Friday, January 22, 2010

Mysogyny and Superstition

Hinoeuma, the fire horse, of the Chinese zodiac is a powerful and beautiful image.  Every 60 years there is born a new herd of fire horse children.  The last two herds were born in 1906 and 1966 (my herd).  In most of the world this is meaningless except to make small talk at parties.  But in Japan it's taken much more seriously, so much so that the birth rate for 1966 dropped by 26%. Even in countries where attempts to reduce birth rates are successful, they're not this successful.

In Japan the fire horse woman is considered headstrong and deadly to men.  The herd of 1906 suffered extreme poverty, homelessness and isolation associated with not being able to marry and raise families.  This discrimination made national news when on New Year Day 1928 two hinoeuma women, lamenting their misfortune, threw themselves from the Tokyo Pier.  Ironically, there has been a positive side for my 1966 herd.  As it turns out both men and women born this year in Japan have married much later in life, if at all, instead choosing education over tradition.

Misogyny is often born from superstition, not just in this case, but the world over.  Religious texts including the Bible have placed women in an inferior position to men, making the abuse of women easier to justify.  A woman suspected of being a witch would be examined publicly for any marks of the devil which included birth marks and supernumerary nipples (used to suckle demon children).  For this, women were publicly tortured and slowly but ultimately killed.  The basis of the mass slaughter of women during the witch craze came directly from the church leadership.

But that was a long time ago right?  Don't women have it much better today?  Well, at least those of us fortunate enough to be born in the right place, enjoying the rights won for us by the hard work and sacrifice of our mothers and their mothers.   In Africa where the superstition has spread that a man can rid himself of AIDS by sleeping with a virgin, the women are not faring so well.  In cultures where a woman must bleed on her wedding night, otherwise be stoned to death, they are not faring well.  Now that rape is officially recognized as a weapon of war, women are not faring well.  Wife burning, female infanticide, genital mutilation, acid disfigurations, brutal rapes, forced sexual slavery, prostitution, etc, etc.  Violence against women has not gone away, in fact it's worse than ever.  The types of torutre used on women equal and surpass the worst the Inquisotors could have imagined.  For those of us fortunate enough to live in a place and time where we can shout, fight and write, we must do so for our sisters.  In honor of our Mothers, Grandmothers and all the gentle spririts burned on the pyre as witches or hung or crushed by stone, we must take up this cause.  Engage your inner fire horse and demand change.


Tom H. Hastings said...

What a great piece--again, thanks for educating the 'educator'.

This really puts me in mind of Gracie Thorpe, a woman whom I met on the Klickitat people's reservation years ago, at Celilo Falls, where they hosted the Indigenous Environmental Network Gathering on the Columbia River. Gracie, a Sac and Fox descendent of Blackhawk and the daughter of Jim Thorpe, also had Potawatomi, Kickapoo, and Menominee ancestors. She was a political activist for the return of the Olympic Gold Medals won by her father, for tribal treaty rights, for the environment, and against nuclear weapons. She was also a World War II vet who won a Bronze Star and crossed over almost two years ago, in 2008, at age 86. She had the warmest smile and the fiercest passion for justice; her battles bespoke her life of finding and using her power for others.

Here is how she described herself when we had lunch one day and I was interviewing her about her amazing life and asking her why she seemed to still carry on fights as an elder:

"I'm an old firehorse. My wind and my legs and my back may be worn down and out, but my spirit is still strong and my reaction is the same as that old firehorse who may be retired and confined, but she still bucks and tries to come out running if she hears that firebell."

I've never met a more powerful person, woman or man. All our daughters should learn about Grace Thorpe and learn to be firehorses. Miigwetch for your excellent work.

Terri said...

Thanks Tom for the great comment and introducing us to Gracie. What a beautifully strong spirit.

Mikel said...

That was an interesting piece. I'd never heard about this particular brand of superstition. It's really sad when people harm others due to beliefs that are not even true...