A Biblical Feminist Confronts the Girls Goddesses, Part 1
In the 1970s, feminists revived goddess worship. Their reasoning: to Jews and Christians, God is male so we’re going to start our own She-ra, Man-Haters Club and have our own goddesses instead. Far be it from me to criticize someone for starting their own clique, but their disturbing lack of logic has rained on the chick parade ever since.
Compare the following Biblical account:
Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”
Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”
...with the following historical account:
The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life. ...most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads ...Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple... It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home... There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus.
Prophetess or prostitute -- there’s a million-dollar question. Why represent the Living God when you can enslave yourself to unknown men in service of a sculpted woman?
The irony deepens when one continues to read (not stereotype) the Bible to find that Israelite women didn't need to waste their time fighting to be equal to men; they were busy fulfilling their own unique role in society. Created with an intrinsic spiritual link to God, women were the first teachers of Torah to their children. They managed their homes, families, and finances. While other women served gods and goddesses by sacrificing their bodies and their children on pagan altars, Hebrew women were called by their God to birth, raise, educate, build, and prophesy to their nation. Long before American women decided they needed equality, Israelite women were divinely empowered.
Yet it's this revived goddess theology, not biblical feminism, that has trickled down from yesterday's second-wave feminism into today's pop culture to the point where the term “goddess” has become a compliment slung about among women anxious to buy t-shirts, mugs, and jewelry encrusted with a term of ancient slavery. Nowhere is the pop-goddess trend more evident than on television, where women continue to be defined and glorified through sexual acts. Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and the "Backdoor Teen Mom" have all reached stardom through cut-and-dry video prostitution, while fictional shows like HBO’s Girls provide more high-brow, intellectual goddess-fodder, which the graduate school-educated critics crave.
I struggled with trying to love Girls. If you're Jewish (check) and from the New York area (check), pop culture dictates that you’re supposed to idolize Lena Dunham. Her success as an ingénue (or perhaps inge-not is more apropos) is impressive, although not totally surprising: Judd Apatow has launched many a young star's career. Yet to the critics she is the goddess of cutting-edge media. Dunham is a prophetess to the Cult of Hip, calling forth her own good fortune through her Girls character Hannah Horvath’s self-defined “voice of a generation” declaration.
In all fairness, Dunham is riding the wave of praise being thrown at her. While she may be reveling, Hannah Horvath and her compatriots are unraveling. In fact, this reluctant viewer was pleased to find the hidden appeal of Girls lies in the stark contrast between the critical glorification and the truly inglorious nature of the characters for whom they rave. These women (and men) are not heroes. In fact, they are as painfully human as is their creator. Yet, according to the critics, these women have a major responsibility to goddess culture. For the PC-mongers, Dunham has failed in her role of earth mother to the more tan among us:
It’s not enough because there are people who are alienated, who routinely experience erasure of their own experiences for the sake of a joke or to set up a plot. There are those that would say it is her own right to write about whatever she wants, to exhibit characters in whatever way she desires. That’s true. But if we don’t evaluate our own privilege as white females than what are doing? How do we move forward? ...What it comes down to for me is this. If feminism isn’t intersectional, it means nothing. Am I implying that all shows must be perfect reflections of diversity? No. But at the very least, they should not promote or play into trite racial or ethnic stereotypes.
While for the "We Have Arrived" Bitch crowd strutting in their slut walks, Dunham's show is a vehicle for the salvation of our culture:
Despite the ups and downs of the season, Girls remains one of the most interesting and emotionally resonant looks into the inner lives of women and allows for discussion of our personal experiences. Through this season, we’ve had discourse on female friendships, bisexuality, mental illness, rape and consent amongst so many other issues and these are all extremely important conversations that can illuminate what we need more of in our media and culture and what desperately needs to change.
At a glance, these are dichotomous critiques, yet both share a core belief feeding the goddess mindset: the demand for self-sacrifice on the altar of the culturally defined greater good. Whether Dunham is using her white privilege to lift up minorities, or exposing the painful realities of her OCD to focus attention on mental health issues, the expectation is the same: Dunham is the promised lamb to be sacrificed on the altar of Girls.
Ironically, this sacrificial pressure is most keenly expressed through Dunham's character Hannah, who is determined to "experience everything for everyone." In an episode titled "One Man's Trash," she confesses to a near-complete stranger with whom she's had a 2 day love affair:
Please don't tell anyone this, but I want to be happy... I didn't think I did. I made a promise such a long time ago that I was going to take in experiences, all of them, so I could tell other people about them and maybe save them. But it gets so tiring trying to take in all the experiences for everybody, letting anyone say anything to me... I'm not different... I want what everyone wants, I want all the things. I just want to be happy.
Not one mention of this monologue was included in the critiques of this episode, all of which are particularly painful. The majority don't believe in the reality of the episode; detractors find the pairing of dashing doctor and frumpy Hannah "unrealistic" while advocates analyze cinematic style to determine if it's just a dream sequence. If the idea that Hannah couldn't ever bag a doctor isn't insulting enough, the biting edge comes in the remarks about Hannah's "narcissistic self":
Fantasy over. She throws his trash out, and we are right back to the mess that is Hannah's life. The trash, get it? Its not really a subtle metaphor.
