{Fri 6 April 2007}   The nakedly evil origins of ritual oppression of women

I’ve read three articles today on the oppression of women by patriarchal religions. It’s not news to me, of course, but the intensity of these outraged lists of the sins of human against human on the basis of genital differences forces me to face the fury and the fear that always lurk within.

Here are some examples of what in my view are blatantly evil and incredibly destructive religious precepts:

    “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast not made me a woman”
    (Sephath Emeth, p. 10).
    “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife”
    (Ephesians 5: 22-23).
    “Men are superior to women on account of the qualities with which God hath gifted the one above the other”
    (Koran 4:37).

What a disgusting “God” these quotes reveal! Who would want to worship, who could trust, such an insecure bully?

What on earth possessed the men who could institute a daily prayer thanking God that they’re not born female? How about not born stupid, or poor, or apelike, or with three legs, or something? Of course, any of these could cause offense to any being that happens to have these characteristics, so we’d not think of creating a new prayer like that now (at least, we wouldn’t do it in the UK), but because we’re so politically correct, we also wouldn’t challenge any religion that continues to promulgate this oppressive crap. Here’s a novel idea: how about thanking God for what you are, instead of for what you are not?

When one reads these, it is hard to understand how anyone can insist that religion is a good thing. The only people who benefit from it are men, and even this benefit is short-term and deceiving, because how can men truly be served by systems that encourage them to be less-than-human and that rob them of the possibility of living a truly fulfilled life that is enriched and balanced by the female principle, by honest, equal relationships with women?

The huge need to oppress women reveals an enormous fear of women. This cripples both sexes and ties us into continual battles with each other, when there are so many other issues on the planet that would benefit from our pouring all our energy jointly into their resolution instead.

Maybe there’s a poem here somewhere, but at the moment I just feel sick!

john says:

I don’t think it is stupid to elevate one sex above another. However, it is somewhat doctrinal–according to biblical doctrine that is.

Tia says:

You don’t think it’s stupid?

“how about thanking God for what you are, instead of for what you are not?”
What sage advise.

[…] has some observations of the religious roots of female oppression: I’ve read three articles today on the oppression of […]

April says:

You go girl, say it like it is!

john says:

Sorry for the short post, I was busy and needed to get a word in; however, I could not finish the comment. I think that oppressing or degrading a sex because of doctrinal superiority is bad. I do not think that the establishment of a superior sex is bad. The bible specifically (as you have demonstrated) states men as the governor over a marriage; it also teaches that men should be the only ones holding any ecclesiastical power. Now, I think that we should not complain about are position sexually. Men should respect women, and women should be obedient to men.

Thaddeus Gadfly says:

Hi Tia,

You are absolutely right. The quotes prove to me that the Bible was written by mortal men who existed in patriarchal Society. I doubt sincerely Jesus would share that sentiment. In fact, I doubt his teaching, the whole breadth of it, is in the Bible.

Thaddeus Gadfly

Tia says:

Fitness for the Occasion, April, Thaddeus Gadfly, thanks for your support!
John, thanks for contributing. I so deeply recognise your fervour and your conviction. I used to be a fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christian. For many, many years I believed and was surrounded by people who believed as you do. I used to study the Bible intensively and pray and intercede and preach and teach (shock!, horror!) and build churches and minister to the poor and hungry. While many of these activities are valuable in themselves, I now believe that all of them, when carried out by religious people, are corrupted by a value system that prioritizes one sex above another. We’re talking about the oppression of half the population of the earth by the other, when Christ is supposed to have set us free. As a man, you have no right to say in that self-satisfied way, that “we should not complain about our position sexually”. You indeed have nothing to complain about, in the present system. Your insensitivity on this point is outrageous. By the way, the Bible does NOT, anywhere, state that men should be the “governor” over a marriage. The Ephesians quote says “head”. This is open to many interpretations, as well as requiring careful considerations of the culture of the time in which it was used.

