Part 1. Part 2.
male dominated monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam
have had a profound effect on women's lives up to and including the
Sexism, meaning the degrading of women to second class status is rooted in these religions. Woman was supposedly created as an afterthought from Adam's rib. Her role established in the scriptures as temptress, whore, foot-washer and domestic servant, unclean during menstruation and untouchable until ritual cleansing after childbirth.
The religions themselves practice overt discrimination against women within their own institutions. They are run by men for men. Christianity has it's female icon, Mary, in the lower ranks where their services are needed women are tolerated within a supposedly celibate environment, to help the male hierarchy and in the past Convents provided 'accommodation' for upper class women away from the hubbub of secular life. It also needs them to perform primary indoctrination for young children and run services that bind people to the church at local level.
Latterly as the difficulty of recruiting enough men to fill the posts of clergy, some religions have bowed to pressure from religious women who want to become priests, but their attitudes to women still prevent many women from having freedom of choice and opportunity.
A Woman's Right to Choose - Fertility and Sexual Health
The rules of religion enshrined in law, affect women's lives even the lives of those who do not subscribe to those beliefs. Limiting a woman's right to control her own fertility, her sexual activity, and economic independence prevents her ability to exercise freedom of choice.
Birth Control and Abortion
Healthy family life depends upon the right to choose the number of children that can be supported, by the parents in the environment and conditions in which they live.
The Catholic Church seeks to prevent effective contraception and its policy of banning abortion takes a woman's control over her own body out of her own hands. Even now in Britain decisions are, in the last resort, in the hands of doctors, and where Catholic ideology influences local decisions, facilities are restricted. Catholic doctrine does not only apply to, or affect Catholic women, but all women in countries that bow to the influence of Catholics. The Vatican and Evangelical Christians also pressure the UN, preventing the funding of health and population control programmes in developing countries where they include contraception and abortion facilities.
Catholic determination to prevent the need for contraception and abortion, leads them to oppose the availability of full and objective information on sexual activity, contraceptive methods, and pregnancy counselling.
They have the misguided and patronising attitude that if women and girls are denied information the problem will go away. They think that the threat of pregnancy will deter women from unprotected sexual intercourse in the first place, and that in the event of unwanted pregnancy independent unbiased counselling about their options will automatically lead to abortion. This leads to all the evils associated with unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy.
Catholics are at the forefront of a continuing battle against women's rights to choose early safe termination of unwanted pregnancies. In the past thousands if not millions of women have died from late, or septic abortions and multiple pregnancies.
'What does the Bible Say About Abortion' by Anne Nicol Gaylor
n's Health Matters
Women's Health Matters
The attitudes to sex - that sex outside marriage, for pleasure and not for procreation, is sinful, strongly affects sex education policy and contributes to the ignorance of sexual matters that leads to a high rate of teen-age pregnancy, ill health and infertility in women by causing tubal infection.
It has led to guilt and repression over bodily functions and sexual activity. Attitudes that have blighted the lives of both men and women, and the genital mutilation of young women is one of the most abhorrent results of perverted superstitious sexual abuse still practiced.
Women on every continent have suffered massive unnecessary gynaecological disease from STDs because of the Catholic Church's ban on barrier methods of contraception which would have afforded them protection.
In Catholic Ireland, surgical techniques were devised to enable women to bear children when this had proved hazardous, it's intention to prevent them from resorting to contraception. These treatments caused lifelong pain and disablement to many women. This practice is only now coming out into the open as some of them seek compensation from these supposedly government sanctioned treatments.
The pressures on women have caused not only physical health problems, but mental ill health, psychological trauma and neurosis, through the stress and anxiety of personal guilt, low self esteem and family breakdown.
Population Control, Poverty and HIV/AIDS
Men, women and children in their thousands are dying too because of the prevention of population control programmes. Women deplete their own health by having babies which die from starvation. People in developing countries, faced with hostile climatic change and the pressures of global capitalism, are unable to provide themselves with food and fuel, and are driven to denude the land, in vicious circle of poverty and starvation.
