Beliefs in society: Feminism


Feminism and Religion


Feminist theories agree with Marxists that religion can be an instrument of domination and oppression.   However, unlike Marxism, they see religion as a product of patriarchy rather than capitalism.  They suggest that most religions are patriarchal and give divine right to men to justify their control of women. 

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· Armstrong (1993) notes that women occupy a marginal position in most major religions.  Although they have made gains in many areas of life, their gains in most religions have been limited.  Women continue to be excluded from key roles in many religions despite the fact that they often participate in organised religion more than men.  However, the Church of England allowed the ordination of women priests in 1992.

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Place of worship and sacred texts

  • Places of worship often segregate men from women or even exclude women completely. In the Jewish synagogue, women have to watch the service from the balcony and in Islam, a menstruating woman cannot touch the Qur’an.
  • Sacred texts mainly feature Gods and male prophets and the Roman Catholic worship of the Madonna is a rare exception but only because she’s the mother of Jesus. The story of Adam and Eve paints women as temptresses and in Eve’s case, this brought about the eternal damnation of all humans.
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Religious laws and patriarchy

  • Religious laws and customs give women fewer rights than men. Dress codes are stricter for women suggesting that their bodies are sinful. Some religions even have a custom of genital mutilation. A woman who commits adultery is condemned in Islam whereas a man often escapes punishment.
  • Patriarchy is at its most extreme among fundamentalists, whatever their religion. Among New Christian Right followers in the U.S. women on marriage are expected to become full-time mothers and housewives. The Taleban in Afghanistan demanded that women wear the burkha in public and girls do not attend school.
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·Weber argued that women attend church more than men as a retreat from their treatment by society. Unfortunately this has the effect of keeping them suppressed.

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Why are women more religious then men?

Why are women more religious then men?

Miller and Hoffman (1995) report that women:

  • Are more likely to express a greater interest in religion.
  • Have a stronger personal religious commitment.
  • Attend church more often. 

These patterns appear to hold true throughout life, irrespective of the kind of religious organisation (cult, sect or church). Miller and Hoffman(1995) identify two main explanations:

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Miller and Hoffman 2 main explanations


Differential socialisation

Females are taught to be more submissive, passive, obedient and nurturing than males. These traits are compatible with religiosity.


Differential roles

Females have lower rates of participation in paid work than men and this gives them more time for church-related activities and more need for a source of personal identity and commitment.

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  • According to feminists, religion is simply another means of controlling women.  However, in many ancient religions, women have had key positions; Greek goddesses, for example.  In Hinduism, goddesses remain important.  In addition, modern followers of pagan Wicca (witchcraft) worship a goddess of the moon.
  • Some Christian religions, particularly Quakerism, have never been oppressive to women.
  • Alexandra Wright (1994) notes that Reform Judaism has allowed women to become rabbis since 1972.
  • Many theorists have tended to portray women as the passive victims of religious oppression, and religions themselves as universally oppressive. However, sociologists have come to acknowledge that things are improving.
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  • Helen Watson (1994) claims that the veiling of Islamic women is often beneficial as it helps them avoid the ‘lecherous’ stares of men.  Rather than seeing the veil as a sign of male oppression, it has become ‘a reaction against the secular feminism of the West’.  Watson’s work shows that the meaning of religion needs to be carefully interpreted.
  • Leila Badawi (1994) notes that aspects of Islam are positive for women, for example, Islamic women keep their own family name when they marry.
  • Many NRM’s/NAM’s empower women and are in no way oppressive……….
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El Saadawi concludes that female oppression is not essentially due to religion but due to the patriarchal system that has long been dominant.  She claims that the only way for women to improve their lot is to struggle for their own liberation.  Therefore, religion itself does not deserve hostility, only the domination of religion by patriarchal ideology.

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