The WaPo has up some interesting thoughts about religion's role in oppressing women, inspired by President Carter's decision to leave the Southern Baptist Convention because of its views on women. Specifically, writers were asked to respond to this question: Former president Jimmy Carter and other world leaders issued this statement: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable." What's your reaction to these statements? Are 'male interpretations of religious texts' to blame for the 'deprivation of women's equal rights?'
Interestingly, the article is titled: "Elders or Patriarchs: Who Speaks for Women?" Of course, historically, it was males doing the interpreting, but that's beside the point. As is the question of whether it's "elders" (which appears to have some specific meaning for this article) or "patriarchs" -- usually, there's little difference between the two -- who get to speak "for" women.
Susan Brooks Thisthethwaite expalins:
Women's second-class status in the world's major religions is not primarily a text problem, it's a God problem. As Mary Daly said so many years ago, "When God is male, the male is God."
The root of prejudice against women in today's religions stems from the fact that, for millennia, females have not been regarded as reflecting the image of the divine in the same way males are held to hold that image in humanity. I believe, therefore, if you don't fix the God problem, you'll never get at the text problem.
The 'deprivation of women's equal rights' in the major religions is not primarily a problem of "misinterpretation." While deeply appreciative of President Carter and his fellow religious Elders in their concern that women are definitely deprived of equal rights in, through and by religious interpretation, they are looking at a symptom, not a cause.
When I taught undergraduate religion, I assigned Merlin Stone's fine book about ancient, female-centered religions: When God Was a Woman. A woman student came to class one day and told the rest of us that she had been reading her assignment on the campus bus and a male student had expressed outrage at the title. "That's ridiculous," the young man protested, "Everybody knows he has no sex." This male student's choice of pronoun says it all: God is a "he" and "everybody knows that." Women need not apply.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."