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?