To show me what rural poverty looks like in Hidalgo County, Planned Parenthood promotora (outreach worker) Dora Alicia Proa takes me to a colonia nearly 15 miles away from McAllen, in San Carlos. Colonias are unincorporated subdivisions founded in the 1950s by predatory developers who sold lots of barren and flood-prone land to poor Latin American migrant workers without installing basic infrastructure. They are synonymous with poverty. Literally. The Texas Secretary of State defines these communities as “residential areas along the Texas-Mexico border that may lack some of the most basic living necessities, such as potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, and safe and sanitary housing.”
Last year, Hidalgo County’s Planned Parenthood offered free birth control, STI testing, Well Woman exams and men’s health screenings at the San Carlos Community Resource Center. Now, to get the same services, patients have to drive up to 20 miles to the Edinburg clinic, where a physical, HIV test and Pap smear costs at least $60 and a monthly supply of birth control pills costs $20 at minimum.
The Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Department runs eight clinics where people of all ages can get a range of services, from tuberculosis treatment to newborn screenings. However, wait times are reportedly brutal, and the health department’s STI testing site is located in McAllen. Ostensibly to fill the void created by Planned Parenthood closures, the University of Texas Medical Branch opened a maternal health clinic in Hidalgo. But that site is also in McAllen; it specializes in pregnancy and prenatal care, and it doesn’t have weekend hours.
In one San Carlos household Proa and I visit—a cramped trailer on concrete blocks where the kitchen sink collides with bunk beds—Proa informs two young women that the Edinburg clinic is running a special on annual exams. They shake their heads at the mention of cash, then tsk tsk at six young boys and girls who are smiling shyly, pointing and calling me chocolate.
Next, Proa introduces me to a young woman standing in front of a three-room track house with dirt floors, a chunk of the roof missing and the toilet located in a crumbling shed next door. My Spanish is pitiful and neither Proa nor the homeowner speaks much English. But I can see that four small children and two adults share this space.
Within this context, it’s unclear how defunding conveniently located sources of free birth control, STI testing, Pap smears, clinical breast exams and other women’s health care is a pro-life activity. But this is what counts as logic in today’s abortion wars.
Many women I spoke with who actually use the word “yoni” (often interchangeably with other terms) proudly identify with the idea of their vaginas and wombs as creative and powerful sacred spaces. It’s not self-hate or faux spirituality to them: they see the vagina as more than a body part. They see it as a source of power. It’s a reminder that at one time it was worshipped, not politicized, regulated, and disrespected. What’s wrong with women feeling more empowered and less shameful of their yonis, vaginas, pussies, cunts—whatever they want to call it ? The words we use about ourselves are powerful. And most women who use words like “goddess” and “yoni” are not fans of rape apology as Wolf is.
Ancient Eastern spiritual practices are often appropriated by Westerners who are in search of “answers” or a new experience. That’s what we do in the West, we appropriate! However, many people, including myself, have learned to treat these and other traditions with respect, humility and awareness of context. Therefore, I won’t dismiss people’s safe sexual expression or the way people choose to identify themselves and their body parts, even in the context of this ridiculous book.
If a bunch of women want to get together in a Manhattan hotel and willingly get their needs taken care of in a safe space by clothed men who have been “trained” to honor and worship the vag, then I support it. If women who have sexual trauma, or feel sexually blocked and frustrated, actually experience life-changing sexual and creative re-awakenings via a “somatic therapist” who does tantric massage at his house then I will cheer! Can we stop shaming people for their sexual choices? This could be considered a form of sex work and it is also what some would consider an expression of sacred sexuality.
I’ve been in these “alternative” spaces and know people who actively participate; this is no joke to them. Mainstream feminism’s tendencies towards the judgmental too often negates the legitimate experiences of many. I bet many of those people who believe in sacred sexuality would identify as feminists and/or believe in equality between the sexes; they might even use the word “yoni.”
Between the reviews and the book itself, I feel reminded as to why me and many other women are less inclined to identify with “feminism” these days—trapped in the middle of arguments that leave no room for our spiritual lives. Lately mainstream online feminist discourse has become defined by a specific set of beliefs that make someone a “real” or “good” feminist. How are we making those distinctions? These ideals generally ostracize people with lesser representation like women of color, LGBTQ women, disabled people, and even us kumbaya spiritual folks. It’s becoming more of a dogma than movement. That’s how we lose people. When we discredit different spiritual beliefs, particularly the Divine Feminine, or divergent experiences of feminism even though we all believe in equality, then patriarchy wins. This goddess isn’t having it.