Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Faith and Feminism

Here's a recent discussion from the Washington Post site regarding faith and feminism:

“The discrimination against women on a global basis is very often attributable to the declaration by religious leaders in Christianity, Islam and other religions that women are inferior in the eyes of God,” former President Jimmy Carter said last week. Many traditions teach that while both men and women are equal in value, God has ordained specific roles for men and women. Those distinct duties often keep women out of leadership positions in their religious communities. What is religion’s role in gender discrimination?
My thoughts are, first of all, because there is still discrimination and abuse toward women all over the world from whatever source, this is why I like people (defined feminist or not) who fight for equal work rights, pay, voting, political opportunity, education, health care, respect, etc. for women (and the rest of humanity for that matter). 

Secondly, I think it's great that religion teaches "that while both men and women are equal in value, God has ordained specific roles for men and women."  President Monson in the LDS Church's General Conference in April just re-stated :
Your wife is your equal. In marriage neither partner is superior nor inferior to the other. You walk side by side as a son and a daughter of God. She is not to be demeaned or insulted but should be respected and loved. Said President Gordon B. Hinckley: “Any man in this Church who … exercises unrighteous dominion over [his wife] is unworthy to hold the priesthood. Though he may have been ordained, the heavens will withdraw, the Spirit of the Lord will be grieved. . . .” 8

The LDS Church's Proclamation on the family teaches: 
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.
Clearly, men and women are equal, yet there are also some role guidelines.  To me, the role division keeps me from being too busy and taking on too many responsibilities.  It keeps our duties slightly divided so we can each have our own turf. Although the separate guidelines are there, there is a lot of overlap.  Several times, I've heard a father encouraged to be the one to leave a church meeting with a fussy child so that the mother may stay and enjoy the meeting.  Several times, I've seen mothers serve in heavy duty leadership positions.  It's not always the men in leadership positions, nor is it always the women taking care of the children.

I see marriage as a partnership.  My husband holds the priesthood which he uses to bless and lead our family; I carry and primarily care for the children (at least when my husband is not home).  It's not much unlike body parts.  Is my arm more important than my leg?  Is my vision more important than my hearing?  Is a man more important than a woman?  We each have our particular roles and work together as a team.

Thirdly, by stating "those distinct duties often keep women out of leadership positions" obviously shows that whoever is asking the question is valuing leadership over other duties.  If we valued following, or nurturing, or something else more than leadership, would this even be a question? Actually though, in the LDS Church, there are very few positions in which women don't serve.  Some of these include bishop (leader of a congregation) and prophet (leader of the world-wide church), but women are plenty involved on the home-front all the way to the general level of the world-wide Relief Society.  (By the way -- there are also positions in which men DON'T serve!)

Lastly, I agree that some of the abuse and discrimination against women is carried out in the name of religion, but I don't think that a separation of roles is a direct form of abuse or discrimination.  I don't know specifically what many religions teach or practice that is interpreted as or is truly discriminatory, but I wonder how much of the abuse and discrimination is actually cultural in nature, not religious.  I'm sure some people want us to conclude that religion breeds discrimination, but I see role division as a way to help us unite as women and men and to simplify our lives.

4/20/11:  And wow, on the other hand ... this just in today:

People across the world are suffering from persecution. “And why are they suffering?” John Graz said. “Are they dangerous for their country? Are they bad people? No, most of the time they are good people. But they are suffering, they are discriminated against, they are excluded only because of their religion.” 

So either religion is the culprit of discrimination, or those who are religious are discriminated against.  How confusing.


Amanda said...

These are the things that pass through my mind but
I don't usually feel a compulsion to write it or share it. I'm grateful you do.

Stephanie said...

I thought this was a really interesting discussion of unique but still equal roles.

I thought you also brought up an great point about how we value leadership more than other roles, such as nurturing or following. I admit that I often feel that way, that leadership is more important than many other callings. I wonder if that's just a side effect of Western culture. For instance, I wonder if in Asian cultures following is valued more, for instance.

In which case, its just a reminder to me that we need to focus on what God values most, which seems to be things like service, selflessness, nurturing, sacrifice, etc, not necessarily being out and seen by men in leadership positions.

Sorry, long comment :) Thanks for the inspiring post!

Emily said...

Amen Steph! And I love long comments!

LovelyLauren said...

I don't take issue with gender roles as long as they aren't proscribed. It isn't fair that some would judge me for pursuing things I want to pursue (like a career) despite the fact that it makes me happy. Gender roles are fine, except when they're used in manipulative ways that keep women and men from doing things that they want to do.