Womanpriest: A Personal Odyssey

Second wave feminists put themselves into the (male) world with the lofty goal of attaining equality of the sexes. Many second wavers entered the world through the halls of academia which they felt was the only way to level the scales of inequality. Increasingly since the 1960s women have enrolled in college and received high degrees and become those who professor the academic word to the upcoming generation.

One of the major battles second wavers engaged in was the elimination of gendered language. No longer would there be “selectmen”, there would be “selectpersons”. Congressman went out with the dodo and now a member of Congress is called a Congressperson. While I embrace these non-gendered words when speaking of the position and not the individual, I do actually like gendered language.

Alla Renee Bozarth-Campbell is your classic second wave academic one of those who wants to eliminate gendered language. Page 89 of her book Womanpriest: A Personal Odysseyis a good example of her desire to strike gendered language from the lips of Episcopals

It was during that same year [11973] that the General Convention, meeting in Houston, eliminated once and for all the discriminatory cannon on “deaconesses,” declaring them to be women in the deaconate on par with male deacons. For the first time, ordained women were clearly and unequivocally acknowledged to be what they were: fully ordained clergy, complete deacons.

The Episcopal church eliminated the word “deaconess” because they thought it was discriminatory. I disagree. While I’m all in favor of trying to gender-neutralize words (which isn’t very difficult in English since it’s a language of non-gendered words), I’m not in favor of women being known by the male term. For instance, we no longer have “actresses”, all those who act, male or female, are actors. So why are women embracing the male term, INSISTING on the male term?

Bozarth-Campbell shoots herself in the foot with this desire to eliminate the “discriminatory cannon” when she titled her book “Womanpriest.” For someone who doesn’t want to her title to differentiate her from her male counterparts, she should’ve just name the book “Priest: A Personal Odyssey.” But then that would defeat the purpose of the book because her status as a woman wouldn’t be immediately known. She wants to be differentiated from her male counterparts.

The question which keeps coming into my mind as I read this book (I’m about half done) is why doesn’t she call herself “priestess”? But then I remember her dislike of gendered language (not really if you look at the title of the book with a critical eye), and I think, it’d be too non-Christian for her, too non-Abrahamic.

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6 Responses to Womanpriest: A Personal Odyssey

  1. Alla Bozarth says:

    The person who wrote this opinion misses the point made in WOMANPRIEST: A PERSONAL ODYSSEY, in either the first or revised editions by Alla Renée Bozarth (Alla Bozarth-Campbell). The author does not object to gender language, as the title would indicate at the outset. She objects to the misuse of language by the artificial addition of the “ess” suffix to words which are in themselves non-gender and inclusive. The “genderization” of non-gender words for the sole purpose of treating the female representatives referred to as those who should be given a separate and lesser status is the point of her objection. If the dissenting writer looked up a few words subjected to this abuse, such as “actor” or “poet”, it would be clear that such words are not gender words. They are not masculine words. To feminize them is an artifice that expresses discriminatory intent.

    As for the author not using the word “priestess,” it has nothing to do with her being too much in the Abrahamic tradition to do so. In WOMANPRIEST, she writes that the patriarchal traditions historically look down on priestesses as representing fertility cults, reflecting further that she’d rather be associated with a fertility cult than a sterility cult. The author does not refer to herself as “priestess” not only because of the dismissive attitude toward that word on the part of modern patriarchal religions and culture, but primarily because “priest” is not, linguistically speaking, a masculine word. She creates the neologism “Womanpriest,” to express the celebration of the feminine in a way that has no historical or psychological connotation of inferiority such as that connected with the word “priestess.” This is in reaction to the demeaning of the feminine, as the author explains, and she is optimistic in her expectation that soon it will not be necessary to phrase the feminine in a positive light because the feminine will no longer be psychologically regarded negatively as inferior to the masculine. In a very short time, in fact, since the human species has not yet achieved that level of maturity, the artificially constructed word “womanpriest” would shift in usage from psychologically and linguistically transitional celebration to the usual discriminatory connotations, and for this reason the author does not mean for it to be the normal reference word referring to women in the priesthood. She is calling attention to the psychological, sociological and historical sources of the problem by using the methodology of discriminatory language distortions to correct those distortions. It is a poetic, rhetorical overstatement not intended for general usage by any means, but merely to make a point. It must not be taken as a plea for normal usage, because until the feminine is no longer regarded as second rate, to point out the female sex of a professional person still evokes an unconscious psychological feeling about the person referred to as “not quite the real thing.” The phrases “woman doctor” and “woman lawyer” are used in this way, as is the artificial word “actress,” to justify not taking the professional person seriously because she is, after all, “only a woman.” The word “womanpriest” makes this obvious. It says, “All right, our female sex has been regarded as inferior and therefore as justification for paying us less than our male counterparts in the professions. Let’s turn that negative into a positive by saying that our female sex is cause for celebration of the possibility that as women we have something new to bring to our professions, namely, our woman’s point of view, which among other things includes a sense of how it feels to be a target of discrimination, giving us a greater sensitivity to the experiences and feelings of others. It also brings an invitation to male members of the professions to see the validity of doing things in new and more humane ways, thus bringing fresh air and fresh light into a place so bound by rigid unconscious forms that it has become suffocating and constrictive for everyone, men as well as women.”

