“How Male-Dominated Religion Bleeds Women” Article Challenged and Explained

by Cindy Foster cross-posted from her blog Baptist Taliban and Beyond

After much time and thought, I felt it appropriate to address the concerns blogger “A Sober Second Look” expressed about my article, “How Male-Dominate Religion Bleeds Women”.  I would like to begin with a brief history explaining how I was compelled  to start blogging, weaving the “Taliban” and oppressive Islamic practices into my writing to illustrate and reveal the extremes to which some American churches extend.

I first began writing my story as a series of facebook notes in June of 2009–nine years after we left  the ‘Taliban’ church we helped start and nurture.  We finally left it after over nineteen years of its gradual deterioration into cult-like beliefs and behaviors. 

When I chose to to make the correlation between our former church and the Taliban, I had one predominate purpose…to shock, to provoke, to disturb, to awaken the intoxicated discernment of our former friends and family still in the church into hopefully reconsidering their actions.

Having been a founder and leader in the church for 19 years, I was intimately aware of how the ‘system‘ there worked as it pertained to anyone leaving without The Preacher’s expressed blessing.  For nine years, we–even though family–were also subjected to that same ‘system’ as so many others before us.

It was pretty simple.  You leave– you are vilified, ostracized and backslidden at the least, unregenerate at worst.  That’s how the ‘system’ worked.

So, we waited nine long years– hoping and praying– that we could somehow repair the damage from the ‘outside’ only to finally recognize it wasn’t working.  I then decided to tell our side of the story for the first time ever, publicly as this was the only way those on the inside would even ‘hear’ our side.  I strongly suspected most  there would not question The Preacher’s rendition of the details of our leaving, so a public writing would likely stir up enough curiosity that they would read it anonymously.  After nine years of estrangement, what was there to lose?

My suspicions were right.

Many still there were reading.  Others of those who left after us were shocked–even mortified, once we filled them in on some of the details previously unbeknownst to them.  Thus, my previously tagged ‘Baptist Taliban’ title–before then only used verbally–became the published “Baptist Taliban Experience” series of facebook notes.

After writing my story in the form of 22 notes for facebook, there was considerable feedback in the comment section and even more in private messages.  My family and ex-friends still in the church did not respond, as suspected, but I knew they were reading via their connections on the outside with whom they DID respond.  

As a result of those notes, I became aware that there were countless others who shared similar experiences who were hungry for more information as well as encouragement and validation through my personal story.  This is what prompted me to open up to a wider audience through blogging.

Before submitting my writing to Patheos, I hadn’t the slightest notion that there would be those with Muslim backgrounds as well as practicing Muslims who felt using the ‘Taliban’ moniker was in significant ways alienating or even dangerous to them.  I explain the origin of the idea here: http://baptisttaliban.blogspot.com/2010/03/why-taliban-title.html

Then, recently, I wrote the piece for my blog, “How Male- Dominated Religion Bleeds Women”, http://baptisttaliban.blogspot.com/2013/01/how-male-dominated-religion-bleeds-women.html.

I was challenged by the author of “A Sober Second Look” about some statements I made in my post that she interpreted as condescending, humiliating, patronizing and dehumanizing to the very Muslimahs whose rights I claimed to be upholding.  I would like to answer those challenges.

From her blog:

But unfortunately sometimes, reading these blogs is more like realizing the answer to a question that been haunting me ever since I saw a memorial display with the statistics (broken down state by state) for lynchings of African-Americans in the twentieth century: Where does such visceral, violent hatred go? What happens to it, when it is finally driven more or less underground? Does it die for lack of oxygen? Or does it lie there in wait, perhaps mutating into something more socially acceptable so that it can rise again?

I can just barely get my head around this correlation.  The lynchings of African-Americans then was the culmination of rationalizations born out of extreme resentment, ignorance and prejudicial beliefs that those whose skin was black were inferior and thus ‘legitimately’ undeserving of any human rights at all.  

These rationalizations had little to nothing to do with extreme religious beliefs and practices, not that that would make such abominations any less reprehensible.  African-Americans did not choose to come to this country, but were captured, imprisoned and transported here to be slaves for the monetary benefit of their captors.  

So, you ask what happens to that kind of hatred when it is driven underground, then suggest it may mutate into something more socially acceptable in order to rise again.  Am I interpreting correctly that you fear  Muslims will be the next victims of such large-scale oppression? 

