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Women, a Curiosity & a Question
By Jim Coufal of Cazenovia, NY
Now don’t get your bloomers in a twist. I won’t be saying that women are a curiosity, and I certainly won’t advance any idea that women are somehow less than men. Heck, in ways they’re better. But I do have a curiosity that raises a question that I think is worth asking of women.
Why do you continue to support religion, which in most cases seeks to hold you back and to make (keep) you a second-class citizen? If this seems extreme, let me illustrate, not with guile but with fact.
There may have been earlier exposes, but I’ll start with two powerful American abolitionist and suffrage voices. Matilda Joslyn Gage, in her masterful, well-researched “Women Church and State,” (1893) said, “the very foundation of that religion (Christianity) being the subordination of women in every relation of life,” and clearly and directly shows how this applied in categories such as canon law, witchcraft, wives, polygamy, teaching, work, and others. Her friend and compatriot, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, said, “The bible teaches that women brought sin and death into the world that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage, maternity a period of suffering and anguish, and in silence and subjugation, she was to play the role of a dependent on man’s bounty for all her material wants, and for all the information she might desire…Here is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up.” To simply further, woman brought original sin to the world and must suffer for it. How does this play out, and what about other religions and women? I will list a minimum of examples, but there are more in each case.
To start with the basic, “Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die.” (Eccles. 25:22). “This immediately put man in a position of superiority, which should not be unsurprising since it was written by men. It also meant, according to a loving god, that women must suffer. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow though shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16). When it finally came, the church opposed the use of anesthesia to reduce the pain of suffering of childbirth; it was the wont of woman to suffer, said the old white men.
Since man had to suffer the introduction of sin by woman, and women were made from man (ribs and all that), he was superior to her; “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husband in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24). Notice it says “everything” and over many years this meant even rape, beatings, treatment as chattel, etc. and still does in many religions.
You might expect women to speak out against injustice but what else are they told? “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but woman being deceived was in the transgression” (I Tim. 2:11-14. Generations of women are to suffer because of the perceived sin of one woman, and they are to stay silent about it! And who is to say, except that it was written by old men, that Adam might not have taken the first bite of the apple? A question for all, but especially for men, is what would our world look like if it was written so that women were superior and how would you like it?
The bible also deals with the value of women. In one case, where a homeowner has a male guest who a crowd wishes to rape, the homeowner says, “Behold, here is my daughter, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you; but unto this man do not vile a thing.” (Judges 19: 24-25). In other cases, pregnant women who do not believe, and their children, are to be ripped up (Hosea 13:6), a price is put on virgins—female virgins, (Deut. 22: 28-29), men are able to divorce women with greater ease than vice-versa (various), and stoning of adulterous women is approved (and sometimes men, too).
Women are ranked first in one category. The bible justifies burning witches and since witches were mostly identified as women, far more women than men were burned during the inquisition. This also illustrates how often the state and church (religion) worked together to keep all in place, but especially women. Religion/state cooperation still takes place in the world.
Just a brief look will be made into other religions. Regarding Islam, Americans are outraged that suicide bombers are given 72 virgins in heaven. This is seen as outlandish, especially since suicide is forbidden in Islam. But as Jihadists, fighting infidels, such bombers are not seen as committing suicide. In any case, the reward of 72 virgins is not mentioned in the Koran, but it is found in the Hadith, or traditions of Islam. We also have witnessed how women who have been raped are the ones punished, even by being stoned to death. One author puts it that in Islam, “sex is seen entirely from the male point of view, woman’s sexuality is admitted but seen as something to be feared, repressed and a work of the devil”; thus things like the burquah and long robes. Islam even requires two female witnesses to be the equal of one male witness.
In Hinduism, there was the custom of “sati,” where at her husband’s death the wife laid herself on his funeral pyre for self-immolation, to join him as companion/servant. The woman was seen as having no intrinsic value without her husband and no justification to live without him. The British largely ended this custom, but apparently it is still practiced in remote areas of India.
Gage describes a four hour sermon of a Christian minister in the late nineteenth century, and she concludes his argument that women were subordinate to men, is based on the same arguments from the past, “that woman was created inferior to man, for man and was the first to sin.”
