Quoting a Washington Post reporter by the name of Sally Quinn:
why, I asked myself, if women were so smart and capable and in so many cases, smarter and more capable than men, were they being discriminated against? It made absolutely zero sense to me. Of course there were women trailblazers– the first woman this, the first woman that. And yet, women who were too capable or powerful were often labeled lesbians by their male counterparts. Or ridiculed, or condescended to. I remember once, when I was covering a party in Washington, and Gloria Steinem (another Smithie, as was Betty Friedan) was approached by Congressman Brownie Reid. “I think it’s so great for you girls to have something to do before you get married,” said Reid to the astonished feminist leader.
Then I began to learn about religion.
She lists several examples of women getting the short shrift — I’m going to interrupt my own train of thought here to note the word shrift, as I suddenly wondered what the hell that meant and if I was using it correctly:
The verb form, shrive, is also now an almost forgotten antique. A shrift is a penance (a prescribed penalty) imposed by a priest in a confession in order to provide absolution, often when the confessor was near to death. In the 17th century, criminals were sent to the scaffold immediately after sentencing and only had time for a ‘short shrift’ before being hanged.
And we can thank Shakespeare for making the phrase colloquial. Thanks, Shakespeare. Anyway, yes, women have less say and less importance overall, even if they want to tout the implied worth of Mary or Ruth or whatever other women actually have a given name in the bible. The facts remain, there is clear evidence across religions of women being perceived as second class, or lower.
It’s nothing I’ve ever watched for but we can see this misogyny in advertising, too. I’m still plowing through Can’t Buy My Love by Jean Kilbourne and it continues to be fascinating. Ads have portrayed women in so many derogatory and demeaning ways. She mentions instances of women with their mouths covered or sewn up (pg 139) and language that encourages body parts to do all the communicating rather than the voice. “Score high on non-verbal skills,” touts one for T.J. MAXX. Another for some Italian fashion company reads (pg 140) “This woman is silent. This coat talks.” She also provides photos of ads for Newport cigarettes that show women in compromising and embarrassing positions, displaying them as not just daffy but completely stupid and incompetent and only good for laughing at (pgs 196-7). She also notes that when rebellion is encouraged, it only goes as far as black nail polish (p. 153). The same goes for attitude, only desirable if being a bad ass results in showing that ass off in some way. (pg 152). Actual evidence of skill or ambition or brains isn’t really important. Shoes and accessories are.
Back to Quinn,
Recently Jimmy Carter spoke on the subject at a religious conference. “The discrimination against women on a global basis,” he said,” is very often attributable to the declaration by religious leaders in Christianity, Islam and other religions, that women are inferior in the eyes of God.”
This may not seem an earth-shaking comment but it was courageous of Carter to speak out against this practice, particularly since he came from a Baptist tradition where women were not even allowed to be ministers. He is also, in this statement, calling on those of faith to question his God’s attitude toward one half of the earth’s population.
God’s “attitude” isn’t the problem, it’s how men have manipulated scripture and doctrine to promote men and degrade women and are still getting encouragement (or at least tacit approval) to do so. It’s the willingness of both men and women to hold steadfast to archaic family structures and thought patterns because if they were good enough for bible days they still must be valid now. New interpretations of the bible, adding more genderized language into it… that’s not fixing the problem, that’s just muddying the water. All the bad advice about how to treat one’s slaves and one’s women can still be found in there if you know where to look. It’s mentioned in that piece that Jesus encouraged his followers to elevate the status of women but clearly there were limits to what believers were willing to do for the man, as evidenced by every book later credited to Paul and company. Belief in the resurrection, darn tootin’. Belief in women’s lib? Inconceivable!
With thousands of years of discrimination behind us and so much still existing, and with 95 percent of the world’s population adhering to some faith or other, how could those beliefs not be held accountable. And for those who believe in an all loving God, a God who loves men and women equally, how could one not ask the question: Why would He (She?) allow this to exist unless he hated women?
Because men created god in their own image. But, attitudes need adjusting across the board; this is not just the fault of men. We’re still living in a culture that can marginalize and trivialize women without much protest to the contrary from any gender. Every time women might try to protest their treatment, how are they treated? Men are allowed to be angry and assertive and will still be respected, but women often wind up being thought of as hysterical bitches no one needs to take seriously. Until that bizarre double standard is set aside, we’re not going to get very far.