Untie the Strong Woman!!! (Pt1)

Go To:  Untie the Strong Woman!! – Part II


Author: Clarissa Pinkola Estes Ph.D , Publisher:  Sounds True, 2013, Paperback392 pages, ISBN-10 : 1622030729, ISBN-13 : 978-1622030729

International Women’s Day 2018

The International Women’s Day website informs its readers; “With the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away – there has never been a more important time to keep motivated and #PressforProgress. And with global activism for women’s equality fuelled by movements like #MeToo#TimesUp [and more]” where women from around the world shared their stories of sexual harassment – “there is a strong global momentum striving for gender parity.”

Today, feminism rightfully calls for the end of the male domination, abuse and equal rights for women. Much could be written about uses and abuses of women’s sensory nature and how she and others either stoke the fire against its natural rhythms or try to douse it in its entirety.  In this two-part discussion I will argue and put forth the idea that we are not so much as fighting against male the “gender” but instead male the “energy” that’s taken to a negative extreme.

International Women’s Day March, 2018, Toronto, ON

Women embody the same destructive spirit as men do, and as we shall soon see, we inflict harm upon our sisters, our mothers and daughters, in some cases just as much as the man.  We are fighting against an aggression that is usually engendered within men.  Masculine energy is linear, active, disciplined, order, formulaic, mathematical, robotic, and unsympathetic with no feelings at all.  Here, and throughout this two-part article, I will begin to invoke the succinct words of our goddess Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, “Women have experienced harsh judgments about body acceptability through what we call patriarchy in religion, economics and government to the extent that we have created “a nation of hunched-over tall girls, short women on stilts, women of size dressed as though in morning, very slender women trying to puff themselves like adders, and various other women in hiding.

[This] destroys a women’s instinctive affiliation with her natural body cheats her of confidence.  It causes her to perseverate about whether she is a good person or not, and bases her self-worth on how she looks instead of who she is.  It pressures her to use up her energy worrying about how much food she consumes or the readings on the scale and the tape measure.  It keeps her preoccupied, colors everything she does, plans and anticipates.  It is unthinkable in the instinctive world that a woman should live preoccupied by appearance this way.” On the other side we have feminine, matriarchal qualities of “receptivity” (vs masculine being “active”) of empathy and compassion. What we are striving to find, as we always are when speaking of masculine/feminine energies, is an “active-receptivity”, which is the ultimate balance of these two energies that enables one to be adaptive (receptive) while moving forward (active).

“If she [a woman] is taught to hate her own body, how can she love her mother’s body that has the same configuration as hers? – Her grandmother’s body, the bodies of her daughters as well?  How can she love the bodies of other women (and men) close to her who have inherited the bodies of their ancestors?  To attack a woman thusly destroys her rightful pride of affiliation with her own people and robs her of the natural lilt she feels in her body no matter what heights, size, shape she is.  In essence, the attack on women’s bodies is a far-reaching attack on the ones who have gone before her as well as the ones who will come after her.”  When we start to see this aggression as an energy, rather than gender, perhaps we will find new ways to find that balance between aggression and compassion.

To tackle the problem of sexual harassment and violence against women requires us to attack the mythic justification of such violence.  To do so, we will need to look behind the curtain, going back in time, examining historical texts to understand the root of the gender distortions that we face today.  Let’s begin with Genesis 1:27 which says that “…in the image of God he created the; male and female he created them.”  This leads us to believe that the masculine and feminine principle was created and intended to be equal – two halves of one whole.  But somewhere in our history books there was a split and the masculine overpowered the feminine.  When we search further and examine historical texts that predate the Hebrew Scriptures, we find the same theme of equality and again the feminine is overpowered by the masculine.  The historical text I am referring to is the oldest creation story the Enuma Elish myth; a myth rooted in Sumerian text retold and authored by the Babylonian Akkadians during the 22nd and 23rd century B.C.E.

Myths in Ancient Times

Myths have the ability to shape the belief of a person and a society.  In the book, “Discourse and the Construction of Society”, Bruce Lincoln makes a comparative study of myth, ritual and classification to describe how ancestral invocations can be used to shape and mobilize a society. Because myths can have so much power over people, they have often been used as a function for social ideology.

