented people, we understand the inherent power of symbolism. Even if bin Laden was no longer actually in charge of Al Qaeda, he was a powerful symbol of everything that happened that terrible day, and afterwards. He was singularly responsible not only for thousands of deaths in our city and our country, but for the deaths of so many others around the world, many of them his own people. This man was singularly responsible for inflicting pain and suffering on a scale that’s almost incomprehensible. I am not a Wiccan, and I am not a pacifist. While I don’t take pleasure in violence, I do believe that in some exceedingly rare cases, it is necessary as an absolutely last resort. And I believe, in accordance with one of my patron Goddesses, that when violence is inflicted on the innocent, it must be repaid with swift violence, that the fewest hurt and the danger fast removed from the land.
While 9/11 was an attack on the United States and people everywhere felt hurt by it, it is deeply personal for New Yorkers. I don’t want to take away anything from the people in Pennsylvania, or the people in the Pentagon–they shared in this horrendous tragedy, and are too often overlooked in these discussions. But as Secretary Clinton said just a few moments ago, our community was absolutely devastated by the attacks, on every possible level, and has never really been the same since it happened. This city and its people were wounded in ways I can’t even fully describe to people who weren’t here to see it and experience it firsthand.
You cannot understand the depths of it unless you were here, seeing the makeshift missing posters everywhere you turned, seeing the trauma in the dazed faces of people walking once-lively streets in utter silence. I cannot explain to you what it was like riding the Q train over the Manhattan Bridge day after day, the utter sadness in a subway car full of people staring at the still-burning wreckage of the World Trade Center as we tried to go to work or to school. I can’t paint that picture for you of what Chinatown was like in the aftermath, breathing that horrific smell and knowing in the back of your mind that part of what you were inhaling was human remains. To see the streets crawling with media trucks and emergency personnel, the pure sorrow and exhaustion, physical and psychological, in the eyes of the police officers, firefighters, first responders–from New York and the tri-state area, from around the country and even some from Canada–who worked tirelessly day and night to recover those who died and give comfort. Nor can I explain what it was like to see National Guard soldiers in camouflage holding machine guns at every turn, to see streets you once walked and talked and laughed on covered in barricades under lockdown. I understood what privilege we have in the industrialized world at that moment, that we had never experienced this as a daily reality before.
So long as that vile man still walked this earth, those wounds could never fully heal, even as we’ve tried to move on and rebuild. His face stared at us from “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in every store window in this city for days and weeks afterward, and it’s haunted our nightmares, it’s tormented the spirits of our loved ones, neighbors, friends, and co-workers.
All of this, among many, many other reasons, is why I rejoice in Osama bin Laden’s death.
And I will absolutely not apologize for it.