When love spells become rape

As I mentioned in the last post, there were many things that speakers said at Between the Worlds that I was glad to hear people saying, actively, in the Pagan/magical community. There was one glaring omission:

“Love spells” as most people think of them are a magical form of rape.

The panel on operative magic did discuss love spells. Everyone shared the basic assumption that “love spells” as popularly conceived – the kind of spell that Dick does so that Jane will love him and want to have sex with him – are not okay. Different speakers mentioned different perspectives on why these are ethically and practically not acceptable. People talked about how there is a more general kind of “love spell” which is ethical and acceptable – a spell to make oneself more lovable or to draw love in general into one’s life.

Everyone agrees that trying to magically coerce a particular person is NEVER okay – because it’s coercion. I was disappointed that none of the speakers said the obvious: that this coercion is never okay because coerced sex is rape.

Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki came closest when she repeated the oft-stated concern that this is “interfering with someone else’s free will” and went on to more colorfully describe that there are other ways to try to create a relationship with someone. But no one used the “r word.”

I think it’s vitally important that people who do magic and are feminists say this loudly and clearly: magic to get sex with a person is not okay because it’s rape. This goes beyond concerns about “free will,” a rather nebulous concept. This is about consent, and consent is what separates sex from rape.

In the wake of other examples of supporting rape culture, this is especially important to me. There is a big, bright, bold, clear line here. There is no room for “I did a spell to get Jane to love me, and I said ‘for the highest good for all!’ so it’s clearly a good thing!” There is no room for “She likes me, she just won’t go all the way, so I’m just doing a spell to help us along…” There is no room for “I know better than she does what she wants.” Those are rape culture in magic, plain and simple.

I know people want these kinds of spells. One of the speakers on that panel sells candles, and she pointed out that a “Become more lovable” candle – the ethical second-cousin to the kind of “love spell” that is really magical rape – didn’t sell at all. People don’t want to be more lovable. They want the person they want, and they want her (usually her) now.

That’s why this is rape. That’s why this conversation matters even if you would never do a spell like this. When we don’t call this out, we make space for rape culture. You know what rape culture produces? Rape.

The idea that someone else can be treated as an object of your will – whether in magic or not – is at heart the idea behind rape. Sex is something that people do willingly together. Rape is not.

I’m a big fan of Isaac Bonewits’ rule-of-thumb for magical ethics, which basically asks whether it would be against the law for you to do the mundane equivalent of whatever your spell is for. If you were doing a spell to have an honest debt repaid, the equivalent would be taking your debtor to small-claims court: totally legal. If you were doing a spell to have someone die, the equivalent would be murder: definitely not legal.

So if you’re doing a spell to get someone to have sex with you – and don’t bullshit me, most “love spells” are going to be judged a success based on whether or not you’re in bed with the person, not by a passionate but celibate exchange of letters for twenty years – then the mundane equivalent is coercing her to have sex with you. Rape.

In any sense, mundane or magical, the message is the same: Don’t rape.

Edited to add: I wrote more about why this matters in a potpourri post a few days later, but that post was such a mish-mash that I want to append this here as well:

I don’t think I said this clearly enough last time, but the reason that I’m so concerned about when love spells become rape is not just the magical implications, it’s the practical actions that we take as a result of the way we think. When we in the magical community fail to call out certain kinds of manipulative magic as part of rape culture, we’re enabling not just the thinking, not just the magic, but the actions.

If we say, loudly and clearly and repeatedly – because it’ll take a lot of repetition – that thinking of someone else as an object for your manipulation into bed is rape culture, we’re working to eliminate the so-called gray area where a lot of opportunity rapists operate.

If we leave wiggle room for people to think these kinds of spells are not rape, then that same kind of thinking is going to be used to justify totally mundane actions that lead to rape. If you’ve already done the spell to get her into your bed, why not offer her one more cup of wine after Beltane? What’s to stop you from seeing her stumbling, mumbling, not-really-consent as the manifestation of your magical prowess? Or maybe offering her a ride home, and then taking her to your house, or letting yourself in her place, and, well, encouraging her a little bit….that’s just taking action in accordance with your spell, right?

No. That’s rape. The magical actions and the mundane actions are products of the same thinking, and one will encourage the other. We have to discourage both.

