Religious Fundamentalism and its Impact on the Female Gender

Religious Fundamentalism

and its Impact on the Female Gender

by Allan S. Mohl, LCSW, PhD.

Whether the mother is depressed and withdrawn or dominating and angry, the extremely vulnerable baby and young child fears being killed or abandoned by her, and this fear of imminent death is embedded in the brain in a dissociated alter in its right hemisphere, where it is unavailable for correction as the child grows up.1

Psychoanalysts have begun to address the fact that many of their patients continue to fear and defend against early death dealing Killer Mother alters that remain in a cut-off dissociated state in their psyches. Joseph Rheingold, a psychiatrist writing in the 1960's emphasized the child's terror of being violently killed by his or her mother who wished him or her dead and shows that the child, therefore, concludes that it must be because he or she is bad and that "by dying the child appeases the mother and hopes to gain her affection."2

Rheingold sees this not only a source of suicide and other destructive behavior but as the ultimate source of religion in rebirth fantasies such as the Christian and Islamic wish to die and be merged with God/Allah, shouting "Allahu Akbar," God is Great, "the Killer Mother is great", where, "mother's love is the prize of death." 3


Riane Eisler describes in her book, The Chalice and The Blade, how Goddess worship in prehistoric times was transformed into God worship.4 She described the destruction of sexually and socially egalitarian societies which were Goddess oriented to dominator and God oriented societies. The new male rulers consolidated their power by stripping women of their decision making powers. At the same time, priestesses would have to be stripped of spiritual authority, and patriliny would have to replace matriliny even among the conquered peoples -- as it in fact did, in old Europe, in Anatolia, in Mesopotamia, and in Canaan, where women were now increasingly viewed as male-controlled technologies of production and reproduction rather than independent, leading members of the community.5

As is characteristic of dominator societies, technologies of destruction were now given highest priority. Not only were the strongest and most brutal men highly honored and rewarded for their technical prowess, in conquering and pillaging; material resources were also now increasingly channeled into evermore sophisticated and lethal weaponry.6 "Precious stones, pearls, emeralds, and rubies, were embedded in the hilts of shields and swords. And though the chains with which conquerors dragged their prisoners behind them were still made of base metals, even the chariots of these more cultivated warlords, kings, and emperors were fashioned by silver and gold."7

However, force could not be constantly used to exact obedience. It had to be established that the old powers that ruled the universe had been replaced by newer and more powerful deities in whose hands patriarchal power was now supreme. "And to this end one thing above all had to be accomplished: not only her earthly representative--woman--but the Goddess herself had to be pulled down from her exalted place."8

The Goddess was given subordinate status of a more powerful male God. On the other hand, she was transformed into a martial deity. For example, in Canaan, we find the blood thirsty Ishtar, both revered and feared as a goddess of war. Similarly, in Anatolia, the Goddess was also transformed into a martial deity a feature which, E.O. James notes, is entirely absent in earlier texts.9

At the same time, many of the functions formerly associated with female deities were reassigned to gods. For example, as the cultural anthropologist Ruby Rohrlich-Leavitt points out, "when the patron of the scribes changed from a goddess to a god, only male scribes were employed in the temples and palaces, and history began to be written from an androcentric perspective."10

But though Canaan, like Mesopotamia, had already for some time been moving toward a dominator society, there is no question that the invasions of the thirteen Hebrew tribes not only accelerated, but also radicalized, this process of social and ideological transformation. For only in the Bible is the Goddess as a divine power entirely absent.


As the biblical scholar Raphael Patai writes in his book The Hebrew Goddess, archaeological finds leave "no doubt that to the very end of the Hebrew Monarchy the worship of the old Canaanite gods was an integral part of the religion of the Hebrews.

Moreover, the worship of the goddess played a much more important role in this popular religion than that of the gods."11 For example, in the biblical town of Devir to the southwest of modern Hebron, the most common religious objects found in the later bronze levels (21st-13th centuries B.C.E.) were the so-called Astarte figurines or plaques. But even after the town was rebuilt following its destruction during the Hebrew invasion between 1300-1200 B.C.E., as Patai notes, "the archaeological evidence leaves no doubt that these figurines were very popular among the Hebrews."12

There are, of course, some allusions to this in the Bible itself. The prophets Ezra, Josea, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah constantly rail against the "abomination" of worshipping other gods. They are particularly outraged at those who still worship "the Queen of Heaven".13 And their greatest wrath is against the "unfaithfulness of the daughters of Jerusalem," who were understandably "backsliding" to beliefs in which all temporal and spiritual authority was not monopolized by men. But other than such occasional, and always pejorative passages, there is no hint that there ever was--or could be--a deity that is not male.14

Be it as the god of thunder, of the mountain, or of war, or later on as the more civilized God of the prophets, there is here only one God: the jealous and inscrutable Jehovah, who in later Christian mythology sends his only divine Son, Jesus Christ, to die and thereby atone for his human children's "sins". And although the Hebrew word Elohim has both feminine and masculine roots, all the other appellations of the deity, such as King, Lord, Father and Shepherd, are specifically male."15

If we read the Bible as normative social literature, the absence of the goddess is the single most important statement about the kind of social order that the men who over many centuries wrote and rewrote this religious document they strove to establish and uphold. For symbolically the absence of the goddess from the officially sanctioned Holy Scriptures was the absence of a divine power to protect women and avenge the wrongs inflicted upon them by men.16

