A Feminist Tarot: Judgment

We all hold on too tight to things we ought to let go.  It’s one of those human commonalities which should make it easier to understand each other but rarely works that way.  And this card tells us to come to terms with those things and let them go.

It’s rarely logical, the things we cling to, and the way we judge our bodies is often among the most damaging of these, the most illogical, and very difficult to change.  Even when we make choices meant to break through bonds, we often find that the release is more difficult than we expect.

 

 

It’s so much easier to see strength and beauty and courage in others than it is in ourselves.  It’s easier to cheer on others who defy damaging norms and restrictive standards than it is to defy them ourselves.

It’s easier to see the harm in the expectations placed upon us than it is to face the possible repercussions for being the rebel who chooses to break them.

I knew immediately that I wanted to draw this card as a woman looking at herself in a mirror.  This card tells us to bring up our pasts, our burdens, the things we find difficult to face, and then process those things and let them go.  And for too many modern women, the beliefs which our culture has etched into our brains form the foundation for so much of what we should be releasing and moving on from.

A Feminist Tarot: The Sun

Where the Wheel of Fortune was luck, the Sun is good fortune.  Where the Star spoke of long-term success in the future, the Sun is short-term success today.  When I talked about the Tower and those moments of revelatory devastation leading to motivational clarity, the Sun is the day before that moment when everything seemed great.

The Sun is optimism and a feeling of being shiny and new.  Optimism is great, and renewal is important, but too often our culture sells women the benefits of sparkling optimism while it sells men the advantages of achievement.  We’re told that if we aren’t happy with what we have, then we simply aren’t fully believing in ourselves and we’re holding ourselves back.  It’s a really nice way of blaming us for a system built on a deck stacked against us.

But as I said when I posted about The Fool, we live in a culture which encourages us to always chase the new beginning, the great adventure, the birth of a new self.  The unrelenting optimist doesn’t see danger or destruction.  The chaser of new journeys doesn’t stay in one place long enough to experience the reality of where they are.  Constant pursuit of a new self never allows the celebration of the old self.  And when we give in to the push to live in a world of sunny thoughts and constant movement away from reality and toward a bright new day, we buy into the notion that we are never good enough as we are and that the disappointing existence we know can only be escaped but never changed.

When we believe that, we give up our power.

A Feminist Tarot: The Moon

From a feminist perspective, this card provokes a rather defensive reaction from me.  After all, it’s this idea of the irrational, moody, emotional female which has been used to restrict and oppress women over the course of centuries.  The image of the uncontrollable insane genius is considered fascinating in men, dangerous in women.

This card speaks to every quality which has been used over history to paint women as unstable, uncontrollable, untrustworthy, and tragically dangerous.

But history also shows us the value in reclaiming such negative stereotypes and twisting them to strength.  And this card, like emotions and visions and things not rational, isn’t any more negative than it is positive.  Because the problem isn’t that these qualities are bad in women and good in men, the problem is that they are PERCEIVED to be bad in women and good in men.

A Feminist Tarot: The Star

This is one of those beautiful but esoteric depictions in the tarot deck, and one which further uses feminine imagery in a way which no longer really speaks to us as women. But the meaning of the card is important and extremely relevant to feminism as a movement:

Good things are on the way, in the future, if you continue to work towards them.

Especially in times like this when the fight is constant and progress is often hard to come by, the reassurance that there is help and success somewhere on the road ahead if we just keep putting one foot in front of the other is both needed and unappreciated.

What it mostly brings to mind for me is the time I spent marathon training.  I’d never been an athlete, much less a runner, and I’d honestly not been much of one for following recommended systems and programs.  But as a personal quest to prove to myself that I could choose such discipline and finish something I started, I began running.

Progress was hard to see at times.  The process was long.  My workouts were difficult.  I didn’t always meet goals or complete everything on my training schedule.  I had to give up social engagements because of training obligations.  I doubted whether I’d finish in the allotted time.  I got sunburns and blisters and muscle cramps and terrible chafing.

But I also had days when suddenly the struggle gave way to surprising success.  I did things I didn’t think I was capable of.  Hard things got easier.  And eventually, I crossed the finish line and got my medal.  And I got there because I just kept focusing on the future and the possibility of success.

This fight is long and probably won’t be completed in our lifetimes, but history – like this card – tells us that if we keep pushing we’ll get somewhere better than where we are now.