This is very similar to the situation I encountered when trying to explain to people why things like DC 40 and other Christian Dominionist “prayer efforts” are dangerous. Even if you don’t believe in magic, these kinds of actions that specialize in raising emotional energy and directing it towards a purpose have tangible, physical manifestations. People vote based on Christian Dominionist thinking and actions. People rape based on rape culture. The thinking and the doing are both important, and if we’re going to change things, we have to work on both.

I don’t exist, and other important news

Another GOP politician has revealed his magical powers of anti-science, and he’s come to a startling conclusion: I, dear reader, do not exist! Apparently this post is writing itself.

No, really. I fall into the same category of mythical beings as unicorns, because according to Rep. Joe Walsh (R-My Uterus), modern medicine has made it impossible for a woman to need an abortion to save her life or her health:

With modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance…There’s no such exception as life of the mother. And as far as health of the mother, same thing, with advances in science and technology, health of the mother has become a tool for abortions anytime under any reason.

It seems I need to get busy imagining a future where I’m allowed to exist.

This guy’s running for re-election. These are the people who make the laws, folks. They believe I don’t exist. And if they get to write the laws they want, eventually, they’ll be right – but not because their failure to grasp basic biology will magically solve my problems. No, they’ll be right because women like me will die.

In Virginia, they’re working hard along those lines. A member of the Board of Health resigned her position because of the efforts to legislate women’s health clinics that provide abortions out of existence.

In good news, Obama finally diagnosed what Romney’s been suffering from: it’s not lack of backbone or actual devotion to any particular policies, it’s Romnesia. Good thing pre-existing conditions are covered under Obamacare.

I can only hope that the law is upheld so that we can say the same thing about reproductive health care.

Imagining Futures

I was doing magic recently that involved imagining the future we want to see as the first step of working to make that future real. I’m going to try continuing that as a way of commenting on some recent political examples.

I’m imagining a future where when a high-powered business executive is elected to office, he has lots of women in mind to appoint and hire, including ones he’s known in his previous career.

I’m imagining a future where employers support families by giving everyone (not just women) the flexibility they need to balance work and home.

I’m imagining a future where when a politician is asked about paying women less than men for the same work, she indignantly replies that that’s illegal – and she’s right – and violators are reported – and the reports are investigated – and wrongdoers are punished – and eventually everyone agrees that it’s outrageously unfair for women to earn less than men.

I’m imagining a future where when a parent gives a child advice about relationships and sex, he says: “If you ever have doubts about whether your partner is enjoying what you’re doing, or whether they’re going to regret it in the morning, or anything, you stop right then and there.

I’m imagining a future where sex is treated as a natural thing for people to do, and young people are educated about it, and have the resources to do it safely. I’m imagining a future where no one is shamed about having sex.

I’m imagining a future where when someone says they were raped, we believe them.

I’m imagining these futures. I want to work towards them. What I can’t imagine is how electing the people who are perpetuating the current problems is a first step towards making things better.

Authors you want to love, but can’t

I’ve been reading more Dion Fortune as part of my research. She’s an intriguing author. I want to like her work, I really do. But I can’t.

There’s not a whole lot of magical fiction, and she writes it pretty well. If you really get into the text, she can carry you along in the spirit of a ritual, which is often the point of magical fiction, and is certainly the point of hers. So I want to like it, because it’s good at one of the major things it sets out to do. But I can’t.

It’s not the Christianity; in fact, most of the ritual work in her novels is so thoroughly little-p pagan that it has been shamelessly mined by Pagans since, well, there were big-p Pagans. It’s not even the sexism, although that gave me a pretty hard ride in the latest work I read, The Winged Bull. Admittedly, it is the bad guy who says that a particular woman needs “a sheiking” – meaning abduction and rape – but it is the good guys who talk about how if that woman objects to them manhandling her (for her own good, of course) they will simply spank her in public. That’s hard enough, but they don’t actually do it, so I can sort of tolerate it.

What I can’t tolerate is when she tells me – in the voice of that female character, no less – that “there is no blessing on a marriage when you close the gates of life permanently against incoming souls.” (322-3)

This weird bit seems like a line from her Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage wandered over onto another page and another book entirely, and she decided to wedge it in where it doesn’t really fit. I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons – and maybe I’ll think about them, on another day – about why in English society at the time she couldn’t get away from including this last soupcon of morality when concluding a novel. But today, I couldn’t get over her telling me that my own marriage is a sham, or immoral, or at least “unblessed” in some way. And while I certainly don’t need her approval, her insistence on including that last ruler-smack of disapprobrium definitely keeps me from giving her too much of my own approval in return.

