I was a cradle Catholic; was born into a traditional Catholic family and brought up in the Christian faith. Even as a young girl, I noticed subtle sexism in the faith. The priests were all male. Yes, nuns existed, but they got neither the respect nor the money that seemed so readily available to their male counterparts.
As I grew older, the religious community’s blatant disregard for women’s concerns began to bug me. I came across women who were instructed to return to their abusive husbands because the Church was against divorce. Some were even asked to become more obedient to their abuser! I connected with young girls who were discouraged from reporting their sexual abuse within the community and instead advised to forgive and make up with the abuser. I met women, a significant part of their lives consumed by birthing and raising child after child. The Catholic Church opposes birth control–the only holdout Christian denomination to still adhere to historical contraception standards. These mothers now face lifelong body aches and pains resulting from multiple children traveling through their bodies.
Christianity Fails Women In Schools
I witnessed Christian schools shamelessly teaching sexism, accusing innocent girls of “dressing to distract boys.” It was as if our education wasn’t even remotely important. (But God forbid our feminine forms should distract the boys!) They treated us like we were nothing except an evil temptress.
Christian clergy’s shaming of female bodies is one of the vilest things I’ve had to witness. Young girls, who are still children, not going overboard diminishing themselves, are committing the grave sin of tempting men and should be ashamed. Yet, priests who made vulgar comments about women’s bodies were still respected as ‘godly men’ giving ‘spiritual guidance.’
Why were these men allowed to make grossly inappropriate remarks but still shielded from the shame they so passionately tried to instill in women for having bodies? This couldn’t be God’s will; this couldn’t be what the Bible said.
Then I read the Bible
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always read the Bible–since childhood. But previously, anytime I came across uncomfortable verses, I’d wonder, painfully ignore it, or simply resort to familiar mental gymnastics of explaining it away. But this time was different. This time, I read the text as it was–without desperate attempts to make it sound better.
It was disheartening.
I found zero concern for women or the female perspective in the Old Testament. Israelites were told to kill all captive men–and women who weren’t virgins–and to take the virgins as wives for themselves. But what about the wishes of those women? It’s not a big reach to imagine no one wants to marry their parents’ killers.
Genesis: Chapter 19 describes Lot throwing his two daughters out to a mob of angry men to rape in an attempt to save two angels of God (appearing as men) from being raped. And God considered Lot to be the only righteous man in the city. Neither God nor the angels cared for the wellbeing of Lot’s daughters. The dignity of these two strange men held more value to Lot than that of his own daughters?
The Bible’s Rule For Women
The Bible contains handy rules on how to sell one’s daughters and to force rape victims to marry their rapists. It states a woman who gives birth to a male child is considered unclean for seven days, while a woman who gives birth to a female child remains unclean for 14.
Women who are found not to be virgins on their wedding nights are stoned to death. Women who have sex outside marriage are ordered to meet the same fate–although Jesus contradicts this in the New Testament. There are no such rules for men.
The idea of women as temptresses is so inextricably woven into the Old Testament seems to be inherently misogynistic.
The Bible contains the word “harlot” at least 31 times. The book of Jeremiah compares idolatry* to the actions of a promiscuous wife. (*Idolatry or blasphemy is considered a sin against the Holy Spirit, the worst sin according to God)
Mothers are regarded as little more than broodmares by the faith community.
King Solomon, one of God’s favorite men, had 700 wives and 300 concubines. God’s chosen men could sleep with prostitutes (Samson), rape women (David), and kill thousands in wars (all three of them), yet according to the Bible, the worst sin is a promiscuous woman.
Using Women In The Bible As Role Models
I was taught to look up to female role models in the Bible, but this proved challenging.
The Holy Virgin is undoubtedly the most revered female figure in the Bible, b\ut there isn’t a single feat attributed to her that doesn’t involve ‘submission’ or caring for a man. Her ‘greatest accomplishment’ is to have given birth to the Son of God at the age of 14.
Another figure I adored was Esther, the brave woman who saved her people. But when you dig deeper, what is she really known for? Using her beauty to change the mind of a powerful man. And she’s not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, unlike biblical patriarchs.
