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Writing for Free Inquiry, a publication of the Council for Secular Humanism, columnist Katha Politt has suggested that:

“the subordination of women has historically been one of the main purposes of religion—the original rulebook for patriarchy.”

Patriarchy refers to a society in which men tend to exert a great deal of control over women and the ideology of a male god is often used to make the economic and political subordination of women to seem legitimate and somehow natural.

Many writers have pointed out the sexism of today’s major religions—Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism—which appears to place women in secondary roles in both religion and in daily life.

Katha Politt also writes:

“To find a woman-centered religion, you have to back into prehistory, to mother-goddess cults about which we know little and that in any case cannot be proven to have reflected or shaped a matriarchal society in which women were powerful and independent social actors (though it would be nice to think that they did so).”
I know about the major world religions (other than Buddhism) primarily through academic study rather than personal experience. With regard to personal experience, I have often seen sexism and patriarchy in action in many Native American ceremonies in which women are segregated both physically and spiritually into secondary or minor roles. With my knowledge of traditional ways, I feel that this degradation of women within Native American spiritual traditions has come about because of the influence of Christianity and a move away from the animistic roots.

On the other hand, my experience with Wicca has been much more female centered and feminist.

So what has been your experience: are religions sexist?

This is an open thread. Feel free to change the subject and talk about what’s happening in your life, what you’ve been working on, and what’s for dinner.

Originally posted to Street Prophets on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 01:06 PM PST.

Also republished by Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Sexism seems to also flourish (21+ / 0-)

    Independently of religion as well. Plenty of atheists justify it.

    However, it seems to me that religion is used to sanction it, at least in the political mind of the extreme right here in the US and in various cultures internationally.

  •  i don't know (15+ / 0-)

    I'm not a scholar, but I do read my Bible. I think it's huge that when Jesus came back, women were the first to see him.

    I used to belong to a church that had a female pastor. The church I work at now has one as well.

    I think some people in some organizations are sexist.

    "...i also also want a legally binding apology." -George Rockwell

    by thankgodforairamerica on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 01:29:25 PM PST

  •  I would say that most religions are sexist... (17+ / 0-)

    ...and expend much of their time and energy repressing women. Full disclosure: I am an adult male who was raised in the Catholic Church.

  •  Star Trek (11+ / 0-)

    is probably the only TV series that was free of most -isms and to some, Star Trek is a religion!

    Seriously, being raised Catholic, I have seen much sexism in the Church, and even though the new pope appears to be a big change when it comes to income equality, he still believes that women must be kept in their place.

    I'm not very hopeful that we will ever achieve equal for all and the older I get, the more I see a regression in women's rights and fight for equality.

    Mr.AzB has made his chili for dinner today and with temps predicted to reach 86 degrees by Wednesday, if google weather is to be believed, he picked a good day for hot food!
    86 degrees in mid-December seems so wrong.

    Untitled

    •  What about (5+ / 0-)

      The Jedi ?

      After all, it's one of the beliefs listed...

      In a society that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or circumstances of birth such as gender, ethnicity and national origin.

      "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

      by FloridaSNMOM on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 04:27:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, but Jedi discriminate on the basis... (4+ / 0-)

        ...of one's ability to use the Force—which seems to have at least some genetic component, since Anakin passed it on to Luke. How is that any different than discrimination on the basis of any other arbitrary quality of one's genes, such as skin color or height?

        "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

        by JamesGG on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 05:07:23 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The beliefs doesn't say anything about using (3+ / 0-)

          the force, just belief in it's existence. This is actually a real religion.

          "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

          by FloridaSNMOM on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 05:17:50 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  He also passed it on to Leia (4+ / 0-)

          though she was less trained in its use -- if she'd had training under Yoda, who knows what she might have been able to do?

          Could also be a case of while not everyone is called to be a Jedi warrior, everyone has some ability to use the Force in the best way possible -- we've only seen Jedi knights and warriors, what about Jedi healers, or those who can use the Force to be better diplomats, and of course Jedi teachers?

