Feminism and Religion: A Damaged Relationship?

By Sasha Brodskaya

Alright, so I’m sure most of you super-educated feministas read Ross Anderson’s Minnesota Daily article a while back ago about Muslims and their supposed disrespect for women; it got half a dozen retort articles at least, not to mention comments. Well, as irksome as some of the perhaps unconscious bigotry in Anderson’s piece was, I’m going to make myself a lightning rod for controversy here and say Anderson wasn’t totally in the wrong, not about Muslims specifically but about the anti-feminist nature of almost every religion. Note before my little rant starts: educational criticism on my facts and opinions is more than welcome.

We don’t need to look very far to find proof of religion-based discrimination against women. In the Catholic religion, women are not allowed to become priests or bishops. In the Muslim religion, women are held to a higher standard of modesty than men by being told to cover their hair and arms. And in the Orthodox Jewish religion, women not only must sit farther from the Torah than men but are often separated from this centerpiece of the Jewish religion by a divider, incapable of touching the holy book when it is carried around the synagogue.

Of course, I’m no religious expert, and no doubt these practices do not occur in every religious sect. However, the tendency for many religions to have such sexist practices is disturbing, and the dismissal of its discussion for reasons like “Muslim women are obeying what their creator has ordained upon them; they are simply pleasing their creator and not a creature” as one commentator wrote on Anderson’s 2nd article on the subject, even worse. Just like with racial discrimination, we as women cannot afford to avoid the discussion on religious intolerance for fear of offending. We must prove that sexism is never ordained by God.

On a final note: before you all go jumping to the conclusion that I’m an angry atheist with a chip on my shoulder, let me make it clear that I am actually a Reformist Jew with a great deal of appreciation for my, and other religion’s, customs and beliefs. In fact, it was my own religious experiences that lead me to write today. As a child, I hated attending Yom Kippur services in a synagogue that segregated genders for fear of “arousing the men”. While the justification might not have screamed sexism, it never explained why the rabbi always had to be male or why the Torah was always placed on the men’s side. Similarly, when I attended a particularly conservative group bat-mitzvah for the daughter of a family friend, I encountered another double standard: only boys could read out loud from the Torah. Reading from the Torah in my own coming-of-age celebration was a milestone in my religious development, and I truly regret that other young Jewish girls are being deprived of this achievement in the supposed name of their Creator. If we teach our girls that God believes females are inferior, how will they ever break through the glass ceiling?


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