Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Goddess Conundrum...

There's a new blog in town--great title (Namaste, Bitches), great pic (take that, yogis who fret about eating meat and drinking coffee), and a saucy tone. I look forward to hearing about Holly's "recovery" and teaching yoga in the Philly ghetto. Cheesesteak and Pretzel trucks! Brotherly Love!

Her post, "Dating a Yoga Goddess; Damsels, Dharma, and Distress" got a lot of attention, last week. Funny, sassy, a bit "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar," but an entertaining read and it resonated a lot with people, judging by the comments. It got me to thinking (about her terminology, not
her content)...

I just don't like the term "Goddess" to describe female human beings. It always seems sort of self-congratulatory and childish at the same time; an attempt at empowerment that ends up sounding needy (really, I'm divine!). You never hear men using God to describe themselves, unless they are absolute narcissists. Or jerks. Why is it so popular with women, these days...(and almost always used in the same breath as "day spa")?

I clump it with the other over-used, power-fem term: Diva. Both of these suggest the woman in question is strong, attractive, the center-of-attention, and a complete pain-in-the-ass. They seem like excuses for bad behavior (and you know how I feel about that). Reality TV-esque.

Technically, I don't think it's so great to be a goddess, anyway. Your children get kidnapped by underworld gods, your husband sleeps around with humans, you compete in beauty contests that start wars, your followers get cut down in battle. Not a very happy lot. Sure, there's power, but it seems like there's a lot of grief involved, too. I guess that's why they need frequent massages and manicures.

O Divine Readers, maybe you know something this mere mortal does not.
Am I misreading this trend? Too old to get it? Taking the whole thing too seriously?

Pray tell.


Bob Weisenberg said...

Well, I don't know much about this trend but I do know that your blog is highly entertaining and sounds right to me. Who wants to be worried unnecessarily about all those things.

Bob Weisenberg

La Gitane said...

I've never really thought about it... Goddess is certainly not a word in my regular vocabulary. Oh how glad I am that I don't live in North America sometimes! The words most commonly heard on my street are "the power's out AGAIN?" perhaps followed by "what's that smell?". :)

I have to say that I recently did read some summaries of Greek mythology and I was totally horrified by the brutality, incest, rape, violence and tragedy that formed the cosmos for that amazing society. Perhaps not such a mystery after all that they created the rigorous rationalism that Western society still reveres today.

To be a Greek goddess? No, thanks. And from the look of it, being an American Goddess wouldn't suit me either! I think I'm pretty happy (and lucky!) to just be me... I agree with your common sense!

Rachel @ Suburban Yogini said...

Well as someone who studied classical mythology I have no desire to be a goddess anytime soon!

I don't like the term either. I'm not entirely sure I can put my finger on why. I don't think it celebrates woman, I think it instead intones some sort of otherworldly perfection which is unachievable.

Kristin said...

"Goddess" and "diva" come across as an idealization of perfection that is unrealistic and unattainable on multipule levels. Not an image of what I want to cultivate in myself, nor see cultivated my young nieces - any girl/woman for that matter.

But, on the other hand it could be a way to describe the divinity within in feminine terms?

Still, not wild about it's usage and connotations so I'm with you on this one.

As always, I do so enjoy your posts!

Jenn said...

I'm with you on this one Brenda. Would I ever call myself a Goddess or Diva? Nope. I guess it's just not my thing. Whether it's the labeling, the inferred qualities that commonly goes with those words, whatever. It's just a bit over the top for me.

I'm happy being ME. Practicing my practice. Even if that does make me a boring old 30 something mom of two who like to knit, cook, garden, teach yoga, talk wellness, take pictures and lives a simple life not because it's trendy but because it's what feels right. Hence why I will never be a yoga blog rock star...and I've decided I'm perfectly OK with that :)

Brenda P. said...

Thanks, guys. You all touched on something I thought about, but didn't include in the original post. This idea of setting up an impossible ideal for women is certainly nothing new (the Virgin Mary, anyone?), and I feel like the "goddess" thing sort of tiptoes around that. Sassy, fun to say, but ultimately out-of-reach.

Again, maybe that is blowing the whole thing out of proportion, but I think that's part of why it bugs me.

Now, "Your Majesty" I could get used to...

It's A Yoga Thang said...

I certainly would not describe myself as such, but I do see how some people are ok using these words to describe themselves. Anymore I look at the words Goddess and Diva as describing a stereotype and not sure if I'm ok with that now that I think about it. Hmmmmm...pondering.

La Gitane said...

On the other side of the coin I do see the argument for using empowering lanugage. I once went to a yoga class in Canada where the teacher was just pouring out empowerment. It was an all-female class that day and the teacher kept talking about "honoring your inner nobility" and other such things.

I went with a friend and it really resonated with her, to the point where she ended savasana and just burst into tears.

So in a world where so many women are plagued by insecurity and judged by their exterior, perhaps we cynics should recognize the value of celebrating our inner goddesses. Because after all, goddesses weren't perfect, made mistakes, and sometimes nearly destroyed the cosmos - but they were still loved, cherished and revered, just like every woman should be. ;)

Tatjana said...

I agree with you about miss-using and abusing the term Goddess. I would also like to add that the term itself stretches far beyond the Greek mythology, into the Neolithic worships of the Goddess in different forms. Long before she was raped and betrayed by male Gods of the Ancient Greece..

Rebecca said...

I actually have a different perspective. I grew up reading the Greek myths, and I would never want to be a Greek goddess, nor do I think using the phrase goddess to describe a person is necessarily a good thing. As you said, Brenda, when men call themselves gods, we consider them narcissists. But goddess energy, the feminine strength, mystique, flow, power, etc. are, I think, what is meant by goddess in the yoga world, at least where I am. And I think it is absolutely vital to cultivate the feminine strength along with the masculine strength, which is too often the focus in our male-dominated culture. I have had male yoga teachers devote entire classes to cultivating the goddess energy because of its importance. Yoga is union, and there must be a union between the gods and the goddesses. This rarely happened with the greeks, but hopefully we can learn to do it in our own lives.

Bob Weisenberg said...

Just wanted you to know that I'm really enjoying this conversation, even though I'm not the right gender to contribute effectively.

Bob Weisenberg

Brenda P. said...

@Bob--I suspect any contribution you'd make would be completely effective...

Linda-Sama said...

"Your children get kidnapped by underworld gods, your husband sleeps around with humans, you compete in beauty contests that start wars, your followers get cut down in battle."

just like us mere mortals on earth.

in other words, gods and goddesses are icons people can identify with, at least speaking from my experiences in India. "if even THEY have all those troubles and they are divine, then I can survive them too."

a friend in India told me a long time that I need to find a "Goddess in Residence" yoga gig somewhere. still looking.

Linda-Sama said... your post:

"there's power, but it seems like there's a lot of grief involved, too."

yes. exactly. that's the whole point.

that suffering is so manifest in this world that even the gods/goddesses are not immune.

that is the difference, as I see it, between eastern and western spirituality.

personally, I've never been able to identify with an all-knowing, all-seeing, never is wrong, GOD. give me a god or goddess who gets pissed off or who kanoodles with the girls watching the cows or a god who wants to calm down his wife so he lies down so she can dance on his chest.

it's about humanity and divinity all mixed up as one, not seperate.

Yoga said...

I never really gave it much thought actually. (I fell like I'm being repetitious) My friend and I kind of took it for granted when we were younger that it would be cool to be a goddess and have people dance around a fire and sacrifice things for you and worship you.

That said, upon further reflection, you make a valid point. Another interesting thing to note is that when/if "god" is used in the context of men, it usually denotes pride. Goddess is definitely more of an otherworldly objective, that is out of reach. (To make a nod to Rachel.)

I still think there is a playfulness in its use though. Of course, literally speaking it wouldn't be all that great to be a goddess, but I'm still rather fond of making light of my rather serious attempts at "enlightenment" (either on the mat or cushion) by referring to myself as such. (In other words, to remind myself of my beautiful humanity, I humbly make fun of that unreachable state of divinity!!)

If I ever get back to college, it would be an interesting topic to pursue. Thanks for getting the wheels turning!!

Yoga Thailand

Brenda P. said...

@Linda, that's why I love a bunch of gods and goddesses, even the OT God, better than the Christian God--everyone seems a lot more interesting and the stories are a lot more engaging.

BUT, unlike the rest of us down here, they don't age or die (that I can think of) and can harness the elements to make their point (among other superpowers).

So I think I'm with Jenn, on this one. Why can't the power of a woman derive from her human experience? Why tie it to something sort of vague and ephemeral?

I far prefer the tough female descriptors like chick, chica, broad, grrl...all terms reclaimed (in my mind) with a sense of strong sisterhood to them. Goddess seems so airy-fairy to me. Altho, like Lisa, I do see the irony/humor of using Goddess, especially when one feels the least divine...

