« Being a feminist and religious in Ivory Coast and in the United States »

« To be a feminist and a believer in Ivory Coast « 

 » My name is Sandy, I am Ivorian and I live in Abidjan. I am doing a master ‘s degree in philosophy at Félix Houphouët Boigny university. Heterosexual and a practising Catholic, I am a  » feminist at heart « ? I am using the term feminist at heart because for me, feminism cannot be separated from religion in so far as if you speak of feminism it implies justice and if you speak of justice it implies religion. Feminism is in reality the expression of the desire for justice that religion is supposed to embody.

In its etymology, religion is defined as the recognition by men of a power or a higher principle on which their destiny depends and to which  obedience and respect are due, an intellectual and moral attitude which result from this belief, in accordance with a social model, and which can constitute a code of conduct. 

Feminism and religion in essence do not convey contradictory values. The contradiction rather comes from the interpretation of religious writings themselves which can sometimes be deeply subjective because of cultural facts which incarnate the precursors. 

I would not say that  religion has an archaic side, I would rather say that it is marked by the cultural side which is taken for religion by people blinded by fanaticism who are thus unable to dissociate these two facts. Unfortunately these people use religion to assess their own belief in the prevalence of one gender over another.

Since I have become aware that God created us equal and complementary, my reason enables me to make the difference between the religious fact and the cultural fact. As I am thus aware of this difference, I have realized that men have been educated earlier than  women and have taken advantage of this fact to pass on from one generation to the next the absurd idea that God had made them heads, owners of  women. Because I have understood that God is a Spirit which uses women and men to spread Its Good Word on earth I manage to reconcile my belief and feminism very easily.

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Sandy, a practicing catholic and feminist in Ivorian Coast. November 2018.

As regards the question of re-examining the Bible, that is essential! Not so that it becomes favorable to women. It would mean it would be written again the same way men have written it and we can see the result. I would rather remove some of the purely cultural scriptures which compose it. You will see that when we do it, women will find the place which is theirs, i.e. human beings endowed with the same abilities and capabilities as men.

Although I am a Catholic and proud to be so, I feel really sorry to realize that it remains a patriarchal religion even if the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and the Church was given all her place. It is patriarchal not because it conveys the idea that it is men who created it but because the men at the head of it hide the truth according to which the Church was actually created by men and women. The fact that the right for women to become priests is not acknowledged does not have any religious justification, it is purely cultural. But, be convinced that women will eventually find their place in the Church. We will fight for that.

The feminist values that I defend are the same ones religion advocates which embrace equality in law for all human beings and social justice.

I am a believer who values my direct relationship with God, not the religious dogmas which are conveyed. 

I feel really sorry to see that in Africa and in particular in Ivory Coast, women and young girls are still mainly indoctrinated by bad interpretations of the religious writings and customs. Religion is used as an alibi to maintain them in a position of inferiority compared to men. Very few women in Ivory Coast are mature enough to circumvent what is preached here and there by fanatics who claim they are religious ! 

Through this sharing of my personal experience, I wish these psychological walls that women who believe have built in their mind would disappear. These walls which consist in creating barriers under the pretext they are intellectually inferior to men, the leadership is male, they are inapt to occupy certain functions in the Church and in society. The God that we love gave us the same faculties and capacities and this is why we should not accept any discrimination under the pretext of any religious belief.

If I have children in the future, I will share with them the idea  that feminism is the expression of the search for social justice giving women the same opportunities and chances to succeed as men. A search for social justice giving women the power to determine their future as well as men. »

Logo les eLLes 4


« To be a feminist and a believer in the United States of America , a daughter and her mother share their stories »

 » I am a US born native who was raised by a Hindu-Buddhist father, and Catholic-educated mother. I have always felt my father raised me Buddhist, but my mother practiced it, showing me that the greatest strengths in humanity were those of compassion and resiliency. My father would take me to India, taught me strict discipline, and provided me with education through Bal Vikas, a Hindu based school which is a Vedic Sanskrit word meaning “blossoming of the child”. My mother raised me in the theatre, taking me to every rehearsal and show, especially after she became a single mother, where I witnessed her taking on impassioned, empowered and strong female rolls such as Lorca’s Juana La Loca, and Bretch’s Pirate Jenny. Historically based rolls of women who had been denigrated, judged and oppressed by the society they challenged and would not conform to.

