Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned
Is religion holding women down?
Nicholas Kristof thinks so. Although he alludes to it in his recent bestseller “Half the Sky,” he comes out swinging in a recent column.
Around the world, women are subjugated in social contexts that “religion has helped to shape, not pushed hard to change,” he says.
So whether an active oppressor or a tacit facilitator, Kristof points a finger at religion as an accomplice in not only oppression that women have overcome, but still have yet to supersede.
I mostly agree, but that, of course, does not mean religion doesn’t have redeeming value as a social justice mechanism.
Kristof’s post is short, but the ramifications of what he says are much broader. Though I don’t disagree with him (it’s hard, in the reproductive rights field, not to see the many ways in which religion has helped to oppress women), I suspect he doesn’t have all his facts.
I heard way too much feminist theology rhetoric in the halls of my divinity school to think that some of the more powerful, intelligent women scholars or theologians I know of might be immersed in a field that is, fundamentally, misogynist.
Then again perhaps there is something doubly empowering about mastering something that proposes you are not worthy or equal. Simone Weil, for example, was a radical human rights activist and feminist who found strength in Christian mysticism.
And I can’t help but remember the feminist philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s critique of Kristof’s “Half the Sky” chapter, called “Is Islam Misogynist?”:
“Their account of the religious history is too superficial to be useful. Nor do they give a systematic account of the wide range of contemporary movements that are both Islamic and feminist. Along the way, they feed some stereotypes that readers are all too likely to hold.”
– Martha Nussbaum
Finally Kristof offers a possible redemption for religion’s oppression of women, embodied in more “with it” religious leaders like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has so sensationally called himself a feminist. But I’ve already discussed that here.
I’m less interested in what Kristof has to say than what the fall out or implications might be, for this is a fascinating and necessary conversation to have. The comments readers have posted in response on his blog, are also worth the read, and help Kristof flesh out his somewhat slender argument.