So I repeat my question to women, not out of any mean spirit but out of true interest, “Why do you continue to support religion, which in most cases seeks to hold you back and to make (keep) you a second-class citizen?”
The reason that women support religion is no different than the reason men support religion: because it is a status quo in which they were indoctrinated, and have not figured out how to think/see the world outside of those egregiously restrictive boundaries.
But, in truth, this is a red herring argument, because the problem is that misogyny exists across all layers and spectra of human society. Let’s frame this another way…
Why aren’t women in the US more vocal and insistent on being given equal and fair representation in Congress, or in managerial roles in the workplace, or in any other leadership paradigm? Were you aware that the US ranks lower than IRAN in terms of female political leadership? How about that a woman is raped every 8 seconds in this country, or that 100,000 young girls are sex trafficked on American streets right now?
Women accept a harmful, even a destructive, status quo because they don’t believe they have the power to change it.
The reason for this is simple: women are acculturated as heavily as are males, and we are all operating the fallacy that women are, in one way or another, or many others, inferior to males. Until we empower women to see themselves as equals with males, and empower males to own those qualities which are wrongfully labeled “feminine” (such as emotional health, empathy, caregiving, domestic matters, etc.) then those harmful and fallacious gender roles will continue to be codefied/indoctrinated into our young, and perpetuated into adulthood.
If you want women to stop allowing religion to twist their minds and their lives, then work harder to educate and empower them, to give them absolute control over their own bodies– with absolutely NO exceptions– and I guarantee the demise of religion will accelerate. For there is no other antidote to it than education and empowerment, not just for women, but for all.
But patronizing, condescending language to women will have the opposite effect. Telling women: “are you so stupid that you can’t see you’re being hurt” is no different than telling an African American “can’t you see how stupid you are for allowing white people to segregate you?” Empower and educate, but do it with respect AND humility, not as a superior trying to inform your inferiors.
For the record, I’m an atheist, feminist, progressive. Nobody gets the kind of hate mails and rape threats that I do. And those threats are always from atheist men, not religious men. If you guys want to change things, fix that shit. Seriously.
Starting a post addressed to women with, “Now don’t get your bloomers in a twist,” is always a bad sign. Case in point. Plenty of room for criticizing religions, but you left out the sexist doctrines that have plagued science and medicine, and sometimes were foundational to them (psychiatry, poster child). As it happens, there are serious consequences for women who speak out against dogma, all along the line, so don’t be surprised that relatively few have done so. Gage and Stanton (Gage especially) paid a high price for her outspoken critique of christianity, but you’re missing a piece. She courageously opposed anti-institutional, male dominated religion, but if you had actually read Woman Church and State you would know that she was not an atheist, but a more of a Goddess woman. Check out the text, it’s online. She once caused a sensation by offering a feminized benediction at a suffragist gathering. She also pointed out the differences between male-dominated and female-led religions, something that Susan Sered has fleshed out in more recent ethnographic studies, mostly of Indigenous cultures. So careful with your generalizations.
Meant to type “opposed institutional,” not anti-institutional.
FYI, I have read “Women, Church and State,” and plenty more. The article was written for and originally appeared in a County weekly newspaper, thus had limited space. Thus, I focused on what I thought was an interesting and important question, asking women themselves why they stuck with religion, not with religiousness or spirituality, but religion. And just what generalization do you object to?
The generalization of the oppressive structures and doctrines of Christianity and patriarchal religions to any and all religions, as i stated.
You may think you stated that, but I sure don’t.
My characterization of Christianity was not so much a generalization as a listing of specific examples. Writers always know exactly what they mean; readers always know exactly what the read. I didn’t say “any and all religions,” but you read it. So it goes.
I am not objecting to your characterization of Christianity, but your broad generalization about religion. “I focused on what I thought was an interesting and important question, asking women themselves why they stuck with religion.” There’s religion and then there’s religion. Some people prefer to say spirituality, but that ethereal definition doesn’t apply to most Indigenous religions. Some of which are oppressive to women and others not.
I definitely agree 100 % with this post and that is why I am an atheist, well part of the reason. I think what drives women or people for that matter to religion no matter the contradictions is fear and of course our egos. No one wants to believe that there is one life and after death conscious doesn’t survive. You’ll make anything fit if you really want to.