Women v. Religion by Karen L. Garst, Ph.D.

UnknownWomen v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and For Freedom

edited by Karen L. Garst, Ph.D.

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance that left me astounded, angry and disturbed.  I knew this acquaintance is a pretty serious Christian, and she knew that I am atheist – but even so, the conversation was not something I saw coming.  It began with, “Did you hear about so-and-so who has worked at the high school being arrested for having a sexual relationship with a student?” and led to her expressing her belief that the existence of porn is to blame because it perverts people, which led to her sharing various other strongly held beliefs, such as the fact that men are genetically designed to be the providers (“So there’s a provider gene, then?” I asked), that the pay gap between men and women is a myth cooked up by liberals, that homosexuality and transgenderism are mental illnesses that we should be helping to cure instead of encouraging and enabling, that women do not belong in combat (she herself was in the Navy), nor do they belong in high-level positions in the workforce because they’re just going to go have babies anyway (as God intended), that without God there is no morality (“But look at me!  I don’t have god and I’m extremely moral and ethical!” I said), and the list went on.  I asked her what the basis is for all of this “knowledge” she claims.  She cited some ancient text of stories passed down orally by illiterate shepherds a few thousand years ago.  You know, the Bible.

What pissed me off about what she expressed to me – besides the utter ignorant prejudice – was how her views, which are undoubtedly held by many, many people, hurt women and girls.  It’s not a simple matter of different people hold different beliefs and to each her own – these are the beliefs that drive the public policies that continue to harm and oppress women.  These are the people whose willfully ignorant, self-righteous views will continue to harm my daughters – and their own daughters.

This stands out as a perfect example of how bad religion is for women.


Karen Garst’s Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and For Freedom is an excellent follow-up to her Women Beyond Belief.  Like Women Beyond Belief, Women v. Religion is a collection of essays by women from various religious backgrounds, from all walks of life, but it goes beyond just sharing personal experiences of leaving religion and delves deeply into the whys and hows of the harm religion and religious faith do to women and girls, mainly by perpetuating the notion that males are preordained by God to be dominant over females.  I read Women v. Religion with highlighter in hand, and when I was done, half the book was pink.  I certainly didn’t need convincing, though.  The fact is, religious faith and real feminism cannot peacefully coexist.

Garst’s books should be required reading for anyone who cares about women, and certainly for anyone raising daughters.

Women Beyond Belief by Karen Garst

41tlozs0el-_sx331_bo1204203200_Women Beyond Belief

Edited by Karen Garst

I am so happy that this book has come on the literary scene – particularly the religious and feminist literary scenes.  There are a plethora of books written on the subject of religion, the vast majority of which have been authored by men (which is just another symptom of the patriarchal society we continue to live in).

A collection of essays written by an array of women from different walks of life, these pages tell the deeply personal stories of how religion has impacted the lives of these people, both as individuals and specifically as women.  Since the time that men put pen to parchment claiming that Eve was created for Adam and that she was the source of original sin, religion has been used to repress and subjugate women and girls.  Actually, since even before that time; most religions that existed before Christianity also viewed and treated females as wicked, as the property of men, as less than men.  And because religion is so deeply ingrained in humankind, perceptions, and treatment of women and girls continue to be based on ancient and deeply disturbing beliefs stemming from superstition and a quest for power and control.

These stories also tell how rejecting religion and superstitious beliefs has impacted the lives of these women: in some ways painful, but ultimately liberating.

I related to every story in this book in some way, and a few moved me more than others.  This isn’t a book meant to persuade anyone; rather, it offers empathy to those of us who have walked the path of rejecting religion and supernatural belief, and a sense of perspective to anyone who cares how religion – both practicing and rejecting – impacts women, and why so many people (women in particular) end up denouncing religious belief.  That said, there are definitely some very well-articulated essays based on obvious exhaustive study contained in this book that should give any believer pause.

I am grateful that there are more and more female atheist voices telling their stories and sharing their views.  I highly recommend this book to non-believers and believers alike.

Rad Women A-Z by Kate Schatz

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!livewhale_0edf491e146e0bbc9b4f57eb9020f28a

by Kate Schatz

This was the first book I chose to read with my daughters (ages 9, 11, and 11) for our literature unit for homeschooling this school year.  It highlights 26 noteworthy American women, one for each letter of the alphabet.  The title pretty much says it all.

