Fourteenth in series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence by John Coonrod, PhD. Photo – public domain – of the painting by Francisco Rizi.
December 8 is observed by some Christians as the “Feast of the Immaculate Conception” and honors Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth. Mary plays a major role in both the Christian New Testament and in the Holy Koran.
Throughout the ages, religion has been twisted to justify a broad spectrum of ungodly behavior – and perhaps most tragically – violence against women. From the Salem Witch Burnings of 1693, to ritual suicide of widows in India (Sati) to the kidnapping and rape of school girls in Nigeria – some of humanity’s worst behavior has been done in God’s name.
If you are reading this, you would probably agree that violence against women and girls in all forms is “an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.”
But is God feminist? That’s actually a fascinating question.
First – what is a feminist? Is it merely someone who believes in gender equality? No. It requires the recognition that inequality is not simply an accident of history – it is based on intentional injustice that must be countered. As my college dorm-mate, the feminist bell hooks wrote in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center: “‘Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”
Ten years later, she expanded on that definition in Feminism is for Everyone, “I love [that definition] because it so clearly states that the movement is not about being anti-male. It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. And that clarity helps us remember that all of us, female and male, have been socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action. As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as men. And while that does not excuse or justify male domination, it does mean that it would be naive and wrong minded for feminist thinkers to see the movement as simplistically being for women and against men. To end patriarchy (another way of naming the institutionalized sexism), we need to be clear that we are all participants in perpetuating sexism until we change our minds and hearts, until we let go of sexist thought and action and replace it with feminist thought and action.”
Second – what is God? There is today a movement within virtually every religious tradition known as Feminist Theology. There is a website – “Feminist Theology 101” – that I highly recommend. Its authors emphasize that Feminist Theology is a “highly diverse ‘umbrella’ term, and we revel in the diversity.” And the site emphasizes that “feminist theological scholars seek to address the social problems and structures of oppression of their day.”
My personal introduction to this subject was while in college when another school friend wrote her thesis on female aspects of divinity with “Mary and Isis.”
But it became even more interesting about 15 years ago in a conversation in Bangladesh with one of The Hunger Project’s local volunteers who explained to me – with great confidence – that Islam IS the religion of women’s liberation. She understood the Koran to say that women were three times more powerful than men, and that all the current misogyny among current practitioners is left-over from pre-Islamic Arabic culture.
Certainly, every concept of the divine I’m aware of appears to reflect our deepest aspirations for compassion, justice and equality. That spells feminism to me.