Religious Social Structures & the Female SEX

Accused Khatun and Subrato, mothers of victims Zahida and Husna

Late last week, two women in India were arrested for the honor killings of their daughters. According to India Express.com, “We killed them because they had brought shame to our community. How could they elope with Hindus? They deserved to die. We have no remorse,” Khatun and Subrato said Friday.

These mothers’ indignant righteousness is a powerful testament to the strength and saturation of misogynistic ideologies in every aspect of women’s lives and relationships. Mothers killing their own daughters in devotion to a religiously sanctioned master plan that demands complete reproductive ownership of women. From cradle to grave, women are the sexual pawns and property of men.

This is not a uniquely Muslim problem, however. Every major religion in the world is dependent on the cooperation and unearned loyalty of women to sustain male authority. Male supremacy is a strong theme shared by the doctrines of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Why don’t they just merge into the Temple of Misogyny? Ha! That would be too truthful.

Women are alternately painted as virgin madonna and whore, martyr and medusa; dichotomous roles exemplified in the honor killings of Zahida and Husna. All four women’s lives were destroyed in the all-consuming pursuit of religious honor.  The daughters’ defiant refusal to submit to reproductive servitude with “their own kind,” by choosing their own husbands, was a death sentence. Mothers Khatun and Subrato’s sense of vicarious entitlement to their daughters’ bodies and lives was more powerful than death itself. The beneficiary of these female sacrifices is men.

There is no female role in any traditional religious social structure–institutional or family– that is not born of and defined by female loyalty to a male(s).  What does it mean to be an “honorable woman” under any major religion’s ethical paradigm? It means compulsory heterosexuality. Mother, daughter, wife, sister: these sex-based social roles are personal/private, therefore exempt from public and political criticism, and depend on male sponsorship for their creation.

Hetero-sexual social organization necessarily reduces females’ value to their SEX and exploits female sexual/reproductive usefulness in order to maintain male authority. Women are universally expected to gestate and nourish children, while maintaining a comfortable nest for her male sponsor(s) and his seed. Any deviance from the highly scripted play is a failure, a female failure. Disinterested husband? Female failure. Misbehaving/derelict child? Female failure. Dirty bathroom? Female failure. Family’s reputation damaged? Female failure. Someone– anyone– was sexually assaulted by a male? Female failure. Women are literally set up to fail in social organizational systems that offer no path to female “success” or importance beyond reproductive usefulness. There is no way out but death. Where divine purpose legitimizes a sex-based social structures, women are to continue compulsory sexual service to men. Only through feminist advocacy in late twentieth century, was the act of “spousal rape” given a name and women legal protection therefrom. Spousal rape is not a religiously prohibited act, indeed, it is specifically sanctioned by many religious texts.

Seeking parity between the sexes in such a contexts i futile. Re-purposing and/or re-framing existing relationships is not sufficient. There can be no “equality” between males and females under religious, political, or economic regimes that depend on women’s sex-based labor for their status quo. We must critically interrogate the fundamental purpose of social models that chain males and females together in life-long “bonds” centered around reproductive goals. The products of these divinely legitimized bonds, children, are similarly treated as property and pawns of the master plan.

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20 comments
  1. zeph said:

    “Seeking parity between the sexes in such contexts is futile. Re-purposing and/or re-framing existing relationships is not sufficient. There can be no “equality” between males and females under religious, political, or economic regimes that depend on women’s sex-based labor for their status quo. We must critically interrogate the fundamental purpose of social models that chain males and females together in life-long “bonds” centered around reproductive goals.”

    Yes, the three pillars of patriarchy are prostitution, marriage and child abuse. Remove that central pillar; the institution for enforced reproduction, otherwise known as the nuclear family, and you decrease both the vulnerability of children to their fathers and the vulnerability of young people to ending up on the streets. Who drives them from their homes but the abusive husbands their mothers were culturally or forcibly forbidden to leave.

  2. rainsinger said:

    Yay, Nuke the Family 🙂

  3. It’s in every culture too isn’t it. THis is the extreme version, but how many mothers in so-called progressive countries despise their daughters because of internalized misogyny and act out own self-loathing on their little girls. (and how many daughters despise their mothers for the same reason?!)

