Introduction to the Concept of the Red Tent
The red tent is a concept that many may just know in relation to the book that goes by this title by Anita Diamant about the women of a Hebrew tribe engaging together in their tight knit community of familial femininity. This is a good place to start because this story is historical fiction, meaning it has its conceptual roots based upon history. Not that we need to return to the way things were; this cannot, and probably should not happen in order to move forward with improving the status of women in today's world. But, perhaps we can have a better sense of the function of an idea when we have an example of how it may have looked in the past.
In any case, there appears throughout many cultures, this idea of the “red tent”: a place of refuge for menstruating women. Often this place contains many women who are close to each other such as mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends.
In some cultures, women are seen as unclean at this time, and therefore are temporarily shunned from any or all activities. I wonder if this is simply the perspective of men who don't understand and are intimidated by the mysterious power that women contain, especially at
this time. If we can reclaim this sacred space, not to scheme about how to overpower men, or even to push men away, but simply to come together to share in womanhood; perhaps these kinds of spaces will encourage women to delve deeper into themselves and to converse about what is appropriate for our particular culture or community to begin to challenge the status quo.
This movement towards empowering women can be a very delicate topic, especially in
cultures in which women are treated like second class citizens, or in cultures in which the women prefer certain practices that people from outside that group regard as being oppressive. Perhaps the way to begin challenging this is to create spaces in which the women of that culture can chat amongst themselves to figure out what it is that they truly would like to see differently. There was a study done in which female Mung church leaders were brought together to talk about female leadership as a concept, and how it relates to a handful of women exemplars from the Bible. The study concluded that most of these women went from being a bit shy and uncertain of themselves to feeling like strong, capable, and inspired leaders. This transformation took place because these women came together and connected through their shared experience, as well as discussing examples from their own spiritual tradition that embody strength for them. Through this sharing, they were able to feel supported by one another, as well as their historical religious role models, to move forward with self confidence within their environments that may not always feel encouraging.
Perhaps the idea of the red tent can shift and morph according to the needs of the women who attend it. In a patriarchal system, it follows that women have to compete with one another in order to find favor with men who hold the most power. This is a classic example of “divide and conquer”. It is important to stress that while there are perhaps examples of when men may have intentionally used such tactics, it has not always been a conscious intention. Blaming men is not helpful at this point- it is time to move forward with solutions. Perhaps encouraging women to come together with each other at their own unique times of the month will be the start of a long overdue healing process. The details of what we are to do once we are there are yet to be determined. Whether it's sew, paint, meditate, spin wool, process food, or simply have some tea and chat, there may be priceless experiences to be shared.