My girls and I really enjoyed this book.  I’m embarrassed to admit that there are several women in it whom I was not familiar.  Each page includes a cool painting of the women highlighted, and a good deal of interesting facts.  The women portrayed are very diverse, in historical placement, ethnicity, and contributions.

It’s a perfect feminist non-fiction for the ‘tween and younger teen set.

The Second Shift by Arlie Hochschild

419CK8RJPZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home

by Arlie Hochschild

I read this book at the urging of my oldest son, a college freshman, who read it for his current favorite class in gender studies.  I believe his urging came on a morning that my husband and I were having it out over, stripped down, housework, childcare, and appreciation.  I’ve had a lot of thoughts stewing about that since I read the book, which I will hopefully find some time to write about on my other blog before too long.

As for The Second Shift, it was a groundbreaking book originally published in 1988, while the influx of women into jobs and careers previously held almost exclusively by men was still, if not in its infancy, in its adolescence.  Dual income families were becoming more and more the norm, and Arlie Hochschild, a sociology professor at Berkeley, wanted to understand the impact this seismic shift was having on marriages and families.  So she spend several years repeatedly interviewing more than fifty couples, often just spending time in their homes observing, like a fly on the wall (or as she says, “like the family dog”).  The Second Shift highlights just a fraction of those couples, who represent a good cross-section of all of the couples Hochschild spent time with.

What Hochschild found – and this will surely come as no surprise – is that even when both the husband and the wife work at jobs outside the home (or in the case of a daycare worker who earns money by working at home), even when they both work roughly the same number of hours each week, and even when (though at the time the book was written this was more rare than it is now) they earn roughly the same amount of money or the wife outearns the husband, the bulk of housekeeping and childcare still falls squarely on the shoulders of wives.  Hochschild estimated that wives generally work what adds up to an entire month more of “work” per year than men when we look at household and child rearing tasks and responsibilities.

There is a strange dance that goes on between working husbands and wives (and I would posit, just as much between many one-income couples, as well).  We go into marriage with certain ideals about equity and sharing of responsibilities, and those ideals often erode or evaporate in the face of reality.  What often results is a constant tug-of-war, with each partner trying to stand their ground, or a sort of delusional rationalization of the situation sets in when (usually the wife) resigns herself to the fact that the sharing will never be equitable.  In either case, resentment builds, on the part of the wife who feels that she is not getting the “partnership” she bargained for, and on the part of the husband who doesn’t want to be nagged.

Of course there are exceptions – there are couples who DO share the household and child rearing responsibilities equitably, but even almost thirty years after The Second Shift was published, those partnerships are still the exception and not the rule.

Hochschild, through her extensive research into these issues, has determined that the underlying reason for the inequity and imbalance not only in responsibilities, but also power, between dual income couples is what she refers to as a “stalled revolution,” explained this way: there has been a revolution for women in that we have entered the workforce in droves; however the revolution has “stalled” because (a) men, as a whole, have changed a lot more slowly than women have, and (b) the workplace itself has also not changed; it is still mainly suited to men who have wives at home to take care of all of their household and childcare responsibilities.  In other words, the workplace is still not family friendly.  And everyone pays the price for this: women, men, children, and marriages and families as a whole.

Rather than being a feminist rant, I found this book to be sensitive, engaging, and really pretty fascinating.  The ideas set forth are a lot more complex than what I’ve described here.

So much of it rang true for me personally.  Even though I am a stay-at-home-mother, the imbalance exists in my house and is a bone of contention, and I know that’s true for most of my friends who are stay-at-home-mothers, too.  Hochschild briefly touches on that point – that the “job” of mothering and caring for a household has become extremely devalued – but it’s a point I want to get into further and hope to write about separately.  In any case, the focus of The Second Shift is families in which both the husband and the wife have outside paid jobs, so the imbalance between couples in one-income families falls somewhat outside of that.

Very good book; would make for excellent book club discussion.


Why Have Kids? By Jessica Valenti

Why Have Kids? By Jessica Valenti

I saw a write-up about this book in some magazine and I was intrigued.  I know – the title alone asks a question one might not associate with me, a mother of seven kids.  What drew me was the real question as posed in the write-up: given the fact that parenthood is so hard, given that there is so little social support, why do people keep having kids?

