February 2016 / Messages from Israel by Shira Richter/ Part II
ART, RESEARCH, THEORY: In November 2016 the column space was passed on to Shira Richter, a mother, artist, activist, film maker and educator from Israel, to curate three editions of the m/other voices monthly columns on the topic of the 'maternal' and the 'politics of everyday life' from her particular, situated, feminist maternal perspective of mothering twin sons in Israel. In the first edition of 'Messages from Israel', Richter brought us her interview with Dr. Andrea O'Reilly, entitled 'Motherhood; a Liability or Crime?' In this second edition, brought to you on Valentines Day 2017, Richter continues her ongoing investigation into patriarchal structures and mother work, this time turning her maternal gaze onto male violence and the "cultural gendered restrictions forced upon the men I love".
m/other voices thank's Shira Richter for her tireless work of re-imagining the world from a feminist maternal perspective and Dr. James F. Gilligan for his graceful and generous contribution to the ongoing conversation unfolding on the virtual pages of the m/other voices foundation.
MARY - THE MOTHER OF A SON WHO PREACHED FEMININE VALUES IN THE MIDDLE EAST
I live in what is labeled "The holy land". So holy, its ancient stone walls are full of bullet holes made by warriors of three major religions: Judaism, the religion I was born into, Christianity and Islam. War is a reality I have unconsciously taken for granted for several years, until, like sleeping beauty, the kiss of a man I love (and was afraid to lose) jolted me awake to the fact that men – mostly young men, are the ones who die in wars, while powerful older men are the ones creating the wars, while women are the ones investing most of their time energy and effort into producing and sustaining –these men people. If women are the ones doing most of the educating during the most influential years of a person, then why don't we don't have more influence? We don't because patriarchy is not a body. Patriarchy is a thought system which inhabits both women and men. The same way women "lean into" the masculine valued world, men may "lean into" the feminine valued world.
Several powerful male leaders who were brave enough to "lean into" feminine values of peace and non violence- were assassinated or executed, usually from within their own society. I'm thinking of three particular ones from this area: Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who shook the Palestinian Leader Arafat's hand, Anwar Sadat- president of Egypt, for making peace with Israel, and – Jesus.
Now, Jesus and his peace-love feminine attitude have been on my mind recently. Jesus and his mother- Mary. This is new because although I am secular and although Israel/Palestine is covered with Christian archeology and land marks, and although as an art Student in the 80's I studied art his-story consisting of numerous paintings of Jesus and Mary, I was brought up and educated in the Israeli formal educational system which represents Christianity as violent crusaders. Not much connection between me and violent crusaders…however, When I became a mother, Mother Mary popped back into my mind, because I was thirsty for artistic mother images to identify with and she is, after all, the most popular human mother in western art history, albiet a bit alienating because of her conception methods. Then Artist Beth Grossman pointed out the fact that Mary was actually- a Jewish mother.
To the readers who are not Jewish the term "Jewish Mother" is an extremely loaded stereotype which is juicy material for any Matricentric scholar. In a way it could be explained as the Jewish version of a "Helicopter mom". In short, the term "Jewish Mother" brings to mind a teenagers nightmare of a loud, manipulative, bossy, guilt tripping mother. Obviously I'm more interested in how mother work is ridiculed demoted and devalued in culture, so I'd say Jewish Mothers, like many mothers, work hard for the survival of their children and people. So I too, like Mary, am a Jewish Mother. Together with the fact that Mary was actually called Miriam (which is my middle name), was probably dark skinned with curly hair, she is also a mother to a boy who was quite feminine in a very violent war ridden and macho time; "Love, compassion, free will, and non violence combined with a disregard for laws, money and power expressed a feminine agenda such as no western religious leader had ever before espoused " writes Leonard Shain regarding Jesus in The Alphabet Versus the Goddess.
