Why don’t women shun religion?

One religion thanks their god for not making them a women.
One religion considers women an illusion.
One religion curses woman as a sin.
One religion says women are a property of men and should not be seen by anyone other than their husbands.
One religion does not allow women to achieve “enlightenment.”

And then, it is the woman who introduces those religions to her children. It is those same women who pray vigorously to gods, who go on fasts, who pray for husbands to live longer and who roll themselves on temple floors. It is the same women who think they need to be chaste, that they need to cook and serve the men of their family and are bound by the venomous traps laid by men in the form of “Love” and “Marriage.”

Women who perform domestic activities and never venture out of their homes are celebrated as the ideal, while women who go outside for jobs and abstain from doing domestic activities are banished as arrogant. Women who visit religious places and pray are projected as “suitable for family,”while free-thinking women are termed arrogant and are not given respect by society. All forms of mass propaganda, like movies, novels and even advertisements portray an ideal girl as one who is religious and god-fearing (This “god-fearing” aspect can also be extended to men. You can see advertisements in matrimonial websites, where father of the bride-to-be “wants a god-fearing man” for his daughter. How can an “ever-loving” peaceful god want you to fear at the same time?)

Being in India, I have never met a female atheist. Does that suggest that Indian women do not have such views? Or are they scared to share their views which might tarnish the so-called character of women being forced upon them? Even in countries outside India, I see very little percentage of women atheists compared to men (ignoring Islamic countries which ostracize atheists and penalise apostates with death. We cannot take into account Muslim women or blame them for not declaring their clandestine irreligiousness, even when they have lost their trust in their faith. Because, leaving their faith can even lead them to be killed). But, why don’t women of Christian and Hindu-majority nations walk out of the religion that controls them and suppresses them? Being in a Hindu-majority nation, I am open about my irreligiousness and I assume that women here also share the same legal freedom. One is not arrested for renouncing religion in India and Hinduism had encouraged atheism to an extent. So, it will not take a lot of effort or there need not be much fear for Hindu women to renounce the faith that dominates her. Yet, we do rarely meet them here.

Even today, the common dictum enforced by the religious ritual is that only men are allowed to do such rituals. In case of rituals done by women, it is tilted towards the well-being of the men in their life – be it father or husband or son. There was a mythical female pope, a handful of female imams and a few female rabbis. There were Hindu priestesses in India, but it is still a small percentage compared to the males in this sector. This indirectly signifies that the role of women in a religion is only adding more numbers to the religion and not to add anything much significant to the religion.

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Women had been instrumental in the religious revolutions of the past. If you consider the origin of most of the religions that had survived till today, all of them had women playing a major role during its inception. Either the women were raised to goddess status or revered for their association with the founder of that religion. But, the men who later formalised the rule books or wrote commentary on them pushed women to the periphery and rendered religion as a playground of men. While women are not mostly allowed in the religious writings and law-making, they are forced to install those dictums into the minds of her progenies.

I pondered over the question of why religion sidelines women and I thought of a possible answer, which I have summarised as: Religion was probably formed by men who wanted to strengthen their tribe and control any rebellion. That is why, a king was made the “Son of god” and anyone plotting against the king was declared evil. They would have feared that women with their longer life expectancy and reproductive capacity can outsmart and control men. During the initial propagation phases, women were allowed to take the lead, but, as soon as the movement gains momentum, they would have plotted to somehow purge women out of the force. Since women have to spend a major amount of their youth in pregnancy and taking care of the child, keeping them in baby-making process continuously would had been the best way to outcast them. Also, women’s virginity was made the asset of a tribe, because a woman, by “proper” marriage, can yield as much babies as possible. And remember, a tribe that has more young boys would be the most dominant tribe of that region. Every teenage boy would be an excellent fighter. Every teenage girl’s uterus was considered a machine for reproducing more young boys. The more the cycle continues, the stronger the army becomes. In the case of few wars, those young boys can be a major force in agriculture and construction. Chastity was made the core of religion and that gave rise to the control of women, so that she might not spoil the chance of adding more kids to the religion. If you could note here, the role of women in adding more numbers to religion is still carried forward now. In certain religions, a woman cannot marry a man outside her religion, unless he converts to her religion.

Even under such oppression, women fight for their religion and try to preserve it. Maybe, they indirectly state that they wanted to be dominated by men (and their religion) always? Why do not women come out, take a "leap out of faith" and fight for their empowerment? Why do women not stop brainwashing their children about a non-existing god and a religion that gives no right to her, but provides the right to control her, to her son? Why do not women fight and end the religion, which if not done, is going to make her daughter also go through the same path she had been forced to? Why do not women shun religions?

Photo Credits: Yogita Ranapaheli

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