Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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“So why don’t you interview more women?” my friend asked over a plateful of greasy french fries. I’d wondered about that myself. Was I too readily looking to men for insight, or were men just more obvious about having something to say? Either way the question of who to talk to remained. “How about Starhawk?” she suggested. I scanned my memory. Starhawk. Author of a book called The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, and one on politics and feminist spirituality called Dreaming The Dark. An outspoken activist, feminist, and witch. Interesting.
I called her up and we arranged to get together over tea at her San Francisco apartment and discuss the possibility of an interview. I showed her THE SUN and she told me about her work as a therapist and feminist counsellor. Pleasantries quickly gave way to an animated discussion about feminism and the question of whether anger could be an effective means of empowering oneself. “Good,” I said, “I think we’ll find plenty to talk about. When should we do the interview?” “It will have to be before June 20,” she said. “I’m getting arrested then.” It was no psychic prophecy but a well-planned and anticipated action.
Starhawk, along with the rest of the Livermore Action Group, was organizing for massive civil disobedience at the Livermore Laboratory — the northern California research center where much of America’s weaponry is designed and tested — as part of an international day of disarmament. When asked about the relationship between political and spiritual work — changing the world and changing oneself — most people I’ve talked with have said the two are inseparable, but few take the political side to the vigorous extremes that Starhawk does. She is moving fast, her days a string of anti-nuclear organizing, non-violence training, demonstrations, and meetings with her political alliances — and with her coven.
Witchcraft, as Starhawk describes it, is a goddess-based, nature-oriented religion which believes in spirit as immanent in the world and the sacredness of human life and culture. She feels in this a moral imperative to bring magic — “the art of changing consciousness at will” — into the political arena. “Magic can be very prosaic,” she says. “A leaflet, a lawsuit, a demonstration, or a strike can change consciousness. Magic can also be very esoteric, encompassing all of the ancient techniques of deepening awareness.”
Starhawk feels that reclaiming one’s own inner strength — a goal of both therapy and witchcraft — is inextricably tied to challenging a hierarchical social structure that is based on power over others rather than power from within. It’s a view of personal change that places much of its emphasis (and blame) on society and factors outside the individual. This leads to a unique approach to counselling. “I see my work as a therapist,” she says, “as attempting to help individuals to become empowered in the midst of a society that is fighting them every inch of the way.”
Starhawk is 32, recently divorced after a six-year marriage. She’s a founding member of Reclaiming, a center for feminist spirituality and counselling in San Francisco, and has a masters degree in psychology and feminist studies. I quite enjoyed speaking with her, though it was a different type of interview than I’m used to, more confrontive and provocative on both our parts. Her ideas about politics, feminism, and male-female relations are often quite pronounced and the difference between our viewpoints created a distinct and dynamic tension in the conversation. It was an interesting day to be discussing feminism, having been up late the night before working through a particularly painful scene in a relationship turned rockslide; I was tired and just a trifle ornery. So much for objectivity.
Since then, I’ve been following Starhawk in the newspapers. On June 20 she was arrested along with more than 1,000 others for blockading the Livermore Laboratory entrance. Six days have passed and more than 900 people are still housed in large tents — set up as a makeshift jail — refusing arraignment, in a confrontation with the local judge who is demanding unusually harsh penalties.
— Howard Jay Rubin
SUN: As a political activist, what do you find is the most effective way to bring about change?
STARHAWK: There are a lot of effective ways. The way I’ve tended to go is to take a strong stand against some of what needs to be changed — the operations of the military, or the preparations for nuclear war. That often involves civil disobedience, putting myself directly in front of the gate so the workers can’t get into the Livermore weapons lab to design, develop, and make the bombs. Or going into the Vandenberg Air Force Base where they’re testing the MX, and disrupting the operations of the base. That kind of action involves changing yourself as well as building community, building support for individuals to do that.
SUN: How is such direct action effective? And to what extent is that effectiveness dependent on the kind of consciousness you bring to the action?
STARHAWK: The actions have a direct effect. They stop the work for a day or a week and require enormous amounts of time and resources by the state.
