The Real “Sacred Feminine”

Though I’ve blogged about The Da Vinci Code, I haven’t yet described the strange experience of actually reading it. It’s so hard to give the 2 or 3 people left in the world who haven’t experienced this wonder of a book a proper idea of the superior cheesiness of its dumb thriller plot, the sublime wackiness of its bug-eyed “secrets” and “revelations,” the . . . well you get the idea.

Above all, they have missed the fever of its author’s enthusiasm for the “sacred feminine” — though this is certainly very widespread in culture today. But nowhere will you find it as you do in DVC. We not only learn, as everyone knows by now, that Jesus was really just the hanger-on, that Mary Magdalen is the real divine figure, the religious link to the goddess in every woman – the feminine principle the male-dominated church has been oppressing for centuries. We also learn that the hero, Robert Langdon, wears a Mickey Mouse wrist watch — in honor of the divine Disney figure of Sleeping Beauty, made so drowsy by patriarchial oppression — or maybe just by the droning nature of the prose. This particular revelation is where I finally lost it, and gave in to the giggles.

I don’t want to give the impression that I think that patriarchal oppression is a laughing matter. Particularly when it comes to the very real sins of the Church towards women in the past – part and parcel of what society has done to them, and the Church, holy though she may be in her essence, is always part of a sinful society (Hey, did the author even realize that the Church he sees as so oppressive of women is actually always described as feminine?).

But surely inquiring minds (at least 2 or 3 of them) want to know: what does the religion of the goddess and the “sacred feminine” offer that is so much better than what the Church has given women? What exactly does The Da Vinci Code’s goddess stand for? What does she do? Darned if I know, and, as I’ve said, I’ve read the book. The closest I can come to an actual answer is that she stands for the principles of tantric sex. Yep, that’s it. The divine earth mother sexuality in every woman is the means for the male partner, as the moment of greatest pleasure, to experience the divine – what women get out of it isn’t mentioned. Oh, I forgot, they’re already divine. Is this all the revelation we’re going to get? That’s what a goddess woman is for? To give men pleasure? Well, they certainly have for centuries, but what’s so liberating for women in it?

Now I believe, and the best writers in the Church, starting with St. Paul, have always believed that the physical love of man and wife should be a divine mystery of self-giving, like the relationship between Christ and the Church. But it’s not likely to come about through tantric techniques, or we women imagining that we’re already divine. It comes about through the effort to overcome the self, through mutual self-sacrificing love, which isn’t very popular with Da Vinci Code devotees searching for an easy fix religion. Nor will such a religion give any cure for the real source of oppression, one which Langdon and crew don’t seem too eager to search for — inside the human heart and its sinfulness.

Most of all, this feeble and impoverished conception of women conceals from them their real greatness. Some of the greatest women in history have a divine aura of a quite different kind about them — the saints, not imagined “goddesses” pasted over the image of saints like Mary Magdalen.

This brings me to the reason I haven’t blogged for almost a month. I’ve been given an assignment by Minister General and Vicar General of the Franciscan Third Order in Rome, to revise my doctoral dissertation on St. Elizabeth of Hungary and to translate some of the earliest sources on her life in time for the eighth centenary of her birth in 2007. This is going to keep me very busy for some months, but for me, it’s a glorious and longed-for opportunity to let people know more about one of the strongest and most compelling women in history.

Elizabeth, the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary, was brought up in Germany and married to Landgraf Ludwig IV of Thuringia. At one of the most glittering courts in Europe, with a husband and children she was devoted to, she became aware of the suffering and misery outside the walls of her castle. She founded a hospital, cared for the poor, and comforted lepers in person. When she became aware that much of the suffering was due to unjust taxation, she refused to eat any food taken from the poor peasants in this fashion — perhaps history’s first boycott. Though her husband supported her, she became a scandal among many at the court. When her Ludwig died, Elizabeth was cast out with her children. She gladly accepted suffering with the poor as one of them. Devoting herself to God, she donned the habit of the Franciscans and worked for the rest of her short life in a hospital for the destitute. She went from being her country’s Princess Diana to its Mother Teresa. She is still loved and remembered and celebrated 800 years after her death as an example of courage, love and selfless dedication.

St. Elizaberth of Hungary by Hans Holbein the Elder

If an “oppressive” Church can produce a woman like that, what kind of woman would a truly liberated society produce?

Forgive me, though, for thinking that real liberation is going to come from somewhere besides the teachings in the Da Vinci Code.

