I really enjoyed watching a movie called Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons ... until its end. It's a fun, comedic takeoff on finding enlightenment and has a good message ... until its end. There it was: the gender oppression. 

The plot: two demon hunters are in love with each other, but the male refuses the woman's love because he's trying to find enlightenment and believes that there is great love and small love. When she dies, his remorse brings him to enlightenment, and he realize that there is no "great and small love."

I am sick of plots in which a woman dies in order for a man to become enlightened. Or plots in which her death gives him the apparently requisite rage to finally conquer his enemy—who, of course, killed her.

Women's lives are not props for a man's story or his victory. A woman's death should mean more than its relationship to a man. Think for a moment about the results of a woman's death constantly portrayed in films as having no importance beyond its impact on a man.

I started thinking about how I could've rewritten the story:

Why couldn't she have been the one who found enlightenment? Could his rejection of her made her start her own quest, instead of it always being the other way around?

Even better, could her utter willingness to love someone other than herself be her door to enlightenment? Could the film have validated her love as a quest in itself? More about that in a second.

But first: one might argue she was the less likely candidate for enlightenment because she was very faulty in her dealings with demons and with the man she loved. But he was just as faulty: he feared demons—whom she battled with boldness and bravery—and he hurt her terribly in his lack of respect for "small" love and in his rejection of her pure devotion. Plus, her remarkable martial arts skills could only have come about through a rigorous discipline worthy of any monk.

 Besides, it is not a perfect being who gains enlightenment. Enlightenment comes to human beings, all of whom are flawed.

Back to her love being a spiritual gateway: instead of devotion to flashy "higher" philosophies, enlightenment can be achieved through simple, unspectacular devotion to those around us—and that includes everyday mundane care for them. Such a path has enormous depth, power, and sacredness but, since it is a path many women take, it is desecrated in our sexist world.

By contrast, too many men forsake the welfare of those close to them in order to pursue a supposedly nobler goal, whether that quest is through warfare or in a monastery. 

I'm not suggesting there is no spiritual legitimacy in battle or the monastic life. I am a Pagan monastic. I'm a warrior willing to go into battle. What I'm discussing here is that the portrayal of women as props in the male journey desecrates women. Here are two ways:

1) The perception of women's value becomes reduced to such a degree that it is often their death, not their life, that is valued. The implications of that are horrific. At the very least, it suggests women only have value in the sacrifices they make for others to do well. Once again we are reduced to the status of menial servitude. At the worst, this portrayal of women as mere props justifies any atrocities perpetuated upon us. 

2) Such films mirror the way our culture tends to spit on the grounded spirituality many women choose: the decision to be of service in daily humble ways, by taking physical care of those around them.

I know my argument could be twisted into saying a woman's value is in her care of others. No! I'm pointing out we all must start taking care of each other, and perhaps more men would do it if the caretaker's path was given respect.

My argument might also be twisted into saying that humbler roles are where a woman belongs. No! We all need to do our fair share of humble caretaking.

 In the 80s, I wrote a story about a man who leaves his family to find God. Eventually, he learns his wife is far wiser than himself because she's all along found God in herself, in her family, and in the land. Some 30 years later, I'm still fighting for that wisdom to become common knowledge and be consistently honored. I guess I'll just have to keep fighting for that.

 Enlightenment can come through simple, unspectacular devotion to those around us, and that includes everyday mundane care for them. Praise be all who do this. So mote it be.