Feminism and religion – can they co – exist?

This article in Ravishly got me thinking about feminism and religion or spirituality. Many religions – especially Christianity and Islam have come under fire in recent decades over how people, especially the leaders, view and treat women. There is no doubt that there has  been – and still are women treated atrociously in the name of religion – the sex slavery carried out by ISIS in the Middle East is an obvious modern day example. Earlier this year, Herald Sun columnist, Rita Panahi, herself of Iranian – Muslim background – now proclaimed atheist, slammed the celebration of the “burkini” in the Olympics, arguing that it was a form of oppression, and women in Islamic countries had no choice but to wear such restrictive garments. When the French government tried to ban the burkini across the French beaches, it was met with a push back from some Muslims. Columnist for “The Conversation”, slammed it as “politically convenient”. 

 

Christians haven’t escaped criticism. The “purity movement” that dominated American Christianity in the 1990’s and in Australia, trickled in some churches in the way of books, speakers, etc, has received a backlash from Christians and non – Christians alike. Organisations like the American Congress of Obstetrics even went as far as saying that people who grow up in such a culture of shame and are extremely misinformed about their bodies and sexuality during their development suffer similar symptoms to child sexual abuse and incest victims.

Due to strict views to warped views on sexuality and gender, many religions, including Christianity, have failed to protect women from domestic violence and have failed to bring justice to sexual abuse victims. Yazidis in Iraq have also had to reevaluate their views on virginity and sexuality after a number of women have escaped being captured and sold into sex slavery by Islamic State. Over the centuries, issues like modesty, the role of women in public life, the role of women in churches, (i.e. the great Catholic and Anglican divide) and the role of women in marriage are all topics that have plagued the Christian community in the West in one way or the other. Sound oppressive? I’ll let you make up you’re own mind.

Feminism vs religion

Issues like the ones I mentioned above, and issues such as the rights of women in regards to abortion are the barriers between feminists and those who claim a certain faith – especially those who are practising a conservative branch of that faith. It makes anti – sex work advocate, Melinda Tankard – Reist so polarising. Some people claim she’s a feminist, but yet, is conservative and pro – life. There has been a hostility between feminists and people who practice a faith – something that Ravishly columnist, Christine Stoddard, strongly criticises:

All that being said, I cannot stand when people bash, dismiss, and generalize (sic) religion, with no understanding or appreciation for people of faith. It’s true that religion is not perfect and it’s true how some people misinterpret religion is vile- just look at the Westboro Baptist Church and ISIS. But how can you say that the Catholic Church’s charitable refugee relief isn’t necessary? The Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration and the Movement of Peoples is beautiful.

As I pointed out above, Christians in particular are Christians themselves are starting to speak up about rights of people regardless of gender and even arguing using Scripture itself. People are starting to hit back at the sexism that has been, quite frankly, quite prevalent in some Christian circles. I think this has particularly come about because of the increasing of exposure of sexual, emotional, spiritual and physical abuse that both men and women have suffered at the hands of religious leaders, other people in their church or even spouses. Both conservative and progressive Christians are starting to have a frank, overdue discussion about how both men and women are to be treated. It needs to keep going.

Since the invasion of northern Iraq by ISIS, the Yazidis, who like Christians, have long held a traditional, black – and – white view about sex, have had to reevaluate their beliefs, especially on virginity. The traditional Yazidi view saw women who had “lost their virginity”, (i.e. had ANY form of sex, including rape), stigmatised and shunned by society.

So, can you be a feminist and religious? Well, maybe it depends hon who you interpret your branch of faith and what you view feminism to mean. But to me, if you believe in a God that created the universe and everything in it, including people, it’d make sense to stand up for the rights and dignity of all people.

Do you practise a religion or spirituality and do you identify as a feminist?

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