Can a feminist be religious?
As we’re getting started reading Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, I’d like to point out a couple of recent articles questioning the compatibility of religion and feminism:
When I was a Christian (the first two-thirds of my life), I didn’t think of myself as a woman. I was just a person. Although I didn’t notice it at the time, I think I felt this way because I was subconsciously relating to scriptures that were exclusively addressed to men. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s and had already walked away from religion and Jesus that I realized that feminism and the lack of equality for women were still important issues that hadn’t yet been resolved, even in America (which I still thought of as the greatest nation on Earth).
It’s hard to fathom that I, the good Christian girl who didn’t wear pants because they were men’s clothing, could somehow ignore the fact that I was not the person being spoken to in the Bible, but rather a piece of property, a slave. Looking back, I see that the pastors of several churches we’d attended had difficulty dealing with my family because we had no man as the head of the household; and to make matters worse, we weren’t looking for a male authority figure in our lives. Other churches I attended had women in authority positions, preaching and teaching from the pulpit, clearly ignoring the scriptures below. My background, as I view it from afar, was a jumble of mixed messages.
Why do I think the Bible treats women as slaves and property and that the scriptures are written to an audience of men? Verses that reflect this attitude are listed in both of the articles linked above, but here are the two that speak most strongly to me:
Exodus 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
Obviously the ten commandments are only addressed to men, since only men can have wives in Biblical Jewish society. The women are simply one of the posessions that men are not to covet. (One reason why I believe we, as women, cannot tolerate these commandments being posted in government buildings in the United States.)
For those who will say “That’s the Old Testament, Jesus did away with those archaic laws,” let’s take a look at what Paul, arguably the founder of the Christianity, had to say about women.
I Corinthians 14: 34 and 35 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
“Your women”? Hmmm. Obviously Paul was also only writing to the men.
Although I don’t recall Jesus saying anything negative about women, all of his disciples were men and the only women around him spent their time serving food and washing his feet with their hair. Enough said.
In retrospect, I agree with the premise that you can’t follow Christianity and be a feminist. The only way to reconcile the two is to ignore a lot of what is taught in the Bible as I did, even as a fundamentalist who would have vociferously defended my literal reading of scripture. It is an untenable position.
What does this mean for us skepchicks? I believe we are all feminists, even if we don’t choose to wear that label, simply because we don’t buy into the idea that women are dumber than men. The whole premise of Skepchick as an organization is to give women equal opportunities in science and in the skeptical community, where we are often under represented, in part because our society still internalizes the misogyny of the Bible, and many women subconsciously absorb this demeaning image of themselves.
We’ll address Islam and feminism direclty next month, when we read Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But if you have experiences with misogynistic teachings of Islam, Judaism, or any other religion, feel free to discuss in the comments.