Religion has played a huge role in our culture for centuries. Some concepts and ideologies stem from religious beliefs. This also includes the role of religion and fear in gender inequality.
A lot of religious denomination and authority figures have used fear and age-long preconceptions of a woman’s place, her role, and her looks to judge and shame women, promoting patriarchy and misogyny. The worst part is women who have played into this role and shame other women for trying to fight for their rights and other women’s’.
Growing up, there was no such thing as equality between men and women. It was always about a woman’s role – keeping the home, cooking, looking pretty and ‘decent’, having curfews, ‘dressing up in ways that don’t provoke other men to ‘lust’ or sin’, it was a taboo to put your career first, to not want kids, to not want to get wedded, to ‘loose your virginity to a man who isn’t your husband’ etc.
We were forced unknown to our parents, family and peers and unknown to us to live a patriarchal way. The craziest part is when religion is used as a bedrock of this sort of oppression.
You hear people quote the bible on how a woman should be in the name of being an ideal woman. A popular bible chapter on the virtuous woman has been used by a lot of ‘religious authority figures’ and individuals into pressuring and making women think that not meeting the standards people have deduced from the bible chapter will make them not good enough for any man. Whenever, I wasn’t ‘behaving like an ideal woman’, I would be reminded of how I wasn’t being a ‘virtuous woman’.
I struggled for years with this mindset and eventually gave in to thinking it was part of destiny for women to be ‘submissive’ to men. A woman’s femininity and love for her body is seen as a ‘sin’ and you are expected to wear certain dresses in order to be counted as one of the ‘faithful worshippers’ or ‘perfect woman’. Men could get away with anything but women just couldn’t because according to these people, it’s a woman’s responsibility to take care of others to a point of loosing their identity.
Women are told that their husband is their lord who must be worshipped and they must be submissive to him. When my family got to know my husband, then boyfriend, they would often give a suggestion on certain things we should do and when I say ‘that’s not going to happen,’ and create boundaries, the next thing I hear is how they are going to discuss ‘the issue or my behaviour’ with my ‘husband as he’s the authority figure’. Those moments got me infuriated and I will always make it very clear that such nonsense won’t be tolerated. My husband had to make it clear that whatever decisions I make is what stands. There’s no ‘head’ or ‘neck’ in our relationship, we are just two people who love and respect each other.
I have had to fight religious dogmas and gender stereotypes fiercely. I was always called too ‘hardcore’, it used to bother me until I began to love myself, appreciate my qualities and realize that what I was fighting was a necessity for myself and future generations. Such statements like ‘too hard, too opinionated, stubborn’ etc, are often used to curb the strength of women. So we begin to try to play by the books, not be ‘too hard’, and end up allowing things we resent. Not anymore.
Fear has been used as a mighty tool in misconstruing the mindsets of women and men alike thus promoting gender inequality. The concept of doing good or being good so that you can be on good terms with God, makes people move so much in fear that they begin to live lives they resent and judge others for living authentically. If a woman is focused on her career, then she is not fulfilling her duties before God and man in being at home and taking care of ‘her home.’ However, a man can be out till late working and he is commended as being a ‘worthy man’. I witness and hear stories of women not being able to take jobs or pursue their careers because their husbands tell them not to or because their husbands say they wouldn’t be able to cook, take care of the kids in the evenings or be a ‘dutiful wife’. So, these women would regretfully and painfully not take their dream job or pursue the careers they want because of the duties of a woman according to religion. Often talking about, at least ‘God is seeing them fulfilling their duties as women’.
This mindset has seeped into the society in every day life but a lot of the foundations of misogyny started when we began making God who is LOVE, a symbol for fear; making people conform to certain cultural and mental imprisonment.
A woman is stuck in an abusive home and is told that her role as a woman according to religion is to stay, ‘be submissive’ and nurture the man all the while emotionally and mentally breaking. A woman doesn’t want to change her last name to her partners’ and she is told she is trying to play the ‘role of a man’ and God isn’t in support. I have witnessed, lived and heard so many stories of all kinds of dogmas that come with being a woman according to religion, fear and culture. I have been told that as a woman, I should always let my husband speak in public and be quiet, I should always be behind, I must make myself always attractive by doing only what he wants and all manner of rubbish.
I have observed that a lot of the things holding women back from breaking free from these limitations is fear. This is fear, most of us have known almost all our lives or some of our lives.
I felt trapped for a long time, feeling like there was something wrong with me for who I was. I was always criticised and judged for not being keen on always cooking. I was told how I wouldn’t be able to take care of a man or keep a man down if I didn’t learn how to be a ‘virtuous woman’. It was as if all that I could offer a man had to be what I could do domestically, and according to dogmatic religious principles of a woman’s role, look and being.
When I got into a relationship with my now husband, I found myself wanting to ‘fulfil all the obligations expected of me as a woman. I toned down my ambition, started dressing in the way that was pleasing to my parents who were very strict religious people, stopped being ‘too loud or crazy’, cooking more etc. All that was some BULL.
It was the revolutionary step in coming out of my own shell and embracing all the uniqueness in myself and values that had been hushed down for years that made me come out of the box I had allowed people to put me in. I was just a woman who believed that my value wasn’t measured by how ‘domestic’ or ‘godly’ I was. My husband- then boyfriend, is an avid feminist and he always told me how I needed to step away from the rot that had been filled in my head. I began to understand that a relationship was about partnership. I had to really embrace myself, heal and love myself. I needed to face my fears. I set religion aside. I set all kinds of teachings I had known and believed to be true. I set my preconceptions of God aside. I wanted to know who I really was. In knowing who I am, I begin to know more of God and connect with him in my own way not based on dogmas or religion.
In some cultures, women have little or no say in who they choose to get married to. A man sees a woman and the parents decide that is who she will be with. I remember growing and wishing I was a boy for so many reasons. One of them, having the freedom to choose who I got married to without everyone thinking they had a say; without some ‘religious person feeling like their word was final and God. I learnt how to stand up for myself rather than allow people – parents, family, culture, dictate who I was or who I could be with. It was a gruesome experience because I wasn’t used to standing on my own. I wasn’t sure of what I was doing but I was learning to listen to myself and trust my guts/GPS.
There are still some people who in spite of their religious beliefs practice true love and appreciate the uniqueness of women without being negative. These people are still being criticised as not being ‘worthy’ because they don’t buy into the misogyny mentality.
Religion is part of our culture and it takes a lot of strength to break away from the shackles placed on women due to the dogmas of religion.
Trousers where seen as ‘mens clothing’ when I was growing up, it was ‘seductive’ and ‘vain’, so was fixing, wearing makeup etc. I was a rebel as I went against everything that I was told were not for a ‘good christian girl’ to do. When I got married, I kept hearing all manner of unsolicited advice like ‘how my husband was my authority figure as the bible said,’ how he could tame me’, how he needed to assert his position as ‘a man’, and I began to realize why a lot of women shy away from getting wedded. I observed and saw the role fear and religion had played in making women feel less than and promoting misogyny. I have had to shut down such opinions and ‘advice’ countless times.
My awakening was finding peace with myself and really appreciating who I am. It was letting go of the mindset that there was a Higher power who could kill me anytime or kill people I cared about if I didn’t ‘line up accordingly’. My awakening was recognizing that God made us all to be equal and letting go of whatever dogma had been used to promote this kind of fear. It was staying true to myself authentically and releasing the pain and voices that had set me back.