The ETSU’s Women’s Studies blog would like to spotlight the exceptional writing of students currently in Women’s Studies classes by reposting selected posts. The following is a guest post by Eva Alom.
Throughout history, religion has been notorious for promoting heavy gender stereotypes. From idolizing virginal figures such as Mary to the overwhelmingly popular choice to classify God as male, religious traditions conflict with many feminist ideals. Christian or otherwise, the presence of these heavily patriarchal systems of beliefs has a definite impact on the lives of women. One of these effects is the attitude towards sexuality in religious women. In her writing Indecent Theology, Marcella Althaus-Reid brings to question the great divide between natural human qualities such as sexuality and religion. Attending church is perceived as higher than any other activity one partakes in throughout a normal week. This apparent holiness is grasping at the idea that connecting with spiritual forces is outside of our quotidian experiences, but fails in doing so in that the result has been a separation of humanity and spirituality. This separation manifests itself most strongly in the separation of sexuality in religion. Feminists teach that women should not be made to feel ashamed of their sexualities, but religion, by excluding such a prominent part of anyone’s being, strengthens any sense of shame. When this is done, the implication is that humanity is on such a lower level than spirituality that it may never achieve pure goodness, happiness, or holiness. Even farther, the belief that one is fundamentally flawed becomes a barrier in doing all that one can to be good.
Though these negative attitudes towards sexuality are present for both male and female sexes, it is undeniable that female sexuality is scrutinized much more harshly through the lens of religion. The small number of female characters in religious texts creates an “all or nothing” dilemma, wherein the only examples of women are unnaturally pure or unnaturally impure. This phenomenon translates to an unfair expectation for women to maintain an unrealistic idea of purity in all aspects of her live. Since this is impossible, women are instead left with the expectation to keep these “impure” parts of themselves hidden.
Much can be learned by stepping back and looking at sexuality as an experience that can coexist and even enhance spirituality. In many ways, sex can be the epitome of spirituality. The act of sex has often been described as the merging of two souls. When two or more people connect with each other in such an intimate way, a loss of ego can occur, creating a powerful feeling of being one. During masturbation, accepting one’s body can become a symbol of love and appreciation of the creation that the universe, God, or any number of spiritually forces, provided as a home for the soul. When orgasm is achieved, a state of pure bliss at losing all control is experienced. It could be argued that this state is the work of a spiritual being.
Deepak Chopra provides 12 “insights” into sexuality and spirituality.
Religion was created for the soul purpose of understanding humanity on a deeper level. Since nothing has ever been achieved by suppressing truths, it follows that at least part of the path to understanding would involve the acceptance and celebration of sexuality, for both men and women.
The following was left anonymously in our office, and thinking that it was an attempt for the individual who left it to have their voice heard, we felt it appropriate to share on our blog. In the future, however, we would ask that all submissions include a name so that we are able to provide proper attribution. Also, if the author would like us to credit him, let us know and we will do so as soon as possible.
The Feminist Male
Before I Begin, I feel the need to tell a little bit about myself. First off, I am male. More elaborately, I am a white, middle-class, straight male who is currently working towards a college degree. In many parts of the world, I would be among the few who have unfairly been selected to be one of the most privileged people in the world. Despite the fact that I have more opportunities than most, I strive to bring equal opportunity to everyone.
Now that that’s out of the way, let me begin.
A few semesters ago, I found myself sitting in an introductory Women’s Studies course. On the first day of class, the professor gave a simple homework assignment: we were to mention to at least five people that we were taking a women’s studies course, and then we would discuss the various reactions to the statement during the next class.
When beginning the first assignment, I expected to receive the extreme reactions from the appropriate stereotypes. Thus, I did not hesitate when my hipster friends from art class responded with the anticipated nod of approval. And I understood that the frat-ish guys were expected to respond with either a look of slight disapproval or a modest fist-bump indicating they approved of my assumed “elaborate attempt to meet women.” And of course I expected the men throwing Bibles at people in front of the student union to condemn me to hell – which they did without hesitation.
Stereotyping, however did not prove to be entirely accurate. I approached my incredibly independent female friend expecting to receive her standard high-five. She, like me, was the age of a sophomore, but she was a few semesters ahead in school. Outside of kicking ass in class, she was also working as the editor of a local magazine and getting published regularly in numerous nationally recognized ones. It made perfect sense to me that this obviously progressive, intelligent woman would applaud my open-mindedness. Much to my surprise, however, she instead responded to my simple statement with an equally simple one: “Fuck women’s studies.”
Her response threw me back for a moment. Though she was content in abandoning the conversation with that conciseness, I was not content yet, so I asked her to please elaborate – I could not wrap my head around the idea of a white, straight male being more accepting of feminist values than an outwardly successful female. In my mind, it was feminism which allowed her to get to where she is now. But not only was she brushing the subject away absent-mindedly: she was condemning it more than anyone else I had come into contact with.
She matter-of-factly explained to me, “Chris, society’s had it out against women forever. It’s about time for us to suck it up, quit bitching, and learn to work the system, already.”
Thus was my succinct introduction to post-feminism.
While I may see more value in feminism than my friend, she made her point understood. In many circles, women have come a long way. They are finally able to attend school, they can be taken seriously as writers and scholars, and they can hold positions of authority. I am able to see and appreciate this battle. What my friend failed to recognize is the fact that in more circles than not, women’s rights are closer to jokes than realities.
What I’m trying to get at is this: even if you think that the push for equality is coming to a close, just look around for a second. You might be well off, but others aren’t quite as lucky. Many women throughout the world are nowhere near as privileged as you are.
So please keep fighting for equal rights. If I – a white, straight male – can admit that there’s still a need for women’s studies, I’m sure you can, too, if you look hard enough.