Don't Take It Lying Down
Life According to the Goddess
Dr Kaalii Cargill
We who live in technologically developed countries have entered the 21st Century with unparalleled access to information about every aspect of human life. I believe we have a responsibility to use this information to examine the overt and covert assumptions and belief systems by which we live, and to find a way to sustain human life on Earth into the next century and beyond.
My particular area of interest is reproductive autonomy, by which I mean the right of women to manage fertility in a choice filled, empowering way with respect for the life-giving power of the feminine. I have found that modern conventional contraceptive methods do not meet these criteria.
Don't Take It Lying Down invites you to reconsider the social, cultural, and religious beliefs that have shaped women's experience of birth control. This is closely linked to women's experience of how to be female in the world, and has profound implications for how we enter this New Era.
There are myriad ways in which people describe these first years of the 21st Century. The feminist movement is entering its 'third wave'(1), an era that some have begun to call "post feminism" (2). Women today have inherited the achievements and errors of the waves and changing tides of the last two hundred years of the determined fight for women's basic human rights, equality with men, and independence.
What exactly have we inherited? Women now have the right to possess property in their own names, engage in business, have access to educational and economic opportunities, be paid for their work, to vote, and participate politically in government. In technologically developed countries there are still issues about equal employment opportunity, equal pay, abortion rights, and child care (there are, of course, also even more basic human rights issues in many parts of the world). For all the gains of the classical feminist movements, there has, however, been a persistent disregard for the life-giving power of the feminine.
Although we are perilously close to finally losing the life-giving power of the feminine to the social, cultural and religious forces that have envied, attacked, denigrated, denied and abused it for thousands of years, it is still women who are equipped by Nature to give birth to human young, and to breastfeed them.
This is such an obvious fact that we have lost sight of the significance of it. In the classical feminist movement, the experiences of pregnancy, birthing and nurturing have not been given priority. On the contrary, these roles have often been seen to diminish women's power relative to men. As we will see, the origins of this attitude predate modern feminism by thousands of years.
Cultural historians and archaeologists have found evidence that, somewhere in our pre-history, men and women lived together in equality, in a social system where the life-giving power of the feminine was respected as the central fact of existence3. This did not elevate women to a position of dominance, but allowed men and women alike to recognise their interdependence with the life-giving power of Nature, resulting in a truly equalitarian society. As a reflection of this women were respected as life-givers, and pregnancy, birthing and nurturing were highly regarded.
Obviously something happened to change this. As well as the rise and fall of cultures over time, I imagine an interpersonal scenario unfolding in the day to day lives of our ancestors. In this scenario, men, driven by their envy of women's life-giving power aggrandised their own activities (like hunting lions) and diminished the importance of womenís life-giving activities (like giving birth, nurturing children, gathering and preparing food). As city states formed and grew in power, men turned their attention to governance, while women continued as the life-givers. I realise this is a simplistic picture of our historical socio-cultural development, but it highlights what I believe is the central issue for women in this New Era.
Women have now established that they can hunt lions or govern as well as men can, yet something is clearly not as it should be. Is it just that women are still not filling the top jobs at the same rate as men, or that women are still not receiving equal pay for equal work? While these are legitimate issues, I think our task now lies in a different direction. Rather than hunting lions I believe that women need to direct their attention to restoring the life-giving power of the feminine to its rightful place. This is not about elevating the feminine and denigrating the masculine. Nor is it about women giving up the ground that has been gained in the last forty years. It is about recognising that the current challenge is to change the fundamental disregard for women's life-giving power. In other words if we truly want equality, we need a revolution in how we think about being female.
The change is in the air. We only have to look to Dan Brownís The Da Vinci Code to see the popular fascination with the 'secret' of the Holy Grail as the life-giving feminine. It remains now to place this fascination in the right context. When we (both men and women) learn to value and respect the capacity of women to produce life from within their own bodies, we also learn to value and respect the natural world that sustains human life. Not only is respect for the life-giving power of the feminine central to truly equalitarian culture, it is also central to sustaining our environment.
This requires us to rethink the assumptions we have inherited from our long ago ancestors and our feminist mothers and grandmothers. The true work of reclaiming the power of the feminine is just beginning. We are now in a position to look back at what has happened and look forward to what comes next.
When we look back to the 20th Century we can see that one of the battle grounds of the feminist movement has been women's reproductive role: just because we are built for it, does not mean we have to do it, or that it is the only thing we can do.
