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A Man's World: A Woman's Place?*

By The Reverend Ms. Denise D. Tracy

Presented by Omni-University

While staying at my Grandmother’s house when I was 8, I told her how much I liked my name-Denise Diane Tracy. Her response was, “Don’t get too attached to it. When you get married, you'll have to give it up.” I was horrified as I asked, “What?? Why???” She replied, “How do you think all these families have the same last name?”. That had never occurred to me. “Why don’t boys have to give up their names?”, I protested. She answered, resignedly, “That’s just the way it is.” Then and there, I decided that I was never going to marry. However, my first boyfriend was a guy named David Tracy, selected so that- in case we got married-I would not have to change my name. Years later, when I studied women’s history, I read about Lucy Stone. She married one of the Blackwell brothers and kept her own name. “So there, Grandma!,” I thought.

When I was 9, I wanted to audition to play drums but I was told only boys play drums. I still remember the test for playing the drums was alternating toe-tapping and hand-clapping in a syncopated rhythm, which I could do easily. Although this was not so for most of them, the boys were chosen to play the drums. Many years later, at a Unitarian Universalist summer camp, a woman taught a class on African drumming. I took it and afterward, I bought my own drum. At the age of 10, I decided that I wanted to be a minister. You should have heard people’s responses. But this is who I am and who I've been for the last 47 years - and counting.

All of us have our own stories of enlightenment. What is yours?

  • What questions brought you to a new understanding?

  • Have you ever pursued your own vision of the truth in spite of what you've been told? How have you been different as a result of your journey?

  • What has been your journey of truth about race, culture, war, poverty, religion, or roles based on gender?

I call these discoveries "thread moments". It is the moment you discover a thread in a piece of cloth and pull it. You keep pulling until suddenly -where you once had a piece of cloth- you now have a pile of thread. Asking questions often results in things coming undone. Questions like: Is there a heaven/hell? Is there a divine being? Pull on that thread and a new journey lies before us.

Questions unravel our most common understandings. My studies have led me to some new knowledge: ways I understand the world—my truth. Speaking and sharing this makes me nervous.

1. Reading and studying feminist theology and history, I read author Merlin Stone who wrote that once God was a woman. She viewed all the statues of women from every continent on earth and posited the theory that once the female form was sacred/ worshipped as a Goddess- not a God- but, a Goddess. As I have traveled the world, I have collected Goddess statues from these ancient cultures. I am reassured to know that God was once believed to be a woman and was worshipped everywhere on earth.

2. When my husband and I led a tour of Greece, our tour guide kept skipping rooms where, according to her, the exhibits were not very interesting. I peeked inside the places where she did not want us to go. There were huge statues of the Goddess and large double axes.[1] That was exactly where we did want to go.

3. In her book “The Chalice and The Blade”, Riane Eisler talks about the change in humanity when humans discovered that procreation required both male and female participation. It was at this time that female divinity was questioned:

" Merlin Stone and other feminist thinkers believe that women's bodies were worshipped because they gave birth. This was seen as a miracle…The general belief is that it was thought that women gave birth to children on their own. It was at the point that humans put together that men had a role in procreation that the balance began to shift. Eventually, the male's participation in procreation became more important than the woman's giving birth."[2]. Ultimately, the culture went from the "female culture of the chalice " to the "male culture of the blade".

4. There are all kinds of writings about these cultural changes. Elaine Pagels wrote a book about the Essenes [3], an egalitarian Christian sect formed just after Jesus died, where women were equal. Since the human story is written by winners, the Essenes were excluded from the history of the early church. So radical were Pagels' writings, when she wrote of the Essenes, her life was threatened and she had to have bodyguards accompany her on her speaking tours.

5. In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s book, "The Mists of Avalon," she wrote of the transformation of the Goddess culture of England and Ireland- represented by Merlin and Morgaine- into the Christian culture of Arthur and Guinevere. Until I read this book, I never understood the big deal about King Arthur. If, however, you see it as the change from the worldview of a female-centered Goddess to a male-centered God, the whole story suddenly makes sense.

What happened is really quite simple. There was once equality on earth. Then, a time came when religion, culture, learning, or war occurred. As a result, a new culture defined men as more important, stronger, better, and more powerful than women. Culture and religion embraced a new perspective when early Christian Founder, Paul, said, “It is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Corinthians 7:9) The gratification of sexuality, which was the center of the Goddess religion, turned into sexuality as ownership and control of women by men. Virginity went from being a time of innocence to the initiation of women by men into sexual experience. There have been cultures on earth where equality has reigned: The Minoans, The Essenes, The Goddess Culture of Old England, The Navajo, and The Hopi. But, long ago, these cultures were destroyed or changed and the norms of male dominance over the egalitarian culture prevailed.

