The Culture Of Correcting Women

When religion and politics collide

“person standing near car” by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

Twice in the past week, random men have inserted themselves into my parking process. On two occasions, while reversing my car — perfectly safely, with the kind of ease and precision demonstrated by an adult human with 20 years driving experience — a man suddenly appeared and tried to ‘help’; planting himself to the rear of my vehicle, directing traffic with wild and elaborate gesticulations, so that I — a bewildered little woman — could somehow manage to find my way out of my parking space. Each time, I could see the man in my mirror, puffing out his chest and seizing command of the situation with authoritative air — telegraphing the sentiment, “Hold on, everybody! There’s a woman reversing!”

On both occasions, these men then looked at me, expecting thanks.

On both occasions, I managed to resist the urge to wind down my window and yell, “Hey buddy, I learned to drive on London’s South Circular two decades ago. Do you really think I’m intimidated by the car park of a Yorkshire market town Co-op?” Instead, I simply delivered my very best ‘hairy eyeball,’ and drove away.

In the back of my mind, I wondered if the fact that I had spotted this behaviour twice in one week was related to the general cultural conversation we are all having right now — with the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements being brought into sharp relief by the Kavanaugh Hearings going on in the U.S. Were men feeling particularly emboldened to patronise women, or was I, perhaps, more sensitive to it this week?

Then I realised that, no — this is a standard occurrence. I remembered all the other times that similar things have happened. I remembered all the times I’ve been parking my car with a man in the passenger seat next me, only for him to ask, “Would you like me to hop out and guide you in?” And I remembered that my stock answer to that is, “No, I don’t want you to ‘hop out,’ I want you to sit there in silence and marvel at how I can park this car perfectly, while simultaneously answering stupid questions.”

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that, if people are repeatedly concerned about my parking skills, perhaps that’s because I actually drive really badly, right? Wrong. People don’t worry about my parking skills — men do. And that’s the point. It is standard operating procedure in a culture built on and infused with the male urge to correct women. It’s a symptom of the wider, global culture that has existed forever. It is taught to literally billions of people, through countless generations, through worldwide religions, and it is, after all, no coincidence that religious observance is often given considerable weight in the selection of national leaders.

Let’s take Christianity, for example. It is the world’s largest religion, encompassing many ‘branches,’ including Catholicism. It is estimated that approximately 2.4 billion people (roughly 33% of the world’s population) follow the teachings of Christianity. The teachings of Christianity are highly pervasive in culture, too — being heavily influential in western nations, in particular, due to its connections with political leadership.

So, what are the teachings of Christianity, as relates to the relationship between men and women? Well, it is a patriarchal religion. Broadly speaking, it says that God (male) created Adam from dust, and permitted him to eat from any tree in the Garden Of Eden, except for the Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil. Then, he created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs to be his “helper corresponding to him.” She is lured by a serpent, which persuades her to eat the forbidden fruit by appealing to her sense of ambition. Eve then encourages Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, too.

“person holding red apple at daytime” by Thammie Cascales on Unsplash

Upon discovering their disobedience, God is displeased. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent, and God punishes them all. Adam is condemned to a life of hard labour, ending in death. Eve is condemned to the pain of childbirth, and a lifetime of submission to her husband. The pair are banished from the Garden, with the implication being that it is all Eve’s fault. Eve is responsible for Original Sin, and the Fall of Man.

And her subjugation is her punishment.

Every facet of modern sexism that we can see in our current news cycle is baked right in to that story. The victim blaming. The gas-lighting. The male entitlement. The ridiculous, passive-aggressive abuser logic. The abdication of responsibility, and the resentment of consequence. The urgent need to correct women, because women are obviously in the wrong.

But, it’s not just Christianity. In Islam — the world’s second largest religion, with over 1.8 billion followers — there is no ‘Original Sin,’ and women are encouraged to seek out education and knowledge. However, through an emphasis of harmonious relationships based on a foundation of equality, Islam provides for men and women to fill complementary roles in Muslim society — women primarily as wives and mothers, and men operating in the outside world. Women are expected to prioritise the role of wife and mother over any employment in the public sphere.

