Feminism, Gender Bias and Religion

By Stanzin Angmo Leh, Aug 20, 2013
Leh :
Calling myself a feminist have always worried me for going overboard with it and sometimes I feel that being a feminist itself is in a way is like type casting women and separating women into a whole new sect.
There never was a war between both the sexes, but it seems that gradually people have started to have a wrong conception of the natural and biological variations in them and sadly women seem to play along for a long time. In the initial stages of evolution there were no gender bias, it was only that both the sexes had different and definite responsibility in and around the house. Men went hunting and did work which seem like a tougher job and women in and around the house apparently seem easier.
The modern world where the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ came in, and where the history had already exaggerated women as fragile, beautiful and fair through different expressions like the artists in their paintings, poets in their evergreen poems and writers in their novels. Gradually, with the passage of time the primitive distribution of work began to be misconceived by the ‘world’ which was now perceived as patriarchal.
Women constitute one half of the population. Today, no matter how much you want to avoid discussions on feminism and tag yourself as a feminist, you can’t help but to defend and speak for your own sex type. The months that have gone were all filled with many dreadful memories of some gruesome cases of crimes against women. The tradition of women being attacked sexually, mentally and physically has been going on since ages and it is spread worldwide. According to a research by WHO, 35% of the women worldwide experience violence which means one in every three women over the world is a victim of violence.
Gender bias is happening all over the world regardless of how developed a country is. World where women are largely associated with sensuality and in India where Bollywood has a huge impact on its people, women are shown as sex objects, weak and submissive on screen. With all the fleshy item dance and their cheesy lyrics in every lingual Indian movie, and the booming of pornography industry; women, especially in a place like India where there still is a huge space for looking beyond, is the subject of social hypocrisy where on the other end a woman figure is ironically prayed as goddesses in many religion.
Gender Bias in Religion:

Religion has a unanimous faith and belief of the people right from the start and therefore what is written in the religious books affects the religious people. When we talk about gender bias we will see that religious script, being one of the oldest to be written, could be seen as one of the main agent to start gender bias and to promote it.
According to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion & Public Life 84% of the world population has faith. In India over 93% of the people associate themselves with religion.

In an essay called ‘Religious discrimination against women’ by G.M. Woerlee, he has shown the gender discrimination by two major religions of the world Christianity and Islam. He has highlighted all the text in the holy book of Bible as well as Quran that refers to women as a lower being and gives women a second class status. Even in the 21st century where people claim to be modern where everyone should be treated equal, these kinds of discriminations still exist in almost every religious books and is happening more or less in every modern institutions of the world.
Woerlee says, “Jews, Christians, and Muslims all berate women for causing humanity to be driven out of paradise. As a result of the original sin of the first woman, people lost the gift of immortality, had to work hard to find food, and were no longer blessed with the ability to interact directly with God (Torah and Bible, Genesis, chapter 3). The fault of this first and original sin rests heavily upon the shoulders of womankind, justifying all manner of religion-justified nastiness directed against them. Indeed, many passages in the Torah and the Bible teach us that women are not only inferior, but also must obey men, because God tells us that men are their masters.

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. (Bible, Genesis 3:16)
And if anyone thinks this ruling was abrogated by Jesus or his disciples, then think again. For we read that the holy Saint Paul himself said:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. (Bible, Ephesians 5:22-24)”
In the holy book of Islam, Quran does not left behind in berating women, as Woerlee says in his essay, “the Quran tells the blessed followers of Islam that women are inferior to men, and require punishment for even suspected disobedience...

Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. (Quran 4:34)”
And the never ending verses of these holy books goes on with directing women to be submissive and treating them as a commodity.

Buddhism also has failed to see women as equal right from the beginning when Buddha at first refused to take women in sanga, as written in ‘The First Buddhist Women’. In a section of Tripitaka (Pali Canon) called the Vinaya-pitaka, records the original rules of discipline for monks and nuns. A bhikkuni (nun) has rules in addition to those given to a bhikku (monk). These include subordination to monks; the most senior nuns are to be considered "junior" to a monk of one day.

The most common and obvious question asked among the Buddhist is, ‘Why is there no female as a religious head? Why can’t a Rinpoche (religious head) be reborn as a woman? These traditions are so embedded in even the women/nuns that they seem to have accepted it. President Nun’s Association Gen. Palmo justifies as the male dominant at the top jobs as, “Females are not discriminated in Buddhism, there are many deities whom we pray and many prayers of deities which is chanted by all regardless of their sex. About women as religious heads, it’s because we are very venerable and a teaching by a male will have higher affect on the people than teaching by a woman.”  Though H H Dalia Lama had denied that gender bias in Buddhism exists, “And I also mentioned in case Dalai Lama's incarnation one female comes then must be very attractive female. So the very reason, you see more influence to others, an ugly female then may not much effective," He said in one of His interview as he talked about the possibility of Him reincarnated as a woman in His next life.

Hindu on the other hand has great past and present of gender bias, in the epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana displaying gender discrimination and later systems like sati and dowry (which still exist). Almost 80% of the Indian population is Hindu. The famous sacrifice of Sita to proved her loyalty towards Ram in Ramayana and the epical losing of Draupati in a bet by her husband, are few examples. The status of a Hindu woman in a family, though is getting better at a slow pace, the traditional second class status treatment still largely exist.
So from the disheartening texts above vis-a-vis to the modern world claiming to be equal, but the question is ‘Are we confident enough to change such text without calling it a blasphemy? Or even accept what is written there is not acceptable?’