Enough is Enough

When is Humanity Going to Get That We’re All in This Together?

The Objectification of Women and the Misogyny of the Abrahamic Religions

Posted by honestpoet on February 8, 2007

I was recently invited to participate again in a private online poetry workshop I used to frequent. The first poem I read there to offer critique dealt (beautifully, in that oblique way poetry can do) with the objectification of women, in this case, as sex objects. And it is a quandary for men (this was written by a man, from his perspective as a man lusting after a woman he recognizes is more than an object yet can’t help desiring), especially in this consumer culture where images of women are used to sell everything from shaving cream to cars. My family had actually had a conversation recently about this very thing, and we made some parallels with religion. My son, who’s been raised in this house to understand that women are (surprise!) human beings just like men, had trouble even understanding what we were talking about when we referred to the objectification of women, so we had to explain it to him. Because it’s not just about women as objects of sexual desire. A chauvinist will use a woman in lots of ways to stroke his ego, not just by screwing her. Sometimes he’ll boost himself up by belittling her, or by besting her, or simply by intimidating her. Of course there are some men who go even farther. Rape happens way too often, and too often goes unpunished.

The process of learning to view women as objects starts very young, when boys watch their fathers, when they watch TV, when they listen to the men around them. My son sees chauvinistic behavior already in his classmates. Some of them are downright misogynistic.

How do we change this as a society? It has to start at the family level. My husband made a parallel with religion. While our boy was still confused, not understanding how they could have such a skewed view of reality, his father reminded him that his classmates also believe that the Hebrew sky-god created the world and watches over them and gives a crap about how they do in school, or on the football field.

It’s hard to break out of a worldview that’s toxic and ingrained, but it’s worth the trouble. And speaking of parallels between the objectification of women and religion, it’s not surprising, since they’re somewhat related. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all misogynistic religions. They pin the blame for suffering and death on Eve’s alleged original sin, and so by proxy all women are evil. We watched recently a movie I’d asked for as a Christmas present. I had only seen it once before, at an art cinema in DC many years ago, when my husband was at the library studying for his boards, and I was walking home from work along M Street. It’s called Anchoress. It had been so surreal that I wasn’t sure if I’d even remembered it correctly, it was so like a dream. It deals with the clash of paganism, which exalts the act of procreation and the feminine role in it, and Christianity, which so doesn’t, in the Middle Ages. And it makes apparent the process by which men have blamed women (and the Devil) for the lust they feel (which some refuse to control) for eons.

All of this makes me think of the bad deal women get in Islamic cultures. I mean, we don’t have it easy anywhere. Might has made right for so long that women have gotten the short end of the stick in every culture. But these Islamic cultures really take the cake. Talk about objectifying women and girls. The only status they seem to have is as vessels for the honor of their fathers or husbands (or brothers, uncles, etc.). And when that honor is impugned, even just in rumor, murdering the woman is the response. Even when a girl is raped, she ends up murdered (because she had sex!) by her family. Of course this doesn’t happen every time. But even once is tragic and inane beyond words! And it happens a LOT. And many of the women in these cultures suffer Stockholm syndrome and so accept all this as the way it’s meant to be.

Recently I followed a link from my blogstats page to find a blog of someone who’d been reading mine. She’s a young Muslim woman in a western country now in love and co-habitating with a non-Muslim man. And she’s trying to figure out how to tell her parents that she loves him. My heart really goes out to her. I can only hope that her parents love her enough, the real her, not her as some sort of vessel of their honor, or upholder of tradition, but her, a real human being in love with another human being, to simply celebrate her happiness.

I can dream, can’t I?

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20 Responses to “The Objectification of Women and the Misogyny of the Abrahamic Religions”

  1. Very interesting insights…congrats on raising your son not to be like the other 99% of the male population…though it’s important for him to know what he might encounter (and seems to already have) in the real world.

  2. honestpoet said

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I truly do believe that in the future, if we don’t manage to kill ourselves off or throw ourselves back into another Dark Age, our descendants will look back and be completely unable to understand what it’s like for us, with so many still caught in the quagmire of sexism, racism, and competing religions.

    When I was defending my senior thesis (I got my BA in CW), which included a few stories written from the POV of male characters, my mentor asked me why I thought I was able to write from inside a man’s head so well. My response was that I figured men and women weren’t really all that different. I really believe that. I know that there are some dissimilarities, like how we tend to talk more, on average, and y’all tend to think more often about sex, but other than that, you really can’t generalize about someone based on their gender any more than you can on the color of their eyes, or any other morphological trait. We all experience pain, we all hope, we all dream, fear, and, hopefully, love.

