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.