SUN: But it certainly doesn’t seriously disrupt them.
STARHAWK: It depends. When we went to Vandenberg with 800 people we disrupted the base for a solid week. What if that were carried on in a number of different bases with a few more people? This kind of action withdraws consent from the military or the weapons lab; it creates a limit that the government knows it cannot go beyond. It also clarifies the power relationships. Usually we think of the courts and the military and the police as separate. When you’ve stood in front of a military base and gotten arrested by the police, and been taken to a jail set up on a college campus, and then tried in the courts, you begin to realize that these things are not separate. The power of the state is there to support the military machine. When that becomes clearer, people can no longer hide what they’re doing. It tears away the illusion that we live in a benevolent society. We don’t. The whole society is built on human destruction.
When we’re striving for the light we get away from the dark. As a witch I see the world itself as sacred. If there were such a thing as heresy in the craft, which there isn’t, that would be it — saying that you want to get away from half of what’s in the world.
When we’re striving for the light we get away from the dark. As a witch I see the world itself as sacred. If there were such a thing as heresy in the craft, which there isn’t, that would be it — saying that you want to get away from half of what’s in the world.
SUN: From the way you’re talking, I get a picture of a big, monolithic, evil structure. If you come at direct action with that us-vs.-them attitude, doesn’t that perpetuate the very power relationship you’re opposing?
STARHAWK: You’re the one who’s saying us/them, not me. There’s a difference between seeing the structure as destructive, and seeing the people in the structure that way. When we do a non-violent action, we approach it in a spirit of openness to the human beings we’re going to meet. That’s the point in doing it. It may be the police or the guards who suddenly realize they maintain that structure and decide not to participate in it.
SUN: Have you seen this happen often?
STARHAWK: Yes. At Vandenberg, one of the military men on the line threw down his baton and joined the demonstrators. At Diablo Canyon, one of the guards resigned after the action. Just recently there were two military people who went A.W.O.L. and took part in the sea blockade to stop arms shipments to El Salvador, and then turned themselves in saying they just couldn’t participate any further. It’s a spirit that spreads because you are open to the people and realize they’re not there because they’re evil but because they don’t see that they have a choice. It requires changing the whole structure and people taking risks. For one person it might involve standing on a line and getting arrested. For another it might involve changing a job or turning down a contract. One of my friends is working for a high-tech company which just got a military contract for doing computer work. He’s taking a risk by going in and saying that he can’t work on that. Risking his job or his promotion. When large numbers of people do that, it makes it impossible to carry on that kind of work. But people aren’t going to be willing to take those risks unless they see others doing it. If you’re the only person in the world who’s not going to work on a defense contract, you can say no and make a moral stand, but you’re not going to effectively change anything. Someone else will step into your place.
SUN: Would you encourage everyone, then, to participate in direct action?
STARHAWK: Direct action is not the only way of being political. I do think it’s important to deal with the political part of our society as part of every person’s empowerment; politics is the way we organize and make decisions in our society. An individual cannot be empowered and remove themselves from that whole realm of existence.
SUN: Does it have to mean relating to the power structure like that?
STARHAWK: I think that it does because the power structures are so enormously powerful in determining the reality that we live in. For me, the reality of things as they are is sacred; it is where spirituality and personal empowerment lie. You can’t just go off into the woods and do growth workshops and come to any kind of real empowerment.
SUN: Speaking of effective politics, Pete Seeger once said that if you didn’t like the way the monopolies were selling fruit, go out and open a fruit stand. That’s empowering yourself by setting up alternatives.
STARHAWK: That’s another way to do it but you’re still setting up alternatives out of an understanding that you don’t like the monopoly or the food company, an acceptance that the monopoly does exist and have an effect on people. People have to carefully examine what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, how it either reinforces a structure, sets up alternatives to it, or challenges it. A lot of people tend to look at their spirituality as if it functioned in a political vacuum and it doesn’t. It all has political implications and is serving one power structure or another.
SUN: When people sit together or alone, meditating or praying for peace, is that a political action?
