Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Religion and Patriarchy

I've been asked on multiple occasions why I conflate my atheism with my feminism.  It's not as though you need to be one in order to be the other.  In my opinion, it helps, but it's not necessary.  But the ultimate reason why is because nothing supports patriarchy better than religion.  Religions are created by men and, conveniently, place men at the top just below whatever deity or power is being proposed.  All of the major religions who have deities have male gods as the "figurehead", which is then used to justify the same set up in the mortal world.  This simple position trickles down into countless other atrocities that could not be justified by moral, rational people without a supernatural argument.

Let me clarify two things.  First, when I say religion, I mean organized religion.  Not just major or generally accepted religions, but all organized religions including cults.  If your "religion" is just tripping on acid and talking to trees on the weekends than I have no issue with it as long as you are not then taking what you believe the trees said to you and using it to place yourself above others.  I have absolutely nothing against personal religious beliefs that in no way interfere with others.  I think it will harsh your trip on the earth, but that's your decision to make.  Second, when I say patriarchy I don't just mean men oppressing women.  That's certainly the common use of the phrase, but I want to expand it to mean any person or group exploiting power against another person or group.  This would include men against women, whites against non-whites, heterosexual and cissexual against homosexual and transsexual, English-speaking Americans against ESL or non-English-speaking Americans.  Whatever class oppression you can picture in your mind at any point in history, that's what I mean when I talk about patriarchy.  So let's not dissolve this discussion with arguments about "My religion is one of peace" or "Men's rights" or anything else.  Let's really examine the issue at hand.

I can still remember the first time doubt crept into my head as a Christian.  I was 12-years-old in the 7th grade and had just started youth group at my church not long ago.  At one point our bible classes were split by gender and, in one of the many farcical moments of my life, I was the only appalled one in a room of a couple dozen boys and men being taught about the position of power men have in Christianity.  You know, the man is the head of the household just as God is the head of the church.  Women are ultimately servants of men just as Even was created to serve Adam.  A marriage was meant to produce children and a wife's primary function is to raise good little Christian children.  You've heard it all before, I'm sure.  The problem was I'd been raised by my feminist mother, who obviously illustrated she knew how to function far better than the majority of men I'd known.  So I began to ask my teacher questions, which will always get you into trouble.  I started to wonder what other disturbing things were in the bible and that's when I stumbled on the passages about slavery.  I asked why we no longer held up those passages but still hung on to the outdated views on gender roles.  I got a lot of apologetic crap in return and was basically told, "Hey, don't rock the boat, dude."  In the years toward my de-conversion I realized that women were seen only as property in the bible and that all the commands to be faithful and keep your virginity and the rest were just paranoid men worrying about passing their inheritance to someone else's son.  Not a very good basis for morality.

The two most damaging aspects of religion when used against women are "modesty" and "submission".  These are the foundation for what "good girls" are supposed to be and set up a double standard that no one can follow all the time.  Let's start with The Ugly Side of Modesty.  Religions in varying degrees all try to shift the blame of men's actions and thoughts about women back onto the women themselves.  This is why religious women are required to cover their hair, or not show skin, or only where skirts to their ankles or whatever ridiculous dress code might be put in place.  The thought process is always the same, "Men can't control themselves if women are unmodest, therefore it's the woman's responsibility to be modest lest she face the consequences of the out-of-control man."  It's the justification for rape we've heard too many times before.  What was she wearing?  It doesn't fucking matter!  Even if you walk naked down the street that's no justification to be raped.  And the fault lies with the person raping, not the victim.  This tries to make women out to be something mystical or perhaps evil by nature that must be tamed and controlled by men.  Fathers are expected to keep their daughters from having sex.  Husbands are expected to keep their wives from promiscuity.  Well, I have news for all religious men out there:  You are responsible for what you do with your penis.  Case closed.  No other arguments.  And women are responsible for what sex acts we decide to take part in.  No man has control over a woman and no woman has control over a man unless someone willingly gives it to or coercively takes it from them.  But the most disturbing part about modesty is how it's used against little girls who are just beginning to understand and maybe even love their body. 

Their told their body is an evil temptation that must be guarded, lest they lead boys into sin.  Fashion choices are no longer about what they enjoy, but are all directed back to what men will think about them.  Look at this disgusting "test" from SecretKeeperGirl, a website that shames tweens about their bodies and clothing in the name of God.  If there is one thing I am greatful for about growing up trans, it's that I internalized much less of this bullshit than my cis sisters out there may have.  I still struggled with thoughts about whether I'm showing too much skin, but it's not because I worry about what a man might think, it's usually because of body issues, which is another topic for another time.

So how about submission?  And I don't mean the fun, consensual kind that people can enjoy in their bedrooms.  I mean the kind that says women only have a limited number of purposes and these are all dictated by the man who owns her.  The most disturbing aspect of this to me are those women coerced into the "quiverfull" movement.  And I use the word coerced because hardly any of the girls raised in this lifestyle are given any kind of informed consent.  Many are homeschooled and given no alternative views about life and reproduction.  They may not even know about contraception and other birth control options until they've already been brainwashed by decades of indoctrination and married off at a young age.  The Duggar Family are the most famous example of the mindless reproduction. But I don't want to talk about them, although I could.  I'd rather point out a more tragic consequence of this "quiverfull" bullshit.  I want to talk about Andrea Yates.

Now for those who don't know, Andrea Yates is a woman who suffered from severe psychotic episodes brought about by postpartum depression.  This means that every time she had a child she was deeply depressed and often delusional and a danger to her children and herself.  This was an issue known by her, her husband, and her mental health practicioner, who warned the couple not to have any more children, lest the psychosis return.  Her husband didn't listen and proceeded to impregnate his wife again.  They could have used any number of forms of birth control, but they didn't because he believed God wanted him to have as many children as possible.  Baby number five came along and only a few months later Andrea drowned all five of her boys because she believed God had told her it was the only way to ensure their salvation.  This is one of the most disturbing illustrations I know of to show how religion not only twists someone's mind to believe that killing one's child could ever be a good thing, (Don't forget the stories of Abraham and Jephthah) but because a tragedy that could have easily been avoided was pushed further because of outdated views about women from the Bronze Age.  That is why I get so disgusted with religion.  I don't have a problem with the good people think religion helps them do.  I have a problem with the evil that can only come about because of religious beliefs that one is doing the "right thing".

And I believe patriarchy is one of those evils that can only be perpetuated by religious thinking.  Even the non-religious misogynists out there (and they're out there) are still suffering the effects of a religious society that routinely views men and women as different and perpetuates that misconception with every chance it gets.  It's going to take a lot of work to reverse the damage done to all of us, religious, non-religious, men, women, queer, straight, white, black, Asian, Hispanic.  We've all suffered at the hands of religion for too long.  It's time to realize the only good morality comes before religion, not from it.  If, after all is said and done, you want to hang on to the few moral stories in the Bronze and Iron Age books, that's fine.  So long as you keep it to yourself.

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