STEINBERG: Today’s sins against women rooted in religion

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore has denied an Alabama woman's allegation that Moore made inappropriate advances and had sexual contact with her when she was 14. | AP Photo

Religion fancies itself as manifesting the word of God.

And with frequent evocation of morality, much soaring architecture and oft-inspiring music, it regularly does exactly that.

However, a skeptical person — me for instance — gathering together all doctrines, could be forgiven for viewing orthodox religion as something else: an elaborate system to dominate women.

Women get the short end of the stick in every major faith. The Judeo-Christian tradition certainly stumbles out of the blocks. No sooner is Eve crafted from Adam’s rib — to give him a lackey, remember — than she gets mankind booted from the Garden of Eden, earning her painful childbirth and divinely ordained second-class citizenship forever (“And he shall rule over thee”). The starting gun to an endless series of indignities commencing with Genesis and rolling right up to Louis C.K.

I won’t take the time to outline the degradations served up by Islam, except to note that when Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive — in 2017 — it was considered a breakthrough. For all its spirituality, in Buddhism enlightenment is seen as something that doesn’t happen to women.

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Thus, indignity over good Alabama Christians rushing to support Senate candidate Roy Moore after he was accused of molesting teenage girls seems naive, and makes me wonder: You are paying attention, right? Most Southern Republicans no doubt draw the line at exploiting teenage girls. But it also fits into the overall right-wing policy of scorning what real women actually want: equal pay, reproductive rights, health care, to not be treated as sexual playthings by any man who crosses their path. In their place is put what religion-addled men imagine women want, a second-class citizenship halfway to victimization. Sexual intimidation in this context isn’t a lapse; it’s baked into the system. Not a flaw, as the techies say, but a feature. Much of religion resembles the old-fashioned “virginity check” — an assault disguised as insistence on purity. It’s no accident that one of Moore’s defenders cited the story of Mary and Joseph as if it offered exoneration.

I have to admit, it’s an issue I tried to tune out. Mostly for the “yuck” factor. I don’t want to contemplate Louis C.K. taking off his pants any more than the women in the room with him did. There is also a worrisome trend, as thoroughly reported exposes on guys like Harvey Weinstein give way to one-off accusations, like a male model accusing George Takei of groping him in 1981. Also worrying is the fact that these are famous men — what if that’s the only reason anybody cares? The true sign of progress will be when the outed louts are bank managers instead of movie stars.

Why is this happening now? The geyser of women’s stories — and to a lesser extent, men’s — of celebrity assault began when the Bill Cosby case cracked the wall of silence and then Harvey Weinstein gave it another tap, the edifice topped and the torrent of pain and outrage roared through.

But this is also occurring a year after we elected a crude, adulterous, thrice-married bully who by his own confession was guilty of manhandling women, of pawing them against their will. It’s hard not to connect the two. If the president sets the tone, then Trump should be ushering in an era of loutish, grasping, consequence-free misbehavior.

That obviously isn’t happening to people who aren’t Donald Trump; just the opposite. Maybe it’s pushback. Since the president sits untouchable, so far, a smirking Humpty Dumpty tottering atop the White House, what we may be seeing is society turning on his proxies, who are paying for their crimes and his.

How does it end? Maybe we go through this catharsis then revert to form. Organized religion, despite progress by liberal wings, is still a powerful bulwark of institutionalized repression.

Maybe we will come away a better society, one where famous men behave better, if only because they don’t want to be humiliated. Nobody wants to be the next Harvey Weinstein.

If the trouble were a few piggish guys free of their inhibitions by wealth and power, it would be easier to solve. But the problem is they are sheltered by a greater system of belief that has always encouraged men to do what they please. That won’t change quickly or easily.

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