(from my Religion & Feminism final essay test)
There seems to be a moment in a young girl’s life when she changes. There is this time period between childhood and adolescence when she becomes something she’s not. She will look back on this time and realize she changed herself for some unknown reason. She stopped raising her hand in class, she never spoke unless spoken to, she made all A’s without any feeling of accomplishment, she was quiet, she wore the accepted clothing and makeup, but never so she would stand out or cause waves. There it is…this is the time when I lost myself. I knew who I was before middle school – I was boisterous, sometimes annoyingly smart, a tattle teller, a budding feminist, and I proudly wore a sash in fifth grade that entitled me to boss around kids who misbehaved. I was the girl who stood up to my younger brother’s bullies and gave them a referral. Who was this girl and where did she go?
This is my life setting, my background in this issue of self denial, even though I believe my own annihilation of the self stemmed from media images and general peer influence (which ironically is irrevocably the same as the media). I don’t generally believe a lot of influence came from this idea of “spiritual achievement”, but in way it does, in the sense that it is peer acceptance and this media-approved image. It may be called then, “secular achievement”. In reality, though “spiritual achievement”, religious views of women affect the media, affects how I viewed myself and the girls and women around me. Something that stands out to me is being “quiet”, to be “quiet” in church while my brother loudly burped and played with his star wars action figures. I resented this demand from my parents (my dad more than my mom). My dad was religious, but my mom could care less. She was there, stuck in a marriage she hated because of her kids, my brother and me. My mother got of it, she refused to be silenced, she refused to be abused – and she kicked my dad out. This image of her as strong, as loud, as entitled to her happiness will stay with me – forever. My mother found her self, again. Despite going to church every Sunday, she broke the cycle…guaranteeing my brother and my own decisions with our lives, our religions (or not), our sexual orientation, our ideas and –isms.
In the idea of women’s “spiritual achievement”, women are not given the opportunity to “find” themselves like men are. Men’s selves are cultivated, nurtured in the center of a garden while women’s selves are abandoned to the coldest, barren corner – abandoned and designated for the trash bin. She is left there to find some source of nutrients, some ounce of protection, some form of love. She grasping for it with all her strength – she cannot think of anything else. Her mother, her mother’ mother cannot help her, she’s trapped in this cycle, a circle maybe, with false ideas of womanhood, of “spiritual achievement”. If only she was quieter, smaller, married to that guy who raped her, kept her opinions to herself, or had no opinions at all. If they could take away all her thoughts, they would. To wipe the slate clean, erase all messages, to cultivate there a succinct order of womanhood. A woman who cooks, who cleans, who submits, who lies on her back and does not move.
Women are told, are ordered to believe that in acknowledging the self, in seeing that they are in fact, gay, that they don’t fit into the gendered stereotypes, and they don’t want a nuclear family structure – all of these feelings are wrong, they are to be banished elsewhere. These are “sins”; these are “deviations” from the norm, from the Virgin Mary ideal. With women’s “spiritual achievement”, they can only hope to be mothers, baby incubators, their husband’s personal slaves, and in short – property, property to be owned, to be borrowed, to be sold. What self could possibly be found in a woman like this, a woman who finds all these requirements in religious standards? What human being could live, could possibly thrive in an environment that told her she was property and wasn’t important enough to be given a name?
These ideas of women’s experiences, or rather molds in which women should fill, are further proving androcentric assumptions that promote male experience over female experience. Ideas of women’s “spiritual achievement” promote the male experience as the only real, valid human experience. Women’s self development is relegated only insofar as it accommodates the male self. As long as she fits into the gender norms then a woman can have a “self” whether it is really “her” or not is a question not bothered with. Giving into natural born feelings of self should be snuffed out, considering most of these “impulses” will be considered “sins”. While males are only “experimenting”, women are always seen as destroying themselves and all they really need is salvation and Jesus. As if a little hold water over the forehead or Hail Mary’s could really save anyone.
So, all of this, all of this destruction of self is to be reconstructed as a woman grows older and sometimes this doesn’t happen. Some never have epiphanies about who their real “self” is, some never even knew who that little girl was, that girl who sat in front, eager to answer all the questions, that little girl in all of us. Can we find her? Is it even possible to find her in all the debris of years and years of oppressive buildup, of suppression, of conformity, of denial of this true self? This little girl answers yes, she hopes to be found, she gives hints, she pokes you every once in a while, she’s calling your name right now.