          There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

          by Cali Scribe on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 06:35:42 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  I prefer Babylon 5, which I am currently (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      arizonablue, Ojibwa, FloridaSNMOM, Ahianne

      watching again, In Delenn you have a powerful woman who is a religious leader--and her aunt is a poet of great renown.  Ivanova is a Russian Jew who is career military and both tough as nails and compassionate.  It also deals with religion and religious themes  in depth (Joe Straczinski was raised Catholic and is an atheist now).  And it turns out that one ancient race  deliberately used religion to help form societies in their rulebound image....I loved Trek and for its time it was way ahead--but B5 did soemthing much deeper and with much more intentionals eriousness--and more women who actually DO things.

      The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

      by irishwitch on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 07:04:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ivanova is always right.. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        irishwitch, Ojibwa

        I will listen to Ivanova.. Ivanova is God...

        "sorry about that God thing".

        "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

        by FloridaSNMOM on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 07:43:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think the actual line--on the button someone s (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FloridaSNMOM, Ojibwa, Ahianne

          sent me --is "Inanova is Goddess. "

          I loved that scene.

          I keepwanting to choose a favorite character but it ends up being a toss=up between Ivanova, Delenn, Lennier and G'Kar. I lean a ;little to G'Kar because of the amazing spiritua; transformation he undergoes. And ANdreas Katsoulas had such a magnificent voice.

          The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

          by irishwitch on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 07:46:58 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  There are so many good characters (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Ojibwa

            and lines from that show! I think I like all of them in some ways, except for the Shadows.. and Psy-cops, especially Bester. I get annoyed when I play a Boggle type game online and it doesn't include certain words.. like Zog.. "Zog yes, Zog no??"
            by the way:

            "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

            by FloridaSNMOM on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 08:02:07 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Sometimes it's just a turf war... (8+ / 0-)

    For instance, the Southern Baptist Convention's doctrinal statement says that the office of "pastor" is limited to men.

    That hasn't stopped thousands of SBC churches from ordaining and hiring women as "pastor of education," "youth pastor", "minister of music", "children's pastor", and the like.

    It's just that one last glass ceiling--being THE senior pastor of an entire congregation--that remains closed to women.  It's also one of the few things (along with hiring or ordaining gay clergy, or officiating/hosting a same-sex marriage) that will provoke a "withdrawal of fellowship" from the association/Convention - i.e. the church's peers kicking them out.

    At one time, there were over 2000 ordained female pastors (primarily chaplains) in the SBC, dating back to the first ordination of a woman to the pastorate in 1964. For decades, no one said "boo" - then the "conservative resurgence" occurred.

    Yes, it has become a litmus test for SBC conservatives. Personally, I think it's a symbol without substance; what they're REALLY testing is the church's adherence to biblical inerrancy, which is on the wane among rank-and-file Baptists. (It's also a direct move toward creedalism, which is anathema to old-school Baptists, but that's a different story.)

    It's a losing battle, if you ask me. The SBC churches I've attended wouldn't hesitate to hire a female senior pastor if we believed her to be the right person for the job.

    The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

    by wesmorgan1 on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 02:41:46 PM PST

  •  In Tibetan Buddhism (8+ / 0-)

    Historically, some monks sometimes have made it very clear they were grateful to be born in a male body. Many people think this indicates some deeply ingrained sexism.

    However I have a different impression. For years I observed my female friends on the spiritual path who have had to make spiritual pursuits a lower priority because of the demands of nurturing others. It became clear to me that it was really fortunate for me that I remained single and never had children as it allowed me to put spirituality on the front burners and keep it there. I've had wonderful Buddhist monks for teachers and never felt that they gave me less attention or help than any of their male students.

    So I suspect those monks were merely making observations about the reality of women's lives, and not making value judgments about women's spiritual potential. My .02 cents. :-)

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.--Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

    by Ooooh on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 02:42:50 PM PST

  •  i don't know why this popped into my head- (5+ / 0-)

    It's a big book, but an example of something decidedly not sexist is Paul's advice in 1st Corinthians 7:3-5

    I'm on my phone, and it's impossible for me to copy and paste with this stupid thing.

