Religion and Feminism

I remember a roundtable in a conference for feminists in academia, and there was this woman whose whole research agenda was to “prove” that religion is evil (racist-misogynist-homophobic-violent-evil). And she had all sorts of measures and stories and facts about different religions, and how all of them seemed to exist for the sole purpose of oppressing women. I could see where she was coming from – the trappings of religion are clearly patriarchal. There is just no arguing with that. I’m Christian, and Christianity often inspires in me a feeling of helpless rage at the blind hate that is encoded in its rules and rituals. And the problem is not just structural – more often than I would like, I’ve come across individual practitioners, perfectly nice men and women of the Church, who think nothing of making sexist, racist, homophobic remarks with no provocation out-of-the-blue, like other people might casually talk about the weather.

And yet, I’m Christian. I usually do not mention this to my feminist friends, since to most feminists this is like admitting to kicking dogs in private for fun. But I have received so much from my faith – in fact, all the good things that I have received in the past decade – trust, freedom from constant anxiety, thankfulness, peace, joy – are the gifts of my faith. And it seems wrong and ungrateful to hide what-is-best-in-my-life, and compartmentalize so that my feminist world and my faith-world are two entirely disconnected areas of my life, one ashamed of the other.

And this hiding is mostly one-way: I make no particular attempts to hide my feminism from my faith-community, since I honestly think that feminism can make religious life a lot better. But until recently (actually until today with this post), I’ve never much spoken about my faith in my feminist community. But it bugs-saddens me that this faith that I love, that has transformed my life, has been abandoned to the patriarchs to-do-what-they-want-with, because those on the other side couldn’t be bothered to rescue it. And it seems to me that, even from a purely strategic instrumental perspective, it is unwise for feminists to dismiss religion; if it is all about getting converts (and yes, feminists – let us just admit this – we are as much into proselytizing as any evangelical), then demonizing all religion makes no sense given that many human-people need some kind of faith to get them through the day. And this dismissal of religion is not just unwise, it is also harmful – It forces feminists in most countries of the world to have to fight multiple battles simultaneously; rather than marshaling all resources just fighting patriarchy, they find themselves suddenly pitted not just against patriarchy, but also against Islam/Hinduism/Christianity, challenging not just people’s choices regarding their daughter’s education, but also challenging their faith (an almost unwinnable battle). Religion has been coopted by patriarchy, perverted and abused to justify all sorts of crap. And feminists have allowed this to happen, washing their hands off religion (“fine you can have faith, as long as we get to keep tofu”), and the reasons, to me, seem born out of a very different understanding from mine about what religion really is about.

So next up: I’d like to explain my religion, as I understand it and value it. And my hope is that I can show my fellow feminists what I see in religion so that I can convince some to join me in rescuing religion, or at least refrain from demonizing religion.

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