Women & Religious Fundamentalism: Rhetorical Differences between Christian Patriarchy & The Taliban?

malalaOn Oct. 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzi was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school.  A sixteen year-old girl passionate about her right to an education, she was shot for pursuing equal opportunities for boys and girls. Malala’s story had captivated the world. She was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, and has drawn attention to women’s rights in Pakistan by travelling and speaking around the world.  She is a powerful speaker whose uses the rhetoric of peaceful resistance and whose words are backed up by her actions. For me, though, her story has brought to mind eerily similar rhetoric used by religious fundamentalists around the world.

I was listening to Malala speak on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart when one of her comments struck a chord with me and my own fight against the Christian Patriarchy movement. When asked to describe the moment she became passionate about women’s education, Malala responded:

“We are human beings and this is the part of our human nature that we don’t learn the importance of anything until it’s snatched from our hands. And when in Pakistan, we were stopped from going to school, at that time I realized that education is very important. And education is the power for women. And that’s why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women will become more powerful.”

Focus in on this point:

Education is the power for women…. They do not want women to get education because then women will become more powerful.

Yes, the Taliban doesn’t want women to be educated because they will fight back, and Christian Patriarchy advocates, such as Doug Phillips, don’t believe girls should go to college and instead stay at home until their father’s pick a spouse for them. Is there a difference? To be clear, I am not saying that the Christian Patriarchy movement espouses violence the same way the Taliban does, I am simply comparing their rhetoric about women’s education. In this light the question becomes: are all religious fundamentalists concerned with the same thing—oppressing others to maintain power?

Contrary to what some Americans believe, Islam protects the rights of women and children and Islamic law provides a clear outline of women’s rights to property, marriage and divorce. The U.S. State Department outlines how the Taliban’s beliefs and rhetoric is contrary to what the Quran and the majority of Muslims worldwide believe. Former President George W. Bush outlined the Taliban’s stance on women rights at the Warsaw Conference on Combating Terrorism in 2001, stating:

Women are imprisoned in their homes, and are denied access to basic health care and education. Food sent to help starving people is stolen by their leaders. The religious monuments of other faiths are destroyed. Children are forbidden to fly kites, or sing songs… A girl of seven is beaten for wearing white shoes.

Read  Gina McGalliard's article "What is the Evangelical 'Stay at Home Daughters Movement'?"
Read Gina McGalliard’s article “What is the Evangelical ‘Stay at Home Daughters Movement’?”

Compare this to remarks made by Vision Forum President Doug Phillips on the Stay at Home Daughters Movement:

Daughters aren’t to be independent. They’re not to act outside the scope 
of their father. As long as they’re under the authority of their fathers, fathers have the ability to nullify or not the oaths and the vows. Daughters can’t just go out 
independently and say, ‘I’m going to marry whoever I want.’ No. The father has 
the ability to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, that has to be approved by me.’

Both movements restrict the movement of women outside the home; restrict their ability to a quality education; restrict their ability of women to think critically and make their own decisions. Religious fundamentalism of any kind is a dangerous beast. Too often Christians brush off the rhetoric of the Christian patriarchy movement as a “difference of interpretation.” However, have we thought about the negative consequence of allowing the Christian Patriarchy movement space in conservative evangelical culture? As someone who has published a peer-reviewed journal article and book chapter on 19 and Counting and the rhetoric of the Quiverfull movement I cannot begin to even count the number of stories I have heard and read of women recovering from growing up in the oppressive patriarchy environment.

Like the Taliban’s treatment of women, the effects of Christian Patriarchy have a long-term impact on individuals in the communities that follow these groups’ rhetoric. Hillary McFarland, author of Quivering Daughters, recounts her own experiences and the experiences of other young women who have found a way out of the Christian Patriarchy movement:

Daughters raised with parents who use God and the Bible to secure desired behavior will undoubtedly face myriad struggles until they are healed by the power of God. Everyone will respond differently to these issues; personality, birth order, degrees of influence outside the home, relationship with parents, and many other factors all contribute to the amplitude of obstacles and wounds. Women brought up with patriocentric [or male-centered], dysfunctional and extra-biblical teachings will almost always encounter spiritual abuse. Moreover, it affects every element of her being.

The experience of women in the Christian Patriarchy Movement and Malala’s experience both illustrate the emotional and spiritual manipulation and abuse that occurs to women trapped in religious fundamentalist culture. Too often the American Church has sat back and said that beliefs of the Taliban are oppressive and cruel but refused to address the rhetoric in our own backyard. Why do we allow on form of religious oppression to occur because it is under the guide of Christianity? The rhetoric of the Taliban and the Christian Patriarchy movement are strikingly similar when it comes to women’s rights. It’s time to stop making excuse and refuse patriarchy rhetoric a platform in our churches and homes.

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2 thoughts on “Women & Religious Fundamentalism: Rhetorical Differences between Christian Patriarchy & The Taliban?

  1. It’s difficult whenever you’re dealing with power dynamics. If women get more of a voice then that mean that men get less of a voice. This zero-sum dynamic crosses time and space. It’s a human problem, not just a religious problem. In Christian circles we just put a spiritual flavor to it and (mis)appropriate our favorite Pauline passages to justify our attitudes.

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