STARHAWK: I don’t think it’s enough to think that you can just meditate and bring about world peace. I think there has to be some more direct work involved. I think that kind of thing can be wonderful as a way of making people aware of the issue, as a beginning step.
SUN: Don’t you think that changing our thought forms has an effect by itself, and in our actions?
STARHAWK: I guess I don’t have a lot of trust that people really are changing their thought forms. They may be re-labeling them, but changing thought forms is a hell of a lot of painful, emotional, stormy work. It’s not necessarily a matter of quiet meditation. My fear is that people are glossing over a problem, finding a safe and easy solution that doesn’t require any real change.
SUN: What is the role of ritual in political work?
STARHAWK: Ritual is important to me because my political work comes out of my spiritual tradition which is witchcraft or paganism — a pre-Christian religion, an earth-based European religion similar to the Native American religion in a lot of ways. It sees the earth and life on earth as sacred, and that’s a pretty strong imperative for going out in the world and trying to protect it. Witchcraft doesn’t have a sacred book or dogma. It’s not a belief system, but a value system. And the way we enact those values is through rituals, through experiences in which we connect with other human beings and with the earth, feeling our closeness and power. A political action is in a sense a ritual. Sometimes it’s a great ritual and sometimes it’s a rather dull ritual where people just come and listen to boring speeches.
In witchcraft we talk about the goddess. Speaking of the goddess instead of the god is not just a difference of female vs. male. It’s got to do with seeing spirit as immanent in nature and in human beings and in culture. If you’re at the gates of the Livermore lab, the goddess is right there. It’s as fine a place as any, and better than most, to do a ritual and connect with that power because that’s the point where it may be most threatened.
SUN: What is your way of deepening this connection with each other and with the earth?
STARHAWK: We call it magic — the art of changing consciousness at will. Other cultures might call it meditation or yoga or shamanism. All the same. The techniques that we use are very similar — breathing or chanting, rhythm and postures that create altered states of consciousness.
SUN: Is the goal of a ritual to raise the energy in people in a group, or some specific goal in the world?
STARHAWK: It can be either or both. When you see spirit as being immanent in the world, then there’s no clear separation. When you’re working on yourself you’re also working on the world, and when you’re working on the world you’re also working on yourself.
SUN: You wrote of magic, in Dreaming in the Dark, as based on the understanding of how consciousness shapes reality and reality shapes consciousness. Let’s talk about that, perhaps using an example of the interplay between the two in a particular act of magic.
STARHAWK: Let me think about that for a while and find a good example.
SUN: Okay, how about without the example. Would I be right in paraphrasing that by saying that we create our own reality at the same time that our reality creates us?
STARHAWK: I hate the phrase, “We create our own reality.” I think that it has become a new age cliche that is used to justify blaming the victim. People say, “You’re sitting there in the ghetto, but you created that reality.” And that’s bullshit. I would rather phrase it that we shape our reality instead of creating our reality of whole cloth. There’s something there and we can influence it and to a certain extent mold it. It’s like a feedback loop; in that molding it also molds us.
SUN: Does that bring up any examples?
SUN: You purposely use words like “witch” because they bring up fear and negative images in other people. Why do you do that?
STARHAWK: Because I think that if people are forced to confront those negative images and understand a different reality behind them, they can work through their feelings of fear. It is essentially a fear of powerful women.
SUN: What kinds of reactions do you get?
STARHAWK: Giggles, nervousness, and real fear. Sometimes perfect strangers will come up and say that after reading my book they have had dreams of me appearing as a very frightening witch figure. I recently did a telephone interview over the radio in Iowa. There were people who said, “You’re a witch and you’re a therapist. I think the state of California should know about that and not allow you to practice.” And other people who said, “Gee, I really appreciate hearing this. These are new ideas to me and I think I’ve learned something.”
SUN: Is there anything of substance behind the fearful thought form of witch? Is there a real distinction between what is called white magic and black magic, white witchcraft and black witchcraft?
STARHAWK: As you know I don’t like those terms.
