Saturday, July 23, 2011

What I don't like about Christianity Part 3: Sexism

This post hits home for me a little more than parts 1 and 2 because it is personal. As a result the tone is different. I still attempt to be rational and fair.

I don't really like being a woman. It is a topic I have explored more in another post in a rather graphic way. It is not really that being a woman is so bad, it is more like the societal pressures as one are. The stereotype of a typical woman has nothing to do with me. I have also posted before about how I identify more as a human being than a woman, call it androgyny if you want but that does not really fit. What it really is is being an individual but that is kinda vague and people don't like vague. As in the post about not being happy with being a woman and how awful it was things in society have gotten a lot better and I am really grateful about that. One place where it has not gotten better is the Bible. My favorite verse is Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (emphasis mine) I belonged to a Quaker fellowship when I was in the United States and they believed in that firmly. In the church and in God's work we were all equals. A woman was the same as a man in the service of Christ all was looked at was merit. I really enjoyed that and when I become really depressed thinking about being a woman and all the roles, tendencies, talents and weaknesses people try to impose on my that have nothing to do with me as a real complete person I think about this verse. It comforts me a great deal.

What about the rest of the Bible it was written by a bunch of men in a patriarchal culture that permeates the language, counting, examples etc. If you have read the Bible all the generic examples independent of gender use he. For example my favourite Psalm states (emphasis again mine):

Blessed is the man

who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

or stand in the way of sinners

or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither.

Whatever he does prospers.

(Psalm 1)

So, the good guy is a guy and unless I ignore that it has nothing to do with me, when read in the English language (in Finnish it is not so bad because we only have one word covering both he and she). I chose this passage because it is my favourite and it, like any generic excerpt is a good example of this. Women are only mentioned in verses specifically referring to women and the roles of women and I want nothing to do with these verses because I cannot relate with them. I would like to emphasize that over all this is not a big deal, neither is calling “manned spaceflight” manned spaceflight, that is because “peopled spaceflight” sounds retarded and is not a real thing.

As for counting, only men are counted, women like slaves, children and donkeys are not mentioned except in passing like, there were 1,000 men and some women and children in addition. That is because we women were property. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Ex. 20:17) So, I am property. This is fracking depressing. As a wife I am property of my husband, just like his slaves (servants), oxen ,donkeys and other belongings. It did not say husband in there so men are not property of their wives.

What does the Bible say about women? They are usually seen as bringers of food, bearers of children. Sisters, mothers, daughters. Pretty standard stuff. In Titus 2:4-5: “Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” In Timothy 3:6-7 “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” In 1 Peter 3:5-6 “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

What are these verses saying, let me summarize. Or at least tell you what I personally hear. I am supposed to love my family and be self-controlled. That sounds great, that would work for men too, but I am also supposed to be submissive to my husband because I am liable to malign the word of God otherwise. WTF Titus? What do you think I am? Timothy assumes I am weak-willed. If he did not he would have said weak-willed men, or people. Remember, men first and by default women only when specifically speaking of them. Peter says to be holy as a woman I am supposed to be submissive to my husband.

These can all be justified, explained away and if these were the only parts of the Bible that did this is would be fine but this is just a handful of examples. Paul says that women are not supposed to speak in the church and frequently that is justified as something to do with the times. Women who were temple priestesses in pagan temples were also prostitutes and therefore a decent woman would not want to be mistaken for a prostitute. I have also heard that women gossip and gossip is bad and in order to keep it out of God's house we should make the women STFU.

Justifying these away is like getting called stupid and then having someone explain to me that, while what they said was all true, but only applicable under certain circumstances. Still I am being called stupid, childlike and less than human and over time it starts to get to me. I start to wonder. Reading too much of Paul makes me want to book a sex change ASAP or convert to some other religion. I don't want to be that which those verses describe.

What about the good things of the Bible that are said about women? What about Proverbs 31? The passage about the perfect woman often used in modern churches to make the Bible seem feminist. It is a fine passage, equally applicable to a man. Being a hard worker, respected and loved and valued by your family is a great thing. I have nothing really negative about it. My favourite part is: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” Little passages like this are all too rare and a drop in the bucket compared to all the other crap women get heaped on them.