The Enuma Elish myth demonstrates how myths function to explain where the world came from, why things are the way they are and suggests what the female role is to man. It also suggests that social order is patterned after the order of the sacred where we find the subordination of women by male warriors.  It sends a message to women that femaleness is defined as chaotic, disorderly and threatening that needs be controlled and serves as a warning to women not to explore her own resources and exert her own power.  If a woman does then there will surely be a Marduk to strike her down, dismember and strip her of her powers.

Mesopotamia is the oldest known civilization and much of its religious beliefs and practices are rooted in civilizations that followed.   Thus the Enuma Elish myth became an authoritative narrative baring the “status of paradigmatic truth.”  It is here where Lincoln suggests that:

…myth is not just a coding device in which important information is conveyed, on the basis of which actors can then construct society.  It is also a discursive act through which actors evoke the sentiments out of which society is actively constructed.

The Enuma Elish myth is generally viewed as a prototype for many later patriarchal cosmogonies thus becoming “a model of and a model for” the generations that followed. Take the Hebrew Scriptures as an example following this template of female subordination.  There are striking similarities of the Enuma Elish myth in the creation story found in Genesis.  Darkness, chaos and watery matter until a (male) god decide to create heaven and earth.

In the account of Genesis we find that the role of mother goddess that creates from parts of her is replaced by a god (male) who is separate from her and makes creation and establish order.  In fact there is no mention of a goddess being part of the creation process at all.  Here in the early chapters of Genesis it says, “…in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)  But when Lilith demanded equality with Adam and she spoke the ineffable name of god she flew away.  The authors assigned her terrible characteristics and then banished her from the scriptures and labeled her story-line as hearsay.  Again with Eve the Bible blatantly says that Eve’s punishment for her and her offspring, humankind, is to be dominated by man.  Or how about the Apostles attitude towards Mary Magdalene and her role minimized in the scriptures.

This mythic chaos/order theme functions as a story which is used to legitimate real violence: As myth, the Enuma Elish justifies first of all the political violence of Sumer-Akkadian kingdoms (represented by Marduk in the story) against indigenous peoples (represented by Tiamat and the threat of chaos).  Again, such violence is mythically justified as it is necessary to establish and preserve (hierarchical) order against the threat of chaos.

As the story establishes the chaos/order theme characteristic of Middle-Eastern myth, it thus works on the social and political level to legitimate “the patriarchal culture of violence”.  ….The mythic image of the female as essentially chaos agent is hence crucial if the story is to justify violence: the myth justifies male violence for the sake of “preserving order” (in the form of patriarchal/hierarchical kingship), over against the disorder threatened by the female as primordial chaos agent.

The prominence of this feminine-chaos, male-violence/order theme is seen throughout Western tradition and in contemporary culture. This patriarchal energy that subjugates the feminine acts as a template demonstrated through the three pillars of society; government (colonialism vs Indigenous), economics (money/commercialism vs trade) and religion (Christianity vs Pagan).  These dualities are strikingly apparent in colonialism’s treatment of the indigenous populations around the world.  Let us turn our attention to a point in recent Canadian history where an act of genocide was attempted, through sterilization of indigenous women, that surprisingly its story is relatively unknown to many.

An Act of [Modern Day] Genocide

In the book, An Act of Genocide: Canada’s Coerced Sterilization of First Nations Women, author Karen Stote writes about events that transpired 50-60 years ago, however, you will soon see not very much has changed for our First Nations women, in the way of providing adequate health care services that are culturally sensitive to indigenous peoples especially in resource development areas where health care services are already scarce.  For example, in remote resource development rich areas such as Northeastern British Columbia, here we find services are scare for the surrounding communities which created an even bigger challenge for indigenous communities where most services are not offered in their own language, a lack of interpreters, documentation and  forms not being translated into the languages spoken by Indigenous peoples.”