    The word “man” originally was a non-gender word comparable to the Latin word “homo” for human. In the romance languages based on gender-based Latin, gender endings do not have prejudicial connotations. The Latin word for male human is “vir,” but the word for human being is the neutral “homo.” The scriptural phrase from the Latin Vulgate, “Ecce homo,” referring to Jesus, do not mean “Behold the man,” as usually translated, but “Behold the human being,” suggesting that in Jesus all of humankind is held up as part of suffering creation, for Jesus is a complete human being as well as a bearer of divinity. In Anglo-Saxon, a male human being was called a “wermann”, the “wer” being akin in sound to the Latin “vir,” but no longer retained in English usage except in its transmogrification to the word “werwolf.” The masculine “wer” has been dropped and “man” is now used to refer to humans of the male sex. “Wifmann” was the Anglo-Saxon word for a female human. Modern derivation from this word creates the word “wife,” which has come to mean a married woman. (“Wife” also derives from Germanic words meaning “dwelling” and “turned,” to indicate a woman defined by her turn toward a dwelling, not by her intrinsic human or feminine individuality. In law in some languages the word “wife” means “one who is hidden.”) “Wifmann” evolved to “woman,” but there is no word to describe a male human, so in modern times the generic use of “man” at first embraced the male human, and became synonymous with it, psychologically attributing the human essence to the male sex alone. This happenstance reflects the medieval question, “Are women human?” More than the origin of a word is involved in how it’s used and what it connotes, as well as defines. The whole evolution of a word’s usage in cultural practice is a crucial part of its story, the pat which carries psychological and emotional baggage for good or ill.

    Women are placed in a Catch 22 by scholars and non-scholars alike who argue that “man” is truly generic, and technically, they are correct with reference to its etymology. But ultimately, usage fuses with psychological association and even incorrect usage becomes accepted as normative from sheer familiarity. If “men” were truly inclusive of both sexes in modern usage, women would naturally be expected to feel free to use the Men’s Rooms of the world, which they are not in practice! “Men only” would always include women, therefore making the “only” superfluous, but in practice, this is not the intent of that phrase. If a woman argues for the generic masculine, she is likely to be accused, with distinct and shaming disapproval, of “wanting to be a man,” and is then held culpable for being unwomanly. Therefore, the author of WOMANPRIEST: A PERSONAL ODYSSEY, speaks from personal experience of the abuse of language when it is used to justify discriminatory treatment of women, as has been experienced historically by women in the diaconate in her church. Objection to the artificial word “deaconess” comes from years of women deacons (again, a non-gender word with no masculine etymology) acting in good faith by assuming that they are to function according to the definitions of a deacon, having been ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons, without reference to gender in either language or duties, only to become confused when they are prevented by others from fulfilling the duties of ministry for which they were ordained because they are “only deaconesses.” This has been the experience of women, and experience and feelings are unarguable. The effort of women to overcome the discriminatory use of language by the imposition on a non-gender word of a feminine gender ending does not come from academic purity, but from real life experience. Until legislative recognition of this reality eliminated the artifice from the word, women in the diaconate were simply blocked from fulfilling their ministerial duties. The book referred to, WOMANPRIEST, describes all of this in a clear way. It seems evident that the writer of the opinion in question either did not read the book or read it through a filter of prejudice making it impossible for the logical explanation in context to be received and understood. As for “shooting herself in the foot,” the author’s feet appeared unwounded and unscarred when I last saw them in a full length mirror.

