Why Do Religions Treat Women So Shabbily?

Or, indeed, do they? I am no expert in religions; in fact, I know as little of them as I can get away with. But my impression is that most if not all major religions treat women as second- or third-class citizens, and some like slaves.

Why is this? Is it true across the board? What’s the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Wicca, Hindu, Buddhist take on this?

I think that a better question might be: ‘why did ancient cultures treat women so badly?’

It seems to me that religious doctrine is simply a product of culture. Just as modern egalitarian religious movements are a product of our own culture.

Whatever the ‘divine truth’ being espoused, inevitably, the nuts and bolts obligation/prohibition structure mirrors that of the founding culture. People can only be faulted for taking 2000+ year religious laws as good advice for today.

I’d recommend reading The Preindustrial City: Past and Present by Sjoberg. Basically, it is/was nearly universal for preindustrial city societies to repress women as a means of keeping the upper class as the upper class. I don’t recall the argument specifically, off hand. Anyway, if religions codify social rules, then I would suspect that they’d reflect those rules.

That’s my guess. Hope it helps.

Most if not all societies throughout world history have treated women as second or third class citizens, and some like slaves. Full equality for female and male citizens only began to come about in democratic and socialist countries in the last 50 to 75 years. Religions tend to be culturally conservative, so it’s not surprising that their views of gender equity would take longer to change.

However, such changes are most certainly taking place. Many Protestant denominations permit female clergy, even at the highest levels, and so do some sects of Judaism, I believe. Even many religions that don’t allow women to fill traditionally male roles are advocating greater gender equity in other respects.

Um, because they were founded by men? Just guessing here.

Another good question might be: “Why are so many people wedded to the theological beliefs of ancient cultures?”

Actually, that’s incorrect.

I just finished reading this book by a scholar named Daniel Brown, but I can’t remember the name of it offhand.

Apparently, every religion in the world revered the “sacred feminine” and women in general until the founding of the Catholic Church. The founders of the Catholic Church decided that it hated women, and so instituted the stamping out not only of women’s rights, but also of the idea of the “sacred feminine” so that it could more easily oppress women.

Basically, no religion treats women shabbily except the Christian religion, and that’s due to the misogynistic tendencies of the Catholics in particular.

I don’t think their is a single “Christian” take, or a single “Jewish” take, etc. All of those religions are actually rather diverse groups. You’ll be able to find Christian groups that view women as less then men, and you’ll be able to find Christian groups that view them as equals. FWIW, most of the full-time priests at church I go to are women, and I haven’t seen any indications of them being treated as second class citizens, at least in my congregation…

Reform Judaism is definately not in this camp. Women are equal to men in every regard. In fact, a certain doper’s mother happens to be the rabbi at a local synagogue, which is pretty cool. ;j


All this time I thought there were Catholics behind those burkas…

Neurotik: Apparently, every religion in the world revered the “sacred feminine” and women in general until the founding of the Catholic Church.

Is this a whoosh? Because women and men were most definitely not of equal status among the Jews of the Old Testament, for example, nor among Hindus and Buddhists, nor among polytheistic Greeks and Romans, nor in any other major pre-Catholic society I can think of.

Yes, most if not all ancient religions seem to accord some reverential status to the “sacred feminine” or “mother goddess” or what have you (and in fact the Catholic Church with its Marian cult partakes of this tradition). But that doesn’t mean that the cultures that practiced these religions gave men and women equal rights, nor that the religious laws prescribed equal rights for them.

Jesus was surrounded by women during His ministry and crucifixion. While almost all the men were denying and dispersing, women were tending to Him. It was a woman who was the principal in His famous “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” lesson. It was a woman whom He cited as loving Him perfectly by cleansing His feet with her tears. It was a woman to whom He first revealed He was the Messiah. It was a woman whom He cited as the exemplary listener. It was women who were the first to see His resurrected body, and a woman who reported it to the cowering men.

In the West, institutional religious misogyny predates the Catholic Church. In Britain, historians point to Boadicea’s defeat and humiliation at the hands of Roman conquerors in the first century BCE, replacing a female-friendly Goddess religion with the Roman pantheon.

BTW, when do you consider the Catholic Church to have been “founded”? Saint Paul’s misogyny is pretty well-docimented and Catholics claim him as one of their own (and regard St. Peter as the first Pope), but I thought Protestants didn’t regard the earliest Christians to be Catholic. The Church didn’t even call itself Catholic until the Council of Trent, circa 1550 AD.

I’m pretty sure Neurotik’s post was a facetious jab at The DaVinci Code. The scholar Daniel Brown indeed.

Liberal: Jesus was surrounded by women […]

True, but early Christianity, like other religions of the time, nonetheless reflected the patriarchal structure of society, certainly as early as the writings of St. Paul. I think the OP’s question is not whether the teachings and practices of individual religious leaders are always sexist, but why sexism is institutionalized in so many religions.

MPMK: I’m pretty sure Neurotik’s post was a facetious jab at The DaVinci Code.

Whew for dat. :slight_smile:

Well, part of it has to do with the fact that women are often seen as a sexual distraction. This is particularly the case with Islam.

Judaism certainly predates Catholicism and they seemed to have treated women as inferiors. What about the Greek pantheon? Certainly both Athena and Artemis were respected but both of them had to remain virgins and they were rather mannish in behavior (one being a hunter and the other being a warrior). Hera was respected but that’s because she was the perfect wife and never cheated on Zeus dispite his indiscretions. You can’t lay this at the feet of the Paul.

You FINISHED it? I haven’t been able to bring myself to finish his other book and I slogged through to within 35 pages of the end.

(pretending this isn’t a whoosh) And so the women of the Catholic Church created the Cult of Mary, AKA Isis, Lakshmi, and Minerva, bringing back the Sacred Feminine to the Roman Church.

Neurotik, wit that is too dry can cause someone to choke :smiley: But we would have expected that dropping Brown’s name would have been a hint. (OTOH: I am dismayed to no end by the number of otherwise moderately educated people I’ve run into who are swallowing that part of the novel hook, line, and sinker as a recount of real scholarship :eek: )
But back to the OP – I do see it as a cultural reinforcement of the development of the patriarchate. At some point, the males who were tasked with the protective function in the tribes decided that (a) since they had a great interest in ensuring that the offspring they protected were theirs and not their neighbors, the most straightforward way to do this was to ensure that the women were subjugated to them; and (b) since they were the ones at high risk of getting poked with spears or bashed with rocks, and highly skilled at poking and bashing others, they might as well be the ones in charge of policymaking. And how better to justify both than by saying the gods themselves decreed it so.

A Wiccan here. One of the major factors in the creation of our religion by Gardener, Clutterbuck, et al, was to return to the idea of a sacred feminine. Dianic Wicca – which is completely centred on the Goddess, usually without a God as complement – doesn’t even permit men to join. Most Wiccan groups I’ve been a part of, though, preach complete gender equality, and freedom from gender roles.

Thus it’s not surprising that Wicca has been traditionally more popular with women than with men, and very popular with queer people of either sex (or any in between).

To be fair, by the way, one of Christianity’s selling points in the very early days was that it was a lot nicer to women than the Roman pagan church and Roman society in general. Christianity attracted both women and slaves because of its egalitarian message. One of Paul’s Epistles (Corinthians?) is addressed to a religious community lead by a woman, IIRC.

I strongly suspect it was the Roman influence on Roman Catholicism that made it so sexist. As the church centralized, women lost a lot of ground.