The Susan Rayner Column

Being a woman is a multi dimensional experience dependent on the era, location, culture, class and ethnicity we are born into.  There is no one size fits all description. We come in different shapes, sizes, colours, textures. It sounds as if I am writing about a woman as an object, like an ornament.  And being my words, that says something about how I have internalised a pre-conditioned view of woman-as-object and not subject. She has been the muse of art, sculpture, song lyrics, poems, fashions and psychological speculation for centuries and is often depicted lying down, either naked or partially clothed.  The truth is that women are much deeper than her appearance suggests.

Retrospectively, for millennia a woman was viewed as a divine being in many cultures.  We know from archaeological findings that a woman’s body held sacred powers of fertility, birth, death and sexuality. She was worshipped in ancient cult religions as a goddess, as the Great Mother, as Mother Earth. She was called Venus, Aphrodite, Astarte, Asherah, Isis, Shakti and numerous other names.  She was venerated as the divine feminine power operating in the universe. She usually had a male counterpart and was part of a pantheon of gods and goddesses. At one time, consciousness included a recognition of the female as being the originator of human life inside her womb.  With the publication of the Old Testament and Bhagavad Gita, feminine power was relegated to secondary status. The texts introduced Adam and Krishna as the sole male ancestors of human life on Earth. They both begin a male lineage. The female’s spiritual, creative and physical power was quelled, gradually.  Today she remains dormant in religious consciousness but is never completely vanquished. In every faith she is a hidden presence.  

Science tells a different story. As evolution reveals the gradual development of male and female bipeds emerging from now extinct species of vertebrates.  We began as simple single celled life in the sea billions of years ago. 

Despite the advance in knowledge even today women in parts of the world are attacked and even imprisoned for expressing their wish for freedom to self determination. Perhaps everywhere there are degrees of oppression from mild to extreme. Life is seemingly more complex and even hostile to the feminine, who is often perceived as being weak in every respect. So I question these views and ask myself rhetorically whether sexism is natural, a result of karma or conditioned thinking?

When I was a young girl I read a children’s story called The Sneetches, by Dr Seuss, about two groups of identical, imaginary animals. One group had stars on their bellies and the other group’s bellies were bare.  The ones with stars were dominant and powerful. So the second, oppressed group invented a machine that painted stars on their bellies, resulting in an increase in their power to match the first group. The first group decided to remove their stars with another machine and so regain their superiority, but this time without stars. The story illustrated the false doctrine of superior and inferior groups of people. Yet this battle for supremacy between men and women is ancient. I believe that the female ability to bear children and her more delicate frame and the male's muscular strength and height have caused fear and envy between the two sexes. They are both attracted and repelled like magnets. It’s as if both men and women cannot live with or without each other. 

The Buddha saw that humans were unhappy because of their misguided attachments. He taught compassion towards the suffering of humanity as a way towards creating a better society. I watched a video of the arguably great philosopher J Krishnamurti who said that he couldn’t understand why women would want the kind of power that so many men have, i.e. to dominate, abuse and control and that women were treated like slaves and chattel around the world. He lived at the end of the 19th to early 20th centuries. He said that he thought the remedy was to rise above false and destructive divisions and advocated a self realised, more human awareness for both men and women. The aim of Yoga is this Self realisation. It fits in with Thich Nhat Hahn’s teachings on mindfulness and unconditional love in his work as a Buddhist monk. Yoga interestingly is rooted in ancient pre-verbal times, judging by archaeological evidence.  There was perhaps a time when everyone lived together peacefully and respectfully in a higher conscious state.


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