The 1960s saw the emergence of what is now called second-wave feminism. (What is now called first-wave feminism was associated with the women’s suffrage movement.) Second-wave feminism was focused on gender roles, sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, and inequalities between men and women. When Mimi got out of school, the help wanted sections of newspapers were divided into male and female. You can imagine which section advertised for architects. Faculty members in architecture schools might occasionally say to a woman student something like, “I am not going to waste my time with you, you are just going to get married and have babies.” Although Mimi never experienced anything like that at the University of Pennsylvania where she studied architecture, she did have some difficult experiences as a woman in some architectural offices where she worked and as a faculty member in the School of Architecture at Pratt Institute.
Mimi became involved in the women’s movement in architecture. She was one of the originators of an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 1977 titled “Women in American Architecture.” She co-founded the Alliance of Women in Architecture and The Archive of Women in Architecture and briefly explored, with several colleagues, creating an office of women architects. These efforts lead to some interesting questions. Should women be brought into more prominent roles in architectural offices and schools because they are just as good as men? And if so, what is to be gained by the offices and schools? Or should women be brought into more prominent roles because they have something different to offer? And if so, what might that be, and if it is kitchens, is that not perpetuating a discriminatory stereotype? Advocates for enhancing the role of women in architecture took both sides, but Mimi came to approach the issues of women in general and women in architecture from a different perspective. To see from this perspective, we have to back up for a moment. In the 1960s Mimi began various spiritual studies including Tai Chi with Professor Cheng Man-ch’ing, Buddhism with Chogyam Trungpa and others, and shamanism with Michael Harner. She attended lectures on mythology by Joseph Campbell, read the works of Carl Jung, and attended lectures at the New York Jung Foundation and the New York Open Center. And she later regularly lectured on the material you see in this book at the Jung Foundation and the Open Center. While she found all of this enriching, she also found all of it male-centered. She had become friends with Jan Clanton, a Jungian analyst, and together they began to explore feminine spiritual perspectives.
Mimi’s explorations of “female spirituality” and “the feminine principle” put her in conflict with most feminists on three counts. First, feminism is for the most part materialist, often Marxist, so it usually regards any spirituality as superstition. Second, many religions have enslaved, dominated, and abused women for thousands of years. Most feminists wanted to get rid of all spirituality and religions, not create new ones. And finally, and this is the most important difference between Mimi’s position and that of most feminists, feminists rejected any form of “essentialism.”
Essentialism holds that there are essential (defining and eternal) qualities in things, and it is widely rejected today. For example, in biology we once thought that a tiger was a part of a group, the species “tiger,” and that all members of the group (in this case, the species) shared an identity, a set of essential characteristics. We tended (and still tend today, often without being aware of it), to use the term tiger for both “that tiger over there,” and “the tiger is a dangerous animal.” But today we hold that a species is not an entity with essential characteristics, but only a temporary gathering of DNA in a group of individuals; that members of this group exist in continuity with related contemporary creatures, with creatures in the past that were different, and with creatures that will exist in the future and that will be different.
Feminism shared this general rejection of essentialism and in particular rejected any essentialist characterizations of women. If we can say that men and women have different essential characteristics, for example that men are essentially assertive and women are essentially passive, we can justify treating men and women differently. Feminists would say that the only differences are statistical. While men may be generally more assertive, there are some women who are more assertive than most men, some men who are more passive than most women, etc. Feminists hold that women and men exist in continuities. Periodically a major publication will do a cover story on newly discovered differences between men and women, and feminists will attack the story. Mimi was well aware of these issues, and addresses them in endnote number 8 to the chapter on The Great Round, among other places in this book.
If there are no essential characteristics of women, and also no spirituality, certainly there can be no “spiritual feminism.” But there were (and are) feminists who felt there is a spiritual feminism, and they began to find each other and form women’s spiritual groups. Mimi was involved with several—they often called themselves Goddess Groups. And there were a few scholars interested in goddesses in ancient cultures. We might think, yes, goddesses—Hera, Aphrodite, etc. But spiritual feminists would counter that these are later, domesticated versions, attached to male gods, of earlier independent, more powerful goddesses.
