Sunday, June 28, 2015

Arguments For Why Men Are Marginalized In The Pagan Community (And Why They're Bullshit)

As a Pagan who often works within a men's/masculine mysteries framework, I follow a select few Facebook discussion groups for other Pagan men who work within men's/masculine mysteries frameworks. I am not a member to hate-read, but occasionally it kind of feels like I am.

A recent discussion started with a question that is eerily common in sentiment in the Pagan community.  Paraphrased, it went something like this: "How do you deal with the man-hating that predominates Wicca, as it feels I cannot do anything right due to my XY makeup."  I'll mention that the discussion itself afterward wasn't that bad, with some reasonably good talk of distinguishing call-outs of male privilege from "man-hating," and most of the discussion about groups and Pagans that really are pretty solidly anti-man are focusing more on the connection of these groups with transphobia and transmisogyny which is a pleasant surprise (on an aside, don't refer to your maleness in terms of "XY," for fuck's sake).  But I think this is an important topic to make open, because it's something I've often had to deal with in Pagan settings.  I'm going to expand this beyond Wicca, although due to demographics most of what I'm talking about will at least be connected to Wicca.

When men talk about the feeling of being left out or "marginalized" in Pagan spaces, there are some common pieces of "evidence" I hear that I'd like to talk about... and why they're not evidence at all.

1. "Dianics don't allow men!"

"Dianic" has become almost synonymous with Pagan covens that exclude men and trans women from membership.  This isn't entirely accurate, though.  Not all exclusionary groups use the term "Dianic," nor do all groups using the term "Dianic" exclude either men or trans women.  For now I'll focus on exclusionary Pagan groups.  Although there is absolutely no good excuse for excluding trans women from a women's group that couldn't also be used to exclude many cis women, the idea that it's "marginalizing" or "oppressing" men to exclude us from some Pagan groups is wildly ludicrous.

There are a couple things to remember, here.  First, woman-only groups aren't that common; in fact, many women are uncomfortable with the concept and wouldn't touch groups like this with even the longest of ceremonial wands, especially those for whom gender balance is fundamentally important to the way they practice their religion.  Several have actually been led to believe that woman-only groups are sexist against men, and choose not to involve themselves for that reason.  "Wicca/Witchcraft is about gender balance!" is an extremely common belief in our community, therefore, woman-only groups are not nearly as common as people assume.

Barring that, though, woman-only groups are still not oppressive to men, because men are welcome practically everywhere else in the Pagan community... and actually, the free-loving atmosphere the Pagan community gives to Pagan men can be a pretty goddamn toxic experience for Pagan women.  I know I've talked before about the sexual harassment I've seen women receive at clothing-optional events if they decide to go nude, with obnoxious Pagan dudes thanking and praising them for being naked as if they do it for our enjoyment.  Although not all Pagan women desire time away from men, it's reasonable that many do or would even choose to worship separately from us to get away from that toxic environment.

Finally, there are groups in existence that do not allow women.  Some of them are men's groups by design (which people could easily find or create if they weren't so busy complaining about women's groups).  Others are so invested in having a 50/50 balance of men and women in their group that they wind up actively barring women from membership in one of the many regions Pagan women significantly outnumber Pagan men.

2. "There are so many more women than men in the community!"

One of the problems that arose with the use of the word "minority" to represent a group of oppressed people is the assumption that when the tables have numerically turned it automatically means the oppressed is now the oppressor and vice versa.  The problem is that you can't take a privileged person, plop them in a group where there is a numeric majority of an oppressed group of people, and have that dynamic magically flip, even if that dynamic is flipped for an extended period of time.  A white person who goes to a conference frequented by people of color doesn't magically become oppressed for the day, a straight ally at a gay bar still has straight privilege, and Pagan men are still men--with all the privilege that entitles us--even if there are many fewer of us in the community than there are women.

3. "There are Pagan women who legitimately hate men!"

OK, maybe there are women who hate men for ridiculous reasons, lack nuance when it comes to privilege between different groups of men, and/or have even actively harmed some Pagan men.  This isn't indicative of a trend, though.  Most women don't hate men, feminist or not, Pagan or not, Wiccan or not.  It's not a problem that should concern us.

Furthermore, I think it's important to separate the mere emotion of hatred with actual oppression.  There are women out there who actually do hate men, and they're still not oppressing us.  They don't have the institutional power to do that, so their feelings about us are pretty much just that:  Feelings.  And unless they're actively violent (which, believe it or not, isn't exactly a huge trend), the only thing they're hurting in us is... again, feelings.  And it's OK to have your feelings hurt, but at least recognize that that's what's going on and not institutional oppression.

4. "There's so much more emphasis put on the Goddess/Goddesses than the God/Gods!"

