Although feminist literatures on intersectionality and religious women's agency have garnered a great deal of scholarly attention, these two bodies of work have rarely been engaged together. After surveying both fields, I argue that research on religious women's agency not only exposes an ambiguity at the heart of intersectionality between identity and oppression, but also challenges several aspects of intersectionality studies, especially as recent theorists increasingly turn away from identity politics in favor of a structural critique of power. (Read more here)
Identity politics cannot address the oppression religious women experience, because their identity as religious women is a chosen one. At the core of IF is the insistence that oppression is something a person cannot avoid, because it is something a person is born with, and therefore the focus must be on the "embodiment": it is the body of the person that is the cause of the oppression. Religious oppression, however, isn't only about the body. It is also about the spirit, mind, and soul of the religious person. It is the denial of the right to express one's faith in accordance to one's own conscience. It's about power. And because it is about power, IF has little to say about it.
What IF fails to address is the fact that religious women are discriminated against solely because they are women. Their minds are said to be inadequate for them to function in leadership roles. Their bodies are said to exist solely to bring children to this world. They exist for other people, not themselves. This kind of discrimination can only be dealt with through a feminism that allows women speak about the sexism they experience without having to include other forms of discrimination they do not experience. This is especially important as religious communities tend to be homophobic due to a heavy investment in traditional gender roles. If the women must speak about gay rights to be allowed to address the fact that they aren't considered fully human, the battle is lost before it even began. It is also important since we know only those who enjoy equal rights themselves are able to see other forms of discrimination without the distorting lens of oppression. As long as women believe they must adhere to strict gender roles, they won't seek to end other forms of oppression.
The acceptance of oppression is caused by conditioning that usually begins early in a person's life. Only those who are oppressed themselves can understand the true effects of oppression, but the first steps is to realize one is being oppressed in the first place. Religious women are some of the greatest cheerleaders of patriarchy. They cannot see other forms of oppression, because they have internalized their own oppression to such an extent that oppression has become the norm rather than something that should be eradicated. This is one of the reasons IF ignores religious women, as it considers them insensitive to racism and other modes of discrimination. IF cannot help religious women due to its insistence that addressing sexism alone isn't enough. In order for religious women to understand their own oppression, they must be allowed to speak and hear others speak about the sexism they experience without including other forms of oppression. This is what IF doesn't allow for.
One of the greatest problems with IF is this idea that feminism is the umbrella under which all other forms of discrimination find a solution. But under the IF umbrella we find women of color who are disillusioned with the racism that is still found in feminist circles. We find women who are homophobic, and men, who claim to be feminists, yet are openly sexist. And the reason for it is simple enough: feminism cannot address racism or homophobia as it is about the humanity of women. Instead of addressing sexism, IF allows men to remain sexist, because the primary idea has been diluted and rendered powerless.
Whenever we add other ideas to a primary idea we dilute it. As soon as an idea has become diluted, it is co-opted by the oppressor. When Tertullian added Roman mores to his theology, he transformed the previous ministries of baptism and preaching into legal "offices" (ius) only men were allowed to preform. By doing so, he removed equality from the church. Two centuries later, Rome co-opted Christianity and women became second class citizens in the Kingdom of God.
They still are.
In an effort to end racism, which is in itself a worthy and noble goal, IF has chosen to focus on people of color. It is here that we find history repeating itself: in an effort to secure black men the right to vote, Frederick Douglas refused to include women in the Fifteenth Amendment. Today we see IF excluding some women from feminism in an effort to secure the civil rights of women of color.
The powerful know how to pit the powerless against each other.
As a result, more and more women refuse to identify with a feminism that excludes them. When women refuse to identify themselves as feminists, there are less and less women working for women's rights. We see the effects of this all around us. We are once again hearing calls to revoke Roe vs Wade, religious communities openly advocate for the revoking of the Nineteenth Amendment, Christian fundamentalists send women home in droves refusing to allow them access to higher education. Misogyny has risen steadily every year while women have been told they cannot speak about the sexism they experience.
IF isn't the answer.
Feminism that is for all women is.