Feminists see religion as an instrument of patriarchy which means that society is based around male domination; they believe that this is a set of beliefs and practices responsible for women’s subordination. However functionalists believe otherwise and argue that its function is not to oppress women but to keep society stable whilst Marxists believe that religion oppresses the working class not females. Most religions argue that there is equality between sexes within their religious groups but there is further evidence to question this.
In religious organisations they are mainly male dominated. In Orthodox, Catholism and Judaism women are all forbidden to be female priests. In Catholicism Women are seen as “unclean” and “impure” and so should not be given roles of power within the church, this shows women’s inferiority as they cannot have the same roles as men, showing that religion justifies patriarchy by maintaining male dominance and backs up the feminists point that it keeps women in control and stops them from fighting against it.
According to Linda Woodhead argues that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is evidence of the Churches deep unease about the emancipation of women generally. Within today’s society women are still not welcome in the Catholic Church to become a priest but some Christian Dominations the privilege for women to become female vicars is present such as in the Protestant branch of Christian faith which can be argued that not all Christian dominations are male dominated. Karen Armstrong (1993) sees women’s exclusion from the priesthood of most religions as evidence of their marginalisation.
Another aspect of male patriarchy within religion is the places of worship; some women have to sit behind a screen while the men occupy the central and more scared spaces. In Islam when a woman is menstruating she is not allowed to touch the Qur’an. Jean Holm (1994) describes this as the devaluation of women in contemporary society. Also sacred texts which are largely associated with male Gods are usually interpreted and written by men. Stories often reflect anti female stereotypes such as that EVE who is in the Christian story of the world eginning made the mistake of eating the apple which she is to blame of the downfall of humanities fall from grace. Lastly, many women have fewer rights than men, for example divorce, how many people they marry and how they dress. Feminists argue that women’s oppression is shown in almost every religion as they criticise that in almost all the religions, the gods are male although Karen Armstrong holds strong arguments against this and shows that from the start were not always about male dominance.
The earth mother was a women/goddess and female priesthoods were found throughout the east around 6000 years ago. Saadawi argues that religion is not the direct cause of women’s subordination and that the result of patirchary comes from forms of society which are coming into existence over the last number of years. For example men reinterpreted religious beliefs in ways that favours patrichary. Linda Woodhead believes that yes traditional religions are patriarchal she emphasises that not all of this is true of religion.
She argues that there are “religious forms of feminism” which is way in which women use religion to gain greater freedom and respect, For example, in today’s society Muslim women who wear a veil. While western feminists see it as a symbol of oppression some Muslim women has stated that the veil in fact helps them escape from the confines of the home, employment and education. For them it is a symbol of liberation which enables them to enter the public sphere without them losing their identity.
It also helps them escape from the male gaze and they do not regard themselves as sexual objects. This is supported by Helen Watson who argues that the veiling of Islamic women can be interpreted as beneficial to Muslim women and she argues that the veiling is often a reaction to the increasing pervasive western culture. Another aspect of Linda Woodheads study is that religion is able to be used to gain status and respect for their roles within the private sphere of their homes and family. For example belonging to an evangelical group can be empowering for some women.