A Feminist Tarot: The Tower

I was recently having a discussion with a group of feminist women where we were talking about how so many women younger than us seemed to have trouble finding relevance in feminist ideas.  The reaction against the Women’s March, against the label of feminist, against the very idea that there is more to win and fight for, was something we all found troubling.

On the other hand, many of us in the Gen-X bracket also had stories about how we, too, had once considered feminism as a historical movement which had lost its relevance.  We had access to education and employment, the doors seemed open to us all around, and all we had to do was take advantage of the gains won by the women who came before us.

And then we all had Tower moments.

This card is about false structures collapsing to reveal truth.  It’s about devastating and violent change which shows us that things are not as they seem, and horrifyingly so.  This card marks those times when our world crashes down around us, but leaves us seeing reality so much more clearly.

And all of us had those moments when we came up hard against a glass ceiling, against the systems of oppression which had made themselves harder to see and more covert in their machinations, but so very much not diminished.  And we all knew that it was those moments which transformed us into feminists, into activists.  Until we saw reality without its shiny facade of pretend equality, we failed to see the limits put on our existence.

So while many find this card and this concept scary, it’s a card I don’t mind seeing in the deck.  If I am being deceived, I would rather endure the destruction of that deception and come out the other side with more wisdom and more motivation than continue to pretend things are okay.  And while I don’t wish struggle and suffering and upheaval on others, I certainly hope for more people to see through the illusion and realize how much we still have to fight for.

A Feminist Tarot: The Devil

I found this card one of the most interesting to redesign, as it taps directly into one of the most difficult issues in feminism:  sexuality and morality.  So much of feminism and resistance to feminism is rooted in conflict over how a woman’s sexuality can and should be expressed, right down to the ultimate conflict of reproductive rights.

The Devil is all about choices and desires, pleasure and power.  The card’s imagery often includes a man and woman chained at the feet of the devil, held prisoner by their desires.  And it’s easy to see the image and take it as a warning that worldly, physical pleasures lead to such bondage and imprisonment.  But the images also often show the chains as easily removable, if the man and woman realized and/or wished it.  Further, many depictions show those who have indulged in those choices and profited, shrugging off the bonds once they’ve served their purpose and climbing distant mountains to new goals.  The card speaks of pleasure and consequence, but not in the sense that the worldly leads to hell.

Too often, though, this card brings to mind ideas of hell, of punishment meted out for indulgences in pleasure and desire for power.  And it is that very idea – that the worldly and physical are dangerous and bad – which is wielded as a weapon against women. We are discouraged from wanting, from indulging, from choosing our own interests and desires as priorities.  We are treated as if we cannot be trusted with our own bodies, and those women who choose to seek what brings them pleasure are shamed and doubted and punished.

Is the woman who builds her own career in adult films a victim?  A smart businesswoman?  A shameless whore?  A brainwashed tool of the patriarchy?  Can she benefit herself without further oppressing those who are victimized within the industry?  Is our assessment of the impact of sex work on sex workers correct?  Do we have a right to judge those who choose?  Is a woman who makes a choice which can harm her necessarily a victim in need of saving?

Are women only to be trusted to make their own decisions if they make perfect ones?

Who decides what choices are correct?

A Feminist Tarot: Temperance

Temperance, despite the word’s association with the prohibitionist movement, has nothing to do with giving things up.  Think of an alloy – two substances blended to get some of the best qualities of both.  Temperance is about taking two opposites and creating a stronger third option.

Thinking of this concept in terms of gender equality actually got me to thinking about the way we have historically treated gender as a binary.  Two opposites, meant to complement and contrast and never blend.  But let’s face it, that’s the entire problem with gender inequality, isn’t it?  If feminine and masculine are to be opposites, how can equality ever be achieved?  How are we ever to combat the negatives engendered by such a system if we don’t challenge the system itself?

We’re increasingly seeing acknowledgement of the idea that gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum, not as a binary.  If we view feminism through the lens of temperance, I think it becomes clear that the way forward may be found not in belittling traditional femininity or in elevating it above traditional masculinity, but in seeking to simply find a unified humanity by celebrating the full spectrum which lies between.  Temperance means redefining how we place value on expression and presentation.  It means no longer placing importance on “male” and “female” and shifting all that importance and energy to creating and developing what lies between.