Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Canary Feminism

I find it both ironic and fascinating that the anti-Muslim forces often cite the oppression of women as a cause for resisting Islam. Ironic because many branches of Christianity and the Orthodox branches of Judaism could be accused of the same thing. Fascinating because it suggests that the truth-value of any religion is linked to its treatment of women, something no biblical or Qur’anic text would suggest.

For example, the Catholic Church has just issued new rules that declare the ordination of women priests as a “grave crime,” and the Episcopal Church is caught up in an internal battle over whether or not to have women bishops. Should we resist Catholicism and Episcopalianism because of their treatment of women?

You can find similar issues of control in other Protestant denominations, some of which seek to control women’s dress, their position within the home and church, and their God-ordained submission to their husbands. So for Christians to decry Islam because it restricts women’s freedom is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

In Israel the government has instituted a religious bus service that forces woman to ride in the back of the bus, so as to not entice Orthodox men to sexual thoughts (or worse) between stops. And then there is the ruling that prohibits women from becoming rabbis. And let us not forget the extreme Orthodox insistence that married women cover or better yet cut their hair short and wear wigs so as not to entice men. So if we are going to oppose Islam on feminist grounds lets take on Christianity and Judaism as well.

Buddhism and Hinduism fair no better, with many Buddhist nuns being forced to play second fiddle to monks, and some Hindu women being sold into virtual slavery to their in-laws, and Hindu female fetuses being aborted to avoid the expense of having to marry the fetus off when she comes of age.

Yes, you can argue that these are cultural problems not intrinsic to the religions themselves, but this is no less true of Islam. Nowhere does the Qur’an demand that women wear the same protective gear as beekeepers, and yet so many do.

But let’s not restrict our concern to religion. Western democratic secular societies are not exactly bastions of women’s freedom. So the more you look the more appealing the idea that women are the canaries in the religious/political/cultural mine. I think the status of women, i.e. the degree to which they are denied the same rights and privileges and status as men in their respective faiths, countries, ethnicities, etc. is an excellent barometer for gauging the morality of those faiths, countries, etc. And I would go even further and hold these religions and countries up to the standard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

So if you are among those who pretend to some moral high ground by pointing out the oppression and exploitation of women in Islam, please broaden your gaze. Let all of us agree to reject any ideology that denies women the same freedoms it grants to men, and any that denies Universal Human Right to either gender or both.

Whew, I think I just freed myself from every ideology on the frigging planet.


Unknown said...

Well said!

ex-tvwriter said...

Thanks for this, Rami. I love reading your blog, and your words always inspire me. This entry, though, really speaks to me as a woman and as a reluctant atheist. One reason I became disillusioned with organized religion is the treatment of women by most, if not all, of the ones I investigated. (Also, what you've said resonates with the novel I'm working on.)

(This Blogger profile, although linked to my current email address, links to my old blog and my old "name." Don't know how to change it, though. -- Genia)

Rabbi Rami said...

Thanks to both of you. There are many religious practices and ideas that move me, but the structure of most organized religions offends me.

Barry said...

Reform Judaism is as good as it gets, I imagine, and the liberal side of the Episcopal Church. I also look at the status of gays and lesbians. While officially Reform Judaism is very good on gay issues, the news has not necessarily filtered down to the congregations.

I keep away from homophobic and women-oppressing religions (they tend to be the same ones), including Islam and the Roman Catholic, Mormon and Orthodox Jewish religions.

Raksha said...

I've been doing a little research on Amazon over the past week, reading some reviews of books (I haven't actually read any of the books yet) about women's lives in several Muslim countries, Sudan and Saudi Arabia among others. I have to say that while all the Abrahamic religions are bad, Islam is probably *THE* most misogynistic of all. This is based purely on what I've read, though--I try to steer clear of the knee-jerk Islamophobia so prevalent in this country since 9/11.

However, when the haredim in Israel join in the bashing, it's strictly a case of the pot calling the kettle black and obviously politically motivated. Not only are they almost as bad, they seem to be getting worse by the day. After all, they never had segregated buses in Israel when my sister lived there over 20 years ago--and she called the haredim "the religious Mafia" even then!

I'm glad you mentioned that in many ways the East is every bit as patriarchal and misogynistic as the West, a reality many people tend to overlook in their fascination with Eastern religions. For example: not only is selective abortion prevalent in many parts of India, but so are female infanticide, dowry killings and the virtual slavery of brides to their in-laws if they manage to survive the earlier horrors.

I agree with Barry that Reform Judaism is probably as good as it gets as far as organized religion goes--but I happen to know from personal experience that Goddess-oriented Neopaganism is better yet! However I think you'd have to file that under "disorganized religion."


Ann Mikkelsen said...

The president of Self Realization Fellowship has been a woman for about 50 years - Sri Daya Mata. I love Paramahansa Yogananda and his autobiography.

Old Lady said...

Bring religion screaming and kicking into the 21st Century!!!!

andrea perez said...

Religious theory rarely meets the level of the ethics implied. Wish we could get past all the goggleygoop and get to how we want everyone to be treated. Forget about "god" for awhile and start living out the being made in the image thereof and treat everyone fairly.

Gretchen said...

After reading your blog post the other day I heard this story on NPR. Very interesting.