  2. Alla Bozarth says:

    The whole point of the previous reflection is to consider the importance and effect of how words are used, and the intent behind their use and interpretation. It grieved me as the author of the reflection to find typographical errors I’d missed in the first proofreading. The sections that follow began as a corrected version of that first effort, but as I examined the text sentence by sentence, I not only corrected it but added some thoughts. Here is the result, with my apology for not seeing the mistakes earlier, but the apology is mitigated by gratitude for the opportunity the mistakes gave me for improving on the overall response~

    The person who wrote the Howling Hill opinion misses the point made in WOMANPRIEST: A PERSONAL ODYSSEY, in either the first or revised editions by Alla Renée Bozarth (Alla Bozarth-Campbell). The author does not object to gender language, as the title would indicate at the outset. She objects to the misuse of language by the artificial addition of the “ess” suffix to words which are in themselves non-gender and inclusive. The “genderization” of non-gender words for the sole purpose of treating the female representatives referred to as those who should be given a separate and lesser status is the point of her objection. If the dissenting writer looked up a few words subjected to this abuse, such as “actor” or “poet”, it would be clear that such words are not gender words. They are not masculine words. To feminize them is an artifice that expresses discriminatory intent.

    As for the author not using the word “priestess,” it has nothing to do with her being too much in the Abrahamic tradition to do so. In WOMANPRIEST, she writes that the patriarchal traditions historically look down on priestesses as representing fertility cults, reflecting further that she’d rather be associated with a fertility cult than a sterility cult. The author does not refer to herself as a “priestess” not only because of the dismissive attitude toward that word on the part of modern patriarchal religions and culture, but primarily because “priest” is not, linguistically speaking, a masculine word. She creates the neologism “Womanpriest,” to express the celebration of the feminine in a way that has no historical or psychological connotation of inferiority such as that connected with the word “priestess.” This is in reaction to the demeaning of the feminine, as the author explains, and she is optimistic in her expectation that soon it will not be necessary to phrase the feminine in a positive light because the feminine will no longer be psychologically regarded negatively as inferior to the masculine. In a very short time, in fact, since the human species has not yet achieved that level of maturity, the artificially constructed word “womanpriest” would shift in usage from a psychologically and linguistically transitional celebration to the usual discriminatory connotations associated with such words, and for this reason the author does not mean for it to be the normal reference word referring to women in the priesthood. She is calling attention to the psychological, sociological and historical sources of the problem by using the methodology of discriminatory language distortions to correct those distortions. It is a homeopathic, poetic, rhetorical overstatement not intended for general usage by any means, but merely to make a point. It must not be taken as a plea for normal usage, because until the feminine is no longer regarded as second rate, to point out the female sex of a professional person still evokes an unconscious psychological feeling about the person referred to as “not quite the real thing.” The phrases “woman doctor” and “woman lawyer” are used in this way, as is the artificial word “actress,” to justify not taking the professional person seriously because she is, after all, “only a woman.” The word “womanpriest” makes this obvious. It says, “All right, our female sex has been regarded as inferior and therefore as justification for paying us less than our male counterparts in the professions. Let’s turn that negative into a positive by saying that our female sex is cause for celebration of the possibility that as women we have something new to bring to our professions, namely, our woman’s point of view, which among other things includes a sense of how it feels to be a target of discrimination, giving us a greater sensitivity to the experiences and feelings of others. It also brings an invitation to male members of the professions to see the validity of doing things in new and more humane ways, thus bringing fresh air and fresh light into a place so bound by rigid unconscious forms that it has become suffocating and constrictive for everyone, men as well as women.”