What about you? Are there writers (teachers, speakers) that you want to love, but just can’t?

A parable: What about a conscience clause for gun sellers?

One of the most weaselly ways that anti-choicers undermine women’s access to reproductive health care, and especially contraception, is so-called “conscience clauses.” These purport to protect the tender religious sensibilities of health care professionals by allowing them to opt out of a particular part of their job that they disagree with. Consider this analogous hypothetical:

I work in a sporting goods store. One day, a man comes in and wants to buy a handgun. He’s had his background check, and his safety training, and has waited the required period.

I refuse to sell him one.

My conscience tells me that handguns are immoral, you see. Maybe I’m a Quaker, maybe I’ve decided this on my own interpretation of my religion, whatever. I insist that handguns are immoral and that I don’t have to participate in that immorality by supplying him with one to go do immoral things – like kill people.

He says: “I’ll only use it for target practice!”

Not good enough, I say. It’s too risky. You might shoot someone.

He says: “I’ll only use it to defend my family!”

I don’t care; maybe I’m a pacifist, maybe I don’t believe him, but I won’t sell it.

He says: “I have Second Amendment rights, and this is the job you were hired to do!”

No, I say. See this? I have an escape clause. My conscience gives me an iron-clad right to refuse to cooperate with evil.

And I get to define what evil is.

Most people think it would be inappropriate for me to have the right to evaluate the man’s justifications before allowing the sale, or for me to be able to refuse to do my job entirely.

But somehow this is presented as a reasonable approach for pharmacists to take towards birth control.

The above situation isn’t a perfect analogy, of course. Perhaps the most salient difference is that no one will die or get sick or get pregnant if I refuse to sell a person a handgun right now. Yet people can and do die or get sick or get pregnant if pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions when they are presented. Emergency contraception has to be taken within a particular number of hours after sex or rape. There aren’t always other pharmacies or other pharmacists available, so a single individual’s “conscience” can be the difference that leads to another unwanted pregnancy.

Another difference is that retail sales isn’t a highly regulated profession. People don’t just show up in the drugstore one day and get assigned to hand out drugs; they have to go to school, pursue licensure, and put a lot of work into becoming pharmacists. That’s why they’re the ones who are allowed to hand out the meds and we can’t just get Sam from the front register to fill in for the guy (and it’s usually a guy) with an objection.

Don’t even get me started on the analogous situations for all the other medicines that I could have a conscientious objection to. (cough, V*agra, cough, C*alis, cough)

So-called conscience clauses are nothing more nor less than stealth anti-choice measures designed to allow some people to continue to control women’s bodies.

At Forging Futures: Choice and the Goddess

Over at Forging Futures, I’ve written about why I think honoring the feminine divine means that we must trust women to make their own choices about their bodies – especially the choice to have an abortion.

Given the juxtaposition of this piece with the previous one, I want to point out a few things about my political speech, since I am often political.

First of all, what I’m doing is very different from the kind of pulpit politicking that is being pushed by the Religious Right which I so strongly disdain. Yes, I’m ordained as a priestess by a 501(c)3 tax-exempt religious organization. But none of my online speech is as a leader for that organization, nor is it funded with the support of those tax-exempt dollars. These are my personal views and my personal speech. I defend even the most conservative Christian pastor’s identical right to his views and his speech, when he’s not using his tax-exempt organization to push them.

Second, for all that I often discuss how my religion guides my life, my ideas, and my choices – including my political choices – I am also determinedly in support of secular government. Whatever ways of understanding I use to arrive at my conclusions, when I advocate a policy approach that will affect other people, I always, always, always have a purely secular justification for it.

Respecting women’s bodily autonomy and giving them the right to make their own health care decisions should be an obvious conclusion when considering the situation from a secular point of view, and it’s on that basis that I want to see policies enacted. The fact that I also have strong religious reasons for supporting this position is relevant to me, and is something that I discuss as part of exploring how to live out my values in the world, but it is not the defense I offer for putting something into law.

These are the kinds of distinctions that make the difference between religious people who are engaged in politics and would-be theocrats. Respecting them is part of keeping our pluralist democracy functioning.

