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Women and Patriarchal Religion

Updated on March 2, 2019

            In discussing women’s issues and history, it is important to analyze and discuss the influence and impact of patriarchal religion. In many nations, patriarchal religion is the primary type of religion, with males leading – and often benefiting from – practices. Cultural and social beliefs pervade faiths and work to oppress female followers, and certain religious practices keep many women from fulfilling their potential or from living with privileges that other women may have. Nonetheless, women do have the capacity to meet their needs while following patriarchal religions, and in fact can use religious authority systems to create space, gain control, and combat patriarchy.

            The way that patriarchal religions are structured and organized explains the resentment and enmity towards women. Patriarchal religions revolve around a male god, and “superior beings” are created through the union of “a divine male and a mortal female”. Women are associated with nature and mortality, and while older religions valued nature, patriarchal religions value things removed from life on earth, thus creating a hierarchy of gender. This almost automatically places women in a position of disrespect and helplessness.

            Laura Geller experienced this hierarchy and the indignity for women while working to become a rabbi. She discussed her experience in getting her first period, and hearing her mother tell of how she was slapped when she first got hers. Many believed that menstrual blood was evil and unclean, but Geller was brave enough to believe that it wasn’t dirty, and that “a blessing would have gently taught me what it means to be a woman”. Though religion give men more “he recreated her religion for herself in a sense, and her quest to become a rabbi became a chance to create new images of humanity “in God’s image”.

            Chung Hyun Kyung saw a connection between Asian women’s spirituality and a struggle against dependency on men and patriarchal religion for self-definition. She argued that women should resist such things as Christian theology, for example, as women believe in different things than men and the religions do not serve them; she implored, “Dear sisters and brothers, with the energy of the Holy Spirit let us tear apart all walls of division and the ‘culture of death’ that separate us”. She hails the wisdom and compassion of nature and its creatures while simultaneously using the name of the Holy Spirit in her bid… not to mention recalling her image of the Holy Spirit as a woman!

Domestic abuse – which some males would see as appropriate given the amount of power warranted them as males by their religion – was an issue that Abigail Abbot Bailey saw fit to overcome through her Calvinist beliefs, interestingly enough. She as well as her children suffered physical abuse under her husband for years because they “wished to be obedient… for our family had ever been in the habit of obedience”. However, when she learned of the incestuous activities between her husband and her daughter, she realized that he had broken their religious covenant of marriage, and “God has set me an important lesson upon the emptiness of the creature”. Though Bailey still sees herself below a male figure as “a feeble worm,” she still uses her faith in God to draw strength to leave her husband and even have him arrested.

            The unusual story of Margery Kempe told of a woman who defied the Christian idea that women should be assenting to their husbands, thereby resisting men, the authority of the church, and social norms. While society deemed that someone of her class should offer herself to her husband, she refused to lay with him, “And he replied, ‘You are no good wife’”. In the face of his insistence, she managed to “break the custom of fasting” through a sort of negotiation with Christ and her husband, bursting through the male-female hierarchy. Therefore, Kempe was able to use theological beliefs to defy gender, sexuality, religion, and class to create her own happiness.

            Additionally, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz used the seclusion of the convent to pursue something almost unthinkable for women at the time: education. As she had no desire to marry, she realized that “taking the veil” would “be the least unfitting and the most decent state I could choose.” Though she saw herself still bound by the norms of society, she envisioned a way out through religion. In the convent, she was able to avoid the “obligations that would disturb my freedom to study or the noise of a community that would interrupt the tranquil silence of my books”. Women in her culture and religion were supposed to take on the “less exalted tasks” such as housework (module), while “intellect” was “too much, some would say, in a woman; and there are even those who say that it is harmful”.

            The narrative of Vibia Perpetua is one of the more powerful in the text. It was her staunch belief in Christianity that led to her gruesome death, but at the same time, her belief vindicated her from a life of emptiness and superficiality. Though she was affected by her family, and “was worn out, seeing them so worn because of me,” it did not lead her away from her beliefs. Not only does she challenge social norms that declare that she should be an obedient daughter and a doting mother, but her resistance against the patriarchy of the Roman Empire shows the strength of her resolve and the power in her actions.