Many people say that Jesus is a very feminist character in the Bible. I suppose that is true. He never says anything truly demeaning to any woman, in my opinion. His conversations with his female friends are not recorded. I would love to know what words he and Mary Magdalene and sisters Martha and Mary exchanged since he was around them a lot of the time. It was women who found out about his resurrection first before others. What good things he might have said to women were not recorded because the recorders were men and that did not matter to them. Women may have mattered to Jesus and been valuable friends and companions to him but they were not to the men who wrote the gospels (this may not have been more than a cultural trait, I am sure they were fine men otherwise).

How do I deal with this? The homosexuality topic is easier to think through and get past and conclude because I am not homosexual it is not personal. This is and every time I read the Bible it is there and especially in the letters of the New Testament. It is very blatant and when ever I read the letters I become angry all over again. I feel less than human. I feel like there is this exclusive club of true Christians that a penis is the passport to, just like circumcision was the passport to Judaism that also was something not possible to women. I feel like I am on the outside. I cannot use my true talents. I will always be less than. So I am still working on this. This reconciling myself with being told by the Bible that I am something I am not. I am not a Biblical woman and, barring a miracle, will never be. God just did not create me like that. It is harder still when Christians remind me of this. That is something I will explore in another post very soon.


  1. I like this post and the others in this series- I definitely feel the same way about the other topics you covered. But this one, like you said, is personal. Sexism has always been the biggest threat to my faith.

  2. I have to believe that Paul in the passages you cite has to be referencing a particular issue in that place and that time and that he is NOT setting a standard for all in all times. I say this because the Galatians passage you cite subverts the common understanding of religion, politics and sociological roles. (Peter Rollins talks about this begining about 3 minutes 47 seconds into the video)

    Even in the OT God subverts the cultural understanding of the role of women when He makes Deborah Judge (read ruler) over all of Israel. He even denies a military victory to a man in favor of giving it to a woman.

    Jesus has women disciples. Take the passage of Mary and Martha where Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, the traditional position a disciple takes at the feet of his/her rabbi. Marhta is in the kitchen the place that the culture would have her doing what the culture would have her doing, preparing to serve the men. Marhta complains to Jesus that Mary should be doing the culturally accepted thing, working and serving in the kitchen. What does Jesus tell her? Mary has chosen the better role. This subverts the culturally accepted roles for women. This is not some sort of rationalization, proof texting, eisegesis, or other mental gymnastics.

    Look at the woman at the well. Isn't she the first person to preach the Gospel? "There is this man, He is the Messiah we've been waiting for!"

    With this overwhelming evidence that the accepted stereotypical roles for women being subverted by Christ, both in the Gospels and in Paul's subversion of all societal arenas (politics, religion, biology/sociology) that I must not accept the seemingly anti-women passages of the Pauline/pseudopauline corpus as being universal.

    Like Sarah commented above the sexism, if actually there (and it kept me away for a very long time stuck in my neo-atheism) I would have to reconsider my faith.

  3. Paul, I must disagree with you that the Biblical Paul is in general disregarding the traditional roles of women. His statements, while meant for particular people in particular place in his time. He is still making a lot of statements that disregard women. While he is the one who penned my favourite verse I still cannot think of him as a revolutionary in the face of all the other statements he makes, regardless of their specific intent they were still made. He was a man of his time, unlike Jesus.

    I also forgot about Deborah when writing the entry; also you are right Mary was probably the diciple of Jesus in every sense of the word and the only reason I did not refer to any women as the diciples of Jesus was because scripture does not directly refer them to a such which in itself is a reference for the deeply engrained cultural disregard of women as human beings of the time. Jesus was a true exeption in his regard for all people.

    Just because the Bible was penned by sexist people (not maliciously sexist, just a product of their time)does not mean God is sexist or that Jesus is, there is plenty of evidence that Jesus is not. This does mean that a big portion of Christians disagree with me and think God is sexist and these binary sex roles are Godly. I have never let the interpritations of mere humans affect my perception of God, atleast not for very long. I am working on a follow up post on this, not in this series, more detailing the experiences I have had with sexism from Christians.

    Just like the violence of the Old Testament and the verses condemming homosexuality exist, these verses exist. I cannot deny that. The Bible is not exactly perfect, it may have been inspired by a perfect God but those people penning it sure were not perfect and by being human corrupted the message to some degree. To pretend mere humans using limited language would be able to pen the concept of God accurately is pretty foolish. I cannot understand the full greatness of God, I view him through the lense of my culture and so did these men who wrote the Bible.