Men’s Religions vs. Women’s Spirituality
by: Isabella Melians
Historically, women held fundamental roles within various religions. These religions centered on the idea of a “Great Goddess1,” an archetypal image found in historical ruins worldwide, which revered women and their ability to produce life, even centering politics and arts around the notions of the ‘Divine Feminine.’ In the Eastern Hemisphere circa 6 A.D. there existed groups like Celtic mythology, Maguzawa2, and Shinto religion in which female deities like Amateratsu played prominent roles. Similarly, in the Western Hemisphere, Ix Chel of Mayan mythology, and Xochiquetzal of Aztec mythology were fundamental female figures involved in South American worship. As Christianity spread West and dominated smaller religions, these distinct cultures were drowned out by a new idea: the ‘Divine Masculine.’
Within these patriarchal religions, women were pushed to the side. Nature-based religions became “witchcraft”, leading to the slaughter of women across Europe and the Americas3 and the enforcement of female figures into subordinate roles, further distancing them from their inherent power. The knowledge that had been passed amongst generations of female healers and leaders was discredited, deeming them as ‘Satan’s followers’ by the Church and invoking witch hunts (Jefferson et al, 2015) due to cheaper medical treatments provided by spiritual women that threatened the medical monopoly. Today’s largest religious group, Christianity, first presented feminine energy as an object of ‘sin’. The Bible framed women in a tempting and manipulative light, even giving them the perceived consequence of painful childbirth, which was once seen as a revered and holy gift – in favour of men maintaining the powerful roles (Lippy, 2005) society rejected female-led positions, despite the fact that women dominated the religious population. When analyzing history’s most powerful religious leaders, the list is almost exclusively limited to male figures, like Jesus Siddhartha and Moses. This continues to hold practical effects in the modern world – in fact, some religions still strictly forbid female clergy, including Orthodox Jews and Roman Catholics (Gender Gap Religion 2016)4. In some countries, laws are even written to maintain the power of a patriarchal religion. “Anti-discrimination laws in the Sex Discrimination Act mean that organisations in Australia must not discriminate against any individuals based on their gender. But the law allows for special exemptions, such as religious grounds. Under these exemptions, religious organisations are free to refuse to allow women to ordain as clergy” (Alba, 2019).
While women’s spirituality was silenced, men used religion as political tools and justification for violence (Miller, 2021). Holy Empires hid behind their God as cause for wars and conquest, including the Spanish conquistadors in the New World, who killed over eight million Indigenous Americans in search of economic prosperity in the name of ‘Christianity’. When the Puritans later migrated to America, religion was involuntarily forced upon Native tribes, even going so far as to create ‘praying towns’ where Native Amerians were unwillingly converted to the Puritanical religion. Similar to traditional worship of the Divine Feminine, Native Americans practised a variety of animistic and polytheistic religions. This too was slowly overturned into Abrahamic-based beliefs. Although religious-based violence has decreased with time, its effects are still present in modern society with the predominance of patriarchal religions. In addition to this, present-day governments and practices center around the notion of the Divine Masculine. This practice extends from individuals, such as swearing oaths on Bibles during legal proceedings, to national representatives “sealing their oath of office with ‘so help me God”’ (Fahmy 2020). In many countries, Abrahamic-based religions have developed extremist Orthodox groups, which oppress women and children in an attempt to bring the religion back to the literal meaning of traditional scripture, including the Taliban and The Army of God5. Religion is now used as a means to control individual expression and to silence voices that disagree with teachings, like abortion, homosexuality, and superstition, rather than as a way to connect with spiritual practices and energy.
As women found this system increasingly suffocating, they began to turn to individual practices, rather than community-based religions, choosing to reconnect with their spirituality away from the public eye. A new wave of revivalist movements swept across the globe as millennials turned to Pagan and Wicca-based practices, like astrology and meditation. To some, these rituals represent “a way of being ritualistic that isn’t dogmatic, isn’t sexism, [that] doesn’t have a history of empirical violence” (Roy, 2019). This was, in effect, a method of returning the Divine Feminine to modern women. Layne Redmond, author of When Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm, comments that, “Women need the archetypal image of a Divine Female. We need to reconnect with the inherent sacredness of women as creator and nourisher, rather than accept a vision of ourselves as less-than-divine inferiors” (Layne Redmond, 1997). In accordance with historical trends, the new-age spiritualist movement has been shunned by society and associated with various ignorant perceptions. Public forums have been crowded with 5A Christian extremist group who violently oppose abortion; active since 1982 criticism, with one user writing “Yeah, to me it indicates that the person who believes in astrology is prone to non-scientific thinking; this opens the floodgates to being coaxed into other, more potentially dangerous lines of thinking” (Reddit, 2021). This misogyny has acted as a deterrent for women to explore new-age spiritualism, a modern day representation of the similar issues their ancestors faced.
One possible explanation for this response is that new-age spiritualism focuses on the darker traits of an individual, without shying away from “taboo” topics like self-sabotage and misperception. This conflicts with how society traditionally views masculine people, forcing them into the stereotype that “Emotions are for women” (Ewens 2018). Women are also traditionally encouraged to portray the “damsel in distress” trope, depicting a melodramatic overflow of emotion and giving them the opportunity to frequently confront their feelings in a method akin to the practices of new spiritual religions; this trope, however, is not extended to men and their emotional states. While patriarchal religions typically offer repercussions for not following practices strictly enough, including the Christian concept of eternal suffering in Hell and the South Asian concept of the ‘cycle of samsara,’ matriarchal practices focus on bettering an individual in the present moment. As has been historically demonstrated, men often attempt to “fix” an issue, while women attempt to understand it as it is.