This is not to say that the Bible does not contain important ethical precepts and mystical truths or that Judaism as it evolved has not made enormous positive contributions to Western history. Indeed, even though it is increasingly apparent that they are rooted in older wisdoms, much in Western civilization that is humane and just was derived from the teachings of the Hebrew prophets. For example, many of the teachings of Isaiah for which many of the later teachings of Jesus derived are designed for a partnership rather than a dominator society. Nonetheless, interlaced with what is humane and uplifting, much of what we find in the Judeo-Christian Bible is a network of myths and laws designed to impose, maintain, and perpetuate a dominator system of social and economic organization."17

By and large, ancient Hebrew society was run from the top by a small elite of men. Most critically, as we can still read in the Hebrew Bible, the laws fashioned by this male rule caste defined women not as free and independent human beings, but as the private property of men. First they were to belong to their fathers. Later on, they were to be owned by their husbands or their masters as were any children they bore.18

We know from the Bible that girl children and women of conquered citystates who, as our King James Bible puts it, had not "known a man by lying with him were regularly enslaved in accordance with Jehovah's commands."19 We also read in the Hebrew Bible of indentured servants, what the King James Bible calls men servants and maid servants, and how the law provided that a man could sell his daughter as a maid servant. Most tellingly, when a man servant was set free according to Biblical law, his wife and her children remained behind--the master's property.20

However, it was not only that maid servants, concubines, and their offspring were male property. The well known story of Abraham setting out to sacrifice his and Sarah's son Isaac to Jehovah dramatically illustrates that even the children of even lawful wives were under men's absolute control.

The late psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, in his book, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, points out that frequently there is spiritual and religious meaning and motivation in destructive and cruel acts. "Let us consider one drastic example, the sacrifice of children, as it was practice in Canaan at the time of the Hebrew conquest and in Carthage down to its destruction by the Romans, in the third century B.C.E.

Were these parents motivated by the destructive passion to kill their own children? Surely this is very unlikely. The story of Abraham's attempt to sacrifice Isaac, a story meant to speak against sacrifice of children, movingly emphasizes Abraham's love for Isaac: "21 Nevertheless Abraham does not waiver in his decision to kill his son. Quite obviously we deal here with a religious motivation which is stronger than even the love for the child. The man in such a culture is completely devoted to his religious system, and he is not cruel, even though he appears so to a person outside the system.


The Hebrew Bible gives two accounts of creation, the Garden of Eden story familiar to most of us with its account of Eve being created out of Adams' Rib, and an earlier account of a simultaneous creation - "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female."22

Interpretations of this passage have varied from that of actual simultaneous creation of male and female human beings to that of creation of one being, "man", with the bipolarity of male-female being a reflection of the androgynous nature of original man or of the embodiment of God within him/her. "The sin of Adam and exile from Paradise can then be seen as signs of separation from the original wholeness and entry into the human world of sin and death, as well as sexuality - since the Bible tells of Adam and Eve becoming aware of their nakedness, and presumably of their sexual impulses, only after the fall."23

In the second version of the creation of mankind, man is created first, singular and alone. He is dissatisfied and lonely. God parades all of creation before him but he cannot find a companion.24 Finally, "and the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and He closed up the place with flesh instead thereof. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from the man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man. And the man said "this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh,"25 she was his because she was of him; derived from him. Jurists for centuries thereafter recognized a man and his wife as one flesh: the man's.26

The first story of creation is nearly an equality model. It did not resonate in Judeo-Christian systems of law; nowhere does it appear as a model for the systems of secular law that take the Bible as a source of civic or social morality. The second story makes woman clearly subservient to the man even in Paradise before sin or shame or the invention of death. She is inferior in her existence as such. She was created for him to be his bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh. She belonged to him in her flesh which was his flesh. There is no closer, more intimate meaning of belonging to: made for him from him; bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh; and God affirms that they are "one flesh."27

Then the woman eats from the Tree of Knowledge, her inferior nature manifesting in the weakness that allows her to be seduced by a snake; she disobeys God and eats the apple; she seduces her husband into eating the apple. According to Andrea Dworkin, the late feminist scholar, "All the bone-of-my-bones business disappears, in a sense forever. She and he are, 'one flesh' in that he has sovereignty over her body; but they are different from then on, her bones not reminding one of his at all, her flesh so different from his that it might as well have been made out of some different material all together. She never was much like him at all, it seems in retrospect, according to all the legal eagles, religious and secular ever after, until the second feminist revolution of the 1960's.


The theme of maternity is perhaps nowhere more obvious in Western religious tradition in the image of the Virgin and Child, and especially in the medieval cult of the Virgin. From the eleventh century to the end of the Middle Ages, the image of Virgin and Child became central to the Christian vision.28 Shrines and chapels were dedicated to her, and as Our Lady, her maternal protectiveness was sought for innumerable undertakings. The Virgin and Child imagery became a dominant motif in paintings and statuary, and some writers have claimed that the maternal mercy and protective kindness was more venerated by the common people than were the members of the Trinity.

