HEATHER GREEN, Managing Editor FOR THE WILD HUNT
INTERVIEW WITH RUTH BARRETT – June 13, 2016
1. Logistics. How do you specifically identify as a Pagan? What is your trad and labels? (Witch, Priestess, Wiccan etc.)
I have specifically identified as a pagan and witch. I am also an ordained Dianic HP with 40 years experience providing spiritual service to women and girls.Our practice is a feminist, goddess and female-centered ritual tradition that centers on female rites of passage.
2. Last fall and then again this week, you have been called out for Transphobic language or work that supports Transphobic ideas (such as the analogy). What is your reaction to these claims and the accusations? What would you like to say to your opponents?
In today’s political climate of intolerance for differing points of view, any mentioning of female anatomy and societal issues that specifically are about or affect women and girls, are called “transphobic”, “exclusionary”, and worse. People who have questions, concerns, or are simply confused around the issues of gender identity and sex biology, are often silenced through instant name calling, or by witnessing how those who speak up are being bullied or threatened. I am only one of many who have experienced this kind of treatment, and this has been going on for some time. I don’t think this is a positive course if we want a truly free society where values are demonstrated when diverse ideas or points of view are encouraged, critically examined, and respectfully debated. There are many of us, regardless of our positions on these issues, who cannot support the silencing and suppression of information that helps inform and contribute to a deeper understanding of these issues. A progressive society whose empathetic moral values of equality for all of its citizens has the capacity to ensure rights and safety without removing the rights to safety from other oppressed people within its care.
3. The anthology is focused on "female erasure." Can you explain in a few sentences what that is? And why is this project important? How does it relate to your spirituality?
Female Erasure is an anthology that celebrates female embodiment while exposing the current trend of gender-identity politics as a continuation of female erasure as old as patriarchy itself. Transgender politics dismisses biological sex differences as irrelevant, while suppressing critical conceptual examinations of gender itself, ignoring the history of female class oppression, enforcement, male domination, sexual violence, personal suffering, and social and economic inequality. Female erasure is being enacted through changing laws that have provided sex-based protections. Language that refers to women as a distinct class or that refers to female biology has been purposely removed or reframed to include biological males. Disregarding the fact that the excuse for the oppression of females our biology, the issues around gender and gender identity have eclipsed the still unaddressed issues of sexism and its expressions of violence in the everyday lives of countless women and girls here in the United States and throughout the world.
This project relates to my spirituality in that I have provided spiritual service to thousands of women over the past forty year in the forms of teaching, personal, small group, and large public rituals. This service has included assisting women in the often painful process of coming into awareness about how male-centered cultural and religious views and institutions have been foundational in their very personal sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and how patriarchal socialization powerfully influences their self-perception. Bearing witness to the cracking of a woman’s paradigm of female self-hatred, and supporting her coming to conscious awareness of this, has been both a wondrous and terrible honor. Once freed from internalized misogyny, even for an instant, there is no turning back. She can’t un-know what she now understands has been done to her personally and to the female sex collectively. She begins to make different choices for her life, and becomes aware of how her own story is interwoven with those of countless other women and girls throughout time.
4. Did you foresee the backlash in launching the campaign?
Yes, of course. Especially in past decade where there has been backlash to the feminist goals that so many of us have dedicated our lives to.
5. In the discussion of the erasure of biological womanhood, some of the pieces in the book appear to focus on the erasure of a viable trans-identity, such as the one by the doctor who regrets helping people transition. Transgender is called "mimicking" or "masquerading" for example. These are inflammatory terms. Please clarify for the readers that these are your examples, not taken from the anthology. Do you feel that the small population of transgender individuals, either men or women, threaten the social treatment of women and the movement for equality? If so, how? If not, explain.
Everyone is entitled to their sense of identity. What often goes unexamined at a deeper level is the contextual influences and cultural norms (including enforced gender stereotypes) that informs consciously or unconsciously how a person arrives at their identity. This is explored within the anthology in many ways.
For me, equality for housing, employment, and physical safety is a basic human right. Equality and safety from male violence for transgender individuals and females has only been addressed by trans activists in either/or terms, and this is a problem. At issue is the elimination of sex-based protections that were hard won for women and girls, the right to privacy in our intimate spaces, the right to gather without males present, the defunding of resources that focus on female-specific services like battered women’s shelters and rape crisis centers, and the dismantling of Title 1X. Female erasure is changing the words “pregnant woman” to “pregnant individual” in the Midwives Alliance of North America’s core competencies document, and changing “mother” to “birthing parent.” These are only a few examples.
