The Philosophical and Religious Foundations of Violence against Women

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The philosophical origins of negativity or positivity concerning women go back to the earliest known major philosophers, Aristotle was of a very negative mind toward women, and claimed in detail that there were justifications for considering women as inferior to and the subject of man:

"Also, as regards male and female, the former is superior, the latter is inferior, the male is ruler, the female is subject" (Politics Bk. 1, Ch. 4) and "He is by nature a slave who is capable of belonging to another." (Politics, Bk. 1, Ch. 4.)"

Plato, in contrast, believed that women were the equal to men and should be given the ability to achieve as men had the ability to achieve. This indicates that subjugation of women in philosophical thought that led to justifications for violence against women, was never a universal philosophical construct.

In religion, the moral educations, religious educations and secular life values are taught, but they are tied to the wishes of the divine authority and to the powers that are believed to be passed to or withheld from individuals. Religions that foster values and belief systems that originate in divine imperatives about negative roles and qualities of women are a gateway, not only to violence against women, but to women's tolerance of the violence.

The gateway to violence opens wide when divine desires or orders are associated with subordinate role, and unchangeable nature of women as evil or dark forces and the unassailable "rule" of men in the household is incorporated into ways that lives are led. These are the same mechanisms of abusive relationships in secular households: minimizing, criticizing and controlling.

When such teachings are combined with ploys to keep the home life private, the church and group efforts to enable, justify, or cover up for acts of spousal and child abuse, the conditions are ripe for the worst of ongoing abuse of women and children that is conducted in secrecy, while a completely acceptable public image is maintained in order to avoid secular criminal prosecution.

As a result, deviant or mistaken religious teachings, enforcement and incorporated belief systems can become mechanisms for the worst of violence toward women that is tolerated, covered up by, and enabled by the women who are involved.

In Christian theology, it is well known that the original sin is attributed to a woman who is responsible for all mankind's sinful nature. But Christian theology is riddled with contradictions as wives were responsible for all forms of work and contribution to the household. Even the Ten Commandments are confusing, as women were considered chattel and many believe that only men were worthy of being bound by the commandments.

Only women are stoned to death, for example, for failing to be virgins on their wedding nights. Other stoning excuses are a controversial part of Middle Eastern religions.

Ephesians 5:20 is used to enforce subordination of women. Malachai 2:13-16 prohibits divorce.

In Islam, this verse is most problematic toward women: ayah 34 of Surah four: "Concerning women whose rebellious disloyalty (nusbooz) you fear, admonish them, then refuse to share their beds, then hit them; but if they become obedient, do not seek means of annoyance against them.   For Allah is Most High, Great" 

Yet Islam records the Prophet's abhorrence of hitting and has the understandings of kindness and mercy toward each other.

Central to the Jewish marriage is "Shalom Bayit", or "peace in the home",  but the woman, in some problematic uses of the term, bears the burden of ensuring peace in the home.

As a result, today it is often regarded that only the most deviant offshoots and interpretations of secular philosophies and religions are fostering violence against women, when in fact, the same religions and secular philosophies have extensive histories of justifying a subordinate role, assignment of negative qualitites, and all forms of violence against women.

James W. Prescott, PhD, "Violence Against Women: Philosophical and Religious Foundations of Gender Morality", New Perspectives, 1995.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune and Rabbi Cindy G. Enger, "Violence Against Women and the Role of Religion", National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, 2006

More about this author: Elizabeth M Young

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