Gender Respect in the Pagan Community

For this post, I’ll be referring back to my last blog “Pagans and the Modesty Issue”, so if you’re confused or want to see the actual comments that I’m talking about, please go back to it.

I wanted to expand a little on my last post, because one thing became clear to me from all of the responses that I received was that what we should be talking about in the Pagan community, instead of “modesty”,  is respect.

One of the comments that I received was from a woman that said that she dressed modestly because of how Pagan men approached her. She said essentially that a lot of Pagan men assumed that because she was Pagan, she was “easy” and she was made extremely uncomfortable by this sort of attention. This is not uncommon. I too have had similar experiences. Whether you cover fully or wear nothing at all, you should never be made to feel uncomfortable at our gatherings.

My S.O. has a story about a man in the Pagan community who would go to Pagan festivals and single out the young women who were new to the Pagan community, essentially saying something to the effect of, “Hey! You’re Pagan now. You’re expected to sleep around! Why not start with me?”. Apparently, he was well known for doing this in the community. This man was actually shot and killed later on. He was staying with friends and someone walked into the house and murdered him. They never discovered who did it, but everyone assumed that he had gone after the wrong woman and a person in her life had decided to violently retaliate for the harm he caused. My question to this story is this: why didn’t we, as a community, see what this man was doing and take him aside and tell him that what he was doing was inappropriate and harmful to the community? That somewhere there would be consequences to him, as well as the emotional upset to the women he going after?

PaganDad was incensed that he took his children to a Pagan event and they had to witness BDSM when he, as their parent, didn’t think that that was something his children should witness and that it was not age appropriate. Most festivals will cordon off areas where adult behavior is appropriate and set these apart from where the children are or allowed. I still think this isn’t a “modesty” issue. It was disrespectful of the festival to blatantly disregard what parents would consider to be age appropriate. The festival didn’t take “respect” into consideration. And PaganDad is right to point out that we need to think about how newcomers and outsiders are going to react to these situations. If we don’t take respect into consideration, we are going to lose people who might otherwise join our community.

When PaganSoccerMom tells me that I’m missing the point because  “clothing made for little boys aren’t generally created to make them look sexual beyond their years”, I strongly disagree. I think that little boys get it just as much as little girls do. When little girls are being given Brittany Spearsesque clothing, little boys are getting pants that sit down well below their waist lines to show off their underwear and wife beater shirts to emulate rockers and gangsters. Doesn’t anyone see that this is clearly having the same effect on them? The boys who robbed my Significant Other and I (who are around the ages of fifteen and sixteen) have grown up in this culture, and they are expected to become like the men in their lives. They have been in and out of juvie, they have been under house arrest and the cops all know them. This behavior didn’t start last night, it started with behaviors they were taught that would gain them acceptance in their community. These boys already have blatant disrespect for the women in our neighborhood. How we teach our little boys and young men to act in regards to nudity and modesty is just as vitally important as how we teach to the girls.

PaganSoccerMom also commented that:

“As for my deliberately”not getting it” on the point that dressing our girls in an age-appropriate way is telling them that “teaching them that other people can’t control themselves in reaction to their bodies”, I think we do that every day. We teach them to not walk down dark alleys. Not to leave their drinks unattended. To walk in groups. All these are, at least to me, part and parcel (along with wearing age-appropriate clothing) ways to help keep them safe. There are bad people out there that will do bad things and we have to do things to help keep ourselves safe.”

What she is still missing is that we live in a rape culture. While we tell little girls not to get raped, we don’t tell our boys not to rape, and this is what needs to change. And instead of reacting to it in the Pagan community with the old monotheistic notion of “modesty” (look at the example of the Middle East to see how that’s worked out for everyone involved), we need to address the larger issue of respect, and how both sexes need to deal with each other. I, as a woman, should be able to walk down a dark alley completely naked and not have to worry about a predator jumping out and violating me. Now, I know that we don’t live in a perfect world and while this is the ideal, as a woman, I do avoid dark alleys and I don’t leave my drinks unattended, but if we ever want to make it to this ideal, we need to start by teaching our children that you need to respect women.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that we ignore the men in our community. That the Pagan community is not always masculine friendly. There’s the old joke that our priests are just altar boys that are there to assist the priestess. My S.O. has a book out called “The Flowering Rod“, which is about men’s roles in spirituality. His contract with his original publisher is up and he is shopping it around to some of the bigger Pagan publishers, who all keep telling him that no one wants to read about men’s issues in Paganism and that they are only publishing things marketed to women. How can we be a healthy community when we ignore half of our community?

