The first question is, who authored most of the religious dogma, myths, and other belief systems that we have at present? Until now, that is to say throughout all previous history, there has been a sharp gender asymmetry in the hierarchy of knowledge, and nowhere is this more clearly institutionalized than in religion (King 73). The written or oral creeds and their interpretation have for centuries dictated the societal roles that men or women played. Our epics, myths, and commandments arose from the creativity or imaginings of patriarchal society.
The commonality of these expressions usually commanded woman’s subservience to the male superior its author. Before the emergence of women empowerment, it was the woman’s role to submit herself to the husband no matter what he is and did. If the setting was the home, she has to serve her king-the husband. Culture has dictated terms of what is feminine in behavior and appearance. Early Roman religious life has man as the dominant if not having the monopoly in a Roman city’s affairs.
In the religious life of Rome we find reflected both the authority of the male members of society and the importance of the family as a unit of society. Women are as always not an active participant in its activities. Women are to a certain extent excluded from cult activities, not least in the public arena. They do not hold important positions of authority. Some may disagree with this and points to the so-called Vestal Virgins. Hinnels (Hinnels) points out that with the absence of women from public religious life there was one major exception, though that was a very significant one.
The Vestal Virgins, the female priests of the cult of Vesta, were six women recruited as children of six years old and committed to the preservation of their virginity and the service of the goddess for thirty years. They were concerned with a very wide range of cults and rituals and it is clear that the security and health of the whole community depended on the maintenance of their duties. They had to keep the sacred fire on the hearth of Vesta burning at all times. In periods of extreme danger, the city sometimes turned on them and accused them of unchastity, evidently seeking to blame them for the crisis.
If found guilty they were buried alive at the limit of the city. In some theories, they were originally the daughters of the old kings of Rome, so that their relationship to the fire and the hearth echoed the duties of the ordinary household. The theories are more attractive than reliable. Important though the Vestals may have been, they were no more than a single exception to the general exclusion of women from public positions of authority or power in the public life of Rome.
Some women in the late Republic and early Empire did achieve personal power and influence, but this did not change the basic rules by which social institutions operated. If you are a Vestal virgin, your lifespan is dependent on the relative period of peace that your city enjoys. Otherwise being fired, terminated, and buried at the limit of the city is not an attractive prospect. Roman and Greek mythology may have given women important roles in their godhoods, since we have Athena, Demeter, Juno, and Aprodite, but the important chief position is always to the man- Jupiter or Zeus.
For the world’s contemporary chief religions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and the Confucian credos have directed that it is the primary duty of women to be obedient and devoted. The laws that enforce them are based on the existing religious and cultural belief systems and their derivations. When women are physically disfigured through foot binding and genital mutilation society, it is in compliance to tradition. How do these disfigurements served any purpose to the woman or the man? There have been disagreements as to the reason why footbinding has existed for a long time in China.
Patricia Ebrey (Buckley)posits the following: Footbinding was an alteration of the body that changed everything about a woman’s physical being. Because the ideal upper-class man was by Song times a relatively subdued and refined figure, he might seem effeminate unless women could be made even more delicate, reticent, and stationary. What better than tiny feet to accomplish this? For the footbound Chinese woman, the debilitation confined her to the home and reinforced her role as the husband’s sole possession. Refinement and being subdued is no excuse for this abominable act.
Female genital mutilation has been a tradition of many African tribal societies. It is a female circumcision done to prepare a young girl for marriage. This is a very unhygienic and therefore a very dangerous practice. Supposedly, mutilation ensures that the woman do not go astray since that part of her that makes her commit a sin has been removed. This inculcates a guilty feeling to the girls mind and reinforces the belief that women are morally weaker and therefore needed to be put in their position of low esteem. Such are the heavy prices that woman has to pay for being a woman.
Gladly, their being widespread is confined in the past. Religion, myths, and our beliefs systems favor the man and ensure his dominance over the woman. The erstwhile Taliban regime of Afghanistan is the contemporary extreme believer of this. Under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan at the beginning of the twenty-first century, for example, punishment for noncompliance with brutally extreme restrictions on women’s appearance and behavior included public flogging and execution. Compulsion, however, is not the only or even necessarily the most effective means for encouraging women to subscribe to femininity norms.
