Marxism speaks of Ideological State Apparatuses that sustain and instill certain kinds of values in human beings. The primary ISA that I go to is the church. More often that not, the messages conveyed in church are deeply confusing, hypocritical and misogynist. While the church is one of the last of all institutions to accept the zeitgeist of the times and adopt change, it is disheartening for a feminist at heart to cope with monthly if not daily doses of extremely off-putting misogyny on a Sunday morning. With all due respect to the church that has undoubtedly played a key role in the development of my character, I should like to be forthright in my criticism of how women are treated in the church.
Women are essential for the growth of the church, no doubt. But why is it there is an intrinsic and unconscious connection made between women and reproduction during those apologetic ‘gender equality’ sermons? It’s sad to note that my church in particular doesn’t have any female saints other than Mother Mary. As a woman of the 21st century, I should like to point to how there is a glamorization of Mother Mary because she chose to have the Son of God take form in her; it is explicitly evident in the manner with which we address her. While motherhood is an important part of sustaining bloodlines and cultures, it must not be the only factor that defines womanhood. I have never heard more than one sermon being said about other facets of Mother Mary’s personality: her courage, faith and unshakable conviction in Christ or her humaneness.
While it is common knowledge that the only adulatory qualities associated with women back then were reproductive and nurturing abilities, do these qualities need all that much of attention and praise? Rearing children is no mean job but is that the only quality women MUST possess? Like the many ignored facets of Mother Mary’s character, the church does virtually nothing to empower women who are leaders, visionaries, rebels, advocates or just not interested in motherhood.
Woman as the root cause of all evil
I do recollect attending one of those famed ‘Conventions’ while I was in primary school. The speech was about the various types of desires that lead man to sin.
- Mann-Aasha: Lust for land
- Penn-Aasha: Lust for women
- Ponn- Aasha: Lust for gold
- Kallh- Aasha: Lust for alcohol
It isn’t patronizing to have women listed out among a list of inanimate objects, you have dehumanization and objectification thrown at you in one go! Now that this has been established, I should like to point out that there are only two ways by which religion puts women on the spectrum: 1.saintly or 2. slutty. Its rather sad to note that the second category exists even though Christ was the only man who recognized the humane and unfortunate circumstance of a woman who was named ‘adulterous’ by the society. Contrary to the life and practices of Christ, a few members of the clergy unconsciously fuel patriarchal bias against women who don’t fit the impossible ‘saintly’ bill. Sermons like the above make women look like sexual predators whose only purpose in life is to bait men. They also legitimize the blaming of women for the sin of a man.
Another oft quoted case is that of Eve influencing Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. This is used as a reason to brand women as treacherous and untrustworthy. Well, if Adam belonged to the ‘stronger’ sex, why didn’t he resist Eve’s persuasion? As that question will never have an answer, isn’t it convenient to put the blame on Eve? Nobody cares about Adam being a weak, egotistic, dogmatic ass!
St Paul’s dose of misogyny
While sane theologians apprise the congregation that The Bible was written in a particular socio-historical context, they are still spotted reading out deeply misogynist regulations set down by St Paul.
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” (1 Corinthians 14:34)
If you happen to be woman and hear a verse like this on Sunday, would you think of the socio-historical context or realize that the week just began on a depressing, traumatic and extremely pessimistic note? While I am tempted to request the Synod to ban readings of the above nature, I am aware that it would just be a small and meaningless victory if actualized. These readings reflect the mindset that has been deeply ingrained in the minds of the clergy as well as members of the congregation irrespective of gender.
While there was a year dedicated to praising ‘The Virtue of Womanhood’, there were some extremely disturbing ideas thrown in our direction. As usual, the church decided to tone down its aggression and perpetrate patriarchy in a milder fashion. While I get to that, let me state an uncomfortable truth that we all have to admit.
The church is run by people who hold affiliations to two inter-sectional categories: 1. Clergy 2. Men. The reason why I put clergy first is because the representation of laypeople is tantamount to tokenism (it’s next to nothing in the case of women). There is an alarming dearth of lay preachers, ministers and missionaries in the church. The threatening dominance of the second category is what makes representation of women in church a very problematic one.
How can we expect the ‘holier that thou’ boys club to know anything about women when their ready reckoner is St Paul’s brand of archaic regulations? As expected, an erudite woman was delegated to preach on one particular Sunday and she was made to say that women must be submissive to men as the virtue of womanhood lay in submission. That way round, she had adhered to the church’s policy by disguising misogyny in a faux feminist package, which in reality was a glorification of uterus fetish.