While it is well-documented that physical and sexual violence against women and girls is on the rise globally, so-called progressives and the transgender lobbyists are acting to silence, disrupt, and legislate against our ability to name, gather and address the issues of our own oppression. This is female erasure.
Concerns about a very profitable and growing transgender medical industry targeting well meaning parents, vulnerable children and adolescents, with no other options discussed other than transitioning that results in sterilization and a lifetime of dependence on pharmaceuticals and with no long-term studies of the health impact, are silenced. In this industry young lesbians and gay boys can be “normalized” by transitioning them. The possibility that homophobia is playing out in this issue seems to be too taboo to discuss.
The anthology includes pieces with individual personal stories, whether it be a doctor, therapist, educator, and how the pressure of politics around this issue has limited how they must treat their patients, overriding their professional assessments. Stories from young de-transitioned women, or other gender non-conforming women, provide readers with an intimate window into their experiences, challenges, and struggles of gender, gender-identity, sex, and patriarchal conditioning.
6. Cherry Hill Seminary was brought into the debate both in the fall and now. You appear to have resigned as an instructor. Please confirm. Why did you resign? Will you be teaching anywhere else?
Yes, I did voluntarily resign from the faculty of Cherry Hill Seminary after hearing about the hatred and vitriol directed at me spilling over onto
Cherry Hill. I resigned because I believe very strongly in the mission of Cherry Hill Seminary and their academic commitment to diversity in their faculty and the free exchange of ideas. Rather than let my participation endanger the future of Cherry Hill Seminary, it made the most sense for me to respectfully remove myself.
While some doors have closed to me, I will continue to teach as I have been doing all along.
7. When will the book be released?
By or around Fall Equinox
8. Do you have anything else that you'd like to add?
This project would not have been necessary if information and personal experiences were not being censored, silenced, or suppressed. Those who have responded to the topic of female erasure with such vitriol only demonstrates the very point of why this anthology became necessary.
Our contributors want radical societal change - freedom from oppressive gender roles, not from our sex. We want a world free of the so-called gender stereotypes of “femininity” and “masculinity.” We want a world where the ideal of diversity is not abused to oppress and erase fifty-one percent of humanity. We want a world in which everyone’s biological reality is honored, our sacred bodies are celebrated, and where sex-based violence and enforced gender roles become obsolete.
Thank you for the opportunity to give this interview to The Wild Hunt.
In Her Service,
Ruth Barrett © 2016
ERICK DUPREE for ALONE IN HER PRESENCE -A Feminist perspective
INTERVIEW: RUTH BARRETT, ON FEMINISM, ERASURE and the FUTURE
June 26, 2016
1: You are known as being a feminist magic maker, musician, priestess, and activist, how might you define feminism?
I love Bell Hooks definition for the same reason she states here. Sexism, patriarchal internalized and externalized oppression, affect and exist in everyone to greater and lesser degrees given this system is the toxic water in which we all endeavor to swim.
“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression."
I liked this definition because it does not imply that men were the enemy.
2: In 2013 Time ran a cover story about Women Erasure, specifically around feminist women in history. Recently you announced an anthology Female Erasure: What You Need To Know About Gender Politics’, War On Woman, the Female Sex, and Human Rights. What was the motivation?
Several years ago I began to notice that speaking about, asking questions, or just wanting to discuss how transgender politics was affecting female spaces that were previously protected on the basis of sex, were being labeled “transphobic”. Wonderfully intelligent and progressive activist people started being called “bigots” if they even questioned the fast tract of gender politics. I am a person who is curious about other perspectives and I like to engage in discussions with others who hold different views. I have always found that respectful discussion is a wise way for people to actually learn from one another, and if possible, build bridges of understanding. In the past decade there seems to be cultural shift to absolute and vitriolic intolerance for those who hold different views, and this intolerance shows up on all sides of the political spectrum. Social media seems to be full of comments that are often mean, insulting, disrespectful, and with express no curiosity as to why someone feels or thinks differently. This is a huge cultural problem, and I am concerned for what has happened to us as a global community constantly at war, even with our allies. The ways of engagement with adversaries, instead of conversation or debate, has been to try and destroy someone personally. This has been my own experience as a recipient of this, and I am aware of many others who have been bullied, harassed, and threatened for simply holding a different view from the well-funded trans lobby. Because I hold strongly that information purposely suppressed in order to advance one’s agenda, is wrong, I felt compelled to take action in the form of this anthology. I wanted to provide other perspectives that have been suppressed and necessary. I believe that the public is entitled to any and all information that affects them, and especially to have access to information that governmental policies are based upon. If the federal “Equality Act” is passed, biological based protections will pass into his-story.
