Religion and honor, guilt and shame: misygony magnified

I did something that most women didn’t do back in the 70s: I kept my baby when I became pregnant at the age of 17.

Looking back, I realize that my mother and father gave me a great gift: they did not teach me religious shame and guilt. Although one family member pressured me to have an abortion, I didn’t even consider that an option for ME. This had nothing to do with religious conviction or shame. It would have been easier to have an abortion, to hide the existence of a pregnancy, than to announce to the world: “I had sex! and I’m not married.”

I also realize that leaving the Baptist church a few years earlier was a gift. Yes, a gift. I was spared a LOT of judgment from that group.

The truth of the matter is that unplanned pregnancies occur at about the same rates by those who profess to be Christians as those who don’t. Both groups avail themselves of abortion services, too.

For me, I am pro-life. But I am also pro-choice. I would never, ever want the world to be a place where a woman does not have the option to end an early pregnancy. As tragic as abortion is (yes, it ends a life forever and should not be done without much consideration), what has resulted from unplanned, and often unwanted, pregnancies over the past 100 years poses the question: is abortion worse than infanticide and honor killings?

Take, for instance, how the Catholic Church treated women who found themselves pregnant and unmarried in Ireland 70 years ago. Stephanie Lord’s blog post, “No country for young women: Honour crimes and infanticide in Ireland” details a horrendous discovery in Ireland. Suffice it to say that those who claim “sanctity of life” showed their true colors when a septic tank with the remains of nearly 800 children was found in Galway.

The attitude that women who became pregnant outside of the institution of marriage brought shame on themselves, their families and their communities is misogyny personified. While the attitude is misogynistic, what they did with these poor women and their babies and children is beyond misogyny. It is unimaginable.

Anyone who claims that the “Church” believes in the sanctity of life needs to really think about what this means. If it is shameful to be pregnant and unmarried, is it not more shameful to judge the source of that new life, to treat that woman like she is disgusting, ungodly, to be reviled?

And this touches on the core issue here: who decides what is shameful and what isn’t? Religious men who withdrew from the real world to the safety and isolation of the religious life? Religious men who read the entire New Testament but seem to miss the verses about a man who doesn’t care for his family being worse than an infidel, miss Jesus’ entreaty that the man without sin should cast that first stone, and especially miss the idea of a loving God who cares about people so much that He sent his own Son to die for them? There is some serious disconnect between what these religious people are preaching and how they treated unmarried mothers and their offspring in Ireland and other Catholic-ruled countries. Those who point their fingers the most are those who have the most to hide, I tell you. I think these religious men are casting stones so that no one has time to cast any at them (we won’t talk about the rampant pedophilia and sexual abuse in church settings).

Where are the loving believers? Where are those who supposedly represent God on earth now? Are they caring for the sick, hungry and destitute? Are they providing clothing and shelter for those who have none?

Gosh, no! They are building $132 million dollar church buildings so they can be very comfortable while they pat one another on their oh-so-righteous backs.

They have been found out: the Catholic Church enslaved women and children as a source of free labor in Ireland. They allowed babies and children to starve out of some twisted sense of honor. Honor?

There is no honor in how women and children have been treated by religious men (and women) over the years, decades, centuries and millenia. None at all.

When religious dogma creates such guilt and shame that women are denigrated, enslaved, feel they must have abortions, or are told that they bring dishonor to their families, churches and communities, such dogma must be challenged.

Modern American culture remains misogynistic because it is still steeped in religious tradition and attitudes. Women who have children and want or need to work have no social support system at all. Where are the affordable daycare programs? Where are the flexible hours and benefits that help working women provide for their children and themselves? Is it any wonder that so many women choose abortion?

Religious tradition insists that women must be mothers first and foremost, that their motherhood IS their identity, and may pursue other things only when every maternal duty, accomplished single-handedly, is completed. A woman feels guilty if she leaves her child to go to work. Oh, and she must be married. If she isn’t married she is full of shame and dishonor. Yes, this has lessened over the past 10-25 years, but it is still the common attitude toward unmarried mothers, and I fear a revival of religious fundamentalism could re-establish this as the prevailing attitude.

Is it any wonder that the current generation is rejecting religious ideology in droves? They are not stupid. They are sophisticated critical thinkers. They know when someone is bullshitting them, and I tell you, faith without works is DEAD, words without actions is meaningless, and conviction without compassion is hypocrisy.

