A Critique of Gender as Religious Ideology

Prof Hilbourne Watson in his capacity as a member of the online think tank, Caribbean Dialogues, responds to Dr Judith Soares’ article Religion as Gender Ideology

Judith Soares must not have read Frederick Engels’ ‘The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State’. Soares raises a number of plausible arguments about religion and the oppression of women and she discovers evidence in the “Holy Bible” to support her argument. She turns around and draws on the same “Holy Bible” to discover a “revolutionary” tradition which she associates with themes from the Old and New Testaments.

It turns out that Soares is a very confused individual who uses a positivist interpretation of history via an undialectical analysis to situate her criticism, considering that she is unable to raise her argument to the level of critique. She has to settle for describing a linear patriarchal order that oppresses all women in more or less uniform ways.

Women, for her, represent a universal category beyond the reach of actual history. She mentions maverick females from the Old and New Testament. However, she does not manage to introduce the class relations within which the particular groups of women were situated historically.

She does not seem to appreciate that the two strands of her argument do not express differences of kind but differences of degree. She ends up with an empty category called women and she fosters the distinct impression that the dominant contradiction has been between the sexes: in this way sex and gender take the place of class. She pretends to be advancing a critique of religion as a gender ideology, however she ends up relocating women within the same crucible of religion to discover their potential for liberation. There is no comprehension of religion beyond its ideological function – considering that everything she says turns on the ideological functions of religion.

Since she is consumed by religion as the ideology that sanctions the universal oppression of women by men-only Jesus manages to appreciate women in non-patriarchal ways-she cannot discover any form of class struggles and any of the ways that certain strata of women have more in common with certain men in terms of class. Soares therefore fails to explain how certain members of an oppressed group can function as exploiters and oppressors of other members of the same group s well as other groups (men).

There is evidence of a lack of historical comprehension of the subject she discusses with special reference to the more general role of religion in society, so one must necessarily ask why Soares believes the liberation of women lies in having women cling to the evidence she finds of female heroines in the Old Testament and New Testaments.

Does this engender the liberation of women or does it integrate women with the same social relations of exploitation that are mediated by oppression and obscurantism? In the end does Soares elevate women above patriarchy and free them from the evil of patriarchal ideology? Not at all! She never tells us how the domination of women was central to the exploitation of labour and how it sanctioned and masked exploitation in oppressive practices.

In Caribbean societies – like Jamaica, Barbados and several others – there is a deafening call for ‘rechristianizing’ society to stem the collapse of morals, the crisis of authority and the deterioration of the youth culture. If Soares believes the liberation of women as a group can be found in certain religious injunctions what does this tell us about the religious strategy and the fact that, if it could be implemented as she might imagine, it would also reinforce a patriarchal order and reinforce the subjection of women rather than foster their liberation according to her idealistic, romantic and fanciful assumptions?

Are we not being told that the crisis in society today also revolves around the absence of men to play their proper role in society and in households? Isn’t this also part of the more universal religious injunction? How might Soares respond to this conundrum?

Hilbourne A. Watson, Professor of International Relations, Bucknell University.

     

About Hilbourne A. Watson

Hilbourne Watson is a Barbadian political scientist.

One comment on “A Critique of Gender as Religious Ideology
  1. Professor Watson, in his eagerness to show off his erudition, his knowledge of Marx and Engels and perhaps, his deep understanding of things religious, has missed the point.

    First, this article was written in response to the views held by some feminists, women’s activists and women of faith who believe that religion has negative social implications for women, is backward, can take women nowhere and is essentially oppressive for women. In addition, men including church officials hold that women must be held in subjugation because it is the written Word. At the same time, feminist theologians, womanist theologians, nannyish theologian(s) and those women of faith who believe in the liberation of women and the social transformation of society, find within religious doctrine (in our case Christianity and the Bible) the understanding and the tools of their liberation.

    All I am saying is that this is possible because religion, as ideology, contains within it a dialectic, which allows the two opposing social groups, to see religion as ideology and ideology critique. By dialectic, I mean, contradictions or tension within the same doctrine. Was it not Marx, with whom Professor Watson is familiar, who said that religion has dual moments of ideological manifestations when he wrote that ‘religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress?”

    While Professor Watson has raised some relevant points which have implications for social development, that discussion is for another time and another place. My focus was the role of ideology in constructing women and men and the way in which women resisted their subjugation on the basis of biblical interpretation. If Professor had couched his argument in the conservative ‘end of ideology debate’, it would have made for a good exchange. But unfortunately this was not so.

    There is no mystery to what I have said.

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