If Dunham (or any woman, for that matter) weren't shielded by a television screen, would such a miserable cry for help still be ignored by this troop of culture vultures? David Haglund at Slate was at least bold enough to admit his distaste for Hannah's happiness -- real or imagined -- because it didn't match up to his own:
I do think they were a fantasy of happiness for Hannah, one that, for a variety of reasons, I find a bit repellent... it made the episode very hard for me to enjoy. And that, I realize, is at least partly on me.
One look at the critical response to Girls and it's easy to see that today's television personalities are akin to ancient temple slaves. Viewers anxiously rally behind Lena Dunham's band of misfits, but why? To befriend the grossly "self-involved" Hannah Horvath or to find in her both a sacrificial lamb for their cause as well as a scapegoat for their sins?
I stopped idolizing celebrities and looking for pure truth in television about 10 years ago. Back then the newly proclaimed god of Hip was Jon Stewart. Attending a taping of The Daily Show with friends was the secular equivalent of going up to Jerusalem for the High Holidays. Before the show, we were encouraged to ask questions of the comic pundit. Wanting to impress my idol, I thought quickly, raised my hand, and was called on to ask what I considered to be a well-versed question about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The man who had morphed The Daily Show into a vehicle for smart yet funny news looked at me bug-eyed and feebly offered, "I make the jokes?"
The difference between Stewart and Dunham is that Stewart was "hip" enough to know to stay on message. Chalk it up to intelligence, naivete, or both, but I have my suspicions that Dunham hasn't passed initiation yet. Hannah Horvath's second season line, "I believe, like everyone else, that I have at least 3 or 4 good folk albums in me," gives me reason to hope. Coming after the endless "voice of a generation" comparisons to Bob Dylan, it is one of those lines that makes me wonder if she isn't wise to the critics' game (and just as reluctant as Dylan to play along). But is she wise enough not to become a sacrificial goddess?
That is one of the questions I'll explore in the coming weeks. Dunham is bright enough to fill Girls with searingly honest commentary of the effects of the goddess cult on millennial women in terms of sexuality, boyfriends, politics, work, and friendship. But is she brilliant enough to empower her characters, or willing enough to enslave them for the sake of critical acclaim?
Some of the questions and controversies invoked by the Girls goddesses that I plan to confront Deborah-style this summer at PJ Lifestyle (and reader suggestions are appreciated):
1. Virginity and Value: When did it suddenly become cool to be a slut? How did feminism come to embrace promiscuity as a form of empowerment? Is the "adventurous" woman treating her HPV really happier than the biblical feminist who resisted the culture and waited until marriage to have sex?
2. From Working Moms to Non-Moms: Have we entered a new era of child sacrifice? Has career-worship become an idol inspiring generations of women to sacrifice parenthood?
3. Girls or boys, who really "wears the pants" in Millennial and Gen-X relationships today? How have decades of free internet porn transformed the sexual dynamics of modern dating? How do secular goddess values differ from biblical values in balancing masculine and feminine in monogamy and marriage?
4. How deeply does the cult of goddess feminism impact our understanding of the individual woman? How does the idea of goddesses, reinvented in our popular culture today, undermine rather than enhance women's happiness in their practical, day-to-day lives? How do women's lives fall apart when they choose to idolize aspects of their feminine identity and parts of their body? And what do race and skin color have to do with idolatry?
5. Postmodern Porn: Is Girls pornography or art? And how does a biblical feminist discern the difference between the two? Today is there really a meaningful difference between HBO and the Playboy Channel? When does art about sex become porn?
6. Conclusion: Pop Culture, Polytheism, and Postmodernism. How does the America of today compare with the ancient Canaan of the Bible? Is respecting everyone's feelings as equally legitimate the same as having to respecting everyone's gods and laws? What lessons can we learn from ancient times about how to overcome the urge to enslave ourselves to idols?
Updated to now include Part 2, starting on the next page:
Sex Mitzvah'd: Virginity Isn't Easy for Girls
I love The 40 Year-Old Virgin for the same reason Shoshanna Shapiro quickly became my favorite character on Girls: not because of her personal virginphobia, but because in a world threatened with terrorism, hunger, and the pending threat of Obamacare, virginity remains one of the greatest crises of our time.
Thanks to the goddess feminist revolt of the sexy sixties, bedroom activities have risen to the top of the pops when it comes to ratings-driven conversation. As a result, virgins have become stigmatized as uncool goods. It's no wonder, then, that pop culture-obsessed Shoshanna is neurotic enough to spend an entire season trying her best to lose her virginity so she can catch up to her "adventurous" female counterparts like Jessa (who came to the states for an abortion) and Hannah (who has recently been diagnosed with HPV).
How did feminism come to embrace promiscuity as a form of empowerment? Is the "adventurous" woman treating her HPV really happier than the biblical feminist who resisted the culture and waited until marriage to have sex?