Claiming the “sanctity of life” while despising, hating, denigrating, marginalizing, judging, and isolating the vessels of that life is the epitome of misogyny.

P.S. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I have a deep and abiding faith in a loving God. I have, however, abandoned hope in religion. And don’t think for a second that I believe sexual abuse is found only within the Catholic Church; it is found everywhere that women and children are required to “submit” to male authority that is supposedly established by “God.” Power = Abuse.


Tuam children’s bodies: Catholic Church ‘has no records’

Galway Historian Finds 800 Babies in Septic Tank Grave

No country for young women: Honour crimes and infanticide in Ireland

Cover yourself up! I don’t think so.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

I grew up in Miami. I spent a lot of time walking around beaches in nothing but a bikini from the time I was 12. All the girls did this. I did not feel ashamed or insecure. I was just walking around. I never thought about how my body could cause a man to sin. It just wasn’t a part of my upbringing. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a bikini today (to the relief of all other human beings on the planet) not because I am more modest but because I don’t want to wear one. And that is the key. Self-determination. Choice.

As I read of girls and women around the world, such as in theocratic Iran, who are required to wear head scarves by law and burqas in some extremely conservative cultures, I am so very, very thankful that I was born, raised (mostly) and live in the United States, in a western culture.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

And this brings me to the dangers of a theocracy, the very thing that our Founding Fathers worked hard to bar from taking root and growing here. I believe in the free expression of religion. I do NOT believe in the right of any person in this country to require any kind of religious expression from me. Do you see the difference? The wearing of head scarves is just a means of controlling women, marking and labeling them.

What does covering a part of our female bodies do to us as people? It labels us as subjugated, oppressed, controlled beings who must apologize for the core of our nature: being female. This kind of law or tenet places women in a place of shame. Shame, control, oppression…

These are all characteristics of an abusive relationship. If a religion is abusive, then it needs to be discredited. These organizations are not just religious, they are cults. The very nature of a cult is control and abuse.

When is religion cultish? I personally believe cult behavior occurs when an individual or organization requires something of followers that did not originate from followers’ own personal convictions, from their own relationship with God for only themselves. Does this make sense?

Indian Widows have been in the news lately. This Inter Press News article describes the nature of the problem:

“The women were married off at a very young age – some were just five or six. Their husbands, who were much older, married several times. When they died, they left dozens of young widows behind, said Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International.

“These young girls were forced to shave off their hair, dress only in the coarsest white clothes, eat once a day and were barred from all social events as they were considered ill-omened.”

The practice of treating women who have been subjugated by men, treated like trash, thrown out as though they have no use anymore without their husbands is the nature of misogynistic culture and religion.

If I feel that I want to engage in any religious practice, i.e., cover my own head out of respect for God, not because anyone told me to do it and not because all of the other women cover their heads, that is one thing (I must admit that I despise the practice in strongly patriarchal religions that requires women to dress in ugly sacks and put stiff bonnets on their heads thinking that somehow that makes them more acceptable to God). But for a man to tell me that I should cover my head for any reason, I reject that. Why do I need to cover my femininity? I am not talking about nudity or walking around topless in a city or on a beach. I am talking about requiring that I cover myself, my hair, my arms, my legs, my female form because it is somehow shameful and might cause a man to stumble.

Do you see this misguided casting of blame on women for the sins of men? It is her fault if a man lusts after her. It is her fault if she is raped. It is her fault for being female, a shameful, disgusting, substandard human form.
This is the very nature of the abusive man’s arsenal of controlling behavior: shame and blame.

The bottom line is that here in the United States women are free to reject control. Although for some it is very dangerous and even life-threatening to challenge religious abuse and control, women have legal rights and can request protection from abusers/controllers.

I recently saw an ad in a local newspaper showing a woman wearing a veil offering “instruction” in Islam. The ad included a picture of a woman wearing long, flowing clothes and a veil — she was smiling and looked so happy. Really??? Yes, I can’t wait to subject myself to male control over my female form. Really??? I think this kind of proselytizing is very dangerous. Actually, isn’t any kind of proselytizing to be abhorred? I know that if you went to Egypt and tried to talk to a Muslim about Jesus you could easily end up in prison; it is against the law there. Here in the United States, the awful, horrible, disgusting United States it is legal because of our Constitution. That is because we celebrate freedom of religion here.