There’s Ruth and Naomi, content by themselves, but again, their lives revolve around men–specifically finding the right man. Mary Magdalene, a disciple, was painted as a whore, and Eve (Lot’s wife) is used as proof women are gullible. None of these made me feel confident as a woman; their stories serve to perpetuate harmful stereotypes.
Christianity Fails Women By Failing To Address Misogyny
But isn’t Christianity all love and hope? I turned to the New Testament, but unfortunately, I still couldn’t find a single word denouncing these practices. Instead, the New Testament reinforced the Old Testament’s values when Jesus taught that nothing shall be changed, ‘not a dot.”
Some parts of the New Testament do afford women basic humane treatment but not even enough for comparison, let alone enough to outweigh the misogyny present in the rest of the Bible.
The book of proverbs contains multiple verses cautioning men to stay away from the traps of immoral women, but you won’t find similar advice for women anywhere in the Bible. However, women were at significantly greater risk of being raped according to previous Biblical passages.
The Bible Left Me Feeling It Wasn’t Written For Me
Senseless as it might seem, even this didn’t shake my faith. I told myself that misogynistic men probably compiled the Bible, nothing more, that God must surely care about women.
Then the total absence of the divine feminine in Christianity hit me like a brick. With the absence of the feminine divine, what did young girls have to look up to? We were told that we couldn’t be priests because priests represent Christ and Christ was male. Then what’s the point of being Christian? Why did we fast during lent alongside men, obey Church’s rules alongside men and take part in volunteering for the Church alongside men if we couldn’t aspire to be like Christ just because we weren’t male?
I was told that God didn’t have a gender, except it was always ‘Heavenly Father,’ not ‘Heavenly Mother,’ and ‘He’ not ‘She.’ It was ‘God’ not ‘Goddess.’ Some Catholics bring up ‘Sophia,’ feminine imagery of the Holy Spirit as proof that Christianity is egalitarian. But unfortunately, I have never heard of this feminine imagery outside of debates with Christians.
Christianity Fails Women Like Sophia and Mother Mary
It’s as if the only time Sophia is important is when someone needs to dispel concerns of sexism in the faith.
If Catholic reverence for Mother Mary is meant that women are held in high regard, why must a virgin represent the divine mother? Since being a birth mother and a virgin simultaneously remains physically impossible, we were doomed to aspire to an impossible state of ‘purity,’ which could only lead to feelings of inadequacy.
Motherhood was taught to be the most important part of a girl’s life, but Christianity robbed me of the pride and joy of creating a new life by branding it as a punishment for Eve’s sin. I was expected to bear children while remembering that the pain of childbirth is a punishment for women. And that I’ve lost my oh-so-precious ‘virginity.’ Because of these teachings, as a young girl, I dreaded my future. Sometimes I’d wonder what I had done to deserve this and why I was born among the cursed half of the population.
Considering how Christianity emphasizes motherhood, you might think the faith actually respects mothers, but some parts of the Bible show alarming disrespect for mothers. When King David killed Bathsheba’s husband and raped her, God punished David by causing the child conceived by that rape to die within days after birth. Think about that. The punishment for King David is that the woman he raped spends nine months carrying the child inside her; it takes a toll on her body and mind, she must endure the pain and suffering of childbirth and watch her child die.
Motherhood And The Bible
The Bible does respect motherhood in the case of Virgin Mary, but even that raises the question of why would God choose a 14-year-old to birth his son? It almost reads as if this God values a girl’s purity over her health and safety. Yes, it was a different time, but the humanity of women existed in the time of Christ, didn’t it? It wasn’t something we invented in the 19th century.
Unfortunately, happenings like the Magdalene Laundries and non-consensual symphysiotomies in Catholic Ireland are stark reminders that the Church didn’t consider women’s humanity even in the 19th century. Add to these the current anti-reproductive rights campaigns led by churches, and we see that mothers are regarded as little more than broodmares by the faith community. Yet, they dare give sermons about motherhood? I couldn’t respect that anymore.