Around the time Mimi began to have these interests, scholarship began to appear about goddesses in ancient cultures. In 1974 Marija Gimbutas, a well respected scholar, published The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe (only later did her publisher allow her to change the title to what she originally intended, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe). Gimbutas’s thesis is that Eurasia was filled with Neolithic egalitarian goddess-worshiping cultures. These cultures were overrun by Indo-Europeans who worshiped gods and brought war and a male-dominated hierarchical culture wherever they went. (You will find extensive references to this in Mimi’s book.) Gimbutas had few written records to work from, so she did her work from fragmentary artifacts, ruins, folktales, myths, languages, and other material that she would piece together, an approach that Mimi also used. In 1976 Merlin Stone published When God Was a Woman. Mimi began working with psychologists interested in “the feminine principle,” and with scholars interested in “the Goddess” and female-centered cultures.
At the same time there was a growing interest in all kinds of spirituality, including in Buddhism and Shamanism, and as I mentioned earlier, Mimi became involved with leading teachers and spiritual leaders in various disciplines. Many people were lumping all of this together into a generalized spiritual interest. One of Mimi’s contributions was to sort it out. Shamanism, she realized, is a Paleolithic Sensitive Chaos discipline. The Goddess belongs to the Neolithic Great Round. And Buddhism belongs to the periods of the Four Quarters and Pyramid archetypes. (All of which is explained in great detail in this book.)
So part of the uniqueness of Mimi’s approach was the incredible breadth of her background, her scholarship, and her experiences. She brought together architecture, art, history, archeology, archaeo-astronomy, anthropology, mythology, cultural studies, spirituality, and more.
NOTE: I removed the above material from my introduction to Mimi’s book, Spatial Archetypes, at the request of one of her spiritual feminist colleagues. She felt it presented a contentiousness between what I call political feminists and spiritual feminists that she feels does not exist. Another feminist, Charlene Spretnak, writes:
It’s not accurate to say that “most feminists” were/are “materialists” (socialist/Marxist/New Left) and are, therefore, unfavorably disposed toward any talk in the feminist movement of the spiritual dimension of life. That seems to be true of the majority of feminists in New York City but not in the rest of the country. For instance, when the editors of Chrysalis magazine made two 13,000-mile trips, in 1973 and 1974, crisscrossing the country to visit scores of women’s communities for The New Woman’s Survival Catalog and The New Woman’s Sourcebook they were preparing, the big surprise was the widespread grassroots interest in women’s spirituality. In fact, Women’s Spirituality became the fast-growing branch of feminism once we all started writing books and articles and having conferences (a fact that merely proved to the socialists/New Left/materialists that “false consciousness” was rampant across the land!). In any event, it is really not the case that “most feminists” were/are opposed to women’s spirituality.
~ Charlene Spretnak, editor of The Politics of Women’s Spirituality
Mimi’s Goddess Group
Mimi was a member of an informal group of women, some scholars but all with scholarly interests, that met regularly and irregularly over the years to discuss their work on the Goddess. On several occasions some of them traveled to conferences together to present papers.
Mimi refers to the group in her résumé as follows:
Co-founder and member of an ongoing study group on the Great Goddess and female-centered civilizations that has included Cristina Biaggi (Habitations of the Goddess), Marija Gimbutas (Language of the Goddess, Civilization of the Goddess), Buffie Johnson (Lady of the Beasts),Vicki Noble (Motherpeace Tarot), Merlin Stone (When God was a Woman), Barbara Walker (The Women’s Book of Myths & Secrets), Donna Wilshire (Maiden, Mother, Crone), and artists Mary Beth Edelson, Donna Henes, and Carolee Schneemann. The group formed the core of the Heresies Collective for the Great Goddess Issue #5.
Mimi’s Approach to Women in architecture
(Note: This is adapted from the extensive naratives that accompany Mimi’s archive.)
Mimi began her career in architectural practice and then teaching architecture in the late 1960s and early 1970s during a period that is now called Second-Wave Feminism. (First-Wave Feminism was during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.)