With more women taking up challenging careers and keeping marriage/motherhood out of their way, there is a burning need to change the scope of women’s discourse in church. It doesn’t make a difference if a token woman is brought to preach the same, generic misogyny that a good number of our priests hold a Phd in. The parochial gesture of offering voting rights to women in church doesn’t make any sense if the same ‘boys club’ is slated to rule the roost. The church needs feminism, if not she is sadly digging her own grave.
Rate My Female Member of the Family
Take the most generic sermons you get to hear on Christmas or any other big day and you’ll find a trail of mandatory female bashing statements in them. Priests liberally coat women in insult,insinuation and invective by saying “All you women shop every-bloody-day. Why do you need to shop so much?? All you women cook so much and waste food every-bloody-day!! Why do you need to cook so much?? All you women are not like men every-bloody-day!! Why do you even exist except to give birth and be submissive?”
Yours Sincerely, the mothers of such priests were amazing Christian women who chose not to abort them when they were helpless fetuses. If their mothers never bought them clothes or fed them anything, they’d be social outcasts and dead respectively. Even then, the mothers are still female!! Who needs a better reason to find fault?
The politics of Policing
One could write an epic on the ways in which several puritanical priests and ministers merely reinforce ‘Modesty Culture’ in church. If at all there is a discussion on dress code, one will not be surprised to find an all man committee skewering the morality of women who attend service in church. For instance, here is a disgusting meme that was trending on the so called ‘spiritual media’
It says “This photograph is from the wedding of a deacon of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church!!!I am reminded of a dialogue by Cochin Haneefa that goes like ‘today she’ll show the backside, tomorrow the front”
While it is pointless to argue about whether or not it was right to wear ‘that’ kind of a gown, isn’t it unbecoming of a church to wait so eagerly for a woman to bare her breasts for the former’s perverse entertainment? For the benefit of those who are unaware of what exactly this kind of commentary must be classified under, its called SLUT SHAMING.
Nobody has problems when men come to church wearing their shirts tucked inside tight trousers. Nobody complains when men decide to wear their shirts a button or two lower, revealing a wealth of chest hair!! Nobody complains about low waist jeans when men wear them. But if at all a woman comes to church wearing a pair of leggings or jeans, a T-shirt or short top, a rounded neckline, she becomes a whore! I might even end up getting called a ‘slut’ for ‘noticing’ so much about men’s clothing. This hypocrisy of the church needs to be called out. Take a look at this obscene meme that was edited in such a way to make the bride look like she came to her own wedding stark naked.
Moral policing of women’s bodies is as much a paradox that must be solved. The church doles out advice on protecting our bodies a.k.a ‘The Temple of the Holy Spirit’ by dressing up in modest attire. The longer your sleeves, the higher your neckline, the broader your dupatta, the more modest you appear!! The more jewelry you wear to distract attention from your breasts, the less you sway the minds of men!! Allow me to point out that I got ogled at IN CHURCH by a FORMER VICAR while I was dressed in the christian equivalent of the Islamic burqa. The forthcoming vicar touched me in a ‘fatherly’ manner without my consent despite my parent being around!!So, even the holy men are distracted despite my unquestioning adherence to the dress code!! Serves me right for being woman, I suppose!
While women are pressurized to wear ‘modest’ clothing, it is perfectly holy for male members of the congregation as well as the clergy to ogle at them in church premises! Hypocrisy enough?
Even this arcane dress code doesn’t protect women, children and (in many cases) nuns from getting ogled at or sexually abused in church! I remember being warned by a former Sunday School teacher and her well meaning daughter that if I didn’t spread the dupatta completely across my torso, priests judging our Group Singing performance would stare fixedly at our breasts! Apparently, she had experienced this in the diocese she previously belonged to. Do we need more reasons to get things changed?
I approach my conclusion without any hope at all.
Three Reasons to have women in church….
I assure you to the best of my conscience that every statement you have read so far and will read is true.
A former vicar had this increasingly annoying habit of pointing at the side of the church that housed the female members of the congregation while speaking of bringing ‘Vattayappam’ to church. So what does this do? Reinforce gender expectations and stereotypes!! Is it wrong for men to prepare Vattayappam? Is it written in The Bible that it must be prepared solely by women??? How then is rhetoric of this kind warranted?
To generate money for ‘spiritual events’ which are merely wasteful gala events disguised under the thin veneer of spirituality.
As I hate to end my post on a sourly pessimistic note (although my kind of reality wouldn’t change any sooner), here’s something touching i came across on Facebook