    Anyway, the advice is so good, so respectful, and so equitable. I think it's a great example of both men and women being equals.

    "...i also also want a legally binding apology." -George Rockwell

    by thankgodforairamerica on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 03:21:27 PM PST

  •  The Celts (11+ / 0-)

    were, before corruption by Christianity, very unisex so far as religion and ruling goes. Those who follow the Celtic Pantheon now, are as well in my experience.

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 03:36:41 PM PST

    •  We try to be. (4+ / 0-)

      That equality--and I did a lot oof research before I committed--is why I chose not just WIcca but the Irish Pantheon. Morrigan, who is both a warrior queen and a fertility deity, is the form I relate to most. DOn't know why. But I used her as a character in a story in Amzons II, and in a trunk novel.

      The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

      by irishwitch on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 07:07:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Monasticism for women, starting in the early (9+ / 0-)

    centuries of the church, provided the first institution that gave women a space to organize their own lives and pursue education. Take a look at abbesses like Hilda of Whitby and Hildegard of Bingen. These and others were highly learned, consulted by secular powers, and in charge of their own lives.

    I suspect we tend to overlook them because they are not married, but the monastic lives offered more self-control than anything secular society had to offer for a long time.



    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 03:45:49 PM PST

    •  Not at all true (5+ / 0-)

      Female monasticism, including prophetic organizations, goes back before written history in a number of religions that we have information on. That is, we have written records from early periods describing prior practice, that we can correlate with archaeological data about earlier times.

      For example, Greek tradition recounts the existence of four successive temples at Delphi, leading to the famous temple of the Oracle in historical times. We do not know that the previous temples were occupied by women, but it is something that can be investigated. Certainly one of the buildings was a temple to Athena.

      The record particularly includes information from Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain sources in India. There is a much longer tradition of hermits not living in groups, but in forests or mountain caves. This was often too dangerous for women, but it happened here and there anyway.

      Chinese Daoism has been traced back to the 4th century BCE, but we have primarily philosophical texts, not monastic rules or other such materials until much later.

      Christian monasticism is generally understood to begin with the Desert Fathers in Egypt in the 3rd century. At that time, the monastic institution for women was known as a Parthenon, a place for virgins.

      We have essentially no information on monasticism among early priestly religions in Egypt, Akkadia, and so on.

      Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

      by Mokurai on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 06:03:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yes. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, blueoasis

    We should be androgynous, self replicating humanoids.

    Does heaven have separate men's and women's bathrooms?


    You're not going to amount to jack squat! - Matt Foley

    by glb3 on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 03:52:52 PM PST

  •  Yes, yes and yes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, FloridaSNMOM

    In fact, my community recently implemented segregated swimming sessions at my public pool, using public funds (!) in support of a sexist religion's requirement that female members of the religion may not be seen scantily clad (in swimsuits) in front of men.

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead -

    by FlamingoGrrl on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 05:52:28 PM PST

    •  So your community pool (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ojibwa, JDsg

      made a safe space for women who want to swim but don't want men to see them in their swimsuits?  Appalling.

    •  Oh dear! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ojibwa

      The idea of women being modest is sexist now! Shut down those women-only gyms and spas! They're being sexist if the women don't want to be seen in various states of undress by men.

      Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

      by JDsg on Tue Dec 17, 2013 at 12:44:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Why is modesty regarded as oppressive? (0+ / 0-)

        I remember reading an interesting comment here by "Noor" (presumably a Muslimah) in defense of the Islamic women's dress.  Since I couldn't reply on that blog, I'll give some thoughts about it here.

        While Western feminist women would most likely wholeheartedly agree with Noor's criticisms of historical and current Western fashions (she mentioned corsets, bras and high heels), they wouldn't be seen dead in Islamic dress!  On the contrary it is they (and not the men who supposedly "hate women covering their bodies") who tend to be the most strident critics of hijab.  