As Mimi and other women architects of her generation moved through various stages of their careers, it became apparent to them that they had problems that might be addressed by feminism. Mimi joined with other women in co-founding the Alliance of Women in Architecture and The Archive of Women in Architecture and briefly explored with several colleagues creating an office of women architects. She also was one of the originators of what became the exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 1977 titled “Women in American Architecture,” curated by Susana Torre. The exhibition was accompanied by a book of the same name. (Women in American Architecture. Susana Torre, editor. New York: Watson-Guptill/Whitney Library of Design) Mimi’s Goddess Temple was in both the exhibition and the book.
Mimi had an interesting philosophical position regarding women in architecture.
There are seemingly two possible positions:
One is that women are just like men, just as good as men, and have a right to participate in the profession as equals of men. The problem with this position in the late 1960s and early 1970s was that the period was very anti establishment to an extent that is difficult to understand if you have not lived through it. From this anti-establishment attitude, this position could be interpreted as saying: Women have the same right to mess up the world that men have.
The second position was that women have something different to offer architecture. Thus they are needed to make a better world, and their work should be exhibited so all can see what they have to offer. The problems with this position are that no one has been able to identify how women design differently from men, and if they do, might that mean that women should do homes and kitchens, which puts them back where they were before feminism.
The architectural feminist movement never really resolved these issues, but time did. For the most part women are now accepted along side of men, and most would say that they cannot tell the difference between the work of men and women.
Mimi’s approach was unique. She took a series of positions that were then and still are out of favor in mainstream academia, but are powerful ideas, well thought out, and shared with many major intellectual figures. It is very briefly as follows (You can see these ideas fully developed in her writing):
There are psychological orientations that might be called the Feminine Principle and the Masculine Principle. Women and men have both, but the Feminine Principle tends to be dominant in most women, and the Masculine Principle tends to be dominant in most men. Examples might be that the Feminine Principle involves holistic “right brain” thinking and the Masculine Principle involves linear-logical-rational “left brain” thinking. Note that this gets complicated. Mimi rejected the dualism of, for example, Taoist Yin and Yang, which says that the Feminine is receding and the masculine is assertive. She said that this was a patriarchal dualism, that before patriarchy the feminine was holistic and encompassed both, while patriarchy split this holism and assigned the inferior qualities to the feminine.
Mimi goes on to contend that different cultural periods were dominated more by the Masculine Principle or the Feminine Principle. Our secular, rational, scientific age is very masculine, while the Goddess-oriented, nature-oriented Neolithic period was very feminine.
Note that these psychological principles extend beyond the individual and are also cultural world-views. Thus she had a Jungian (or more accurately a Cambellian [after Joseph Campbell]) point of view on this.
The Neolithic period was one of great innovation, and also of thousands of years of peace (as can be seen by the lack of war wounds on skeletons) and prosperity. It lacked rigid hierarchies (as can be seen in common burials and contemporary “Neolithic” cultures such as Pueblo Indians), and worshipped the Great Goddess (as can be seen by the Maltese Temples, etc.)
The period was, Mimi said, “female” centered. By this she did not mean matriarchal as was once proposed by Bachofen, which is a mirror image of patriarchy with women dominating men. Rather she said this period was egalitarian. The predominance of scholarship on the period, particularly by Marija Gimbutas, confirms this position.
Thus we have historical examples of feminine principle centered cultures, and they have produced some of the world’s most wonderful architecture, including Newgrange Passage Mound and the Maltese Temples, both of which Mimi visited and researched.
Her work on this goes much deeper. She said that we can see social and political structures associated with feminine principle and masculine principle in cultures. We also see different psychological and spiritual orientations. And there are more than just two kinds of cultures (feminine and masculine). In fact there are seven, which are the subject of her book, Spatial Archetypes: The Hidden Patterns of Psyche and Civilization.
So Mimi’s position was that there could be a feminine approach to spirituality, to work, to culture, and to architecture, and she dedicated herself to manifesting this in her life, her work (the Goddess Temple) and her teaching.
One example in her teaching was her insistence that Pratt have two lectures in the required history sequence on Paleolithic and Neolithic, before getting to Egypt and Mesopotamia. She presented in those lectures works like Newgrange Passage Mound and the Maltese Temples. When she first presented this material she had to include xeroxes of them in the course outline, since they were not in the survey textbooks. It was interesting to watch over the years as they did enter into the textbooks.