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The Deeper Meaning of “#MeToo”

Posted by on in Culture Blogs


Accounts of men of power harassing women are as old as history.  Aristotle describes Greek rulers getting into trouble for abusing women, but in terms of invading already existing male dominated relationships. The women are booty. The Old Testament was no better, and I would argue, worse. 

More recently, auditions completed on the casting couch have long been a Hollywood legend as well as a staple of porn flicks. Tales of the Kennedys’ sexual shenanigans are well known, and yes, Bill Clinton probably got away with rape. Sexual abuse is bipartisan because the allure of sex and power is deeper than ideology, and the power to rationalize their abuse is infinite, as Republicans prove every day.

 For thousands of years the power of men over women has been a constant feature of most agricultural societies, although its extent and brutality has differed from society to society and time to time. Of late it has been less legally than culturally enforced, but has remained powerful nonetheless. Compared to cultures, laws are easy to change.

A Transformative Moment?

This time around seems to be different. Men with power are beginning to pay a high price for their sexual misbehavior. Al Franken’s misdeeds are minor compared to those attributed to Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, and Donald Trump, and yet he resigned a Senate seat because of his actions. Franken’s, and John Conyer’s previous resignation from the House over his sexual misconduct, set precedents that will prove deeply painful for Republicans, and more importantly, deeply transformative culturally.

The Republican Party has stood steadfastly behind a man who bragged about very serious sexual assault, and supports a Senate candidate who, by right, should have served a long jail term. This same party is filled with men, and women, who continually belittle and insult women because they are in thrall to the demon deity they call their God, and to a completely toxic and pathological conception of masculinity. They are a party of beta males, pretending to be alphas, and as betas, offer nothing of value to the country or the culture. They incorporate America’s shadow.

The contrast could not be more vivid, nor its implications more important.

Pushing the boundaries

This clash in attitudes towards women and men penetrates to the deepest dimensions of what it is to be a human being. It also reflects an equally deep transformation in human society. A clue as to what this transformation is rests with women like Marry Wollstonecraft and Abigail Adams, who were among the first arguing for an end to their second-class status in society.  For example, Adams wrote her husband, John, who was on the committee drawing up the Declaration of Independence and would later be the second President of the new country, 

I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And by the way, in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

When Adams replied nothing would be done, she responded

I can not say that I think you very generous to the Ladies, for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to Men, Emancipating all Nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over Wives. But you must remember that Arbitary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken – and notwithstanding all your wise Laws and Maxims we have it in our power not only to free ourselves but to subdue our Masters, and without violence throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet.

Far more than John, Abigail Adams had imbibed the central principles underlying the liberal thinking giving birth the modern world: that all human beings are equal in some vital secular sense, and society should be ordered by consent not power.  These principles inspired the idealism that carried many through long years of battle, and encouraged their implementation afterwards. For example, after the American Revolution, one state, New Jersey, gave free women the right to vote (they initially included Blacks and aliens!)  A New Jersey law governing federal elections stated “No person shall be entitled to vote in any township or precinct, than that in which he or she doth actually reside.” 

But to really matter, principles must penetrate a society deeply, and principles as radical as these could not triumph all at once.  In time women gradually lost the right to vote, and it would not return for many years. At the time New Jersey tried it, in the U.S. it was a step too far.

Women’s suffrage finally succeeded nationally with passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. During the previous century and a half, the currents set free by the gradual spread of equality of status among citizens transformed the nation economically, politically, and culturally.  Then, as now, the South stood out in opposition. Most of the South (plus Pennsylvania) remained the last states denying women suffrage, and Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia all voted against the amendment’s ratification. This distinction between the South and country as a whole gives us a clue to what is happening today.

A Clash of Civilizations

If anything separates the modern world from what went before, it is equality of legal status as a universal ideal, an ideal that increasingly has become a practical reality. It is subversive to hierarchical ideas of families, societies, and deities, and stands as an eternal criticism where it does not yet exist. By contrast, long-established pre-modern agricultural societies overwhelmingly embraced hierarchy in all these forms, and their gradual erosion has been a defining feature of the past several centuries, as modernity’s ideal of equality penetrated ever more deeply.