British Columbia was the second province to enact a Sexual Sterilization Act, in effect from 1933 to 1973.  The adoption of proposed interventions like sterilization served as a cost-effective public health solution allowing systemic explanations to be avoided, private interests to benefit and exploitative relations to continue.  The proportions of Aboriginal people sterilized by the Act rose steadily from 1939 onward and tripling from 1949 to 1959.  Despite the stipulation that consent be obtained, it was only sought in 17 percent of Aboriginal cases overall.

In 1951, an amendment was made to the Indian Act that increased the application of provincial laws to Indians.  This amendment included the first definition of a mentally incompetent Indian as one defined according to the laws of a province in which “he” resides.  In other words a mentally incompetent Indian was whatever any province deemed him or her to be.  Therefore, any provincial laws dealing with those defined as mentally incompetent could be applied to Aboriginal people.  This same amendment also stipulated that the property would pass to the minister of Indian Affairs to be sold, leased or disposed of in any way deemed fit by the minister.  For Indians living off reserve, property would pass to the province in which that person resided.  The increased application of provincial services to indigenous people also by default reduces the services the federal government needs to provide.  The material benefits gained by defining aboriginal people as mentally incompetent and any subsequent sterilization that might take place would be in keeping with the longstanding policy of acquiring Indian lands and reducing the number of those to whom the federal government has obligations.

“First Nations women today are telling stories detailing events that took place in Canada as recently as the 1960’s and 1970’s. She went on to contextualize them in reference to a larger, more compounded strategy of genocide on Canada’s First Nations’ families. Rather systematic in approach, attacks against Indigenous’ family structure and even more specifically, “Indigenous mothering”, have been methodically inflicted going back to the first contact. There are deep socio-cultural wounds from strategic attacks that pierced the most sacred parts of Indigenous life; this frightening history of oppression and abuse made the sterilization era all the more traumatic, in the context of Canada’s greater colonial grand strategy.

The physical element is itemized into five parts: killing members of the aforementioned group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to group members of the aforementioned group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to group members; “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”; “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”; and, “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The practices of coerced and forced sterilizations of Indigenous women – and men – must also be understood in the context of both what appears to be this large-scale appeal for genocidal impunity, and as well within the violations of basic “consent”. The American Bar Association outlines a complex set of standards regarding a ward of the system’s ability to give consent in terms of biomedical practices and research. Indigenous peoples in some contexts – trapped in the cyclical patterns of settler violence and imperialistic intrusion upon their lives and culture – especially historically, were definitively unable to give “legal consent”, even when consent was sought – be it under the most pretentious of terms considering Indigenous peoples were veritable prisoners of war at this point in Canada’s history.

The Woman Question

This [now] twenty-six year old woman is a mental defective who has shown promiscuous sexual behavior as a component of her erratic and disturbed mental condition…rehabilitation plans and her release from hospital without the benefit of an operation for sexual sterilization would undoubtedly result in illegitimate children who would run a grave risk of a mental order” ~ A Doctor’s recommendation

Women in the 19th century Western European societies were subordinated and experienced an inequality that was said to originate at the point when private property and the monogamous family appeared and mother rights ended.  The reconstruction of the role of some women in society began by granting them certain rights and influences.  The context of the struggle being waged by women at this time, were questions of what their proper place should be in society and what rights should  be accorded to them. This is also around the same time period where Simone De Beauvoir wrote her critically acclaimed book “The Second Sex” which is also known today as the ‘feminist’s’ bible; where she addresses the same question “what is a woman?” within the first chapter entitled “The Other”.   In time, Eugenics became the answer to the “woman question” and Eugenicists were prepared to go along with the fight for the “Women’s cause” to the extent that this would aid their “imperial project”.

The influence of the eugenics on feminism shaped the struggle being waged in the late 19th and early 20th century. For eugenicists, women were important to national progress.  Here it is, we have a group of woman harnessing the power of patriarchy to answer the question of motherhood and for those who created chaos by wishing to embark on another route other than motherhood.  These patriarchal women felt that as child bearers, women held the ability to produce future progeny and were viewed as either helping or hindering the forward march of civilization. Fearing a decrease in the birth rate due to their increased access to education, the pursuance of work outside the home and rising infant mortality rates, eugenicists sought to bring these women “back home” by enticing them to become crusaders to the eugenic cause.

