Is Religion Afraid of Women?
All major religious texts advocate respect and dignity for women. Why and when then, did our view of women become so distorted?
When you think of Catholic nuns, does radical feminism come to mind? It does for the Vatican. The Vatican caused a scandal when they reprimanded the largest group of Catholic nuns in the United States, accusing them of promoting ‘radical feminism’. Apparently the nuns focused too heavily on issues of ‘social justice’ and were not vocal enough on ‘issues of crucial importance’. In other words, they were too involved in serving the poor and speaking out on healthcare reforms, when they should have been supporting the Vatican’s views on same sex marriages, contraception and its ban on women priests.
Here’s Colbert’s take on it (click the video below to play):
The Vatican’s reprimand would be funny if it were not so tragic. Pope Francis has reiterated the Vatican’s point of view on the issue — that nuns shouldn’t be feminists.
The Church continues to tell women what to do and how to behave without taking into account the tremendous changes that have occurred in our society in the last hundred years.
In fact, not just the Catholic Church, but nearly all religions seem to have very similar attitudes towards women. Women are perceived to be ‘dangerous’ and ‘sinful’ and therefore need to be controlled. Many religious leaders tell us that it is God’s will that women be treated as inferior beings; which leaves me to wonder – do they think that ‘God’ disdains women, in spite of having created them?
But is this really true? Do our religious texts actually say that woman inferior to men and so need to be controlled and subjugated? A closer look at all major religious texts of the world will prove that this is not so. Yes, most texts say that a woman’s primary duty is as a bearer and nurturer of children. Some also say that the women are inferior to men. However, before we label all religions as being anti-women let us look a little deeper.
Ancient Hindu texts portray women as the embodiment of ‘Shakti’ or ‘power’, with even male Gods bowing down and worshipping the Mother Goddess, who was the embodiment of feminine strength. Many Hindu goddesses are portrayed carrying weapons, clearly indicating that far from being meek and passive, these Goddesses were ready to literally ‘fight’ evil. The Quran says that man and woman were created from the same soul and both are equal in the eyes of Allah. And Jesus, after resurrection, appeared first to a woman.
In fact, all major religious texts advocate respect and dignity for women. Why and when then, did our view of women become so distorted?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that all religious texts and teachings are interpreted by men. And men have traditionally divided women into simply two classes. One is the virgin goddess – sexless, selfless and obedient who is stripped of all human desires and who exists only to obey and serve. The second is the whore or the prostitute – the evil temptress who leads man astray and causes his downfall. When we examine this archetypal male view of women, we begin to understand why religion appears to be almost afraid of women.
Men have a fundamental weakness when it comes to sex.
Men have much less control on their sexual urges than women, and sex is one thing that can make intelligent, rational men behave irrationally. While men are physically (and usually economically and socially) stronger than women, a woman can get the better of a man down merely by using her sexuality. One only needs to think about the number of strong, powerful men who have been brought down simply due to their sexual transgressions.
Could this be the reason why almost all major religions appear to be almost misogynic? Perhaps men are subconsciously aware of their Achilles’ heel, and since all religious texts were written by men, what could be easier than blaming women for this weakness? Many religions seek to put women behind a veil so that men cannot be ‘tempted’. In other words, if the man could not control his sexual urges, it was conveniently blamed on the woman – it was always the woman’s fault.
But is this fear of women only caused by a fear of sex? It’s an interesting psychological question, and perhaps our primal instincts have a role to play in this. Males of all species have a primitive biological urge to perpetuate their own genes, along with a primal fear of unknowingly raising offspring not fathered by them. The only way males can make sure that they are propagating their own genetic line (and not someone else’s), is by making sure that their mates are faithful to them. Could this be the reason why society and religion seek to control a woman’s body and any woman who freely expresses her sexuality is labeled a whore?
In other words, do men seek to control women because they are afraid? And simply use religion as a tool?
What the religious leadership, and in fact we all need to understand is that nothing is constant – everything changes with time, including morals and religious beliefs. Yes, most major religions state the primary role of a woman to be a child bearer and nurturer. But is that so wrong? Being able to create life is not only something incredibly powerful, it is also necessary for the survival of the species. And a woman should not just be appreciated and respected, but worshipped as the giver and nurturer of life. This is in fact what most ancient texts advocate.
And before we start pointing to texts which seem to preach an inferior status for women, we should also take into account the time and age when these ancient texts were written. All religious texts were a product of their times, when the social and economic conditions were very different from what they are now.
Today, the values have changed; and clinging to outdated religious ideals and archaic notions of morality will only serve to put a society behind by a hundred years. Expecting women to obey outdated religious and moral principles, may eventually cause them to slowly abandon religion altogether. And that would be a pity, as there is much good to be said about religion.
Religion serves to bind a community together, inculcates a sense of morals, discipline, and faith in a kind, loving god who helps us get through tough times. Religion can give strength and succor to all of us, especially in today’s world where all of us need something to believe in.
It is high time therefore, for religious leaders to recognize that things have changed and accept that today men and women are not enemies or adversaries – they are partners and allies who are stronger and happier when they are together. Neither is superior or inferior, they are just different from each other and this difference should be accepted and celebrated. Rather than term women as ‘sinful’ and the cause of a man’s downfall, religion should accept her for what she is – man’s partner and companion and the mother without whom all creation would come to in the end.
Perhaps the Vatican should first take a good look at how Jesus treated women and learn.