While your point that referencing the very austere attire to which a Muslimah devotes herself and making assumptions about the dynamics of her relationship to her husband might provoke animosity or even hostility from a minority in this age, I think it quite a stretch at this point to equate it with that of the mistreatment of African-Americans of the Civil Rights era, before and beyond.  I recognize that racial prejudice still does exist, but the undeniable realities of that past has forged a more conscientious and empathetic awareness in our society as a whole since then. 

As far as prominent attitudes towards Muslims in this country?  I observe at least a concerted effort by the press, educational systems, inter-faith organizations etc. to NOT stereotype Muslims or any other faith community as forces to be feared because of outwardly judged peculiarities.  I whole-heartily agree with this effort as a preventative and as a means to emphasize the attributes all share rather than ostracizing because of the differences.

But, in the context of the oppression of women, the niqab she was wearing does exemplify an extreme.  It naturally causes one to wonder if she dresses in such a way by choice–given what we know about extreme patriarchal belief systems in our own culture.  

  
Posters and commenters in particular in some of these blogs (and others like them) sometimes use a sort of short-hand that expresses that certain ideas, practices and institutions are oppressive:
  • a fundamentalist, controlling Christian community is a “fundystan”
  • any oppressive, hyper-controlling church or group is a “taliban”
  • conservative Christian teachings (especially on women’s roles) are a “mental burka”
  • to question and reject said teachings is to “throw off the mental burka”
  • and so on

I chose “taliban” because there is no question it was a murderous, oppressive regime.  Surely, no one questions that.  The audience for which my writing is intended needs to have an illustration of the severest form of religious oppression for that culture in hopes that some might begin to make the connection for their severe practices in this one.  It has shock value and shock value just might be the most useful tool at my disposal since nothing else has worked. 


But, as several commenters on that post point out, Cindy doesn’t even know the woman. Cindy has no idea about her life, her marriage, why she covers her face, or what her husband thinks of it. She is just using that woman’s body as a prop in her post, without that woman’s consent. And in order to argue against the oppression of women, no less. The irony of this has apparently escaped her.

Doesn’t everyone do this at one time or another?  Don’t we all compare impressions about people we don’t know based on their dress and other outward behaviors?  It was more about wondering out loud than drawing absolute conclusions.  

