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Religion, Theology and Self-Improvement Sundays: Women, Religion, Theology and Society Part 5

From Chapter 14 of Bishop Spong's Born Of A Woman we read, " Sexual harassment rises out of two realities. The first is an unequal distribution of power that has historically placed women into dependent, subservient roles. The second is the primary definition of women as sexual objects who exist for the purpose of providing men with sexual pleasure, a definition that pervades the life of our society. A major contributor to this pejorative view has been the Judeo-Christian faith story.

This faith story began by proclaiming in its account of creation that only the male image bore the image of God. The female, according to this myth, was a second level of creation. She was actually taken out of the male's body, specifically from his rib. The creation story said that it was only after the male failed to find a proper friend from among the animals that the female was created. The purpose of the woman in the mind of her Creator was clearly to be a fit companion and helpmate to the lordly male, but she could not and did not share his status.

With that definition of a woman firmly fixed, this faith tradition continued its sexist development, culminating ultimately in a narrative that featured a virgin pure and mild who produced a baby without violating her virginity. In time this virgin mother was enthroned in this tradition as the "ideal" woman, thus rendering every other woman immediately inadequate. Because the book that contained these definitions of women came to be regarded as the "Word of God," and the faith tradition out of which this book grew became the world's dominant religion, the results of these definitions as they were lived out in history have not been morally neutral {italics mine}. The Bible in general and the birth narratives in particular became a subtle, unconscious source for the continued oppression of women. The cultural assumption was made that the only proper way for a moral woman to conduct herself was to remain safely inside of the sexually protective barriers provided first by her father and second by her husband.

So deeply were these concepts accepted on both conscious and unconscious levels that when women in the twentieth century finally did begin to step out of these barriers to enter the workplace, males assumed that they did so only because they no longer wished to retain their chaste, sexless status {italics mine}. Such women were, in the minds of males, asking for sexual attention and sexual harassment. This definition of women became the parent of political behavior that marked the male-female working relationship. Since a woman's employment depended first on a woman's ability to please her male boss, the environment for sexual exploitation was quickly established. Working women were powerless people. Far more than most of us have been willing to admit, this stereotype in large measure grew out of the myth of the virgin Mary, who began her pilgrimage through written history when she was installed in a prominent position in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke."

Next week we will look at Mary's evolution and pilgrimage throughout world history and the implications that it has had on the lives of virtually every woman alive today.

Cedric Muhammad

Sunday, November 12, 2000

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