Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Check This

"I'm going to college. I don't care if it ruins my career. I'd rather be smart than a movie star." - Natalie Portman

"I was always kind of a school person - my parents were teachers, and my grandparents were immigrants, so their big thing was, 'Go to college, go to college, go to college.'" - Mayim Bialik

Haven't found any quotes by Hedy Lamarr yet.

But I did want to make a note here: all three of these women are Jewish. In fact, here's a quote from Natalie Portman (born Neta-Lee Hershlag, in Jerusalem; she has dual American & Israeli citizenship) on being Jewish: "To me, the most important concept in Judaism is that you can break any law of Judaism to save a human life. I think that’s the most important thing. Which means to me that humans are more important than Jews are to me. Or than being Jewish is to me. There’s so much goodness there, and such a value placed on education, which is sort of universal among Jews around the world. I appreciate that obviously, to be a part of that."

I note that because I remember a lot of women in the women's spirituality world would criticise patriarchal religious traditions and say that they were bad for women, etc. Hell, I even used to do that myself. But these women give the lie to all that.

Just wanted to note this.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Why This Blog?

I've noticed, in recent years, that American culture seems to be glorifying mediocrity.

Why do I say this?

Well, there are a few reasons.

One reason has its roots in an experience that my husband Joe and I had, when we were still associating with a pagan group at a local Unitarian Universalist church.

Every Yuletide (winter solstice), the church would have a lovely solstice service in their fellowship hall. When Joe and I got involved with the group - and really, we were part of the founding of the group - I suggested doing an all-night vigil around a bonfire, staying awake through the longest night of the year and encouraging the renewal of the Sun the next morning. This is part of northern European pagan tradition, and Joe and I both walked that path at that time. The group was more than happy to have a vigil in the courtyard, and a bonfire as well.

We wanted to do something ritualistic at the bonfire, and Joe came up with an idea from Celtic mythology: to have two men dress up in costumes, one as the Holly King and one as the Oak King, and these men would have a mock battle with swords and all that kind of thing. The Holly King, who represented the dark/lunar side of the year (June/summer solstice to December/winter solstice) would fall to the Oak King, who represented the light/solar side of the year (December/winter solstice to June/summer solstice). In Celtic lore, the holly is associated with the lunar side of the year, and oaks are associated with everything solar.

Well, Joe presented this idea to the group, and no one liked the idea. Why? It edified conflict, not peaceful harmony. It edified competition, not consensus. One of those men would "win" the mock battle, and one would "lose." They didn't like the idea of "winners" and "losers". They wanted everyone to be a "winner" - which to me smacks of what I call "participation trophy mentality", and I'll have to get into that later.

We were quite surprised that a pagan group had a problem with this idea....especially one gent in the group, who was a fighter pilot in Vietnam. We thought at least he would understand the spirituality that can be found in facing competition and winning, in experiencing victory. In many other ways, he seemed very happy edifying male spiritual energy. But no, he didn't like Joe's idea either.

Yes, we were extremely disappointed that this pagan group didn't care for our ritual idea. Kind of surprising, considering this was a PAGAN GROUP - and pagans, supposedly, are all about nature veneration. You know, the same nature that drives lions to eat antelopes? Where the sick and weakly generally do not survive to reproduce and pass their weaker genes on to the next generation, while the strong and healthy DO? Yeah, that nature.

But I digress. Now, what they did like was the story that Joe used to tell at that bonfire - and he ONLY told it on the night of the solstice, after sundown, in a darkened room with nine candles in front of him. It was a story about the Nordic Goddess Freyja, who had lost her husband Od, and how Freyja wandered long through all the Nine Worlds (this is part of Nordic pagan cosmology) trying to find Od. At the beginning of the story, all of Joe's candles on his candleabra were lit. But as he told the story, and as Freyja left each world and didn't find Od, she "took the light with her" - and Joe would snuff one candle. Then another. Then another - until finally the room was left in darkness.

At that point in Joe's story, Freyja had come to Helheim, the realm of the dead. Freyja confronts Hela (the Nordic Goddess of the Underworld) and discovers that Hela does have Od in her world. Freyja entreats Hela to release Od, and she sings a song describing her love for Od. Hela, hearing the song, is moved to tears, and she releases Od to Freyja. They return to Asgard, by way of all the Nine Worlds - and at that point, Joe re-lights all the candles, signifying the return of the light.

But that's still a story about light vs darkness. Freyja gained, and Hela lost. It's still competition. We just thought that the Oak King/Holly King thing would indicate that yes, sometimes life is about struggle. Sometimes it's not pretty. Sometimes it does take an aggressive attitude to get ahead.

But...nope. They could handle what might be called the stereotypical feminine energy of love songs and soft hearts and tears of sympathy, but not male aggression. That seems rather one-sided to me.

So, categories of "winners" and "losers" were not welcome.

This is the same kind of mentality that has led to this:

 Wake County school board votes to stop naming valedictorians

And this:

Student not allowed to walk at high school graduation wearing military uniform

But on the other hand, we have this:

Native American student wins appeal, allowed to wear moccasins at graduation

And to me, there's a huge difference.

Being valedictorian or becoming a US Marine are accomplishments. One's cultural identity is not an accomplishment. So from what I'm seeing, identity is more important and more celebrated than accomplishment. 

But of course. You don't have to work at just being you. It's much easier to just be, rather than to do. And identity doesn't inherently involve competition. It doesn't involve "winners" vs "losers". When it comes to identity, everyone is a "winner" - which brings me to the "participation trophy" idea. Have a gander at this story:

Pittsburgh Steelers' James Harrison Gives Back Sons' Participation Trophies

I rather agree with Harrison on that one, but then, I graduated from Laurel High School in 1988. I'm now "old school" when we didn't have participation trophies. But I will say this: not too long after I graduated, I started seeing bumper stickers that were rather anti-honor roll. We used to have stickers that said, "Proud Parent of a Laurel High School Honor Student" (or whatever school) but in the late 1980s/early 1990s, that was changed to something more generic, like "I Have A Great Kid At X School" which really means nothing. I really haven't seen honor roll stickers in nearly 20 years now, and I suspect it's because they made non-honor roll students "feel bad" so they were eliminated.

So, instead of more of this edification of nothingness, or mediocrity, etc - why not have a blog that celebrated accomplished women? Women who courageously stepped out and worked hard and achieved something, usually in a male-dominated field?

That's why this blog.