How dangerous for a young boy/man growing up in an extremely violent era to refuse his role in the male tradition. Miriam must have had her hands full trying to figure out how to make him fit in. Thousands of years after the crucifixion, "Feminine" behavior can still be lethal for a male in the middle east. Just look at what is done to homosexual men in countries the like of Iran. (Note- I am not saying Jesus was gay. I am just pointing to the different attributes we connect to specific qualities and behaviors).
In the Mary paintings (both commissioned and painted by men) White skinned blond and straight haired Miriam is quite passive. Like most mothers represented in popular media -she is depicted either as 'halo- high' on birth adrenaline, or holding her dead son (the pieta). However, knowing how women are usually short changed in male representations, my 'mother eyes' found a different Miriam. The Cana Wedding story Miriam is far from passive. In fact she was quite the typecast of a positive "Jewish Mother", with eyes of a hawk for the political survival of her son and his talents. Mary manipulates orchestrates and orders the water- to- wine miracle;
"There is no wine" she says to her son, obviously a code for "Now is the time". "What does that have to do with me?", says Jesus, and continues; "The time is not right" probably in reaction to her piercing look, proving his first refusal didn't convince her. Judging by what she does next- ignore his second refusal, she probably thinks her son is too young to know what's good for him. She gives the servants an order to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, in effect, setting the stage for the miracle, or magic act, whatever you want to call it. Now to me that's no passive mother, on the contrary! This is a shrewd mother who knows her son, knows her people, and the politics of social climbing. She is more like the active Olympian sports mothers in the Proctor and Gamble tear jerking "Thank you mom" campaign. "It takes someone strong to make someone strong" went their slogan, and yes, to me Miriam was strong and probably took to being her son's manager because there was a good chance he won't be bullied as much if he became a powerful leader. And while I'm at it, between you and me, a woman who convinces all the patriarchs around her she was impregnated by an angle must have been one hell of strong lady!
I live near Tel Aviv, the city with "the most sexy gay men in the world", to quote one gay man from Rio de Janeiro. But this is misleading. The Middle East is a region governed by male honor and masculine values with a deep fear of the (weak) feminine. I have witnessed times in which my sons were belittled by male authority figures: doctors, older boys…and even their own sports coach. According to these men, who by the way, meant well; Boys don't cry, are very competitive, and "mother" is forbidden to set foot on the court, even after a life threatening head fall. The majority of lethal violence we hear about in the news both in Israel/Palestine and other countries is executed by a person –or soul -living in a man's body, holding a man –made weapon. As a feminist who was occupied with the challenge of how to untangle my woman's body and voice from cultural gendered restrictions forced upon me, I now turn to investigate the cultural gendered restrictions forced upon the men I love, who want to "lean out" of the patriarchy. As a mother, I know that acting out is an encoded message. What is the encoded message men's souls are sending out via all this violence they are committing? Dr. James Gilligan gives us some valuable answers.
The below clips are from a longer interview I held with Dr. James Gilligan, M.D. Clinical professor of Psychiatry, at the School of Medicine, New York University and also life partner of Feminist Psychologist and author Carol Gilligan. If you like them and would like to see more, please help me grow by subscribing to my utube channel, "liking" and sharing them and commenting below them. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank James Gilligan once again for his kind and gentle cooperation. I also want to thank Prof. Tova Hartman for the beautiful Location of the interview, and Deirdre M. Donoghue, creator of the international m/other voices foundation for inviting me to curate this series in my own style and timing.
Shira Richter talks with male violence expert Dr. James Gilligan:
If you like the above clips and would like to see more, please help me grow by subscribing to my utube channel, "liking" and sharing them and commenting below them. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank James Gilligan once again for his kind and gentle cooperation. I also want to thank Prof. Tova Hartman for the beautiful Location of the interview, and Deirdre M. Donoghue, creator of the international m/other voices foundation for inviting me to curate this series in my own style and timing.
Production, Videography, Editing, Uploading: Shira Richter