3: What types of female erasure does this anthology address?
I want readers to understand that the current culture wars around gender and biological sex has been going on since the creation of patriarchy, and really needs to be best understood as occurring in a continuum. The erasure and silencing of females as a class is an old story, with silencing and erasure taking many forms throughout history. Female erasure today is being enacted in a variety of ways, where even the words “women” and “female” are redefined to no longer refer to a group of human beings who are the source of human life and who, as a class, are treated as inferior to males worldwide. Advocates of gender stereotypes disseminated as “gender identity” managed to advance the idea that how one “feels” about oneself is more important than the physical reality of his or her body. As a consequence, the subjective psychological notion or “feeling” of a male person “being” a woman has gained legal standing superior to the objective and biological reality of being a female human in a male-dominated world. While everyone is entitled to their personal sense of identity, what often goes unexamined is the contextual influences and cultural norms (including enforced gender stereotypes) that informs consciously or unconsciously how a person arrives at their sense of personal identity. Promoters of gender-identity ideology and politics avoid discussing the vast differences in sex-based biology— biological facts that cannot be changed by behavior, clothing, surgery, or hormones.
Transgender activists dismiss biological sex differences as irrelevant, while suppressing critical conceptual examinations of gender itself, ignoring the history of female class oppression, enforcement, male domination, sexual violence, personal suffering, and social and economic inequality. Female erasure is being enacted through changing laws that have provided sex-based protections. Language that refers to women as a distinct class or that refers to female biology has been purposely removed or reframed to include biological males. Female-only spaces, including previously private spaces including bathrooms, locker rooms, rape crisis centers, women’s prisons, and battered women’s shelters, must in many states accept males who self define as women.
Children as young as four years old are being diagnosed as transgender and given hormone blockers by age nine. The health risks to our children and adolescents have not been studied, yet a lucrative industry has emerged to “serve” and “support” confused and well-meaning parents, pointing them in only one psychiatric and medical industry direction. Concerns about sterilization and a lifetime of dependence on pharmaceuticals and with no long-term studies of the health impact, are silenced. Young lesbians and gay boys can be “normalized” by transitioning them. The possibility that homophobia is playing out in this issue seems to be too taboo to discuss.
Therapists and physicians are being pressured to advise their patients according to what is the trans lobby’s politically correct course for treatment of gender dysphoria. Educators are pressured and/or censored as to what subject matter they can to teach to the exclusion of critical contextual history of women, causing ethical and intellectual conflicts in practicing their professions. Two former “women’s studies” professors, currently professors in the substituted “gender studies” writing for the anthology have to use pseudonyms or run the very real risk of losing their jobs.
The feminist movement of the 1970s and 1980s fought for and won some basic human rights for women, and succeeded in undoing female erasure by shining a light on women in history, uncovering original truths of women’s religious leadership in the ancient world, and bringing awareness of how the dominant culture oppresses females worldwide. The backlash to these advancements today comes with a new face of female erasure by a new generation contributing to its own erasure.
4: It sounds like this anthology is not about spiritual praxis, but about documentation on a social reality? Tell me about the assault on women.
For me personally, this current debate directly attacks my right to minister to the population that I have served for 40 years – specifically women and girls. My work as a ritualist and priestess has been in a Wiccan tradition where cosmology and ritual practices are exclusively female-focused and center exclusively on a female Creatrix from antiquity, known as the Great Mother or simply as the Goddess. The Dianic tradition evolved concurrently within the Women’s Spirituality Movement and sourced its fuel from feminist politics and activism. Rituals specifically honor female rites of passage we call “women’s mysteries”, and also address the affect of the dominant culture on our lives. It is a feminist spiritual tradition whose goal is to heal and empower women to counter patriarchy personally and culturally. The right for women to gather without a male present has been an ongoing issue for women historically, and this is still true today in some places in the world. This is happening again in the United States in 19 states to date that prohibit females from gathering without access by male-sexed persons, in private and public facilities.