  4. Matryrdom IS an extreme representation of the problem. But yes, it is everywhere.

    The nuclear family has not been consensually maintained by women. It has been forcibly maintained. And still is for millions of women.

  5. KatieS said:

    Another example of this is where, when a husband dies, the wife is (sometimes voluntarily) burned to death with his corpse on his funeral pyre. The only reason for this is that women have no value other than as a man’s property. I would suppose that widows do not have a place in such a culture. It is seen as spiritual, however.

    It is not only the nuclear family, though. In extended families, including polygamous ones, older women often act in enforcer roles.

    I felt like a knife went into my heart when I read this. Both my mother and grandmother had children die before they did and it was a rent in the fabric of their lives. It is, in some way, unimaginable to me that a mother would do this.

    These “honor” killings (murders) and women being burned to death are evidence of the the sickness of patriarchy at the very deepest levels. The role religion plays is chilling.

  6. KatieS said:

    To add: The practice has been called satee, or sati, and has been outlawed for some time, but has occurred since being outlawed. Women with children did not do this, apparently.

  7. Such a great post, UP, thanks for making it so clear.

    This especially really says it all:

    There can be no “equality” between males and females under religious, political, or economic regimes that depend on women’s sex-based labor for their status quo. We must critically interrogate the fundamental purpose of social models that chain males and females together in life-long “bonds” centered around reproductive goals.

  8. Thanks, Noan. 🙂 You know, I kept wanting to move that last sentence cause it just doesn’t FLOW… but the childrens are important too!!!11!!! And it doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else. My writing process is like spitting out a whole bunch of sentences, then moving them around like a puzzle. Brain duuuump!!!

    @KatieS, the mothers in the story referenced, Khatun and Subrato, are apparently widows, too!! Doesn’t matter. Reputation is more precious than LIFE itself. It’s not even like this is about preventing additional DEATHS– as in, “harm reduction” or something. It is about the subjective experience of HONOR. Another woman was allegedly involved in the killings as well and is on the run. I mean, she’s on the lam!!

    Also, in America, we have a few reality TV shows about polygamy. Sort of interesting. But it is ALWAYS THE MAN who possesses multiple FEMALES. Same shit, different family.

  9. I think there’s a whole post that could start with this sentence:

    The products of these divinely legitimized bonds, children, are similarly treated as property and pawns of the master plan.

    You mentioned “reproductive goals” and that’s just it — for females who can, it’s all about impregnability and breeding. Girl children are of course groomed for that role, but are free from performing it for part it their lives. The impatience for that to come to fruition and belief that there are more where that came from are probably reasons for female infanticide. Boy children are groomed to be rapists and impregnators, so while they are the property of the adults, they are trained to their role as slave owners. And they are more valuable because of that.

  10. Good point, Noan!! The boy children will eventually be the MASTERS themselves.

    Girl children, on the other hand, their entire LIVES revolve around reproduction: cradle to grave. It is their PURPOSE IN LIFE. And if they don’t DO IT RIGHT, well…we all know what happens.

  11. Re: LIFELONG BONDS justified by REPRODUCTION. Hello, animals do not universally social-organize like this. In fact, most of them don’t. WHY, people, WHYYY?? Oh yeah, male supremacy.

    And again, I refer you to the modern LEGAL (though not entirely REAL) concept of SPOUSAL RAPE. What KIND of divinely inspired “sexuality” would allow such an act? A very bad one. A fundamentally flawed and DERANGED one. Reinterpreting these texts is not going to cut it.

  12. Sargasso Sea said:

    Excellent piece Punkie! 😛

    Yes, the nuclear family is a major tool in separating women from each other.

    I’ve long felt that women’s strength expands geometrically when they come together. There’s a fluidity, a sustained energy about women’s power too unlike when men come together in groups. With men it’s like boiling water in a pot; all those molecules just slamming away against each other doing nothing but aimlessly evaporating themselves away.