"Before the advent of Christianity, cults of virgin goddesses were common. Virgin goddesses appear in Greek mythology and are more positively viewed than their more sexual counterparts"29 Sarah Pomeroy, a classical scholar, has speculated, "a fully realized female tends to engender anxiety in the insecure male. Unable to cope with a multiplicity of powers united in one female, men from antiquity to the present have envisioned women in 'either-or-roles'. As a corollary of this anxiety, virginal females are considered helpful while sexually mature women like Hera are destructive and evil.30

The common motif uniting virginity and maternal protectiveness that may be the child's asexual vision of his mother, and his later denial of her sexuality as a defense against Oedipal feelings. At least this would be the Freudian view. Another interpretation would stress the disruptive aspects of sexuality and its evil connotations in early Christian thinking as reasons for the virginal image of maternity.

The maternal image in Christianity has also tended to become the idolized one for the Christian woman. Catholicism in particular has stressed the ideal image of the Virgin Mary as embodying the maternal characteristics to be emulated by all women. Another darker image of woman lurking in Christian thought is that of woman as sexual temptress and weak character subject to the will of men.

The Reformation did not bring any dramatic change in this position. Martin Luther reaffirmed the essential Christian view: "Through the Holy Spirit Adam called his wife by the excellent name of Eve, that is, mother. He does not say woman, but mother and adds "of all the living". Here you have the true distinction of womanhood, to wit, to be the source of all living human beings.

...woman was created for domestic concerns, but man for political ones, for wars, and the affairs of the law courts. Taking a wife is a remedy for fornication.31

We can see this symbolization of women as the effect and cause of the social system, which reflected deep sex role divisions. The positive view derives from the maternal role, the central one for women.32 Such divisions would tend to engender negative views and hostilities.

What has happened to masculine imagery? It is central to myth and religion, but because the male is taken as the standard case and the woman as "the other".33 In Western culture, we expect to see maleness in a central role. In all Western religions, the deity is given a masculine image and the human prophets and spokesmen, Moses, Christ, and Mohammed, are all male. Where women appear in the Bible, they generally do so in a subordinate and often maternal role. Men represent the general human condition, women the deviation. Ethical and moral responsibility is given to men and expected of them. Their family role, while not forgotten, is not primary to their symbolic function as it is for women.34

The symbolic and mythic imagery of maleness most often concerns itself with aggressivc positive action, victory over obstacles, and ethical self-realization. Oedipal themes are often present, along with a marked emphasis on the special condition of the birth of a hero. Otto Rank has identified the prototype of a hero in a number of Mediterranean and Asiatic myths, and this view has been confirmed by the work of Joseph Campbell,35 who used a wider sample. Otto Rank characterized the hero as follows:

The hero is the child of most distinguished parents, usually the son of a king. His origin is preceded by difficulties, such as continence, or prolonged barrenness or secret intercourse of the parents, due to external prohibition or obstacles. During the pregnancy, or ante dating the same, there is a prophecy in the form of a dream or oracle, cautioning against his birth, and usually threatening danger to the father, or his representative. As a rule, he is surrendered to the water in a box. He is then saved by animals, or lowly people (shepherds) and is suckled by a female animal or by a humble woman. After he is grown up, he finds his distinguished parents in a highly versatile fashion, takes his revenge on his father, on the one hand and is acknowledged on the other, and finally achieves rank and honors. 36

The Oedipal theme of overtaking the father is present, but it can also be interpreted as a more general celebration of ego mastery or of the achievement of adult ambition over childhood fantasy. In any case, the image of lone male accomplishment is present, contrasted with the female themes of relatedness to others, succorance, and maternity rather than individual growth. The association of maleness with evil is also much more tenuous than that of the feminine mythic connection to it.37


Women are subordinate to men in those countries in which Islami-Fundamentalism and the government are synthesized. Shiria law sets up a caste system in which women can be stoned for committing adultery, prevented from driving a car without a male escort or go to a doctor without a male escort. Aside from this, millions of women at an early age undergo the atrocity of female genital mutilation which is based on a myth that women are "inherently oversexed" and therefore in need of protection from their own impulses as well as those of males.

Women justify the custom in terms of this protection, as well as a symbolic protection against accusations of sexual misconduct. A woman who has not undergone this operation will be always under suspicion; the only successful way to dispel all doubt, in effect, to make adultery impossible. In fact, according to R.O. Hayes, "uninfibulated women are generally considered to be prostitutes in Sudanese society."38

The Sudanese case reflects the male concern with virginity and sexual purity, which is a hallmark of many cultures. Of course, in societies without effective birth control, women as well as men are given protection by this concern, as otherwise a large number of children would be born bereft of economic support.

In patrilineal and patriarchal societies where the passage of land, wealth, and power follows the male line, such pinpointing of paternity is critical for the maintenance of orderly male rule. A case might also be made for Susan Brown Miller's argument that marriage and exclusive sexual rights arose as a way of defending females against rape.39

The outcome of such concerns seems to be the institution of female initiation rights involving restriction of female sexuality such as clitorectomy, which would remove the seat of female sexual feelings, and infibulation. Even in societies that do not impose such physical sanctions on women, greater limitations on the freedom of women are often justified by appeals to the sexual protection argument. The use of chaperones and the imposition of curfews is always justified in terms of protecting women rather than men, though the result is a restriction of female freedom and a narrowing of the female sex role.

The Muslim custom of purdah, in which women are secluded in the home and prohibited from public appearance without elaborate and complete body and face covering, is the logical end of such beliefs. It is in such societies that the equation of female purity and family honor is strongest and the power of men the greatest.

