“When you rape, beat, maim, mutilate, burn, bury, and terrorize women, you destroy the essential life energy on the planet” Eve Ensler

In her memoir, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd tells her own story of spiritual awakening through the deeper lens of patriarchy, which runs through the whole tapestry of our outer and inner life. The opening chapter begins with a scene in a store:

It was autumn, and everything was turning loose. I was running errands that afternoon. Rain had fallen earlier, but now the sun was out, shining on the tiny beads of water that clung to trees and sidewalks. The whole world seemed red and yellow and rinsed with light. I parked in front of the drugstore where my daughter, Ann, fourteen, had an after-school job. Leaping a puddle, I went inside. I spotted her right away kneeling on the floor in the toothpaste section, stocking a bottom shelf. I was about to walk over and say hello when I noticed two middle-aged men walking along the aisle toward her. They looked like everybody’s father. They had moussed hair, and they wore knit sport shirts the color of Easter eggs, the kind of shirts with tiny alligators sewn at the chest. It was a detail I would remember later as having ironic symbolism. My daughter did not see them coming. Kneeling on the floor, she was intent on getting the boxes of Crest lined up evenly. The men stopped, peering down at her. One man nudged the other. He said, “Now that’s how I like to see a woman— on her knees.” The other man laughed. Standing in the next aisle, I froze. I watched the expression that crept into my daughter’s eyes as she looked up. I watched her chin drop and her hair fall across her face. Seeing her kneel at these men’s feet while they laughed at her subordinate posture pierced me through.

The memoir becomes a feminist critique as she tracks her spiritual awakening within her church and inevitably all aspects of her life:

I was going along doing everything I “should” have been doing, and then, unexpectedly, I woke up. I collided with the patriarchy within my culture, my church, my faith tradition, my marriage, and also within myself. And this collision changed everything. I began to wake up to a whole new way of being a woman. I took what seemed to me then, and seems to me now, an immense journey. It was true: There had been other awakenings in my life, but no waking experience had been as passionate and life altering as this one, nor had there been another where I felt more was at stake.

Since 1996 there has been an evolving feminine and feminist awareness within churches, and many progressive strides have been taken. But sadly, holy misogyny continues to this day in some traditions, now framed as a “separate, but equal” policy reminiscent of segregation, causing me to wonder if religion might just become the last patriarchal stronghold.

She also refers to the opposition that will always come:

For opposition nearly always comes. I had my moments of it, some large, some small. But remember: At the time it’s happening, all opposition feels large, and even when it’s quite small, you still have to reach inside for the same unwavering grit.

Meanwhile the full realization about the opposition that’s out there came crashing down like a piece of the sky.

And as each story, with its individual differences and unique voice, is written or spoken, it becomes part of a collective narrative of the process, the suffering and the plundering:

When we start on this journey, we discover a couple of things right away. First, the way is largely uncharted, and second, we are all we’ve got. If women don’t tell our stories and utter our truths in order to chart ways into sacred feminine experience, who will? It is stories women need. Stories give us hope, a little guidance, and a lot of bravery.

We tell our stories for ourselves, of course. But there are also those thousand other women. And yet I’m aware that no two women’s journeys into the Sacred Feminine are the same. Nor is this book, by any means, a complete picture of that journey. It is one woman sending out her own unique vibration.

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