SUN: If I had found better ones I would have used them instead.
STARHAWK: Witchcraft does talk about the power of those altered states of consciousness that Western society turned away from three or four hundred years ago and has identified as scary and evil. Of course, that kind of power — like any power — can be used constructively or destructively. Witches have a set of ethics about how to use that power; whatever you use that power for, whatever you send out, returns to you three times over. In order to use that power to shape something, you have to identify with what you’re trying to shape. Reality shapes you at the same time that you shape it.
SUN: Why is one action more an act of magic than another?
STARHAWK: It isn’t necessarily. You could call it all an act of magic. For example, there was the ritual we did at Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. About 20 of us hiked in on the eve of the Fall equinox to a ridge overlooking the plant. It took us two days to do the hike through the back country, watching out for helicopters, hiding in the brush, diving into the poison oak when one would fly over. We were intent both on doing the ritual and on occupying the plant. Some people were blocking the front gate while others were going into the plant itself. There were seven miles of back roads between the gate and the plant itself. We got up on the ridge, just at dusk, and did a ritual in the standard witchcraft sense. We cast a circle. We called the four directions, the four elements. We invoked the goddess and the god who is the male aspect of the goddess. We chanted. As part of the ritual we made a lot of noise and shone flashlights down on the plant, banging pots and pans, while at the same time focusing power on the plant to shut it down. We finished the ritual, slept for a few hours, and then climbed over the gate and occupied it until the next morning when we were arrested. So, you could say that ritual was part of a whole action based on changing consciousness, aimed at shutting the plant down. Diablo Canyon is built on an earthquake fault. After the action, someone’s consciousness in the plant had changed because they made public some of the problems the plant was having — for example, blueprints had been reversed when the plant was built and safety specifications were not being met. It was shut down for studies and is still shut down now, two years later. So the whole blockade did change the consciousness that was allowing the plant with all its problems to go forward. But in another sense, the ritual and the whole blockade enormously changed the consciousness of the people who took part in it. Speaking for myself, doing the Diablo blockade was for me a step toward a more active involvement in politics after a history of doing educational work and organizing. It was the first time I had consciously done civil disobedience and my consciousness was changed by it. I no longer felt comfortable sitting in graduate school listening to a teacher. I had been in this group organized along such different principles: everyone who took part in the blockade was in a small affinity group which was the basis of all decision making, decisions being made by consensus, with everyone having a chance to speak. It was a feminist process in which there was an awareness of not allowing certain people to dominate because they were male or more articulate or whatever, and so creating a space where everyone’s voice would be heard.
SUN: In your writing, you place a lot of emphasis on changing images and terminology. Why does a word like “enlightenment” bother you so much?
STARHAWK: Because it’s part of the thinking that says that light is good and dark is bad. When we’re striving for all light we get away from the dark. As a witch I see the world itself as sacred. If there were such a thing as heresy in the craft, which there isn’t, that would be it — saying that you want to get away from half of what’s in the world. It’s a denial of what sacredness is. That particular metaphor, the light/dark split, is really a fundamental basis of racism in western culture. It was used very deliberately in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the beginning of the slave trade. Part of the justification for taking the African slaves was that their color proved they were cursed by God. It has always been a metaphor used for genocide against people who were dark, against dark-haired Jews.
SUN: You write, “Without negating the light, we reclaim the dark.” What does it mean?
STARHAWK: The dark in this culture has come to represent what we aren’t supposed to deal with — sexuality, the hidden sides of things, those other states of consciousness that aren’t kosher, the intense emotions we’re not supposed to feel. Also it means to me an alliance with people of dark skin and others who have been oppressed and kept down. And an alliance with nature which also has both dark and light aspects and has also been very much oppressed, exploited for profit, not seen as inherently valuable.
SUN: Another type of darkness is that part of ourselves that we haven’t brought to consciousness yet, or as we say, “brought to light.” In facing that darkness we encounter a lot of fear. What has scared you in those dark corners and how have you dealt with it?