To the goddess feminist, sex is power; just ask Dr. Linda Savage, author of Reclaiming Goddess Sexuality and purveyor of Goddess Therapy. To sex therapists like Savage, female sexuality and spirituality are intrinsically intertwined, their power expressed through pagan rituals that mystify and idolize reproductive ability. Contrary to modern concepts of contraception, most pagan cultures emulated by the goddess movement have as many fertility goddesses as they do virgin goddesses. The two concepts often go hand-in-hand, as in Greek culture, where the virgin goddess Artemis was also worshipped in terms of reproduction, despite being the head of a virgin cult:
When young girls reached puberty they were initiated into her cult, but when they decided to marry, which Artemis was not against, they were asked to lay in front of the altar all the paraphernalia of their virginity, toys, dolls and locks of their hair, they then left the domain of the virgin goddess.
Today's goddesses won't admit this, of course, but their argument that women have the "right" to their own bodies presumes the idea that, somehow, the physical act of sex was implicitly paired with the psychological act of stealing a woman's identity: an idea less rooted in the concept of modern manhood than it is in the ancient Greek concept of womanhood. Ironically, for the Greeks, a girl didn't just give up childhood when she chose to marry; she physically and intellectually gave up her own female identity:
This relationship between Apollo and His priestess echoes a widely held belief about ancient Greek women and their husbands: Not only did a woman belong to her husband, but his essence permeated her. His influence entered her during sex, and so every word she spoke was his word channeled through her. This basic concept also applies to the ancient Greek understanding of men and women in general. Men were considered purely projective (as their penis spews forth their essence, so must their mouths when we apply vertical symmetry) and women were considered purely receptive. Furthermore, a woman's individuality is somehow contaminated by a man's spirit during intercourse. Once he spills his essence into her, everything she says and does has his essence in it.
Goddess feminism thought they trumped patriarchy when they declared power over the bedroom. Instead, by embracing the pagan patriarchal notion that women lose all sense of identity when they have sex, goddess feminists rendered themselves powerless to do much beyond become an "essence buffet" in the quest of fulfilling a woman's spiritual responsibility to reproduce.
Biblical feminists never embraced the idea that a man's "essence" took over a woman's intellect. However, we also don't deny scientific fact: condoms or not, sexual partners leave their mark behind. While Shoshanna anxiously ponders her virginity, Hannah's latent fear of AIDS resurfaces. Googling "the stuff that comes up the sides of condoms," Hannah decides it's time for a visit to the doctor, where her PAP test reveals a woman's worst nightmare: HPV.
According to the CDC, "approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected with Human Papilloma Virus. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives." Not only can HPV lead to cervical cancer, it can be transmitted from pregnant mother to child; as a result, that child may develop warts in her throat one or multiple times her life. Despite what Michael Douglas's press agents wish you to believe, men are at risk for developing cancer from HPV as well. In case you were wondering, "HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom - so condoms may not fully protect against HPV."
In a sickeningly ironic twist, Shoshanna anxiously awaits the ridding of her virginity burden, while Hannah lays on the altar of goddess feminism, sacrificing her own health and the health of potential children and partners in the name of "adventure." How empowered can you possibly be when you are bound by an illness with uncontrollable potential ramifications?
Biblically speaking, God is straightforward enough about the joy of sex to have made pleasuring your wife one of the wife's three basic marital rights as well as a commandment for husbands. In fact, he is supposed to both watch for the head's up that she's ready and offer sex without her even having to ask. Sex between a husband and wife should never be about power or performed in anger because, quite frankly, it is a sacred act.
Virginity is a standard in the Torah, not a stigma; it is a sign of loyalty to the covenant of marriage. Just as every physical commandment has a spiritual implication, so the marriage covenant is the physical embodiment of God's covenant with Israel. This principle is exemplified in the book of Hosea, wherein God commands the prophet, "Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord." The prophet follows through, marrying Gomer and having children with her despite the fact that she continues to prostitute herself. Turning Hosea's life into a metaphor of warning for Israel, God explains:
My people perish for lack of knowledge ...for the spirit of whoring makes them err, they go off whoring, deserting their God. ...Yes, a people without understanding will come to ruin.
Ruin, for the whoring Israelites, involves the consequences of their acts falling back on their own heads. We aren't talking fire and brimstone, here; we're talking common sense. For the Israelites, that translated into being conquered by foreign powers they considered to be allies; for girls seeking empowerment through promiscuity, that means contracting any number of life-threatening diseases.
Yet, according to goddess culture, when it comes to sex, the healthy chick is the loser in the scenario. At least she is according to the critics of Girls, who can't understand Shoshanna's virginal nature. Or, as one writer at HuffPo put it, "Encountering a 20-something of that persuasion in New York City is akin to seeing a unicorn prance up Fifth Avenue (with President Obama on its back, shooting rainbows from his hands)." Wisely, Girls elects to withhold judgement, viewing virginity as another passing fact of female life. In trying to reassure Shoshanna that she is not a loser, Hannah observes that one day Shoshanna won't have to worry about her virginity any more, while Hannah will have her HPV forever.
Her sad line reminded me of a similar observation of Israel in Hosea: "They became as loathsome as the thing they loved." Of course, true to biblical precedent, redemption comes for Israel at the end of the book, and it sounds and feels a lot better than the goddess write-off of, "Oh, well."