I read the book in two days and it really struck a nerve with me.  Because, you know what?  Parenthood – motherhood in particular – isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  And although many points in the book left me feeling pissed off, frustrated, and even sad – because of their truth – it was actually refreshing to have some of the feelings I’ve carried around validated.

Why do we have kids?

“Because after all, the expectation of happiness is why we’ve had kids . . . When that happiness doesn’t pan out, it’s difficult to admit – not only because it seems ungrateful, but because to the truth seems like an insult to the children that parents love so much.

“But maybe kids aren’t supposed to make us happy.  Historically, Americans had children to help with the family farm or to have an extra set of hands around the house – to produce members of a larger community.  Today, parenthood has become less about raising productive citizens than it is about creating someone to love us unconditionally, someone on which to focus all of our energy and love.  The enormity of that expectation not only leaves unhappy parents wondering why they’re not swooning over their children, but it is also creating a generation of young people who think the world revolves around them.  (After all, they’re just kids – that’s an awful lot of pressure to put on such tiny humans.)”

Written from a purely feminist point of view (the author, Jessica Valenti, is a celebrated feminist), the book is nonetheless based on numerous studies, statistics, and interviews, and it’s hard to argue with the underlying message: although motherhood is touted by our society as “the most important job in the world,” actual attitudes and policies certainly don’t support that notion, and as a result, mothers everywhere feel isolated, frustrated, guilty, overworked, and under-appreciated.  The author argues, in fact, that society gives so much lip service to the institution of motherhood – from the medical community’s attempts to dictate the way women should care for their reproductive health from puberty on, because females’ highest purpose, after all, is to conceive and reproduce, to society’s pressure on mothers to breastfeed (with very few policies in place, however, to actually support breastfeeding mothers) – as a way of continuing to oppress women, to subtly but surely keep them at home where they do their best “work.”  The very notion is enraging, isn’t it?  And yet . . . one can’t help but wonder.

Even in this supposedly enlightened and progressive age, when you get right down to it, having children impacts the course of women’s lives far more than the men who father those children.  Once a baby comes onto the scene, even the most previously egalitarian couples tend to adopt “traditional” roles, with the mother shouldering the bulk of the child rearing responsibilities – whether she also works outside the home or not – and the father playing a “supportive” role at home.

Valenti also postulates that the so-called Mommy Wars are born from frustration and feelings of guilt on both sides of the battle line: on one side, smart, talented women sacrificing autonomy and self-sufficiency in favor of the drudgery of everyday motherhood, and on the other, smart, talented women trying to balance work-for-pay with the demands of motherhood; both sides are desperate for validation, and rightly so.

Also under attack by the author is the notion of branded parenting styles, especially those that tout a “natural” or “back to basics” philosophy –

“It’s easy to appropriate a condescending fixation on “underdeveloped” motherhood when you have the financial means and leisure time to pick whatever kind of parenting works for you at the moment.”


“And for moms who don’t have time and resources to put a name to their parenting, the brouhaha over AP [Attachment Parenting] seems a bit trite.  Mothers who worry about having enough food to feed their children don’t necessarily kvetch on online forums over whether or not you should wear your baby.  Some parents cosleep not because they think it will promote the right kind of bonding but because they only have one bedroom – and maybe no crib.”

Whether you’re talking about Attachment Parenting or Elimination Communication, guess who shoulders the brunt of the work?  You guessed it: moms.

“But if one kind of parenting is “natural,” what does that make all other kinds of child rearing?  Despite all the empowered rhetoric around the new maternal ideal – women’s intuition! maternal instinct! – isn’t this just a spiffed up version of telling women that their most important role in life is a domestic one?”

The author covers a lot of ground, and brings up issues that we would all do well to consider.  The only criticisms I have are the fact that there are numerous typos in the book, and although the author pushes for changes in attitudes and national policies to better support healthy, well-rounded parenting, the book isn’t big on ideas about how to make that happen.

I really think this is a must-read, though – for men and women alike, although I suspect it will be more women than men reading it.  It’s unlikely that anyone will come away from this book without experiencing some outrage.