Eugenicist also encouraged the reproduction of the “fit”, namely women of Anglo-Saxon, middle and upper class origin. “Mother of the Race” a socially responsible, moral and civilized woman who would shape the future of the race through “child raising” and “civilizing” others.  Moron girl”: “immoral” and “uncivilized” girl, a biological threat to the health and advancement of the race.    These women began to view themselves as “scientific experts” and “mothers of the race” thus becoming the driving force behind a movement of what became to be known as the “Scientific Sexual Reform”.

Scholar Cecily Devereux highlights that Indians were considered the least desirable non-British group by eugenicists like James Shaver Woodsworth who was heavily involved in West in the missionary work and believed the presence of Aboriginal people should be erased from the landscape. James Shaver Woodsworth, first leader of Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), known today as the New Democratic Party (NDP) and author of “In Strangers within Our Gates”, in 1909 he wrote:

“ there are still 10, 202 Indians in our Dominion, as grossly pagan as were their ancestors, or still more wretched, half civilized, only to be debauched…It is our duty to set him on his feet, and sever forever the ties that bind him either to his tribe or the Government.  Both Church and state should have, as final goal, the destruction and end of treaty and reservation life.” [An Act of Genocide]

One hardly knows whether to take the Indian as a problem, a nuisance or a possibility…the questions is solving itself.  A few years hence there will be no Indians.  They will only exist for posterity only in waxwork figures and in a few scant pages of history.” ~ Emily Murphy, Famous Five

Nellie McClung, Famous Five, worked with James Shaver Woodworth for many years writing pamphlets for the Methodist and the United Church Mission Services with which Woodsworth was involved.  McClung sought to “conquer these Poisons” (TB, alcohol use and the sexual immorality of some women) by training “uncivilized” women, including immigrant, impoverished and aboriginal mothers, in the arts of “mothercraft”; how to breastfeed and bottle-feed and in what constitutes good hygiene and proper food preparation.  In spite of her belief that assimilation represented a cure for “Indianness” in other cases, McClung saw the need for more direct eugenic interventions and she actively promoted sexual sterilization.

Caleb Saleeby an ardent eugenicist and obstetrical doctor in the 20th century Britain denounced “aberrant women” or those who refused both motherhood and “foster-motherhood” profession in favor of other employment.  Only women who were willing to undertake their proper role as “mother of the race” should be granted rights and privileges”.  Karl Pearson saw the role of women primarily as one of reproduction and any rights accorded should be tailored to that role exclusively.  More than this, the “Civilizing” work done by some women was needed to aid in forming the nation and colonizing other peoples.  As we will soon see, the reform provided material incentives for some to turn against others and, at the same time, reproduced the existing relations of colonialism and capitalist patriarchal oppression that still exists today.

Emily Murphy, Famous Five, at the same time argued for increased rights for some lobbying for increased state intervention to curtail the liberties of others.  Murphy was a key stimulator of public support for the Sexual Sterilization Acts in both Alberta and BC. Her role as the first female Magistrate court Judge, Murphy is to have said to have dispensed a “moral justice” and her “women’s court” has been referred to as a “clearing house for the unfit” because she often argued that the women passing before her should be sterilized rather than incarcerated for their crimes.

Murphy viewed sterilization as a useful means of protecting women and child from sexual attack, of ending the crippling expense of incarceration, and of promoting the mental and physical betterment of the race.  …social purity and moral reform movements in Canada in their effort to rescue “fallen women” employed this rhetoric in their activism.  As a result they were able to legitimize their reform work aimed at regulating family life, and to provide a new and scientific importance to the work conducted by women at home.

Fit to be Tied

Patient is a mentally defective Indian girl who has always been incorrigible, wild, undisciplined and promiscuous…Sterilization is therefore strongly recommended to prevent patient from having illegitimate children which the community would have to be for and for who it would be very difficult to find foster homes.” ~ A Doctor’s recommendation

From the women’s question, the support of eugenics and feminists the events that ensued consists a history of Canadian state medical and philanthropic organizations subjecting aboriginal peoples to practices and policies there by and large, they did not ask for or need, and for which they have yet to be compensated.  In this sense, the history dealt with here is very much a Canadian history that Indigenous people have absolutely resisted, adopted and survived in the face of policies and practices. One begs to ask the question; why target the indigenous women?

