I wrote this post in August 2011, and again with the rise of bigotry towards those who are, or who are identified as, Muslim, particularly Muslim women, I thought I’d publish it again. This one is particularly for the Jackie Lambies and Cory Bernardies who believe that women can’t be trusted to choose to select which aspects of their faith they want to engage with.
Feminism is the radical idea that women are people. People that can reason, think, educate themselves, and make their own decisions. For some men at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, this was a radical notion, and one that took a great deal of getting used to. Society is still structured around the antiquated notion that the default human is male (I’ll blog more on that another time) and so there is still a deep societal distrust of women who do their own thing, who act differently to others, who stand up for themselves, and they get called names, and pressured to be like everyone else, because a group of women being the same is somehow more comforting.
Ok, I might have made most of that up, or it might be a long chain of thoughts from all the feminist blog posts I’ve read over the past ages, or it might be that I’ve been watching the world from the sidelines from time to time. This post, which is white-Western feminism based, is about what we (and I’m thinking about both society and Western feminists) trust women to do and what we don’t.
This post is partly inspired by Chally’s recent post on religious faith and social justice and on thoughts I was having on the flight over to Malaysia before I fell asleep on the plane. I’m not sure what inspired them exactly, but let me lay them out for you.
If we can trust women to make up their mind on which political candidate they are going to vote for, if we can trust women to decide on which medical procedures and treatment they wish to undertake, if we can trust women to decide on who they do and do not want to sleep with (slightly contentious in rape culture I know), and if we can trust women to make their own moral and ethical decisions, why do so many of us have trouble trusting women deciding to be religious (with all that their specific faith entails)?
Yes there will always be cases where women are pressured into things, that happens with every example I’ve listed above, and no one suggests that women shouldn’t vote because they’re being pressured into voting for a certain candidate, or that they shouldn’t be able to make their own medical decisions because they’re being pressured into it by someone.
Maybe I’m completely misunderstanding the debate about women who follow the strictures of their faith. But from what I’ve heard about politicians and some people who identify as feminists, women are clearly being oppressed by the strictures of their faith – the faith that they have most likely chosen to have.
I am an atheist, I am against organised (generally read as Christian) religion attempting to dictate to me and anyone else who isn’t a member of that faith how to behave. I am for the separation of religion and politics. But most importantly I am for the right for any individual to practise the faith that they believe in if it is doing no harm to anyone else.
As a former Catholic I remember many of the times I questioned whether what I believed in was real, from when I was a child to the day I stopped believing. Perhaps we should give religious women credit that they have also spent time questioning their faith and the strictures of that faith, and that they have made a conscious choice to continue believing and to continue practising their faith. These women do not need to be rescued from an “oppressive religion”, a religion that they probably do not believe to be oppressive – as the nuances and the ways that it is practised will be as individual as each person in that religion.
A great discussion on the comment thread of Stargazer’s post on The Hand Mirror, “yet another burqa post”