…and his readers have a lot to say! Kristof posted this on his blog in December, which I cross-posted and responded to and it now suddenly seems there’s more to say. Just from his NY Times column today, 217 comments have generated on his blog, providing a heated forum for religious feminist thought.
Kristof writes, “Religions derive their power and popularity in part from the ethical compass they offer. So why do so many faiths help perpetuate something that most of us regard as profoundly unethical: the oppression of women?”
And here are some of my favorite answers from his blog:
“It’s not the religion that holds women back. The principles are clear. It’s the interpreters, who happen to be men, of those principles. Same goes for wars and taking care of the poor. In general, people don’t practice what they preach.” – Thomas Huynh (sunshi.com)
“The problem is that, in most traditional societies, women have no economic and political power. Until such circumstances change, even the most vigorous efforts by religious leaders to change the situation of women will not take root. The role of women will change when women are economically empowered.” – Robin T.
“The oppression of women has been taking place well before Jesus, Moses or Abraham walked the Earth. Instead of singling out religion, it should be pointed out that human society for thousand years all over the earth has been complicit in the oppression of women.”
“As long as a religion posits a gender for a single “God” and specifies that this gender is male, it’s impossible for that religion to be deeply empowering for women.”
And as for my own response…
It is my belief that religion is often culturally-based and dependent on context and interpreters. As an active Jewish feminist, I have witnessed from the sidelines extremist Orthodox Judaism. From the outskirts of Meah Sharim, an ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) neighborhood in Jerusalem, I saw little girls leaning out of a shattered schoolhouse window and the disparities in education do not stop at poor facilities. They extend to girls not being able to be taught Torah or most aspects of Judaism and boys spending all their time studying Jewish texts that they are often not taught math and science. After a primary “education,” girls have few work and study prospects and are often forced to reside within their enclosed communities under the rule of a patriarchy that believes every centimeter of skin must be fully covered in 110 degree weather.
That said, the majority of modern Judaism does not inherently oppress women and I think this can be said for a lot of other religions. I believe that in the cases in which women are oppressed, religion is used as a false scapegoat for sexism. It is up to counter-movements and reforms within those religions to right those wrongs.