This earth is my sister; I love her daily grace, her silent daring, and how loved I am how we admire the strength in each other, all that we have suffered, all that we have lost, all that we know. We are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget: what she is to me, what I am to her.
These words are from Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature which I often recommend as one of my favorite books. Over the years I have read this passage and others from Woman and Nature aloud with my students, and we have always been moved, most of us to tears. More recently these words have become the center of the “Morning Blessing” on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete.
In the epigraph to the book Griffin writes,
These words are written for those of us whose language is not heard, whose words have been stolen or erased, those robbed of language, who are called voiceless or mute, even the earthworms, even the shellfish and the sponges, for those of us who speak our own language . . .
Though Woman and Nature ends with the lyrical voice that emerges when woman begins to speak of all that she knows, it begins with a serious somber impersonal voice with no lyricism at all.
It is decided that matter is transitory and illusory like the shadows on a wall cast by firelight; that we dwell in a cave, in the cave of our flesh, which is also matter, also illusory; it is decided that what is real is outside the cave, in a light brighter than we can imagine, that matter traps us in darkness. That the idea of matter existed before matter and is more perfect, ideal.
Students of philosophy will recognize this as a restatement of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” in which he asserts the principle that will guide western philosophy for millennia: that the mind is trapped in and deceived by the body and that the soul of the philosopher must rise above the body to commune with perfect ideal truths.
Summarizing the trajectory of western thought, Griffin continues:
And of the difference of women from men it is said that women are more sensual than they . . .
And it is seen that the senses are deceptive. . .
And it is also written that woman “is not fully master of herself” . . .
And it is written that women have the defect of “inordinate affections and passions” . . .
That Adam is soul and Eve is flesh.
In a litany that becomes deafening, Griffin finds this mistaken idea repeated not only in medieval theology, but also by modern scientists. The conclusion drawn by all of them is that the soul of man was created to rise above the flesh, to master woman and nature, to control matter, using the tools of philosophy and science.
The reader who follows the notes will find that Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Kant, Nietzsche, Freud, and many others up to the present day, continue to rework the association of woman with nature and man with the mind in new and different contexts.
As man builds up his power and his theory of knowledge, woman is silenced.
This is how it happens in the family:
His voice. She hears his voice speaking. He tells her she is always defending herself. For no reason, his voice implies. She tells him that while he was away, she was sick and the baby cried. He tells her that she has told him this to make him feel guilty. He raises his voice. His arms flail out . . .
I remember my voice being silenced. I used to dream that a man was chasing me and I opened my mouth but could not scream out.
This is how it happens in the educational system:
They said that in order to discover truth, they must find ways to separate feeling from thought Because we were less That measurements and criteria must be established free from emotional bias Because they said our brains were smaller . . .
I remember trying to understand what it could mean to assert that the idea of a table was more real than the table. It did not make sense. I remember trying to separate my feelings from thought, from thoughts that were not mine, and from my thoughts. I even remember trying to to explain Karl Barth’s idea that man was A and woman was B to my boyfriend. I tried and I tried until I exploded. In tears. In tears that would not stop flowing. Anger would follow.
Griffin documents the passage back to the self as a descent into “The Room of the Undressing” that becomes a “room of revelation of all she thought horrible, and of her endlessly demanding body. Of all she shrank from in herself.” This is a room “Where we uncover our bodies. Where we meet our outcast selves.”
In this room, the women “confess we never believed those stories were about us.”
I remember the exhilaration of that moment: I was not wrong. I was not stupid. Those stories were not about me. And I would never believe them again.
Griffin describes this feeling:
We began to feel the atmosphere wants us.
We could breathe!
This room of her wants. Of her desiring. This room of her desiring to live. . . This room of our touching where the mother teaches her daughter to face her secret feelings.
I learned that this is the key: to trust our deepest feelings and to find the words to express them. Feeling is the origin of thinking. Our bodies are ourselves. This is what (so-called) great philosophers and scientists and theologians have denied. This is what they did not know and did not want us to know!
Looking for summer reading? I recommend Woman and Nature.
**Re-published with permission from the author from Feminism and Religion