The Oxymoron Strikes Again: Religious Feminists

It’s hardly an original idea that just because women do something, that something does not automatically become a “feminist” thing to do.  Whether it’s defending prostitution, hailing pornography, living the BDSM lifestyle, or just staying with some asshole who beats her, not all “choices” a woman makes are equally good.  Even more, not all “choices” deserve to be defended by feminists.  Why?  Because they’re dehumanizing, belittling, and deeply misogynistic at their very cores.  Sadly, many women who agree with all those things–women who call themselves feminists–will suddenly come to a screeching halt and scream when religion is added to the list.

I don’t need to pull out the verses of the various holy books that advise on how and when to beat your wife, how to give your sexual slave to a group of men to be raped and murdered, or how to enslave all virgin females captured in war.  I don’t need to list the various religious-based laws, customs and political movements that seek to limit, oppress and exploit  women.  I mean, they all have them.  It’s really not that difficult to understand, is it?

Recently, I have come across some extremely strange defenses of religion.  I thought I would lay those out, and respond to them:

  • Defense #1:  “Yes, there are misogynistic parts of religion, but you don’t have to believe in all of it.”
  • Response #1:  If you have to pick and choose the least oppressive parts of a religion, what is the point?  If there are fundamentally unjust beliefs and practices embedded in the teachings, writings and traditions of a religion, is it not best to just jettison it altogether? If you have to convince yourself something is not unjust, picking and choosing bits and pieces of it, perhaps you should look at why you have to try to so hard.
  • Defense #2:  “But many women who consider themselves feminists believe in Christianity/Judaism/Islam/Hinduism/whatever.”
  • Response #2:  Many women who consider themselves feminists fight tooth and nail to defend porn, prostitution and mainstream American political parties.  It doesn’t make them right.  It sure as hell doesn’t mean that anyone else should join in their delusions and actually defend them as feminist.
  • Defense #3:  “But that’s just how society is.  There’s no use fighting it.”
  • Response #3:  There’s no point in being politically active at all if this is your view of things.  There is not one thing that makes religion necessary.  It isn’t needed for social interaction.  It isn’t needed for people to treat each other ethically or kindly.  (In fact, we have evidence that it causes people to do just the opposite.)  It isn’t needed to continue the species.  It isn’t needed to sustain life in any way.  Furthermore, it is a fairy tale and encourages people to indulge in magical thinking.
  • Defense #4:  “But it’s their culture, and you have to respect it.  No one can judge another culture/religion/tradition/whatever.”
  • Response #4:  I’ve written before about my rejection of cultural and ethical relativism.  It’s a lazy, cowardly way of thinking.  It’s a way to avoid taking a stand.  No, you really don’t have to respect it.  You have to understand where people are coming from and respect them as human beings, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give any practice or belief system a stamp of approval–especially when it is oppressive in both doctrine and practice.

Unfortunately, it is on the Left where you find much of this bizarre defense of religion, especially Islam.  The argument given is that it’s “Islamophobic” to criticize the religion–even as women are oppressed, tortured or killed under said religion.  The Left’s tendency to adopt the position that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” plays into this.  No matter how brutal or oppressive a regime, a group or a belief system, if it opposes the U.S., it is “good”.

Strangely, this tendency to use victimization to avoid criticism is also a handy tool used by one of the Left’s favorite targets:  Israel.  Anti-Semitism, in general, and the Holocaust, specifically, are used to deflect and evade criticism of Israel, its oppressive practices, and its oppressive religion.  The Left does not recognize this very real violence and oppression aimed at the Jews to be a valid reason to avoid criticizing the violence of Israel when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians.  Perhaps that is because Israeli violence and rhetoric are primarily aimed at men, at least in public. (Although women are all too commonly caught in the middle of one group of patriarchal males battling another group of patriarchal males.)  There are plenty of reasons to criticize Israel.  Its treatment of Palestinians is one of them.  Its status as a Jewish state–a state founded on misogynistic doctrine–is another.

In the U.S., we have Christians claiming that they are being victimized.  They point at any attempt to allow people to live secular lives free of religious-based bigotry as an attack on their religion.  They do so even as they pass laws that allow people to use their religious-based hatred to oppress others.

People talk of a “clash of civilizations” between the Christian West and the Islamic Middle East.  I see no such thing.  Playing the victim seems to be the tried-and-true method of avoiding responsibility for the bigotry and oppression at the heart of your religious teachings.  It’s something that all of the so-called “People of the Book” can agree upon.  Is that progress?

Ethical Relativism Revisited: Choice and Feminism

Ethical relativism is one of my favorite topics in relation to feminism, for the simple reason that one cannot be an ethical relativist and believe in worldwide human or women’s rights.  The idea that human beings–all human beings–have certain inalienable rights means that these rights stretch across the globe, across cultures, across religions.  However, within feminism, there is another debate that falls into the trap of ethical relativism.  As mentioned in my last post, this is the idea that feminism requires that we support the “choices” of other women, whatever those choices may be.  Flat out nonsense, I say.

Feminism has fought for the rights of women to make their own choices.  This is an important part of feminism, and one that I support wholeheartedly.  This means that a woman should have the right to choose not to be married.  She should have the right to choose if or when she becomes a mother.  That she should have the right to choose what kind of career she wants.   The problem occurs when people jump from “the right to make a choice” directly to “the right to be free of any judgement for said choice”.  That’s where ethical relativism and the doctrine of feminist choice jump the tracks for me.

Not all choices made in this world are good choices.  Not all choices in this world are valid choices.  And it sure as hell isn’t true that all choices in this world free the chooser from being judged for the choices she makes.  When feminists–especially those who call themselves “sex positive”–begin speaking about “it’s a choice” and “you can’t judge”, it usually relates to sex work or  BDSM.  That was covered in my last post, so I won’t go into it in detail again now.  The problem here is that these same liberal feminists are more than willing to judge the choices made by others, if said others don’t fall in line with their own political beliefs.

Let’s consider other choices made by women.  The choice of political belief and involvement.  The choice to voice political opinions in the public arena.  The choice to fight for political convictions.  This means that feminists fought for the right of women to be on the political front lines.  Unfortunately, too many women use this right to choose to join anti-women political parties or espouse right-wing values as political pundits.  Ann Coulter is making her choices.  Sarah Palin is making her choices.  Michele Bachmann is making her choices.  Feminism fought for and won the right for these women to make their choices, even though those choices are hurting other women.  Does that mean we can’t judge them?  Hell, no! That applies to other choices made by women, too.

If they hurt women, women and their choices are open to judgment and condemnation.  Liberal feminists who claim that “choice” means “no judgment” are wallowing in hypocrisy the moment they criticize women like Coulter, Palin, or Bachmann. Feminists fought for lots of things.  We have fought for the right of women to make their own choices.  We did not fight for the right of women to make choices that hurt other women without repercussion.  At least, I didn’t.