Organized religion also known as institutional religion, is religion in which belief systems and rituals are systematically arranged and formally established. Organized religion is typically characterized by an official doctrine (or dogma), a hierarchical or bureaucratic leadership structure, and a codification of rules and practices. This can be seen in the main religions that exist in the world today. So how does it affect women liberation?
Women Liberation is a movement to combat sexual discrimination and gain full legal, economic, vocational, educational, social rights and opportunities for women, equal to those of men and this has been the struggle which feminists and women rights group sand for. However, women liberation despite all the voices that seem to be raised in support of it, still experiences certain stagnation in its progression which can be said to be due to a number of factors. However, in this article, we would be analyzing only the fact that most organized religions and their tenets are antithetical to the goal of feminism which is women liberation.
First things first, for you to say women should be liberated, it means they are being held back by something. A lot of people (bless their ignorance) have refused to come to terms with the fact that feminism in Africa is a strong and growing force in this 21st century which is not just changing the way people see African women, but also changing the way African women see themselves.
It would amaze you the number of women who do not think they should be in leadership positions or that they should head areas of their endeavors and it is saddening because feminism in order parts of the world has moved past these basic issues. Though this article is written with the African woman in mind, every woman in the world can relate with it as the number of Christians and Muslims in the world is enough to promote or change any narrative and norms that they propagate, regardless of how they embellish it.
For the most part, organized religion has found a way to work around problems affecting women in their spheres and make it look like they are a bit more lenient but who else has noticed that there is always a glass ceiling? You will never have a female pope, or a female parish priest, a female imam.
The fact that a woman cannot aspire to attain certain levels of leadership in her religion already puts a cap on her spiritual aspirations.
The major problem with this is the mindset that you ingrain into girls. At a tender age, most girls would ask these questions and be hushed by their peers, family or friends because there is no reasonable explanation that can be offered on why this is so without making the girl child feel like a second fiddle. This does not even end at their religion considering that most women’s spirituality is most likely the most important part of their lives and this helps them get the mindset that only men can get to the very top of various spheres of life.
In religion, it is very hard to see female role models thriving, and even when you find, it is 1 in 100 and if you can’t find role models, you can’t find people to identify with. This is the problem. When a girl cannot find people of her gender to look up to, in her immediate environment holding positions worthy of aspiration, how does she begin to yearn for such positions? Why do more women aspire to be first ladies than actually have the seat of power? The answer is not far-fetched. Most of their female spiritual mentors only attained such positions of “Pastor” after being married to a pastor. One begins to wonder if marriage to a pastor in itself ensures a certain call upon your life.
Picture this: A man can have more than one wife which increases his sexual experiences and sexual gratification and a woman doing the exact same thing is considered a sinner and should be stoned. As flimsy as this seems it widens the inequality gap showing that men have access to certain experiences, those women don’t have access to.
In the Bible, a woman was caught in adultery and was about to be stoned and somehow, she was saved by the prominent religious figure of that time. Now the point here is the woman was about to be stoned, but she was not having sex with herself, there was a man involved. Why was the man not about to be stoned too? This certain religious book sure shows no evidence that the man was about to be stoned. This in itself shows the narrative of how it is just the woman’s fault that there was a sexual act, or it is just the woman who should be punished for something that was between two consenting adults?
It is for this reason that virginity is preached to mostly women and only very few times are men spoken to concerning this subject. But like I mentioned above, women hardly lose their virginity to themselves or have sex with themselves. I have had to sit through a whole sermon where virginity was preached at only the women in church, and I kept asking myself if men weren’t also supposed to be taught the supposed importance of virginity?
We create an imbalance in relationships when a man has not been brought up to realize the importance of something his partner may hold very dear. We create an imbalanced relationship when the woman is the only person who is taught to value marriage and the man is hardly taught same.
By the way, have you noticed the amount of women fellowship meetings, women in marriage meetings, Christian women meetings, and Muslim women meetings etc that are all visuals of organized religion? Do you see how for the most part, women are the ones going on fasting for long periods? Or for the most part, women are the ones who are subjected to rigorous fellowship exercises all channeled at being more spiritual and fighting supposed wars in the home front?
Has it not occurred to anybody that maybe they could use a little help in these supposed home front wars from their partners? Or have the women been socialized by their families to be just lazy and willing to lend their minds and hearts to anywhere there is a promise of spiritual favor?
Even though Christians would argue that “stoning a woman” is not practiced anymore and that the fact that Jesus stopped them from stoning her showed that he wasn’t in support of such actions, but you can’t argue the fact that church culture and other organized religions promote a narrative that women ought to tone down their sexuality but are not bothered if the men fully express theirs.
It is for this same reason that organized religion will turn a blind eye at a man when he takes a second wife, and even admonish the wife to fight for her marriage or remain there because of her children. Let this same woman seek a divorce and they kick vehemently against it because they realize that a divorce would open her to possible sexual experiences from a new man who she is likely to fall in love with.
Organized religion has managed to help society paint a number of narratives; one being that the woman in a relationship should be docile and simply care for the home. In the past, when only men worked in fields and did a lot of physical labour, this was feasible. Now, workplaces are mostly designed to test mental capabilities and not physical strength, so both the man and the woman work to provide for the household.
However, for the fact that a woman ought to be submissive to her husband according to religious books, it would be expected of her to get back the same time from work as her husband and still do the house chores alone while her husband awaits his meal regardless of how tired she is, because of this terribly understood word called “submission”.
It is because of this word “submission” a woman who has achieved so much in life, enough to acquire hands to help out with domestic work at home would be asked if she still cooks, and cleans for her husband because to everybody else, her achievements do not matter and the only thing that matters is the fact that she is a good wife.
I was once told the story of a woman who was very “submissive” to her husband; “despite” the fact that she was richer than him (you know the way Nigerians tell these stories). Apparently, she was in charge of holding up the home, providing for everyone including her husband who had no job, and had even bought him a car too.
I was just about to render praises to this woman when the narrator of this story continued that the lady in question is so submissive that even when her husband talks to her anyhow, she always takes it in stride. At that point, I took offence and told her point blank that this marriage was a toxic relationship.
It is okay to provide for the family, as I believe that who earns more should provide more, however, that should in no way make the woman accountable for his lost ego that warrants him being unsupportive and verbally abusive. As far as I am concerned, that is no more submission but an emerging case of emotional abuse. But this is what organized religion praises not minding the state of the woman’s mental health.
Organized religion has also helped in shaping the narrative that the woman is incomplete without a husband, so a single woman would always feel like she is incomplete without a man, no matter her accomplishments, not necessarily because she feels lonely but because she has been socialized into thinking that without a man who is supposed to be her head, she cannot attain certain levels of respect. This is the reason why organized religion would advise you to stay in a marriage that is toxic to you.
It is evident that organized religion is detrimental to women’s liberation movements, however, what matters is how we change the narratives surrounding these matters, taking into cognizance the fact that little or no support may be given to you by society and your religion.
Article by Blessing Iyamadiken