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Misogyny in the Religious Sphere: Bound by Culture or Religion?

14/03/2014 09:49 GMT | Updated 13/05/2014 10:59 BST

In many societies women are considered as second class citizens and deprived of innumerable fundamental rights enjoyed by their male counterparts. Those who sincerely dislike this discrimination have espoused a struggle to obtain a parallel position which unfortunately, to date, confounds them to the more progressive states.

Though the pendulum has fluctuated to the extremities, the west has somewhat considered women of religion as hostile to modernisation, feeble and backward in a male dominated arena. However, it is particularly undeniable that culture has in fact played a part in the subjugation of women by asserting religious absolutes for patriarchal practises. For instance, in Saudi Arabia; a Kingdom which believes its legal system to be based on Sharia (Islamic Law), prohibits the right for women to drive. In a recent BBC article, 'Saudi women defy driving ban in day of protest Saudi Arabia' female activists behind the protests suppose that the disposition of the populace seems to be changing due to the fact that there is an increase in the number of men endorsing the lifting of the controversial ban.

Nevertheless, euphemisms such as 'Family ideals' countenance religious dictators to tread the fine line between preserving heteronormative and sexist gender roles in society on the one hand and claiming just to be innocuously prescriptive in the face of critical appraisal on the other. Furthermore, using the name of religion can sometimes lead to a dogmatic authoritarianism whereby contentions are fired through an overly imprudent recourse of "the religion says..." when in reality it's a particular interpretation or outlook which leads to x or y's deduction. Tariq Ramadan, a professor of Contemporary and Oriental studies at the University of Oxford outlined two problems with religious frameworks in regards to misogyny. He highlights the issue of reductionist interpretations; whereby the literal approach of a reading leads to a limited understanding, and cultural influences in relation to contextualisation; since many scholars are guilty of projecting their 'patriarchal' views on a certain verse. Professor Ramadan argues that the diversity of cultures and religions inevitably leads to different interpretations thus allowing room for flexibility. Surely, interpretive flexibility therefore allows men to hold double standards with impunity.

Clearly the lack of input by women in respect to the interpretations of sacred texts has led to many misogynistic readings and practices across civilisations. For instance, Article 340 of the Criminal code of Jordan pardons a man from punishment if he suspects adultery, and the state's Lower House has dismissed appeals for its reversal because amendments "dishonored religious traditions and would annihilate families and values". Many religious powers proclaim stoning to be an obsolete source of retribution, however others argue that it is legitimatised in Holy Scriptures and religious traditions.

Indeed, both rational and liberal religious reformers have recognised the existence of contextual proofs within cultural denominations for many of the practises that are discriminatory towards women. Religious misogyny has been particularly hard to address for a multitude of reasons; primarily, it is because religious texts have suffered from dissection, re-interpretations and complete misinterpretations tailored to the average man's standard.