In what may seem contrary to some, alarming to others and a breath of fresh air to the rest, there’s a movement called ” Feminist Theologyâ€ that calls for examining every aspect of religion from a gender equality perspective. What does this mean? Well, it begins with an examination and critique of the ways women have been oppressed, goes on to explore biblical concepts that support feminist ideals. Then with this as a basis, proposes a theology that includes feminist ideals. Case in point – The Woman’s Bible: A Classic Feminist Perspective produced by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
I’m no theologian. My knowledge of the Bible stems from very infrequent, though informed, interactions with people of faith. Viewing Christianity objectively, it emphasizes the male gender and is mostly silent on female issues, supporting the idea that it’s a paternalistic religion. Looking through the scripture, there are several passages that a minister or priest could recite to justify the subjugation of women – and many have done so for personal gain, among other reasons. So you can see how the Feminist Theologians have a point.
Of course there are Bible verses that support women as deserving equal authority to that of men, for example, Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 3:16. However, on average, one gender is accorded more privileges than the other. Jesus came into the world through God who created him and Mary who bore him. So if man wasn’t directly involved in the creation of Christ, how is it that he became far exalted above the gender who carried and actually bore the Saviour?
How is it that secular countries lean more towards gender equality while less secular countries (think more religious countries for example countries in the middle east, especially those that have adopted sharia law), lean more towards gender inequality? Does religion actually provide the foundation and support for inequality? Is there a direct correlation between a country’s level of religion and its oppression of one gender? At what point do the benefits of biblical teaching become overshadowed by the injustices it creates and perpetuates? At what apex of religiosity is society ultimately better off? Is there any benefit to religion?
In my opinion, religion per se isn’t the issue. Similar to money, religion can be an effective tool for domination and subjugation, and in the wrong hands, it often is. Religion becomes dangerous when its global message of kindness and forgiveness is overshadowed by a subset of its teachings being misinterpreted or used to advance a faction of society; when its texts are wielded to create, nurture, assign and maximize power, to the benefit of one group and at the exclusion of others.
Women make up ~half of the population. So by limiting their access to opportunities, society is deprived of the economic contributions of 50% of its population. Meaning that the intellectual and physical capital of half of society’s citizens is not being employed to solve its problems.
Given globalization, gender roles in Africa are evolving. The old roles are being overturned and new rules are being written. These new social rules are yet to be clearly defined, creating a disconnect between the sexes and friction in interaction, communication and understanding. This friction will continue to exist until the new social rules, of which both parties approve, are written. How long this will take is unknown.
When gender equality isn’t embedded in the very fabric and structure of society, it becomes difficult to enforce in everyday life or in disputes brought before a selection of one’s peers in a court of law.
It would be nice if we all woke one day to realize men and women are equal, but it’s highly unlikely this will happen. Instead, any change that occurs will be in steps: personal level, community level, local government level and national level. It took generations to instil the values of gender inequality so it will also take generations to revise this thinking.
…that people sincerely want to believe that both sexes are equal but unconscious biases betray us in key moments.
…that believing all people are equal and treating them as such should be normal, not special.
…that differences in gender makeup, features or characteristics signify neither superiority nor inferiority. They merely portray that differences exist. That each is unique. Nothing more.
…that women have a choice and should exercise that choice frequently, confidently, enthusiastically and without guilt. Whether it be with whom to leave the club on a Friday night, the choice to be married or if to have a family.
…that true strength doesn’t have to be loud, brash, forceful or domineering.
…that change comes neither naturally nor easily to those who’ve lived with a set of guidelines that have afforded them economic advantages.
…that not every issue is about gender equality and that gender equality isn’t everything.
…that it’s inherent in human nature to find similarities and dissimilarities and either gravitate towards or away from these. Issues arise when claims of superiority are attributed to a set of characteristics and laws are enacted, implemented and enforced to support these claims. Over time, these laws evolve into a society in which institutions and systems that promote and protect these laws are deeply embedded into its fabric, providing a constitutional and legal advantage to this subset. In time, we all come to subconsciously hold these claims as true and the laws as unquestionable.
…that every worker should be paid wages that are reflective of skill set and work responsibilities.
…that every human being has worth and should be treated with dignity and respect.
…that every child should be taught to cook, clean, care for the home and for others and encouraged to live to their fullest potential.
If you believe some of these too, you’re a feminist.
Anwuli Okeke is a Nigerian-American blogger/vlogger on hackingafrica.com; a platform sharing stories about Africa at the intersection of innovation, entrepreneurship & the arts.