Religion – a historical construct

What I found particularly interesting in this weeks reading of “The Social Context” was the part of women’s religion and gender roles. In my Anthropology classes as well as in my Gender studies classes we’ve learned that binary gender is a social construct that has occurred through socialization. It slipped my mind that gender roles have been established through religion as well, and McGuire explains this in her chapter about Official and Nonofficial Religion.

Gender as we know is a major factor in social stratification. Official religious institutions have historically exemplified the structural and ideological suppression of women. As a result, it becomes part of the woman’s self-definition. The most frustrating part for me is that culture’s certain use of words imply qualities that some people attribute to women and for which there are no male equivalents. This language in return embodies the different standards of the society for men’s and women’s roles. Additionally, in most historical religions women have had less power than men to establish social definitions of gender roles. McGuire tells us that those who posses religious power in a social group often attempt to control the use of sexual power because they view it as a threat to their power base.

Religion has legitimated gender distinctions in work roles, home responsibilities, child-care responsibilities, etc. It’s important to acknowledge this because in this modern time, thousands of women are fighting for equal pay and equality in general. By recognizing how these gender roles have been placed, we can then dismantle them through the institutions that have created them.