Beginning in the spring of 1976, Mom collected and encouraged us to read, feminist literature. I was 13. She was reading it before then, but we weren’t. I am reminded today of these books because I learned Mary Daly died a few days ago. She was a Boston College professor for 33 years and author of “Beyond God The Father” and “Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics Of Radical Feminism”, among others. I still have both books.
Mom had us daughters read a number of feminist books while we were in 6th, 7th and 8th grade, including,
“The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan;
“When God Was a Woman” by Merlin Stone
“The Female Eunich” by Germaine Greer,
“Towards a Recognition of Androgyny” by Carolyn Heilbrun
“Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape and Femininity” by Susan Brownmiller
“Woman On the Edge of Time” by Marge Piercy
“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrisson
“The Women’s Room” by Marilyn French, and
“Ruby Fruit Jungle” by Rita Mae Brown
There were more, but I can’t remember all of them now.
I do remember challenging my 7th and 8th grade history teacher and Crested Butte School principal, Mr. Helzer, about everything he tried to teach us. The more I read, the more I challenged him. I was admittedly a smart ass but he paid more attention to the boys and it pissed me off. I pointed that out to him, pointed out he was a product of the patriarchy and what he taught was slanted, chauvinistic crap. I told him football was inherently sexist, with the males pounding one another while the tiniest, bustiest kiss-ass females waited submissively on the sidelines for a chance to mate with them. To his credit he told me to bring the sources for my arguments to school. When I showed up with an armload of feminist/lesbian books, he turned purple thumbing through them and didn’t want to borrow any.
Our classes at the Crested Butte School were small; there were only 8 kids in my 8th grade graduating class. I don’t remember how many were in 7th grade, but the classroom consisted of 6th, 7th and 8th to make it around 20 kids. Mr. Helzer kept me after school often, but not to talk about herstory. Instead he kept trying to get me to confess things about my mother: that she was a drug dealer, that she was promiscuous, that she was a drunk, that she didn’t feed us regularly, that she was crazy but refusing psychiatric care, that our heat kept getting shut off, that drifters came through town and stayed at our house (and did they molest us?) and that she could not hold a job. Between my attitude during his lectures and the small matter of the Gunnison Valley School District obtaining a permanent restraining order against Mom, he was probably a little concerned for our welfare. But it was his patronizing, patriarchal way of trying to get me to turn on my mother that irritated me. His concern was a direct attack on our family, which, although it was falling apart, was still my family. He got nothing from me.
The permanent restraining order obtained by the Gunnison Valley School District against my mother is easily explained: one morning, after a long night with a lot of LSD and tequila, Mom stopped the school bus that took high school kids to Gunnison before it left Crested Butte. She boarded the bus full of kids and started screaming at the bus driver, berating him over his harsh treatment of my brother. Mom’s rages were extraordinary and this one, I understand, was something for the record books. It resulted in a court-ordered permanent end to her attendance at parent-teacher conferences and other functions, not that she ever went anyway.
But when Mr. Helzer sat me down in his office to talk about my mother, I denied everything every time. I told him he was a macho, sexist jerk and that he could take his attempt to get social services involved in our lives and shove it. Oddly, he didn’t like that kind of lip from me. His face turned red, his forehead glistened with sweat and he just stared at me. Eventually he backed off, trying to gently persuade me that a nice foster home down valley would be great. I responded that any placement with a Gunnison-based, patriarchal family who wanted their women to be secretaries or brood mares would be resisted with tactics I learned from reading “The Monkey Wrench Gang” by Edward Abbey. When he looked questioningly I explained, “Sabotage and explosives.”
Mr. Helzer was the former football coach and assistant principal at Gunnison High, a portly man whose condescending attitude towards the hippie kids of Crested Butte School made him less than popular. It didn’t matter to me what he said about my mother or that it was mostly true. I was hardly going to turn her in. Plus, as I pointed out to him, having a lot of lovers was not a crime and maybe he should try it instead of criticizing her for it. That always made him blush through his freckles and then I’d get to leave. I neither confirmed nor denied the part about her selling drugs. I wasn’t stupid. Besides, the whole town was dealing.