One of the things that initially drew me to Paganism was that I saw it being a balanced approach to masculinity and feminism. The Christian church became abhorrent to me because of how they told me that as a woman, my health and my issues weren’t important enough to address outside of the patriarchal context. I’ve always considered myself to be a feminist, but one of the things that makes me angry in feminism is when we go so far as to want to exclude men entirely. If we want to have a healthy community, we have to treat men and women equally, and I think that in the Pagan community, we have the unique opportunity to actually do that.

We should not be telling our women to dress more “modestly”, we should be telling everyone that the people of both sexes have the right to be treated with respect on all issues. We need to acknowledge the role that our men play and more fully integrate them into our practices so that they aren’t left standing on the outside of our community. Until we do this, we are going to continue to have problems with the ways men and women interact. And yes, I’m sure we’ll always have bad apples, but women are often just as guilty in their behavior as men are, and until we address the wider issue of gender equality, our community won’t be able to move forward on any of these issues.

17 thoughts on “Gender Respect in the Pagan Community

  1. Kris Bradley says:

    I do understand that we live in a rape culture, and I’ve taught my own sons how to respect and honor their female peers. However, that does not change the fact that not all parents have done so, and I still have to teach my daughter to be careful out there – and they have all bee taught that if something bad happens to them, the person who did it is to blame, not them.

    Sadly, what our daughters *should* be able to do without worry, is not what they are actually able to do freely – because of the fact that we live in a rape culture.

    And even when *all* parents have taught their male children well, I’m still not going to feel good about seeing 8 year olds in nipple tassel t-shirts or pants with “doggy style” across the behind (as I mentioned in my original post).

  2. Cena says:

    Personally I don’t even understand the argument that their is something inherently wrong with modesty. I believe there is a line which needs to be drawn when our own self expression imposes on common decency. And I think you hit the nail on the head, it’s common respect for others. I think that goes far beyond the bounds of religious idealism of any kind.

    I was always told that “there is a time and a place for everything.” I have no problem with someone who expresses themselves even in an extreme fashion, such as nudism, bdsm culture, etc. Self expression is a beautiful thing. But I don’t think anyone would argue that in a public setting, especially with children involved, the sight of a full grown man or woman in the nude could do as much harm to the child’s psyche as it might do good.

    Yes, we live in a rape culture. Yes it is wrong how women and men are taught to interact with one another. But walking around looking like a streetwalker isn’t going to magically solve that. It is certainly not something I would teach my daughter by a long shot in today’s world. To be honest I don’t feel a crusade of clothing modification will do anything to help change the fact that we live in a world with a horribly cruel, skewed perspective of the roles of men and women. The only thing that is going to change that is communication and education. Education including a heavy dose of respect, not only for other but for ourselves as well.

  3. Dwan McCarthy says:

    I love what you have to say here. It’s high time that we model mutual respect for the sake of both boys and girls, and realize that oppression hurts EVERYONE – both the oppressed and the oppresser. We women often feel victimized, but that feeling is a response to our oppression – we forget that, equally important as our hurt and frustration, the person victimizing us is missing out on our widsom, our expertise, and our potential contributions. We are all missing the opportunity to learn from your SO’s book. We are tolerating the message to our daughters that all they have worth contributing is their outward appearance and their sexuality. We are tolerating the messag to our sons that all they have worth contributing is their toughness and their aggression. The boys intuit that they must be in control at all times, and that they must be leaders; the girls intuit that they can’t be in control and must follow the richest, most powerful man. Not only are we hurt by this (sometimes to the point of suicide), but the world is missing out by dismissing much of what makes people unique and beautiful. Respect is SO important in discovering the important qualities in people; PaganDad will likely never participate in another festival; I never participate myself, because I am naturally shy and quiet, and a solitary practitioner. We need to share, not bully, and be sensitive to and respectful of one anothers’ beliefs and practices, as well as genders (born AND adopted), sexual orientations, ages, and races/ethnicities. Thank you for your blog!

  4. Gretl says:

    There is a lot of discussion of a “rape culture.” I disagree. I don’t believe it is cultural as much as biological. A study of our ape cousins reveals many similarities to our natural behavior. I think each culture has developed strategies to channel territorial male mating behavior into a context that allows people to live in close proximity without constantly killing eachother. No culture has developed a perfect coping mechanism; which is why there will always be murders of rivals, rapes, and killing of non-biological children by a new mate.

    It is a nice goal to think a woman can walk down the street naked (or in revealing clothes down a dark alley) without putting herself into harm’s way, but I think we put ourselves and our children in unnecessary danger when we live in such a manner that ignores our biology.

