3 Tutorials that teach Gender
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This lesson will discuss gender issues within a variety or religious traditions.

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Welcome to this tutorial on sex and gender and religion. We use these two terms sex and gender. Oftentimes people when they say sex, they mean what is biological, what is given in nature. And by gender, they usually mean the societal expectations that are placed onto sex.

Of course, some things that people may think of as natural are actually socially or culturally produced. So it's really hard to give a straightforward division between sex and gender. Of course, most societies really give you only two options, either male or female. And many people are born somewhere in between the two. These terms, both sex and gender, can be deployed politically and are never really all that straightforward.

In Christianity, of course, the persons of the Trinity, the Father and the Son, seem to have this straightforward, masculine orientation. And for some Christians, even the Holy Ghost is thought of as male. I can remember talking to some Pentecostal people who would refer to the Holy Ghost as a gentleman. You have to invite this gentleman into your home. But of course in the Bible, the only metaphors are a flame, a rush of wind, or perhaps a dove, a bird. But any rate, even some Christians think of the Holy Ghost as a man.

This obviously puts women in Christianity in a precarious position. So the question arises-- what leadership roles will women have in religious organizations? Will they receive equal pay, either as ministers or just as women in society? And are churches and religious organizations going to take a stand on equal pay for women? What about this concept of God which we were just mentioning? Does the religion have a masculine concept of God or can it accommodate female images of divinity?

Speaking in public services, are women going to be authorized to speak in public? Or what about other issues like reproductive rights that are facing women? Are they going to have access to abortion and contraception, and what positions are the religious institutions going to take on these issues?

Let's take a quick look at the ordination of women, which varies quite a bit depending on which religious institution we're talking about. Many Protestant denominations ordain women, some of them going back into the 19th century. In Judaism, reform and reconstruction Judaism ordain women by and large. Conservative Judaism now also ordains women. Even a handful of orthodox women have been ordained as rabbis within Judaism.

Taking a look at those organizations that do not ordain women, of course the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, most orthodox Jews do not ordain women. In Islam, most Islamic organizations are not going to ordain women.

Let's take a little bit closer look at the ordination of women in Christianity. This is not meant to be exhaustive, but just to give a couple of examples of two Protestant ministers who were ordained-- Helenor M Davison in 1866 in the Methodist Church and Olympia Brown and Unitarian Church, both dating back to the 1860s. So some Protestant denominations have a very long history of ordaining women.

There are many examples of women being very actively involved from the days of the early church. Of course, the first people to proclaim the news that Jesus had risen were women, the women who went to his tomb. The list differs depending on which gospel you read.

There are some scriptures which are used to justify the exclusion of women from ordination. We can just take a look at a couple of them. First Corinthians 14, the second example there, says that women should be silent in the churches and that they should be subordinate. And looking over in First Timothy in chapter 2, 11 and 12, let a woman learn in silence with full submission.

The Catholic church, it's not so much scripture that's the issue, but many different statements by the church fathers about the inferiority of women. Whether it's scripture or tradition or both, usually both, different denominations of Christianity have various justifications for excluding women from ordination.

And orthodoxy, the ultra orthodox in Israel are pushing for greater gender segregation, trying to get women to wear more modest clothing, et cetera, even yelling things at school girls to get them to wear more modest clothing. This is a hot button topic in Israel today. It is common in orthodox synagogues for there to be a curtain or partition that separates male and female worshipers.

Taking a look at Islam, many Muslim countries in the Middle East have the strongest sex or gender segregation in the world. Notwithstanding, some communities do ordain female imams.

We said that many different religions around the world have unresolved issues when it comes to gender. We said that many religions exclude women from leadership roles. We talked about the examples of Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism, and Judaism. And we went through various strands of these religions that do actually ordain women.

We gave some of the scriptural basis for the exclusion of women. And we talked about sex segregation in orthodox Judaism and Islam. Islam, Judaism, Protestantism all have examples of women being ordained. So far, Catholicism-- at least Roman Catholicism-- does not have examples of the ordination of women, although the Roman church does admit women to holy orders as nuns.

Let's take a look at the vocabulary. Ordination of women, the admission of women into holy orders or other significant positions of leadership. Women as imams-- some Muslim ministries do ordain women. Sex segregation, separating men and women during worship. And one other term, mechitza. This is the partition or wall that separates men and women during religious proceedings, especially in orthodox Judaism.

  • Ordination of Women

    The admission of women into Holy Orders or other significant positions of religious leadership.

  • Women as Imams

    In Islam, the ordination of women to religious leadership positions over other women and related Muslim ministries.

  • Sex Segregation

    The practice in some religions of separating men and women during worship.

  • Mechitza

    A partition separating women and men during religious proceedings in the Jewish tradition.