Is There Such a Thing As Women’s Spirituality? Is there a distinct spirituality for women? Since I frequently blog on topics of women’s spirituality, I sometimes receive emails or comments from people who object to the notion that there’s anything different to say about spirituality for women.
In theory, I agree. But to the extent that religious growth occurs within our everyday lives, at the moment to moment experiences we have, we will need to take into consideration the realities of our lives, and how they frequently differ from men’s. And to the extent that religious growth demands self-awareness, we will need to deal with distinct gender conditioning which we frequently get, especially related to faith and spirituality.
This is exactly what women’s spirituality is for me, but I have come to understand this is rather different from how many folks view it. If you Google’women’s spirituality’, plenty of the listings you’ll get back are linked to goddess worship, or female systems of divinity, often pagan or wiccan in orientation. The prevalence of the traditions has exploded in recent years, partly as a reaction against the patriarchal leadership of the world’s major religions, as well as the role these religions have often historically played at the suppression and persecution of women.
I enjoy female symbols of divinity, but to me, discarding the world’s major religions wholesale on sexist grounds, and/or redefining God as feminine, is missing the point. Spiritual wisdom and expertise DO transcend gender. Light isn’t male or female, and neither is electricity. And mystics within every major faith have described very similar experiences of divine power and light.
Personally, I’m more interested in addressing how girls can grow within whatever spiritual tradition they’ve embraced, and how they can help change the role of women within those. In that context, what are the elements of a modern women’s spirituality? I believe it has to deal with those aspects of women’s lives which are still distinct from men’s, since these aspects determine what portions of our spiritual paths may be different too.
How do we juggle work, family, our health, and a religious practice? Studies show that we still do nearly all child-rearing and housework, no matter whether we work outside the home, as well as parent and other caretaking, so juggling is a particularly challenging aspect of our lives. Many women put their spirituality entirely on hold until late in life. For me, finding ways that we can incorporate spiritual practice into our times, and start to see our everyday lives as a tool for spiritual growth, are crucial. How can our bodies and our picture of them affect our spiritual journey? Many individuals tend to think of spirituality as anti-physical, but if you examine the mystics in any convention, you immediately learn nothing could be farther from the truth.
Our bodies are the instrument through which we encounter sacred moments. And we women generally have a tricky connection to our bodies, constantly wanting to be thinner, curvier, taller, younger or shorter. How does that obstruct our ability to adopt our body as a tool of our practice? How does this affect our psychological and even physical health? And how does having a female mind and body affect how we experience spiritual moments? Related to this is, how can our energy different, and how does that affect us spiritually?
Many mystic traditions teach that we all have a non-physical energy body or energy facilities through which we relate to the world along with our physical bodies. How are women’s energy bodies distinct? How does that affect how we experience the spirituality and world? How can our energy change in regard to our body as we proceed through different phases of our reproductive life cycle? I realize this may be overly new-agey for a few, but I have found that many women find this information extremely valuable.
How can sex conditioning affect our path? Specifically, what messages have we obtained about what it means to be religious women, and therefore are they empowering or disempowering? Many religions restrict women’s access to leadership positions, and highlight nurturing and support as women’s main religious roles.
While these can be important elements of the course, an overemphasis on them can keep us from pursuing contemplative practices and our complete spiritual power. If you think in enlightenment or complete spiritual liberation (as I do), then these practices are a vital part of deepening our spiritual relationship. Looking at women’s spirituality from this new perspective, one that does not marginalize or glorify girls within religion but rather addresses their different lives and desires, is of value to any spiritual seeker. Lisa Erickson is a mother, meditation instructor, and author.