    • jahfrey says:

      Read “Sex at Dawn” by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. They make a compelling argument that we are more closely related to Bonobos, who are famous for using caressing and sexual contact to maintain relationships and peace within the tribe, than we are to chimps, who exhibit the male-territorial behavior you reference.
      Male territorial behavior did not start until the Agricultural Revolution created the ideas of property, surplus, cities, and male concern over controlling females to keep track of who owned kids.
      Read it, it will pleasantly challenge your perspective. Males are not inherently territorial, it’s learned behavior developed over millennia.

  5. happydog196o says:

    The guy who got shot, who you were referring to, was not taken to task because he had deliberately allied himself with a Well Known Pagan Leader – a Leader who himself was very much into the idea of “polyamory,” and trumpeted the virtues of “non-exclusivity.” In other words, his behavior was seen as being approved of by Well Known Pagan Leader. So people get caught up in this trap of thinking: “Maybe I’m still hung up in monotheistic morality and these people are right – after all, Well Known Pagan Leader is OK with this guy’s conduct, so maybe I’m just hung up, and I should ignore my creeped-out feeling.” And that is all part of rape culture too – the idea of saying “Everyone’s doing it, you’re just weird.”

  6. [...] and the Modesty Issue”, Silver Spirals “Body Shame, Not my Virtue” and my follow up blog, “Gender Respect in the Pagan Community”). All of this has made me think more about another issue that I never would have thought of if I [...]

  7. Aubs Tea says:

    What I want to know, as a parent, is how do I teach my son to respect both sexes and himself? How do I know if I’m doing it right? This is my first (and to date, only) child and I do worry. What happens if I teach him inappropriately and he does to some young girl what was done to me? Or, what if I take it too far and he develops fears of the opposite sex and sex itself? I just… I’m very confused on where to draw the line with raising my son in this type of climate.

    I guess it makes me a bad parent to admit this but it’s the truth.

  8. Kim Steffey says:

    I do not see why this is so hard for people. “And it harm none (including yourself) do as thou will”. This is our first principle. In that one statement is all you need to teach your children about respect. That statement allows for all the individuality and freedom you could ever want. That statement contains the only rule we should ever need as humans, “Don’t hurt yourselves or others on purpose”. If you don’t get this one statement go back to the Christians, seriously, you aren’t ready for the responsibility or personal accountability that Paganism in general demands.

    • The Wiccan rede is not “our” first principle. It’s not even in all Wiccan trads, let alone in non-Wiccan ones. Other Pagans and Heathens have more developed sets of virtues, plus we can look at what Brendan Myers has been up to on Pagan ethics. Not only that, but all the philosophers of the ancient worlds are ours, too.

  9. I definitely agree that mutual respect and equality are key bases for responsible action. If there’s going to *be* a “Pagan community” at all, it’s going to have to be a lot more mature than the examples cited. I’ve heard of similar wild behavior at some of the festivals I used to attend, although I never personally caught sight of any that wasn’t kept properly out of sight.

  10. I dress in a way that is comfortable for me. My mother doesn’t always like it but she’s Catholic. I tell her I love her and to shove it. Politely. The only reason I don’t let my 3 year wander around completely naked is because he is not completely potty trained and I don’t want pee on the floor. I always walk around naked after my shower unless we have someone staying with us. I have no issues showing my body to my husband, children, mother or very close friends. Other than that I am self-conscious about my body in a way that I wish I wasn’t. There are certain people I would not be naked in front of because they are creepy. There are people that used to be creepy that I got to know and now don’t have any issue being naked in front of them. Being naked and being sexual are two entirely different things and that is what I feel we should be teaching our children. Should you be naked at public places like the mall or grocery store? No, for health and sanitation reasons if nothing else. Should it be ok for people to worship naked in a mixed setting? Yes, provided it is not in a sexual fashion. We should be teaching our children respect and protection not societies view of modesty. To Gretl: I completely disagree with your comment. People can be raised to be better and I think that kind of attitude leads the way to “it’s not his fault, it’s natures fault” excuses to attempt to justify horrible behavior.

  11. [...] and the Modesty Issue and Gender Respect in the Pagan Community (same [...]

  12. Edgar says:

    i hope you keep posting those wonderful articles, thanks a lot.http://www.casaemail.com.br

  13. [...] awesome perspective on Rape Culture, Paganism, and what we can and cannot do as Pagans see “Gender and Respect in the Pagan Community” over at A Practical Owl in a Wiccan World. [...]

  14. [...] new comment on my blog “Pagans and the Modesty Issue“. Between that and my blog “Gender Respect in the Pagan Community“, there was a lot of controversy and I still attract a lot of readers to my blog with these [...]

  15. [...] few months ago I wrote two blogs (Pagans and the Modesty Issue and Gender Respect in the Pagan Community) about modesty and how I think it doesn’t belong in the Pagan community. I had mixed [...]

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