Sexism is a Secularist Issue
Cruelty to women, their exclusion from public debate, low pay, employment opportunities and pensions, social policy on income and child support, religious opposition to sexual and reproductive rights, sex education, homophobia and the opposition of the religions to same sex relationships are all based on the religious notion of the inferiority of women and their dependence on men. Women’s role in life is defined as domesticity, service and entertainment, and not in public life, public debate and political and social decision making.
Few people seem to have realised that the religious opposition to gays has nothing to do with sex, what they think is religious doctrine, or even less what little is written in their scriptures. Strange as it may seem, it is based on the notion of the inferior status of women! For the male dominated organised religions, for us in the West, the Christian Church, it subverts their teaching that sex is only good between one man and one woman, within holy matrimony sanctioned by the church, and only for procreation not pleasure. Same sex relationships show this notion to be false
For two men or two women to have partnerships based on equality undermines the idea that one must have a marriage between a dominant (male) and submissive (female) partner. Until modern times wives were the property of their husbands, and this idea is still strong in other religions where women can be cruelly punished for disobedience.
Outside of this model sex is ‘illicit’ and sinful and to be punished, hence the cruelty towards women who have sexual relations out of wedlock (not of men you will notice). Anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-sex education, the stigma and poverty of illegitimacy and lone parenthood, are all aspects of this attitude. Christianity is the religion of the Poor Law and the Workhouse, the Industrial Schools and Magdalen Laundries.
Religious attitudes matter because they shape life today
These sexist attitudes inculcated by the religions over the centuries have also shaped the attitudes of many today towards welfare support, particularly income and child support, that reflect the notion of ownership by a man, of his wife and children rather than their rights as independent people within a community. Women’s work, pay and pensions are still grossly unfair and punitive. This state of affairs also reflects the assumption that women must rely on their husbands for their upkeep, and do not have equal rights as citizens and workers. As does the low pay for ‘women’s work’ cleaning, catering, caring that many still think should be done for free.
The old saying ‘You’ve made your bed and you must lie on it’ shows clearly the attitude that parenthood is seen as a punishment for illicit sex, as is the stigma and discrimination against homosexuals and those with other sexual orientations. And we in the west today are the lucky ones. Things are even worse for women under other religions around the world. In Muslim countries, Pakistan, the Middle East, the old Soviet Central Asian republics and some African countries where cruel punishment, abuse, maiming and killing, forced marriage, child marriage are still widespread.
And these prejudices and punitive attitudes and practices do not stop at the effect they have on the adults concerned, but punish the children of lone mothers, and young homosexuals, as well as their families. These hateful attitudes cause prudery, stigma and affect the health as well as the welfare of millions of people.
Gay rights are a secular humanist issue, they are also a feminist issue –
Because the prejudice and discrimination against women comes from the same source and affects women both straight and gay. Prejudice and discrimination against women, and minority groups such as homosexuals, have been shaped by the male dominated religions for very specific reasons to do with their need to control all aspects of people's lives.
It is no accident that almost the only opposition to the promotion of the rights of gays and women, in law and practice, comes from the organised religions. Nor is it surprising that they have not been promoted more vigorously by politicians who are afraid to oppose the religions because of pulpit pressure and now increasingly mosque pressure.
Yet for all this I rarely hear or read male gays or secularists promoting feminism or opposing sexism, in the way they oppose homophobia and promote gay rights, nor do some appear to recognise the way that women secularists promote gay rights along with other forms of prejudice.
Religious teaching and prejudice has led to discrimination against women every bit as harmful as discrimination against gays that has been in many ways more pervasive and wide ranging. It affects every aspect of their lives, relationships, jobs, social activities and the ability to communicate on an equal footing to men who still control most of the media.
Gays are now able to come out of the closet, women have never had the choice of hiding in a closet in order to avoid prejudice and discrimination against them or avoid the personal attacks of misogynists. Secular humanists male and female, straight and gay, should be recognising their common enemy.
The view of women as inferior to men allowed their exclusion from education until the beginning of the last century, and through that the professions, science, academia, administration, business and government and most other areas of public life.
They have suffered the effects of stereotyping and today still suffer injustice, cruelty and violence because of religious attitudes often eagerly applied to them by men. Our society has developed as unbalanced and even in the developed west women are still not accorded full rights over their own bodies, equality in the home or in the workplace.
That the rights of women, whatever their sexuality, should not be considered as of any importance by some secularists, is not acceptable.
Previous generations of women had to fight for the rights women have now, they were not given. Those women were derided and personally abused for their effrontery in demanding that they be treated as equal to men and things have not changed.
There are still many areas in which women are still demeaned and discriminated against.
At the beginning of November the International Humanist Women's Network was initiated at a conference on the 'Empowerment of Women' hosted by IHEU. Secular humanists attending from 16 countries, did not create this organisation because there was no need for such an organisation, they did it because there is still rampant sexism, prejudice and discrimination against women all around the world, in some countries and some religions considerably worse than others.
But it is not only the prejudice and discrimination of the religions that are in the sights of women secular humanists, but sexism wherever it is lurking, whether it is overt or covert, physical or psychological and not excluding our own movement if it proves to be necessary.