Tia says:

By the way, everyone, I would really urge you to read the newspaper articles that I quoted in my post, particularly the first one. They contain a lot of meat, but they are clear and well-written and not difficult to scan through.

john says:

The usage of loaded words is not necessary in this discussion. I think that we need to examine the bible if we are to understand the will of God. There are many scriptures that teach us Gods will concerning women’s and men’s place in this world (1 cor 12:8, 15:34) in *1 Tim 2:11-15 we learn God’s will concerning women and men.
Furthermore, we should not attempt to be-little the teaching of an omnipotent being, like God, by saying “well, that was for their time” or “that applies only to those people” if we took those statements to be true we could dismiss an omnisciently based teaching to be merely a social application. Thus, Christ and his teachings were vain.
There are natural sex-roles for both males and females. To complain about such roles is to complain against God’s desires, and natural law. So there are certain things that women must be content with, and there are certain things that men must be content with. I don’t agree with oppression of any sex! I merely think of it in the following way:
1. If God is omniscient, omni benevolent, and omnipotent, then everything he acts upon is absolute, sound, and valid
2. God is Omniscient etc…
3. The bible was acted upon by God
4. Thus, the bible and its teachings are absolute, sound and valid

Tia says:

Well, I would start with a little more humility around your very first premise… “if God is” that’s a very big if.
However, if he is,
and and if he is “omni” benevolent, etc… then it behooves us to find a way to interpret his messages to us in such a way that they do not contradict this perfect character.

Any God that I could believe in would not be petty, illogical and cruel, which is where blind acceptance of the Nicea-decided scriptures as the total and incontrovertible word of God inevitably leads us…

Your first premise is a huge proof in and of itself (and one of much interest). I could argue that your first premise alone indicates that humans are perfect in an absolute sense. He acts upon us, correct?

Premise 3 has nothing to support it. It never has. Can you prove this point? Are you going to appeal to some authority (well respected historians who watched God make people write the Bible for him)?

You cannot reach the conclusion of your proof. While the proof is valid, it is not in any way sound.

Tia, the first article is a great read, as it highlights the change from Goddess based religions (as Sally Jane notes), and how struggling between the two religious traditions may have provided some motivation for the sexism. I think the idea that religions thought of as pretty static and powerful today were once undergoing heavy changes and political struggles over the control of religious “truth” is a powerful one.

john says:

Well this is a logical proof in the form of a conditional statement. So “if is” is necessary- let me revise the soundness (especially if you claim) but if this is to hard for you to digest then here is a revised version:
1. God is omnipotent, omniscience, and omni benevolent.
2. Revelation is the act of receiving divine truth from God.
3. Divine truth is the principles of an Omnipotent, omniscient, and omni benevolent being.
4. The bible contains these divine truths.
5. Thus, the bible contains the principles of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omni benevolent being.
Now, as to the soundness of these principles… If you deny a premise you have to do the following: 1. Deny God’s attributes. 2. Deny the bible as Gods word or its validity thereof. 3. Deny the fact that revelations have occurred and consist of divine truths. So, the premise, from a traditional theist view, is sound and the proof is also valid.
Omni benevolence dose not comprise a necessary acceptance for equality of the sexes, Tia. Perhaps because God is Omniscient and omni benevolent, then women’s place in the world is because God has willed it.
I don’t quite understand why 3 in the original argument is under supported? The bible is commonly held and said to be the word of God (i.e. acted upon by revelation). So, it follows that 3 is true –unless, you deny the authenticity of the Bible. And yes God dose act upon us via the words in the bible. However, as we know men have free will (you should read: summa theologia) and things like the bible to act upon us so that we can use free will to be acted upon by god. The bible dose not requrie that becuase it is not a free being.

Tia says:

fitnessfortheoccasion, thanks for responding to John and then to me again. I felt too sad to take on the first task!