The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit leads it, yet its history is filled with hatred and violence towards women. Starting from the medieval ‘witch’ (women) hunts, breaking the pelvises of women without their knowledge to further catholic agenda, forcing literal children to deliver their rapists’ babies…the list goes on.
Christianity Fails Women In The New Testament
In the New Testament, St. Peter gets a divinely inspired dream instructing him to kill and eat a vessel full of animals, previously viewed as unclean by Jews, to show that he shouldn’t consider gentiles as unclean. (Acts ch. 10). Yet, when St. Paul gave his clearly misogynistic verses instructing women to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, there were no heavenly visions. Early doctors of the Church weren’t so different, either. Tertullian calls women “the devil’s gateway” and accuses us of destroying men who made in God’s image. He also places the blame of Christ’s death on women (De Culta Feminarum), ironic considering the Pilate’s wife–a woman–was the only person against the crucifixion. St. Augustine stated that a woman by herself is not the image of God, but man–even by himself–is as fully and completely the image of God as when the woman, too, is joined with him. (Lerner 1993) Clement of Alexandria went one step further to claiming that women couldn’t be virtuous(Ide 1984:66), stating, “it belongs to the male alone to be virtuous and to the women to be licentious and unjust.”
We’ve had 2000 years of the Christian Church mistreating women, accepting baseless, hateful claims towards women in the very name of the Christian God it sets out to worship and yet, neither the Father, the Son, nor the Holy Spirit seems to care.
Pope Francis Offered Hope
I had hoped the Church would finally take a turn for the better when Pope Francis acknowledged the sex abuse scandals. But I was so wrong! Pope Francis even referred to feminists as “machismo in a skirt.” Oh, the irony! Especially considering that the Church hasn’t done an iota of activism for women’s freedom and liberty despite more than six hundred million women in the Christian faith community–(unlike the feminists who tirelessly campaigned for women’s rights).
The Church actually did the opposite by issuing a rallying call for good women who “love their place in the home,” while feminists fought for suffrage. The Church called for the Sanctity of Marriage as feminists fought to criminalize marital rape. The Church advised women to “submit” to their abusive husbands as feminists sought legal protection against domestic violence. And the Church continues to rally around the Sanctity of Life call, as alongside feminists fight to make maternal health care more accessible.
The icing on the top of all this irony is the normalized way church leaders scoff at feminists. What exactly have feminists done to deserve this vitriol? Given the anger directed at these women, you might think they had experienced at least half of what the Church has done to women. Or that maybe it’s the feminists who routinely make lewd yet somehow still self-righteous comments about male bodies while imposing rules on church leaders to hold them accountable for women’s actions. Church leaders act as if it is feminists who force church leaders to risk their lives bearing children.
Christianity and #MeToo
Even the #MeToo movement is basically an effort to reimpose Christian sexual morality.
But it isn’t; the hatred is for daring to want something different.
As the sober truth sank in, everything fell into place, and my questions were finally answered. And the answer was simple: Christianity is not made for women. The Christian God hasn’t saved women. No, this religion robs women of the joy of their being.
At present, the Church is doing much to look egalitarian, although I don’t see attempts at actual reform. Rewording the sexist biblical headship doctrine to “equal but complementary” is simply the woke maneuver some church leaders seem to think it is. It’s the same old patriarchy in shiny new covers. No one’s mistaking it for equality, as evidenced by the alarming rise in the number of women leaving the Church.
When I finally left Christianity, I saw–for the first time in my life–that I am worthy. I was able to fully appreciate my biological reality, my ability to create life. I no longer dreaded childbirth, nor was I ashamed of my body. I was finally happy, vowing never again to bow to a male God.
Maybe Eve wasn’t so gullible after all. She was a woman. She must have known that the Christian world would demand everything of her, offering little but contempt in return. Maybe she hoped to find freedom, knowledge outside Christianity when she sought out that forbidden fruit.
This article was originally published June 10, 2021. It was updated in October 2021 to comply with SEO norms. Any textual updates are enclosed in square brackets and preceded by the date of update as follows: [UPDATE: Oct. 14, 2021:]