Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The fight for faith in feminism

After November 8th, I assume a lot of people started praying again. I certainly did, out of fear, out of confusion, out of anger. I am Catholic by culture, but as I’ve grown more educated, more liberal, I’ve not only distanced myself from my own religion, but grown skeptical of religious institutions. Religious doctrine is used as a justification for political ideology I disagree with. This fundamentalist approach frustrates me for myriad reasons. I think rigid religious doctrine shuts out potential followers and it leads to discrimination or violence. I think absolutism when interpreting ancient text is a folly in of itself (see, the Constitution). And I think unquestioning loyalty allows massive institutions to go unaccountable. My worries apply mostly to the two largest Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam.

On their face, these two religions are in direct opposition to the tenants of feminism. One need only peruse the Internet for a moment to find blog posts from religious types about the evils of feminism. Feminism, to these zealots, is about a murdering unborn babies, lesbianism, the destruction of sexual morals, and defying god’s will in creating two genders.
(Representative samples: https://www.girldefined.com/feminism-christianity-cant-mix, http://www.islam101.com/women/womlib.html).

They see feminism as a monolith with a clear and insidious agenda. NOT UNLIKE THE WAY I VIEW RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM. However, as they are actual institutions with leadership structures and centuries of violence perpetuated in the name of a deity, I would argue my inclinations are warranted. Despite what sounds like a critical tone, I think religion is valuable as a tool for individuals and a society. I know because of media biases, whether the demonization of Islam by conservative news, or my consumption of liberal media that is critical of fundamentalist Christianity in America, I was missing a piece of the puzzle. To no surprise, feminism and religion are getting along in powerful ways across the world.

Critics of feminism point a racist finger at Muslim countries and say, why don’t you protest about these sensational acts of violence, that’s real misogyny. All the while missing the points that misogyny is not about only about physical violence, and overlooking how our country treats violence against women. (Representative example: http://judgybitch.com/2015/06/09/feminists-dont-challenge-radical-islam-because-real-misogynists-are-terrifying/). What these anti-Islam types fail to  realize is that Muslim women are those best equipped to combat misogyny in their home countries.

The Nation magazine’s Elizabeth Segran wrote a piece in 2013 about the Musawah (Equality in Arabic) movement. Twelve Muslim women from across the world founded the movement in 2009, modeled on a Malaysian organization Sisters in Islam. They hope to paint Muslim patriarchy not as a function of the religion itself but of the exclusive male interpretation of Islamic text. They are engaging with the text and people of Islam both, a dual approach spanning the globe. Musawah is looking for both private and public sphere equality by pushing civic engagement by women and refuting widely believed but unsubstantiated beliefs of sharia law. Rather than modeling their structure on secular non-government organizations, they’ve developed an approach specifically for Muslim countries. Musawah stands as another powerful example of women carving out space within their social structures.

While xenophobia and ethnocentrism can be blamed for the collective non-recognition of Islamic feminists, the lack of attention to Christian feminists in the United States stems from misconceptions our own culture perpetuates about feminism.  Notions of man-hating and sexual promiscuity are popular for anti-feminists, who assume feminism's only enemies are white Christian men. However, their ignorance blinds them to the work of organizations like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).

It is no coincidence that much of the conflict between Christian faith and feminism lays in reproductive rights; it is an on-going battle where religious belief is used as the sole argument for anti-choice advocates. The RCRC does not fit neatly with common assumptions about religious policial groups. The 30-year-old interfaith organization’s motto is “Pro-faith, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice.” Similar to Musawah, RCRC relies on alternative interpretations of religious doctrine to bridge the gap between feminism and faith. They utilize an outwardly intersectional approach, whether addressing marginalized communities’ access to reproductive health care, or branching out to advocacy on LGBTQ issues. RCRC also advocates for a stronger non-male pastoral presence to break down church patriarchies.

These groups are fighting for equality, to break down barriers, from within institutions that are associated with oppression. They undoubtedly face backlash and discrimination from others who supposedly share their faith. The willingness to stay and fight in their communities, to not give up a fundamental piece of their identities, gives me faith in these trying times.

Link to Musawah: http://www.musawah.org/
Nation article about Musawah: https://www.thenation.com/article/rise-islamic-feminists/
Additonal Time Magazine article partially about Musawah: http://time.com/3751243/muslim-women-redefine-islam-feminism/
RCRC: http://rcrc.org/

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