Monday, March 2, 2009

Disaffected Women Gripe About Glass Ceiling in Mainstream Religion

An exclusive from Indian Roller Correspondent, ILLE.

"Could I ever be the Pope or the next Dalai Lama?"

During a class in comparative religion, Sophie posed this question to her teacher. She recalls that her teacher was dumbfounded by her query which, literally, came out of the blue.

"The teacher just froze, as if she had been struck by a thunderbolt," recalls Sophie. “I felt like I had asked an inappropriate question."

Is there a proverbial "glass ceiling" in mainstream religion?

According to one Rabbi, a woman who runs a reformed temple, "there is a strong glass ceiling, and every woman in today's mainstream religion will feel it and face it. People had inferred that the feminist movement would make a permanent dent in the sexism rampant in mainstream religion," she notes, "but the recent decades have proven that the male chauvinism in religion came out pretty-much unscathed. You compare the strides that women have made in the workplace and you try to extrapolate that to Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam or Buddhism and you realize that for the most part, all of you have is the status quo. Mainstream religion is stuck in the Middle Ages the chronological equivalent of using leeches as panacea.”

“Comparing the workplace and mainstream religion would be an exercise in disappointment for most women,” she added.

Recently, Fortune Magazine, a premier business and technology publication, noted that in 2008, there were 12 Women CEO's among the top FORTUNE 500 companies. Prominent among the list were names such as Indra Nooyi, Pepsico, Anne Mulcahy, Xerox, and Janet Robinson, New York Times.

I spoke with a local professor of Comparative Religion who stated that, "It's difficult to draw parallels with advancement of women in the workplace versus mainstream religion. Take Christianity, for instance, the top three positions in the board are occupied by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. There is no room for a woman there." She adds that search for the next Dalai Lama will be a "for-men-only" search.

"You look at the myths of Islam and Judaism and the main protagonists are all male," she also stated. "The Gods are all masculine and there is no room for a woman at the top. If you question that male order, you are branded a heretic, an infidel." She added that subjugation of women and relegation of women to inferior roles in society are often "institutionalized" in the holy books.

"I think that it is a wonder of our modern times that, despite the strong element of male chauvinism and misogyny prevalent in today's mainstream religions, that there are so many female adherents. I am amazed that conservative women, such as, Ann Coulter, go around extolling the virtues of Biblical lifestyle, whereas many passages in the Bible have major doses of sexism and misogyny embedded in the verbiage. If the Biblical lifestyles she espouses so vocally were to be actually enforced today, Ann Coulter would probably be stoned for having sex out of wedlock, sporting a mini skirt, and arguing with a man."

An astronomer whom I spoke with finds this debate about the star-crossed fate of women in religion "rather interesting."

"My advice to these women would be to blaze their own trail and create their own universe with their own rules" she said, "after all, that's exactly what the founding fathers of today's mainstream religions did. They concocted a paternal God and a male universe to suit their narrow, parochial visions."

She also added that people who feel disenchanted by sexism in mainstream religion should be able to find solace in the secular reaches of science, such as astronomy.

"It was Carl Sagan who said it best in the introduction to his Cosmos series. The universe is all that is or ever was or ever will be."

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