Today I’m delighted to publish a guest post by my wise and wonderful friend Dr Lynne Scholefield. Lynne is a recently retired lecturer in religious studies, with interests in travel, inter faith dialogue and facilitating small group work. We also teach the Enneagram together. She has some very thought-provoking ideas about the journey to the Crone and how we women define ourselves:
Who are you?
I’m a woman
There’s a very interesting exercise where someone asks you the same question over and over again, ‘Who are you?’ I’ve done this exercise many times and my first answer has always been the same, ‘I’m a woman’. But what does that mean? What does it mean to be a woman?
What does it mean to be a woman?
For a while now it has meant being equal to a man. There is nothing wrong with equality – although I am not so sure that even in Europe and America there is anything like the kind of equality I, and perhaps a lot of other people, think there should be – but that is not the topic of this piece. The efforts that have been made to extend women’s opportunities, legal rights and responsibilities, and choices are very important. But, they mean that women are understood in comparison with men.
Traditionally, there has been a dualist thinking where there are two columns – one good and one not so good, for example:
No prizes for guessing which has been seen as not so good! Not only have women been seen as less than men, but they have always been understood in relation to men – fathers, husbands and sons. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why the Christian monastic tradition has been so important for women – it enabled them to have a good deal of self-determination.
Now, I am interested in the possibility of thinking about what it means to be a woman without reference to men, and I think that the ideas relating to ‘Crone’ offer some interesting possibilities. That is because crones are who they are in their own right and their creativity, their wisdom, their being, does not depend on a man. Getting rid of the dualisms also opens up the possibilities of thinking more fluidly about gender and sexuality generally. I am not suggesting, of course, that women should live lives in which men do not feature, although some women may choose to do this, but that we might try thinking and talking about what it means to be a woman with reference only to women.
One of the most important things in exploring this question is to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of ‘essentialism’ – seeing all crones, or all women, as essentially the same. Another trap is to consider only good, attractive, qualities and ignore the more challenging aspects. I don’t have the answers as to what it is that women/crones are, but here is a quote from a source I really like – Mary Daly’s Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language. (‘Webster’ is an old word for a woman weaver.) This is what she says (p114) about crones:
Great Hag of History, long lasting one; Survivor of the perpetual witchcraze of patriarchy, whose status is determined not merely by chronological age but by Crone-logical considerations; one who has survived early stages of the Otherworld Journey and who therefore has Dis-covered depths of Courage, Strength and Wisdom in her Self
Playing with words
The ways in which she plays with words is really helpful for recognizing the male-centred nature of much of our language and reclaiming new possibilities – new ways of ‘spelling’. I like the idea of women as weavers of our own lives – and here are a few other words and phrases for women/crones that I have been thinking about:
- Story teller and meaning maker.
- Disgraceful – in Daly’s terms it would be ‘dis-graceful’ – rejecting conventional ideas of what is proper for a woman – compare the phrase ‘uppity woman’.
- Subjects who gaze – not objects of other people’s gaze. That is why women artists and writers are so important in developing thinking about crones. I also think this is one of the reasons why women who wear the niqab – covering everything except their eyes – are seen as so threatening.
Over to you
Those are some of my suggestions. What words and phrases for women/crones would you use?