Patriarchy, Religion, & Policing the Body

Black and white cartoon saying "you don't need a vagina to be a woman".

Credit: CreativeCommons / trouble_x

“…Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”

Sojourner Truth, 1851

Coming as it has within the context of Caitlyn Jenner’s talking publicly about her gender confirmation as a trans woman, Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco argued on June 3 that, “The clear biological fact is that a human being is born either male or female. Yet now we have the idea gaining acceptance that biological sex and one’s personal gender identity can be at variance with each other, with more and more gender identities being invented.” He warned of the spread of a “gender ideology” that threatens the foundation of the Church and society itself because of what the Church defines as the biological imperative of the God-given “complementarity” between men and women.
Going even further and mentioning Jenner by name, Evangelical Pastor Dr. Ronnie Floyd of the Pinnacle Cross Church in Rogers, Arkansas asserted that Caitlyn Jenner, by transitioning, had sinned against God just like a family member sins by abusing children. Floyd, the pastor of the church attended by the Duggar family of the reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” promised that God can forgive Josh Duggar because he asked for God’s mercy over allegations that he sexually abused five young girls, including four of his sisters, when he was 14-years old.
Referring to Jenner, an Olympic gold medalist, during a Sunday sermon, Floyd told parishioners: “You dads, make sure you raise your sons around men who are manly….Gender is not fluid.” He said that God can also forgive Jenner for “his” sins if “he” atones.
Compare Archbishop Cordileone and Pastor Floyd’s statements on gender with Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s official reaction to the recent historic vote in Ireland to constitutionally guarantee marriage for same-sex couples: “I was very saddened by this result. I don’t think we can speak only about a defeat for Christian principles, but a defeat for humanity.”
While these statements themselves are very saddening, I do not find them surprising, for they retain the ancient-era consistency of conservative Christian dogma. Combined with pronouncements opposing women’s reproductive freedoms, obstruction to contraception, antagonism to the ordination and ascension of women in the overall hierarchy of these denominations, they correspond perfectly with monotheistic patriarchal fundamental attempts to control people’s bodies in order to control their minds.
When patriarchal social and economic systems of male domination attempt to keep women pregnant and taking care of children, they can restrict their entry, or at least their level and time of entry, into the workplace, and ensure women’s dependence on men economically and emotionally. As women produce more and more children, expanding numbers of little consumers emerge to contribute to the Capitalist system ever increasing profits for owners of business and industry. The patriarchal necessary to control women’s bodies amounts to imperatives to control women’s minds and life choices.
And when patriarchal social and family structures converge with patriarchal religious systems, which reinforce strictly defined gender hierarchies of male domination, women and girl’s oppression and oppression of those who transgress sexual-, sexuality-, and gender binaries and boundaries became inevitable.
Polytheism and Monotheism
Many ancient and non-Western cultures – including, for example, Hindu, most Native American, Mayan, and Incan cultures – base their religions on polytheism (multiple deities). In general, these religious views seem to attribute similar characteristics to their gods. Particularly significant is the belief that the gods are actually created, and they age, give birth, and engage in sex. Some of these gods even have sexual relations with mortals. The universe is seen as continuous, ever-changing, and fluid. These religious views often lack rigid categories, particularly gender categories, which become mixed and often ambiguous and blurred. For example, some male gods give birth, while some female gods possess considerable power.
In contrast, monotheistic Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) religions view the Supreme Being as without origin, for this deity was never born and will never die. This Being, viewed as perfect, exists completely independently from human beings and transcends the natural world. In part, such a Being has no sexual desire, for sexual desire, as a kind of need, is incompatible with this concept of perfection. This accounts for the strict separation between the Creator and the created. Just as the Creator is distinct from His creation, so too are divisions between the Earthly sexes in the form of strictly defined genders and gender roles. This distinction provides adherents to monotheistic religions a clear sense of their designated socially constructed roles: the guidelines they need to follow in connection to their God and to other human beings.
Returning to Archbishop Cordileone’s recent statements, he continued: “When the culture can no longer apprehend those natural truths, then the very foundation of our teaching evaporates and nothing we have to offer will make sense.” Cordileone concluded that the inevitable result “is a reversion to the paganism of old, but with unique, postmodern variations on its themes, such as the practice of child sacrifice, the worship of feminine deities, or the cult of priestesses.”
What could be more terrifying and threatening to conservative patriarchal denominations than “the worship of feminine deities, or the cult of priestesses”? Oh my!

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press), co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense Publications), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge), editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

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