Millions of women and their children have died and are dying now from Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the developing world, now most notably in the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. Superstitions regarding the curative powers of having sex with virgins among some African men, and the Roman Catholic campaign to prevent the use of condoms, on the ground in individual countries and through the UN funded health programmes has continued significantly to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
US hostility to China, much of it based on its resistance to Christian missionary activity which they consider subversive), as well as their ideological opposition communism, does not recognise the value of it's serious attempts to limit population growth and its attempts to prevent the traditional attitudes that lead to the killing of girl babies. Global capitalism sees China as one huge potential market and appears to care little for the ecological price to be paid for the exploitation of that potential.
Elitism Education and Exclusion
Until recent times women were excluded from other than primary education. Higher education, the professions, and decision making institutions were until a mere hundred years or so, closed to them. Imagine how much more advanced education, literature, medicine, science would have been had not half the population not been excluded! How much more balanced would have been the progress had not so much effort been expended in glorifying god, and fighting wars which must be at least partly explained by male domination, and more spent on health, education and welfare for everyone.
The purpose of education was seen by the religions initially as for religious purposes, not secular ones, and promotion of religious belief is still central to their mission. In Muslim countries children are taught to know the Koran by heart. In religious schools in the UK children are schooled in their religions, taught their religion's version of history and ideology. Their attitudes to women's place in the world, and what is expected of them is high on their list of objectives. One of the major objections now being recognised by ethnic minority activists in the UK is the extent to which segregation of their children into sectarian schools, subordinates them to their conservative 'leaders'. Women and girls in particular are pressured to accept aspects of their religious culture that they find oppressive, as do many Catholic women and girls. Separation from the wider community of other women and girls, means that they are less able to assert their own ideas.
The academic elitism, demeans the less clever and considers them and their effort as of lesser worth than those of men. The supposed inferiority of the uneducated leads to notions of supremacy, racism and xenophobia. And women's lowly role was and is maintained by refusing them education and further reinforced by denying them employment outside the home. It also affects attitudes to their services as carers and nurturers within the home and family.
Women and Work
The traditional conservative religious view of the role of women as being within the home, serving the needs of their men, looking after the children, doing the chores, and not as individuals with rights and aspirations of their own outside this arena has seriously limited women's lives.
They have not been regarded as of equal intellectual or creative status as men, nor deserving of any right to expect any other roles in life, much to the detriment of the professions, arts and development of science.
It has resulted in the assumption that work traditionally done by women for free, should be done for free, or if pay is necessary, it should be as little as possible. So child care, cooking, cleaning, waiting, nursing etc. remain poorly valued and low paid and remain so. An extension of this is the assumption that cooking, sewing, and many creative activities done by women are domestic and recreational, when done by men are elevated to 'serious activity' - chefs, tailors, poets, painters and potters! Hence the apparent paucity of women in 'top' jobs or 'top' artists, regardless of the time taken out by childbearing and domestic chores done for the rest of the family by most women.
Employment outside the home is still severely curtailed in some Muslim countries, but even in 2002 Britain women are still unable to attain equal treatment, promotion and pay in the workplace. There are still many people men and women who think that a woman's place is at home looking after her husband and 2.4 children. Despite considerable pressure from intelligent, educated women, and the men who support their cause, the problems associated with getting men to take on their fair share of child care, part time working, and domestic responsibilities still present insurmountable obstacles for many women.
Crime and Punishment
Another area in which women have suffered at the hands of religion is in the field of punishment, The punitive attitudes of the 'upright conservative Christian' ethos have shaped our penal system at all levels, regardless of the occasional penal reformers who may have also been Christians.
Specifically, women are punished for offending against religious sexual mores: rules that apply to women but not to men, and which are used as an excuse for institutionalised violence against women. Prostitution is a typical example of punitive attitudes to women but not to their clients. Driven underground by these attitudes and the law that results from them, and into the hands of pimps and organised crime, prostitution becomes a sleazy, exploitative business, riddled with guilt, drugs, disease and violence. If it were regulated and the women treated as sex workers, an essential part of the lives of many people it would be stripped of most of the worst aspects of its current practice.
The implementation of 'justice' and 'punishment' for criminal activity impinges more harshly on women than on men. Partly because it is overwhelmingly implemented my men. People who choose to mete out 'justice' and those who choose to work in the field of implementing punishment (and they are mostly men), are rarely the sort of people who consider or care about the effect their judgements have on families, effects that traumatise children and have effects long into the future.
