Deconstruct Patriarchal Culture Within Religion
Going back to Plato and Aristotle, the Western mindset operates under a dualism that separates spirit and matter and creates a hierarchy in which anything close to spirit is of a higher existence and anything close to matter is of a lower existence. Historically this belief system has been applied to consider men as higher, closer to spirit and God, and women as lower, closer to matter and Earth. (Skin color is also part of the hierarchy; being white is considered higher than being of color.) This has contributed to the construction of patriarchy and capitalism, in which women were placed under men in every aspect of life. Consequently women have worked harder and been paid less throughout history.
One example of this ontology that values women less than men is how the Judeo-Christian tradition interprets creation. God created man and then God created woman out of man’s ribs, which makes the creation of woman secondary to that of man. This has become the hegemonic interpretation of the genesis of humanity, but feminist theology can reverse this doctrine. Instead of God creating man and then woman, God first created the earth, then life, plants, animals, man and, finally, woman. In this sequence, creating man is just part of God’s practice for making human beings since each of God’s successive creations is more divine. But the traditional interpretation creates a religious imagination that contributes not only to women’s economic poverty but also to their broader second-class status. The reason it is acceptable for women to be paid less is one symptom of this flawed order. Because you are a woman or a person of color, you are ontologically lesser than a white man, and therefore your work is of lower value. This flawed ontology is not unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition; unfortunately, many of the world’s religious traditions contribute to the secondary state of women in their societies.
At the same time, women in every culture, society and religion around the world are waking up as they recognize that the most powerful transformations come from within their own traditions. Rather than discarding their religious beliefs, women have discovered that their scripture and theology may have always had instructions providing for women’s rights, or that there is room for a more democratic and egalitarian reinterpretation. For example, a new spirit of radical egalitarianism has helped to reinterpret Buddhism and Christianity by positing that there is no male and no female, and that we are all equal sisters and brothers in this creation.
Inspired by the feminist understandings of their traditions and cultures, women have started to claim their rights in the workplace and at home. Through advocacy, women can now own land and businesses in many places of the world. In issues of law regarding the family, employment, violence and inheritance, women have achieved major changes in policies and people’s consciousness. Clearly a more feminist interpretation of institutionalized religion has improved the everyday economic lives of women around the world.
Deconstructing patriarchal culture and rediscovering a more egalitarian view is much more effective at making change than using the secular notion of human rights to scold traditional religious communities. It is critical for women to claim their rights out of their own traditions and communities. We have to fight the secular feminist notion that religion is among the most harmful forces to women. Many women in faith communities have found that faith and feminism are not contradictory. Indeed, faith and feminism can work together very well. If you really believe the true and original message of your religion, you should become a feminist!