For over 2,000 years, we have lived with this dominant view and, quite frankly, many of our problems across the world have come from the imbalance that has resulted. There is not a country on earth where women are equal. The closest countries to achieve gender equality are the Nordics: Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. But, even in these countries, women are only 80% "equal" as compared to men. Nicaragua, Cuba, and Burundi are next in terms of the overall equality of women. The United States does well in some areas-we rank 60 in political empowerment and 33 in health. We do better in one area: we are #1 in education. Nordic countries are considered the best because they make it possible for men and women to share in child-rearing responsibilities with one-to-three years of paid leave for each child. Both Mothers and Fathers share in raising the children.

The "Global Issues website" says: “Women’s rights around the world is an important indicator to understanding global well being.” There is one truth on which most experts agree: The more women are equal in society- anywhere on earth- the better that society is for everyone. What does this mean?:

  • Where women are equal and where women and men control their fertility;

  • Where there are laws giving women rights in divorce;

  • Where there are laws and penalties against violence against women;

  • Where women are involved in politics by voting and holding elected office; and,

  • Where women’s economic parity is improving- where these things are true- there is a culture that is healthy for all people.

The state of women is correlated to the state of the state. In countries like Bangladesh, the government tried to hide their laws denying women equal rights from the U.N.; in Pakistan, the custom of honor killings of women who even walk down the street with an unrelated male is practiced; in many countries, across the globe, religion is used to keep women uneducated and dependent. If women lead impoverished lives physically, mentally, and/ or spiritually, so does the country. At a lecture I attended, almost 20 years ago, a Muslim woman told us that Mohammed was a feminist, married to an older woman who was a businesswoman and that he was an advocate for equality between the sexes. She said her religion was being taken over by men who did not want women to be equal.

  • Globally, women cultivate, plow, and harvest more than half of the food of the world, often by hand.

  • Women, globally, still earn far less than men.

  • Inequitable inheritance laws leave women in a state of risk. More inheritance is received by first sons than any female child in many countries around the globe.

  • Wherever there is poverty, women on earth are bearing the brunt of the burden of it. If poor women have children, their children do not usually grow up to lead full lives.

  • Infanticide still exists. There is still a clear economic and cultural preference for male children and many cultures kill female babies in preference to sons. When we were adopting our daughters from Asia, there were thousands and thousands of female children who were abandoned across the globe. All I could think of was, "Who are all these male children going to reproduce with?"

  • Across the globe, it is still predominantly female children who remain uneducated.

  • Adolescent girls are at greater risk of abuse, exploitation, and violence-- including childhood marriages, genital mutilation, and HIV/Aids.

  • Women who have children and lose their partners for whatever reason are often the poorest demographic group in any culture.

  • Elderly women experience double discrimination of both age and gender…It is difficult to gather all this information and not get discouraged. Then, I remembered: it took 2,000 years to get to this place and it will take a long while to reestablish a world of equality.

I collect stories of hope. My favorite story: In 2009 at the age of 11, Malala Yousafzai wrote a blog about what it was like to live under Taliban rule. A film was made about her life. Three years later, a gunman boarded her school bus, asked for her by name, and then shot her. Severely injured, she was sent to Britain for medical recovery. Instead of silencing her, the attack motivated her to advocate for education for all children, including girls. Women, men, and children all over the globe joined together, saying “I am Malala” while demanding education for women and girls. In 2013, she became the youngest person ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She is a model for the kind of change we seek.

Another place of inspiration, closer to home, in the middle school where I tutor two days a week. Eighty percent (80%) of our children in my school are food insecure. For some, the 2 meals-a-day they receive at school are the only meals they consume. I worry about them on 3-day weekends and holidays. The program that I work in intakes middle-level students and gives them extra help in problem-solving, intellectual processing, etc. We tour colleges and I watch as the girls begin to think, 'I could do this. I can be something or someone'. As a tutor, I am inspired by their dreams and hopes. I look into their eyes and see a new world opening up for them. Many of the girls I work with have families that expect them to be mothers by age 16. I watch them absorb possibilities and realize they are part of the world I want for every girl and woman.

If we want to undo 2,000 years of injustice and inequality, how we live in our primary relationships, how we live and work in the world, are part of the vision we seek. Change comes in dribs and drabs. We are in the process of creating a new world filled with justice, equality, and new possibilities for all.

Amen, Shalom, and Blessed Be.

[An edited excerpt of "Women Hold Up Half the Sky", a Sermon by The Reverend Ms. Denise Diane Tracy. Editor's emphases.]

Related H3O Art of Life Show Videos:


[1]The labyre was the sacred axe of the ancient Minoan Goddess, a symbol of authority, as well as that of sacred transformation with the double axe head being thought to represent a butterfly.[ metamorphosis]

[2] Wikipedia

[3] " The Gnostic Gospels" by Elaine Labels

Suggested Reading:

"When God Was a Woman" by Merlin Stone

"The Iceman Inheritance" by Michael Bradley

"Mother Earth, Father Sky" by Felicia Sarrette Wiggins

"The Nag Hammadi Scriptures" Edited by Marvin Meyer

"Male and Female" by Margaret Mead

"A Rap on Race" by James Baldwin and Margaret Mead

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