A number of pagan traditions insist on worshiping the “duality” of men and women, believing that one is incomplete without the other, both on earth and in the heavens (or on Mount Olympus). Dianic Wiccans, on the other hand, believe that we are each complete within ourselves, and some Dianics, like the Circle of Aradia in Los Angeles, advertise their public rituals as for “women-born women only.” No one, that is, who has ever had a penis is allowed in the door. Many Dianics also focus on the feminine “blood mysteries,” which some people say are what defines a woman: if you bleed every month you’re female. Eller’s book offers food for thought to pagans of all traditions: why and how do we think what we’ve been thinking all along about gender and sexual identity? It’s not as if we stand in the bathroom every morning: Mirror, mirror on the wall, tell me if you can. Am I a woman or am I a man? But Eller (relax—there’s not a mention of Goddess or Gimbutas in this book) is curious about gender identity. On page 2, she writes, “Am I a woman? I haven’t always been so sure.” Yes, she has breasts and a vulva but no penis. Yes, she throws like a girl and can play dumb: “I just flip the switch, and I’m, like, totally a Valley Girl.” She was raised during the sixties when many things were called into question. But she’s also “too smart” to be a girl and begins to wonder if she might be a GWB (Guy With Breasts). Eller takes us on a thought-provoking personal journey to explore gender and sex in their many manifestations. Biology (sexual organs, chromosomes, hormones). Cross-cultural behavioral studies. Internet jokes. Tests (from “how does a girl look at her fingernails?” to the familiar academic preference scales). Social behavior. Intellect and language, including the “influence of the phallogocentrism of the patriarchal culture.” That’s a term coined by French feminist Hélène Cixous that combines “phallocentrism” with “logos” because “the same process that centers ‘the phallus’ in the life of little boys (and from there, grown men and human culture as a whole) gives rise to language. Language is, in this form of reasoning, phallic” (p.45). Who is a woman? “All the people that we commonly agree to be women.” Why does it matter? For many reasons, but we must understand that “there is no politically neutral research on sex differences. Every speck of data … comes trailing misbegotten assumptions and conclusions in its wake” (p. 113). Eller concludes that studies of sex differences are like studies of racial differences: they can perhaps have accurate results, but the study is usually based on racist or sexist belief and the results seldom do more than confirm racism or sexism. The patriarchy is still out to get us. 

~review by Barbara Ardinger Cynthia EllerBeacon Press
2003pp. 160, $17