For all her non-traditional parenting, Mom was adamant that we should never be ashamed of our bodies, our sexuality or of being women. She didn’t want us to feel or be repressed, oppressed or depressed because we happened to be born female. She did the best she could to impart a sense of pride in ourselves, even though her feminist rants often occurred through a haze of drugs and booze.
She told us the Mother Goddess loved us, loved our female bodies and wanted us to be happy, to have a lot of sex, experiment, be safe but not afraid and not hurt anybody. Mom told us that when she was touring the Vatican in 1961, she strayed from the tour and came upon a vast hall that was roped off. She ducked under the rope to look at the statues packed in against each other. As her eyes became accustomed to the light, she realized every single statue was female. They were naked or partially so, muscled and strong, their glory captured in stone. They were powerful and unafraid. And there were so many, pushed against eacher other in that hall in the Vatican, that she could not stop looking at them. After a little while, the Italian tour guide found her and started yelling at her. She returned with him to the tour group, but never forgot the hidden hall of women. And she never wanted us to hide our power or strength from anyone.
She said the Goddess had many names and many faces, that She never disappeared, that Catholicism never really let her go, even though it shoved Her to the side when She should have been the center of the Trinity. She said the Burning Times during the Middle Ages were attempts to stamp out the old matriarchal religion and in particular, wise women. She said we were young Dianas, athletic, virgin huntresses, that someday we would be like her, the Mother, and then we would age into Wise Crones. She told us “virgin” was mistranslated, that in Aramaic it meant “single woman” not hymen-intact young female. She said we should honor ourselves and each other in all our Goddess phases, because the Goddess was in us and of us and we were Her. She said the greatest gift of the Goddess was compassion.
She told us about a place in New Mexico, Chimayo, where the Goddess appeared in the 1500’s. She said she visited a small church where miracles happen, that they happen because of the compassion of the Mother Goddess who can still be felt there. She said the church, lined with crutches was a tribute to the Goddess, and although the Catholics laid claim to the spot, many knew it’s true origin. She said we would go there some day to feel the sacred energy of that place, and to bring some of the magic dirt home. I wish we had.
She said we should pray to Mother Mary, to the Virgin of Guadalupe, to Diana, to Brigid, to Morgan Le Fay, to Rhiannon, to Frieda, to Aphrodite, to Daphne, to Demeter, to Hera, to Persephone, to Devi, to Kundalini, to Shakti, to Tara, to Luna, to Venus, to White Buffalo Woman, to Anuket, to Isis, to Kali and others, and that She was all of them, in all their phases and faces. She said the Great Mother gave hope to the hopeless, fed hungry babies when there was no milk and protected young people on quests. She said the Mother Goddess, in her Death Mask, took away the suffering of the dying, that She was compassionate, above all things. And it would be into Her arms we’d go when we died.
I spent much of my adulthood arrogantly decrying belief in anything spiritual, but it was my belief in atheism that ended up growing stale. Now I find a little, intermittent comfort in the Mother Goddess. I don’t think I have a problem with Jesus either, but I don’t like what is done in his name plus the whole literal interpretation of the Bible thing is ridiculous. Oh and the exclusivity of Christianity does not work for me since I’m inclusive by nature. OK, well and there’s the Father, Son and Holy Ghost deal which seems clearly way too male. And the He Died For Your Sins part, which has never made any sense to me. Neither does original sin. Ever see a baby? Babies are sinless. No such thing as original sin. I guess I have a ton of problems with Christianity after all. Oh and I really hate those bullshit Purity Balls where young girls promise their dads their hymen will go only to their future husbands. Seems a little creepy. Will dad want to see the bloody sheet on her wedding night? Should a dad be that involved in a young girl’s genitalia? But I take comfort in the reports that these Christian teens have a lot of sex anyway, while wearing those ridiculous purity rings (and hopefully condoms). OK, so I wouldn’t make a good Christian. Good to know.
Now when I hear of tragedies, of friends dying without warning, of hearts broken needlessly and of wars without end, I light a Virgin of Guadalupe candle. They burn for about 7 days. I say a prayer to the Mother Goddess to please enfold the suffering in Her arms and smother them with compassion. I find in these small, whispered prayers over a lighted candle comfort, like a tiny, graceful breeze on a hot day. And I always remember my Mother when I do it.