    The word “man” originally was a non-gender word comparable to the Latin word “homo” for human. In the romance languages based on gender-based Latin, gender endings do not have prejudicial connotations. The Latin word for male human is “vir,” but the word for human being is the neutral “homo.” The scriptural words from the Latin Vulgate, “Ecce homo,” referring to Jesus, do not mean “Behold the man,” as usually translated, but “Behold the human being,” suggesting that in Jesus all of humankind is held up as part of suffering creation, for Jesus is a complete human being as well as a bearer of divinity. In Anglo-Saxon, a male human being was called a “wermann”, the “wer” being akin in sound to the Latin “vir,” but no longer retained in English usage except in its transmogrification to the word “werewolf.” The masculine “wer” has been dropped and the neutral “man” is now used to refer to humans of the male sex. By referring to male humans not with a masculine but a neutral word, the evolution of modern English from Anglo-Saxon origins has left male humans stripped of masculinity linguistically. To make up for this, the words “man” or “men” came to be misappropriated as exclusive to male humans . . . sometimes, and sometimes not. This leaves the words in the bizarre state of being either inclusive or exclusive situationally and thus contextually open to discriminatory interpretation.

    “All men are created equal” clearly was not intended to be read inclusively, since if it had been, women could not have been denied the right to vote. If women are expected to assume that they are included in such phrases as “the brotherhood of man” and “sons of God,” where is the justification for blaming and shaming them when they attempt to be consistent in interpretation and take the invitation literally, say, by going into the Men’s Rooms and Men’s Clubs of the world claiming their right because, haven’t they always been assured that “man embraces woman and men embrace[s] women?” Speaking literally and logically, “man” does not embrace, as in contain, woman, but woman does embrace man. A word cannot mean both its actual meaning and at the same time be interpreted to mean its opposite, as a generic flower can also be a rose, because all roses are flowers, but a woman cannot logically be both included as a generic man and excluded because man means male human only. The logic must be consistent for a word to work, and it cannot work on polarized, self-opposing levels. Interpretative chaos would follow, and has in fact followed historically. A woman loses either way. If she’s not included in the brotherhood of man and cannot regard herself as a beloved son of God, what does this tell her about herself? And if she’s assured that she is included, then why is the door slammed in her face when she assumes that all the rights and customs that apply to other “men” also apply to her? The interpretive decision is made by the other “men,” those who are male, in situations where they clearly don’t want to include female “men.” In male perception and actuality, those situations involve the sharing of power, which they do not want to do. If a woman isn’t regarded as having been created equal, why not? The answer is obvious. Male “men” don’t want to share their appropriated power with the “others,” the female “men.” They get to decide when the word means what they say it means (human being), and when it means its assigned opposite (exclusively male human being) on their appropriated say so. By interpretation, in fact, “men” and “man” have been assigned the exclusive meaning of not only males only, but white males only, or men of color would never have been denied the right to vote.

    To resume the linguistic discussion about etymology, as “wermann” was the Anglo-Saxon word for a male human, “wifmann” was the word for a female human. Modern derivation from this word creates the word “wife,” which has come to mean a married woman. (“Wife” also derives from Germanic words meaning “dwelling” and “twisted” or “turned,” to indicate a woman defined by her being twisted and turned toward a dwelling, and not by her intrinsic human or feminine value and individuality. In law in some languages the word “wife” means “one who is hidden.”) “Wifmann” evolved to “woman,” but there remained no word to describe a male human, so in modern times the generic use of “man” was at first understood to embrace the male human, but then it became synonymous with it, psychologically attributing the human essence to the male sex alone. This happenstance reflects or anticipates the medieval question, “Are women human?” Discrimination against women and an attitude of male superiority in general have evolved from the male humans’ capricious “no” to that question. They apparently assigned themselves the right to answer the question by whim. Likewise, “Are men of color human?” can be answered “no,” in order to rationalize using them as property and commodities without regard to their human dignity and intrinsic rights, and without regard to their inherent value and individual competence and intelligence, except to suppress them.

    More than the origin of a word is involved in how it’s used and what it connotes, as well as defines. The whole evolution of a word’s usage in cultural practice is a crucial part of its story, the part which carries psychological and emotional baggage for good or ill.

