Feminism and Religion

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  • Created on: 23-03-15 20:34


Many argue that it is FEMINISMS as opposed to feminism as there are several different "brands" of feminism, each with their own level of involvement in societal action and perspectives. HOWEVER, all of these sub-groups agree that women are subordinated in society by some form of patriarchal force, and in this set of cards, we will examine the belief that this force is religion.

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Many argue that it is FEMINISMS as opposed to feminism as there are several different "brands" of feminism, each with their own level of involvement in societal action and perspectives. HOWEVER, all of these sub-groups agree that women are subordinated in society by some form of patriarchal force, and in this set of cards, we will examine the belief that this force is religion.

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Liberal feminism

Liberal feminists hold peaceful and realistic political views on how women are dominated by men. Unlike radical feminists, lib-fems believe that womens oppression by men is not natural and has been created and developed by society, therefore it can be changed.

They focus on the oppression being created through socialisation and reinforced by sexist laws and rules. The Lib-Fems find the solution to be non-gendered socialisation of children and introduction of sexually-equal laws.

Lib-Fems see the church as playing a role for social change. They assert that a vital part of womens equality in the world will be when they can hold high religious office, for example a female Pope.

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Radical Feminists

Radicals hold, as the name may suggest, much more radical and deterministic views on the belief that men are directly responsible for womens oppression. They claim that it is men that benefit from womens low social status, explaining why they are oppressed. 

According to DALY (1973), religion is infused with PATRIARCHAL IDEOLOGY. For example, women are frequently subjugated in religious affairs, being made ot cover their heads or bodies in Catholicism or Islam, whereas men have never been required to do so.

Some Muslim laws dictate that women must be fully covered by a Burhka or Hidjab when in public, and even go as far to conduct gruesome punishments for religious crimes that would rarely be applied to men (such as female genital mutiliation).

Rad-Fems have identified several ways in which religion helps to maintain male dominance in society.

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Marxist Feminists

Marxist feminists choose to focus more on the role of capitalism reinforcing womens low social status. They point out how capitalism benefits from the free domestic labour provided by women at home (looking after children, cooking, cleaning etc.) as it allows men to work much longer hours than would otherwise be possible.

Marxist Feminists emphasise how religion functions as a tool of capitalist oppression of women, by reinforcing gender roles that serve the interests of the ruling class.

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Simone de Beauvoir

De Beauvoir (1949) was a pioneer of feminist sociology and focused heavily on patriarchy in religion. She claimed that it was an instrument of male opression and domination. She argued that men usually control religious organisations (the Pope, the Dalai Iama, the Archbishop of Canterbury etc.) and claim that their authority comes from God, using it as an excuse.

Some, often polytheistic religions, do portray women as being closer to God; but only if they are passivend do not question male authority. Religion proceeds to give women a FALSE BELIEF that their subjugation will be rewarded in Heaven. Religion therefore gives women a form of false conciousness, which keeps them in their place. It deceives women into thinking that they are equal to men, while in reality they are disadvantaged as the "second sex".


-Places of worship (Mosques, churches, temples)

-Religious laws and customs (Sharia Law, traditional Catholic laws)

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Development of a patriarchal religion

ARMSTRONG (1993) found that religion has not always been patriarchal. She claimed that in ancient and prehistory, women were considered vital to spirituality and that there have been findings of a "Great Mother Goddess". In comparison, there were few portrayals of male gods, whereas there was evidence of fertility cults and female priesthoods.

It was only around 1750 BC (the birth date of most P.E. teachers) in Babylon that the importance of the goddess declined as the male god Marduk emerged and replaced the female goddess Tiamat as the "top spot" of ancient religion. 

With the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, MONOTHEISTIC religions (one God rather than many), began to replace POLYTHEISTIC RELIGIONS (wherein one believes in many gods and goddesses, similar to the Greeks and Ancient Romans). In all modern cases, God is a man.

SAADAWI (1980) Is an Egyptian feminist concerned on how Islam oppresses women, citing how viciously they are treated by Sharia Law. For example, she experienced female circumcision, losing part of her ********. However, Saadawi claims that none of this is actually caused by religion, but by a patriachal system, in this case, male fundamentalist (mis) interpretation of the Qur'an, which is used to justify cruelty to women.

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Modern Religious Patriarchy

HOLM (1994) argues that in the public sphere of religion, important positions and announcements are always controlled by men. However, in the private sphere, such as primary and secondary socialisation, women are dominant and do much of the religious work. Holm identifies major inequalities in worldwide religions:

-Islam-Prophet Muhammad was male-Men make all legal judgements and are religious leaders.

-Hinduism-Only men can become Brahmin Priests-women cannot approach family shrines whilst menstruating or pregnant.

-Sikhism-A more equal religion as all positions are open to men and women. However, in reality, most of the senior positions are still held by men.

-Buddhism-The Buddha originally refused to ordain women as nuns, saying that their presence would halve the lifespan of his teachings. Even today, senior nuns are junior to ANY monk.

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The lighter side of feminism

WOODHEAD (2002) has criticised feminist explanations that equate religion to patriarchy and oppression. She accepts that much of traditional religion is patriarchal, she also emphasises that this is not true of all religions. Woodhead finds that there are "religious forms of feminism"-Ways in which women use religion to gain greater freedoms and repsect.

Woodhead uses the example of a Hijab or veil donned by Muslim women. Western feminists see it as a symbol of oppression, the wearer it may symbolise resistance to oppression. She argues that many Muslim women use the Hijab to escape the confines of the home and enter education and employment. it is a symbol of liberation.

Women can also use religon to gain status and respect for their roles in the private sphere. Belonging to an evangelical group can be empowering to some women. For example, evangelicals strongly believe that men should always respect women. This gives women power, insisting that they practice what they preach and avoid "macho" behaviour.

Finally, the role of women overall is changing. For example, the C of E permitted the ordination of women since 1992 and now a fifth of all priests are female. Judaism has allowed female Rabbis since 1972!

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Some feminist and other sociological perspectives have argued that religon cannot always be seen as patriarchal. For example, Quakerism is one religion that has always had gender equality and inequalities are minimal within Sikhism. Furthermore, as seen previously, some religions are becoming less patriarchal.

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