A lot of people have been sending in Nicholas Kristof's New York Times op-ed column on women and religion, but I'm most interested in your take on one line:
The basic thrust of the column - that religions have historically played a large role in the suppression of women; but can also be forces for good - is not, it must be said, novel: we're all well aware of Saint Paul's ravings, Deuteronomy's chauvinism, the many atrocities that have been perpetuated - and continue to be - in the name of various deities interpreted according to very human whim. While Kristof's drawing attention to the agenda of The Elders, a group of respected, retired world leaders who've made women and religion a priority, is a good thing, his column was, to me, less thought-provoking than a brief blog post that followed. Wrote Kristol,
Some say that the problem isn't churches oppressing women, it's men oppressing women. I don't buy that: so often, the worst oppressors are other women, who absorb and transmit the oppressive elements of the culture. It's hard to determine what is religion and what is culture, but they certainly shape each other.
Of course, surely the distinction is moot in those cases where the foundings were explicitly patriarchal or those in which that part of the ideology has been aggressively and retroactively enforced in modern times. That said, can any ideology truly proliferate without larger cultural acceptance? I'd probably argue that even that's dicey: the words "absorb" and "transmit," after all, are telling: they deny a certain agency and reinforce the notion of a larger culture that's conferring this power. But Kristof's right in that the buck has to stop individually. However, I think this Times reader puts it pretty succinctly: "It's not the religion that holds women back. The principles are clear. It's the interpreters, who happen to be men, of those principles. Same goes for wars and taking care of the poor. In general, people don't practice what they preach."