Islamic Fundamentalism in one form or another had always been present, just as in Christianity and Judaism there had been fundamentalist trends all along. If so, what was specific about the new Islamic Fundamentalism? "It preached that one should adhere very strongly to the Koran; that Allah was the only true Lord, the only God worthy of obedience and true worship; and that one should believe in the uniqueness of the prophet Muhammed."40

But these basic tenets were common to every Muslim. What was really new was the conviction of those who defined themselves as Salafis that they were Islam, not just one of several factions; that state and society should be based on the principles of the religious law, the Sharias, and not on secular law; and that the aim could be achieved most likely by violence.

The term "Salafi" simply means early Islamic, referring to those who lived in the first centuries after Muhammed.41 In religious terms it means opposition to reform and the purification of Islam from alien elements. But Salafism was also a reform movement, a reinterpretation of the origins of a religion which as much as other religions, and perhaps even more so, were shrouded in darkness and uncertainty.

With what justification could these advocates of a pure Islam claim that they were knowledgeable and more faithful interpreters than those of a bygone time? Salafism opened widely the door to subjectivism. It meant in practice that everyone was, or at any rate could be, his own interpreter of the holy writ - except, of course, that the Salafis thought that they had a monopoly as far as truth was concerned.42

Muhammed Ghazali, a Muslim Brotherhood ideologue, in his book Our Beginning in Wisdom, published in 1948, took the traditional Islamic stance on women. He was for outlawing seductive clothing and appearance in women and their unchaperoned presence at picnics and outings. He favored women's education as long as it geared strictly towards preparing them for raising families.43

The role of women in Islamic Fundamentalist societies is reflected strongly in Saudi Arabia which strictly defines their role according to the Koran; and these restrictions apply to all women, whether Muslim or not.44 The position of women derives from the premise that the family is the cornerstone of Muslim society, and that an Islamic state must create an environment where men are not tempted to indulge in extra-marital sex and thus undermine the foundation of family life. From this stems the prohibition on women driving motor vehicles or traveling alone or working alongside men to whom they are not related.45

A general view among Islamic Fundamentalists is that Islam indeed upgraded the position of women in the Arabia of the seventh century by conferring upon them the rights of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. "Since men are, broadly speaking, emotionally stable and intellectually superior--so the argument runs--they are entitled to lead society in general and the family in particular. Women's primary role is as wife and mother, so her education should be directed mainly along these lines."46

According to Lloyd deMause in his book The Emotional Life of Nations, points out that in countries such as Saudi Arabia, women by law cannot mix with unrelated men, and public places still have separate women's areas in restaurants and workplaces, 47 because, as one Muslim sociologist put it bluntly: "In our society there is no relationship or friendship between a man and a woman."48 Young girls are treated abominably in most fundamentalist families. When a boy is born, the family rejoices; when a girl is born, the whole family mourns."49

The girl's sexuality is so hated that when she is 5 years old or so, the women grab her, pin her down, and chop off her clitoris and often her labia with a razor blade or piece of glass, ignoring her agony and screams for help, because they say, among various misogynistic comments, that the clitoris "can cause a voracious appetite for promiscuous sex and might render men impotent.50 The area is then often sewn up to prevent intercourse leaving only a tiny passage for urination. Female genital mutilation is excruciatingly painful. Up to a third die from infections, and mutilated women must shuffle "slowly and painfully" and usually are unable to orgasm."51

As the girls grow up in these fundamentalist families, they are usually treated as though they are polluted beings, veiled, sometimes gang raped when men outside the family wish to settle scores with men in her family."52 Studies such as a recent survey of Palestinian students show that the sexual abuse of girls is far higher in Islamic societies than elsewhere, with a large majority of all girls reporting that they had been sexually molested as children.53

Even marriage can be considered rape, since the family often chooses the partner and the girl is as young as 8.54 The girl is often blamed for the rape since it is often assumed that "those who don't ask to be raped will never be raped". Wife beating is common and divorce by wives rare in fact, women have been killed by their families simply because they asked for a divorce.55 It is no wonder that Physicians for Human Rights found, for instance, that "97% of Afghan women they surveyed suffered from severe depression."56

In Fundamentalist Islamic societies child abuse, both physical and sexual, is pervasive and frequent. Children are sexually used by their mothers and their caregivers and a large number of children in these societies face some form of physical abuse such as infanticide, shaking, punching, biting, and choking. All these child rearing practices are very much like those that were routinely inflicted on children in medieval Europe.57


Let us turn to a related topic of fundamentalism as it relates to women and that topic is witchcraft. Here again we meet the notion of woman as purveyor of evil. In Africa and Medieval Europe, cases of infant death and adult sickness cried out for an explanation in human terms. In Europe the additional input from Christian ideas of demonology gave a particular flavor to witchcraft explanation.58 But to return to the original question as to why witches are usually women, we need to look into the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

Anthropological thought on the question has tended to dwell on the subordinate position of women as the source of the accusations. On one hand, it is safe to accuse the powerless; they become the scapegoats of the society.59 On the other hand, the very lack of overt power may in itself arouse suspicion. E. Goody writes as follows: "It seems likely that because of their basic identification with domestic and kinship roles, women will usually be denied the legitimate expression of aggressive impulses. But in whichever roles aggression is not legitimate, it is in these that we can expect to find that imputations of covert mystical aggression are made, and, further, that they evoke publicly sanctioned counteraction; that they are considered evil."60

The male authority system of legitimate power evokes one kind of response of fear, the female "non system" evokes another,61 but one that is less defined. Mary Douglas speculates: "...where the social system is well articulated, I look for articulate powers vested in the points of authority; where the social system is ill articulated, I look for inarticulate powers vested in those who are a source of disorder, I am suggesting that the contract between form and surrounding non-form accounts for the distribution of symbolic and psychic powers: external symbolism upholds the explicit social structure and internal, unformed psychic powers threaten it from the non-structure."62

For Douglas, the seemingly "powerless" segments of society will be seen as the source of invisible "powers." When women hold culturally ambiguous roles, they are more likely to be seen as the source of evil.

Witchcraft accusations against women can be seen as part of a wider phenomenon of ascribing the origin of evil to women. The Pandora's Box myth comes to mind, as does the idea of original sin in the Garden of Eden. In the latter case, Adam's fall is ascribed to his yielding to the temptation to eat the apple offered by Eve. Many other stories tell of temptation emanating from woman and leading to the downfall of man. Often, especially in a Christian context, the idea of sexual temptation is an integral part of the negative image of woman.63

The prominent place given to pornographic portrayals of witches' intercourse with devils in Inquisition Trials of witches testifies to the existence of heavy sexual repression and the consequent fear and denunciation of women. "Often there seems to be a one dimensional view of woman: she is her sexuality, no more, no less. When that sexuality is seen as threatening or evil, so is she. When a more positive view of her sex is expounded, she is elevated to a more favorable position, but still a one-dimensional one. In our own society, to a limited extent, the latter instance is the case with female sexuality being a major ingredient in advertising and other media images of women."64

It is interesting to note that Hillary Clinton has been the victim of many sexist comments because of her position of power in New York State and in Washington DC. Indeed, one shock jock, Don Imus frequently refers to her jokingly as "Satan".

Andrea Dworkin, in her book, Intercourse, describes the inquisition and burning of Joan of Arc who at the time was branded as a witch. "In Rouen in 1431, at the age of 19, she was tried and burned as a witch. By the time of her arrest and imprisonment in 1430, she had routed the English from much French territory and established the military and nationalistic momentum for their eventual expulsion from French soil; and she had gotten Charles VII crowned King of France, creating a head-of-state so that a nation might emerge around him. Her will, her vision, and her military acumen provided the impetus and groundwork for the emergence of a French nation-state, heretofore non existent; and she was, for better or worse, the first French nationalist, a military liberator of an occupied country that did not yet see itself as she clearly, militantly, saw it--as a political and cultural unity that must repel foreign domination.

The English, using the machinery of the Inquisition, got her convicted and killed; the Catholic church did the actual dirty work.... The Church, in ongoing if not particularly credible remorse, issued a series of apologies for burning her. In 1456, she was "rehabilitated" by papal decree--essentially the church conceded that she had not been a witch. Charles needed her name cleared once he won, because of her prominence at his coronation, the church cooperated with him as it had with the English when it burned her.

In 1869, the case for canonizing Joan was placed before the Vatican: a hiatus in reparation of over 400 years. In 1903, Joan was designated as Venerable. In 1909, she was beatified. In 1920, she became St. Joan. The church that killed her may now identify her as a martyr; but for women inspired by her legend, she is a martial hero luminous with genius and courage, an emblem of possibility and potentiality consistently forbidden, obliterated, or denied by the rigid tyranny of sex role imperatives or the outright humiliation of second-class citizenship."65

Essentially, at her death, Joan was viewed as a witch because she went against the norm as to how women within a Christian fundamentalist society should behave. In the case of witchcraft, women's "proper" behaviors are reinforced by their fears of arousing witchcraft accusations. Such a system of beliefs can only serve on both the societal and individual levels to emphasize the structured power split between the sexes that led to the phenomenon in the first place. By considering women categorically, as all alike such beliefs further divide the society along sexual lines. In the individual psyche, the negative attitudes of men are further reinforced and developed by such beliefs.

Women themselves are given a negative self-image that may serve to perpetuate their state, and in a sense, justify lt.66 Mary Douglas's oddly poignant image of the witch comes to mind: "Witchcraft, then, is found in the non-structure. Witches are social equivalents of beetles and spiders who live in the cracks of the walls. They attract the fears and dislikes which other ambiguities and contradictions attract in other thought structures, and the kind of powers attributed to them symbolize their ambiguous, inarticulate status."67

It is women who frequently live in the "cracks" of the social structure and whose "inarticulate status" provides the occasion for the projection of all sorts of unspecified fears and terrors. Then this very symbolic system serves to maintain the social system that gave it birth and sustenance.


It is men who tend to fight wars and it is men who predominantly commit violent crimes and who consequently make up the vast majority of incarcerated inmates. A major variable for aggressive, violent behavior lies in the mother child relationship. It is the primary dyad in the formative years of the child. It is the subordination of the female, as it exists in our patriarchal religious institutions which have adversely affected this relationship.

To be a mother is an emotionally demanding task, requiring considerable maturity, and throughout history girls have grown up universally despised and abused. Mothers in the past, unfortunately, less often won the maternal love/hate struggle because their own formative years were so abusive. The baby in the past must not need anything, but must just give love only to the emotionally deprived mother.