What Gods and Goddesses people worship are their own business.  You have every ability if you so desire to worship only The God or a set of male Gods and it won't make you any less Pagan than somebody who worships The God/Gods and The Goddess/Goddesses equally.  On a personal level, the Deities I worship most often include three Gods and one Goddess (add in Deities I worship sporadically and it's more equal, but I mostly worship Gods and have gotten embarrassingly little flack about it from Pagans).

But I'm going to take this one a bit further... the drive to emphasize The Goddess/Goddesses is one that has more to do with a reactionary response to Christian oppression of religious minorities than it does some imaginary misandry.  What I mean is that so many people come into Pagan religions because they cannot fully identify with the Christian God, and coming from that environment they tend to latch more closely onto The Goddess or Goddesses instead.  And you know what?  That's actually great.  One of the biggest benefits of polytheism is that you can worship Deities who you personally identify with, whereas in monotheism if you don't identify with the God that's been chosen for you you're pretty much screwed.  For many people pretty much all Gods fit that bill... that's their business and not indicative of anti-male oppression.

5. "There aren't enough books for Pagan men out there."

Oh, you really think that, huh?   If you are interested in spirituality directed specifically toward Pagan men, there are books out there by Christopher Penczak, Michael Thomas Ford, A.J. Drew, Alan Richardson, Dagonet Dewr, Robert Moore, Isaac Bonewits, Dancing Rabbit, and several others that either that deal with men's mysteries, men's Paganism, the sacred masculine, and related topics.  The point is, there are plenty of resources out there, people just choose not to look for them because they'd rather complain that women get all the press.

By contrast, it's actually harder to find newer books directed specifically at Pagan women.  Books available tend to be older and are often baldly transmisogynistic.  Many of the available books are entirely based on one or a few aspects of assumed-female biology... especially books dedicated to menstruation or childbirth, which is both cissexist and exclusive of many women who have some sort of disability or preference that prevents them from going through these (on a related note, men's mysteries books are more likely to focus on archetypes and roles, about half of the ones I personally own are explicitly trans-inclusive).  There are plenty of books that emphasize Goddess and divine feminine, but they're less likely to be actually directed toward women, and many books that maybe should emphasize women try like hell not to to avoid offending whiny Pagan men.

But it's not a question of who has more resources.  An unfortunate reality is that really good Pagan books are really fucking hard to find across-the-board, and if we seriously want good books on Pagan men's spirituality we need to focus on that rather than assuming that all the good books are for women.  That's simply not true.

6. "I'm constantly afraid I'm going to offend a woman at an event!"

The solution to this is actually to stop saying and doing shitty things.  I'm sure there are unfair women at Pagan at events, but largely it's a case of Pagan men saying to Pagan women the same shitty things men say to women in other contexts and expecting to get away with it because they're coming into the community assuming it's a revival of a bunch of hippie free love shit (which, by the way, was already toxic to women in the sixties and seventies).

The point is, this is not a case of men being marginalized in the Pagan community, but of men being upset in one of the few cases where they're being told they cannot marginalize women.

In conclusion, although there are some cases where a man might feel left out or underrepresented, it's just not the case that we are marginalized in the community.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How Many Times Have I Told You Pope Francis Is A Bigot And You're All So Shocked Anyway

Alright, listen.  I know that my own personal multiple warnings about how Pope Francis I is a homophobe--who fought tooth and nail against same-sex marriage and adoption in Argentina, was lauded as somehow being non-homophobic despite doing jack shit to change any of the church's policies, said that same-sex relationships "disfigure" God's plan, and in fact there were plenty of times he said repulsive shit about queer people that I didn't mention because I'm fucking tired, like comparing trans people to nuclear weapons and ignorant comments about why trans people need to just accept our bodies--aren't exactly mainstream news material, and even most of my personal friends do not read what I write here.  But come on.

Right now--just like clockwork, honestly--I'm seeing waves of people who just learned that Pope Francis doesn't believe that same-sex parents love their children as much as opposite-sex parents, and they're all freaking out and crying about how shocking it is that their special little guy Francis would go and do such a thing.

But there's nothing goddamn shocking about it.  His behavior has been pretty consistent throughout his post so far:  Say some stuff that looks really progressive and friendly when you live in a dystopia, like that maybe we should protect the environment some more and maybe homelessness is bad and stuff, and people coo over him and drown out all the disgusting comments he's made about queer and trans people, and consistently so.  It doesn't matter that he made some token gestures saying that people shouldn't beat us up or entirely eject us from our families and churches, because "love the sinner, hate the sin" is not love at all when the thing you hate about somebody is integral to their core identity and existence.

Pope Francis is a bigot who is filled with hate, no matter how many of us he gives token hugs.  The fact that he is lauded so much for being slightly less awful than prior popes is nothing but a testament to the fact that liberal Catholics have insultingly low standards for who passes for progressive.  And you know, I know that this is a really ranty post, even for me, but it's one of those things where I'm just that appalled that I just sit here, jaw agape, over the fact that people are so suddenly sad over a thing that literally is not new news.  I want to go up to people and just shout "people have been trying to fucking warn you about this since this guy was selected, and yet all you could do was dance around imaginary daisies about how progressive he is by church standards because nobody wants to publish his shitty comments, just the minutely hippy ones."

