Dear Feminism, Let’s Talk About Religion

Gloria Steinem is right.  We have to talk about religion more.  When asked at the MAKERS Conference this week “What do you think the biggest problem with feminism today is?” she responded:

Anti-feminism [laughs]. The work that women do is given no economic value whatsoever. We could go on about that. But we all know that. What we don’t talk about enough is religion. I think that spirituality is one thing. But religion is just politics in the sky. I think we really have to talk about it. Because it gains power from silence.

In a piece over at Sojourners, Jamie Calloway-Hanauer notes that

Steinem frequently speaks of the effects of religion on the feminist cause. In a 2001 CNN interview, Steinem said, “religion is often politics made sacred. If God is a man, then man is God. We need to return and go forward to the understanding that there is God in all living things, not more in men than women … To believe otherwise is only an excuse for dominating women and nature.”

Steinem there is of course paraphrasing radical feminist philosopher Mary Daly who argued in 1973 that “if God is male, then the male is God.”  I do think that Calloway-Hanauer overstates Steinem’s critique about religion and feminism here when she leads her piece with the claim that Steinem said religion is the biggest problem facing feminism.  In order, in her response, Steinem rightly notes that anti-feminism is a big problem.  Economic challenges affecting women are a big problem.  And, as Calloway-Hanauer eventually notes, NOT TALKING about religion is a problem:

the collective we are not crying foul when those in positions of moral authority assert that men are superior to women. To move closer to gender equality, [Steinem] proposes, the collective we must cry foul.

In 2009 I made an argument that feminists should care about Christianity.  Not because Christianity or any religion for that matter is awesome.  Quite the contrary.  Insofar as religion is and has been part of the problem in the oppression of women, feminists MUST pay attention to it.  Engaging, reforming, transforming, challenging and upending systems perpetuating domination is what feminism must continue to be about.

So let’s talk about politics in the sky.  Let’s talk about how the concept and image of a male God has been used to keep women under patriarchal control.  Let’s talk about how women have actually been foundational figures in most religious traditions.

Here’s the thing that Steinem and too many other high profile feminist voices forget or simply fail to point out in their celebrity feminist conversations:  Feminist theologians have been doing this for a long time.  In print.  In person.  Online.  I’d be happy to provide a reading list if you just realized this.

We’re talking.  Are you paying attention?

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


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