And, it’s all about Cindy. And her husband, Paul. Don’t get them wrong, they’re nice folks, so they condescend to share the planet, the nation, the city, the neighborhood, even the restaurant with Muslims. But still. How they feel as white, Christian Americans, seeing a Muslim family eating in the same restaurant is really important. How Cindy pities the veiled woman, and imagines that her husband controls how she relates to her faith. How Paul feels sick to his stomach at the sight of a woman in a face-veil. How Cindy patronizingly wonders how the woman could possibly enjoy eating out.”
The above statements are the ones I found to be most presumptuous of all.  As I have stated in the comment section, we were not ‘condescending’.  I wrote that hurriedly, completely without a notion that it would be interpreted as such.  So, as I had presumed some things about the veiled woman, much is presumed about me in this statement.  Had I known, I would have worded it differently.  I took out the part about my husband being ‘sick to his stomach’ on my actual blog.  I had a different audience in mind, but I do acknowledge that was a poor choice of words. 
I actually was not pitying the woman.  I was identifying with her.  If she in fact, were a victim of imposed indoctrination that has her as imprisoned spiritually, emotionally and even physically as I was, then the differences between the two religions are only a matter of degrees.  I was seeing my former self in her.  
“It also makes me feel very sorry for the veiled woman. Imagine having to eat your dinner in close proximity to those who you know are reacting to you in such negative ways. And having your kids witness all that. How humiliating and depressing.”
All the more reason I could wonder if she were making the choice to dress that way or if she was indoctrinated, manipulated and/or even forced to do so by the men in her life.  I wonder the same when I see the Amish, Fundamentalist Mormon, Penticostal Holiness, Hutterite, Jehovah’s Witness women as well as the extreme Baptist Fundamentalist women in my own history in public.
“Being critical of patriarchal religions is one thing. Writing about a white man’s nausea at the sight of a veiled woman and passing this off as a statement against women’s oppression is quite another.”
Duly noted on this one.
“And, it’s a part of a much wider context. A context in which many people, including some journalists, feel free to use words that imply that Muslim = oppression/violence/danger.”
This is why it is important that Muslims (such as you) speak out, denouncing the oppressive/violent/dangerous factions of this religion whose women dress the same way, which makes the implication an easy one to make. How else are we to know how to make the differentiation?
Those of us who are from Independent Fundamental Baptist backgrounds, and even those who still consider themselves IFB are dealing with the same blanket impressions as a result of those vocal extremists who make the news for such notorious acts as beating their children, covering up sexual abuse for the sake of their ‘image’, satisfying their urges with prostitutes and other immoral and illegal acts while passionately opposing equal rights for women, same sex marriages, dancing, drinking and rock and roll music. The press and other vocal critics refer to these as ‘Fundies’, Bible-Thumpers, Holy-Rollers, Gay Bashers, Charlatans, Misogynists, Chauvinists, Fascists, Right-Wing Fanatics etc, etc, etc… 
But just as “Muslim” does not always equal oppression/violence/danger, neither does Independent Fundamental Baptist always equal the hostile things I listed above.
“Those words are borders, lines. Marking territory for those who belong, for the pure, in which Others (if present at all) are, well, Other. It’s that sort of thing that can help create an atmosphere that could lead to violence against those Others. Hardly something that is going to liberate all women.
Those words were not meant to be borders, lines or marking territory for those who belong to segregate the “Others”.  They were honest impressions made by observation.  They were meant to draw correlations, not borders.  
And since the issue at stake is said to be the oppression of women, this post is all the more remarkable. If the veiled woman is in fact abused, then what is the likely result of encountering white folks oozing pity, condescension and so forth?  Would she feel safe approaching them for help? Is it likely to inspire her to call the abused woman’s helpline, or the police, or to go to a shelter—where you know, she might well anticipate having to deal with more white folks with similar attitudes? Really?”
The issue at stake IS the oppression of women.  To infer otherwise is to judge my motives since I have stated that this was my intention.  I acknowledge that some statements I wrote could be interpreted as condescending and oozing pity but unless I affirm those were my intentions, I should be taken at my word.  If there is a question about those intentions then would it not be more illuminating to ask the questions instead of make presumptions?
If I could have asked the veiled woman if my impressions of her were correct without embarrassing her or compromising her safety and dignity, I would have.  But I doubt I would have gotten an honest answer from her anyway apart from the time it would take to establish trust.  So, using her as a ‘prop’ anonymously, assuming she would probably never know she was used as a representative for women who truly are oppressed is one seemingly benign way to draw responses from those in similar circumstances as one way to gain more insight. 
As for whether or not someone ‘oozing pity‘ and ‘condescension‘  would inspire her to get help, I have to say that if I were her and being abused, I think I would be more apt to seek help from anyone who expressed the slightest suspicion that I needed help before I would someone content to assume that my living under such extreme circumstances were at my own choosing.
So, while I apologize for not expressing clearly and concisely enough my motives for writing this piece, and perhaps being ignorant of and insensitive to the issues that concern Muslim women’s feelings of isolation and fear from living in a culture that does not understand their religion or their ways, I do not apologize for writing it.  
Neither do I apologize for using fitting tags that illustrate the similarities between the extreme, violent and abusive factions of your religion to the extreme, violent and abusive factions of the religion I came from.  I believe those comparisons need to be made in order for those practicing milder forms of abuse in the name of religion can see the extent of where they too can go under the authority and sanction of that religion. 
I sincerely hope this helps clarify my intentions

[Editorial Note: This article is intended for those readers who have chosen to accept the Bible as authoritative for faith and practice. If you are not one of those readers, please be understanding of the intended audience and refrain from commenting on the assumptions on which it is based. Please refrain from this pertains to all Christians everywhere and show some respect for the writer please. For more info on the site please visit - Is NLQ an Atheist Website?]

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.

 




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

 

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  • http://nolongerquivering.com Vyckie Garrison

    Cindy – coming from a similar background, I think that I understand where you’re coming from. Using the language of “The Taliban” does have shock value to hopefully wake up Christian fundamentalists to their own oppression of women because in fundie circles Muslims are the contemporary Big Scary Evil the way “communists” have been used to terrify evangelicals in the past.

    Now that I’ve been out of that narrow little world for several years, I’ve had an opportunity to meet and hang out with a number of Muslims and ex-Muslims – also a few trans-women, lesbians, lots of atheists – all the sorts of people whom I loathed and feared as a Quiverfull believer – and I have discovered that they’re really ordinary people – more like me than I ever would have guessed.

    One important discovery that I’ve made since my world opened up and I have shared time, space, rum & coke, and many long, interesting conversations with “others” – is that I definitely had A LOT of false and seriously offensive prejudices to which I had been completely in denial about for most of my life. I thought that I was open-minded and non-judgmental – boy, oh boy was I wrong about that!

    From reading your two posts, and from our conversations, I get the idea that you haven’t really had much opportunity to interact with non-Christians or with Believers who are more progressive/liberal in their approach to the Christian faith. Am I right to think that you haven’t yet made friends with a wide variety of “non-traditional” women?