  3. Well said…I agree there are some “general” differences that emerge due to upbringing/environment and perhaps hardwiring in the brain…but yes…we all have the capacity to hope/dream/fear/love. I peronally enjoy writing from a female perspective in my work. I find female characters much more fascinting than men in terms of trying to get “inside” their heads. Thanks for the insights!

  4. honestpoet said

    You’re welcome! I hope you read here more. I tend to open my head up pretty well, so you’d get a good look. It would be amusing to see a character based on my persona.

    I checked out your website and do believe I’ll be buying your latest novel soon.

  5. Thank you…I have subscribed to your blog and eagerly anticipate reading your future posts.

  6. mjau said

    I only hope I’ll do as good a job with raising my son 🙂 On the other hand, it would surprise me immensely if he turned out a chauvinist… I guess he could only get that from television, but since I always go into long rants about stupid things we see, he will probably grow up to become a raging feminist…

    I totally agree with you on religion. As a student I took a course on religion and gender, and pondered a lot about what I can say about Islam and misogyny. Often you feel it’s not right to criticize religions that are mostly practiced far away from your own country (of course the number of muslims is increasing here in Finland because of immigration, but what I mean is, my background is not muslim), you often hear the argument that you should fix the problems in yur own backyard first. Well, I criticize Christianity also, so now I can move on to Islam 😉

    I really feel quite sorry for women and other marginalized groups, like gay people, who feel they still want to practice these religions. How can they cope with all that hate that is directed towards them? They must be doing a lot of self-denying, or “double thinking” like in Orwells 1984.

    I hope we can keep discussing these things in our blogs 🙂 the worst thing would be to remain silent about it.

  7. honestpoet said

    Mjau, thanks for your kind and thoughtful words.

    Yes, too many are afraid to criticize religion, esp. if it’s not one they practice. But I think we need to have the courage to do so, even at the risk of offending someone. Religion has too great an impact on everyone not to be open to scrutiny and criticism.

  8. Monte said

    Forgive me for saying, “And yet …”

    I completely agree that the Abrahamic religions have horrendously oppressed women.

    Yet as I feel my way through the gospels each week, I find Jesus colliding with it at every turn: He chooses a pagan woman as his example of the greatest faith he’s found. He commends Mary for abandoning “women’s work” (enduring the resentment of her sister Martha), and sitting, instead, with the men learning from the rabbi. He likens God to a hen who wants to gather Jerusalem under her wings; he tells grumbling Pharisees that God is like a woman who lost a coin and searches till she finds it (without a male in the story); he reveals himself, post-resurrection, first to women; women are virtually the only characters courageous enough to hang around through the crucifixion. And on and on and on.

    I doubt that we can imagine how unthinkable these things would be in his day – and how outrageous – to religious power brokers.

    And so it seems to me that the honest follower of Jesus today would naturally desire, likewise, to create a community reflective of Jesus’ radical affirmation of women and radical challenge to religious patriarchy.

    Call me naif?

  9. honestpoet said

    Well OF COURSE you’re right. And yes, you’re naive to think that’s gonna happen.

    It must be hard to be a man with a mind like yours, Monte. Good men are too rare.

    Personally, I think women should be in charge. Having cared for the children for so long (and having to bear them), we tend to be more concerned with things like the future. Maybe we’d make a better one than what the men have managed thus far.

  10. Monte said

    Ah, you are kind. Actually, I’m having quite a bit of fun trying my best to develop one. I work with two female staff pastors, both of whom are people who see things I often don’t see.

    One of my heroes, Joan Chittister, wrote a dazzler a while back after touring Iraq and talking to women there. I posted a link to it with the title What Iraqi Women Want (which will, in turn, link you to it). I think you’d find her observations of Iraqi women exactly in sync with your point. [She is, by the way, a nun who advocates for equality of women and men in Roman Catholicism – now there’s a woman-sized task! Her writing is both politically and spiritually radical (or should I say, reasonable). I have benefited enormously from it.]

  11. […] care of our children.” March 23rd, 2007 — Monte My friend honest poet reminded me that women often have different priorities in world affairs than men do. Which reminded […]

  12. Monte said

    OK, forget the above, I decided it was important enough to re-write the Chittister piece like so: Take Care of Our Children. I think a trackback will show up here. Thanks for bringing this to mind.

  13. Interesting post and discussion. I agree with several of your points, as well as the great examples Monte pointed out. I thought I might add some comments of my own into the discussion.

    First, I must let it be known that I think all organized religions comprise the worst collective madness on the planet, and are responsible for about 95% of what is wrong in our world. I am all for spirituality and consider myself a spiritual person, but I am quite sure that no god or spirit has ever spoken to me about tithes and the need for elaborate cathedrals. Religion seems to me a way for certain people to prey on frailties of the mind and spirit to serve their own desire for power, wealth, and self-importance.