            In each of the referenced excerpts, there were still elements of oppression of the women within the patriarchal religions. However, these women have shown that, though they have the lower hand in the deal, they can work against their oppressors within a religious context and achieve amazing things regardless.


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    • profile image

      rosemary njuguna 

      7 years ago

      i think the underlying course of perpuating partriachy lies with socialization we get from birth starting with agencies such as family,religion,school and state.therefore this must change inorder to achiev da gender equality

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you for your comments! Great post, MamaTito!

    • MamaTito profile image


      9 years ago from california

      Thank you for bringing up this topic. I am including a link written by Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand because putting it in my own words would not do it justice. Dr. Von Hildebrand points out that the idea that women are seen as less than men in the Catholic Church and other religions is a feminist misconception that actually degrades womanhood. I highly recommend "The Privilege of Being a Woman" by Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand.

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 

      10 years ago

      Glassvisage, This is a very interesting, thought provking hub! The key here is the way religion is practiced! God is not a "respecter of persons!" Thank you for sharing, Blessings!

    • Kimberly Bunch profile image

      Kimberly Bunch 

      10 years ago from EAST WENATCHEE

      Interesting Hub.

    • trimar7 profile image


      10 years ago from New York

      God is good. She would not support women or men being suppressed. God is good. He loves all. It is human beings who have determined how man or woman is treated here on Earth. God is all - not one or the other.

    • eovery profile image


      10 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

      I heard a good one the other day, Men may be he head, but women are the neck, which turns the head. I thought that was cute.

      Keep on Hubbing!

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Northern California

      Interesting last thought, James! I would say that a combination of factors can come together to make for oppression, and not just the "superiority" of a gender

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      10 years ago from Chicago

      I wonder how it is that God is a male and that all great spiritual leaders—well, to be honest, most leaders in any field from art to music to science to inventions—are men considering Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus, Moses, et al. 

      I have the heard the standard answer of, "Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed were men because women were oppressed back then and men wouldn't let women form religions or paint the Sistine Chapel or write like Shakespeare or compose music like Beethoven or draft documents like Thomas Jefferson.  They were denied their equality!"

      Well that makes me wonder: If women are equal, how were they oppressed for 6000 years?  I mean, doesn't someone have to be your superior to dominate and oppress you? Especially a whole race of you all over the world for 6000 years?


    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Northern California

      Well said, everyone! Thanks for all of your responses. Eovery, you're right... We need each other, so no need to oppress!

    • eovery profile image


      10 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

      Women should be on a pedestal. They have special God like artributes like creating life, Christ like love of nutruing and giving of themselves for their children and spouse. Men are to care for them. God did not have anything as wonderful to give to men, so he yoked them with the priesthood to care for the women.

      Also, men tend to not be as active, If the women are allowed to run everything, most men home and watch football and basketball on Sundays. Women should encourage the men to do the work and help them.

      I know many religions and people do not follow this, but this is my belief. And how we explain it in my religion. Priesthood is service, not glory and self satisfication. Priesthood is not ruling over, but to help others. Jesus showed a great example of this is when he washed his disciples feet. He showed them the way it should be. I think if we look it and practice it this way, everyone would be very happy.

      Man and woman need each other. They should not have to fight back. Something is majorly wrong with the system if this has to happen. This is not God's way

      Keep on Hubbing.

    • Eaglekiwi profile image


      10 years ago from -Oceania

      Hi Gypsy

      psst I bet Jesus Christ didn't either lol.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      10 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Interesting hub. You have just explained why I do not follow any organized religion.

    • Eaglekiwi profile image


      10 years ago from -Oceania

      Did you know that New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote? huh

      And have had very successful female Prime Minsiters. Helen Clarke after an 8 yr reign was invited to a top position with The United Nations. this year....must be something in the water maybe.


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