Half the people in the world commit this sin against god: they are born women.
It’s an astounding thing that any women at all accept Christianity, Judaism, or Islam; these are profoundly misogynistic faiths. Throughout the Christian Bible, women are treated as chattel to be abused and misused, and uppity women are regarded as the worst of the lot, fit only to be slaughtered. There are parts of the Bible that read like snuff porn — but it’s all OK, because it’s the Bible, God’s holy word, and if God is gonna have to choke a bitch, who are we to question it?
We can trace the attitude right back to Genesis 3:16. The Bible begins with a story that blames women for all the pain of sin in the world, and she needs to be put in her place, under the dominion of men.
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.
When I started looking up woman-hating Bible quotes, I was a bit overwhelmed; it’s everywhere. I won’t even try to flood this article with the many contemptuous words about women that you can find there, but will give a few examples. Job 14 is an interesting one, because it at least acknowledges that men are damned, too…but why are they so troubled? Because they’re born of those filthy, dirty, nasty women.
Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.
He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.
And doth thou open thine eyes upon such an one, and bringest me into judgment with thee?
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.
I don’t think I like how the Bible talks about my mother.
This wasn’t just an Old Testament aberration, either, to be superceded by the loving Jesus of the New; the apostle Paul was just as terrible a misogynist as any. Here’s the classic 1 Timothy 2:8:
I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
Shut up, ladies — it’s your fault we got kicked out of the garden of Eden, and you’re all going to have to pay by suffering in silence.
I know the next objection apologists will make: we shouldn’t read the Bible so literally, and you atheists are just as bad as the fundamentalists. The Bible has to be carefully interpreted, and we need wise men (of course) to extract the deeper truths. So let’s go along with that and ask a few of the church fathers what it all means.
Let’s see what Tertullian has to say — he’s always fun.
Woman is a temple built over a sewer, the gateway to the devil. Woman, you are the devil’s doorway. You should always go in mourning and in rags.
Whoa. Tertullian is one of those fellows you’d really like to see psychoanalyzed; he’s one warped little psycho thug. Maybe he’s not representative at all, and perhaps we should look to a few Catholic saints, who will certainly be more enlightened.
Here’s St John Chrysostom:
Among all savage beasts, none is found so harmful as woman.
Ooops. Maybe St Clement will be friendlier.
Every woman should be overwhelmed with shame at the thought that she is a woman.
Any woman who acts in such a way that she cannot give birth to as many children as she is capable of, makes herself guilty of that many murders.
Now that’s a Catholic attitude. Perhaps that is the problem here, and we really need to look to the Protestant theologians. Here’s what Calvin had to say:
Woman is more guilty than man, because she was seduced by Satan, and so diverted her husband from obedience to God that she was an instrument of death leading to all perdition. It is necessary that woman recognize this, and that she learn to what she is subjected; and not only against her husband. This is reason enough why today she is placed below and that she bears within her ignominy and shame.
Same old story again. I was brought up Lutheran, which meant all I ever heard about that deranged cleric were stories about his iconoclasm and bravery — it took a few years after leaving the church to discover that he was also utterly insane about witches and demons, and was an anti-Semitic monster who set the bar high for the Nazis. But he also praised marriage, thought priestly celibacy was unnatural and wrong, so could he have been a bit less sexist than others? Alas, more disappointment.
If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it.
Women have narrow shoulders and wide hips, therefore they ought to be domestic; their very physique is a sign from their Creator that he intended them to limit their activity to the home.
So Christianity regards women as of relatively little worth. What is to be done with them, then? And here’s where the Bible begins to read like a script for a slasher horror movie (which also, by the way, are as vicious to women as anything in the Bible — so this is also a secular issue). One of the verses that has cost thousands of women their life, and which is still being used to justify murder, especially in Africa, is Exodus 22:18.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
Got women usurping the role of priests? Kill them. If they are just standing around innocently, then read Deuteronomy 20 and Numbers 31 for the appropriate response: rape them.
But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
And of course, you can be brutal in in your destruction of women. 2 Kings 9 tells the story of a war between two factions, the side of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who promoted the worship of Baal, and the faction of the prophet Elijah, who favored the Hebrew god. Here’s what happened when King Jehu and Elijah finally defeated the Baal worshippers.