Of course that is true! But, in the struggle to free ourselves from the biological imperative to reproduce the species, we have almost ceded victory to the socio-cultural forces that deny the life-giving power of the feminine. Despite all that has been gained for women in the last forty years, it seems that our feminist sisters and mothers were tricked into adopting an oppositional stance to this aspect of their feminine ground. As a result, we have been blind to the insidious determination of scientific rationalism to eradicate women's access to their life-giving power.
I am not suggesting that there are secret groups of scientists plotting to take over the life-giving power of the feminine. I am suggesting that all of us, men, women, scientists and the general public, have accepted the claims of scientific rationalism that deny the central importance of the life-giving power.
One example of this is the widespread use of the contraceptive Pill. So important has it become that we refer to it as 'the Pill', although there are thousands of other oral pill shaped medications on the market. Nearly fifty years since it was first used in Puerto Rico in 1956, there are 100 million women worldwide using the Pill4, relying on medical science to manage their fertility. The sexual revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, with the easy availability of the Pill, seemed like a good idea at the time. We handed it over gratefully, thankful to be relieved of the 'curse' or the burden of our fertility.
The problem with this lies in the understanding that there is a fundamental relationship between the way in which a culture treats Nature and treats females. Science and technology have worked to tame, harness, and manage Nature, adopting a standpoint outside the natural world rather than as an intrinsic part of it. Eco-feminism is very clear that there is a strong link between the denigration of nature and the denigration of the female in Western cultures5. I believe that there is a profound link between the cultural disregard of women's traditional wisdom over the last 3000 years and the experience that many women report of feeling controlled and disempowered through their use of conventional methods of birth control6. As wondrous as they can be, the discoveries of rational science are no substitute for the age-old wisdom of women's ways.We are at a crucial turning of the tide, where we have an opportunity to reevaluate how we have lived and how we will live in the future.
Let us start right at the beginning. Hebrew myth tells the story of Adam's first wife, Lilith, who was also created from the earth. When Lilith refused to assume the missionary position, Adam tried to force her. Lilith uttered the name of God and left the Garden. Some say that she returned in the form of the serpent and offered Eve the apple. The rest is his-story. This book offers another bite of that apple by telling part of her-story, the story of women's life-giving power, lost and found. It is an invitation to reconsider what we have been taught as truth, and to understand just how relative to time and place our version of truth is. This particular bite of the apple offers knowledge about reproductive autonomy from Lilith's perspective. What happens when women claim true reproductive autonomy? What happens if we don't take it lying down?
If we don't take it lying down, we discover a way of being that brings choice, power and control into our lives personally and collectively. I am writing about a philosophical stance that asks for a revisioning of how we view ourselves and our place in Nature. I am also writing about a specific approach to birth control that challenges the assumptions of the current world view, an approach that asks women to reconsider not only their method of contraception but also the way in which we walk in the world. I am also writing about the shift of consciousness that needs to happen for humankind to survive into the future. These all belong together. It is through attending to the specific and personal that we can begin to address the momentous, collective change that is required of us.
I have included information from mythology, anthropology, psychology, and psychobiology that takes you on a journey to awaken and stimulate your relationship with the intrinsic power of the feminine to claim reproductive autonomy. There are also personal stories from the many women I have interviewed about birth control, a reminder that this book is fundamentally about women's stories, women's lives. About your story, your life. Even if you choose not to change the way you practice birth control, the material in this book invites you to change the way you experience yourself as a woman in today's world.
We in the 21st Century are reaping the results of seeds of destruction sown over two thousand years ago. In the last thirty years there has been a gradual recognition of the serious environmental issues that threaten human survival, but there is still widespread ignorance of the underlying attitudes to Nature that contribute to the problem. In the modern world, Nature is regarded as separate from human beings rather than as the matrix of which we are a part. It has been pointed out that Earth itself can survive our depredations; it is the human race that may not survive.
One of the strongest links we still have to Nature is through the life-giving power of the feminine. Women still give life through their bodies. This is so obvious that we forget the magic of it. Despite the determined attempts of science to make it so, life does not yet come through men's bodies, test tubes, or incubators. Life still comes into being through women's bodies. Despite contraceptive chemicals and more than two thousand years of negative conditioning, womenís bodies still respond to the cycles of the moon, to the rhythms of Nature. The ancient magic of the life-giving power of the feminine is still alive.