I am also fascinated by the idea of the struggle between the goddess religions and the patriarchal ones. It strikes me that, as so often happens, the excitement over a new truth probably led to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Have you read or heard of the theory that Abraham’s insights into the one God who was abstract instead of physical, his destruction of the idols and his leaving of Ur, as well as the avoidance of the sacrifice of Isaac, might have been reactions to his own experience of having been in line to be sacrificed to a goddess, which was apparently something that families had to do in Ur sometimes? It’s understandable that an intelligent man might question the wisdom of just letting this happen, to himself or anyone else, and the system that he constructed instead was revolutionary. However, he had to travel far from his roots to have any chance of doing things differently, and he presumably couldn’t return, so much of his original culture (not all of which was about child sacrifice) was lost. I’ve only encountered this theory once, from a really interesting guy I met in Israel many years ago, but the implications have continued to fascinate me.

Tia, the theory about Abraham’s motivations for founding a patriarchal religion were alien to me. How interesting! It can throw one for a loop how many times the seemingly insignificant actions of some can profoundly alter the paths of people who change history. And but of course on both tasks!

john, why 3 isn’t supported…. You do recognize that there are other religions, right? Some that are not based on the Christian Bible?

the form of premise 1 wasn’t hard to digest, the content was. But onto your new proof!
I can easily start by attacking premise 4. How do we know for certain the Bible contains revealed truths? You aren’t even including an appeal to authority. You are just stating.
Your conception of divine truth is also problematic. So divine truth is simply the principles of God? Might divine truth also be thought of as the nature of reality? Or the nature of one’s soul?
Also, what if revelation is simply the act of recognizing a divine truth, rather than receiving it?

Carmen says:

Hi Tia,

I am contacting you regarding a blog survey I am conducting. I am a Ph.D. candidate in Mass Communication at Penn State and my dissertation project consists of a survey that looks at women bloggers’ perceived motivations for and effects of their blogging.

I am sending the survey to a number of bloggers, and I would like to invite you to participate in it as well. Participation should take approximately 15 minutes of your time. I would appreciate it tremendously if you would be willing to take the survey. If you decide to do so, please follow the link below:


I would be very happy to share the findings of my study with you once it is completed!

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Thank you in advance,


nic paton says:

Tia – I honour your rage. There is a time to be angry, to protest. Feeling the injustice of it with your whole being is the honest thing to do.

When the time comes, you can take stock, and with deep motivation, analyse the situation. Look at ways in which others have suffered injustice, away from the female issue. With your considerable powers of analysis, you can start to rebuild. I dont think anger is a destination, but its an essential part of the journey.

I perceive a new view on life and on G-d, an eclisping of the patiriarchial monolithic orthodoxies which have resulted in the situation where women are seen to be inferior to men. There are new streams of vision where the sacred feminine is given its due, that excites me.

I think you are a part of that view.

All other contributers, especially John – I highly commend the fact that you are discussing this, despite deep differences. The fact that you have not (I hope) backed away because of the heat! As too often happens, there is no real anthithesis in a discussion, and an air of unreality starts to synthesise yet another wooley myth, without the essential aspects of real encounter… this is proper spiritual evolution.

As the gym instructor says, Work it, work it, feel the burn…

[…] May I remind the Reverend that his argument holds no water in a secular nation?  Who cares if a holy book says the first woman sinned in some way?  I do not believe in that holy book, why should any other American?  There is no reason to base our laws on it, and referring to it does nothing to help his argument.  It just reinforces the idea that some mainstream religions have misogynist roots. […]

McInfidel says:

1. Who is “the reverend”?
2. Which nation is secular?
3. You do not believe in a holy book. So?
4. What have Americans got to do with anything?
5. Why do even the best intentioned Americans constantly think the world revolves around them?
6. Is “The Abortion Debate: Individual Rights vs Theocracy « Fitness for the Occasion” you real name or just a online name? Don’t get me wrong, I think its very nice. Can we maybe shorten it to TADIRTHFOCC?

kac says:

Had I lived at almost any other time and place than I do, I too would thank God if I were a man and not a woman. Birth control is the biggest factor in freeing women from oppression. Secular rule of law is the second biggest. I don’t quite understand why oppressing women has been the foundation of so many religions — other than, perhaps, saddled the inability to control pregnancy and number of children, women are easy victims. Indoctrination of the new members of society (children) is the way you change a society, so if you can manage to bring up a large enough group of human beings believing whatever doctrine you’re promulgating, you can gain control in a generation (less if you add mass killing to the formula). This can’t be done without gaining control of the women first, since they are the first educators of children. Plain and simple, women around the world will not be free until they have freedom to determine if and when they will birth children and how many. When women control pregnancy, then the rest of the freedoms can gain momentum. Birth control is where the fight over women’s worldwide freedom is – plain & simple. Laws alone will never do it.

