Goddess Religion and Misandry?

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Is modern goddess religion misandrist? Has it, in fact, “encouraged widespread misandry in popular culture”? That seems to be the contention of two Canadian religious studies scholars, Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young, who have released a new book: “Sanctifying Misandry: Goddess Ideology and the Fall of Man”.

“In “Sanctifying Misandry”, Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson challenge an influential version of modern goddess religion, one that undermines sexual equality and promotes hatred in the form of misandry – the sexist counterpart of misogyny. To set the stage, the authors discuss two massively popular books – Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” and Riane Eisler’s “The Chalice and the Blade” – both of which rely on a feminist conspiracy theory of history. They then show how some goddess feminists and their academic supporters have turned what Christians know as the Fall of Man into the fall of men. In the beginning, according to three ‘documentary’ films, our ancestors lived in an egalitarian paradise under the aegis of a benevolent great goddess. But men either rebelled or invaded, replacing the goddess with gods and establishing patriarchies that have oppressed women ever since. In the end, however, women will restore the goddess and therefore paradise as well. The book concludes with several case studies of modern goddess religion and its effects on mainstream religion. “Young and Nathanson” show that we can move beyond not only both gynocentrism and androcentrism but also both misandry and misogyny.”

It seems pretty clear that the documentary  films they are referring to are Donna Read’s Women and Spirituality series, which included “Goddess Remembered”, “The Burning Times”, and “Full Circle”, and starred many Pagan, goddess-religion, and women’s spirituality luminaries like Starhawk, Merlin Stone, and Luisah Teish.

But do the early claims of the women’s spirituality movement really create a culture of misandry? Of man-hating? Leading to the supposedly misandrist pop-culture heavyweight that is “The Da Vinci Code”? Several scholars have criticized Nathanson and Young’s past work for spotty methodology, of misusing feminist theory, of only picking the data that fits their argument in pursuit of an agenda.

“Spreading Misandry’s stated goal to make recognizable the extent of misandry in popular culture is lost in its failure to connect their assumptions to sociological theory. The methodology that selectively examines some examples of popular culture and not others and then asks us to accept their interpretation as relevant and not others severely limits the potential of the research findings. Nathanson and Young promote sexism and gender polarization in their oppositional approach to gender. Most importantly, the work is totally divorced from the important connection of culture with structure in that they did not demonstrate a link between misandry in popular culture and the broader societal structures that negatively impact men. Instead of criticizing feminist theories, the authors would be advised to apply many of the findings and concepts of feminist researchers examining gender to an analysis of masculinity. Such would be a more constructive approach to examining gender-both masculinity and femininity. I am not convinced that misandry is a pervasive cultural pattern. Consequently I do not recommend this book for academic or popular consumption.”

What’s the result of bad or biased scholarship? Who cares if their methodology is spotty or agenda-driven? First, it can empower people like Canadian newspaper columnist Barbara Kay to write things like this.

“…it’s all nonsense: ideology gussied up as religious myth. Their methodical exposure of Goddess spirituality’s perversion of Christian tropes reveals the misandric obsession at its core. Taking Daly’s scapegoating revisionism as a reliable clue, they site Goddess spirituality — and for other persuasive reasons feminism in general — under the rubric of conspiracy theorism.”

As an extra-classy note, Kay’s anti-goddess hate-fest is married to a pseudo-obituary of Mary Daly. I realize that Daly had said and advocated many problematic (even hateful) things during her life, but spitting on the dead is usually frowned on in civil society. You can expect that Kay’s shot across the bow will soon become a full-blown salvo from people like Ross Douthat, Rod Dreher, and the loon-bats at World Net Daily, all of them referencing “Sanctifying Misandry” as proof of their beliefs regarding goddess-religion and feminism.

Regarding accusations of  women’s spirituality’s own spotty scholarship in the past, those issues have been almost fully absorbed and corrected within modern Paganism (not to mention modern feminism). With today’s scholarship having a clear-eyed assessment of where history/herstory got more poetic than factual.

As I said the last time this issue came up, when outdated criticisms of bad history were lobbed in our general direction:

“Wiccan-fabricated libels? Oh! You mean the “Burning Times”, right? The old “nine million witches” killed thing. Funny thing about that, it wasn’t a libel fabricated by Wiccans, it was an estimate by an 18th century German scholar which was then propogated (in part) by a 20th century British anthropologist. While some debunking of that estimate already existed in academic circles, it was hardly common reading at the time it was picked up by feminists and early Wiccans (the 1960s and 1970s). In the last twenty years, as the number was successfully reevaluated, modern Paganism has mostly dropped that meme, and those who don’t are often criticiszed within the modern Pagan community. Even Charlotte Allen, who wrote the critical piece from 2001 that Douthat links to, admits that Wiccans and Pagans have mostly moved on from “The Burning Times”.”

To link filmmaker Donna Read to author Dan Brown to claims of a man-hating institutional misandry really seems absurd. Especially when you see that misogyny and patriarchy are alive and well in Western culture, and ever-dominant around the world. To claim that goddess-religion has taken over pop-culture on a structural level, encouraging misandry in our day-to-day lives, is to turn a blind eye to the vast swathes of pop-culture that revel in the masculine, in the sexist, and ultimately in abuse. The whole thing smells like a hit-piece – partisan anti-feminist tome that draws women’s spirituality into the mix in order to cast the “villain” (feminism) as some sort of destabilizing counter-faith (shades of anti-environmental rhetoric). It, like other books of this nature, have to over-state and “pump up” the influence and pervasiveness of their enemy to justify the attack.