THE BLACK ROBES WITHIN
Whenever I come face to face with a woman in a burka, or even see a photo or newscast depicting women in burkas, with their faces and bodies covered with swaths of black material I emotionally recoil, not from the women themselves, but for what this dress symbolizes for me. I was raised in southern Louisiana and seventy-five years ago (I am now eighty-four) the population of southern Louisiana was At least a third Catholic. Catholic nuns swathed in black from head to foot were a familiar sight. As a child the nuns scared me. I asked my more distant cousins who attended a Catholic school and were taught by nuns if the black robed nuns didn’t scare them, too, or at least didn’t they find it scary to have to deal with so many nuns in the enclosed area of a small school? At first, they admitted, they were afraid of the nuns, too. But after a time my cousins adapted.
But I never did. While I didn’t attend Catholic school I still felt there was something very wrong about adult women being wrapped up in swaths of black material with only a bit of white around their faces as if they were already dead. And of course my own families’ religious affiliation with evangelical fundamentalism thought that Catholics were probably doomed anyway, because they worshiped Mary. I couldn’t help this indoctrination as I was only a child. But as a very old atheist adult (I consider myself to be a deep ecologist) I think my childish reaction to the nuns was simply a deep feeling, or intuition, that when women are compelled to wear such extreme total camouflage of their bodies, a camouflage that is composed of materials as black as night, with or without a face covering, something very strange is going on.
There is a temptation to believe that we Western women would not put up with such patriarchal religious attitudes in the present. And after all, many, if not most Catholic nuns now dress in comfortable, regular women’s clothing. But I wonder. The thought nags…can any woman say, regardless of where she lives believe that she is free from the attitudes that patriarchal religions represent and still foster? The Muslim world is being torn apart by religious strife that began as a thirst for political freedom; the Catholic Church will eventually have to bite the bullet and allow women to become priests as there are fewer male takers (for whatever reasons). And our own Conservative government just yesterday morning announced that they will no longer pay for any kind of religious ministers except Christian chaplains to go into Canadian prisons.
Of course Mr. Harper is himself a member of an evangelical fundamentalist Christian church. Believing as he must as a member of this church, that all non-believers in a literal interpretation of the Bible are doomed, why would he be concerned that other religions have equal access to counsel Canadian prisoners? In our prisons First Nation prisoners are often the majority. Many First Nation prisoners are trying to recapture their own ancient beliefs and practices with the help of Elders who come into the prisons to teach and counsel. From my own experience in the women’s prisons in British Columbia the Elders who came in to hold healing circles and teach were extremely important to many women who desired to break away from the dangerous and degrading lives they had previously known. Will these women also be left without the Elders to teach them and give them hope?
The Chinese are fond of quoting the Chinese proverb that “women hold up half the sky”. But if you look at the rows and rows of men on news reports making the important decisions in the Chinese government there is not a woman is sight. Ditto the Arab world. And the Western World?
Well, some Western Women are out there all right…Angela Merkel , Chancellor of Germany, Hillary Clinton, US Sec. of State, (what a disappointment) and of course our own provincial premier, Christy Clark. However, all three of these women are indistinguishable from right wing men in their beliefs, attitudes and the way they govern. They teach what they have been taught by their alpha males…capitalism, corporatism and competition that ultimately lead to death dealing violence of the earth and whole human and animal populations.
And while Western women are making enormous strides in numerous areas, women as a group haven’t come forth with a new vision of how to arrange societies that might retard or stop the destruction of the environment. My own theory is that even though women may never darken the door of a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, the black robes of patriarchal religions are still there in women’s psyches dragging us down, keeping us from developing our own vision of a just society. These black robes also instill fear in women, a subtle fear that prevents us from calling a spade a spade. And besides that, we’re nice. We love our own men. The attempt to even try to throw off thousands of years of male rule makes women either laugh at the thought, or cry. Or even fall back on patriarchal beliefs that women are weaker than men, not as intelligent (made from Adam’s rib?) and are after all, the second sex. Yet women deep down know better and there have been recent scientific discoveries that put these patriarchal beliefs forever to rest. Next time.