There is no doubt that religion plays a very crucial role in the perpetuity of rape culture in modern society.
In predominantly orthodox Muslim countries, we see this in the inability of women to access certain privileges without permission or consent of a male relative being either husbands or fathers. In a lot of cultures, women are second-class citizens, not able to inherit lands, not able to access education outside of traditional gender-based education,and prevented from expressing individuality. To a sexist society, being a woman is an insufficiency.
Don’t believe me?
Here are three instances of doctrine taught by mainstream religion and how they perpetuate misogyny.
Let’s start from “the beginning.”
- Woman (Eve) disobeyed god.
The worst thing mainstream religion did to women was blame us for the “fall of man.” Hatred towards the woman, the cause of eternal ruin, the propagator of the fall from utopia, the sole reason why the earth is in a perpetual state of utter chaos, is duly justified in this doctrine, that ‘woman’ disobeyed god. Why shouldn’t you hate women, when we are the daughters of Eve? This automatically puts women in the position to be blamed for everything including the actions of men for all eternity.
Herein lies the birthplace of misogyny; the vilification of women.
“What caused World War 2?”
“Well, Hitler, duh!”
“Yeah but when you think about it, if Eve hadn’t eaten that fruit, that would’ve never happened.”
In a single swoop, the creation story paved the way for everything to be blamed on women, right down to our own abuse. We are set up at a disadvantage from birth, because after all, we are the birthplace of the first sin.
- Women were created From and For men.
Patriarchal religion teaches that women were created For men, and in some cases, FROM men as well. We see an example of this in the biblical story of the creation, where Eve is created as the result of Adam’s need for a companion and a helper. She is also said to have been created from his rib.
This story has since become a metaphor used in perpetuating the insufficiency that is the ‘woman’. We see this metaphor being used in the commodification of the existence of women. Religious leaders describe women as being the ‘help meet’ of the man; the one whose ‘destiny is fulfilled in alignment with her husband’s’ and in a world where she does not meet this phantom individual from whose rib she is said to have been created from, she lives without purpose and direction.
Is it perhaps impossible to understand that a woman can exist without having to help a man?
All throughout history, women have been viewed as properties of men. Women aren’t even named in biblical genealogies because of our irrelevance to the social structure. A single woman belongs to her father from birth. She takes her father’s name. She obeys him. He owns her. She awaits “freedom” which comes when her father hands her over to another man who will also rule over her. There has to be an exchange of power, hence the marriage rituals. When she gets married, she surrenders her individual identity for her husband’s and ceases to be her own person. The man now owns her. All her life, she is being owned and passed around from man to man.
This is the reason why most cultures and countries do not recognize marital rape because to them, a man owns his wife and her body. Everything she owns belong to him alone. He can’t take sex by force because she OWES it to him.
- The female body is inherently sinful.
Mainstream religion teaches and propagates this. The female body is the object of lust and thus causes men to sin. We see this in the vilification of Delilah in the Samson story. Instead of the focus being on the folly of Samson in his fraternizing with the enemy, we are taught that Delilah is the one person we should protect our ‘men’ from. Today, married women are encouraged to pray against the metaphorical Delilah’s effect on their philandering husbands.
This sinful nature, also provides a justification for any abuse done to the female population as the consequence for existing. Women are told to cover up; to preserve themselves, that we are the temple of the lord, but we don’t see this being forced onto men. Men are free and even encouraged to exercise their sexuality without fear of consequence or stigma, women are shamed into repressing natural sexual urges and sex life because we are taught to be ashamed of our bodies from birth.
Biblical stories of rape are told in such a way that puts the blame on the victim and never on the perpetrator, or in some case they are dismissed completely. This is the case of the biblical David and his raping Bathsheba, where god only punishes David’s act of murder and not her rape. We also see this in another story where David’s punishment by god is the rape of his daughter Tamar. Even in this story, where it should be about those concerned i.e Tamar, this story is told as a backdrop to David’s actions, as though she was an inconsequential part of the plot in the story of David.
We are taught that our bodies are unholy, the objects of impurity, therefore we are responsible for the negative attention we “attract.” The lustful gazes at our breasts and the not-so-subtle backward glance at our buttocks have become “reactionary gestures.” Why wouldn’t we get stared down and catcalled, when our breasts are so full and our behinds swollen? We are seen as walking sex toys.
When women are raped, the question is not “who raped her and why,” but rather, “why were you wearing that revealing dress?” or “why were you out that late at night?” or “maybe she did something to trigger the rape.” The responsibility of rape is placed entirely on the victims instead of the perpetrators of the crime, forgetting that there would be no rape without rapists.
The propagation of misogyny in these institutions are a reflection of the fact that men, for the longest time, have been the only ones entitled to spirituality and the indoctrination of said institutions. Religion has been a refuge for misogyny and sexual predators and in the fight to end rape culture and dismantle the patriarchy, it must be taken apart and if needed, rebuilt without the embedded misogyny.
By: Rose Okeke