Is it a Feminist Act to Stay in a Patriarchal Tradition? by Gina Messina-Dysert

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 profileGina 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


Categories: Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Theology

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24 replies

  1. Congratulations on your Ted talk.

    I agree with you that change happens from within and without. I agree that it probably is not a good idea to begin a dialogue by making blanket statements such as “anyone who leaves is giving up on her sisters” or “anyone who stays in is brainwashed.”

    However I do believe we can question each other about our beliefs and decisions. This is what friends across traditions have been doing for decades and what Judith Plaskow and I model in our new book. And if we don’t do that, we may not be talking with each other at all. And as Xochitl noted in another of her blogs, this does seem to be what is happening on our blog, as well as in the academy, and in the culture at large. Conversations among feminists in religion all too often remain “in house.”


  2. Thanks so much for your comment and for your support, Carol. I do not disagree with you. I think that dialogue is always important. But what I am saying here is that attacking comments and the idea that one’s own way is the only way is what creates a lot of issues. So I think that you and I very much agree on this.


  3. We do agree but it is important to recognize that it is those who have hegemony who have the power not to engage in dialogue, and in the academy, though not on this blog, that is the Christians. Nor should we underestimate the pain and suffering patriarchal religions have caused to some of those who seem to be “attacking” Christianity or other powerful patriarchal religions. xxx


    • You are certainly correct. However, I am not speaking of a Goddess critique on this topic… Rather, it is feminists who often challenge religious identified women. And many of these feminists are often white women with a powerful voice. For instance, i was recently called an “idiot” for maintaining a Catholic identity. That is what I call attacking.


  4. While I was watching this one imagination strikes me..what if we added the holy figure of God as a female form…


  5. Reblogged this on Romantic cat and commented:
    This is very good topic. What if we added a female form to the holy figures of God…It could be an action for one step further. In Buddhism, Guanyin (Avalokiteśvara) changed its form to female in East Asia. Sometimes it has hermaphroditic form, for example, female body with mustache. We could write a new story about God.


  6. As a lapsed Calvinist I do not go to church, but was invited by a favorite nephew to attend his baby son’s dedication/Christening a few Sundays ago. I went out of love for my nephew and with and open heart. The hall was filled with mothers and fathers and children and grandparents. As I listened to the pastor preach about Father God and Father God’s love, I could almost not believe my ears… was I the only one there who thought it was simply wrong to appropriate all this love to a Father God who recognized no Mother God? And what did this emphasis on love associated with the father say about mother love? Does it not count? Here was a room full of parents, MOTHERS and fathers. This absence of the sacred mother in patriarchal religion is what turned me away from Christianity… today I would call myself a feminist seeker, one that rejects all certainty.


  7. Feminism is indeed free choice. The only problem I have is that once I think something through and come to a conclusion, I often see the other side. Instinct is sometimes the best way to make a decision.


  8. I look at the problem as similar to the problem of how to end racism (in the USA). Do you set up colleges and universities exclusively for black people, or should blacks try to integrate into the dominant ‘white’ system, etc. I don’t think there is any one ‘magic bullet’ answer.

    “So often we think we have got to make a difference and be a big dog. Let us just try to be little fleas biting. Enough fleas biting strategically can make a big dog very uncomfortable.” -Marian Wright Edelman


  9. Reblogged this on Jessica A Bruno (waybeyondfedup).


  10. You can’t collaborate with NAZIS, you can’t negotiate with patriarchal religious traditions. That just won’t free women, and it will hole all women back for the collaborators to continue giving energy to religions that hate women. There is no inside to NAZI Germany, there is no inside to the KKK, there is no inside only women can walk out, and walk out now! If you stay in, you are liberal feminist, not a radical one, and you are a collaborator. Probably a heterosexual collaborator with the male state. Get out, because if you stay in, you are NOT MY SISTER.


    • I don’t understand why you are so dismissive of Nazis and the KKK when you have obviously learned so much from them; consistency of ideological viewpoints, rigorous standards of membership, and inflexibility.


      • The thing that has put me off Christianity, is being told by believers what and how to think. nmr, are you not doing the same by telling others what to think and what to believe? Having the grace to allow people the diversity of their beliefs
        and the courage to stay inside and become a force of consciousness for others, is preferable to the blanket condemnation you dispense.


    • Turtle Woman, the thing that has put me off Christianity, is being told by believers what and how to think. Are you not doing the same by telling others what to think and what to believe? Having the grace to allow people the diversity of their beliefs and the courage to stay inside and become a force of consciousness for others, is preferable to the blanket condemnation you dispense.


  11. Sorry nmr, I meant this reply for TURTLE WOMAN.


  12. This has been very hard for me. outwardly I always accept these differing paths (there are a spectrum of paths within “staying” as well that may look like leaving to some. Inwardly, I wish everyone would just wake up to “my truth.” So I say what I know is the right thing because despite all evidence to the contrary (lol), I’m not the center of the world.


  13. I think there is a third way. I joined a church with a minister who was sympathetic to women’s experience of Christianity, though much of the congregation were not. I put together a talk on ‘the female face of God” and presented this and other related topics in lecture series within the church. I don’t think it changed anyone’s views, but it did offer education into how limited the traditional view of women’s religious involvement has been. I think the strident “my way or the highway” only confirms negative views of feminism and women’s place in traditional structures. Read some of the anti-feminist pages on Facebook and weep. There are a lot if sad, bigoted and hateful (literally) men AND women out there.



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