Religion and Feminism

Religion and Feminism

I am an ardent feminist; and it upsets me to experience the glass ceiling effect in every walk of life. In the corporate arena, women almost make it to the top of the hierarchy, and suddenly find themselves crumbling down like a pack of cards.  When at the top of the game, these women are faced by social challenges such as marriage and pregnancy. This compels them to forego their passions and dutifully adhere to these defined social roles as expected by society. While the corporate sphere is only one such example the issue has made itself omnipresent in every aspect of life.

Take any metier for instance; women are paid far less as compared to men. Women are treated as mere objects possessing a ‘limited shelf life’ (so much for all the campaigns around feminism). There are a few brave souls that have beautifully passed these barriers, achieving success and recognition. But a large number still struggle to make their name and carve a niche. 

Feminism breaking the glass ceiling religion goddess
Image credit: William Jay Sydeman

These stigmas infuriated me, and compelled me to delve into the crux of the issue. I took a walk back into the era when religions came into being. I skimmed through a number of sacred texts that defined the position of women in society.

  • According to Christianity; Eve seduced Adam to consume the forbidden fruit, from the tree of knowledge. Eve infamously plays the role of contaminating Adam’s spiritual pursuits.
  • Islamic women were/are brutally controlled by the female genital mutilation (FGM); a merciless social practice that goes unnoticed (even to this day) owing to lack of evidence.
  • By Hindu norms; lawmaker Manu reduced the position of women as mere a weakling. She is always to be in charge of a male member of the family, who pretty much dictates her life.
  • Buddhism is based on the axioms of Ahimsa and non-violence. Buddhist doctrines state, one needs to cross all obstacles in order to attain Nirvana (sounded fair, till I read further), but a woman has to take birth as a man to attain Nirvana. It so appeared that being born as a woman itself, proved to become one of the biggest obstacle in attaining any form of spiritual quests. The mentioned statements incontestably challenge the Buddhist gospel.
  • The teachings of Jainism are no different from those of Buddhism. It is believed that only a man can attain the position of a ‘Tirthankara’. However there was one exception to the story. Princess Malli Kumari was born as the 19th Tirthankara of the Jain sect. Her birth surprised many including the royal priest who forecasted her birth as a Tirthankara of the Jain order. On seeking ‘Diksha’ (a ritualistic practice of giving up worldly pleasures) she was transformed into a man. (The question remains…why did she have to undergo a sex change?)

Women have been ordained by the whims of religious texts over the years. According to most religions only men can carry out certain ritualistic practices. But things are beginning to change gradually, and people of different faiths are beginning to question the root cause of this ever-growing disparity between sexes. The disparity is one of the most prominent causes of bigotry.

I fruitlessly asked around in lieu of finding definite answers. I went to Jain monks, Buddhist Monks, Hindu Gurus, Christian priests, and Muslim saints too, but none of them could demarcate a clear explanation for why the woman was considered a weaker sex.

  • Some stated that women have the ability to lure men distracting them from attaining spiritual pursuits.
  • While others just claimed that the routine menstrual cycle in women made them impure. Which also means that most women are not allowed to pray when they are menstruating.
Feminism breaking the glass ceiling religion
Image Credit: Washington Post

But our biological self is accorded by nature, arming the woman with the ability of being able to birth another. Not only this but women automatically become custodians of our culture ensuring that the elements are fittingly passed from one generation to the next. Women ensure the smooth progression of society. Yet over the years we are condemned from conducting important ritualistic practices or for matter are deprived of our very basic right to shine out!

The growing bubble on convenience, self interest and dominance is about to burst, as modern practitioners; who display compassion to their feminine counterparts unveil the true meaning and agenda of religious text, emancipating women in their own way.

Lately, the winds of change are becoming promiscuous. It may not be emphatically presenting itself, but the change is here to stay. The revolution is confronted by challenges posed by orthodox bigots, but victory is evident. For instance there is an institution in Pune that trains women to conduct ritualistic practices that have been conducted by men over the years. Onlookers state that women explain the meaning of the recited scriptures while performing the ritual, without wasting time.

Hindu women are now beginning to take it upon themselves to rid societal evils that have plagued the plight of women since the inception of civilization.

Feminism breaking the glass ceiling religion
Image credit: HuffPost

In the recent years, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia now legally allows women to drive. A huge change considering it comes from that part of the world that subjects women to heinous tortures.

This, by far, is the most encouraging catalogue for women of the Christian faith. It encourages them to get up and shine.

We must remember that society is largely governed by religion and its doctrines. It is difficult to wean people off the age-old beliefs and manoeuvre them to take to something new in a jiffy. But if we are able to suss out the true connotation of these religious texts; we not only restore the lost faith in religion, but we will be able to reinstate respect that every woman deserves. As according to every religious text, every person is one in the eyes of the Almighty. Perhaps simplifying these norms will enable us to do away with the deceiving glass ceiling permanently without leaving a trace of its existence.



Written by Heer Kothari 

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