My Struggle with Religion as a Feminist

FW_ReligionEmilee RussellFeminist Wednesday University Ambassador 

I began to discover feminism at a time in my life when I was making all kinds of other discoveries, a time when I was suddenly given a lot of freedom and began to question some things that I’d always taken for granted. I began to identify as a feminist sometime around my junior year of high school. It was only after I looked past the weird connotations that society has taught us to associate with feminists, such as hating men and the masculine types who don’t shave stereotype. When I realized that the preconceived nonsense associated with the feminist movement was ridiculous (not to mention a prime example of how patriarchy can skew popular opinion), I began to discover that I saw the concepts that feminists were taking issue with in my own life. When I took the time to actually examine my everyday interactions and the way I was treated, I couldn’t help but notice just how prevalent gender roles were and how ingrained into society sexism is.

One of the biggest things I began to question was my religion. I should preface this by saying that I understand that many feminists are religious and I am not at all suggesting that those who are religious are “bad” feminists, or that you cannot be both. I’m simply sharing my experience and how it affected me in my own life. Anyway, I was raised Catholic and brought up in a family that never questioned certain points that I myself just couldn’t reconcile. I was baptized and later, when I was fourteen, confirmed as a Catholic in an elaborate ceremony with the Archbishop. It wasn’t until two years later that I began realizing that actually, I didn’t think homosexuality was a sin and I didn’t think sex should be reserved for marriage and I didn’t even know whether I actually believed in marriage as the church described it. Also, I began to question why exactly men were the only ones ordained as priests and why women didn’t really have a chance to play as big of a role in the church as men.

Around that time, I saw a video of an interview with Ani DiFranco, a musician and feminist that I admired. She spoke about how she took issue with religion because it teaches that God created everything and that God is male, that it degrades how powerful and incredible it is that women are the ones that bring children into the world, creating life. That was a huge lesson for me and one more way I felt conflicted.

I felt that on the occasions where I voiced this uncertainty, even to a priest, it seemed that the only answer I got was that the church had been doing things that way for thousands of years, so that’s the way it had to be. I never felt like my concerns were actually being addressed or my questions answered, I just felt like I was being hushed. This epiphany also coincided with my (very religious) grandfather’s illness and death which pretty much sent the family into a tailspin. This happened att the same time as my family’s decision to leave the parish they’d attended for nearly four decades and join a new one because of a priest we’d been uneasy about. So there was quite a few uncomfortable and disconcerting things going on that I also associated this with.

While I voiced my concerns about my desire to distance myself from the church for a while to my mother, I was timid about sharing my views with my extended family. I didn’t want them to think less of me or think that I rejected their faith simply because I was lazy or wanted to “live in sin.” I couldn’t understand why the Catholic women in my family, who are always role models of strong, independent free thinkers for me, didn’t question and take issue with some of the teachings of the church in the way that I did. When I made attempts at refusing to go to Mass, my mom explained to me that she would continue to make me attend church until I was eighteen because she had promised when I was baptized to do everything in her power to raise me as a good Catholic. Not making me go to church would be a sin for her, allowing her daughter to stray from the faith.

After my eighteenth birthday, I quietly stopped going to Mass every weekend. It didn’t feel like a huge step, just affirmation of something I’d decided for myself some time ago. It was a big thing for me, something that feminism not only shed some light on but also helped me gain the confidence that I was making the right choice for myself. If I hadn’t discovered feminism, I may never have had the courage to refuse a tradition I was born into or even the courage to question it. Who knows how I will feel down the road. I can only do what’s right for me for the time being. Time will tell and the older I get, the more I realize and understand that every decision you make with your heart brings you closer to becoming your truest self.

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Your StoriesErin Bagwell