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A reader writes:

The interesting question to me is not "Did religion create sexism?" The question is, "Does religion perpetuate sexism?"  Much of human progress comes not from accepting the societal forms of male domination and violence that we inherited from our ancestors, but innovating ways to avoid them.

Another writes:

Perhaps the simplest explanation for the prevalence of sexism is a biological one. Until the mid part of the last century, reproduction was dangerous business for women.

Mortality due to complications during childbirth hovered at 10% (or higher) prior to the widespread availability of antibiotics.  In addition, ectopic pregnancies often killed women before they knew they were pregnant. (Thus the female characters who just lie down and die in 18th and 19th century novels.)  As much as anything, improved obstetric outcomes parallel the rise of women in society. It’s difficult to reliably provide for yourself if you come close to bleeding out with each child, or are permanently incontinent due to obstetric fistula.

Millennia ago women made a pact with men: Take care of me during and after childbirth, and of the children I leave behind, and I’ll abdicate control of my fate in society.  This was a valuable bargain for men because without it they had uncertain control over their reproductive fate. Now that reproduction isn’t Russian roulette for women, they don’t need male-provided resources and protection. What keeps male dominance in place is the institutionalization of male power in societies. A harbinger of its end is the growing number of single women having children via artificial insemination.

Another:

Ebert wrote, "Indeed, if we study other primates we see that their cultures are also male-dominant." Not true. Bonobos, perhaps our closest relations, live in a female-dominant society. 

Other primates have widely varying social structures. Gorillas have a family group-based culture, with one male and several females. Orangutans are highly solitary, with relatively strong bonds existing mainly between mother and offspring. Chimpanzees have the most similar social structure to our own, living in large groups where inter-sex competition is important. The idea that we see human culture reflected in our close relatives is a limited concept that we should be very suspicious of.

Another:

All religions do not view women as inferior! In fact, since its inception 167 years ago, by pronouncement of its Prophet-Founder, the Baha'i Faith has articulated the absolute equality of women and men. While the Baha'i Faith is not well known, it is the most persecuted faith in the Iranian regime, and one of the most wide-spread of religions.

Another:

The cultural historian William Irwin Thompson has an interesting hypothesis on where sexism came from: In an ultimate twist of fate, the women did it when they sexually selected for the strongest most possessive men who would protect them. These men, ironically, would be the ones who treated them as property to be owned and defended. See his "The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality and the Origins of Culture."

Another:

I think you should involve Craig Barnes in this conversation: "In Search of the Lost Feminine: Decoding the Myths that Radically Reshaped Civilization".

A review of that book here.

(Photo: Pope Benedict XVI presides over a Mass at Westminster Cathedral during the third day of his State Visit on September 18, 2010 in London, England. By Leon Neal/WPA Pool/Getty Images.)

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