The definition of an atheist is a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings. Feminism is the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. So, when combined, atheist feminism simply means a belief in the equality of men and women while opposing religion “as a main source of female oppression and inequality.” Atheist feminists have found many basic human rights denied to women all in the name of God, Allah, or Abraham. They have even found problems within seemingly peaceful religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. From their research, all religions have been found to be sexist and oppressive to the female race.
The People Involved
The earliest known atheist feminist was Ernestine Rose. Born in Poland on January 13, 1810, in a Jewish family with a rabbi for a father, her loss of faith in Judaism created massive conflicts with her father. At the age of sixteen, she was forced into a betrothal with a family friend. Instead of going to the Jewish courts (her rabbi father would have ruled in such places), she fought the engagement in a secular court and won. After leaving her birth country, she worked hard for some social causes while traveling in England and America.
In 1835, she co-founded the first British atheist organization, the Association of All Classes of All Nations, which “called for human rights for all people, regardless of sex, class, color, or national origin.” In 1848, she helped get the Married Women’s Property Act passed in New York. The act permitted married women to own real estate in their own names and was the first such act passed in New York. Other atheist feminists who helped pass this bill included Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Frances Wright.
Ernestine Rose hasn’t been the only person to make a public stand against sexism in the religious communities. In 1885, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote an essay stating, “All religions thus far have taught the headship and superiority of man, (and) the inferiority and subordination of woman. Whatever new dignity, honor, and self-respect the changing theologies may have brought to man, they have all alike brought to woman but another form of humiliation.”
She also wrote “The Woman’s Bible” (1895) and an updated version (1898) “in which she criticized religion and stated ‘the Bible in its teachings degrades women from Genesis to Revelation’.” Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote “Woman, Church, and State” in 1893, which explained how Christianity halts the progress of women and civilization. Mary Daly’s book “Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation” (1973), criticized sexism in the Christian churches.
Annie Laurie Gaylor and her mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, founded the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Annie wrote both “Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So” and “Women Without Superstition: No Gods – No Masters.” Her husband, Dan Barker (a former Pentecostal minister), wrote “Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-Dutch feminist activist, writer, and politician who founded and is president of the AHA Foundation. The AHA Foundation is a non-profit organization created to protect women and girls in the United States against political Islam and the harmful tribal customs that violate US law and international conventions.
Taslima Nasrin is a Bengali-Bangladeshi ex-doctor turned author who had been expelled from India and had received death threats for working “to build support for secular humanism, freedom of thought, equality of women, and human rights.”
Amanda Marcotte “is an American blogger best known for her writing on feminism and politics. She wrote the book “It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist’s Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.”
The Religions in Question
In the Baha’i faith, women are not allowed to become members of the Universal House of Justice, which is their supreme governing institution.
There are many reasons why atheist feminists oppose the Buddhist religion. “The Eight Garudhammas, also known as the Eight Heavy Rules, are rules for Buddhist nuns which require them to be subordinate to Buddhist monks.” Before and after changing his mind about letting women join the sanga (the Buddhist monastic community), Buddha claimed on his deathbed that women are too passionate, envious, and stupid; therefore, they “have no place in public assemblies, do not carry on business, and do not earn their living by any profession.” Menstruation is considered an unclean function of the female body and is the reason why women are forbidden to come into contact with the sacred texts. According to the Theravadan Buddhist tradition, a woman can never become a Buddha, and it is bad karma for a man to be reborn as a woman.
Several of the most influential doctors of religion and theologians of the early Christian church voiced opinions of degradation regarding women. Tertullian said this about women, “You are the port and gate of the devil. You are the first transgressor of God’s law.” Augustine wrote that women who seek power should be “repressed and bridled.” Jerome claimed “Adam was deceived by Eve, and not Eve by Adam, and therefore it is just, that woman receive and acknowledge him for governor whom she called to sin, lest that again she slide and falls by womanly facility.” Preacher John Chrysostom wrote that women “ought at all times to have the punishment which was given to Eve sounding in (their) ears” and that “in the nature of all women lurks such vices as in good governors are not tolerable.”
Catholics and Women
The Catholic Church, by order of the Vatican, refuses to ordain women into the priesthood and excommunicates those who try and the priests who ordain them. It opposes all forms of birth control except for the natural family planning method.
Protestants and Women
Many Protestant churches do not ordain women, and still advocate that family decision fall mainly on the husband and the wife should submit to him. “Some Protestants, particularly those in the Quiverfull movement, oppose abortion, birth control, natural family planning, and/or sterilization, and some even oppose medical assistance during childbirth.
For many years, the Mormon Church has allowed plural marriages. While the Latter Day Saints Church doesn’t allow plural marriages it doesn’t denounce it either. One of the Mormon doctrines states “that men must have multiple wives to enter the highest degree of Mormon heaven” and that women must obey their husband’s law.
Even though there is a belief in a Heavenly Mother, women must not discuss her or risk ex-communication. Feminists have been excommunicated (disfellowshipped) just for being feminists. Fundamentalist LDS members have given teenage girls to older men in arranged marriages, and they are expected to submit completely.
Hinduism and Women
A Hindu widow is usually shunned by her own community because her husband’s death was “her fault.” The widow is expected to shave her head, shun hot food and sweets, and never remarry. In as sati (illegal since 1829 but still practiced) widows burn themselves alive on their husband’s funeral pyre. According to Hindu sacred texts, females of all ages are completely subservient to the men in their household (including sons) and are never independent.
Islam and Women
The Islamic religions accuse women of being unclean during menstruation and impose special restrictions during it. The Quran says that women must be dressed modestly at all times, leaving only the face and hands exposed. “Modesty police” are duty-bound to enforce these and other rules from the Quran. Female genital mutilation (a “law by custom”) is still seen in many Middle Eastern and North African countries. A woman has to fight hard for a divorce while the husband can just say “I divorce you” three times. A woman’s testimony is not as valuable as a man’s. Very young girls are still married off to older men.
“Blessed is He that did not make me a woman” is a typical prayer for male Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Judaism insists that women are not to be educated or work outside the home. “Modesty police” are in force here, too. Women are separated from the men in synagogues. Orthodox women must wear head coverings and wigs after they marry.
Nearly all religions are against abortion even if it is needed to save the mother’s life. Menstruation seems to have a common factor of “uncleanliness.” Polygamy is still prevalent in the Middle East and various offshoots of the Mormon religion in North America. Female deities are found to be not as important as the male ones or the one, universal God figure.