Mothers hallucinated their children as maternal breasts with such intensity that they were constantly licking and sucking their faces, lips, breasts, and genitals,68 feeling so needy from their own loveless childhoods that they expected their children to feed and care for them emotionally. Even when mothers nursed, they rarely looked at or talked to their babies, because they felt they could not afford their emotions in them. It is only when one recognizes mothers' own severe neglect and abuse and the extent to which their babies are poison containers for their feelings that one can begin to understand why mothers in the past routinely killed, neglected, and abused their children.69

Severely immature parents of the past felt under such constant threat by malevolent forces--maternal alters--that their own children were constantly being used as poison containers for their disowned feelings. As one informant in a contemporary rural Greek community said, "when you are angry, a demon gets inside of you. Only if a pure individual passes by, like a child for instance, will the bad leave you, for it will fall on the unpolluted."70

The dynamics are clear: the "demon ...inside you" is the alter; the "unpolluted child" is the poison container. A typical child sacrifice for parental success can be seen in Carthage, where archaeologists have found a child cemetery called the Tophet that is filled with over 20,000 urns containing bones of children sacrificed by the parents who would make a vow to kill their next child if the gods would grant them a favor--for instance, if their shipment of goods were to arrive safely in a foreign port."71

Child sacrifice was the foundation of all great religions depicted in myths as absolutely necessary to save the world from "chaos", that is, from terrible inner annihilation anxiety as punishment for success. Despite the denunciations of child sacrifice by Hebrew prophets, ancient Jews continued to "pass their children through fire."72

Hyam Maccoby's book, The Sacred Executioner: Human Sacrifice and the Legacy of Guilt, portrays the entire history of religion as dramas featuring a vengeful, bloodthirsty sacred executioner, demonstrating that the role of children, from Isaac to Christ, was to act as a sacrifice for the sins of the parents.73 Behind even male gods demanding sacrifice are avenging terrible mothers of death, states Wolfgang Lederer. He mentions Bellili, Inaima, Tiamat, Ishtar, Astarte, Lillith, Chicomecoatl--all dangerous mother altars in the brains of the new parents, demanding revenge for the hubris of daring to be a parent.74 The wealthier and more successful the family, the more children had to be sacrificed to the goddess, representing the infant's furious grandmother."75

According to E. Shorter "Good mothering is an invention of modernization."76 He contends that we in the secular West think of mother love as instinctual, or at least as a normal component of every socialized female's relation to her offspring. Yet, Shorter argues that this sentiment, like romantic love, is a product of an age; a historical consequence, not a natural display. For example, Shorter gives evidence of wide spread neglect and abandonment of children in pre-modern Europe. The general use of wet nurses who often neglected and abused their charges which underlined the lack of bonding between mother and child, or indeed among any family members.

Other historians of the family have argued that high infant mortality led to an absence of sentiment in that one could not invest emotionally in a child who was unlikely to survive. Yet, Shorter convincingly argues that: "The high rate of infant loss is not a sufficient explanation for the traditional lack of maternal love because precisely this lack of care was responsible for the high mortality. At least in part, if children perished in great numbers, it was not owing to the intervention of some deus ex machina beyond the parents' control. It came about as a result of circumstances over which the parents had considerable influence: infant diet, age at weaning, cleanliness of bed linen, and the general hygienic circumstances that surround the child--to say nothing of less tangible factors in mothering, such as picking up the infant, talking and singing to it, giving it the feeling of being loved in a secure little universe.

Now by the late eighteenth century, parents knew, at least in a sort of abstract way, that letting newborn children stew in their own excrement or feeding them pap from the second month onwards were harmful practices. For the network of medical personnel in Europe had by this time extended sufficiently to put interested mothers within earshot of sensible advice. The point is that these mothers did not care, and that is why their children vanished in the ghastly slaughter of the innocence that was traditional child rearing. Custom and tradition and the frozen emotionality of ancien-regime life gripped with deadly force. When the surge of sentiment shattered this grip, infant mortality plunged and maternal tenderness became part of the world we know so well."77

Shorter's view, then, is that sentiment preceded infant survival than the other way around. This revolution in sentiment occurred in the nineteenth century when "the limitation in family size brought about by birth control probably also served to change the image of the child from that of an unwanted byproduct of sexuality between two not especially wellmatched adults to a loved center for the family unit."78

Another variable which was a factor in the change in the family unit was the evolvement of Darwinism and the theory of evolution. The biblical anthropomorphic concept of God was shattered by Darwinism and this had to be threatening to fundamentalist religious thinking.

Aside from Darwinism, there was also the first feminist revolution whose goal was to allow women to achieve political power. The first organized group aimed exclusively at women's rights met at Seneca Falls, New York on July 19-20,1848. The First Women's Rights Convention took place in the Wesleyan Chapter, a site now occupied by a laundromat.79

Three hundred people--almost all women--attended the convention. Out of that meeting came a Declaration of Sentiments, and several resolutions. Excerpts from these documents give the flavor of the sentiments: "The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object to the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.... He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.... He has made her, if married, in the eyes of the law, civilly dead.... He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration.... He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.... He has endeavored in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life .... 80

Clearly, the tenor of the remarks goes far beyond the call for the vote, although that was perhaps the most clear cut of the resolutions and the one that led to the simplest of solution; hence, eventually, all the other demands became condensed into this one as the most practically realizable goal.


