It’s not hard to argue how oppressive the Abrahamic religions are towards women. If you take a close look at most Eastern Asian religions as well, avoiding the cherry-picking found in the cliché “California-style” hodgepodge of Dharmic and Taoic practices, you’ll find an equally strong tradition of misogyny-inspiring credulity. I imagine most skeptics and humanists will find the word “secretly” a bit too strong of a word to describe how bad New Age beliefs are for women, but what makes it stand out from other forms of superstition and supernaturalism is that it most often promotes itself as a worldview which empowers women. New Age beliefs are deceptively bad for feminism.
A big part of my work as a mangaka—writing and illustrating manga graphic novels—isn’t only my passion for storytelling which promotes critical thinking, but secular humanism as well, and the idea of human equality. This often makes me aware of how female characters are portrayed in storytelling. Typically, for a girl or woman character to play a significant role in a story (beyond being simply the love interest) she usually has to be one of two things: a) completely masculine in character or b) have extraordinary/supernatural abilities. This isn’t the case for male characters, who can be completely average and ordinary (even flawed or incompetent) heroes.
I recently watched Skepchick Rebecca Watson’s CFI talk on the myth of Women’s Intuition and realized just how dangerous these stereotypes are when applied in the real world. The idea that women have a special inner power which grants them privileged knowledge about reality is damaging to the female image. It’s a giant step backward from the reality that men and women are equal in ability to the absurdity that women need supernatural power in order to bring themselves to the same level as ordinary men.
This is why I find New Age thought, like Wicca, so much more aggravating than your average brand of magical thinking. Wicca tends to target itself to women followers. There’s a sense of female empowerment in its imagery of motherhood of Earth goddesses, mystical priestesses and the romanticizing of witch-hunt horror stories, used to symbolize the feared and misunderstood magick power of woman kind. It’s a type of magical thinking which lends itself well to taking advantage of those who may indeed feel powerless, unheard, and unseen, providing them with a way to artificially inflate a sense of self-worth using cheap parlour tricks.
Our society and storytelling share part of the blame in allowing this kind of harmful superstition to exist; New Age gurus, witches, and the Mistress-Goddess-Moonbeams of the world have closed in on the need for a source of encouragement for women looking to find where their potential lies. As advocates of science-based thinking, we need to promote the fact that women are just as logical and capable thinkers and doers as men, not just because it’s true, but because it’s our only defence against the kind of mysticism which preys on the insecurities of women and reinforces stereotypes. What the myth of women’s intuition is really telling us is that women need to elevate themselves to the status of deities just to compete with the abilities of mortal men.
If that claim isn’t bad for equality then I don’t know what is…