    That said, I also agree with you that objectification of women as sex objects is not a good thing. However, when you look around in society (at least here in America), it seems to me that women do most of the objectification themselves. I don’t particularly see women lining up to protest low rise jeans and shirts that show midriffs. And last but not least, correct me if I am wrong, but there wouldn’t be a lot of pornography, stripping and prostitution, and an adult film industry if women were not so eager and willing to participate? Go to any club on a weekend, and take a look around and tell me who is engaged in objectification and exploiting sex. I promise you that you will see women happily doing their share.

    Don’t get me wrong. I have a marketing degree and I understand how sex sells and how objectification works. I am just saying that it is like having children—it takes two. That aside, I have seen plenty of examples up close and personal where I could see how ancient men would come up with the idea that women were the root of sin or evil.

    I certainly don’t believe that, but, I served in Korea for a year with 36 fellow platoon-mates—of which I believe 26 were married. Either while there or within a year of returning to the States, all but 7 were divorced or in divorce proceedings. I myself can tell you how highly it makes one think of women to have some strange man answer the phone in your home where your son is sleeping at 3am, when you are half a world away providing the national security that allows him to sleep with your wife in peace and safety.

    Now, lest you think I’m some bitter divorced guy, that is not the case. I moved on many years ago with my life and have had some great relationships since and some not so great. Life goes on, ya know? I actually agree with the sentiments you express. I just want to point out life is not all men taking advantage of women, just as a lot of racism exists because some people seem to prefer thinking of themselves as minorities and oppressed in order to fan the flames of discord.

    Just so you know, I have written more than once on my own blog about the plight of women in Muslim nations. I also consider myself to be a good pagan man. A great grandmother of mine was a medicine woman and I can recall dancing around the drumming circle where my great-grandfather led the drumming and singing at pow-wows. I can garden, I eat food I kill, care about the environment, and once got in a fight with a guy because he kicked a stray dog that wandered up to look for food in a nearby trashcan.

    Being raised to be a proper gentleman, I also threatened to drag a man face down in the gravel from one end of the parking lot to the other at the bar we were in one night—for his directing vulgarities at a woman (who had dumped me once and broke my heart very meanly I might add)…even though she was with two men larger than me who would not stand up for her. (They were afraid of the guy because of his reputation for pulling knives on people, apparently.) I consider myself a pagan warrior/poet and that is how I approach life. (My poetry is not that good to be honest, but my writing and communication skills do provide something resembling a living)

    I respect women (but I have had my moments where I gave a deserving one the same consideration I would a man and not held back on the verbal attack…hey, you all want equality, right?), but I also disagree with your assessment that men don’t think about the future. I had to chuckle to myself because in my personal experience it has been the exact opposite. Most women I have come into contact with—and I’m including all of them, not just ones I’ve been in relationships with—have always seemed more interested in ‘now’ and ‘right now’ with little care or concern for the future at all. (Notable exceptions were those women whom were professors and instructors and teachers.)

    I and my buddies, however, often sit around and discuss the problems societies and civilization as a whole will face in two or three centuries, and talk about the importance of heritage and the legacy we will leave for future generations and ideas for 100 year family plans. And lest you think poorly of the women I and my friends have about us, they’re women with graduate degrees, undergrad degrees, attorneys, HR managers, nurses, other professional women and all very intelligent and incredible.

    Perhaps they have already thought those things through, and there is some secret Ya-Ya-Sisterhood website where all the answers we guys are looking for have long since been solved, and they are all thinking a millennium ahead while laughing at how short-sighted we are? I’m not saying that can’t be or is not the case. In fact, it would not surprise me if it were so.

    I’m just saying…

    Great post. Even though it may seem like I don’t, I do agree with what you have to say. I am certainly not trying to stir up a hornets nest, but couldn’t resist playing (terrible pun given the focus of the post, I know) devil’s advocate.

    😉

    Just in case there is such a website, by the way, please share the link and enlighten those of us men who aren’t aware of it.

  14. honestpoet said

    LOL!

    Excellent comment, Sean. Thanks.

    Of course many women suck. I’m not trying to say there aren’t shallow or stupid or mean women, or women lacking moral fiber or foresight. But every one of us has been socialized in a male-dominated society and weaned on scriptures that tell us how bad we are. I think that may have some effect.

  15. Karey said

    Something seems to happen when women become mothers of boys. I have a three year old daughter, and I constantly hear how unlucky I am to have a daughter and not a son. Daughters bring “drama” or so it is thought. I think many women when they have sons turn a blind eye to their moral upbringing. What about that lady whose son was accused of raping the stripper in whatever stupid college that was. You know, the lacrosse players? She went on T.V. and was telling everyone how they need to protect their sons from such incidents. The husband was sitting grimly beside her, and I think he looked a bit embarresed. I can’t be for sure because I only watched maybe a minute of the interview. How about the fact that your son was paying women to come and take their clothes off? It goes back to the other guys post up there. Yes, a lot of women will exploit themselves sexually, but sometimes that’s all we have. I am not by any means saying that every stripper, escort, whore, has a heart of gold, but what the hell is wrong with the men that want to pay for that crap? It is sort of a chicken and egg debate. What came first, the man offering money for sex, or the women offering sex for money?