While it is well-documented that physical and sexual violence against women and girls is on the rise globally, so-called progressives and the transgender lobbyists are acting to silence, disrupt, and legislate against our ability to name, gather and address the issues of our own oppression. This complete disregard of everyday female subordination in order to benefit the estimated 0.3 - 0.5% of males who define themselves as women further proves that the oppression of the female sex was the foundation upon which our society was built and continues to operate. We are being told that we must accept without question or concern that males who identify as transgendered are to be considered equivalent to females in every way. Today, only the social and cultural construction of one’s self-identity matters. Disregarding the fact that the excuse for the oppression of females is our biology, the issues around gender and gender identity have eclipsed the still unaddressed issues of sexism and its expressions of violence in the everyday lives of countless women and girls throughout the world.
5: Who are some of the writers whose contributions stand out to you? I noticed everyone from sociologists to radical feminist activists, physicians to legal scholars, to spiritual leaders.
I have been so pleased to have such a variety of contributors represented in the book. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds in terms of race, class, religion, sexual orientation, and age (ranging from twenty to eight-three years old), and live in the United States, Africa, and the United Kingdom. They are lesbian feminists, political and spiritual feminists, heterosexual-womanist women, mothers, scholars, attorneys, poets, medical and mental health providers, educators, environmentalists, and women who chose to de-transition. All providing perspectives that are ignored, silenced, vilified, or underrepresented in the popular media and disregarded in discussions promoting legal protections for transgender persons at the expense of women and girls.
The pieces that stand out to me are the personal stories from gender nonconforming women, with some sharing their journeys from living as trans men and their choice to de-transition. These women have important stories to tell and expose the underbelly of the trans medical industry.
6: Can you explain the cover art? It’s chilling!
In my introduction to the anthology, I suggest that origins of female erasure in Western culture was propagated by the framing myth of Adam and Eve, and continues to affect a majority of people on our planet, regardless of whether an individual practices a religion based on this mythology.
The cover image is intentionally complex and multi-layered in its meanings, as the classical European image of Eve in the Garden is in the act of being erased. This classical image of Eve in the Garden of Eden is consistent with her portrayals in Renaissance art as a white European female. Our understanding of genetics today confirming human origins evolving out of Africa, the original “Eve” would surely have been a dark skinned female. Clearly the image does not represent all women in our glorious diversity of color and size. There is a double meaning intended in the cover image as the “white” Eve in the Renaissance portrayal has already been erased of her African origins, and continues to disappear even as she reaches for the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.
In the Genesis 2 myth, a male God gives Adam, the first man, the power to name all the creatures of the earth, including Eve, the first woman. Adam is given the power by God to name her, and thus given power over the female sex, and given the power to define the very nature of woman. The male's empowerment by God to name the female is intentional and significant. The woman does not name, and thus define, herself. Her nature is literally man-made. The power of naming is a magical act with cultural significance. The power to name ourselves has been historically usurped from women, and over time we have forgotten that we ever had this power to begin with. Female erasure continues to be propagated through gender identity politics today and continuing efforts to define and enforce oppressive gender constructs on the female sex.
The cover for this anthology was created as a gift from my oldest and dearest friend, renown photographic artist Claudia Kunin.
7: So far you have raised close to $25,000 for this book, That’s incredible. What has the response been like?
The response has been incredible and heartening! Supporters are happy to support a project that gives voice to their concerns.
8: Lastly, what are some ways my readers could participate in stopping female erasure?
Support free speech, and the free exchange of ideas. Notice when you feel intimidated to ask questions or to discuss a different point of view. We live in America, and our country is comprised of many points of view. We must as a nation rise to our potential to have respectful discussions that affect us all.
NOTE TO THE READER:
The online journal interview in Patheos.com, purportedly “Hosting the Conversation on Faith” removed my interview for “In Her Presence”, with Erick DuPree. My interview was removed due to the negative comments on the article’s feed, as well as personal harassing messages and personal threats to Mr. DuPree. Mr. DuPree’s intention was to give readers the opportunity to hear about the anthology and my reasons for creating it. This is the full article. Your comments to the censorship of my interview can be sent to: