How Male Dominated Religion Bleeds Women

by Cindy Foster

My husband, Paul, and I were enjoying some Mexican food at a restaurant near where we were staying in Houston last night.

Sitting at a table in very close proximity to ours was a Muslim family.  We see a lot of Muslim families these days, but more so in Houston than anywhere else in Texas and Oklahoma.

We don’t have any objections to sharing the planet, state, city, neighborhood or even close quarters of a restaurant with peaceful Muslims no matter how fundamentally extreme their personal beliefs and practices.

But here, we’ve not seen too many whose women wear a Hijab that covers the entire face only leaving small openings for the eyes.  It was disconcerting as we couldn’t help but notice that for this dear woman- a mother of small children- to eat, she had to maneuver  her food under the veil to reach her mouth.

It’s difficult to imagine how one could actually enjoy the pleasantries of eating out, handicapped in such a way.

I felt sad for her.  Paul felt sick to his stomach. This is just how he reacts to such things (he’s weird like that).

No doubt, though, if one were to question her the virtue of a belief system that would require such needless display of devotion, she would fervently claim that she has chosen this life.

She would likely deny that her husband has forced her to live this way.  She would probably claim he shows honor to her, exalts her in some way by ‘requesting‘ (expecting) she commit to her faith (and to him) to this degree.

She may truly want to believe that even though he may beat her, enslave her, deny her worth as a person and could even have her life taken, he violates her in demonstration of some kind of religious love and devotion.

She might claim she is beyond happy–euphoric even.  She probably really believes this as long as she never allowed herself to question or explore.

A Pakistani friend who grew up in Pakistan but whose family is Christian once told me that she knew of  many Muslim women who secretly desired to convert to Christianity or who actually have secretly converted.  They could never reveal their true beliefs for they would be disowned, shunned or worse.  So if they convert at all, they practice their faith in secret.

So I am sad for this woman and others like her for she will likely never know what a truly wonderful life she is missing.

But let’s not just single out Muslim women.

There are many church and Christian groups that originated right here in America–churches considered mainstream–who require variations of the same degree of commitment and punishment of their women (and even children).

I have previously posted some common rules required for women from these similarly oppressive groups: Independent Fundamental Baptist, Pentecostal Holiness, Bill Gothard-affiliated churches and home school groups, FDLS Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, Vision Forum, Reformed Baptist House Churches,  hundreds of splinter groups from these and others.

http://baptisttaliban.blogspot.com/2010/03/why-taliban-title.html

>I can’t claim to know much of anything I could do to help these women.  They would have to want it and seek it in the first place before anyone could help them come out.  But one thing I can do is remember that though their religion may be strange, foreign and scary to us, they might not really be all that different from our own extremist groups.

Given this, I could think of them less as a threatening enemy religion, and think of them more as women with the same needs to be loved, respected and accepted by their men, religious leaders and their god as we do.

Maybe we could even start up a conversation….

No song I can think of better illustrates the plight of these women than the one performed by Alice Cooper, ‘Only Women Bleed’.
I hope you can set aside your opinions about Alice Cooper, and listen to the message in the song.

YouTube Preview Image

Man got his woman to take his seed he got the power oh she got the need
She spends her life through pleasing up her man she feeds him dinner or anything she can
She cries alone at night too often he smokes and drinks and don’t come home at all
Only women bleed only women bleed only women bleed
Man makes your hair grey he’s your life’s mistake all you’re really looking for’s an even break
He lies right at you you now hate this game he slaps you once in a while and you live and love in pain
She cries alone at night too often he smokes and drinks and don’t come home at all ooh
Only women bleed only women bleed only women bleed only women bleed
Only women bleed only women bleed only women bleed
Man got his woman to take his seed he got the power oh she got the need
She spends her life through pleasing up her man she feeds him dinner or anything she can
She cries alone at night too often he smokes and drinks and don’t come home at all
Only women bleed only women bleed only women bleed
Black eyes all of the time don’t spend a dime clean up this grime
And you there down on your knees begging me please come watch me bleed
Only women bleed only women bleed only women bleed only women bleed
Only women bleed only women bleed only women bleed

Comments open below

Read everything by Cindy Foster!

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Cindy Foster blogs at Baptist Taliban and Beyond.

Cindy Foster is “Mom” to eight gorgeous, talented, temperamental, noisy, opinionated, alike-but very different kids. She has been married to their daddy, Paul, for 34 years.

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 

About Suzanne Calulu
  • vyckiegarrison

    Cindy, this is a powerful post. I hadn’t thought of Alice Cooper’s song in years, but you are right – it’s spot on when it comes to the plight of women in fundamentalist religions.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    I could feel much more comfortable about this post if you didn’t seem so eager to paint all Muslims with the same broad brush of “extremism.” Are you aware that not all Muslims have personal beliefs and practices that are “fundamentally extreme?” The fact that they happen to be different from your personal beliefs and practices doesn’t make them “extreme.” Several of my close friends are (happily self-identified) Muslims from Pakistan. Although none that I know cover, many of them observe other practices like halal, and they are quite likely more theologically moderate or liberal than you are. Yet they are Muslim. And they don’t want to be anything else.

    Also, although the idea of a woman having to cover her face is abhorrent to me, it’s silly to assume that every Muslim woman who does this is married to a man who beats her and thinks he has the right to kill her. I take your point about women making bounded choices that are shaped by pressures from within their group, but the threat of violence or murder is not necessarily one of those pressures and it’s a big leap to think it is. These are conservative Muslim families. And I don’t like conservatism. I don’t like Christian conservatism either. I don’t really like any kind of conservatism. But I know that it’s not all enforced by violence.

    Maybe Muslims are scary to you, but they’re not scary to me. They’re just people. I’m not going to classify over a billion highly diverse people as “an extremist group.”

  • newcomer

    This. I also seem to recall that there are either 6 or 9 (sorry, don’t quite remember which) Arabic Muslim countries that have had female leaders (prime ministers, presidents, etc), compared to our own which never has. There is a huge diversity in how Islam is practiced, and the roles women play within it.

  • http://BaptistTalibanandBeyond. Cindy Foster

    I did not mean to imply that all Muslims were extreme as the one I observed and wrote about in this post. I was simply making the point that these extreme types do exist and represent the ultimate in extremes when compared to what is considered ‘normal’ in our culture.

    I also well understand and agree that there are extremist who call themselves ‘Christian’ and who likely practice extremes more detrimental to their families than the Muslim women who keep their faces veiled. I think you have missed the point, or perhaps I didn’t make it clear enough that women are often oppressed by men who dominate them by using performance-based, high demand religious beliefs. I have the same disdain for the Amish, Fundamentalist Christianity of all denominations, Mormons, FLDS, Jehovah’s Witnesses and any other male-dominated and exalted belief system. The Muslim woman depicted in the anecdote served as a vivd, visual and very prominent symbol for all oppression of women by their fanatically, zealously religious patriarchs. This is the only reason she was used.

    I am also aware that in all of these faith traditions, the spectrum varies from very progressive to very oppressive. I acknowledge and respect the ones who don’t fit that profile.

  • Tori

    “Don’t look for difference, look for similarity, don’t look for moral decrepitude, look for shared ground. By all means hate someone for their beliefs, but at least first know what they actually do believe. Don’t judge a free choice made by another, you would do better to critically judge your own.”

    Quote – Me.

    Play nice people!

    xxxxx

  • Brennan

    Maybe the woman in the anecdote is tired of serving as your vivid, visual symbol. There’s a very fraught history related to veiling–a history wrapped up in colonialism and a whole lot of racism. It’s a subject of much debate in the Muslim community, but outsiders have very little to say that’s constructive. Westerners have done enough damage there; it’s time for us to butt out. In your case, you chose to co-opt this woman’s story. Without knowing the first thing about her, you implied that she is being abused and oppressed. For all we know, she is the religious one in the family, and her husband couldn’t care less what she wears. You thrust yourself into this debate, apparently without even a basic knowledge of cultural context (“hijab,” by the way, refers generally to modesty or specifically to a scarf that covers the hair and neck. The word you were looking for was “niqab”). That’s not helpful, and it does a huge disservice to this woman and her community.

    tl;dr: Muslim women who veil do not exist simply for you to pity. However virtuous that pity makes you feel, it’s not helpful and is kind of racist.

  • Pingback: On othering and “feeling sick” | A Sober Second Look

  • (; _ ;)

    I think you might find Sober Second Look’s response-post about your post here and how much it hurt her. She has been that woman that you were so upset by and known your judgments. In that post, she’s articulated the human pain of being being that object of disgust. She’s also said, in her own way, that your comments here take part in the very controlling cultural interests that you are struggling against. One of the reasons why Muslim feminists (I am one) have a hard time connecting with women from other faiths is because we have a hard time getting non-Muslim women to understand that such assumptions do not lift us up but are just as oppressive as anything the patriarchal culture has done. We get it from you all. We get it from them. We are doubly-isolated. Check it out her post. I hope it helps you and others connect. Please understand the very serious image she has chosen for her post is a very apt emotional description of how your words make us feel. So please breathe deeply and know how deeply your words have cut. http://sobersecondlook.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/on-othering-and-feeling-sick/

  • (; _ ;)

    I think you might find Sober Second Look’s response-post about your post here and how much it hurt her. She has been that woman that you were so upset by and known your judgments. In that post, she’s articulated the human pain of being being that object of disgust. She’s also said, in her own way, that your comments here take part in the very controlling cultural interests that you are struggling against. One of the reasons why Muslim feminists (I am one) have a hard time connecting with women from other faiths is because we have a hard time getting non-Muslim women to understand that such assumptions do not lift us up but are just as oppressive as anything the patriarchal culture has done. We get it from you all. We get it from them. We are doubly-isolated. Check it out her post. I hope it helps you and others connect. Please understand the very serious image she has chosen for her post is a very apt emotional description of how your words make us feel. So please breathe deeply and know how deeply your words have cut. Her trackback there gives you the link.

  • (; _ ;)

    excuse the typos and miswording there, I’m quite upset by your post as well.

  • http://BaptistTalibanandBeyond. Cindy Foster

    (;_;),
    First of all I want to apologize for the use of the term “nausea” to describe my husband’s initial somewhat disconcerting reaction to this act rather foreign to him. It was an exaggeration, absent forethought. Perhaps you and your friend are unaware of our background in a extremist fundamentalist church and belief system where there are men who would actually entertain such impositions on women if they could get away with it. Those women would rather deny their own true feelings at being treated this way than to admit their marriage was anything less than the ideal their pious faith is supposed to produce. It was not an unreasonable impression. I am sorry that those impressions tend to encompass all Muslims who express their faith with habits that associate them with the most radical and abusive factions, but that simply is the reality. I was only being honest about the effects that encounter had on us given our own background.

    While I certainly welcome your insights as to how our experience and thoughts via my writing have affected you and others who share similar feelings, I feel you have made some harsh assumptions about my motives.

    It is no secret that we are limited, both Muslim and ‘Christian white people’ in our understanding of one another’s plights. I have no problem being corrected, but to assume me to be patronizing, condescending and piteous is to make judgments you are not at all able to make simply from your interpretation of something I wrote. Your thoughts would be much better received and contemplated if you would first ask instead of presume. While you may accuse me of making too many assumptions about the Muslim woman and using her as an anecdote without her permission, at least she remains anonymous and has no idea she was a symbolic subject in my writing. Your rebuke to me was directly to me and it was very pointed and personal.

    I may have misread the situation; I may have been mistaken in making the correlation. I don’t know for sure at this point. I am still processing. I did read the post by A Sober Second Look and I am thoughtfully, soulfully considering what she said, but I am having some difficulty understanding it all, so surely it would be safe to assume that if I struggle with interpreting the message she is trying to get across, she and you might also be struggling with the same in regards to what I wrote?

    The rest of the story on our dinner- across- the- aisle with the Muslim family is this: They hardly noticed us and our notice of them was very brief. There were no ‘whispers’ across the table between my husband and I. We did not spend the time there discussing them. It was a brief observation and had it not been for the fact that she was close enough for us to see how she was eating under the heavy veil, it would not have provoked any reaction at all since, after all, it is very common to see Muslim women dressed in full burqa eating out. And you are right, she could be the religious one in the family, but even if none of what I presumed about her specifically was any where near correct, there ARE women, Muslim and all other faith traditions alike, for which it would be entirely accurate. THESE are the ones I was referring to.

    I hope that clarifies my intentions a little better? It is difficult to convey because you don’t understand me any better than I understand you, but I am willing to learn.

    Truth is, there is a specific audience that I am appealing to–a very wide and influential audience who proclaims the worst condemnation on all Muslims while they themselves practice much of the same ‘evils’. There is always going to be the risk that what I write for one single purpose will be received and interpreted as a kind of passive condescending cross-fire shot at a person or group not at all an intended target.

  • Persephone

    I’ve read the original post, the Sober Second Look post, and all the comments. The problem seems to be that both Cindy and Sober Second Look are posting about personal responses, but people are responding as though it’s a general attack on Islam. Both bloggers are writing about personal, individual responses.

    Up front, I want to note that it really bugged me is that Sober Second Look made a comment that Cindy couldn’t understand and had no right to say anything because Cindy is a white Christian American. It’s obvious from Sober Second Look’s post that she is working through her views on her faith. She’s obviously struggling with figuring out what is right for her and trying to balance that with what she has been taught is proper for her to do. I can understand why she took Cindy’s post so personally, although the post, while making some extreme assumptions, is Cindy’s personal and visceral response to what she saw.

    Cindy is in much the same place as SSL. She’s still working through what she suffered, and what she knows other women are suffering in the name of Christianity. She mentions many high demand organizations (HDOs), although she leaves out one obvious one, the Orthodox Jews, specifically the Hasidim and related sects. I believe this is because she has not had any personal dealings with them. The Hasids and similar Jewish sects usually live in physically restricted communities, partially because of certain beliefs regarding mixing with outsiders and Sabbath observance, but also because it is easier to control the behavior of their members if there are no outsiders.

    Having left an HDO as a young woman, I personally find any religion or belief set that requires different behavior from its followers based upon gender to be upsetting and destructive. When I see women in clothing that indicates their participation in a patriarchal religion that treats them as second class and unworthy, I become upset. It is triggering for me, although I have been out of it for over 30 years, because it has cause me to be shunned by much of my family, and because I know the mindset I was raised in has caused me to make poor choices in my life and to not always stand up for my interests, which has left me struggling financially and emotionally in my fifties.

    Cindy and SSL are two women who have been hurt, have bled, for being women. They’re both in pain. They’re both wrestling with and working through things because of what has happened to them, and they almost certainly will for the rest of their lives. But if women are ever going to overcome the patriarchy and its insidious devaluement of them they will have to join together, not prejudge or strike out or strike back at every comment that is made.

    “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Benjamin Franklin.

  • http://BaptistTalibanandBeyond. Cindy Foster

    Thank You, Persephone,

    I can’t find anything in what you’ve written that I disagree with. Very astute interpretation and analysis.

    There are many other HDO’s out there that I could reference. You are right in assuming I know little of the Orthodox Jewish sects, though I have seen some documentary treatment of their practices and also read some about abuses to children in those sects in Jan Heimlich’s very well-documented book “Breaking Their Will”. I know it is prevalent there also. I do value all insights and comments.

  • Vicky

    Persephone, I am not even a Muslim, and I winced at, “We don’t have any objections to sharing the planet, state, city, neighborhood or even close quarters of a restaurant with peaceful Muslims.” Well, that’s mighty noble and gracious of you. Are ‘good Muslims’ like SSL supposed to curtsey and kiss Cindy’s hands to thank her for deigning to tolerate them EVEN IN – gasp!!! – close quarters of a restaurant? It’s not a question of, “Cindy is hurt, SSL is hurt, SSL just took Cindy’s hurt personally.” Cindy has made some extremely patronising comments about Muslim women that are objectively damaging (and that can’t be imputed to her past in a fundamentalist Christian community either – enough liberals who grew up completely secular carry these same condescending attitudes).

  • Betty Crux

    Kind of feel like Cindy is getting hit a little aggressively here (I enjoyed your article, btw). In reading it myself, I do not feel like she was making elitist statements against Islam or those practicing.
    Myself personally, I take issue with *all* of these religions that have sects affiliated with them practicing extreme beliefs that harm women. “Christian”, “Muslim”, “Orthodox Judaism”, I dont discriminate. I think if we are going to belittle and scrutinize the practices of Fundamentalist Christianity, then everyone else needs held to the same standard. Of course there are Muslim women who dont feel oppressed or have husbands who abuse them: there are Fundy Christian women who say the same thing when defending their faith.

  • Persephone

    This is exactly what I was trying to avoid. I don’t agree with all of Cindy’s comments, and I’m not her apologist. I was trying to make clear that we’re all hurting, and it shows up in ways that hurt others.

    Now, you’ve done exactly that, exclamation points, screaming and all. Congrations. You’ve just proven my point.

  • Vicky

    If that was the point you were trying to make, it doesn’t come across. Exclamation points aren’t any more hurtful than, say, passive-aggressive language or attempts to use mental health concepts (“It was triggering…”) to shut down legitimate criticism of a person’s actions. That sentence – the ‘even in close quarters in a restaurant’ part especially – is reprehensible. Having been traumatised in the past does not make you immune to having plain old common-or-garden prejudice, and trying to pin prejudiced ideas on trauma does read very much like excuse-making. Being hurt does not exempt anyone from personal responsibility.

    “Now, you’ve done exactly that, exclamation points, screaming and all. Congrations. You’ve just proven my point.”

    The ‘even if’ made it sound as though Cindy were making some dramatic concession by her willingness to sit near Muslims in a restaurant, and I used emphasis to show exactly how this sounds and exactly why it’s problematic. I was not ‘screaming’.

  • Persephone

    CAPS ARE YELLING.

    There, now. As I stated before, I didn’t approve of everything Cindy said, much of it rubbed me the wrong way, too. But the approach to this is not getting upset and striking out at the posters. I could rip Cindy’s column up one side and down the other, and SSL’s, too, but there’s no point to that.

    This is exactly the behavior we’re supposed to avoid on this site. Vyckie Garrison posted on it today.

    It’s fine if you don’t agree with what Cindy said and how she said it. Comment on that calmly and clearly.

  • http://BaptistTalibanandBeyond. Cindy Foster

    I have to admit, when writing this piece I did not take extra care to consider how certain statements as mentioned as offensive in some of these comments would be interpreted by women from Muslim backgrounds as well as others. It is easy to do when writing a piece to construct as sentence to sound rhythmic (?) while concentrating more on the way it flows when being proofread back, than considering that it may be received as an insult. As I have mentioned before, I had extremist fundamentalist ‘Christianity’ in mind as I wrote. I was trying to reflect, albeit lamely, how that the practices they find repulsive in Muslim cultures are not so different from practices they exalt and proclaim as ‘godly’ in theirs. I was inferring hypocrisy on their part. That is all.

    I am the only one who knows what I meant, regardless of how it may have sounded.

    It’s apparent that Vicky has concluded that abject ‘prejudice, condescension and patronization was the motive behind my statement about sharing the planet etc. etc. with Muslims.

    “Well, that’s mighty noble and gracious of you. Are ‘good Muslims’ like SSL supposed to curtsey and kiss Cindy’s hands to thank her for deigning to tolerate them EVEN IN – gasp!!! – close quarters of a restaurant? It’s not a question of, “Cindy is hurt, SSL is hurt, SSL just took Cindy’s hurt personally.” Cindy has made some extremely patronising comments about Muslim women that are objectively damaging (and that can’t be imputed to her past in a fundamentalist Christian community either”

    Has it ever occurred to you, Vicky, that you might possibly be reading much more into those statements than what was intended? I am not an expert on the private sensitivities of Muslim and ex-Muslim women, so it was an innocent oversight.

    Criticize and correct me if you will, but please, do it constructively-giving the benefit of the doubt since you don’t even know me. The harsh, sarcastic tone is mean and unnecessary.

    However, I do take all perceptions to heart and will do some reflecting. I DO NOT mean to offend, belittle, isolate, condescend to, or exploit any hurting, searching person. If I need to rewrite this piece to better reflect my real views and feelings with greater sensitivity. I certainly will do so.

    I also want to emphasize that it is not only Muslim women who practice and dress in ways that are interpreted to be the result of abusive control by a husband and/or religion. Old Order Amish, Orthodox Jews, FLDS Mormons, Hutterites as well as well as independent, fundamental KJV only, long-haired, matronly-dressing Baptist with a ‘quiverfull’ of kids and Pentecostal women have the same things assumed about them in public, even in the buckle of the Bible Belt, Tulsa, OK. I know, because I wore ‘those’ shoes for 25 years. It may not be treated with the same kind of disgust and threat as what Muslims experience but it is a similar experience we share.

    So, give me a break, people. I am teachable, and I am still learning….

  • http://calulu.blogspot.com Calulu

    Vicky, please take a down a few dozen notches. We have a civility pledge posted here on the site where we ask everyone to at least be civil to each other while discussing, especially when disagreeing. You’ve violated that several times now and I hate to be the bad ass that blocks you but if you cannot be civil and respectful in your discussion then perhaps you shouldn’t be discussing anything at NLQ.
    Cindy, I owe you an apology because when I picked that piece to post I had some concerns as to how some might perceive it, even if I thought it was a great piece with some very relevant points, honestly done. Plus sitting around all agreeing and patting each other on the backs is boring. I like to pick pieces to publish that I know will make people think. I think you’re gotten very unfairly attacked here and it is time to start reminding some of the posters to be civil or stay out.
    Conversing calmly, clearly and civilly even if you don’t agree with everything said here is going to have to be the way it is for now.

  • Maryam

    I’m really sad Cindy.
    Your family’s white taste bud cravings for Mexican food were ruined by a Muslima niqabi…
    tsk tsk tsk

  • http://BaptistTalibanandBeyond. Cindy Foster

    With one son-in-law African American, one son-in-law Mexican American, husband naturalized citizen from Korea and half Korean, one grandson half African American and two other grandchildren Native American and all have harmonious relationships, I don’t think you could presume me to be racist. I am truly sorry you interpreted it that way.

  • ssohara

    I have a Muslim friends and I believe they only need to cover their hair? I’m a Christian and my understanding is that both men and women should dress modestly, however “modest” is defined in one’s society.

    At any rate, I agree with you that it’s often sad. Who said “Man is born free yet everywhere he’s in chains”? LIke I said, I’m a Christian, and I feel Christ wants to get rid of our chains… but it seems people gravitate towards creating a new set of chains. How else explain the legalism of so many churches?

    My Mom is a Hindu and she says that in Hinduism, the mother is revered above God. :)


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