Not only are women more harshly treated when they fall foul of the law themselves because of the offence caused by women who dare to offend against their stereotypes, but as the dependants of male offenders they and their children are more likely to suffer as a result of harsh penal policy.
Because women have different strategies in dealing with abuse from men who can rely on their superior strength they often do not receive the benefit of the sympathy given to the spontaneous violent crime born of anger.
The roots of prejudice against homosexual people has its origins in the religions which insist against all reason that it is 'sinful'. Persecution of male homosexuals is well documented and they still suffer discrimination, stigma, harassment and violence at the hands of covert homophobics as well as attacks from overtly homophobic thugs. Lesbianism has never been a crime in Britain although attempts have been made to make it so. They do however experience discrimination and ridicule even if they have been spared prosecution.
Why are the religions so against homosexuality? Because it challenges their belief that marriage, ordained by god and controlled by the church, is the only institution in which to raise children and denial of the equal status of men and women.
1) Marriage, consecrated only by the church was the only way for god-fearing people to have children. It further reinforced this by ensuring that marriage could only be legal if carried out by a priest. To have children outside marriage meant punishment, stigma and social rejection and poverty. This gave them enormous power over people's lives, and especially women's lives.
2) A sexual relationship between two men or two women challenges their ideology that sexual relationships are only be acceptable for procreation and therefore between a man and a woman.
3) A two man partnership challenges the notion that there should be a superior and inferior partner. A man and a woman. That a man somehow takes on a woman's role within a partnership demeans men's preordained superior role within the family, in their eyes.
4) That two women can create as good a partnership as one without a man is inconceivable to sexists. A two woman partnership challenges the notion that there must be a male partner for it to 'work'.
Religion's grip has gradually been loosened by the demands of a more rational liberal and humanitarian population, and the evils of guilt and fear, prejudice and discrimination against homosexuals, same sex couples, unmarried mothers and children born out of wedlock are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
The process is not yet complete, and as with any radical social change (and it has been a rapid change) it will take time for the laws and institutions created under the restrictive doctrines of the past to adjust to the new freedoms that people can achieved in a secular state.
Women and Violence
Institutionalised violence is frequently practised against women. Until recent times, a man was allowed to chastise his wife 'within limits', and until a matter of a few years ago, attacks on women in the home however severe, were treated as 'domestic violence' and not considered cause for police intervention. The use of this euphemism and the stigma attached to women who 'allowed themselves' to be beaten, or 'deserved' ill treatment, served to hide a whole world of abuse of women by their husbands or partners. The amount of such abuse must have been well known to Catholic priests who were in the habit of hearing confessions!
Although there were refuges for women in the 19th century, only in the 1970s did the opening of refuges to which battered women could flee become widespread. The assertive action of the feminists who exposed the extent of this violence towards women, gradually led society to challenge the age old acceptance of wife beating. Public and police eventually came face to face with domestic violence and deemed it unacceptable.
The Christian religion has a long history of oppression of women. Women bore the brunt of the superstition, misogyny, throughout the Catholic Inquisition in Europe, and the puritan fanaticism in the 15th and 16th centuries, when many were hunted down as 'witches'. They were persecuted, imprisoned and hanged for being possessed by the devil, old women and a few children and men were hounded by the 'Great Witch finders' most notably in Cambridgeshire and East Anglia, events that have since been well chronicled. A pattern that was to be repeated in Salem village, US, now well known from Arthur Miller's play 'The Crucible'.
Within living memory women were punished for sexual misdemeanours, their children taken away and they themselves put into institutions for the mentally ill for 'moral turpitude'. Many of these cases came to light in the mass closure of mental institutions in the 1980s by the Thatcher government. Action that threw thousands of institutionalised men and women onto the streets and into bed and breakfast accommodation, euphemistically called 'care in the community'.