Virtually all human cultures have had some sort of religion, some coherent creative narrative to consolidate and counter balance human terrors, desires, limitations and inclinations. Generally those religions are populated by a mix of animal and humanoid gods, some male, some female, some bi-sexual.81

Yet as the feminist scholar Gerda Lerner convincingly shows the ascendance of patriarchy is paralleled by a shift in the balance of power among the resident deities. In her book, The Creation of Patriarchy, she writes that "the development of strong kingships and of archaic states brings changes in religious beliefs and symbols. The observable pattern is first, the demotion of the Mother-Goddess figure and the ascendance and later dominance of her male consort/son; then his merging with a storm-god into a male creator-god, who heads the pantheon of gods and goddesses. Wherever such changes occur, the power of creation and fertility is transferred from the Goddess to the God."82

According to Natalie Angier, "under monotheism, patriarchy obtained full grandeur. For women, the world had been bureaucratized.... The old sources of strength were gone: the ballast of nearby blood relations, the deed to one's body, and the reflection of the female self on larger stages--the mortal stage of the polis and the immortal stage of the gods.... A man was no longer a mate; a man was air ...the strategic sorority was swept aside."83

But she goes on to state that "women are not and never have been innocents. Many have fed and accelerated their loss of autonomy. They have complied with customs that controlled female sexuality, such as infibulation, purdah, and claustration, and they have insisted that their daughters comply as well. They may even be the active agents of such customs."84

Norman Mailer, in an interview in the book, On God: An Uncommon Conversation, made a rather interesting comment which transcends the misogyny of fundamentalist thinking and behavior that is related to child abuse or specifically mother boy abuse, since Eve convinced Adam to bite the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Mailer states that "the fundamentalists...feel the same fears that existential thinkers suffers--that the whole thing can come to an end. Fundamentalists look to alleviate that fear by way of what I would call their desperate belief that it's 'God's will'--and at the end they will be transported to Heaven.

Well, once again, this supposes that God is All-Good and All-Powerful and will carry the righteous up there. Of course, that offers nothing to the idiocies of human histories, particularly that the more we develop as humans, the worse we are able to treat one another. Why? Because we now have the power to destroy one another at higher, more unfeeling levels. This can be epitomized again and again by repeating the familiar example I take from the concentration camps--telling poor wretches that they are going to have a shower to get rid of lice, and instead they die with a curse in their hearts.

That's more hideous in a certain sense than dropping a bomb on 100,000 people--on people you know nothing about. And yet, you have Fundmentalists carrying on about abortion, speaking of it as thwarting God's will. What does it have to do with God's will if you kill 1,000 people in one minute with gas? Or destroy hundreds of thousands in an instant of atomic man made lightning from the sky? What does that do to God's will?85

Finally, I would like to close on a hopeful note. Subsequent to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a courageous woman but a flawed politician who promised to bring real democracy to Pakistan, a country in which Islamic Fundamentalists appear to be pervasive, I saw in the media grown men cry. This in itself may indicate potential change and/or potential hope.

Allan S. Mohl, LCSW, PhD., is a psychotherapist in private practice in Dobbs Ferry, NY. He is a member of various professional organizations such as The International Psychohistorical Association, The National Association of Social Workers, The New York State Society of Clinical Social Workers, and the New York Academy of Science. Dr. Mohl has been nationally recognized for his dedication, excellence and leadership in all aspects of psychotherapy and social work. His specialty is marriage, individual and family counseling. This paper was presented at the 31st Annual IPA Convention at Fordham University at Lincoln Center and appeared in the Spring, 2009 issue of, The Journal of Psychohistory .


