the Splendid Earth

I am choosing to write about motherhood and the unique power of women to bring life into this world. I am placing significant value and importance to this power that many women have, but the emphasis I am placing on it is for the purposes of the argument I am making in this article: one of the fundamental tenets of patriarchal societies is that women are subordinates because childbearing renders them weak and vulnerable.

Childbearing, however, is NOT definitive of Womanhood. I absolutely believe that beyond social constructs, and beyond even biology and medicine, Womanhood has a mystical existence…fluid and yet distinct, beautiful, multifaceted and Whole. I hope  that those of us who may not be able to experience motherhood will not feel offended or disheartened.  My focus here is narrow and merely conceptual. I invite you to explore my thoughts and share your own.

With great love and respect for each of us, Whatever powers we possess are, in truth, vital and great, and I celebrate them with you.

Isn’t it incredible? A cluster of cells become implanted in a woman‘s  body. She is then able to nourish, protected and transform this cluster of cells, giving it the time and space to grow and ultimately enter this world an entire human being! What a magnificent power! Women certainly feel what a feat this is…their bodies change and redirect resources to support the life (lives) she is carrying…we see this phenomenon all around us. But unless we are directly witnessing it, do we stop and appreciate for a moment the profundity of what is happening? In ancient pagan religions there were many deities that represented the earth, fertility, abundance, and fruitfulness. All of these deities were depicted in the form of women :)

Mother earth, right? Think of planting a seed. The seed cannot grow into its full potential without being ROOTED in soil. In Kabbalah (though certainly not exclusively in Kabbalah), the energy of females is referred to as “malchut”, which can be translated literally as “kingdom”, but also can be defined symbolically as the ground, the earth. And this makes sense given the different attributes of women.

But there is another aspect to being the “earth” or the “soil”: an element of passivity. Earth and soil are naturally “grounded”, (note the pun). Earth is essentially stationary and, (except in the case when it has been angered and rises in defiance causing destruction and chaos in the form of earthquakes – an idea I’d like to explore a little later), earth is passive and receptive. Passivity suggests vulnerability, and perhaps, even a sense of powerlessness; interestingly, women are the “weaker” and “vulnerable” sex.

I’d like to reconcile this dichotomy that lies within the physical existence of a woman. What great power she actually holds! Sterility in males tends to be a more devastating issue. Compared to the options available for a woman who is facing sterility, many men who are sterile will face the reality that their genetic material will simply not be passed on to a future generation. While this can happen to a woman, even a woman who does not have eggs could technically carry and nourish an embryo to birth. And yet, note, how this very ability, the ability to contribute to and then carry a child to term, is also the very attribute of women that has been used as a shackle to tie them down and declare them the inferior citizens of the world. Wouldn’t you say it’s ironic? People in patriarchal societies have taken this unique ability and with it labeled women as passive, vulnerable, weak…and ultimately subordinate to men, who don’t bear this “affliction”.

The earth can appear submissive. If we litter it, if we saturate it with toxins, if we neglect it, it seems like it will just absorb all that we do. One of the greatest, if not The Greatest ecological disaster, the BP oil spill…people are “working” to find a solution, but meanwhile the damage is being done, the earth is taking the beating. Women can seem weak in much the same way. Rape, abuse, sex trafficing, female genital mutilation, honor killings, virginity tests…these are all signs of a general belief in our world that women are passive and will be recepients of whatever is given.

What people forget is that there are consequences to this abuse. Soils will not be fruitful if they are eroded, crops will not be healthy if the roots are being fed toxins…the earth may seem passive but it has memory and what you give it is what you get. Earthquakes, tsunamis, all kinds of natural disasters, pandemics, mutations, defects…and lately most of these types of occurences can be traced to abuse of the planet…a lack of respect for the planet.

Two recent articles sparked my thoughts on women and childbearing. The first was a Sunday Times article on three women who weighed the option of in-vitro fertilization and subsequent single motherhood, to the extent that they acquired sperm for that purpose (from donor 8282). But just as they were about to take the plunge, each of these women “magically” met and had children with men (marriage is in there somewhere).

The second article was the cover story of the May 3rd edition of Time Magazine, The 50th Anniversary of THE PILL. The article outlined the history of contraceptives leading up to the pill and its journey through our society up to its present day status, medically, legally, morally and socially. I loved this article because it was successful at portraying the interplay and co-dependence of “the pill” and the various social progressions in the realm of feminism in this timeframe (1950-today). Many people attribute the women’s liberation movement to this tiny little pill. I don’t know that I can fully embrace that…it rings to me like an oversimplification. And yet, the pill was a tiny sized miracle: Women could finally make choices, act deliberately, and most importantly, act with a greater sense of certainty when it came to their sexuality and its relationship to reproduction.

But with power (the power to make choices) comes responsiblity, and almost immediately, the necessity for accountability and defense for your decision. Before, it had been only The Men and God who had executive rights over a woman’s body. What a revolution, what a shock to the system to overturn that norm…to figuratively slap them on their wrists and say, “no, no…I am the source, I make the decisions.”

My objective today is not to evaluate the Pill, it’s consequences or pros and cons. Rather, I’d like to celebrate a movement and a tool that, to whatever extent it may be, granted many women the power which, in truth was always their’s…was their birthright. We can muse about the different reasons why partiarchal ideologies and societies found it convenient to convince women they were powerless vessels…it’s so easy to buy into flawed thinking and to lose sight of reality. When we look at pregnancy and motherhood as something which defines women as weaker and vulnerable we have subscribed to patriarchal renditions of life and creation. Motherhood is not only a glorious power, but it is part of what makes women powerful, indispensible and splendid beings.

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