Remember that John Mayer song Daughters? You know the one, …”Fathers, be good to your daughters, daughters will love like you do, girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so mothers be good to your daughters too”. Women and religious trauma were probably not what John Mayer was calling to mind when he wrote it but it’s what I think of these days when I hear this song.
Religious trauma comes in many forms. I want to talk about the trauma that is inherent in all major world/patriarchal religions but isn’t talked about nearly as much as cults and fundamentalist trauma is. Patriarchal religions are fundamentally contradictory to womens’ healthy development of sense of self. The trauma women experience through the sexism and misogyny built into patriarchal religions is long lasting and deeply impactful. The oppression of women is infused into our culture, workforce, marriages, politics, entertainment and most costly, into our parenting and so much of it is greenlit and defended through religious teaching.
As both a mother of a daughter and an atheist it is incomprehensible for me to imagine teaching my child that she is subservient to males or that she is inherently sinful and should feel shame about her body, menstruation or sexuality. This is a person I love more than anything else in the world. Everyday since she was born my life has been centered around making sure she is safe, healthy and has everything she needs to thrive. Why would I ever consider teaching her that she is inferior to anyone, nevermind a whole gender? Let's really think about this for a minute.
Say that a devout christian couple has every intention of raising their future children in their religion. Okay fine. They are planning what they have been taught you do, raise your child in your religion. But then their first child is born, a daughter, and she is their whole world. They are loving dutiful parents. At six months or so they dress that precious baby girl up in a white gown and baptize her in a religion that will someday too soon shame her and oppress her. This choice defies every instinct we have as parents.They love their child so much. Yet they literally throw a party to celebrate an induction into a religion that openly and unapologetically disenfranchises their child. How can they go through with this now that they have this baby daughter in their arms? To a non religious person it must sound like a really messed up thing to do. This is your child. Don’t you want what is best for her? Why would you send her into a community that will work hard to uphold male superiority and power to her detriment?
I think that is a very good question and one every religious parents need to ask themselves. Parents, I know it's uncomfortable, more than uncomfortable, painful, intolerable even, but please do it anyway because your child is worth it. Your daughter deserves to have a chance to grow up believing she is equal in all ways to men.
When parents make the choice to raise their daughters in a patriarchal religion it plants a seed in the child. A seed that no amount of love, attention or encouragement can compensate for. That seed is a message of worthlessness. We are talking about a basic sense of humanism stripped from our daughters. You can’t believe in your own inalienable rights as a human and believe what patriarchal religion teaches about a woman's place at the same time. Those are fundamentally contradictory concepts.
The patriarchal religious teachings are not subtle either. “ Woman sinned first”, ”Women shall submit to their husbands” "Husbands are the head of the family and priesthood” “Women must remain pure for their husbands”. The expectations of women are loud and clear. Stay sweet, be good, serve others, be obedient, don’t question.
I do not believe that as an atheist the love I feel for my children is greater than the love christian, jewish or muslim parents feel for their children. I do believe that religious parents are avoiding a deeply uncomfortable truth about the cognitive dissonance involved when you choose to bring up your very loved child into a sexist, oppressive religion.
As a therapist I see the impact that being raised in a patriarchal, misogynistic religion has on the grown up daughters first hand. Many women struggle to deconstruct and untangle their sense of self worth from the religious teachings they were brought up with. It is common for women raised in religious families to struggle with anxiety, depression, and low self esteem. In some extremes the indoctrination has left women believing they are going to hell and undeserving of love.
Parents, we can do better by our daughters. Being good to our daughters means believing she is just as worthy a human as her father and brothers, as all men.
Leave a Reply.
Jennifer Simmons is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of Open Minds Counseling LLC located in Durham, CT. She provinces compassionate mental health services and is a passionate feminist committed to helping women heal and deconstruct the patriarchy.