I cannot know what it is like to be a woman

One of my classes this semester is Women in Religious Traditions. We are studying world religions over the centuries and the role of women within those religions, how those religions addressed women, and the general androcentrism of pretty much every culture. As we talk about gender roles and how women are viewed as “other,” or entirely left out of texts, and in particular how women are now finding ways to interact with religions that have been traditionally somewhat misogynistic, I’ve realized that I will just never be able to understand some of this.

We have to write a weekly reflection sort of paper that talks about our “deep thoughts” since the last class period, and in the most recent paper I wrote about Buddhism and Judaism. In Buddhism, women have always been marginalized and the religion has traditionally been pretty anti-women. In Judaism, the situation seems better but there’s still a lot of leaving-out of women, at least in the texts. The means of dealing with this is, in some respects, rewriting the religion and finding ways around any proscriptions.

As we develop into our religious faith as individuals, whether as children or as later converts, I know there are a lot more considerations that are taken into account than these older traditions of any particular religion. The experience is different for everyone, and everyone is drawn to their worldview for different and complex reasons. For me, it was a matter of truth—I believe that the Bible is true and subsequently that Christianity is true, so there didn’t seem to be much of an option for me. Once I accepted it as truth, I was bound to reject everything else as false. There may be parts of Christianity I dislike, or which I disliked at first, but I wrestle with those matters and try to find a way to understand them. In every instance, I have found an acceptable way of working that dogma into my worldview. I don’t generally cut these challenging issues out of my faith (though as a sidenote to this, there are totally matters of the Hebrew Bible to which I do not hold, such as bans against mixed linen or shellfish—the reasoning of this can be given elsewhere if desired, so leave me a comment if you are curious).

The book we’re reading has thus far been pretty negative towards these world religions. It makes me think, “Why would women be part of any tradition that treats them as these religions do?” And that’s why I say, I know there are different reasons people are drawn to faith… but reading this, it is challenging to wrap my mind around it. “Why would a woman become Buddhist when the Buddha and the entire organization of the religion is misogynistic?” That’s a big part of what I cannot fully understand. As a man, this is something I have not experienced, this sense of being “other,” outside, and marginalized due to my gender. Instead, I live in an androcentric and largely patriarchal society and tradition that I have taken for granted. This class has been quite eye-opening and humbling.

I feel that I can sympathize a little bit, in the sense that I’ve had my fair share of religious persecution and marginalization (from before I became Christian), but it’s not the same. That was due to my choices, and I still had a secret life in which I was independent, powerful, and respected. The world as this book depicts it, and the experience of women throughout history and within society, it just something else entirely.

I regret that I can never fully understand what that must be like. How can a man ever empathize on these matters?

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