Women are much more prominent in the teachings of Islam than in Christianity but, despite provisions for equality, the religious law of Islamic tradition — Sharia Law — teaches generations of citizens in many countries around the world that women are to be subjugated. Its application varies greatly between Islamic countries, but can be seen to dictate male guardianship, and restrictions on women’s travel. It can be seen to permit marital rape and, in places, to allow rapists to avoid consequence by marrying their victim. It can be seen to permit polygamy, while prohibiting polyandry. It can be seen to encourage child marriage. It can be seen to require the testimony of two women for every testimony of one man. It can be seen to allow varying degrees of domestic abuse, as a means for men to ‘chastise,’ (or correct) their wives and children. It can be seen to allow men to own women as slaves.

Even Hinduism — the third largest religion in the world, with an estimated 1.15 billion followers - can be seen to teach the need to correct women. It is arguably the oldest religion and is formed around ancient texts — divided as ‘heard’ and ‘remembered’ — which discuss elements of philosophy, theology, rituals, cosmology, and mythology, among many others. As a dharma, rather than a monotheistic religion, Hinduism celebrates a number of deities, including some that are female in nature — notably, Saraswati (knowledge and education), Durga (victory in war), Lakshmi (prosperity), and Shakti (the feminine divine power, and counterpart to the male Brahman).

However, despite the female influence and celebration, interpretations of ancient Hindu texts (Vedas) still reference the subjugation of women. Menstruating women are excluded from rituals, due to their association with negative energies. The female mind is noted as being inferior, and difficult to discipline. Some verses restrict a woman’s right to property (although others do not). Some passages objectify women. Some passages state that a woman must not be independent of men.

Most world religions are demonstrably patriarchal in nature, but even looking at just these largest three, we can see that over 5.35 billion people around the world (approximately 71.3% of the total population) are directly influenced by a doctrine that has the need to correct women woven into its very foundation. The size and scope of these religions means that even those that do not adhere to their doctrines are aware of their teachings. The important point to note, though, is that these dominant religions were essentially created by men, because they were formed in ancient, patriarchal societies. This means that the interpretations of their teachings have, for centuries, been through the lens of male dominance.

Only in more recent times have we seen an increase in scholars seeking to apply a more egalitarian, modern perspective to world religions. The key is exactly that process of interpretation, though. Of course, there are those today — reformers, if you will — who argue that these misogynist threads of religion don’t actually mean those misogynist things, and that they have some different kind of social application in the contemporary world. But equally, there are those who continue to interpret them literally — traditionalists, perhaps — and it is the intersection of this range of interpretations with local, national and international politics that perpetuates a global culture that seeks to correct women.

For all the talk in various nations about the importance of the ‘separation of church and state,’ western leaders are still expected to be good, church-going folk. Many in western societies are often heard to decry the misogyny of religious law, such as Sharia Law, while simultaneously using Conservative Christian philosophies to influence the application of law as it relates to women — something that is particularly evident in the U.S Republican Party, and also their current Supreme Court nominee, who repeatedly referred to his religious observance during his hearings.

What does all this have to do with random men assuming that I’m incapable of parking my car without their guidance? Well, it’s the same as the male assumption that I am incapable of choosing what happens to my body, or the male assumption that if I turn down a date or a request for my phone number, it must mean that I am evil and need to be shown the error of my ways. It’s the same as the male assumption that my emotional state is far more problematic than that of a man. It’s the same as the male assumption that I am somehow wrong in my understanding or opinion on any given subject, and therefore need to be corrected through mansplanation.

It’s the same as the male-dominated media constantly telling me that I need to be attractive, but humble, and intelligent, but not more intelligent than men, and that I should be striving for a ‘beach body,’ but not walking around scantily-clad in case I tempt a man into trying to have sex with me, thus making him angry when I inevitably turn him down, because why would I walk around with a ‘beach body’ if I didn’t want a man to randomly grab it, and when he does grab it I really shouldn’t publicly accuse him of assault because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the Fall Of Man now, would I?

In closing, I’ll leave you with this, from Senator Orrin Hatch — currently the longest-serving Republican Senator in the history of the United States, and author of the book, An American, A Mormon, And A Christian.

On the 4th October 2018, in the midst of vehement protests against the confirmation of the clearly partisan Republican Judge Brett Kavanaugh to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court of The United States, Senator Hatch was addressed by a woman about her concerns surrounding Kavanaugh’s conduct — including his televised angry outbursts. She became angry when Hatch waved her away dismissively, and in response to her ire, he told this adult woman to “grow up.”

There for all to see: The patriarchal infantilisation of women.

Clearing the path for men. Correcting women.