Social rewards and personal satisfaction are also motivators. Piety is its own reward for a woman of any faith who believes she is behaving in accordance with divine will. Depending on how she interprets her faith, a contemporary Muslim woman may thus signal her femininity and her piety by choosing to wear the veil whether she lives under a theocratic or a secular political system. Her choice to veil may be reinforced by additional rewards, such as greater respect and personal autonomy accorded to her by her family and the local Muslim community (Hoodfar and Hoodfar).
If you are publicly flogged for wearing a knee-length dress, it is not time to fire your dressmaker it is appropriate to question if the punishment is commensurate with the offense. If jihadists believed that bombing innocent civilians will ensure them heavenly virgins, what will women suicide bombers get? Making a distortion of a religious belief by subordinating women as men’s rewards acquits women from suspicion of establishing that belief. The Judeo-Christian belief is not spared from instilling guilty feeling and low-esteem to women. Consider this passage from Numbers 5:30: . .
. or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to make her stand before the LORD and is to apply this entire law to her. The operative word her is “suspicion”. If you are suspected by your husband of having been unfaithful, you will be treated in the same manner as those proven to be guilty of the same. This could be a Damocles sword hanging over the head of the woman as she is proven once again to be not having the same rights as the man. What do you expect when your subsidiary position was ensured during creation when you were drawn from the rib of Adam.
Children of Eve have borne their guilt when the first woman caused the man to transgress the law of God by eating that forsaken fruit. The woman may blame the snake who had scurried away but she had to stay by her man. This guilty feeling has always been foisted to the woman since paradise was lost. In the same vein that the Nazis annihilated the Jews for having caused the crucifixation of the Christ. In the Old Testament, having the same blood does not ensure the needed affection and respect; nothing is more abominable than the story of Lot who offered his two virgin daughters to the unruly crowd who wanted to sodomize guests.
Ge. 19:5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them. ” Ge. 19:6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him Ge. 19:7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Ge. 19:8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof. ”
If biblical characters and the Mosaic Law subordinate women to men, you cannot expect a different perspective from the society where these belief systems are integrated. When Jewish and Muslim men became polygamous, nothing is wrong about it, but when otherwise you can surely expect a stoning. In some parts of part of Tibet, polyandry is not frowned up, but Tibet is a very small country whose religious influence is confined within its small borders. Hindu Universe, an internet website explained that in Hinduism the religious root of women’s oppression stems from the belief that the son and daughter are not inherently equal.
Though many sages argued that since both come from the father’s body, there is no difference between the two, ritual status of the son is higher. Perhaps this belief that “if a man’s vitality is greater then a son would be produced, but if a woman’s vitality is greater then a daughter would be produced” is also responsible. Men looked upon their sons “as mirrors of the father”. A son therefore conducts the funeral ceremony of the parents. Though in absence of a son, a daughter can also perform them, it is only in absence of a brother. A daughter is seen as belonging ultimately not to her father’s family, but to her husband’s.
So the first thing that must be done is to remove this idea that a son is more value and that daughters are born to go to another’s house. Conclusion There is something wrong with the way women were manipulated and controlled in the past apparently in compliance with the written and traditional beliefs. If this was not so, widespread women empowerment at present would not have been possible. The United Nations’ Millennium Declaration pledges explicitly “to combat all forms of violence against women and to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (Waldorf)”.
And it further recognizes the importance of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment as an effective pathway for combating poverty, hunger and disease and for stimulating truly sustainable development. Such declaration does not ensure that manipulation and control of women will cease in some corners of the world. Yet this global consensus is an indication that indeed misconceptions about gender roles are existing and should therefore be corrected.
If this is a violation of Judeo-Christian, Hindu, Islamic, and other religious precepts, why then had this been adopted by many countries who had practiced the belief systems based on these religions? Why the shift to expanding women roles and even placing them in positions of leaderships in many countries? We can only conclude that this is an acceptance of women having been contained for so long. This is a silent acquiescence that indeed the forefathers and not the foremothers may have treated the children of Eve unjustly. References Buckley, Patricia.
The Inner Quarters: Marriage and the Lives of Chinese Women in the Sung Period. Berkeley: University of California, 1993. Hinnels, John R. Ed. A Handbook of ancient Religions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Hoodfar, Homa and Homa Hoodfar. More Than Clothing:Veiling as an Adaptive Strategy. Toronto: Women’s Press, 203. King, Ursula. Religion and Gender: Embedded Patterns, Interwoven Frameworks. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995. The Ages Digital Library. The Holy Bible. Albany: Ages Software, 1996. Waldorf, Lee. Pathway to Gender Equality. United Nations Fund for Women, n. d.
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