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.