  16. honestpoet said

    Actually, I’m thinking about making a post regarding prostitution and the sex industry and how women are victimized by it.

  17. Hi. Pleased to meet you here on this web thingy blog whatever. I enjoyed your article and am glad that it’s around this sneaky place. Arrrgh. So anyways…since I was a youngster I’ve had somekind’o keen awareness of things that I considered unbalanced, outta wack and just plain wrong. It could of been my foot squashing a roach or my hyperactive goings’ on and other stuff like that. I grew up with 2 sisters, me being the middle-dude child. My mom is somekinda icon of empathy; I am sure that whole empathy thing came from some of that. Was raised christian in a kinda liberal church- I had never heard the word sin or hell or any of that stuff until I went to some o’ my friends church thingys. My pop’s was an immigrant, I looked different then the other kids being asian, scottish something and native american. No sweat, I never felt connected to any sort of blood-line this or that or for that matter the “desert” god…I get lazy and forget how to spell abraham so I just call those big crappy 3 the desert religions. I was quite the rebel in my youth, spent a lot of time going thru all those phases- always had Nietzsche this or some jung-ian thing in my back-pack and a couple daggers thrown in there for good luck. Grew up around a ton a jews some islamic peeps and of course all kinds of christians. Oh yeah, I went to school for music and do that for my…sanity. Part of being and artist and a tinkerin’ guy involves gettin’ into everything I could slap my hands on. I grew up in a medical family which made me somewhat of an empirical, “rational” person. I used to sneak into the morgue and poke the cadavers…was interesting. Lived all around the planet and soaked in a bunch of stuff that pertains directly to a bunch of the stuff you were talking about. I think itz one of the saddest most pathetic things- (I talk like a sailor with a big ol’ blue streak, hope it don’t offend ya) The complete and total vilification of the female with all the stuff that comes with it. I am spiritual and I spit on the bible and the god that is mentioned there-in. Funny thing, my male aggressive-ness coming out- emotions, my reptile brain, medulla and all that twisting, blinking, active as hell. So I have read much about the pre-desert cultures that had no problem with the women…going way back. I don’t particu enjoy living in the past; I knows it’s a good thing to be aware but my concerns on this shitdeal are right up now, this second. Uhhhh…..aside from what is totally egregious aka how certain religions chop up women in this or that way, what bothers me the most is simply floatin’ around it in so many ways- is how all of this crap has trickled down into the secular world in the most silent of ways…one only has to glance at a television or go to a store or something to see the enormity of the sitch. It’s what goes on. Billions of people are unwares and have no interest in this sort of stuff and I see it breaking apart culture after culture, friend after friend, everything after everything- clandestine, gingerly and totally unknown to so many people who are searching for things to pick on. My point is not really to make a point here to you, obviously you know this whole fuck deal better than I but I have to admit, it has taken it’s toll big time on me in ways that are both creative and frightin’. I have no shortage of fuel, I never will but in all honesty being a dude and knowing this stuff has put me into a boggy mess. It’s quite the creeper and their are very, very few dudes that understand this shit…from the kid that I tudor his math, the girls I babysit…fuck this all sounds so trite but hell it’s so there. It wears me out; on both sides. I write music. That is what I do. It’s what I was made for. I am alone in this sense, these realizations- I can say with a nice chunk of impunity that I don’t know any other dudes who take any of this stuff seriously…actually I don’t know if they even know…and i’ve been around, seen my share of things…My hands are goo at this moment so im gunna go but I wanted you to know that somewhere there is another person who understands you…

    -Andy

  18. honestpoet said

    Thanks, Andy. Actually, I’m married to another “dude” who gets it very well. (Ironically, he’s also a musician and a doctor himself, and took me when in medical school one night to see his cadaver…while they were dissecting the brain, really something.) So you are not alone in your gender. Hopefully, one day the sensible dudes will outnumber the ones so badly corrupted by those stupid old books.

  19. Bob said

    You completely missed on your assesment of the Jewish religion. It teaches that women, in fact, are on a higher spiritual plain than men and consequently are not required to attend synogogue to pray. Please do more research before making ridiculous generalistic and antireligious statements.

    B

  20. honestpoet said

    That’s a crock. Religion is all about power right here and now, under the guise of spirituality. I realized already what’s said about women being on a higher spiritual plane (which is bullshit). Flattering women with such talk but denying them real world power? Still misogyny.

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