STARHAWK: I’ve had to work through a lot of fear — I guess most women have — to get in touch with my own power, with my own ability to shape reality and to have influence in the world. That tends to be very terrifying to people. It implies enormous responsibility. The more power you have to shape reality, the more potential you have for fucking up. So you have to be willing to come to terms with that and say, “Yes, I can get in touch with this, and I will probably make mistakes along the way, and I don’t have to be perfect to do it.” It means facing that part of oneself shared by everyone in this culture — the self-hater, the internalization of all the external authorities, structures, and people we’ve encountered. The self-hater is always judging us and saying this is good or this is bad, and if you are bad then you have to feel bad and essentially don’t even have the right to exist. It comes from growing up in a culture where we don’t see people as having inherent value or a right to exist, where worth is dependent on doing something, on following the rules, placating the right gods, on achieving, on making money.
SUN: So we all to some extent have this feeling of unworthiness. As a therapist, how do you help people deal with this self-hater?
STARHAWK: There is no prescription because everyone has to make that journey themselves, in their own way. But I do think that one of the first things you have to do is be willing to face the self-hater, to identify it and say, “Yes, there is this part in me, and it is part of me.” It’s not just something that some nasty person stuck inside me, it’s part of who I am. I not only judge myself with it, but I’m capable of turning it outward and judging others. There must be a willingness to confront that part and struggle with it, literally fight it out. Ultimately it comes down to being able to love that part, however you transform it first. It is in our self-hater that a lot of our power is locked up, being turned against oneself or other people, judging and comparing.
SUN: So if there were one prescription it might be phrased, “Love it to death.”
SUN: What would you say is the thematic difference between your approach and psychotherapy?
STARHAWK: I see my work as attempting to help individuals become empowered in the midst of a society which is fighting that every inch of the way, from conception all the way to death. I use a variety of techniques but the focus is on helping to clarify what keeps a person from being empowered. I help them to see the reality that they’re not alone in that, it’s not their personal fault, but part of the whole condition of society. Once they become empowered, I help them figure out what they want to do with their ability to shape what goes on around them.
SUN: What do people seem to be looking for when they come to you?
STARHAWK: It varies — from people who are basically doing fine and want to grow, make changes, and explore, to people who just are not functioning at all. I see a lot of women who have been victims of sexual abuse or incest. That was one of the big surprises when I started to work with people — how common the abuse really is. The statistics suggest one out of three but if you count all physical abuse, about half the women in the population are included. I do work with men but most of my clients tend to be women.
SUN: You write about a principle of magic — keeping yourself grounded. What do you mean?
STARHAWK: In the most purely magical sense it means having a root connection with the earth that we can visualize — drawing on energy from the earth. We consider the earth as an enormous pool of energy, inexhaustible for our purposes. When you draw that energy up you always put it back into the earth. It’s like plant life. There’s plenty of energy in the earth to sustain the forest but all the leaves fall back.
SUN: And personally, how do you keep yourself grounded?
STARHAWK: Often by breathing. Breathing down into my belly and realizing that there is connection with the earth. The connection goes down through the root chakra and down through your legs and feet. When you breathe into your belly instead of high in your chest, it’s like opening up a whole channel for all the energy to flow through your body.
SUN: That’s a practice in many traditions: breathing on the in-breath down into the belly, then on the out-breath down through the feet and feeling a connection with the earth. What you’re describing sounds like the same thing.
STARHAWK: Yes, but it also means grounded in a broader sense — staying in touch with reality.
SUN: Which kind of reality?
STARHAWK: Here and now, day to day, granola reality. Making sure you eat, making sure you sleep, making sure your house stays reasonably clean, making sure your checkbook has money to cover the checks that you write. Working, making a living, that kind of groundedness.
SUN: Then there’s the balance between covering those essentials and finding time to explore other activities.
STARHAWK: It takes time to cover all the bases but if they aren’t covered then you really can’t effectively do anything else.
SUN: You’ve been married. Are you still?
STARHAWK: No, I’m divorced.
SUN: With your strong feminist feelings, would you speak about how you were able to strike the right balance, for a time, with your husband? What makes a relationship work?
