In my posting several days ago, I cited Ivone Gebara's Out of the Depths: Women’s Experience of Evil and Salvation, trans. and intro. Ann Patrick Ware (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), on the ways in which various male-dominated religious traditions reduce women to silence, make them voiceless, deprive them of any means of expressing their spiritual insights in language that makes sense to them as women. Gebara's analysis of this reduction of women to silence goes further: she emphatically depicts these effects of patriarchal culture and religion as a form of violence against women.
In a previous posting, I noted that Gebara makes the following observation about how male-dominated cultures and religions institutionalize violence against women by incorporating into their very fabric social arrangements designed to exalt men at the expense of women, who are degraded by these arrangements: she states,
Institutionalized violence against women is not just one specific act of violence but a social arrangement, a cultural construct geared to degrade one pole of humanity and exalt the other (81).
In Gebara's view, women's training in submission--specifically, their training in submission to male violence--begins right in the home, in the family circle, from the time they are little girls:
Females live first as girls under the violence of their mothers, then as women under their husbands or companions (104).
Violence of this enculturated, taken-for-granted, "normal" form is woven right into the fibers of religion itself, Gebara insists, contra those who see religion as always unambiguously standing against violence:
Some may object that religion has not often been a place of violence. On the contrary, in view of the patriarchal characteristics of the main religions of the world, religion has been not only an arena for violence but the ultimate justification for violence launched against all kinds of people and both men and women, but especially women (104).
In the main religions of the world, "religion has been not only an arena for violence but the ultimate justification for violence launched against all kinds of people": this is a powerful claim, one that roots the persistent violence enacted by religious groups against targeted, maligned minorities (Jews, heretics, women, witches, indigenous people, homosexuals, etc.) in what might be called the aboriginal arrangement of violence: the subjugation of women to men, propped up by religious warrants and strictures throughout the main religions of the world.
The graphic: Käthe Kollwitz's woodcut "The Mothers" (1922-3), from the Brooklyn Museum.