Religion & Feminism: Mutually Exclusive?

anajune20104.jpgBy Emilia Ana Cosma (aka @HungryFeminist), feminist, student.

Disclaimer: I am a woman, I am a feminist, and I am a bleeding heart liberal.

Yes, I personally do believe in some sort of higher power. I believe in a God who is gender-less and hate-less, and I believe that religious texts should be interpreted personally and not literally.

In recent feminist online media, such as this blog post on Tumblr, many feminists (male and female) have come out squarely against  the idea of religion in general.

Many have made direct or implied generalizations without addressing other perspectives. While there is a definite argument that can be made demonstrating the patriarchal oppression of women through the institutions of religion, I am uncomfortable with generalizing
FEMINISM V. RELIGION. These two entities are not mutually exclusive.

Just as I am tired of crazy religious fanatics and Evangelical Fundamentalist hating on liberal social activists, I am tired of activists hating on religion. While many feminists/social justice/liberals/lefties/people/civil rights activists don’t have a super radical position - every snide comment reflects a deep-seated attitude.

But I digress.  I do not think that the ideas of feminism and religion are so diametrically opposed. Yes, churches, institutions and religious leaders have indeed created a very strong social construction of gender. Although some religions value and worship women, sexist undertones can in fact be seen in most (but NOT all) organized religions.

Why am I referring to “churches,” “leaders” and “institutions” rather than just flat out blaming RELIGION? Religion and the practice of spiritual beliefs in and of themselves do not disempower women. Throughout history, many powerful women and feminists have found their own voice and power through affiliations with religious organizations and their personal spiritual faith. A great majority of traditionally women’s colleges were founded by individuals who had an affiliation with a particular faith. Early first wave feminists such as Susan B. Anthony were raised in an activist Quaker tradition, a faith that played a huge role in the abolitionist movement and women’s suffrage. 

I know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t the Bible specifically blame women for several earth-shattering misfortunes? Don’t all major religions demand that women be subservient to men? Don’t religious texts say that women should be seen and not heard?

Yes, indeed. These questions are valid. But let’s remember one small thing. These rules and texts? They were created and perpetuated by human beings (many of who were men). Yes, perhaps they did have divine inspiration, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t biased. Maybe that’s sacrilegious, but to me it also seems logical. From that perspective, let’s consider the following:

Spirituality does not subjugate people.

Faith does not subjugate people.

Hope in a higher power does not subjugate people.

Belief in a Creator does not subjugate people.

In the world of tangible causes, effects, (and even less tangible ideologies) Only PEOPLE can subjugate other people. Groups and institutions can oppress other groups. A ruler can wreck authoritarian havoc.  An army can destroy, a militant can revolt, and a priest can preach, rebuke.

But a religious faith? In and of itself? It can’t touch you. 

Don’t get me wrong - I definitely understand that certain aspects of “religion” directly affect politics, government and society. Wars are fought in the name of God and country, blah blah blah. Terror and oppression are propagated via the name of God, Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Jupiter, Zeus, or nationalism. But by the same token, people have used the name of God [Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Jupiter, Zeus, or nationalism] to do wonderful and humanitarian things.

So what is my point? In the end, it doesn’t matter which one of the world religions  you believe in. It doesn’t matter if you are atheist, agnostic or completely apathetic. Haters are gonna hate, lovers are gonna love and activists…are going to activate.

This guest post is by Emilia Ana Cosma (aka @HungryFeminist), a 20-year-old junior at the University of Southern California in sunny Los Angeles. She is double majoring in International Relations and Public Relations, but still considers journalism her first love. Cosma is currently cultivating her own blog called The Hungry Feminist. She works as the Online Community Manager of  the Annenberg Digital News publication and is also an editorial contributor at College Femme Magazine, a brand new online publication that aims to empower, educate and inspire college women all over the world. This petite, spunky young woman is passionate about food, feminism and Facebook activism.