STARHAWK: I am not a separatist myself, obviously. The groups I work with include both men and women. Some of the groups are women only. I live with women and my coven is all women, but my larger coven or affinity group includes men. To me it’s important to have connections with both. I don’t see relationship as limited to a husband or lover. I think the same things apply to my relationship with the women I live with in this house. They’re just as intense.
SUN: Definitely. What I’m asking about particularly is, given your views, what does it take for the male/female dynamic to work? Have you found distinct obstacles to overcome?
STARHAWK: I don’t know if the history of my relationship with Ed is the best example, but what worked well was our ability to respect each other’s differences. For a long time our relationship was based on the idea that although we were very different, we were learning something from each other. When it finally ended, I think both of us felt, “Hey, maybe we’ve learned what we needed to have learned from each other’s differences. And maybe we’ve gotten to the point where these differences are holding us back instead of helping us to go forward.” He was not a witch or a pagan and not as politically involved, but he had a real down-to-earth quality. A lot of what I got from him in that relationship was grounding. I tend to be up in the air a lot, totally caught up in ideas or fantasies and not grounded. Being with Ed was good for me; I learned that, hey yes, you do have to keep the checkbook balanced.
SUN: Let’s go into your use of the word feminist. What does feminism mean to you?
STARHAWK: To me, a feminist is someone who has a commitment to radically changing the structure of society toward equality between women and men, between different races and classes. As a feminist, I attempt to change the roles assigned to men and women and so to change the divisions underlying them.
SUN: How do we heal the divisions caused by sexism?
STARHAWK: The first step for most people is consciousness raising. Some of the ways it operates are very subtle and hard to see. Sometimes men will be told that something they’ve done is sexist and they look stunned. It hurts to be told that you’ve done something that has hurt someone else. And to be told you’ve got to change.
SUN: Let’s look at some of those subtle forms of sexism. Where should I look in myself for such signs?
STARHAWK: All I can do is give examples. In most groups, men speak more than women. Women tend to feel much more uneasy about speaking out in groups and need a different structure. Also, there are large groups where women can have their hands up all day and not get called on. Women become almost invisible, the same as black people or working class people.
SUN: How do you feel about the idea that an important task for a man is to make peace with the feminine aspects of himself and for a woman to make peace with the male aspects of herself?
STARHAWK: I think it’s true for this culture, the need to make peace with all of those qualities that we are supposed not to have because of who we are. But as far as accepting it as some abstract truth that applies to all cultures at all times. . . .
SUN: I mean in our culture at this time.
STARHAWK: I tend not to phrase it that way anymore because it reinforces the idea that there is “the feminine” or “the masculine.”
SUN: How do you phrase it?
STARHAWK: I think that we each need to encounter those qualities and parts of ourselves that we were conditioned not to have, to acknowledge and explore them. That’s part of the dark. In the craft we have both goddesses and gods. We’re a polytheistic religion although all the gods and goddesses are seen as aspects of one living being. The goddesses are active, creative, aggressive, destructive. So are the gods. These qualities aren’t limited to one or the other. There’s always a cycle and there’s always a balance but it’s not necessarily tied to the balance of the sexes. There’s light and there’s dark but neither one is good or evil. Both are part of the cycle and have different kinds of power associated with them.
SUN: How about these qualities in yourself?
STARHAWK: In a lot of ways I am still what women are brought up to be. I’m very much oriented toward relationships, toward people. I deal much better with people than I do with mechanical objects though I have attempted to deal with mechanical things and sometimes found it very empowering — to take a long bicycle trip, have an accident, and be able to fix my bicycle myself. But when I need my car fixed, I find I still haven’t gotten beyond my one course in auto mechanics which didn’t go very well. Some of these things become choices; at this point I feel I’m choosing not to deal with the inside of my car’s engine.
SUN: It sounds almost like an obligation: a voice saying that to avoid the conditioned feminine trap you have to be able to fix your car. That sounds wrong also.