Tia says:

Nic, thanks for your comments. Strangely, although I think I know and trust your heart, I’m a bit offended by your suggestion that I should look at the way “others” have suffered, away from the “female issue”. In the context of the current conversation, this comes across as just another not-so subtle form of dismissal by a male, suggesting that my anger is somehow disproportionate and that when I calm down I’ll see things the way the wise (men) do. I experience this as patronising and insulting. I doubt whether any woman could distance herself from “the female issue” in that way. If we lived in a society where our maleness or femaleness genuinely made no difference, it might be possible, but while the inequality and disempowerment of women persists, there is no time when rage is not appropriate. When Jesus threw the moneylenders out of the temple, he didn’t wait until his rage had passed. His rage gave him power and focus. The temple of femininity, and the bodies (spirit-temples) of all women are still being desecrated daily in all societies and cultures.

Tia says:

Fitness for the Occasion – I went to your blog and read the article you quoted from here. Thanks, I do see the relevance – perhaps McInfidel didn’t realise that it was just a quote from a much larger article?

I must say that even for those who believe in a holy book, the idea that because a woman was first to sin, all subsequent women should be subject to her same punishment is just ridiculous. Even the Bible only threatens that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children to the third and fourth generations. Why shoud the sin of the Mother be visited on all female generations ad infinitum? Modern societies have done away with the better-supported biblical principle that the firstborn son should inherit everything, on the basis that it is unfair, as well as detrimental to society. We recognise that the “first” one has not actively done anything more meritorious than his siblings just by being born, and by being born male. Similarly, the order of commission of sin is no indicator of more or less serious demerit. It doesn’t show anything other than who happend to be in a particular place at a particular time. Adam’s sin was no less grievous than Eve’s, and he even modelled for her the despicable sin of blaming and passing the buck. It has also been argued that she was the younger and less experienced partner and that he failed her by not being present to guide her at the moment of temptation, so his sin preceded hers. Alternatively, it has been argued that Eve was the more intelligent, perceptive and courageous of the two in following her instinct as the image of God to become more like God in her knowing… I treat all these arguments as questions of literary interpretation as there is absolutely no way of knowing whether they or the story itself have any basis whatever in reality, but the point is that even if your worldview is shaped by the Bible, intellectual honesty should not allow you to conclude from a very few culturally-specific verses and a few others that are wide open to interpretation that God intended for women to be second-class citizens.

Tia says:

Kac, I do agree that birth control is a huge factor for women, but I tend to think that the way to do it is to focus on men. Men are far more aggressive propagators of unwanted children than women are (and generally stronger than women, as anyone who has been raped knows only too well). Birth control should start with them and they should be criminalised if they engage in sexual activity without having taken adequate precautions. This would put the responsibility where it really belongs as well as preventing conception much more effectively than female treatments, and would avoid the whole issue of abortion altogether. The technology now exists to make these treatments reversible, or to freeze sperm so that future generations are provided for even if men choose not to become fertile again.

Ummm, that’s just a pingback. You might want to check out
the post itself for the answers to your question,
as well as fabulous prizes!

I agree that laws alone will not change views,
we are talking about very deeply set beliefs.
I don’t know whether reproductive rights are really
the first step, but it is certainly up there.

I hope that is the case, yes.

Thanks for posting that on my blog as well. It is a very
interesting argument to make.

I think the point of the modest proposal regarding
male reproductive rights was to highlight how unjust the ones
controlling women are. How men who are fine with controlling
women will balk at controlling themselves. That being said,
I can see the slogan…
Protect Roe v Wade or we snip ’em!