Word is Getting Around

The news is spreading about the Da Vinci Code “Othercott.” This past weekend I attended a seminar in New York for aspiring Christian screenwriters hosted by Act One. Many of those attending had already heard of the plans for attending a film other than DVC on the weekend of May 19. Many were giving the news to those who had already heard it. So far the plan has been publicized on blogs, podcasts and Christian radio stations.

It has also just made the pages of one of America’s premier Catholic publications, Our Sunday Visitor, in an article titled “The Da Vinci Code Wars.” Reporting on Janet Batchler’s “Othercott” initiative, author, Colleen Carroll Campbell, writes:

It’s not a bad idea. America’s movie moguls may be insenstive boors when it comes to religion and morality, but they are acutely aware when it comes to the bottom line. . . In the week before the [Oscars], a poll from MSNBC.com and Zogby International found that 60 percent of Americans believe Hollywood’s values are at odds with those of most Americans. Had Hollywood producers been listening, they might have discovered a reason for our declining interest in our work. But movie moguls are a tone-deaf lot, and in the end, the ring of the cash register may be the only message they can hear. (OSV, April 9, 2006, p. 17).

This initiative is already becoming popular. Stay tuned . . . and don’t forget to go to the movies on May 19!

This is Real “Choice” — and Truly Pro-Life

Here’s some news from the Feminists for Life website:

Feminists for Life supports the Coercive Abortion Prevention Act introduced Thursday, March 16, 2006, by Michigan women legislators. The five-bill package identifies very specific forms of coercion from financial threats to physical violence, which could result in jail time and/or fines. Abortion providers would be required to expressly screen women for coercion, inform coerced women of their rights, and refer them to domestic violence agencies.

“There is nothing pro-choice about having no choice,” said Feminists for Life President Serrin Foster. “Women deserve better than unwanted abortions.”

The legislation stands in stark contrast to a lawsuit—nicknamed “Roe v. Wade for Men”—filed on March 9 in U.S. District Court in Saginaw, Michigan. The suit, supported by the National Center for Men, contends that men should have the choice to “decline fatherhood,” including financial responsibility, in the event of pregnancy. State courts have ruled in the past that any inequity experienced by men is outweighed by society’s interest in ensuring that children get financial support from both parents.

“We have heard from too many women and girls who had unwanted abortions due to threats of withholding financial and emotional support,” said Foster. “Women and girls have repeatedly told us stories of being thrown out of their home by boyfriends, husbands and parents who said they would pay for an abortion, but if she has the child she’d be on her own; employers who found pregnancy and parenting incompatible with the job, educators who tell women they can’t possibly complete their education if they have a child.”

“The worst cases have been those involving not only verbal threats to withhold financial support and emotional support, but those where physical violence has been used against pregnant women,” said Foster.

Why don’t those who claim to be for “choice” ever support legislation like this?

Truth on Trial

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, are now suing author Dan Brown for plagiarism over his book The Da Vinci Code.

On one side, the authors of the 1982 (supposed) non-fiction best-seller claiming Christ isn’t divine and that the Church is a fraudulent murdering institution, say that Mr. Brown not only stole the conclusions reached in their book, but also copied whole passages. Brown and his lawyers in turn insist that “you can’t copyright history.”

Here’s a snippet of Mark Shea’s DVC blog:

One of my readers astutely pointed out that the authors of Holy Blood Holy Grail seemed to him to be tacitly acknowledging they had written fiction with this suit. After all, nobody sues a World War II historian for stealing the idea that Hitler invaded Poland. That’s because historical events are facts and nobody can lay claim to them as intellectual property. So if it’s an historic “fact” that Jesus was a dead rabbi with a pregnant girlfriend, then what’s the point of suing somebody for saying so? But if it’s a fictional conceit, then the authors of HBHG have every right to sue Brown for stealing their idea.

That’s right — if Baigent and Leigh stick to their claim that their book is non-fiction or history, they are unlikely to get a dime, but if they would simply admit, “all right Dan Brown stole our TOTALLY FICTIONAL concept and plot,” then the Da Vinci Code author could end up paying them a hug amount of money.

Come on guys, you know you want to. . . Think of all the money – and if you do, the world’s Christians will get satisfaction.

Will greed win out over bigotry? Stay tuned . . .

The Celluoid Ceiling

So the Oscars are over now, and no time to do a post-morten on them, except I’m very glad that Crash won over the terminally dull Brokeback Mountain. Which led to a number of critics and commentators lamenting that Hollywood lacks the guts to salute Ang Lee’s “courageous” film about love between men. Which brings me to . . .