You are welcome to tell me about your Hindu religion and I am welcome to accept or reject it for me. I am free to talk about how I am disillusioned with the man-made parts of the Christian religion that hurt people; you are welcome to argue with me. Men and women are welcome to freely express their belief in Islam and to share it with others, even engage in proselytizing. That is the kind of country that we are resulting in the good, the bad, and the ugly. That is what freedom looks like.

The really awesome part about this country is that I am free to reject Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, atheism, deism, and any other “-ism” I feel like rejecting. As a woman, I am not required to subject myself to the religious demands of any man (or woman). As much as we hate a lot that is going on in the United States, I completely and absolutely celebrate this freedom. Yes, I do.

For those of us who love to refer to original sources, here is the wording of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So, although I despise proselytizing of any kind, it is protected by the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States of America. That Muslim woman is free to place an advertisement offering “instruction” in Islam because she is in a country that celebrates freedom of religion — the free expression of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. I just hope, at some point, that she realizes that she is also free to cast off the veil and just be a person.

Celebrating freedom today!

But what if you’re wrong?

About what?

Of course I’m wrong about a lot of things.  I am probably wrong about most things.  Most people are.  That is the key here.  Most people are wrong.

Humans have an extremely limited ability to see.  Anything.

I am very human.  I will always be very human.

People who know me know that I am kind, but sometimes mean.  They know that I am generally well-mannered and polite, except when I am rude.  I am honest to a fault, except when I feel the need to hide (though I still don’t lie — I just hide myself away for a time until it is safe to come out).   People who know me know that I am strange, different, just not quite right, enigmatic (I’ve been told).

One thing that I have discovered about myself is that although I want to be loved, want loads of approval and attention, desire to be adored by someone, anyone, I will not stop being me.  I tried that and it didn’t work.  I got completely lost.  I am finding my way again.

So what if I’m wrong? I will continue to project myself onto the world.  I might hide parts of myself away to keep them safe, the most fragile and delicate parts of me, but I will use my voice because I must.  I am compelled by something deep down, something primal maybe, to speak out, to be present, to not be silent.

I will not be afraid.  I will feel fear and concern, be insecure and doubtful, wonder whether I am just delusional, but I will not be afraid to speak.  Someone has to speak.  Women must speak.

In my on-campus classes (I take  online classes, too), one common behavior I witness is (are) the soft, quiet, tentative voices of female students.  The guys speak up, loud and clear, tend to overwhelm classroom discussions, but only a handful of women speak out, and when they do they can barely be heard.  If one of them is sitting next to me or in front of me or behind me, I tell her to speak up, use her voice, don’t be afraid to be wrong; speak up and be heard.

So I write.  I speak.

I most certainly am wrong.  I see life and the world through my own clouded filters.  So does everyone else.  That’s the key here:  everyone sees the world through clouded, cracked, oftentimes dark glasses.  I love when the glasses I put on some days are beautifully clear and bright.  I love that!  But it isn’t always that way, and that is okay.

People who know me know that I fall down a lot (sometimes literally) but I always get up and find something to look forward to.  Every single day.  For those who have only met me through this blog, my other current blog is entitled, “Serendipity:  Life is a Garden.”  Such a contrast, I know, to this blog.  I have lived by the premise that life is full of serendipity and that life is a garden, sometimes quiet and seemingly dead while it is merely resting, waiting for sunlight and warm temperatures to wake it up and give it new life.  Life is beautiful, magical, delightful, amazing.  It is other, not-so-nice things, too.  We can’t just ignore the ugliness of life, just focusing on the nice stuff.  But we cannot live stuck in the muck of ugliness, either.  We must be able to wade out of the muck, make it to shore, wash off and dance, at least sometimes.  I want to dance.

My other blog: such a contrast

My other blog: such a contrast

I might be completely wrong about Christianity and religious leaders and men who think they are in charge because God said they are.  I might be.  That’s okay.  I am just speaking up and being heard.  I am not afraid to be told that I am wrong (I have been told that my entire life — I can’t ALWAYS be wrong, right?).  I am writing my way through life, and that’s the bottom line.  I write to be heard, to express parts of myself that otherwise would stay completely hidden.  If I’m wrong, so be it.

But what if I’m right?