STARHAWK: Yes. I do think that if you’re not going to fall into the feminine trap you have to acknowledge that there’s no reason why you can’t fix your car just because you’re a woman.
SUN: But you don’t have to fix it.
STARHAWK: Right. You can decide consciously that it’s not something you want to do but you don’t get out of it by saying, “Oh, I’m a girl so I can’t do that.” It’s the same if you’re a man. You may choose not to do your own laundry, not to fix your own clothes, not to make your own dinner — you can go out to a restaurant or send your laundry out. But if you’re living with a woman and you find that she is doing all the laundry and fixing all the meals, and if she finds that you’re fixing the car all the time and she’s not taking responsibility for it, then I think there is a problem.
SUN: Sometimes, perhaps, our rebelliousness can limit us. If a woman is blocked from being able to nurture and care for a man because she doesn’t want to fall into that feminine trap, doesn’t she risk closing off her softness?
STARHAWK: Women are so conditioned to nurture a man that it may be very useful sometimes to close off to that, to decide not to do it. That may sometimes be the only way to really reclaim the nurturing energy, to be able to nurture oneself and other women.
SUN: By closing off to that nurturing energy?
STARHAWK: By closing it off to men. Saying, “O.K. This conditioning is too strong. I don’t want to deal with that. I’m going to choose to give my energy to women rather than to men.”
SUN: It seems that just perpetuates the rift between men and women: I can’t give my nurturance to a man because he’s a man, closing down toward the other.
STARHAWK: I think at this particular time in history it’s very important for a lot of women to do that. One result is men thrown on their own resources, pushed to do more of their own nurturing. Women in the feminist community have formed groups and found ways to give each other a lot of nurturance and growth. Men are only barely beginning to do that. There are a lot of very important dynamics that go back to our having been raised and nurtured by a woman. We look to women for a very deep kind of care and nurturing. Men don’t see that they have that source in themselves or in other men.
SUN: You think that will be the result of women closing off to men?
STARHAWK: What happens a lot in the actions, when women and men are separated in the jails, is that at times the men in the group have freaked out. They’ve found being cut off from women an emotionally shaking experience.
SUN: Accepting the importance of finding a source of nurturance and power within ourselves, I still have trouble with the idea of finding my strength through closing to others.
STARHAWK: Sometimes closing is necessary, just like opening.
SUN: Yes. But let’s carry this further. If a woman empowers herself through anger or even hatred toward men in general, regardless of their individual qualities, aren’t we just deepening the separation and estrangement between people?
STARHAWK: It sounds to me like you’re a little threatened at the idea of women closing off to men. Would you say that if black people decide they don’t like white people they have to continue serving and nurturing white people?
SUN: No, and I wouldn’t say that about a woman either. I don’t say that a woman has to be nurturing of men but is it really healing to bring up anger or hatred at men as a vehicle? It seems to be exactly the same prejudice, in reverse, as men degrading women.
STARHAWK: There’s a difference between anger and hatred. Anger is a response to being attacked or endangered. If women are threatened or endangered by men they can only get to empowerment through anger. If they remain stuck there forever they’re not necessarily going to be empowered by it. But I can make a very important choice to not participate with men. Not out of hatred, just deciding that this is not where I choose to put my energy. Instead, I choose to put it into nurturing and healing and working with women.
SUN: That’s certainly a valid choice. But I rebel at the thought of not being seen by another just because I am a man. I don’t consider myself just a man; I don’t think that’s the only part of me.
STARHAWK: It’s painful. It hurts. As a white person, when I go somewhere with a black friend of mine where there are a lot of black people who don’t want to deal with me because I’m white, that hurts. But I understand it as the penalty that we have to pay for the history of our culture. And I don’t think that it’s necessarily up to them to change their attitude. I think it’s up to me, as a white person, to do something to change this society in which black people are still continually threatened and endangered by white people. And then let them change their attitude.
SUN: So before they should be able to see you clearly, you have the responsibility to change the rest of society?
STARHAWK: I think that it’s up to me to be working on that, not to expect that all black people are going to see me as an individual when we live in a society where white people as a group still threaten black people as a group. I’m benefiting from the privileges of having white skin. I think the same goes for men and women.