Take a moment to really consider this extraordinary fact. Women have always been able to do something that men cannot do; grow and bring forth new life from their bodies. The fact that we take this for granted and even see it as a burden women must bear, or a biological destiny they must avoid, represents a terrible loss of power. Women are the life-givers. This is a sacred task. Today, we are on the threshold of losing this. To science and technology. To the misinformation of a patriarchal culture that denigrates Nature. To our own ignorance and complacency. We are facing one of the greatest threats since the transition from matrifocal to patriarchal cultural systems that began thousands of years ago.
This book has the potential to change your life. As you read it, I invite you to engage the personal tasks so that this work comes alive for you. The practices offered here will reconnect you to feminine wisdom as it manifests in the mindbody system. On the way to learning to manage your fertility from the inside, you will learn to attend deeply to your inner world, reclaiming that which has been lost. You will discover a tapestry of historical events, mythological, philosophical, scientific and personal understandings that raise some challenging questions about how you perceive the world. Don't Take It Lying Down invites you to discover, through your own embodied experience, a new way of perceiving life. This book is a guide to a process that I hope you can take up and make your own in the ways that work for you.
Current research in Quantum physics and related fields tells us that mind and matter are profoundly interconnected. Mindbody birth control is a very practical example of this interconnection. However, I cannot stress strongly enough that the whole practice is not just mind over matter. I believe that it is profoundly important that the discoveries of modern science are understood as a demonstration of the interdependence of mind and matter. There is tendency for 'New Age' philosophies to use the findings of Quantum physics to 'prove' that we can create our own reality, that we can determine what happens in our lives through the power of thought. This is just another way of saying, "I think, therefore I am", the famous statement separating mind from matter. It is imperative that we move beyond this simplistic interpretation to recognise the inseparability of mind and body, and our profound interconnection with Nature.
What a practice like mindbody birth control does teach is a way to manage fertility from within. It involves an immersion in the relationship between mind and body, psyche and matter, that also extends to managing our internal states so that we can live life more consciously, with more sense of personal power, choice and control. Our task is not to impose our will on the material world, on Nature, but to learn to manage our own mindbody systems so that we live creative, fulfilling lives with respect for ourselves, each other and the Earth.
The relationship between mind and matter has taken many twists and turns since the beginning of time. The story of what has happened to women and womenís reproductive autonomy throughout the ages is a vital part of this. We are at the threshold of another revolution and have an opportunity to participate in what may be a crucial turning for the continuance of life on Earth. How each of us approaches this relationship will impact on the Earth, the original matter... mater ... mother of us all.
References and Notes
Feminism arose in response to the traditional view of women as inferior to men physically and intellectually. Since the first feminist document was written in 1792 (Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women), women have been proving that they are not inferior to men by owning property, engaging in business and politics, voting, and earning equal pay (amongst other many and varied achievements). Theorists have divided feminism into three ëwavesí. First wave refers to the feminist movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with their emphasis on inclusiveness and absolute rights for women, such as voting. Second wave refers to the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which was more concerned with independence, using political action to achieve womenís rights. Second wave feminism acknowledged biological sex differences but challenged social and cultural factors that determine rigid models of gender. Third wave feminism, which began in the nineties, emphasises gender as a construct, so that sex differences are seen solely as the product of enculturation and conditioning. Postfeminism is a relatively new term that seems to have a whole range of meanings. It can imply a disillusionment with second wave feminist ideals and achievements, or perhaps express the hope or fear that the era of feminism is over. It can also refer to the third wave emphasis on deconstructing earlier feminist theories. For basic definitions see
Y King (1998). Feminism and Feminisms: Ecofeminism in W Mankiller et al. (Eds.), The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History. New York, Houghton Mifflin Co. See also
R Eisler, 1988, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History. Our Future, San Francisco , Harper & Row. See also Dr Eisler has written and lectured extensively on partnership principles, a vision for a society that is unstratified and equalitarian with no marked distinctions based on either class or sex.
M Gimbutas,1982, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe : 6500-3500 BC, Myths and Cult Images, London, Thames & Hudson Ltd.
Contraception - the contraceptive pill. See also
C Spretnak, 1993, Critical and constructive contributions of eco feminism, in P Tucker & E Grim, eds., Worldview and Ecology, Philadelphia, PA, Bucknell Press, pp. 181-189.
HK Cargill,1999, A Phenomenological Investigation of a Psychobiological Method of Birth Control, Doctoral thesis held at Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia. Includes interviews with Australian women practising mindbody birth control.