    In summary, women are placed in a Catch 22 by scholars and non-scholars alike who argue that “man” is truly generic, and technically, they are correct with reference to its etymology. But ultimately, usage fuses with psychological association and even incorrect usage becomes accepted as normative from sheer familiarity. If “men” were truly inclusive of both sexes in modern usage, women would naturally be expected to feel free to use the Men’s Rooms of the world, which they are not in practice. “Men only” would always include women, therefore making the “only” superfluous, but in practice, this is not the intent of that phrase. If a woman obligingly argues for the generic masculine, she is likely to be accused, with distinct and shaming disapproval, of “wanting to be a man,” and is then held culpable for being unwomanly. Therefore, the author of WOMANPRIEST: A PERSONAL ODYSSEY, speaks from personal experience of the abuse of language when it is used to justify discriminatory treatment of women, as has been experienced historically by women in the diaconate in her church. Objection to the artificial word “deaconess” comes from years of women deacons (again, a non-gender word with no masculine etymology) acting in good faith by assuming that they were to function according to the definitions of a deacon, having been ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons, without reference to gender in either language or duties, only to become confused when they were prevented by others from fulfilling the duties of ministry for which they were ordained because they are “only deaconesses.” This had been the experience of women until legislation ended the discriminatory practice of the artificial feminization of the neutral word “deacon” to “deaconess,” and experience and feelings are unarguable.

    The effort of women to overcome the discriminatory use of language by the imposition on a non-gender word of a feminine gender ending does not come from academic purity, but from real life experience. Until legislative recognition of this reality eliminated the artifice from the word, women in the diaconate were simply blocked from fulfilling their ministerial duties. The book referred to, WOMANPRIEST, describes all of this in a clear way. It seems evident that the writer of the opinion in question either did not read the book or read it through a filter of prejudice making it impossible for the logical explanation in context to be received and understood. As for “shooting herself in the foot,” the author’s feet appeared unwounded and unscarred when I last saw them in a full length mirror.

  3. Alla Bozarth says:

    Please delete the first post altogether. That way the second post won’t be redundant and in need of moderation.

  4. Howling Hill says:

    Alla: I will respond to this in the morning. It’s late here on the East Coast.

  5. Howling Hill says:

    It’s interesting how you’ve responded to this post two years after I wrote it. I say that because just the other day I was thinking of this book and thinking I want to read it again.

    I don’t think I wrote a post after I finished reading the book. I liked it over all. I can see why you are annoyed by my post though I do wish your anger wasn’t so palpable. I feel like you and I can’t talk about the points I noted in this post until your frustration dissipates.

    For me it doesn’t matter the history of the words or their linguistic meanings. It doesn’t make any sense to try to eliminate gendered language (no matter how it’s constructed nor the intention behind the construction of the words) then add the word “woman” before “priest” thus creating a new word “womanpriest.” Call yourself a priest if you don’t want to be singled due to your gender. If you do, call yourself a priestess.

    It’s not my intention to hurt or anger you. I truly apologize if I have.

    Peace.

  6. Alla Bozarth says:

    Bless your heart for acknowledging the hurt, which I guess is indeed,as you say, palpable. When I wrote the response, I had no idea who you were or why you bothered to write what you did, since you really didn’t say anything else about the book. As you see, you hit a nerve.

    I’ve been trying to find the person behind the words. Because of health limitations and the overwhelming amount of writing I do, dancing as fast as I can to work my life in around it and through it, I don’t blog or read blogs, though when I happen to be directed toward them, I enjoy them and think the well-written and well-organized ones are a good idea. Your blog was unknown to me until two days ago when I wanted to do a check on how my poetry is being used by others on the Internet, in the course of which I also googled “Alla Bozarth reviews,” to choose a few to add to the website I’m creating. Your blog was the first entry in the response list. I read the few words quoted in the search engine and was intrigued, and that’s how I clicked the link and was directed to your blog review of WOMANPRIEST. Yesterday, after writing the book-length second letter, I pursued trying to find out who you were, so I went into your blog via the address bar and found your home page instead of just the page that opened when I clicked the link through the search engine. On your home page, I clicked the heading, “moi,” and also your 100 top likes and dislikes, where I read about your love for gender language. I also read somewhere about Wolf making you goat cheese pizza once a week, which made me wonder who Wolf might be. In “moi” I read that you were married (aha, Wolf is the wonderful husband!), a New Englander, gardener, and the rest. I immediately decided that it was too bad I discovered you through your blog entry review of my book, because I am now sure I’d really, really like you if we’d met in person! I completely accept your apology, and offer you mine in turn for my over-reaction. Everything I wrote is true, but it’s not relevant to your frame of mind, and I can surely accept that.