And when Jehu was come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at a window.
And as Jehu entered in at the gate, she said, Had Zimri peace, who slew his master?
And he lifted up his face to the window, and said, Who is on my side? who? And there looked out to him two or three eunuchs.
And he said, Throw her down. So they threw her down: and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall, and on the horses: and he trode her under foot.
And when he was come in, he did eat and drink, and said, Go, see now this cursed woman, and bury her: for she is a king’s daughter.
And they went to bury her: but they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands.
Wherefore they came again, and told him. And he said, This is the word of the LORD, which he spake by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of Jezebel:
And the carcase of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the face of the field in the portion of Jezreel; so that they shall not say, This is Jezebel.
See? Snuff porn!
The other weird twist to this story, of course, is that just reading the events reveals that this was a war, Jezebel was a fierce queen who fought for her side, and actually had some significant political clout. Somehow, though, her name has become transformed to mean nothing but a harlot, a vain and promiscuous woman — all because in that first verse above, she bothered to put on her make-up before the conquering army of Elijah slaughtered her. Obviously, then, she deserved to be tossed out a window, trampled by horses, and fed to the dogs.
Now I have to confess, I don’t think religion is the root cause of misogyny. Religion is to misogyny as disease is to misery; not the sole cause, but a significant contributor. I’m going to blame biology.
We are a somewhat sexually dimorphic species. Males do tend to be, on average, larger, more muscular, and more aggressive than females, and that means that in our crude history one strategy for reproductive success has been brute force: men controlling women to compel them to bear children for them. The Bible wasn’t the cause of all those men raping women, because that is what conquering men were doing long before Jehovah — it was merely endorsing the status quo.
But here’s the thing: sometimes, we know we can do better than what our brute natures tell us to do, and by transcending our instincts, by using our brain and reason, we can become greater than before. Any culture that denigrates half of its members, that commits them to inferior roles by tradition rather than allowing them to excel by inclination, is throwing away half of its potential. People do more than make babies, and if you value people doing science, writing poetry, creating bridges and buildings, designing software…you can’t rely on the Stone Age virtues of bulk and testosterone. Our dimorphism isn’t relevant, it’s brains that matter.
What religion has always done is pander to biases, achieving success not by challenging people with something new, but by reinforcing what they already believe, no matter how wrong it is. That’s where science shines, though, by breaking the shackles of our preconceptions and letting us work with what really is.
The hard question, though, is why women have ever fallen for women-hating religions in the first place — and there is no denying that women have been prominent advocates of the church, of submission, of labeling themselves in dress and manner as toys of men. I have my own explanation, and that is that religion is a kind of parasite of the mind that promotes its own disease. Where does religion have its greatest success? Among the miserable and oppressed, because one thing it is very good at promising (but not delivering) is hope. If you are among the downtrodden, there is a great appeal to magical answers: pray and you shall be delivered, believe and you shall be exalted in heaven. These answers do nothing but make the believer feel better about his problems, and actually do increase the misery by encouraging them to shun productive solutions for non-answers. Misery leads people to turn to religion, which can make the misery worse because it doesn’t address the material causes of the problem, and the increasing despair leads more and more to seek succor from religion, which makes it even worse, which…you get the idea. It’s a spiral of futility.
And who has been slapped down most consistently throughout human history? Women. It is not surprising that the segment of society that is oppressed is also one that often turns to faith for the illusion of relief.
But let’s close with a ray of real hope, and surprisingly, it comes from the contempt of Tertullian.
Each of you women is an Eve… You are the gate of Hell, you are the temptress of the forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law.
Tertullian thought he was saying something bad there, but think about it. Every woman is an Eve, and Eve is the one who led humanity to the knowledge of good and evil, and was the “first deserter of the divine law” — Eve was the first freethinker! When you turn it around that way, it’s actually a very nice myth. There is part of the answer to misogyny: break free of the old dogmas that want women to be submissive bearers of babies and nothing more, break the dead and oppressive divine laws, and tempt men to follow you into liberation. We’ll all be free together.
Take pride in the example of Eve, she is the author of a real promise of a greater humanity.