The Power Of The Goddess
Beauty- be not caused- It Is-
Chase it, and it ceases-
Chase it not, and it abides-
Overtake the Creases
In the Meadow- when the Wind
Runs his fingers thro' it-
Deity will see to it
That you never do it-
- Emily Dickinson, Final Harvest #208
India is a country supported and fueled by male dominance, where women must shield their faces from sunlight and hide their beauty while, behind closed doors, the men are on their knees- praying to almighty superior goddesses, female deities.
In Rachel McDermott's essay titled "The Western Kali," she says: "As a general phenomenon, goddess spirituality is attractive for women because it makes possible an affirmation of the female body, of women's anger and aggression, and of the changing cycles of life which menstruation and birth so readily illustrate"(Devi, 288). Goddesses can and should be seen as symbols and models for women's empowerment. Why aren't they? Through the teachings of the Hindu Goddess traditions, women everywhere can learn and benefit from the diverse characteristics manifest in the Goddess. Women can learn from the strength and capability each goddess possesses; her ability to move from one polarity of emotion to the exact opposite, her role as mother, the universal scope of her emotions, and her explicitly sexual nature.
The goddess Kali provides the best example of a true power over exploiting the extremes of either end of the spectrum of being. She is the paradoxical deity who combines, within herself, the poles of creation and destruction, birth and death, love and fear; she is the "Terrible Mother." The very aspects of Kali that patriarchy repressed and demonized, her potent, sexual, dark side, can be claimed as liberating for women within a context of wholeness and balance. This "Dark Goddess" lies dormant in all women. Kali threatens stability and order, the ultimate fear of a patriarchal society. Although the positioning of her right hand makes the sign "fear not," she is seen as a threat. Kali dominates her consort Siva. In images of her stature, she is usually shown standing or dancing on Siva's prone body, and, when they are shown in sexual positions, she is always on top, straddling him.
Kali can and does play a strong role in the lives of some women. As stated in McDermott's essay, "by accepting the part of themselves that had been repressed and feared, they also allow themselves a new psychological and spiritual integration"(Devi, 291). She is the goddess of transformation, of the transformation every woman goes through daily. Each woman can claim the powers of the dark goddess in her own personal way, and bring herself strength, wisdom, and relief.
There is something very enlightening about the very concept of ugliness and honor simultaneously expressing the feminine essence. Sadly, this is a concept most women worldwide cannot accept. In a book titled I Never Called it Rape, Robin Warshaw talks about how most young girls are taught directly or indirectly to be passive, weak, and opinionless. "The woman's socialization has most likely taught her that she must not express her own wishes forcefully, that she should not hurt other people's feelings or reject them"(40); not fighting back, or even raising an alarm, is a well-ingrained female tradition. When giving advice to women about how to prevent rape, counselors stress that being feminine does not mean being passive, that it is OK to state what you want and how you feel, and that it is OK to get angry.
One Indian woman who did believe in the strength of women was Phoolan Devi, the notorious Bandit Queen. She takes control of her own destiny and fights back. Phoolan Devi can be seen as a model of freedom from oppression. Her story is not an uncommon one. At 11 years old, she was given away in marriage to a man of her father's age. Her first major step against the patriarchal structure occurred when she left the village and both her father and husband behind. Phoolan was repeatedly beaten and raped by the men she met, but she avenged her honor as the "beautiful bandit." Another famous Indian woman who made the transformation from human to deity in the minds of the people, is Amachi. She teaches that one must find the God within oneself. If you cannot be seen as a human, why not try and become a goddess? If you cannot be equal, be better. It is a motto every woman should be able to have the choice to subscribe to.
In the book Women and Violence, there is an essay called "India: From Sati to Sex Determination Tests" written by Sakuntala Narasimham. She speaks to the issues of oppression women face and how religion and culture have been used a defense. She discusses sati, the rite of widow immolation, and bride burning as manifestations of antique warped male-dominant patterns of conduct that have been allowed to thrive for too long. "So long as women's lives are devalued, so long as unquestioning self-effacement, suffering and sacrifice are held up as the exalted ideals of womanhood, and girls continue to be indoctrinated with such ideas, such aberrant manifestations will continue to be part of the Indian ethos"(52).
In April of 1990, a national meeting was held in Bombay by all of the Women's Organizations against Rape in India. Many valuable issues arose as several women told of their personal experiences of rape and abuse. One of the questions raised was why men felt they had the power to degrade and humiliate women, and why women feel so powerless in stopping them. If sexual activity, or the power to control it, is a male prerogative, both inside the home (legitimately) and outside it (illegitimately), should women not challenge all expressions of that power? At the meeting women spoke outwardly about the way in which both legal and religious texts have defined and institutionalized women's subordinate status, then ensured that they remain subordinate through elaborate, interrelated and very patriarchal mechanisms.
As such, it can be seen that women are uniting and their force will be one not to be reckoned with. From our expressions of sisterly bonds and affections to passionate homoeroticism, men and women alike, simultaneously embrace and shun the wealth of immense beauty and fierce strength that lie beneath dark make-up and sheer veils.
I was afraid you'd hit me if I'd spoken up
I have as much rage as you have
I have as much pain as you have
I've lived as much hell as you have
And I've kept mine bubbling under for you
You were my keeper
You were my anchor
You were my family
You were my savior
And therein lay the issue
And therein lay the problem
-Alanis Morissette, "Sympathetic Character"