January 21, 2018

Conservative Religions Blame Women for Men's Inappropriate Behavior

"Blame the system not the victim"While writing a post about conservative Muslims in Bangladesh becoming so outraged at the sight of young girls surfing that they threatened them, I found myself thinking about efforts by conservative Christians to control women. It seems like there are some obvious similarities here in that both conservative Muslims and conservative Christians prefer to blame women for the feelings of sexual attraction men sometimes feel in the presence of women. Both groups push the value of modesty, albeit in different ways. But what I find most interesting here is the notion that women are ultimately to blame for arousing male lust. Men, it would seem, have no responsibility for how they feel or how they behave.

Feminists have long decried our tendency to blame the victims of sexual assault, and they have been right to do so. Responding to an instance of sexual assault with something along the lines of "she shouldn't have worn that" still happens far too often. The blame in these cases does not belong to the person who was assaulted but to the person who perpetrated the assault. This strikes many of us outside of conservative religions as fairly obvious; however, it appears to be far less obvious for those inside conservative religions.

The sickest version of victim-blaming I've encountered is the one used by many of those who perpetrate against children and involves the claim that the adult perpetrator was "seduced" by the child victim. This stomach-turning scenario is something almost all of us clearly recognize as an attempt to excuse oneself from any responsibility. But even here, one will occasionally hear things from conservative Christians that suggest some agreement with these claims. "Her parents shouldn't have let her wear make-up at that age."

I suppose what I'm trying to say here is that both conservative Muslims and conservative Christians seem to want to place more of the blame on women who are subjected to inappropriate sexual behavior by men than they do on the men who are behaving inappropriately. Once one has convinced oneself that women deserve most of the blame for how men behave, it almost seems reasonable to attempt to improve men's behavior by exerting greater control over women. When atheists, anti-theists, and other critics of Abrahamic religion label it as sexist, misogynistic, or patriarchal, this is an important part of what they are referring to.

Not surprisingly, many secular feminists focus on how bad the various forms of conservative religion are for women. But one need not be a feminist to recognize that these forms of religion are bad for women. And I'd hope that most people, feminist or not, would also recognize that none of this is particularly healthy for men either. I think it is a mistake to think that anybody is really benefiting from systems like this. The women obviously deserve far greater freedom. The men need to learn how to cope with their feelings, exercise the sort of self-control most of us expect adults to be capable of, and take some damn responsibility for their behavior.