        I suspect that Noor misunderstands Western feminists, to whom the archetypal misogynist is not someone who views women as sex objects, but rather someone who views women as baby machines.  And the loose, flowing clothes of the Muslim women (which easily facilitate pregnancy, but could be dangerous in a factory environment) can easily be vilified as being the product of a society that views women as nothing more than baby machines.  (Although maybe this British WWII poster would be a counterexample to this view?)

        A strong focus of Western feminism was to improve women's earning potential to be equal with that of men, because as Barbara Ehrenreich documented in The Hearts of Men, Western men post-WWII were increasingly unwilling to take on the breadwinner role, especially as household gadgets, fast food and laundromats meant that single men could now life far more comfortable (she brought up Playboy magazine in one chapter of the book, and pointed out that what was most subversive about that magazine was not its pictures but its anti-marriage editorial line).  And in any case, today most of the family-wage jobs have been lost due to automation or offshoring!

        •  Modesty isn't oppressive. (0+ / 0-)

          That's @$$-backwards reasoning.

          On the contrary it is they (and not the men who supposedly "hate women covering their bodies") who tend to be the most strident critics of hijab.
          In my experience, it seems that the criticisms made against hijab are split evenly between men and women.  And some non-Muslim women have been willing to wear hijab, either to experiment with others' reactions or in solidarity with Muslim women.
          ...the archetypal misogynist is not someone who views women as sex objects, but rather someone who views women as baby machines.
          I think it's a bit of both, although the younger ones are almost completely focused on looking at women as sex objects.
          And the loose, flowing clothes of the Muslim women (which easily facilitate pregnancy, but could be dangerous in a factory environment)...
          This is the idealized image of how Muslim women wear their clothing; the reality is different.  For example, many Muslim women will tuck their hijab into their blouses so that the loose cloth is minimized and can't be caught by something. I've seen this many, many times.
          Western men post-WWII were increasingly unwilling to take on the breadwinner role, especially as household gadgets, fast food and laundromats meant that single men could now life far more comfortable...
          Likewise, western women found greater financial independence and often delayed marriage in order to further their careers.  Those marriages that did take place often fell into divorce as there was less social stigma and women found it easier to support themselves financially post-divorce.

          Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

          by JDsg on Thu Dec 19, 2013 at 06:24:33 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  No, but it is often seen as a SYMBOL of oppression (0+ / 0-)

            which is an important distinction.

            And some non-Muslim women have been willing to wear hijab, either to experiment with others' reactions or in solidarity with Muslim women.
            Would you regard a non-Muslim woman as "oppressed" if she dressed less modestly that she would have liked, out of fear of being mistaken for a Muslim?
            •  Your scenario doesn't exist. (0+ / 0-)

              The only way a non-Muslim women might be mistaken for being Muslim is if she wears hijab.  And how many non-Muslim women aren't able to put on a hijab because they don't want to be mistaken for a Muslimah?  Whereas a Muslimah who doesn't wear a hijab looks just like any other non-Muslim woman out there.

              Now that doesn't mean that non-Muslim women can't be body-modest; plenty of non-Muslim women are (here in Singapore, that's especially true of Indian women, regardless of their religion).  But the only people whom I've known to be confused for being Muslim are Sikh men, who wear either the turban or patka over their hair, and they, generally, don't give a $#|+ about being confused for Muslims by the ignorant.

              Modesty isn't oppression, nor is it a symbol of oppression.  It's a positive mental attitude.  But some people have become so mortified over feeling shame that they rebel against being modest and rationalize that rebelliousness by claiming sexism, when it's nothing of the sort.

              Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

              by JDsg on Thu Dec 19, 2013 at 04:10:25 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Of course they are sexist (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, FloridaSNMOM, blueoasis, radmul, gffish

    The point is to create more members, and the only way to do that is to tell girls/women that their most important role is as baby makers, which means they must depend on men to support them, because pregnant/nursing girls/women can't support themselves nearly as easily as they can if they aren't spending all their time carrying and taking care of children.

