Religion’s Harm to Women

In our society, it is still widely considered rude to criticize opinions and practices that arise from religious belief, no matter how evil or abhorrent they are. Even when it comes to the murderous fanatics who kill in the name of Islam, politicians and other public figures who criticize them often take pains to label their actions as arising from a twisted or self-serving interpretation, as though it would be impossible for a legitimate and sincere interpretation of any religion to inspire believers to commit evil acts.

However, the reality is that sincere religious beliefs and legitimate interpretations of scripture can, and very often do, cause immense evil and harm. And when a more enlightened future age arrives to tote up the harms done by religion, I am certain that the systematic oppression and denial of basic rights to one-half of the human race will rank near the top. Back in March, I wrote “That Monstrous Regiment” about the extreme denigration of women in the Christian tradition, but there is more to be said. This net can be cast wider, and it is time to do so.

Every major world religion – without exception – is intensely patriarchal. Every one of them engages in the systematic devaluation of women, in the systematic exclusion of women from positions of authority, and in the systematic oppression and even enslavement of women. I have yet to find a single major religion that bucks this trend. Considering how little many of these religions have in common otherwise, this is a truly remarkable pattern. A few denominations, influenced by the feminist movement and other moral advances, are only now beginning to redress this glaring inequity, but for the most part progress has been extremely slow and the vast majority of religions still treat women as less than human.

Despite its having been housebroken by the Enlightenment, Christianity is one of the worst offenders. Although some Christian denominations have taken faltering steps towards women’s equality, all those denominations still believe in and endorse the Bible, which is without a doubt one of the most misogynistic books in existence.

In the book of Genesis, for example, the very existence of women is depicted as a divine afterthought, and the fall of the human race out of original Paradise into a world of toil and death is unambiguously depicted as a woman’s fault. The text makes it clear from the very first that women are expected to be obedient and submissive to men:

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

—Genesis 3:16

The Ten Commandments proclaim wives to be their husband’s property, listing them together with livestock and servants as “thing[s] that [are] thy neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). The Torah states that women who give birth to daughters are “unclean” for twice as long as women who give birth to sons (Leviticus 12) and values women’s lives at half the value of men’s lives (Leviticus 27:3-7). It rules that women who are raped in cities and do not cry out are to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:22-24), while those are raped in the countryside are merely required to marry their rapists (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

The New Testament joins in the denigration of women as well. It endorses the Old Testament’s subjugation of them to men, saying that “the head of the woman is the man” (1 Corinthians 11:3). It also commands women to remain silent in church, saying that it is “a shame” for women to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), and adds that women must “learn in silence with all subjection” and must never be allowed to teach or hold authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11-15).

And then there is one of the most subtly and pervasively sexist ideas in Christian thinking: the Trinity. The early Christians had three gods to choose from and made every one of them male. I often wondered, when I was a child, why the set of three contained Father, Son and Holy Ghost and not Father, Son and Mother. That seemed like the logical arrangement to me, but I did not grasp then, as I do now, that this doctrine was invented by an exclusively male and misogynist church hierarchy that sought to deny the female gender any role in creation or in the divine. (Indeed, a recent Harris poll found that over one-third of Jews and Christians believe God is male, while only 1% believe God is female. What would it even mean for God to have a gender?)

Many modern denominations have followed these anti-woman verses to the letter. The Catholic church, one of the worst offenders in this regard, still denies women the ability to join the priesthood, even despite a crippling lack of trained clergy to fill many available posts. The Southern Baptists have likewise declared that women should be submissive and obedient to their husbands, as though it was exclusively the man’s job to command and a woman’s job to follow. The Russian Orthodox church has stepped into the act as well, with a prominent bishop’s recent claim that the idea of equality between the sexes is “destructive” to families (source). It is astonishing to me that Christians who claim to be “pro-family” go out of their way to disparage the gender that makes the existence of families possible.

The offshoots of Christianity have followed a similar path. Most notable is the Mormon church, which from its beginning endorsed polygamous marriage – for men only, of course; it was considered an unspeakable sin for a woman to attempt to take multiple husbands. The institution of polygamy in Mormonism reduced women to little more than property, intimidating them into being obedient and submissive lest their husband decide to take additional wives as punishment, or worse, lest they be damned, for Mormon doctrine originally held that women who opposed the doctrine of polygamy would be condemned to Hell. Mormon belief also holds that a woman cannot access Heaven alone, and that only through marriage can a woman be saved – by her husband, who will “pull her through” to the other side upon her death (source). (One wonders what happens to women who die before their husbands.) Though the Mormons were forced by external pressure to disavow polygamy, many of their other sexist beliefs and practices remain in effect.

These abstract beliefs have had a concrete and devastating effect on women’s rights in the real world. As Jon Krakauer writes in Under the Banner of Heaven:

…perhaps the greatest rift between Mormon general authorities and advocates for women’s rights occurred when the LDS Church actively and very effectively mobilized Mormons to vote as a bloc against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (despite a fact that a poll published in the church-owned Deseret News in 1974 showed that 63 percent of Utahans approved of the ERA). Most political analysts believe that had the LDS Church not taken such an aggressive position against the ERA, it would easily have been ratified by the required thirty-eight states, and would now be part of the U.S. Constitution.

Religious sexism occurs in Judaism as well, especially the conservative sects. Orthodox (male) Jews are taught to pray to God in thankfulness every day that they were not born as women, and some ultra-Orthodox sects refuse to send their children to school when the school buses are driven by women. In accordance with Biblical law, Orthodox women having their menstrual periods or who have recently given birth are considered unclean and forbidden to have any physical contact with a man. Orthodox women are often strongly discouraged from taking any public role in a position of leadership, or from acquiring an education beyond the most basic aspects of religious observance and homemaking.

Islam, too, is one of the worst offenders when it comes to women’s rights. Consider the following verses from the Qur’an, which, like the Bible, considers women as less valuable than and inferior to men. It states that men are to control women, while good women are obedient to men, and it explicitly gives men permission to beat disobedient women:

“Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other… So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.”

—4:34

The Qur’an also states that a woman’s testimony is worth only half as much as a man’s, and her inheritance likewise is only half that of a man:

“And call two witness from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not at hand, then a man and two women…”

—2:282

“Allah chargeth you concerning (the provision for) your children: to the male the equivalent of the portion of two females…”

—4:11

And when fundamentalist Muslims gain political power, the repercussions are far too obvious. Despite the overthrow of the Taliban, there are still many Islamic countries that implement the evil and barbaric law code known as sharia, which has many cruel effects on men as well but degrades women by far the most, reducing them to slaves and nonpersons. The sharia code denies women their right to an education, to medical care, or to go out in public unaccompanied by a male relative, in addition to many other inhumanities, and punishes transgressions with barbaric acts such as flogging and stoning. In many Muslim countries, the practice of “honor killing” – murdering female relatives who have been raped, as a way to cleanse the shame they have brought on their family by being the victim of such a crime – still occurs. And then there is the best-known manifestation of Islam’s inhumanity to women: the suffocating shrouds of black cloth designed to strip them of their individuality and to make them faceless, invisible and less than human.

Even the supposedly more enlightened Eastern religions are not much better when it comes to treating women as equals and as human beings. In Hinduism, the most infamous example is probably the practice of sati, in which widowed women were expected to burn themselves to death on their husband’s funeral pyre. Although this was allegedly a voluntary act, in practice it was often involuntary, with women drugged, bound or otherwise restrained before being committed alive to the flames. As recently as 2002, incidents of this nature have been reported in India (source). Other Hindu traditions, less violent but still terrible, enforce seclusion and isolation on widows in the belief that some sin of the woman caused her husband’s death, and expect her to atone by spending the rest of her life in silence and destitution. This rule, which I mentioned in a post from June titled “Why Do We Care?” and dramatized by the filmmaker Deepa Mehta in her 2005 film Water, was applied even if the widow was a young child in an arranged marriage who had not even met her husband prior to his death.

Buddhism, as well, despite its reputation as a socially progressive faith, has its share of discriminatory teachings about the role of women. In one passage from the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the Buddha’s own aunt, Prajapati, shaves her hair and walks barefoot for many miles to meet with the Buddha and entreat him to permit women to join the sangha, the Buddhist monastic community. The Buddha at first refuses her plea outright, and only relents when his disciple Ananda persuades him to change his mind; however, he imposes a set of eight rules upon nuns that are stricter than those demanded of monks, and in some variants, warns that the sangha will only last for five hundred years due to the presence of women, when it would otherwise have lasted for a thousand. (See here, here and here for some retellings of this story.) In modern Buddhism, Thailand in particular has shown strong patriarchal tendencies, refusing to allow women to be ordained.

It is tragic, but understandable, why so many men throughout history have supported these sexist and patriarchal belief systems. More incredible is how many women have willingly taken part in their own subjugation by joining and participating in religions that have done their utmost to deny them the full equality and equal rights which they deserve. Many, perhaps, have fallen prey to the ancient and transparently obvious deceit that by doing so, they will gain access to an eternity in Heaven. (Although, given that most religions straightforwardly extend their earthly conceptions of hierarchy to the afterlife and picture Heaven as an eternity of male dominance and female submission, one wonders just how appealing that promise could be.)

Not all women have been taken in by this con, however, and there have been and are many women who work for reform and equality within their own religious tradition while continuing to believe in it. This is a noble effort, but I believe it is ultimately misguided. Religion in general, especially the large, institutional, male-run churches like Catholicism, is too dogmatic and too oligarchical for any progress to be made soon enough to help the millions of women who are still suffering under sexist yokes. And as long as people continue to believe in books and traditions that contain these sexist injunctions, the seed of bigotry will always lie dormant, waiting to be rediscovered and reborn. There is only one realistic way to end religion’s harm to women, and that is to cut it off at the source: every feminist should be an atheist.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://rightside.fissure.org Shishberg

    My old church has had an interesting time with women’s roles over the last few years. (I still read the church newsletter with some amusement.)

    There’s an ongoing debate about whether “official” roles for women (e.g. deaconess) should exist, whether they should have as much authority as men, whether they should have authority over men, or whether they should just stay quiet and let the guys look after everything. This has been going on for a few years and it doesn’t look like there’s a conclusion on the horizon.

    Their perpetual problem is that if they decided that women should keep out of things, they’d frustrate and probably lose many of the capable and intelligent (although not to the extent of dropping Christianity) female members of the church – and they’ve had enough problems with dropping membership in recent years that they’d do anything to avoid that. But they can’t say that women can have leadership roles because it’s so obviously unbiblical, and the bible is supposed to be their One True Standard of Everything.

    So the debate just keeps… on… going.

  • Archi Medez

    Ebonmuse,

    Nice work in identifying problem spots in all the major religions in their policies toward women. I’m not sure I’d agree that the problem is one of religion in principle, but it is empirically true that the doctrines (and often the practices) of the major religions do discriminate unfavourably, and sometimes extremely viciously, against women–not the least of which involve “justifications” for murder and rape of women. Also see this link:

    The Status of Women in World Religions By Garda Ghista

    In my work with some ex-Muslim critics of Islam, I have compiled, here here , and here an on-line scrapbook of sorts documenting the misogynistic views and practices in Islam.

    Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301:
    Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: Once Allah’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o ‘Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Apostle?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.”

    Sahih Muslim, Book 8, Number 3371 (3371-3388):
    “Abu Sirma said to Abu Sa’id al Khadri (Allah he pleased with him): O Abu Sa’id, did you hear Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) mentioning al-’azl? He said: Yes, and added: We went out with Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) on the expedition to the Bi’l-Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them, for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them. So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing ‘azl (Withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid-conception). But we said: We are doing an act whereas Allah’s Messenger is amongst us; why not ask him? So we asked Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), and he said: It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born.”

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/med/lewis1.html
    Bernard Lewis. Race and Slavery in the Middle East
    Oxford Univ Press 1994.
    Chpt. 1 Slavery
    Lewis: “A Muslim slaveowner was entitled by law to the sexual enjoyment of his slave women. While free women might own male slaves, they had of course no equivalent right.”

    Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 46, Number 731:
    Narrated Abu Huraira and Zaid bin Khalid: The Prophet said, “If a slave-girl (Ama) commits illegal sexual intercourse, scourge her; if she does it again, scourge her again; if she repeats it, scourge her again.” The narrator added that on the third or the fourth offence, the Prophet said, “Sell her even for a hair rope.”

  • Archi Medez

    “Despite the overthrow of the Taliban, there are still many Islamic countries that implement the evil and barbaric law code known as sharia” -Ebonmuse in the above article.

    To that I would just add that one of those countries is Afghanistan itself, whose current government still implements some amount or degree of sharia. The Taliban were ousted, sort of, for a while, but the government that replaced them, and the Islamic culture that remains as it always has, has not improved very much. The changes introduced (e.g., girls in schools and women in some government positions) were pushed by the Western nations, and may not last in the long-term.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6149144.stm

    “Increasing numbers of Afghan women are committing suicide by setting fire to themselves to escape difficult lives, according to NGOs based in the country.” BBC News. Wednesday, 15 November 2006, 10:05 GMT

    “[…]Forced marriage. Delegates from countries like Bangladesh, Iran, India and Sri Lanka – which have similar female suicide rates – discussed the problem at a conference in Afghanistan on Tuesday.”

    “[…]Experts say many such women believe they have no protection from their abusers or the cultural practices that makes their lives unbearable.”

    ——————————————————

    “Safia Ama Jan, a provincial director for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs, was slain outside her home in the southern city of Kandahar as she was on her way to work, said Tawfiq ul-Ulhakim Parant, senior adviser to the women’s ministry in Kabul.
    Attacks on schools are also increasing. Militants last year burned down or attacked 146 schools, and already this year have attacked 158 schools, said an Afghan official. [Source]
    The school attacks appear motivated partly by Taliban opposition to education for girls — claiming it is against Islam.”

  • Malcolm

    Very good article and well worth reading. One very pedantic point, polygamy is defined as one man many wives. The converse is polyandry, there is therefore no need to make the point that polygamy is men only, this follows from the word itself.

  • Alex Weaver

    Malcolm: “Polygamy” means something akin to “many mates,” taken literally. “Polygyny” refers to many wives, but between the phonetic similarity of the words and the fact that polygyny is overwhelmingly the most widely practiced form of polygamy, the latter is habitually used in place of the former.

    As an aside, polyandry does indeed refer to women marrying multiple men; I believe there’s only one society where this is widely practiced, somewhere in the Himalaya region. When I asked my then-anthropology professor if there was a term for a situation with men and women having multiple mates, he suggested “Berkeley.”

  • Malcolm

    Alex
    thanks for the correction – here is wikepedia on this. I should have checked rather than relying on memory. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy

  • Andreas

    Regarding Jews I recently saw a TV-program which was about Jewish womens’ (living in Israel) rights to divorce. They can only divorce of their husband approves of it, which of course is unfair and can and does lead to very frustrating and traumatic situations. For example, the husband of one woman had left her for another woman, but he still denied her a divorce. It took her five years of yelling at the rabbis to get free from the bonds of her failed marriage.

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com Infophile

    More incredible is how many women have willingly taken part in their own subjugation by joining and participating in religions that have done their utmost to deny them the full equality and equal rights which they deserve.

    Over in countries where religion is enforced by law, I can understand this as the consequences for not playing along can be dire. But over here in America and Canada, there’s no such excuse. I inwardly wince every time I see a woman obviously of a faith that requires here to cover herself up or denigrate herself in some way.

    With all the appeals to wishful thinking that religions use to trick people into believing, it’s amazing that women still fall for them when it includes accepting that they’ll permanently be a second-class citizen. It kind of reminds me of The Unchosen People, except this time, they didn’t decide against it.

  • Kate

    Well-written, informative article. Coming from an exceptionally liberal school, it was absolutely verboten to discuss the extraordinary anti-woman provisions in all religions except as “extremists”. And Infophile, my thoughts exactly on your feelings about liberal, educated women choosing to subjugate themselves. Especially women like Phyllis Schafly, who never notice that they are hard-working public figures against women being hard-working public figures.

  • lpetrich

    Here’s some good news: Catholic Nuns becoming “None”: Dwindling and Aging — US nuns have declined by over a factor of 2 since the 1960′s, and their average age is now around 70. And much the same is happening for nuns in other developed nations.

    So could it be that many women now have alternatives that allow them to have careers without sacrificing their sexuality and/or families?

    Also, some alternative religions, like some neopagan ones, seem relatively feminist. But deities made in female likeness are as ultimately absurd as deities made in male likeness.

    It’s significant that many of the older, “pagan” religions have plenty of female as well as male deities, though that has not stopped their worshippers from being sexist and sometimes shamelessly sexist. Hinduism and Buddhism are much like that, with female deities coexisting with sexism.

    It is worth noting that the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have more-or-less deified Jesus Christ’s mother and have plenty of female as well as male saints, but that has not stopped them from being rather shamelessly sexist. Where are the female priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes? Women can become nuns, but a Mother Superior is not quite an archbishop. And it has to be significant that allegedly-humanitarian Mother Teresa had never called for the hierarchy to be opened up to women.

    The full version of that Jewish prayer mentioned is that a man is supposed to give thanks that he was not made a Gentile, a slave, or a woman, while a woman is supposed to be resigned to the way she was made.

  • http://haldenjohnson.net Halden

    I find it hard to believe that the women in these religions have yet to rise up and be heard. I guess it is hard to feel the confidence to make yourself heard as Religious Tolerance continues to enable these practices.

  • andrea

    well, if you’re told from birth that you aren’t worth anything to the deity, maybe it’s a self-confidence issue. These people tell you are above you, right?

    I never will understan why those who are demonized by religion try to hang onto it. Why do homosexuals cling to it like women? You might try to believe that Jesus really “wouldn’t” feel that way but all evidence is to the contrary. No angels, no burning bushes telling the hateful Christians to knock it off.

  • Montu

    And here’s an example of how religion in politics is harmful to women:
    http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/11/17/family.planning.ap/index.html

    It just feels like it’s getting worse and worse for women everyday (amoung others, of course, but Muslims, gays and women seem to be on the top of the list of “National Enemies” lately). Honestly, as a woman, I don’t know if I want to stay in this country much longer. I know there’s the whole argument of staying to fight or else who will, but to me it really seems absured that we may very well need _another_ femanist movement, espessially when there’s places where this isn’t happening. After having read Adam’s two blogs for awhile now, and others like it, while contrasting these views to what’s going on around us, I can’t help but wonder how we got to this point to begin with? How did this fringe group get so much power? And yes, like everyone else has mentioned, how can those who are demonized by it still cling onto it?

  • Alex Weaver

    Also, some alternative religions, like some neopagan ones, seem relatively feminist. But deities made in female likeness are as ultimately absurd as deities made in male likeness.

    It’s significant that many of the older, “pagan” religions have plenty of female as well as male deities, though that has not stopped their worshippers from being sexist and sometimes shamelessly sexist. Hinduism and Buddhism are much like that, with female deities coexisting with sexism.

    I’ve noticed a lot of this, though one of my biases tends to be the conflation of strongly divergent gender roles with “sexism” as it’s commonly understood; the two are closely related but not necessarily the same thing. I’ve noticed, in particular, that these traditions (even the newer ones) often tend to associate “masculine” attributes with strength and leadership, and “feminine” attributes with caring, nurturing, and especially reproduction (the personification of the sun as male and moon as female seems to be rather archetypal, from what I’ve seen). I don’t really like the idea of celebrating and emphasizing women’s roles in terms of “maternity,” since, despite reversing the attached value judgement (at least in the newer ones), it still defines women principally in terms of their reproductive systems, and still seems to send the message that girls are supposed to grow up and have babies and be gentle and nurturing; as if they don’t have enough pressure already (for similar reasons, I find gushy descriptions of motherhood and hyperbolic praise of maternal devotion, particularly from other men, mildly irritating).

  • Kate

    lpetrich- Female saints are all virgins or mothers of male saints. Occaisionally they’re sisters. But they’re still virgins.

  • Jeromy

    I want to go off on a tangent and tell you all of an event that I experienced. I was a soldier in the Persian Gulf War. We did stuff, and then it was time to leave Iraq/Kuwait/Saudi. To prepare for departure, we had the corps of engineers dig a REALLY REALLY BIG HUGE crater in the middle of absolutely nowhere (our home away from home). In the crater, we deposited ammunition, grenades, entrenchment tools, cots, tents, and anything else we either could not or simply did not wish to take to the port with us, including the 4X8 sheets of plywood that had served as our GP-medium (that’s a tent in case you didn’t know) flooring. Me and one other person filled the crater with five thousand gallons of unleaded fuel (mogas), five thousand gallons of diesel, and two thousand gallons of jet fuel (JP-4). I moved my truck into the convoy line, walked back, and lit the fire. I was instructed to wait until the fire was “burning uncontrolably”, get in my truck, and catch up with the convoy.

    I stood atop the raised ring of earth that surrounded the crater. Suddenly, not ten feet away, a Saudi woman who had to be at least ten months pregnant with twins (she was huge) appeared on the ridge. She proceeded down into the crater, into the fire, to retrieve a piece of the 4X8 playwood. I quicky moved in and pulled her out of the fire, indicating with the muzzle of my M-16 that it would be a good idea for her to leave now. When we got to the top of the ridge surrounding the crater, up came two Saudi men. You know Saudi men and women from third-country nationals because of their clothing. The two men violently pushed the woman back into the crater. She rolled down the steep decline and nearly went into the burning fuel. By now, the fire was at the point where I could have left and safely told my commander that it was well out of control.

    The woman grasped a burning piece of plywood as the men cursed her from safety, and tried in vain to pull it out of the fire. The heat was intense. I once again pulled her, this time literally, out of the fire. Her clothing was singed. The heat was nearly unbearable. When we got back to the top, the two men attempted to force her into the fire again. She was crying and she looked like she was in a lot of pain.

    I shouted at the men and worked the action on my weapon, leaving no doubt to them that it was loaded. I took the safety off and aimed it at the chest of the man farthest away, and began to squeeze off a round.

    They ran like hell.

    The woman dared to look behind her as she waddled off in another direction. She smiled at me as she wiped away tears. I walked into the desert about a hundred yards after the cowards, who continued running, and for all I know are still running today, more than fifteen years later. I should have killed them. They probably killed the woman for letting herself be touched by an infidel.

    That, my friends, is how muslims treat their women.

  • Judy Williams

    “More incredible is how many women have willingly taken part in their own subjugation by joining and participating in religions that have done their utmost to deny them the full equality and equal rights which they deserve.”

    This describes my mother to a T, and though she’s never gone to church, she mostly subscribed to the “Baptist” Christian tradition. She thinks that since she’s done what “god” asked – that is, give birth to a boatload of children and otherwise remained ignorant, poor and downtrodden – she’s on an express elevator to heaven.

    You know, common sense ought to tell these vicious, sexist bastards that if “god” made women to serve their needs, why were we given brains, hearts, feelings, emotions? If women are to serve men’s purposes, all that needed to be made was the vagina and uterus.

  • Andreas

    Jeromy, what a terrifying story! You absolutely did the right thing, and I admire you for that.

  • Andreas

    However, I wouldn’t go as far as saying “That, my friends, is how muslims treat their women.” because I don’t think that’s true. While I’m certain that women in Islamic countries in general are treated worse than in the west, I don’t think a majority of the muslim men would risk a womans’ life for a piece of plywood.

  • Noelle

    When I was a Christian, I was often told that women are not considered inferior at all. That is just the heretic’s perception. One must make a distinction, Christians insisted, between a woman’s value and her “position” in God’s hierarchy. Is an employee inferior to his boss, I was asked, or a soldier inferior to his commander? Of course not, they said. But God has an established chain of command for order’s sake. And women who submit to God’s order will experience love, validation and true freedom because they are not in rebellion against His purpose for them.

  • Noelle

    It’s not enough to point out the disparities between how men and women are treated in religious systems. One must identify and challenge the cultural logic that makes women complicit in their own subjugation.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    One must make a distinction, Christians insisted, between a woman’s value and her “position” in God’s hierarchy. Is an employee inferior to his boss, I was asked, or a soldier inferior to his commander? Of course not, they said.

    An employee or a soldier, however, can hope to eventually be promoted. The difference in power between them and their superior is not based on any intrinsic characteristic, but on skill and experience, which are traits that can be improved over time by individual effort. In contrast, Christianity, and religion in general, insists that the power differential is founded on the inherent and more importantly immutable characteristic of gender. The very reason we do not consider an employee inferior to their boss is that an employee can rise in the hierarchy, but religion does not offer women the same opportunity.

  • Alex Weaver

    Also, an employee, and in a volunteer service a soldier, voluntarily chose to enter the position in question. I’m reasonably sure no one chooses to be born female.

  • lpetrich

    From this news source comes

    Tehran, 16 Nov. (AKI) – The hardline administration of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday introduced new restrictions on women. In Iran’s National Security Council, women must now work in separate rooms from men, and may not attend meetings with their male colleagues. Segregation in the school system has been extended to teachers as well as pupils: at all levels, girls’ schools may only be staffed by female teachers, who may not teach at boys’ schools and institutes.

    In universities, where male and female students have for some time sat in separate areas, CCTV cameras have been installed to monitor contact between the two sexes. The first woman-only hospitals are due to open soon, the health ministry has announced.

    I’m at a loss for words.

    Also, in Richard Dawkins’s documentary Root of All Evil?, RD interviewed an Islamist who charged that Western men make “their” women dress like whores, or at least allow women to dress like whores.

  • Alex Weaver

    lpetrich:

    That reminds me (I may have mentioned this) of a particular rant from a particular friend of mine following an extended (online) argument with a young man in Egypt who thought retrodictive readings of the Koran proved its divine inspiration and couldn’t get it through his head that she might have reasons for her choice of jeans and a t-shirt as attire other than wanting to be looked at and desired or, as he put it, “tempting” men. *eyeroll* And this guy apparently seemed to be a moderate Muslim in most ways, judging by the log snippets she forwarded. Really shows you just how far Islam has to go…

  • andrea

    Here’s another lovely example how women are considered just things by Christianity: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15701301/site/newsweek/ Just love the phrase about “turning over” your daughter to someone.

  • jeromy

    Andrea, thank you for your kind comment. You wrote “While I’m certain that women in Islamic countries in general are treated worse than in the west, I don’t think a majority of the muslim men would risk a womans’ life for a piece of plywood.”

    Well, I’m sorry to tell you that I have had way too much experience with the people, and you are wrong. Muslim men, in Islamic Arab and Persian nations, will and do routinely treat their women exactly the way I depicted above. It is not the exception, it is the rule, the rule of law. You are probably thinking about Muslim women in America and other western nations, who voluntarily accept Islam. Western men and women who adopt islam are not considered to be brethren by those in arab and persian nations, they are considered to be infidels, because they live with and accept the ways of infidels.

    Arab Muslim women do not have a choice of religion, or lack thereof. They cannot choose, as we do, to be Muslim or Christian or Atheist or anything else. If an arab or persian woman’s husband is muslim, she is muslim, or she will be either killed or placed in prison or enslaved or, if very lucky, shown the borders of her land.

    If you doubt this, I invite you to go there and see for yourself. If you are female, please go with a man.

    Christianity certainly has its problems with women’s rights, but most of these issues are self-inflicted. The exception can be seen in the LDS polygamy cases. Christianity rarely practices its doctrine. It is the doctrine that is evil, the people themselves, for the most part, are not.

    Islam, on the other hand, is very rarely a choice for a woman, and is the equivalence of slavery. The funny thing is…even a slave can be happy to be a slave. That is the very reason Islam fights against us. If you ask them, they will tell you that they do not wish their people to see the blasphemous things represented in the west. This is their excuse for isolating their populations. The reality, of course, is that the men are primitive religious freaks who enjoy maintaining power through their religious laws, and through the threat of death. The difference between Christians and Muslims is that Muslims (of Arab and Persian nations) actually practice their doctrine, which is inherently evil, while Christians for the most part do not follow their doctrine.

  • Shawn Smith

    Ebonmuse,

    Good article, with just one small nit to pick.

    …Most notable is the Mormon church, which from its beginning endorsed polygamous marriage…

    In Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer pointed out that Joseph Smith wasn’t originally a polygamist. It wasn’t until sometime after he was married (supposedly happily) that he received the revelation that men needed to be polygamous. His wife was so upset by this revelation that she formed a splinter group of Mormons–one of the few of that era that still exists to this day.

    It would probably be more correct to say, “from its very early days,” instead of, “from its beginning.”

  • Equality4Women

    Are there any cases of polygamy where the women have “TRULY” been given the freedom to choose or have they just been brainwashed since childhood that this is a normal and acceptable way to live? Also, men and women have trouble enough making decisions in a household in a fair and equitable manner. How on earth can each of these women in a polygamous relationship have equality, and have an equal voice in decision making? Every example that I have seen on documentaries has included a hierarchy of sorts, 1st wife, 2nd wife, 3rd wife ….. how can that not invoke bitterness, jealousy and resentment? I can’t imagine that a mature and independent woman who has not been brainwashed by some cult or Mormon religion would actually choose to be nothing more than a convenient solution for a man’s sexual boredom.

    Case in point … Has anyone ever heard of Polygamous communities where there is One Wife that is the Leader of the household, who has several Husbands? Think of it ladies …. 1st husband could be the Provider with great income, 2nd Husband could be the Sensitive Caring Guy that actually is fun to be with and talk to …3rd Husband could be the Handyman that can build and fix anything …4th Husband could be the Gourmet Cook and Coach for Little League … 5th Husband could be the Romantic one that sweeps you off to Paris or Hawaii and 6th Husband could be the intellectual or artist or whatever to complete the MALE Harem of Servants who of course would be required to SUBMIT to his WIFE!!!

  • DB

    Just a thought,

    You used the scripture;

    Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.—Genesis 3:16

    Perhaps you like many Christians interpreted that through the lens of our cultural beliefs and not how God intended. Another way of looking at this scripture is as a warning. When sin corrupted the human heart, it set in motion a power struggle between husband and wife. In spite of the attraction a man and woman may have toward each other, sinful pride results in each one’s trying to control the other. Since men are normally stronger physically, they are more likely to use force to accomplish their will, leading to abuse, whereas women are more likely to use subtle manipulation to take advantage of a man’s weakness.

    Gen. 3:16b is addressed to Eve, not to Adam. Like God’s other words to Adam and the serpent, they are statements, not commands. They are predictions and prophecies, laying out the penalties that were to fall on the entire earth as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Like the parent who gives a disobedient child time out, God announces the consequences of sin.

  • Alex Weaver

    DB, two questions:

    1) the evidence that your interpretation is more likely to be correct than others is…?
    2) your argument helps the case of Christianity and/or refutes the thesis of the original post how…?