Eco Yogini said...

haha, weird. I just wrote a post about 'The Goddess', of course slightly different take on the word.

I agree, the whole pop-girl-power crap was a sad backlash from the very real feminist movement in the 80's. goddess in that sense is just another permutation of the continued backlash... which I find sad.

Then again, I didn't read her post.... so perhaps I should skip over and do that.

Linda-Sama said...

Brenda, I've always loved the term "broad" and am a self-described feisty broad. A broad is someone who can get ya into trouble but also out of it. ;) :)

@Bob: "very real feminist movement in the 80's"

I'm assuming the "80s" is a typo??

by the '80s the fire of the feminist movement was pretty much over.

the feminist movement started in the '60s basically with the publication of Betty Friedan's book and her founding of the National Organization for Women in the mid-60s, followed by Germaine Greer's book The Female Eunuch in 1970.

I did a lot of marching and protesting back in the day for women's rights and I didn't do it in the '80s!

Emma said...

i use it, i like it.

i think maybe it shouldn't be compared to the male form, because, well, they don't need empowering... women do.

apparently a hot topic, no?

Bob Weisenberg said...

Linda-Sama--not my quote. It was eco-yogini just above you.

I decided to stay out of this particular debate. Brenda was very encouraging, but I still don't feel quite qualified.


roseanne said...

my goodness, how did i miss this excellent discussion? (or perhaps i mean "my goddess!")

anyway, i have to admit that i'm with you, brenda, on the overuse/meaninglessness of the words 'goddess' and 'diva.' i try to avoid them as much as i can, simply b/c they feel so clichéd and cheezy to me. i also can't deal with 'chick' and 'grrl' (which feels unbearably 90s to me ~ i also was a passionate riot grrl in my teens and i witnessed the word get shamelessly co-opted by mainstream culture, and it just turned me off).

however, i acknowledge that our language is constantly in flux, and we're still trying to figure out how to refer to the concept of women being powerful, strong, independent, etc. so hopefully, calling women divas and goddesses is just some post-millenial trend until we find/create something more accurate and compelling. that might take a few decades.

i find it difficult to address the goddess/divine feminine tradition without a certain amount of cliché. though i'm currently reading carol lee flinders' wonderful book "at the root of this longing: reconciling a spiritual hunger and a feminist thirst" and she manages to do this with intelligence and originality. highly recommended.

Nicole Becker said...

Men don't call themselves God, but "Guru" sure gets thrown around a lot. Tech guru, golf guru, everyone's a guru.

Cody G. said...

I'm enjoying this conversation about language, but one thing is bothering me. We're focused on the term goddess when the original post came from a blog called "Namaste, Bitches." So, what about the term bitch? A brief trace of its etymology, starting at "female dog," brings us very quickly to a term that has been used for a long time to disempower women. Even when it's applied to men, it's meant to emasculate, the insult lying in the idea that a man might be woman-like.

I realize pop culture has been standing up the use of the word bitch to mean a more generalized sassiness, but I can't get away from how it has been used for countless years (centuries?). And, I do appreciate the work of many feminists who have made strong attempts at reclaiming the term as a moniker of feminine strength and power.

While I see the points being made here about "goddess," the term "bitch" seems more complicated to me. So complicated that, even as a woman, I hold the word with a special fear & reverence but refrain from using it. "Goddess" doesn't have that power for me.

Bob Weisenberg said...

Cody G.

I'm still staying out of this discussion, but that was a really fascinating comment.

This is a good example of how the meaning of words change, many times to the complete opposite meaning. It often starts with a an ironic reference, like the way in some circles people now say "that's bad" when they really mean "that's good". Over time if that usage takes hold generally then eventually everyone forgets the original meaning and "bad" becomes a synonym for "good".

The same thing happens in more subtle ways all the time, as you pointed out with "goddess" and "bitches".

Bob Weisenberg

Brenda P. said...

@Nicole--that's funny, I hadn't thought of that, but your completely right. Gurus, indeed.

@Cody and Bob--you know, I hadn't even thought about the "bitch" implications. I guess I think the use of bitch is titillating because of the "naughty word" thrill it still has. Goddess has lost most of its power (I'd argue) because of its overuse. (Treat yourself like a Goddess with this French Manicure!)

But I probably should have included it along with Goddess and Diva. Excellent point.

Yet another suggestion that a strong female is also a pain in the ass. Sigh.

Linda-Sama said...

I'm sticking with hellcat.