Indigenous women were not the only targets for sterilization; immigrant, racialized, prostitutes and the poor often became targets of these barbaric practices.  There was a general concern for the society at large; these women already posed a strain in the economic fabric in the communities in which they lived, it was feared that having offspring would create a heavier strain on the system with inadequate foster homes to care for the young. As such both eugenics and the gains sought by feminists who advocated this ideology were based on the control of female reproduction; reproduction for the future of the race for some and the denial of the ability to reproduce for others.

Salvation Army and National Council of Women all advanced arguments steeped in evolutionary theory and all gave prominence to “scientific” experts in spite of the heavy religious influence on these groups. It is here where one can observe the principle of chaos/violent-order paradigm transpiring right in front of our very own eyes.  Energy that was otherwise difficult to control, because there are so many, needed to be subdued.  Prostitutes, “loose women” and the “feebleminded” bore primary responsibility for the breakdown of the family and the spread of public health concerns.  Promiscuity, venereal disease, and pregnancy were often pathologicalized and women and girls were presumed to be suffering individual, psychological or psychiatric maladjustment” if they engaged in premarital sex, had more than one sexual partner or gave birth to illegitimate children.  Eugenics feminism argued “freedom” only for those who demonstrated the “fitness” to use this “freedom” appropriately.  Through the work of these reformers, and later through the influence of the medical, psychological and social work professions, a juvenile and criminal justice system was created with very clear gender, class and racial biases and it was assumed those at the bottom of the social latter were more promiscuous.

In the, “Second Sex” Simone deBeauvoir speaks about the “otherness” of women observing that at their most basic level women were defined by their ability to reproduce.  Perhaps influenced by the times in which deBeauvoir lived in since this sentiment was also shared both by eugenics ideology and by some feminists. The fear of “feebleminded” and “loose” women reproducing children of their own kind played a role in sterilization decisions.  But in reality, the primary reason for the sexual sterilization of women, according to the author, appears to be due to their [chaotic, disorderly and threatening] non-conformity to socially defined roles.   Sterilization in BC also served a political and economic function and was considered a solution to increased urbanization and the resulting high rates of poverty, crime, unemployment and overcrowding in institutions.  Angus Mclean states that the primary argument given in defense of sterilization in BC was that the prevention of mental deficiency and its accompanying evils was an economic necessity.  Sterilization would reduce the institutional cost of caring for the feebleminded by limiting their reproduction and allowing patients to be released without posing a further threat to society.

For Aboriginal women it’s a little different, the main argument is that the consistent undermining of their reproductive lives through policies and practices like coercive sterilization has been part of a long standing attack against Indigenous ways of life. In an effort to reduce those to whom the federal government has obligations, and in order to gain access to lands and resources, coercive sterilization should not be viewed in isolation from the large context in which it has taken place just as other policies such as residential schools cannot be separated from the larger purposes they have served or their effect which continue to be felt today.

We collectively, find that we are often in the role of the prey, to a predator, society, whether for sexual discrimination, exploitation, sterilization, absence of control over our bodies or being the subjects of repressive laws and legislation in which we have no voice.  This occurs on an individual level but equally, and more significantly on a societal level.  It is also critical to the point out at this time, that most matrilineal societies, societies in which governance and decision making are largely controlled by women, have been obliterated from the face of the Earth by colonialism.  The only matrilineal societies which exist in the world today are those of Indigenous nations.  We are the remaining matrilineal societies, yet we also face obliteration.” ~ Winona LaDuka, Environmental and Political Activists

Through an alliance of feminism and eugenics, racism and sexism also merged.  Racism begins with the need of one people to exploit and the development of an ideology to justify this exploitation.  Eugenics and its inherent racism was an ideology that obscured the material reason for social inequalities and allowed those who advocated its proposed interventions to benefit from the disparities created by and required for the advancement of capitalism. As a solution to the subordination of women in this toll, some feminists, through the use of the very ideologies employed to oppress them, turned this oppression into a maternal duty with very real racist implications.  Sexism, which imposed economic dependency upon superior women, could be used and was used to implement racism by excluding many women from the relative benefits granted to desirable mothers and children and forcing them to accept the lowest paid jobs in the labor market hierarchy in order to survive. Gisela Bock argues that racism and sexism concerned all women the “inferior” and “superior”.