  • mikespeir

    While I take the point of your first paragraph and agree with you, Equality4Women, I think your second paragraph is unrealistic. Nature is notoriously un-PC. The point has been made many times in other contexts, that morality comes of our ability to rise above nature and make ourselves better than it ever could. The natural, biological tendency is for males to have multiple females, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone. However, that’s not a very emotionally satisfying arrangement and leads to the kinds of grief expressed by you and others. It would be even worse the other way around. (The guys would probably end up knocking each other off until only one remained. [Although, more realistically, in our society they would probably just leave the marriage/relationship.]) Far better in my opinion to simply make a rule: one man to one woman. (And we are talking male-female relationships here.)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    DB,

    Perhaps you like many Christians interpreted that through the lens of our cultural beliefs and not how God intended. Another way of looking at this scripture is as a warning.

    Except that god specifically states that he is the one doing it.

    They are predictions and prophecies, laying out the penalties that were to fall on the entire earth as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Like the parent who gives a disobedient child time out, God announces the consequences of sin.

    Consequences that come directly from god. It’s not like in a human situation where if the child doesn’t listen and suffers from consequences that are a part of natural law. (For example, if a child doesn’t listen and grabs a hot pot and burns itself, then the consequences were simply a result of the way nature is, in that hot items burn us.) god, however, makes all the consequences, even those born of natural law, because god set up nature and that natural law. If childbirth hurts, it’s because god made it hurt. If a consequence of sin is that women will be abused by their husbands, it’s because god made the world work that way.

  • Janet Greene

    I grew up as an evangelical christian. As a woman, I did not realize what a beating our self-esteem takes being a part of that belief system. I went through years of agonizing searching for truth and eventually found freedom from christianity. I am now a happy, moral, and grateful atheist. Thanks for this article – I have forwarded it on to all my friends (some of whom are christian and will probably burn me to death now lol)

  • KyukiYoshida

    While I agree with just about everything in this article, I disagree that every feminist should be an atheist. I happen to be wiccan, which is very much involved with goddesses and nature. You can believe in a god and not be sexist, heck you can believe in a god and never read a bible or follow scriptures. Which is what needs to happen, religion needs to be abolished in favor of spirituality. Something that is used for personal enlightenment and to better ones self, rather than indoctrination and control.

  • GCT

    You can believe in a god and not be sexist, heck you can believe in a god and never read a bible or follow scriptures. Which is what needs to happen, religion needs to be abolished in favor of spirituality.

    It seems like you’re defining “spirituality” as belief in a higher power (or higher powers) without the trappings of the dogma of a religious governing body. Besides the fact that it’s still religious in nature, why is this a desirable state? Relying on faith does not actually lead to enlightenment nor necessarily make one better.

  • KyukiYoshida

    I’m sorry if I sounded misleading or confusing. I simply meant that one should believe whatever they choose to believe in as a personal guidline, as long as it does not harm others or attempt to force them into your beliefs. No Relying on faith does not actually lead to enlightenment and it does not always better someone. But some people believe that it does. I personally believe that wicca has helped me become a better person. And isn’t someone using a belief for personal fulfillment, a way better option than dogmatic religion used for control or scare tactics?

  • GCT

    I don’t care what others believe so long as it doesn’t negatively impact others. The problem becomes that our actions are formed by our beliefs, and faith is simply not a reliable way to form beliefs that are in accordance with reality. Faith is, therefore, prone to causing harm. Also, once you open up to the possibility of using faith, you open yourself up to being led to harming others by accepting claims that are not in evidence. At the very least, you have no recourse to argue against others that would cause harm by claim that they only do so because of faith – there’s no way to argue your faith against their faith.

  • Diego Nunes

    Jumping in… why would you take anything on Faith? I mean, maybe your beliefs aren’t as harmful to sociaty, but it harms you by making you believe something for which you have no evidence whatsoever. When you open yourself up to the possibility of choosing your actions based on something that is not true, you’re bound to make bad choices. Faith is not a pathway to truth.. We have to focus on logic, reason and evidence rather than spirituality if we truely want to find happiness and equality.

  • KyukiYoshida

    I personally never take anything on faith. I haven’t taken on faith since my early childhood days of believing in santa claus. hypothetically, if I believed in a certain god or goddess, and gave up “offerings” of fresh fruit to said deity, either as thanks or for wishes, how does that harm an individual or any other? It’s harmful when someone uses religion to oppress or harass another group of people or to cause hate and bigotry. The reality is, is that some people use faith to become better and make better decisions, or to feel better in certain times. It can give one a sense of hopefulness, especially in trying times, or when one has hit rock bottom. Such as the motto “If it harms none do what you will”, that’s far from harmful or making bad choices, and most atheists don’t even follow such. You can have logic and reason and still have religion. People in this country are entitled to believe whatever they want, as long as they are not pushing it on someone or hurting others with it, it really is no one’s business.


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