Forget the gay cowboys, folks. As one of the people accepting an award for Memoirs of a Geisha said, what really takes courage in Hollywood is to make a film about women.

Or even by women. Or with women involved. A week or so ago I read some startling statistics about women in Hollywood. They’re contained in a report called “The Celluoid Ceiling” by Dr. Martha Lauzen. The latest statistics available, they deal with the top 250 films of 2004. You can read the full report here. But here are some samples:

Women comprised 16% of all executive procucers, producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, and editors on these films — a decline from 19% in 2000.

Women comprised 5% of all directors on these films, down 6 percentage points from 11% in 2000. In other words, the precentage of women directors was slightly less than half that of 2000.

Women comprised 12% of all screenwriters, down from 14% in 2000.

If you ask me, those are very discouraging statistics. Women are not even making slight gains in Hollywood; in fact, their role is declining. And for a woman who wants to be a screenwriter, especially so. I’ve heard a number of explanations from people in the trenches in Hollywood. Most are quick to deny that there’s any real sexism. You see, they say, women just aren’t as agressive as men in pursuing what they want, including in Hollywood. According to Greg Beal, director of the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, about equal numbers of women and men enter the fellowship competition, but women don’t enter as many scripts as men, who tend to enter two or three scripts at a time. So that’s why more men win!

Forgive me for not buying it, but I can’t help thinking that something else is coming into play here. It’s well known that Hollwyood execs are largely male (women have actually made more inroads here than anywhere, but evidently not enough). They tend to write for a young male audience: 13 to 29, or 18 to 34 are some ballpark figures. They claim that this is the most profitable audience for films — though the truth of the connection, as one insider has pointed out, may simply be that most execs themselves are males under the age of 34. Therefore there are some favored genres in Hollywood, comedy, horror, action, sci-fi — and they aren’t genres in which women play a large role, or generally have much interest, though this is changing. Here’s some interesting advice from a screenwriting magazine, from a guy who has clearly absorbed the mindset:

[Speaking of a high-concept-type comedy] “We’ll naturally have a love interest, but this isn’t a rom-com . . .[she may motivate the hero, but] the story isn’t about her.” He advises writers to avoid writing “pages and pages” of romantic scenes between them, because after all, she can’t be allowed to take away from the “hero.” (“Write the Logline First,” Michael T. Kuciak, Script Magazine, September-October 2005).

Yet another writer whose name I can’t recall, adivised us in an earlier issue of the same magazine that though in a romantic comedy, the focus should be equally on both partners in all their neurotic glory, “in a straight comedy, [the female love interest] is just there to make our guy feel good about himself.” In other words, don’t waste any time on characterization of a female lead, unless you’re writing romantic comedy, and for heaven’s sake, don’t give her too much screen time! Did it never occur to him that a comedy can have a female protagonist?

My personal experience is even more discouraging. I’ve submitted a script of mine a couple of times to Triggerstreet.com, a site associated with Kevin Spacey’s production company, where aspiring screenwriters review each other’s work. What I’ve learned there is eye-opening – and not necessarily just about my script. You see, the screenwriters who use the site tend to be predominantly young and male, and to be writing the types of films (action/adventure, horror, sci-fi) that the studios want. They’ve already absorbed the mindset. Several writers have advised other writers that they have too many female characters in their films, which the studios don’t like. Any time someone submits a script that has a female lead (and deals with something other than having stuff blow up), some reviewer is bound sooner or later to say: “Right now I see this as a Lifetime movie for television, not a feature film.” In other words, if it deals with a woman in a prominent role, or is about relationships, it doesn’t belong on the big screen.

My own script, The Marquise, is about a woman and her struggles against a historical background of eighteenth-century Paris. It’s also a romance — very much so — but primarily I consider it a serious epic historical drama. Not so the reviewers. One warned me that “no self-respecting straight male” would be going to such a film, so naturally its box-office potential wasn’t that good. Two others told me that what I was writing was “straight out of a Harlequin romance novel” (this from guys who have obviously never opened a Harlequin romance novel in their lives–how would they know what one of them is like?). At least I was spared the “Lifetime movie” crack.

To be fair, some of my best and most helpful reviews on that site have come from more mature-minded male reviewers. But there is just a mentality in Hollywood that it’s hard from women to combat. No wonder it’s so hard for them to send in their scripts. And not to get noticed when they do. And things don’t look as if they’re going to turn around soon — unless women screenwriters do something about it. But what? Any ideas?