Lelaini Muir

”To malign or judge a women’s inherited physicality is to make generation after generation of anxious and neurotic women.  To make destructive and exclusionary judgments about a woman’s inherited form, robs her of several critical and precious psychological and spiritual treasures.  It robs her of pride in the body type that was given to her by her own ancestral lines. If she is taught to revile this body inheritance, she is immediately slashed away from her female body identity with the rest of the family.”

Leilani Muir made history suing Alberta over forced sterilization. Photo: Leilani Muir is shown with her files that detail her sterilization at 14 years of age.

Leilani Muir made history suing Alberta over forced sterilization. Raised by an abusive mother, wrongly diagnosed as a “moron,” then subjected to the forced removal of her fallopian tubes, Leilani O’Malley endured a life of pain, stigma and humiliation but eventually regained her dignity in a landmark lawsuit that exposed a dark chapter in Alberta’s history.

What made Leilani important to Canadian history was that she was unwilling to have any settlements or court hearings to be secret or confidential. So Leilani’s gift to other eugenics survivors and to the history of Alberta was that she made her case public in the face of intense scrutiny. “Nobody has the right to play God with other people’s lives. Nobody,” she told the court. She won her litigation in 1996 and was awarded $740,000, opening the door to financial settlements for hundreds of other survivors.

After her court victory, she changed her family name to O’Malley, to mark a break with her past. One of her closest friends, Ms. Fairbrother, said. “It was a rebirth for her.”  The woman once labeled as a mentally defective troublemaker turned out to be a witty, articulate public speaker. Nevertheless, Ms. O’Malley kept busy as a human-rights advocate and found time to run as a New Democratic Party candidate for a seat in the Alberta legislature. She also helped with the creation of the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada, a comprehensive academic records collection on the policy that had marked her life.

Untie the Strong Woman!!!!

The goddess, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, makes reference to an illustrated novel by Jonathan Swift that carried a picture of Gulliver, the traveler, pinioned to the ground:

“Gulliver had become a quasi-prisoner of the Lilliputians, a tiny people only 6 inches high. They critiqued Gulliver, among other things, for being in several ways “too big.” So, they tied him crisscross over all his limbs, and took him down with ropes then wrapped around brass nails and driven into pallet and ground.

The tiny Lilliputians stood on Gulliver’s chest and felt they had tied down the leviathan, the behemoth. But Gulliver just simply sat up … and all his bonds burst, and all the tiny Lilliputians fell off, tumbling into the grass. The giant lumbered off with the trivial rope-strings trailing behind. The Lilliputians shook their heads — as usual — trying to make sense of the Gulliver figure that was, in form, similar to themselves in body … but in an entirely other way, so very unlike themselves.”

I think many can understand this push to pare down the numinous, the unfamiliar, and the unknown. What is truly divine mystery can be overwhelming at first. Yet it would seem in a culture that likes to minimize true magnitude of talents, for instance … and to magnify the minimus, “the little man,” that is, the flimsiness or meanness or not well- formed qualities of matters … that it is not only our calling, but our troth, our sacred promise given from the very first moment we ever saw the soul be assaulted in anyone, by anyone to… Rise Up! all those who find themselves bound in frivolous ideology and sheer stupidity of others, break these chains…untie the Strong Woman!

Untie the First Nations Women!

Untie the Inuit Women!

Untie the Metis Women!

Untie the Aboriginal Women!

Untie the Black Woman, the Chinese, the Spanish and of all nationalities!

Untie the Pagan Woman!

Untie the Christian Woman!

Untie the Queer Woman!

Untie the lewd Woman!

Untie the quiet Woman!

Untie the disabled Woman!

The world is calling for their strength, their wisdom and knowledge

Untie our Strong Women!!!

Untie them Now!!!!

And forever.

Go To:  Untie the Strong Woman!! – Part II