But on the other hand, why don't people know this?  Are we just that lax on sharing the information we learn when it happens to be hurtful or might offend members of an oppressive majority faith?  I mean, it was in his fucking Wikipedia entry even.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why I Didn't Become A Professional Activist

So a while ago I went to a banquet as a university alumnus to be a keynote panel speaker on the subject of campus activism and how it affected my life and future activism.  There I was--a person who attempted to become a professional activist and wound up switching to a career where I have practically no opportunity to do any sort of wide-reaching activism at all--surrounded by people who are either professional activists or who had careers that were very focused on things like community betterment (things like running homeless shelters and LGBT youth programs, programs for uplifting people of color, abortion funds, etc.).  Most of us were contemporaries at said university, and after the program I mentioned I felt a little-out-of-place, like I was just some random computer guy stuck in the middle.  The reality is that I was extremely active on campus as an activist when I went there, and so it made perfect sense for them to invite me back.  I had a good time, but I do regret not elaborating perhaps a bit more about why I wound up not becoming a professional activist or at least something that would allow me more opportunity to better the world.

Here's the reality of the situation: I wound up caught in the young activist meat-grinder, one of many glowing and enthusiastic student activists who wound up working a shitty low-level canvassing job or some other shit job that helps make a nonprofit organization run.

Let me tell you a bit about this job, because it was a doozy:
  1. Eight hours of standing work begging people for money each work day.
  2. You were constantly worried about being fired if you didn't make a ridiculous quota every single one of those days, with long-term experienced employees often kicking in ten or fifteen bucks of their own money just to meet the quota and avoid getting canned.
  3. $6.25 an hour (at the time that was minimum wage, and they really tried hard to find excuses to pay less).
  4. There was "volunteer" work on weekends but if you weren't able to go people treated you like trash.
  5. People who quit due to the high-stress environment were just described by the managers as leaving because they just didn't care enough about "The Cause."  In fact, pretty much every problem a person had on the job was attributed to them just not caring enough about "The Cause."
I quit this job very rapidly and could not get hold of them to even ask about my final paycheck afterward (when I initially applied for the job they called me back within literally thirty seconds, but never got back to me about owed wages no matter how I tried contacting them).  I found out that this organization has a very deep history of chewing up enthusiastic activists and spitting them out shortly afterward, especially those who were in the same position as me, without the experience or skillset to get a more involved and better paying position among those few jobs available to aspiring professional activists.  They flood job boards oriented toward idealists, boasting that you can make money working "for progress."

This is the kind of job that only feels reasonable long-term to ascetic activists--those who are so dedicated to "The Cause" (or who want to look like they are) that they willingly forgo not only enough money to survive, but most of their free time and a good chunk of their dignity as well as they grovel on the streets for money.  I occasionally see them described as a "liberal sweatshop" in critiques of their methods, with the few overwhelmingly positive reviews of their workplace seemingly by the people I just mentioned who want the prestige of eating dry beans and rice for "The Cause,"with a few speckled throughout who just happened to be really damn good at getting people to donate.

I could have just switched gears and tried finding a better position, but I'll be honest:  This experience disillusioned the fuck out of me and changed the entire way I view professional activism.  I had all these idealistic beliefs coming out of college, all these experiences in campus activism, only to find that the only job available to me was this shit?  And that if I did get a better job there would be a good chance it was being funded by stressed-out low-wage workers?  Honestly I'm kind of surprised I didn't give up activism altogether.  For all I know I could have been two steps away from reverting back to Libertarian Teen Me back in the nineties.

So yeah... I'm still an activist.  I'm not as loud or flashy about it as I used to be and I definitely don't make money off of it.

One of the questions we were asked was how our careers facilitate our activism.  The implication seemed very directed toward professional activists, but for me--the computer guy who gave up on trying to get an idealistic job--the answer is as follows:  My career facilitates my activism because I cannot be an effective activist if I can't eat, pay my bills, and comfortably decompress.  It facilitates my activism because without it I would not have enough money to purchase books to donate, to print out literature, to drive to events, to donate to peoples' fundraisers, to buy Internet service to keep abreast of all the things happening in the world.  I don't need my job to be explicitly activist in order for it to facilitate my activism, and I encourage people who are interested in activism long-term but who may not have the personality to make it in the nonprofit sector (as I do not) to recognize that your activism is still valuable.

I do not, by the way, mean to disparage the work of organizations.  Not all of them contract out to startlingly unethical fundraising businesses, and they do a great deal of important work.  But there are many, many ways to be an activist.