Throughout history, religion has been used as a scapegoat to justify misogyny, violence, and hatred towards women in western cultures (Zwissler). Most people view feminism and religion as polar opposites, but this is not the case. Feminism and religious practices have overlapped throughout history, and will continue to do so as long as both categories are still growing. This can be seen through examples such as the Quakers, a 17th century religion which was founded by a former Christian, George Fox. We can also see these ideologies overlying during monumental movements including Women’s Suffrage and Abolitionism. The relationship between feminism and religion is multifaceted, with religion continually playing a role in feminist political movements and feminist criticism that challenges institutionalized traditions. But without the presence of religion, would the policing of women’s behavior still continue? Probably.
The Progressive Friends, also known as Quakers, came into existence just weeks before the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls. Prior to the convention, women who identified as a Quakers, such as Mary Ann M’Clintock, Jane Hunt, Martha Wright, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, gathered to discuss a lifetime’s worth of pent-up frustration about a woman’s place in society (Smith). These examinations of the patriarchy occurred during the same time American women were striving for more control of their lives. Before the Women’s Suffrage Movement, it was prohibited for women to do things like inherit property, sign contracts, serve on juries, or vote in elections. As a result from most colleges refusing admissions from women, they were expected to become housewives. And for those women who attended college, employment opportunities were still limited to teaching or factory work. At the time, woman’s wages were only half of what a man would make for the same work. In turn, husbands and fathers directed their lives because so much of the world’s doors were closed to women (Smith). Quakers found ways to increase the influence of women in happenings of the faith like when they introduced joint meetings of men and women, giving women as equal voice.
The religious roots continued to intertwine with feminism into the eighteenth century when feminist morphed into an organized, self-conscious movement as opposed to individual women working alone. As a movement, feminism can be dated as far back as the abolitionism in the early 1830s (McElroy). Most of the women abolitionism came from a Quaker background, this was not only because Quakers were in the forefront of the anti-slavery crusade but also because the religion encouraged women to speak out at gatherings, to become leaders in the church and be socially conscious. When women abolitionists argued against slavery and for the rights of women, most of them did so from religious conviction, often quoting the Bible or other religious texts (McElroy). While the separation of religion and feminism is fabricated and distorted.
The only reason there would be an ideological schism between religion and feminism is if you believe gender feminism constitutes the entire feminist tradition. Gender feminism is a monolith view rather feminism refers to an umbrella term which competing schools of thought and opinions about women’s interests gather. Feminism can be defined as a process of assuring that every woman on an equal basis with men, is able to make choices in any form in which her person and property are legally protected. By contrast, gender feminism advocates an end state and abandons process as a whole. It rejects the idea that women are free to choose. But, even if there is no historical or necessary ideological breach between religion and feminism, an inevitable tension does exist over specific issues such as abortion (McElroy).
It is a fair assumption to say that feminism and religion may vary in theories but they also exist intersectionality. It is important to acknowledge that religions can repress women while simultaneously women’s repression is a convenient excuse for religious intolerance. Religion does not have an exclusive hold on gender oppression. Blaming religion for these problems is not fully comprehending just how ingrained oppression and hierarchy are within contemporary societies. It turns out that people still care a great deal about policing women’s behavior even outside of religious contexts.
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