My anger is important – and so is yours

Slacktivist at Patheos did a great job of putting my vagina creed in context, much better than I could have done at the time I wrote it because it was all I could do to channel my energy into writing the creed; I simply couldn’t dispassionately collect links and try to illustrate the full ridiculousness, pathos, and bathos of the situation. But I had to say something.

In another link from that same collection, a Christian woman points out that “different but complementary” (a slogan used to summarize the “complementarian” version of Christian patriarchy) sounds inescapably like “separate but equal.” But later in that post, she writes:

There is no way for me to write about this subject and keep my anger out of it. So I will direct you to a post written by a man.

The link goes to an article by a man clearly struggling to reconcile his experiences and his intuitive beliefs in equality, with what he’s been taught about Christianity and gender and everything else. Kudos to him for struggling with that. And he clearly says that Biblical understandings of gender are incredibly outdated. But the most illuminating moment, for me, was when he wrote:

I’ve had this argument with people before and the “goto” for men (women rarely argue this issue) is Paul’s numerous statements in his letters diminishing a woman’s role in the church.

He spends the rest of the post engaging with Paul’s statements and interpreting Biblical texts. He parenthetically observes that women’s voices are lacking, but does nothing to try to remedy that. And this was pointed to by a woman who limited her own speech because of her anger, because in some way her anger supposedly made her arguments less valid, less important, less acceptable parts of the dialogue.

So the man ends up being unsure how to deal with patriarchal texts from antiquity and doesn’t want to “roll things back” too much. He seems to indicate that women achieved “equality” in about the 1920s, presumably with the right to vote, which simply shows that he hasn’t actually engaged with women’s experiences of oppression in any meaningful way.

I think that when women refrain from writing because they can’t help but take things personally – and be angry about it – they contribute to the perpetuation of this situation. This guy has probably never been confronted by the sheer burning rage of someone who has spent her life being told that she’s not worth it, that sure, she’s “equal” in the sight of their god, but that here and now she’s destined to be separate complementary, which means disempowered.

This is part of the problem.

It’s not just Republican state lawmakers saying that they wouldn’t use the word vagina “in mixed company.” (So they would feel free to use it when making a good ol’ boys joke, when no actual vaginas are present? WTF?)

It’s not just the Senate and the media refusing to actually acknowledge women as part of the conversation about, you know, women‘s health – which means women’s lives and women’s deaths.

It’s deep down inside us, where women themselves have internalized patriarchy to such an extent that we can’t be trusted, or allowed, to speak about our own experiences and emotions, our remembrances and our rages. Our silence – not just being silenced, but silencing ourselves – is part of the problem.

Being angry isn’t just valid, it’s vital. It’s one of the things that can empower us and energize us to engage this situation. And we have to do that, because obviously if we don’t, most of the people who are more privileged won’t do it for themselves.

This isn’t a call for women to blame themselves. It’s a call for women to channel their emotions, including their anger, into speech and action. I’ve seen a lot of creative examples of that on the internet in the wake of the “don’t say vagina” issues. Find your own way to participate; find your own way to engage. But don’t keep yourself silent because you think you don’t deserve to act, to speak, to be heard. You matter, and because of that, your thoughts and feelings matter. We have to say something.

Limited success on Virginia TRAP laws

That previous post might have seemed to come out of left field. It was in response to a handful of the latest events in the war on women, particularly the conjunction of the impending vote by the Virginia Board of Health on targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) and the Minnesota legislature deciding that vagina is a wirdy dord (sic, that’s a spoonerism).

ETA: Here’s a great piece by one of the silenced legislators about how her minority religion (Judaism) influenced her position, and how she sees increasing anti-choice legislation as theocratically driven. (h/t to Hecate for the link!)

There’s limited good news after yesterday’s vote in Virginia. The part of the legislation that would have forced existing women’s health clinics to undergo massive, expensive, and wholly unnecessary rebuilding, which would have caused many of them to close, has been dropped. But new clinics would have to meet these unreasonable standards, and there’s some pretty nasty stuff still in the regs that poses a significant threat to the privacy of women being treated at these clinics – whether it’s for reproductive health care or for regular checkups, cancer screenings, or anything else. (And of course, the state’s odious attorney general is going to try to put back the bit about forcing clinics to close, so this battle isn’t done yet.)

