The relationship between women and their place in religions has been a complex one since the origin of religions. Every religion has a different place for men and women within it, but typically women in the past have been placed as a minority in their ability to participate or to interact with the religion. Allowed to worship but refused to hold any place of authority, the battle between the female and her place in the household and in the church has shifted throughout the decades. In America, given the primary religion as being denominations of Christianity, the relationship between women and religion can better be analyzed there. For the most part, the relationship between women and religion is intricate when considering their orders to be submissive, shifting into new roles, and becoming feminized leading to ladies societies.
For women in early colonial times, they were the center of the household. As stated in our modules, in an agrarian early society women managed the house including the money and upbringing of children (Hackett, Lecture 7). They had the strongest hold on the home and were extremely instrumental. During this time, women were considered to be tough given their laborous jobs and focus on hardwork, and the living conditions led to less of a maternal instinct. Yet while they had this control at home, they were limited within their churches. Men were the only ones able to rise to a “higher status”, and were considered within churches as created as a submissive partner, like being created from Adam’s rib (Hackett, Lecture 7). This relationship between women and men, meant that women had power in the household, but was still segregated from the full worship experience within their congregations.
As time went on, American society slowly began to change and shift. With it, the roles of women changed as well. As colonial living morphed into more of a city lifestyle, the environment within a family’s home became different. Work was no longer a person’s life, and there was a split between public life and private life. This in turn affected the practice of religion and the womans place within it. “…it was extremely difficult for women to influence colonial congregational life directly in ways available to men… In the eighteenth century women could not vote. Women lost their property rights when they married, and women often had to have men manage property for them even when they had inherited it or purchased it themselves” (Butler, 125). More than ever, women were attending church compared to that of men. With the transition to a society around a city in comparison to a farm, less men seemed to attend church during that time compared to women. Yet women still had minimal to zero rights in society or leadership within their church.
While this change was occuring in society, the outlook on women also shifted. Women slowly became feminized compared to their former role as a tough head of the household decades before. Christianity turned a focus onto the loving Jesus instead of the judging God, and the traits of Jesus were looked for within women and their ability to bring up the children within the households (Hackett, Lecture 7). Also stated within that lecture, the feminization still didn’t bring about womens leadership progression within churches, so they created ladies societies that targeted helping the poor and orphans to gain some sort of footing within churches. By doing this, ladies were able to find a place within their religion that they hadn’t yet. Since the colonists arrival, women were seperated from the men within congregations unable to have a say even if they spent more time in church. This was the first time women gained some type of advantage and it didn’t stop there. This was similar to the experience of black women within their churches where they also “routinely shouldered the hard, day-to-day work of visiting the sick and teaching the young” (Butler, 229).
Clearly this doesn’t doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the place women had within other cultures and religions including in Native American tribes and those of Islamic faith. Native American women typically had more authority within their tribes, with some even being matriarchal. Islam on the other hand had similar standards for womem of Christian faith. Yet regardless of the specific religion, women for the most part were treated as minorities within the history of religion in America. As we learned this semester, women in colonist and American life slowly changed in the eyes of society that were influenced by religion. They were tough, then feminine, submissive, and then rebellious. As time progressed some women even chose not to identify with a religion especially as sexuality no longer had Victorian-esque societal standards. Women have found strength within religion, even when it was used to oppress them, but they used it just like everyone else— to find purpose.