As the taken-for-grantedness of male hierarchy weakens, as in other dimensions of life, the role of the sacred feminine grows in importance. We NeoPagans are playing an important part of this process, one well beyond what our numbers might suggest.  But to return to a secular focus…

Equality of status is far from fully established, as many African and Indigenous Americans will quickly attest. Even so, the spread of a practical equality has gone far enough to deepen the cultural split between those whose intellectual and moral roots lie in a largely vanished rural hierarchical society and those reflecting a new society rooted in cities, technology, equality of status, and yes, in much more feminine values than the one it is displacing. If this process continues, in time a tipping point will be reached as the new replaces the old. 

Perhaps that time is now, and we are living when the political balance between these two ways of life is shifting decisively.

#MeToo and cultural transformation

One of the last and most potent of these nearly-invisible surviving kinds of hierarchy has been unforgettably exposed by Me Too.  Many deeply rooted cultural and religious attitudes enforce a sense of superiority and entitlement among men who take their privileges for granted, as they do among women who, sharing the same attitudes, feel comfortable in their subordination.  These taken-for-granted cultural attitudes can long survive and eventually overwhelm top-down efforts from the to end them legally, as the rural rooted slave culture of the South eroded away most of Reconstruction’s efforts to dismantle such a society. To succeed, changing culture needs to happen at its deepest levels – at the level of basic human interactions - and this is what #MeToo is doing.

I hope the cultural shift inaugurated with the rise of modernity has reached a point where even these most intractable of patriarchal attitudes can be held up to public scrutiny, and rejected. If so, the future of the old order is dim indeed, which may explain their increasingly authoritarian, and often vicious, response. Its demise could not happen to a more deserving society.

If I am at all on the money, Times picture of #MeToo as the person of the year is not only appropriate, it could be labeled the person of the century. And note the elbow unattached to a visible woman in the lower right. She symbolizes all the women who were afraid to step forward because doing so would endanger their families, their livelihood, or even their lives.

I hope future historians identify this cover as symbolic of a fateful turn in the deepest character of our society.

 For those interested, I explore this contrast between worlds more deeply in my book Faultlines: The Sixties, The Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine


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Gus diZerega DiZerega combines a formal academic training in Political Science with decades of work in Wicca and shamanic healing. He is a Third Degree Elder in Gardnerian Wicca, studied closely with Timothy White who later founded Shaman’s Drum magazine, and also studied Brazilian Umbanda  for six years under Antonio Costa e Silva.

DiZerega holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from UC Berkeley, has taught and lectured in the US and internationally, and has organized international academic meetings.

His newest book is "Faultlines: the Sixties, the Culture Wars, and the Return of the Divine Feminine (Quest, 2013) received a 'silver' award by the Association of Independent Publishers for 2014. It puts both modern Pagan religion and the current cultural and political crisis in the US into historical context, and shows how they are connected.

His first book on Pagan subjects, "Pagans and Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience," won the Best Nonfiction of 2001 award from  The Coalition of Visionary Resources. 

His second,"Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and a Christian in Dialogue" is what it sounds like. He coauthored it with Philip Johnson. DiZerega particularly like his discussion of polytheism in Burning Times, which in his view is an advance over the discussion in Pagans and Christians.

His third volume, "Faultlines: The Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine," was published in 2013 and won a Silver award from the Association of Independent Publishers in 2014. The subject is obvious, and places it, and the rise of goddess oriented spiritual movements and our "cold civil war" in historical context.

His pen and ink artwork supported his academic research in graduate school and frequently appeared in Shaman’s Drum, and the ecological journals Wild Earth, and The Trumpeter. It now occasionally appears in this blog.


  • Thesseli
    Thesseli Friday, 08 December 2017

    Excellent, excellent article!

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