Many thanks and kudos go to the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health and all of the amazing people who attended the meeting yesterday to protest. Unfortunately, we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

The Vagina Creed

 

This is my vagina. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My vagina is part of my life. I must have consent for it as I must have consent for my life.
My vagina and I know that what counts in the war on women is not the children we bear, the bills we pass, or the petitions we sign. It is the rights we defend. We will defend our rights…
My vagina is part of my humanity, even as I am, because it is part of my life. I will learn its vulnerabilities, its orgasms, its organs, its clit, and its climax. I will care for my vagina and enjoy it, even as I care for and enjoy myself. 
To all that is divine, I swear this creed. My vagina and myself are survivors of patriarchy. We are the hope of equality.
So mote it be, until there is no hate, only love!

Rituals of change: Why women’s spirituality can really use Inanna’s story

Trigger Warning: Rape, power abuse within relationships, victim blaming

One of the biggest changes I’ve gone through in my life is re-understanding parts of my relationship with a past partner as not just difficult but fundamentally wrong. As the relationship developed, it became more and more obvious that he was taking advantage of me in oh so many ways. This culminated in intimate partner rape.

Carol P. Christ has come out with a story of her own about a relationship that involved, at the very least, abuses of power. As she relates, understanding what happened to her, in retrospect, involved a lot of changes. Most powerfully, she judged herself for “letting” this happen. She should have known better, she should have recognized it, and so on an on with the internalized victim blaming that is one of the strongest tools patriarchy has ever invented.

What helped her get out of that was ritual, a ritual of self-affirmation of a kind that has a lot of prominence in women’s spirituality because of the sad fact that so many women need it. (Yes, plenty of other people need it too, including for sexual and relationship abuse. I’m not trying to exclude them, only to speak from my own place of experience.) I love that she created her own ritual in her own words. I want to share my similar experience and suggest why the story of Inanna may be especially suited to this kind of ritual re-understanding of self.

When I wrote the “Call to Inanna,” I wrote it with many situations in mind. Almost any kind of facing the darkness and reclaiming one’s power, I thought, could be a motivation for doing this ritual. I had seen a lot of discussion of Inanna’s experiences as an archetype for women and women’s rituals, so I thought I’d create my own version of it. No big deal.

Little did I realize that this was not an accident. As I wrote that, I was in the midst of the process of understanding how wrong that past relationship was, which culminated in me being able to name the worst of it as rape.

That naming was a tremendously powerful, positive experience for me. As soon as I named it as rape, I felt different in my body. I felt safe within my own skin in a way I never had before. By realizing that what happened to me was wrong, that it happened without my consent, I was able to reclaim my rights to myself, to my body, to my ability to choose what I do, with a partner or by myself.

If you want to use these terms, I went straight from “victim” to “survivor.” Those are loaded terms, and I haven’t even begun to engage with the wider discussion on what they mean and how to use them, but that’s how I would use them. I had been a victim in silence for years; when I spoke, I became a survivor.

Along the way, I had learned how wrong it is to blame the victim of rape. She doesn’t give consent by remaining silent. She didn’t give consent by what she wore, or did, or said, or anything else. I’d never applied those conclusions to myself, though; I continued to judge myself and to exonerate my rapist by rationalizing that when I stopped saying no, because it wasn’t doing any good, I had okayed what happened to me. Suddenly I realized that I had never given my consent, and that my feelings of shame and revulsion shouldn’t be directed at myself, but at the person who violated me, my body, and my sense of self.

As I was dealing with this, I thought I might do a ritual to reclaim myself from that experience. Suddenly I realized that I had the answer: as if dropped in my lap from the Queen of Heaven herself, I already had a ritual designed for facing the worst of a past experience, coming out of it, and reaffirming oneself afterward.

So I did. It became in some ways more than just self-affirmation; it became a rite of passage, of empowerment, from someone who had had bad things happen – had maybe “let” them happen – to someone who had had a bad thing happen, yes, but wasn’t defined by that. As I separated responsibility for the rape from myself and identified its true source, my own identity grew and blossomed into a woman with the right to own myself.

This is only my story, but the fact that rape and abuse are such staggeringly common experiences for women is why I think the story of Inanna is so prized by the women’s spirituality movement. That story certainly can be used to understand other harrowing experiences besides rape, and as a spiritual transformation all on its own, but I think a lot of women who have been through experiences like this desperately need stories to help them understand how they became a piece of meat…and then became a person again afterwards.