    Knowing that you’re a pagan, I can tell you that I sometimes refer to myself as “an Episcopagan,” and that my pagan friends refer to me as a priestess sometimes, which always makes me proud, because of who’s using the word. It is used lovingly and with honor, and that’s how I take it! If one of those male bishops who refused to allow a female priest on church property had called me a “priestess,” I’d bristle, knowing exactly what he meant by it. Context and source are everything. Also, these things don’t matter sometimes until you personally and directly experience, with innocent shock, how they can be turned against you. I cherish being a womanly woman by nature, and I simply refused to believe that was something not to be proud of. In my pre-feminist (pre-having gotten pooped on by patriarchy) days of long, long ago, I actually said, “Why should I be a feminist? I wouldn’t give up my superior position for anything.” That meant I’d been a darned lucky and sheltered woman, or I hadn’t been paying attention. All that soon changed, and so did my world view. What I’d say about it within a few years was, “To be a feminist, you either have to be a woman who’s been hurt because she was a woman, or love a woman who’s been hurt because she was a woman.” My beloved husband Phil was in the latter category. You and I are blessed women to have such loving men in our lives.

    I share with you a preference for personal point of view and experience over theory and ideology, which can be overly-rigid and even fanatical. I’ve been humbled by experience, and my point of view has changed and remains open to being further informed, though I hope less painfully than in the past. Self-correction is essential to a healthy life. In my case, experience leads to the recognition that I have a personal philosophical and emotional position about something, and simultaneously makes possible a reformulation of that position. One thing that changes my view and attitude fast is for someone to tell me that something I’ve said or done has been hurtful. I may realize that I’ve violated my own principles by having said or done something without considering others’ points of view. This usually means I’ve failed to communicate adequately because of emotional cowardice. When I’m made aware of it, I revise my behavior and make amends as best I can. If I realize that I simply hadn’t considered how other people might feel about something, I am glad to be enlightened, and become more sensitive in those areas where I had blundered into hurting someone.

    I think you might also have been spared being treated as if you were both invalid and invisible because you are a woman, and I’m glad for you. I can tell that you celebrate being eccentric and your perfect right to be so. I feel the same way. I love it that you’re an eccentric, politically progressive lover of Mother Earth and pro-choice, as am I. You let your readers know that criticism hurts your feelings, and because of that, you can appreciate that I was hurt by reading your opinion of WOMANPRIEST through the narrow lens that focused on the one thing you wrote about. That book was full of vulnerability, and your writing about it as you did seemed to smash through the major point and portion of the story and reflections on the events of those times and the suffering they represented~~ not just mine, but everyone’s involved, including the opposition’s. If I’d known more about you as a person before I wrote my hair-trigger response, I would have been more careful to express the excess of my anger elsewhere before writing you. I should have searched for you first. Please excuse me for not stopping to think it through beforehand. If anyone else is reading this, at least they got a free lecture on gender language and etymology.

    It feels strange that now that I’ve been introduced to you through your generous writing about yourself on several levels, I still can’t address you by name as you can address me. I looked and looked and it was the one thing I couldn’t find. As words are important to me, so are names, and I’m sorry that I still don’t know yours. Being so open and vulnerable on a blog, I can sense why one (you) would choose to maintain some crucial point of privacy there. This is not a criticism, just a statement that I’d like to call you by name, even when I think about our conversation here, as I would address you in person, and not being able to do so highlights the barriers and limits of cyberspace visits. You probably know about the woman who walked across the United States and was known not by name but only by what she was~~ “Peace Pilgrim.” You closed your letter to me with the word, “Peace,” so I’ll use that as your name here: Peace, I love how you and Wolf relate to your gardening, your work, your lives and each other as you describe all this. I wish you both the best joys!

    Alla

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