Nic Paton says:

if you are offended by my support for your life, then all i can say is you seem to be in a perpetual state of offendedness. no empathy seems enough. i’m reaching out to you as a man as best i can.

there are many things in this world that cause suffering, we all feel them. your issue is one of them.

Tia says:

Hey Nic, I think your reaction is a bit extreme. Of course I’m not offended by your support for my life. I deeply appreciate it. I was very specific about what offended me. I said “I’m a bit offended by your suggestion that I should look at the way “others” have suffered, away from the “female issue”.” and went on to explain that I found the concept of “the female issue” very dismissive. I would have thought, if you truly are interested in supporting my life, that you’d be interested to know how the language that you use triggers pain in me (and, I’m sure, in many other women). I would be glad to know the same from you.

Nic Paton says:

We seem to be hearing each other’s extremes.

I can see how the term “female issue” might be seen as a sanitised, institutionalised label for what is no doubt a deep well of pain. For that I am sorry.

By saying “When the time comes, you can take stock, and with deep motivation, analyse the situation. Look at ways in which others have suffered injustice, away from the female issue”, I do not ask you to compromise or dishonour your feminine identity, nor do i intent to belittle your struggle by giving it a name.

My intention was rather to say that i envision a place of feminine power that will emerge after anger, and in the light of the larger Suffering. I do not belittle your anger, but do feel that you can’t build on anger alone.

Tia says:

Thanks, Nic. I agree with you. However, I’d like to note that I don’t believe “the female issue” is on a par with other issues like opression, slavery, torture, hunger, thirst, spiritual pain, etc. Being female should not be a disease – for half the world’s population it is an intrinsic aspect of the nature of their being. All humans experience (or are capable of experiencing) these awful sufferings, yes, but a female inescapably experiences them differently from the way a male does and, when her femaleness IS considered a disease, suffers doubly as it is targeted or exploited in the course of these other pains. The experiencer can never be separated from her gender identity (and I am not talking here about sexual orientation, but about genital endowment and all the related physiology, with all the social and cultural issues that attach to these). It is usually whites who tell blacks not to be so colour-conscious, and it is also usually men who tell women not to be so gender-conscious. Even when the speaker intends to help, his unconsciousness of his own relative rank as an expression of the dominant way of being can cause harm. It is easy for him (at least sometimes) not to be conscious of these issues. The oppressed have no choice but to be conscious of these issues all the time, because they experience discrimination or its effects daily, in ways that the relatively unoppressed do not even notice.

Vilma Kovitch says:

It is the misinterpretation of things no matter what they are, that leads to conflict. I cannot comment on what I do not know, but I can say that as far as the “Hebrew prayer, that thanks god for not having been born a woman”, has been very misinterpreted. God handed down to Moses “Mitzvots” or “Blessings”. These are considered good deeds that we should try to perform in our lives. The list of Mitzvots are longer for a man than they are for a woman, many of the Mitzvots are actually the same for both genders. A Jewish man expresses his happiness and appreciation for the opportunity to connect to G-d by attempting to fulfill a set of obligations of which a small percentage are specific only to men, such as (circumcision). Women are just as exhaulted as men, we have many many matriarchs in Judaism. Queen Esther won the heart of a king and saved her people from slaughter.Ruth another matriarch was the Grandmother of King David. As a modern society, and as women especially we realize that this is a case of “THAT WAS THEN, And THIS IS NOW” We cannot ignore the fact that there have been women in history that have led nations when it was not considered the type of thing a woman could do. Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher. We’ve come a long way baby. If we keep our eyes closed all the time, we increase our chances of getting bruises.

Tia says:

Vilma, thanks for your comment. It would be helpful if you could describe the nature of the “misinterpretation” that you feel applies to the prayer. I was not able to understand whether your discourse on “mitzvot” applied to this or was a whole new thought. If there is a way of interpreting “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast not made me a woman” in a way that is equally as positive for women as it is for men, I’m sure that many people would be interested to hear about it.

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