Although gendered religion continues to be a relevant issue in society, both groups maintain an important role – not only within religious implications, but in relation to economic and political issues, as well. Similar to Daoist beliefs, both masculine and feminine energies are necessary to maintain a balanced soul. This makes it vital for men and women to overcome patriarchal paradigms that distance women from seeking their feminine energy. With this cooperation, a new age of religion will be overturned, where both genders are able to embrace their spiritual history.
1 Term coined by scholars such as Johann Jakob Bachofen and Jane Ellen Harrison; popularized in the second-wave feminism movement
2 An African religion that was practiced by the African Hausa people before the rise of Islam
3 Estimated fatalities as a result of “witch hunts” are estimated to be between 40,000-50,000 (Britannica)
4 “The symbolic evidence of women’s invisibility in the human race is most clear perhaps in her suppression, her camouflage, her negation even in language. Women are subsumed, excised, erased by male pronouns, by male terminology, by male prayers about brotherhood and brethren, even and always by exclusively male images of God. The tradition that will call God spirit, rock, key door, wind, and bird will never ever call God mother. So much for the creative womb of God; so much for “I am who am.” So much for “Let us make human beings in our own image, male and female, let us make them.” What kind of spirituality is that? To take the position that using two pronouns for the human race is not important in a culture that has thirty words for cars, multiple words for flowers, and dozens of words for dog breeds is to say that women are not important.” (Joan D. Chittister: ‘Heart of Flesh, Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men,’ 1997).
Alba, Beatrice. “If we reject gender discrimination in every other arena, why do we accept it in religion?” The Guardian, 5 Mar. 2019,
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/06/if-we-reject-gender-discrimination-in -every-other-arena-why-do-we-accept-it-in-religion. Accessed 1 Nov. 2021. Chittister, Joan. Heart of Flesh, Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men. 1997. goodreads, http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/536419-heart-of-flesh-a-feminist-spirituality-for-wom en-and-men.
Ewens, Hannah. “Why Straight Men Hate Astrology So Much.” Vice, 15 Nov. 2018, http://www.vice.com/en/article/qvq87p/why-straight-men-hate-astrology-so-much. Accessed 2 Nov. 2021.
Jefferson, Laura, et al. “Women in medicine: historical perspectives and recent trends.” Oxford Academic, vol. 114, no. 1, 8 Mar. 2015, academic.oup.com/bmb/article/114/1/5/246075. Accessed 1 Nov. 2021.
Lippy, Charles H. Do Real Men Pray? University of Tennessee Press, 2005, books.google.vg/books?id=hA85UeTuGzQC&printsec=frontcover&hl=zh-CN#v=onepag e&q&f=false. Accessed 1 Nov. 2021.
Miller, Ryan. “How Religion Affects Society.” Ceoworld Magazine, 18 Mar. 2021, ceoworld.biz/2021/03/08/how-religion-affects-society/. Accessed 1 Nov. 2021.
Pew Research Center. “The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World.” pewforum.org, 22 Mar. 2016, http://www.pewforum.org/2016/03/22/the-gender-gap-in-religion-around-the-world/. Accessed 1 Nov. 2021.
“Posted by/Mr_Kopp 3 days ago Wait, are they people that actually believe in astrology signs ?” Reddit, 29 Oct. 2021,
http://www.reddit.com/r/TooAfraidToAsk/comments/qijsac/wait_they_are_people_that_actuall y_believe_in/hijsg66/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3. Accessed 1 Nov. 2021.
Redmond, Layne. When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm. 1997, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1744271-women-need-the-archetypal-image-of-a-divine-fe male-we. Accessed 1 Nov. 2021.
Rountree, Kathryn. “THE POLITICS OF THE GODDESS: Feminist Spirituality and the Essentialism Debate.” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice, vol. 43, no. 2, Berghahn Books, 1999, pp. 138–65,
Roy, Jessica. “Must Reads: How millennials replaced religion with astrology and crystals.” Los Angeles Times, 10 July 2019,
http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-millennials-religion-zodiac-tarot-crystals-astrology-20190 710-story.html. Accessed 1 Nov. 2021.
Witchcraft- the witch hunts. http://www.britannica.com/topic/witchcraft/The-witch-hunts. Accessed 2 Nov. 2021.
Outside of school, Isabella Melians volunteers as an editor with various magazines. She first began in 2020 and currently has worked with over seven magazines as an editor. Her work has been published over 70 times and has been nominated for a Best of Net Award and Pushcart Prize. She also works as a partnership officer with Unlock the Grid, a youth-led activism group advocating for bipartisanship.
What motivated you to write this piece?
My mom was probably one of my biggest motivators to write this piece. She is constantly talking about women’s spirituality, so I wanted to go a bit deeper and compare it to patriarchal religions.
Do you write sporadically or regularly?
I write sporadically. I never write on a schedule, just when I can think of a prompt and actually have the motivation.
What is your ideal writing environment?
My ideal writing environment is my room with my cat laying next to me. Whenever I get bored or frustrated with writing I can pet her or play fetch using a hair tie. It’s a good distraction.