My own beliefs were in the Egyptian and Celtic mythos where women were celebrated for their femininity and connection to the elements, not shamed or sexualized for their sensuality.

In later years, I moved across the country to a small town to study Thanatology and help people working through trauma and bereavement. I often encountered “witch-burning” mindsets that made me feel as though it was not ok to be free or expressive in whom I was. At one point, I entered into a relationship with a man who after years of his own suppressed abuse exploded, when I tried to leave him, he violently physically assaulted me in a drunken stupor.

Being forced to quit my position as an advocate after becoming a victim of domestic abuse myself, and after loosing my pregnancy, relationship with my father (who could not comprehend the situation), my community, and fair-weather friends, I spiraled into a very deep and dark depression. Not finding camaraderie or support with my sisters in the town I lived in, I turned the focus of female strength and spirituality inward. I found Kundalini yoga, and studied under two incredible women who provided a path back to my roots that I could build upon. In Kundalini I found the reawakening of the divine feminine. It merged the Buddhist and Catholic principles of my parents while incorporating my Celtic and Egyptian beliefs. I felt the celebration of women’s spiritual connection with the earth, womb, creation, elements and sacred femininity. I had and have deeply struggled with the loss and injury to my womb, body, mind, heart and soul, but through the connection I felt with this musical, physical, artistic, spiritual practice I was able to delve into the shame and fear within me, and remember my roots as a woman.

Feminism to me is Freedom. It is embracing where you are walking in life, empowering yourself and others to be heard, treating our earth, others, and selves with dignity and equality.  I believe that feminism merges with spirituality when we look inside and through our own suffering we grow, support each other and never let anyone take away our voice. »

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Catholic mom, Buddhist daughter, both feminist, November 2018.

 » I am a European born Latina who lives in the United States. I’ve been an actress/director for all of my adult life and in this time I’ve explored characters of women that have been treated wrongly by society and dominated by the patriarchy. As a director my focus has been to empower the actors while they immerse themselves in a representation of roles of women who have been oppressed historically and systematically by men. I myself had been silenced by the men in my life, so when I finally was able to step and speak out, regardless of my own fears, my growth as a woman and as a human took place.

When I met my former spouse, what attracted me to him was his adapted Buddhist Spirituality and belief of non-attachment and equality. After we married, the story changed and he reverted back to his trapped male gender role.

He would boast to his friends how proud he was to have “tamed the wild horse” and by doing so, little by little our marriage collapsed. We had met as artists but a few years after we married he wanted me to be the perfect housewife and abandon all my artistic dreams which he no longer valued as important calling them “Alice in wonderland ideas”. He wanted me to believe that I couldn’t be a wife and a mother and still be an artist.

I revisited Christianity in my adulthood when I was hired to direct a Passion play produced by a Catholic Radio Station. What intrigued me the most was how again the patriarchal priesthood had such a strong hold on the representation of women.

In my adaptation of the life of Jesus I have chosen to expand the female characters exploring the view of womanhood and representing our strength and connection to earth, motherhood, leadership and moral authority.

The role of Mary in my play is a strong woman that has human emotions; Gabriel is played as an Amazonian warrior, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a loyalist, unafraid of men’s opinions showing that femininity and sexuality are not wrong and rejecting that the idea of knowledge and sensuality are sinful.

In one of my discussions with the clergy, the priest said that I needed to understand that Catholicism is a fraternity. My argument with him was that in the New Testament, Jesus preaches social equality for all and women are included in this conversation. The women in Jesus’s story are the ones that stand by him even at the end of his life, when all his men except for John flee from fear of being killed and once again showing that women are unafraid of embracing the power that we have within ourselves, standing strong without being silenced.

Feminism to me is strength. It’s about fairness, social justice, equality among all. It’s about being unafraid and free. »

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The play directed by our eLLe, November 2018.

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