  13. FCM said:

    The beneficiary of these female sacrifices is men.

    always! this is just always, always, always true. thank you for saying it. women might employ harm-reduction strategies (and family “honor” is a harm-reduction strategy too, women have to be marry-able etc) but thats all it ever is. its never on womens terms, and therefore nothing that would ever benefit US, while simulltaneously NOT benefitting men, or actvely harming men.

    women employ countless strategies here, in trying to make themselves (and their loved ones) less vulnerable to poverty, and (therefore) more vulnerable to predatory, PIV-entitled men. footbinding, honor killings, sweet-16 comings-out parties etc. grooming her to eventually marrying off to ONE man, so that she only has him to contend with, instead of being a victim to literally every fucking man in the world as a “public” woman, a single woman, or a prostituted woman. religion, specifically, promises women that much: sexual and reproductive ownership of women ensures that SOMETHING women have is valuable, and one man will pay for it (so that she doesnt have to sell it to all men). religion doesnt always deliver on that promise of course, because men demand sexual access to prostituted women TOO, and they probably always will. but thats the promise.

    not unlike the slutwalkers, BTW, who seem so adamant about getting “what they were promised” from men and male law enforcement, when we were promised “ownership” of our OWN sex, and they have yet to deliver on that promise. as pathetic and inadequate as it it to promise us that our bodily integrity shall be as important as our ability to keep unwanted trespassers off our fucking lawns…thats what we were promised, and the fun-fems want some follow-through. too bad its just crumbs.

    ooh theres just so much to say about this post UP! well done.

  14. rainsinger said:

    These mothers’ indignant righteousness is a powerful testament to the strength and saturation of misogynistic ideologies in every aspect of women’s lives and relationships.

    I think this case also brings up an interesting characteristic about ‘choice’ or ‘agency’. Only men have the right the choose, the right to decide. Men do this sort of killing all the time, and are not routinely punished, or held accountable under law, for it. Women do it too, of course, but only with male permission / support for the ‘choice’. These two women are widows? They took their own initiative? They did not seek Male Approval first? Ooops… big mistake. Oh yes indeed – they will have to be punished to the full extent of the law. /sarc

    Similar to laws about abortion through the millennia – men could kill infants, force their womenfolks to have abortions, or not to have them. The laws were never about ‘life’ as such, it was about preventing women making their own decisions independently, without reference to a male owner.

  15. I’m feeling some “Right Wing Women” logic in the house!

  16. KatieS said:

    In addition, religions as a whole want to make sure that they grow in numbers. This is done through limiting birth control access as a religious tenet or making sure that reproductive females stay in the religion or both. Women are just gestators of new adherents to the faith.

    The Shaker sect died out since not having PIV sex was a part of their religion. They left some wonderful furniture behind, though. 😉

  17. FCM said:

    yes RWW is in the hoooouuuusssee!

  18. FCM said:

    also, since we are talking about religion…how are you all doing with the news that the world is ending today?

    religion tries hard to keep women focused on the afterlife as a way to avoid the real-life travesties that religious men visit on them daily, in this life. its an ingenious strategy actually. women literally willing themselves into actually believing it, or pretending they do, is even smarter.

  19. The religion thing, it’s all bad. Sorry folks, it just is. Religion is designed to assist one in accepting their lot in life. It should be a means to assign one and center one in a place of reverence and appreciation for the state of consciousness itself. But valuing the gift of consciousness is too easily perverted into devaluing of the realities of human life and culture. Dissociation. It’s designed to help people accept things the way they are, which is the opposite of enlightenment. And it’s structured to promote the status quo. And it’s specifically, overtly, intentionally framed to codify inequity, especially against women. There isn’t a single religion that doesn’t exist FOR THE PURPOSE OF enslaving women, AND mythologizing that enslavement AND purporting a method to ACCEPT that enslavement. They are enclosed systems, providing both the problem and the answer to the problem. A spiritual vacuum. Then why do they exist? They exist to tie groups of people together to war against other people. Why do they do that? To compete for resources. Humans must compete for resources and they need groups to do so. If that glue codiifies male supremacy, so much the better. It’s hierarchy on top of hierarchy, and all man-made.

    On another note I read how a woman in India had her eyes gouged out with scissors yesterday because neighbors thought she was a witch. http://arabnews.com/world/article420109.ece

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