  1. Lloyd deMause, "The Psychology and Neurobiology of Violence" The Journal of Psychohistory Vol. 35, No. 2; Fall 2007, p. 122.
  2. Joseph C. Rheingold, The Mother, Anxiety, and Death: Catastrophic Death Complex, Boston:Little, Brown and Company 1967, p. 14
  3. Ibid. p. 15
  4. Riane Eisler, The Chalice and The Blade: Our History Our Future San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1987, p. 91
  5. Ibid. p.91
  6. Ibid. p. 91
  7. Ibid. p. 91
  8. Ibid. p. 92
  9. E. O. James, The Cult of The Mother Goddess. London: Thames and Hudson, 1959, p. 89
  10. Ruby Rohrlich-Leavitt, "Woman in Transition: Crete and Sumer", in Becoming Visible, Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz, Eds. Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1977, p. 55
  11. Raphael Fatal, The Hebrew Goddess, New York: Avon. 1978, pp. 12-13
  12. Ibid., pp. 48-50
  13. Carol Christ, "Heretics and Outsiders: The Struggle Over Female Power in Western Religion," Soundings 61 (Fall '78), pp. 260-280
  14. Op Cit. p. 94
  15. S. L. MacGregor Mathers, "The Kabbalah Unveiled". London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957, discussed in June Sings, Androgyny, New York: Anchor Books, p. 84
  16. Op Cit. p. 94
  17. Robert Briffault, The Mothers New York: Johnson Reprint, 1969. p. 95
  18. Ibid. p. 95
  19. See, e.g., Numbers 31:18.
  20. Exodus 12:7
  21. Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Greenwich, CT.: Faucet Publications, Inc. 1975, p. 206
  22. Genesis 1:27.
  23. Shirley Weitz, Sex Roles: Biological, Psychological, and Social Foundations, New York: Oxford University Press, 1977, p.176
  24. Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, New York: Basic Books, 1987, p. 204
  25. Genesis 2:21-24
  26. Op Cit. p. 204
  27. Ibid. p. 205
  28. Ibid. p. 205
  29. Ibid. p. 205
  30. Sarah Pomeroy. Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity, Schocken, New York, 1975, p. 8
  31. M. Luther. "The Natural Place of Women" in Verene, D. P., Ed.: Sexual Love and Western Morality. New York: Harper and Row, 1972, pp. 134-135
  32. Op Cit. p. 178
  33. Ibid. p. 178
  34. Op Cit. p. 179
  35. J. Campbell. The Hero with A Thousand Faces. New York: Meridian, 1956
  36. Otto Rank. The Myth of The Birth of The Hero, Trans. F. Robbins and S.E. Jellife, New York: Brunner, 1952, p. 61
  37. Ibid. p. 61
  38. R.O. Hayes. "Female Genital Mutilation, Fertility Control, Women's Roles, and the Patrilineage in Modern Sudan: A Functional Analysis" American Ethnologist 2 (4) (1975) : pp. 617-633
  39. Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975.
  40. Walter Laquer, No End to War: Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century, New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc. 2003, pp. 30-31
  41. Ibid. p. 30
  42. Ibid. p. 30
  43. Muhammed Ghazali. Our Beginning in Wisdom (Washington DC: American Council of Learned Societies, 1953, pp. 30-31
  44. Dilip, Hiro. Holy Wars: The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1989, p. 123
  45. Ibid. p. 123
  46. Ibid. p. 124
  47. Op Cit. p. 39
  48. Mona Al Munajjed, Women in Saudi Arabia Today. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997, p. 45
  49. Jan Goodwin, Price of Honor: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World. Boston: Little. Brown, 1994, p. 43
  50. Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, Prisoners of Ritual: An Oddysey into Female Genital Circumcision in Africa, New York: Harrington Park Press, 1989, pp. 38-39.
  51. Ibid. p. 81
  52. Eleanor Abdella Doumato, Getting God's Ear: Women, Islam and Healing in Saudi Arabia and The Gulf, New York: Columbia University Press, 2000, pp. 23, 85; Peter Parkes, "Kalasha Domestic Society" in Hastings Donnan and Frits Selier, Eds., Family and Gender in Pakistan: Domestic Organization in a Muslim Society. New Delhi: Hindustan Publishing Corp., 1997, p. 46; Jan Goodwin, Price of Honor, p. 52
  53. Muhammed M. Haj-Yahia and Safa Tarnish, "The Rates of Child Sexual Abuse and Its Psychological Consequences as Revealed by a Study Among Palestinian University Students." Child Abuse and Neglect 25, (2001): 1303-1327, The results of which must be compared to comparable written responses for other areas, with allowance given for the extreme reluctance to reveal abuse that may put their lives in serious danger (p.1305); for problems of interpretation of sexual abuse figures, see Lloyd deMause, "Universality of Incest". The Journal of Psychohistory, 19 (1991). Pp. 123-165. Also on w (in full)
  54. Deboral Ellis, Women of the Afghan War. London: Praeger, 2000 p. 141. 55.
  55. "Women's Woes", The Economist, August 14, 1999, p. 32.
  56. MSNBC October 4, 2001.
  57. Lloyd deMause, " The Evolution of Child Rearing" The Journal of Psychohistory 28(2001): 362-451.
  58. Op Cit, p. 164.
  59. Ibid. p.164-165.
  60. E. Goody, "Legitimate and Illegitimate Aggression in a West African State", pp.242-3. in M. Douglas, Ed. Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations, New York: Tavistock, 1970, pp.207-244.
  61. Op Cit. p. 165.
  62. M. Douglas. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, Baltimore: Penguin, 1970, p. 120.
  63. Op Cit, p.165
  64. Ibid. p. 165-6.
  65. Op Cit. p. 103-104.
  66. Op Cit. p. 166.
  67. Ibid. p. 120.
  68. Op Cit. p. 42.
  69. Lloyd deMause, Foundations of Psychohistory, p. 19; Alenka Puhar, "Childhood in Nineteenth Century Slovenia". The Journal of Psychohistory 21(1985): 309.
  70. Richard and Eva Blum, The Dangerous Hour: The Law of Crisis and Mystery in Rural Greece. London:Chatto and Windus, 1970, p. 55.
  71. Lawrence E. Stager and Samuel R.Wolff, "Child Sacrifice at Carthage: Religious Rite or Population Control?" Biblical Archeological Review, January 1984, pp 31-46.
  72. H. Abt-Garrison, The History of Pediatrics, Philadelphia;W.B. Saunders Co., 1965, p. 29.
  73. Hyam Maccoby, The Sacred Executioner: Human Sacrifice and The Legacy of Guilt. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1982.
  74. Wolfgang Lederer, The Fear of Women, New York: Grune and Stratton, 1968, p. 126; John Day, Molech: A God of Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1989; Lloyd deMause, "The History of Child Assault". The Journal of Psychohistory 18(1990):3-29.
  75. Op. Cit. pp. 6-7
  76. E. Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family, New York: Basic Books, 1975, p.168.
  77. Ibid. p. 203-4.
  78. Ibid. p. 204.
  79. L. Sherrs and J. Kazickas, The American Women' s Gazeteer, New York: Bantam Books, 1976, p. 175.
  80. J. Papachriston, Women Together: A History in Documents of the Women's Movement in the United States, New York: Knopf, 1976, p. 3.
  81. Natalie Angier, Woman: An Intimate Geography, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999, p. 281.
  82. Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, 39.
  83. Op Cit. pp. 282.
  84. Ibid. p. 283.
  85. Norman Mailer with Michael Lennon, On God: An Uncommon Conversation, New York: Random House, 2007 p. 72-73.
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