    Bearing and taking care of children is a huge undertaking. It risks the health and lives of girls/women to do it. The only way women will do it so often is if they are forced to. Everywhere they are given a choice, they don't do it nearly as often.



    Women create the entire labor force.
    ---------------------------------------------
    Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 06:17:42 PM PST

  •  Yes, "traditional" religions are sexist (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, FloridaSNMOM, blueoasis
    So what has been your experience: are religions sexist?
    At least the three "traditional" patriarchal religions of which I know about, and especially Christianity, the one in which I have any experience.

    It's part and parcel of their belief systems.  On the whole, over the last three thousand years in particular, the effects of religion have been much more negative than positive when it comes to subjugating not only women but whole populations.  They've started more wars and killed more people in the name of religion than all other reasons combined, and that doesn't even cover their torture chambers in religious purges and "conversion" efforts.
    ~~~~~~~~~~

    On a much more positive note - at least from a bibliophilic perspective - I found this blurb on the Yahoo 'news' feed, and fell in love with the images of the 12 rooms full of books.  I suspect all you bibliophiles will appreciate these images as much as I do.

    :-)

    I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

    by NonnyO on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 06:39:05 PM PST

  •  I am WIccan because it was one of the few (7+ / 0-)

    faiths that didn't make women second class citizens.   I am NOT a Dianic WIccan--emphasize on the Goddess at the expense of the God, though I understand WHY some covens, especially lesbian covens do that-- because for me it goes off in the opposite direction. I  and my hsuband are a pair of solitaries and embody for each other the God and the Goddess.

    When I left Catholicism at age 20, I started looking at all the major faiths. At least Catholicism  had Mary and female saints who, while not called divine stillmanaged to be the face of the Merciful Mother. None of the other forms of Christianity had that.  Islam was as bad or worse than CHrisitanity--in its current form; at the time of its founding, Muslim women had MORE rights than CHristian women, though.  Buddhism was too abstract and the cultures that followed it  were very patriarchal. Wiccan and paganism  were the home I found. I went with Irish  Wicca because it's my ethnicity, I know the tales and the deities and because the goddesses were damned strong .  Also brenon law gave women many rights which they lost under CHristianity.

    The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

    by irishwitch on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 06:59:19 PM PST

  •  My own path went from the Friends to Wicca and (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ahianne, Throw The Bums Out, Ojibwa

    now to something I consider just more generally pagan.

    While I don't think Wicca is sexist (though it can be run as such, as the Dianics often seem to) it can err by being highly heterosexual, due to the fertility religion component.

    When you come to find how essential the comfort of a well-kept home is to the bodily strength and good conditions, to a sound mind and spirit, and useful days, you will reverence the good housekeeper as I do above artist or poet, beauty or genius.

    by Alexandra Lynch on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 01:17:04 AM PST

  •  It's difficult to argue (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, Ojibwa

    that they are not. I can cite many examples of nonsexist religion, but add them all up  you've got, what, 20% of world religion at most?

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 04:39:02 AM PST

  •  I Blame Society (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, Ooooh, Ojibwa, Parthenia, DJ Rix

    Religions, even reformist religions, reflect the society out of which they grow.  Look at the Bible's attitude towards slavery.  Slavery was a fact of life in the society of the time.  The Law of Moses tried to mitigate the effects of slavery through things like the Year of Jubilee, but it never said that slavery should be abolished; similarly, Paul urged Masters to treat their slaves with respect and consideration.  But because neither Moses nor Paul came out to denounce slavery, their intentions to mitigate the abuses have been used to justify slavery.

    Arg.  Too many ideas I need to organize and not enough time.  Someday I really need to do a diary on Paul and Women.  It won't be today.

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at http://www.kurtoonsonline.com/

    by quarkstomper on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 05:58:50 AM PST

  •  Don't worry about Paul (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa

    Don't bother writing about him. We can handle Paul.

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 12:30:10 PM PST

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