Sunday, July 26, 2009

She Still Is A Woman

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.


clymela said...

In my mind god is neither male nor female neither man nor woman. god is not thing but rather verb/action. things come through god but god is not the thing that comes although god is in all that is.
In my mind the sooner we drop this childish thinking of god as Mother and/or Father the freer we will be and the healthier our home/planet will be.

Terraluna said...

I think it's comically ironic that the Post's panel consists of 18 men and 5 women.

A Tabla Rasa said...

Re-reading The Chalice and the Blade recently makes me ache for the Old Way. Partnership instead of domination. What a concept.

And clymela, my god is not 'neither' but both and all, and outside of our existence, but I think we are not so far apart for all that.

LuneArgentee said...

This: "That's ridiculous," the young man protested, "Everybody knows he has no sex[,]" made me immediately flash to the Sotomayor hearings, for, obviously, only white males are without prejudice, made in the image of god as they are. Argh.

Barbarians by Terry Jones (yes, the Terry Jones of Monte Python) is an excellent review of the societies called barbarian by Rome. The Celts, Germans, Dacians, etc. are looked at from a open view, not through the filter of Roman and Roman Catholic belief.

Also, many translations of the Bible have an obvious male slant, with the same word being translated differently, depending on whether it referred/applied to men or to women.

clymela said...

Okay- all summer long wanting to reread The Chalice and The Blade and now will add The Barbarians.
Didn't mean at all to come across so "know it all". I just grow deeply impatient when God The Father appears anywhere and want to protect "us" from making the same error with God The Mother. Mostly I come to this site for rest and recuperation-the beauty of the Feminine/Venus scents even the political discussion.

nanoboy said...

It's an odd thing, really. You can't fault the student too much for the use of "he." "It," our only singular and neuter pronoun, carries a hint of inferiority of the subject. However, Christian churches have a tradition of suppressing women in various ways. Some, of course, are changing in a positive way. My wife's family Episcopalian church in Boston generally refers to the Holy Spirit as a "she." (I've read about the trinity being treated as God the Father, the Holy Spirit the Mother, and Jesus the Child.)

It's kind of odd to ascribe the Christian god and other similar deities a sex. As a biologist, sex to me has one major explicit purpose, the mixing of genetic material from one generation to the next. An immortal god wouldn't really need that. Spiritually, it's more complicated, I suppose. Some religions treat sex as a necessary thing to do, and the pleasure of it is something to be resisted. Why would such a religion ascribe their gods sexes? Others, like the modern pagans, celebrate sex and sexuality. There, sexed gods and goddesses make sense, especially when those wonderful stories of philandering gods and their consorts grace the legends.