Damsels in Distress: David M. Pena

By David M. Pena


David Pena

Sexism–the degrading of women to second-class status, and the imposition of a specific sex-related identity–is deeply rooted in religion. Women throughout history have been sidelined, their role to service men, regarded as possessions to be bought and sold, to entertain and produce male heirs. The major male-dominated religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have had a profound effect on women’s lives, up to and including the present day. Because the true essence of patriarchy has exemplified itself in the heart of religious beliefs, practices, and customs, sexism is the marrow of the true believer’s bone. The fact that for religious fundamentalists women will always be inferior to their male counterparts and deserve whatever ill-fortune comes their way, explains why women’s contributions to peace, faith, prosperity and conciliation have not only been ignored, but have been intentionally buried by the religious right.

Theoretically, religion is an innately male-dominated social hierarchy. God is the omnipotent father, whose male delegates (preachers and priests) have an obligation to protect their community’s women from the evils of immoral sexuality and temptation. Religion itself practices overt discrimination against women within its own institutions. Every religion worldwide is run by men for men through a male lens.

It must be emphasized that because of male dominance, religion has undercut women’s rights by restricting their sexual liberation and criminalizing freedom of choice. The majority of religious fundamentalists think of women as nothing more than a means of sexual pleasure, and as a source of macho-directed male empowerment.

Historically, religion has perpetuated those stereotypes that portray women as sacrificing mothers, sweet homemakers, evil sex objects, unbearable shrews, and damsels in distress. Even in the case of virgins, women are rendered as weak, passive, devoted martyrs who have been blessed by a male superpower. Woman-bashing, persecution, and religious stereotyping personify a ruling class tactic that attempts to forever preserve the status quo of patriarchal control by exposing women as immoral, wrong or evil, and as something we must hope will be controlled and dominated.

Although most religions claim to preach equality, peace, and the virtues of non-violence, it has been their ability to conveniently sanction structural and direct violence that gives them the political power to “moralize” our government. It’s a troubling fact that inconsistencies, paradoxes, irony, and contradictions are at the heart of all religious points of view.

Religions have adopted a kill-to-save mentality in terms of conflicts and uprisings; they all condemn the violence inflicted upon them, but justify the violence they inflict on others. It has been because of this kill-to-save mentality that religion justifies war, totalitarianism, rape, terrorism, antagonistic hostility, ethnic cleansing, genocides, murder, insanity, patriarchy, intolerance, homophobia, and violent jihads. Mind-boggling crimes have been committed against humanity in the name of god, devotion, and faith. Religion is destructive and divisive and, specifically, in seeking and grabbing power, it becomes to a lethal poison.

Historically, religion has been pure woman-hating insanity. No sane and healthy minds could have waged the bloody religious wars and crusades where the conquered were slaughtered; men, women, and children, even infants, were all put to the sword simply because they were “infidels” and “heretics.” The dungeons and torture chambers of the Holy Inquisition could not have been run by a sane mind. It had to be the insane mind, the religious mind, that would tie a woman to a stake, pile wood around her and burn her alive for the impossible crime of being a witch.

The harmful effects of religion on women in modern civilization can be seen in the way in which the religious right has affected our laws, our systems of government and the very way in which we live. Because holy fanatics sense that they have a divine mission to moralize our world, they have slowly chipped away women’s (and men’s) rights as private citizens. We are forbidden abortion here, prostitution and gambling there, drugs, porn, and same-sex everywhere, not because they directly affect our democratic system, but because religious fanatics have clawed their way up to public offices and have started a modern-day holy crusade in our own backyards.

Religion is lethal. Catholics and Protestants, Hindus and Muslims, religious freaks and religious extremists assault and exterminate each other; they brutally oppress, marginalize, isolate, objectify and dehumanize women; they murder young and old, declare wars, burn villages, and commit the grossest violations of human rights in God’s name. Bloody jihads, torturing inquisitions, religious massacres and a gargantuan system of misogyny are all committed and legitimized because “it’s what God wants for us.”

Through its promotion and glorification of self-sacrifice, relentless abnegation, and complete obedience, the church has pilfered women’s identity and women’s own will and has effectively undermined gender equality.

In religious films, textbooks, newspapers, and television shows (as well as in Holy Scriptures) women are treated only as lean-mean-baby-producing machines; they are taught to be their husbands’ private property and perpetual slaves. It’s unbelievable that in some religious communities, women seen in the presence of males they are not related to or married to are almost strangled by their fathers, and demoralized by their own communities for being vulgar and perverted, and for seemingly having changed allegiances.

Ever since biblical times, women’s role in the scriptures, as temptresses, harlots, foot-washers, domestic servants and untouchables until ritual cleansing after childbirth, was perceived as a divine rule that must be followed. In the bible, women are tempting but brainless evil-messengers; it was Eve who was easily fooled by the devil, and then deceitfully and cunningly tempted Adam to eat the apple that would “open their eyes and make them like God.”

Religious faith is relentlessly sexist and discriminatory. Religious patriarchal rage at the thought of women ever usurping men’s place at the helm, in either home or the workplace, is as strong now as it ever was. The very history of Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and a myriad of other religions have always been constructed upon an entire edifice of sexual inequality and comprehensive female disempowerment. It is no surprise, therefore, that the most stupendous system of organized robbery known to humanity has been that of the church towards women.

The greatest evil of the modern world is not some nebulous demonic figure or some malign underground presence, it is rather religion itself. When religion comes to the scene there is no mercy. If we were all free from religion, the world would look like a very different place, free from the main source of hatred, discrimination, violence and fanaticism.

David writes: “I graduated from Moapa Valley High School in Overton, Nev. I am the president of my school’s Debate and Speech Team, Varsity Quiz Squad, Tennis Team, and Interact Club. Personally, I was raised in a Catholic environment, but as I grew up I became highly critical of my religion and I became a secular humanist free from religion. I emigrated from Mexico to the United States in December of 2001, and I started going to school barely three days after my arrival at this country. When I first came to this country I did not speak any English, but I am now a fluent speaker, and I plan to attend the University of Nevada-Reno in the fall of 2005. I will major in Political Science with a minor in Gender Studies and International Relations. My most salient interests are international affairs, athletics, public speaking/debate, and community service.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation