I am a feminist theologian. To many of you, this may sound like an oxymoron. Just being religious and devout in my faith does not mean I am not a feminist. Furthermore, just because I am a feminist does not mean that I am not religious.
There is a large disconnect between religious feminists and secular (non-religious) feminists, and that disconnect causes a lot of problems. Many religiously-minded feminists become offended at what they see as frankly ignorant critiques of their religion by secular feminists. Most recently, many debates have raged around Muslim women who constantly feel that they have to defend their ideals and religious beliefs to western feminists, especially with certain issues like choosing to wear a hijab.
In pop culture, it is rare to ever see a character who is openly a feminist or even promotes feminist ideals. Religious people are either shown to be radicals or one of the “rare” good religious people. Pop culture shapes how we view the world. Now more than ever, with the rise of groups like Femen, the recent issues between the Catholic Church and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), and the general conflict between religion and feminism in the political world, we need religious feminists in pop culture. People need to know that belief in any sort of deity or deities does not inherently mean a believer supports sexism and oppression.
(WARNING: NSFW pictures after the cut)
As mentioned before, there exists an attitude that religion is oppression and that it harms women. I have read more than one feminist blog which encouraged women to basically abandon their faith. The other issue is secular feminists don’t seem to understand what progress is to a religious feminist. The most recent example of this, in my own Catholic experience, is the recent election of Pope Francis to the head of the Catholic Church. For an intersectional religious feminist, his papacy, so far, is an example of progress. He is the first Latino pope, he is incredibly concerned for the poor, he has held mass with prostitutes, washed the feet of women on Holy Thursday mass (one of whom was Muslim) which has never happened before, and much more. For a religious feminist, these simple things are progress, but if you look at many secular feminist blogs, you would think that Pope Francis is no different than any other pope.
Do I think Pope Francis could be more progressive about certain issues like gay marriage and female priests? Yes, of course, but I’m not going to ignore the progress he has made. Demeaning and decrying religion as inherently sexist is especially insulting to religious feminists who struggle to fight against sexism and patriarchy.
For religious feminists, the actions taken by the radical group Femen (which does not represent all secular feminists), known for their topless protests, have become particularly problematic. Femen members walk around topless with things written on their body like: No Religion, Religion is Slavery, Pope No More, No Islam, Muslim Women Let’s Get Naked.
Their protests have also included chopping down crosses and protesting outside of mosques. For Muslim feminists, this is especially offensive because not only is it demeaning to their faith, but because these radical white feminists are trying to tell Muslim women what’s best for them instead of allowing them to make their own decisions. One post on the Facebook page “Muslim Feminists Against FEMEN” said:
We understand that it’s really hard for a lot of you white colonial “feminists” to believe, but — SHOCKER! — Muslim women and women of colour can come with their own autonomy, and fight back as well!
In pop culture, religion is considered a tricky issue these days. Writers and producers worry about portraying religion wrong, isolating fans that aren’t of one particular religion, or driving away fans who aren’t religious in general. Often in TV shows, movies, books, or comics, characters may be religious, but their religion and their beliefs are never discussed. So it’s difficult already to have characters who are religious and are open to talking about their religion in general, but add a feminist element to a character and you have an even more unlikely situation.
I have rarely seen a show/book/movie etc. that features a character that deals with religious feminist issues, at least in geek culture. There are certainly some movies in our normal pop culture that have on occasion addressed these issues. But very rarely does geek culture have anything to offer religious feminists. And these issues sorely need to be addressed in our pop culture.
Sadly, there is only one movie I can think of that deals with religious feminist issues in our geek culture, and even that movie only addresses issues with Christianity and Catholicism in particular. That movie is Dogma.
The movie focuses on Bethany Sloane, a worker at an abortion clinic, who has been tapped by Heaven to stop two fallen angels from unmaking the universe. The movie addresses right to life issues (like abortion and euthanasia), the white-washing of the Bible, sexism in the Bible because of male writers, God’s gender/female images of God, Mary’s virginity, problems with the Church hierarchy, and female saviors. Though the movie received a lot of protests and hate from religious authorities, it asks and discusses a lot of the same questions that Catholic feminists are still asking today.
But even this movie ultimately claims not to have religion. The character Rufus, the thirteenth apostle who was left out of the Bible because he was black, tells Bethany that Jesus never wanted any sort of belief structure.
Rufus: He still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the shit that gets carried out in His name—wars, bigotry, televangelism. But especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.
Bethany: Having beliefs isn’t good?
Rufus: I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier…
By the end of the movie Bethany agrees with Rufus, telling him that she doesn’t believe but has a good idea. Overall the movie is great, but it still has the same problems that I discussed earlier. People, especially feminists, have to abandon this belief that religion can’t be fixed. It’s wrong and offensive. Religious feminists struggle within their own faiths to change things for the better, but they will never succeed if they have no support.