SUN: I’m not a woman or a black but there are minorities I am in. Imagining myself in one of those minorities, I would want to take the responsibility for opening up my own eyes and not wait for the rest of society. And from that position of being able to see the people around me clearly, and feeling my connection with them, to better work with them toward a change.
STARHAWK: I’m also a Jew. I didn’t grow up with heavy anti-semitism but I’ve still had times of paranoia — finding myself deep in the heart of Christian-land, off on a bicycle trip in some little Oregon town where suddenly everyone is a fundamentalist Christian and the only Jew is five miles away. I realize, “Hmm. I’m a stranger here.” My grandmother grew up in Russia, had to leave because of the pogroms, saw her relatives killed for being Jews. I would laugh at her when I was a kid. I’d say, “Grandma, I’m going to the movies,” and her response would be, “The movies? Will there be Jewish people there?” She strongly believed that you were only safe with Jews because of her history.
SUN: As a Jew I have not personally been persecuted, but if I were, I would hope to take responsibility for discriminating between those individuals who were persecuting me and those who were not. To sever my connection with people because historically their people had persecuted my people would seem to drain my power, not empower me.
STARHAWK: Have you ever been to Germany?
STARHAWK: You see, I essentially agree with you. I live in this world. My grandmother’s history is different from mine. The Christians haven’t been a direct life threat to me so it’s easy for me to say, “Sure, I don’t have to be afraid of this whole people as a block.” But when I travelled through Germany I always had an uneasy feeling. I couldn’t look at anyone above a certain age without wondering what they were doing during World War II. I don’t think that is something that I as a Jew am going to get over. It might not prevent me from being friends with individual Germans, but I sure would want to check them out carefully first. I think that’s the way a lot of women feel about men. How a lot of blacks feel about whites. You may be friends with them but experience has said that these people as a group have not been safe to be around. You want to check each individual out carefully before you allow yourself to make that connection.
SUN: I can understand that better: percentage-wise these people have been untrustworthy and I want to check this individual out carefully is different from saying that I will not connect with a male, or a Christian, or a black, or a white.
STARHAWK: There might still be someone who has been through a concentration camp and now refuses to go to Germany at all.
Howard Jay Rubin
Regarding the interview with Starhawk (Issue 93):
I understand how women have to cut men off from the continual mothering they seem to never want to leave. I understand how the power of women must be multiplied so we may peacefully share the planet.
What I don’t understand is how the use of violence, the presentation of it in stories, pictures, the skullduggery and scheming against the enemy (be it idea, structure in society, personal mental habit), can possibly change us into more gentle and mature beings.
I know that the spaces we go through are helpful if shared with others in similar spaces. And, at the same time, I wonder if the principles I have been taught are not basically true. Is the mind a reflector and a snare for wandering ideas and, thus, is any presentation of images (however rationalized by our right brain) which give the mind more forms of violence fueling the violence?
It is a question of balance, of course. And I wonder if the tendency toward more violent images I seem to perceive in this last issue of THE SUN (The Lucy Syndrome and Lorenzo Milam’s work seemed particularly vivid) are part of this “structure” which Starhawk sees as inherent in our society. I know that whenever anyone gives me advice on writing a popular novel to make money, they say write about money, sex, violence, in any order. I’ve been wondering if THE SUN is maybe slipping on the bandwagon there a bit. Certainly one can fight fire with fire, as any forest firefighter knows. What one is left with is ashes, however.
Well, enough said here. THE SUN is certainly not a feminist magazine and I hope it doesn’t get to be one. And, as it says under the masthead, “What is to give light must endure burning.” At the same time, a famous writer once said of his work, “I know it’s bullshit, but isn’t it brilliant bullshit?” I’m in favor of putting bullshit on the garden, not in my mind, however brilliant it is. Not that just about anything isn’t bullshit from some point of view, of course.
Hey, diddle, diddle. Keep up the good work. Doing what I can locally to raise subscribers for you.