Decades ago, feminist philosopher Mary Daly claimed that patriarchy is the religion of the planet. As I watch the headlines, I think she may be right.
Patriarchy is a system of domination of men over women. It's racialized. It's shaped by economic resources and political access. It benefits some people more than others and in different ways across genders. But at its core it is a system that worships power--whether it be physical, political, social, or economic--and devalues women and anything associated with them.
Let's take the Pope's recent visit as an example. While the media were heralding his commitments to the poor and his kinder approach to those the church has often condemned (and these are commendable changes), let's not forget that poverty is gendered, with women significantly more like to be poor than men. We cannot end poverty without ending the oppression of women, and yet the Pope offered no gender analysis of the problems of poverty. Additionally, while the Pope may have ended the inquisition against American nuns, the Church still forbids the ordination of women to the priesthood. Catholic women are still not allowed control of their own reproductive lives. The Pope even made a saint of a man who was a key figure in the colonization of the indigenous peoples of the West. And the Pope chose to meet with and encourage Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who has refused to follow the law and issue marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples because of her religious convictions.
Of course, the Catholic Church is not the only one that excludes women from leadership--Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Southern Baptists, all likewise believe that only a man can represent God in a religious leadership capacity. Very, very few Muslim women have ever led prayers in a Mosque. Some Ultra-orthodox Jewish men harass Jewish women who want to pray at the Western Wall and have spit on Jewish girls whose dress does not conform to their strict standards.
Despite laws banning the practices--and a great deal of local activism and resistance-- some Hindu women are subject to dowries that amount to extortion payments to take women off of families' hands; instead of burning on funeral pyres, some widows are now victims of so-called suicides, founding hanging or poisoned or burned inside their homes. We know that ISIS kidnaps and rapes women--with a ready religious justification built from their misreadings of the Qur'an and some Islamic scholars, while Boko Haram kidnaps and rapes girls in Nigeria.
Even the Dalai Lama, who claims to be a feminist, recently said that, while he believed a female Dalai Lama would be possible, she would have to be attractive or she would be of no use.
But as the religion of the planet, patriarchy is not simply a matter of religion. The worship of power and its parallel devaluing of women are pervasive, which was Mary Daly's point.
A recent report by the World Bank found that laws around the world impede women's progress. Ninety percent of the 173 countries surveyed had at least one law on the books that discriminated against women. Delegates at the UN's 1995 Beijing conference on women set a target of 30% participation by women in national legislatures by 2015. Only 44 of 190 countries have met that goal. In the United States, women are 19% of the House and 20% of the Senate. No woman has ever led the United Nations, or the United States, for that matter.
Other recent headlines have included Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump's comments about women, including an insult about Carly Fiorina's appearance. Conservatives are attacking Planned Parenthood (again), despite the fact that Planned Parenthood receives no federal funding for abortions. In fact, most of Planned Parenthood's funding comes from Medicaid reimbursements for the wide variety of necessary health services the organization provides, particularly to low income women. The recently released documentary, The Hunting Ground, documents the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses--which mirrors the epidemic of sexual assault elsewhere in the US. Leaders told US soldiers in Afghanistan to ignore the abuse of boys by Afghan allies. Amnesty International wants to decriminalize pimping, which is not the same as decriminalizing the selling of sex by sex workers themselves. We know of at least 17 transgender women of color who have been murdered in the US in 2015. And making black women's lives (and deaths) visible in Black Lives Matter has been difficult.
On and on we could go. Watching the nightly news is generally watching a parade of misogyny. I don't deny that progress happens for women. But often our need to talk about progress is a way of avoiding talking about the ongoing problems of sexism, racism, and other interlocking forms of oppression. Progress is never even, and people benefit differently from progress, usually in ways related to their status in the system. So, for example, Affirmative Action programs have actually benefitted white women more than women and men of color. So-called progress may also mask the ways that discrimination simply changes. For example, while race-based housing discrimination is illegal, apartments may suddenly be no longer available when a person of color shows up; people of color also have a more difficult time securing home loans and are often saddled with higher interest rates for those loans than whites. If those people happen to be gay, in many states, they can simply be denied housing on the basis of sexual identity.
So, yes, I do think patriarchy is the prevailing religion of the planet--or to make it more complex, nuanced and intersectional, as feminist bell hooks does, white, capitalist heteropatriarchy is the prevailing religion of the planet.
And that's why as Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie argues, we should all be feminists. Then she answers the question, why feminist? She writes:
'Why not just say you are a believer in human rights or something like that?' Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general--but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. (We Should All Be Feminists. New York: Anchor, 2014, 41)
The world has a problem of gender of religious proportions. We need a reformation, perhaps a revolution, to tear down the altars to male power and rebuild a global sanctuary of inclusion, equity, justice, peace, and love.