    I still read a lot of Quiverfull and fundamentalist blogs and news sources in order to keep up with what bigotry and misinformation is currently popular in those circles. I do see the demonization of Islam as a prevalent theme – and I know that such “othering” does lead to some very serious religiously-based hatred of Muslims. I’m a little surprised that you do not believe racism is, for the most part, religiously motivated. Blacks were enslaved by Christians in America with full biblical sanction. Fundamentalism needs an enemy to thrive – whether it’s blacks, Catholics, communists, gays, Muslims … the ostracism and oppression all come from the same basic Christian fundamentalist mindset which is used to keep women in their place. :(

    • Cindy Foster

      Vyckie, You are right in that I haven’t had the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of non-Christians. I don’t interact much with a lot of Christian women from my own background either, which leaves me somewhat caught between two worlds. However, I have several grown children who do have those strong connections. We have had these discussions and I am beginning to understand-though it may not always come through in my writing.

      I agree that Blacks were enslaved by Christians in America, drawing from ignorant interpretation of scriptures written as instructions for masters of indentured slaves (enslaved because they were indebted as means to pay off the debt) and sanitized by claiming it was to civilize and evangelize them, but more honestly was a convenient spiritualization to make money off their labor. So, we don’t really disagree here. As I said, I had trouble making the the correlation from the mistreatment of slaves brought here against their will and Muslims who have chosen to come here?

      I don’t disagree, as I thought I made clear in my answer, that “othering” can and does lead to religious-based hatred of Muslims. Just not to the level of mob violence prevalent during the Civil Rights era. At least, I am not aware of it. Could be wrong, though.

      I do agree on the Christian Fundamentalist mind-set on keeping women in their place. That I have experienced myself and witnessed for years..

    • http://3think.tumblr.com/ 3think

      Well, I don’t know how your comment ended up in my Disqus feed but i’m glad it did. What an interesting and well written comment! I had a similar awakening (and it absolutely was an awakening, something christians are missing out on) I was church of england educated and in a very small village too. I had zero interaction with anyone coloured, gay- basically anyone that wasn’t white and east-anglian.

  • Cindy Foster

    Also, Vyckie, in reference to my reply after your comment,

    “These rationalizations had little to nothing to do with extreme religious beliefs and practices,

    I meant “with extreme religious beliefs and practices by the slaves” not those who were enslaving them. Should have written that in.

  • minnye

    To me, dialogues such as this one really illustrate that each of us views the world through our own prism & with our own frame of reference. Perhaps Cindy is guilty of this, but so is the Muslim woman in being offended by Cindy’s post. Sometimes language gets in the way of empathy. I hope you (Cindy) and she can come to a meeting of the minds.

    • Cindy Foster

      Thank you, minnye! There’s is no better way to accomplish that than by putting our views from our “own frame of reference” out there so they can be challenged and re-evaluated in the process.

      We may never agree on everything, but we can agree on enough! I am certainly willing….

  • Zoe

    I wanted to respond to some of the misunderstandings that you hold about ‘veiled women’ of the Islamic faith. I am a woman who is ‘veiled,’ in fact I even wear a face veil. I chose to wear this garment and I love to do so. My husband had no influence in my decision, in fact he was quite opposed to it, not that that was going to stop me! Nor was my decision due to being subjugated. I am an educated woman who was raised Christian and chose Islam later in life. Islam is unique to all religions in that it elevates the status of women rather than degrades them. I know, I know, this is not what you’ve been taught by the US media, or by your local preacher, but as a Muslim, I’m telling you that it is so. Eve is not blamed for the sin of Adam, women are no where found to be associated with evil, and child birth is a natural process not a punishment for leading men astray. Women are even clearly described as being equal to men. Women are honored, cherished and protected in Islam. Now I know there may be some discrepancies here between SOME Muslim countries cultures and what I’m saying, but I’m referring to the pure teachings of the revelation. As someone who once wore tight clothes and short skirts, I honestly feel amazingly liberated by my now concealing attire. I have complete privacy. Now men no longer search my body with their eyes, taking me into their mind. They are forced to judge me based on my intellect and character, not on my looks or ‘sex-appeal’ which is now concealed. Women will never have equity in society so long as they are revealing that which incites the opposite gender to objectify them. In my home, where I’m safe, I can dress as I please. So please feel no pity for me, I am not in need, and often am the one pulled to pity for those women I see under so much pressure and subjugated by the fashion industry. And please refrain your angry eyes or mean remarks. Instead, next time you see a ‘veiled woman’ ask her about her faith and why she covers.


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