Should women (or men) maintain a religious identity within a patriarchal tradition? Is it a feminist act to stay? Or is it only a feminist act to leave? These are questions that regularly surface in conversations related to religion and are often the center of dialogue here on Feminism and Religion.
I have often thought that change can only take place from within. Certainly we can see the progress made by foresisters who have struggled within their traditions for change; Rosemary Radford Ruether, Mary Hunt, Amina Wadud, Judith Plaskow, and the list goes on. These women have greatly impacted our understanding of misogynistic practices within their respective traditions and have educated us on how religions need to live out their teachings.
However, we must also acknowledge women who have left their traditions for new paths, but who have also had an incredible impact on social change both inside and outside of patriarchal religion; for instance, Carol P. Christ, Mary Daly, Starhawk, and so on. Thank you to Xochitl Alvizo who pointed this out so eloquently in “Transforming the Church from Within or Without.”
The bottom line is that we must each make a decision for ourselves on what works for our own lives. Many will choose to leave behind the pain and rejection endured as a result of simply being a woman in religion that is embedded with structures that do not value women’s voices. And, many will choose to stay and wade through the ongoing misogynistic practices in search for the nooks and crannies where one can find solace. Both are feminist choices and every action contributes toward the ultimate objective of eradicating sexism and all oppressions where ever they exist – including religion.
If we can embrace this idea; if we can support one another in the choices we make rather than question each others’ motives or feminist beliefs; if we can collaborate no matter our stance; imagine the possibilities.
Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D., is Dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She is the author of Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence (Routledge, 2014), and co-editor of Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2014) and the forthcoming Faithfully Feminist (White Cloud Press, 2015). She is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences, and in the national news circuit including appearances on Tavis Smiley and MSNBC. Gina’s WATER Teleconference, “In Search of Healing: Confronting Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence,” can be accessed here. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the globe. She is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing for those who have encountered gender-based violence. Gina can be followed on Twitter @FemTheologian and her website can be accessed at http://ginamessinadysert.com.