In the 'Magdalen* Laundries' of Ireland women and young girls who became pregnant out of wedlock were harshly treated by the women of the church of Rome, the 'Brides of Christ'. Their babies were taken away from them and they were stigmatised if word got out that they had 'illegitimate' babies. Only now are we becoming fully aware of the excessive cruelty, mental, physical and sexual abuse inflicted on vulnerable children, and young adults at the hands of priests and nuns in these institutions, Industrial Schools and Convent schools. Orphans and abandoned children, children with physical or mental disabilities in need of care found themselves in 'homes' that were far from home like, treated with great cruelty by the 'fathers', 'brothers', 'mothers' and 'sisters' of the church.
Amazingly these institutions existed well into the 1960s. Such is the control exerted by the religions over their believers that only now are the excesses of their systems of harsh religious control coming to light as is the even more widespread extent of child sex abuse by priests in Europe and the US.
* (Magdalen meaning 'a reformed prostitute' or 'a reformatory for prostitutes from Mary Magdalen' CED)
But it is Islam that currently outrages civilised peoples with its harsh and cruel punishments for sexual 'crimes', and insubordination. Women have been stoned for adultery, their word is not recognised in courts of law, if they dare bring charges of rape they risk being accused and punished for adultery themselves. Women are still being made to marry against their will, and if they marry against the wishes of their fathers or brothers, they can be banished from the family into destitution, attacked and mutilated and even killed by their male relatives.
Women's freedom of movement has always depended upon her position in society and relative to her dependence upon her male relatives. Her presence in public has always been constrained by her role as secondary to a man. Even today many women would feel out of place in some public places without a male escort. And many men still see a lone woman in public as signalling her availability if not actually inviting their sexual attentions.
There are still clubs and institutions that bar women, with or without a male escort, The Freemasons, 'gentlemen's' clubs and golf clubs and the MCC still discriminate against women, not on the grounds that they do not have a relevant interest in the activities or services offered, but only because they are not male.
In many Muslim countries women still do not feel safe to go out in public without wearing the Burka for fear of 'inflaming men's lust', or even not allowed out in public without permission of a male relative, and are not allowed to drive. The dowry system puts pressure on women and is a form of payment.
Lest we are tempted to smugness, it is only a matter of decades since British women had to give up paid work outside the home on marriage, could not raise a mortgage or borrow money from a bank in their own right. Women could not enter university, or vote, and until the Married Woman's Property Act in 1882, which allowed married women to keep all personal and real property acquired before and during marriage, all their property became the property of their husband on marriage.
Women and the Family
It is in this arena that health and contraception, punitive attitudes, notions of inequality and the subservient role of women, restrictions on employment and freedom come together.
Religious strictures on divorce still keep many Jewish and Catholic women and all women where divorce laws are dictated by these religions in unhappy marriages.
The 'Woman on a Pedestal' and 'Statutory Woman'
Women throughout history have been sidelined, their role to service men, regarded as possessions to be bought and sold, to entertain and produce male heirs. Except the very few who have been elevated to symbolic male status - as an icon. In this syndrome, a woman, by birth, by chance, by personality, ability or ambition, are placed at the top of often the most overtly sexist organisations, and political parties so that those organisations can say "There you are, we have a woman at the top so we cannot be sexist".
The religions have their icons, saints and above all the virgin herself. All male dominated societies in which women are suppressed have their female icons, Queen, Princess or President. Countries, corporations, families in which women are treated as second class, will sport a 'top' woman.
Every male organisation, corporation, government will also have its 'statutory woman' in order to be able to say that it is not all male. Such women are carefully chosen, they are often not people who fight for equality. They are encouraged to assume that they are there by right or just deserts, and they may indeed be talented women, they do not however appear to realise that they are being used at least in part to maintain the subservient role of their sisters. Unfortunately they are usually keen to ensure that they stay firmly on their pedestal, it confirms to them the very understandable pleasure of seeing themselves as 'special' or even as representative of all women.
Part 2 of this site is an interim discussion and definitions - CLICK Lnks
Part 3 is a personal audit of the gender balance in the Secular Humanist movement Not currently available
Article - 1. Pseudonyms and the Gender Thing
Women Without Supersition;No Gods No Masters"
by Annie Laurie Gaylor ISBN 1-877733-09-1
Alternative text-only version
'37 Religious Reasons to Hate Women'
Wafa Sultan - Debating Islamic Cleric
Illicit Sex and the God Machine
When the Institution of Religion Reinforces Sexism - Melissa B. Gutierrez