When Will the US Have Its Own Cleopatra?


Cleopatra, the most well-known but not the first female pharaoh, ruled Egypt 2000 years ago. The first woman ruler of Egypt may have been Sobekneferu who ruled 1800 years before Cleopatra. Moving closer to the present, there have been 59 countries who have had women leaders in the past fifty years according to a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum. Many of these countries have had multiple female heads of state. The diversity in countries on this list is impressive including Iceland, Israel, Burundi, Senegal and China. Ranked by the number of years served by a female leader, the top ten include five countries who share a common heritage of Western Civilization like the United States. Even more importantly, these five countries received the highest ranking on the scale indicating freedom for its citizens produced by Freedom House. (Having a female dictator is not something to strive for and probably not a pharaoh either…) These five countries which rank highest in terms of freedom and are similar to the culture of the United States share something else in common. They are significantly less religious than the United States. The US is home to more Christians than any other country in the world. Thus, one might well ask, “Was religion a major factor in the rejection of Hillary Clinton?”

The easy answer to this is “Why of course religion was a major factor in the election!” Early analysis by the Pew Research Center shows a stark contrast comparing those Americans who identify as “religiously unaffiliated” who supported Clinton with 68% of their vote compared to 26% for Trump and white, born-again evangelical Christians who supported Trump with 81% of their vote with only 16% for Clinton. These results are even more interesting given that the candidate the religious chose was the thrice-married Trump whose misogynistic tendencies were revealed throughout the campaign. Why didn’t more women break from the ranks of their community, whether Republication or evangelical Christian, to support one of their own gender? Why didn’t the issues that Clinton espoused such as support for child-care, equal pay, paid family leave, universal health care, or access to reproductive rights resonate more with them? Why couldn’t they break ranks with their husbands, fathers, and other family members who supported Trump? What truly held them back from pushing the button for the first woman candidate for US president? Perhaps it was the indoctrination that they have heard their wholes lives that told them that women are simply not worthy.

As opposed to the practices of Cleopatra’s age where there existed a pantheon of gods and goddesses, Judaism and subsequently Christianity worship only one god and he is a male. From the earliest verses of Genesis, women appear as inferior in the narrative. All the animals and the human male are created first. The first woman is only created because Adam didn’t want one of the animals as his “helpmate.” Adam is given “dominion” over the animals and Eve as if she was just another piece of property. And it doesn’t take long for her to commit the grievous sin of wanting to know more by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Early Christian leaders such as St. Augustine of Hippo played upon this narrative for all it was worth by creating the concept of “original sin.” He then announced that carnal lust was the cause of original sin and laid that blame at the feet of women

Throughout the Old Testament women are portrayed as unclean, dirty, and unworthy. They are not permitted to enter the Temple while they are menstruating, they are not allowed to be priests, a practice which still endures today in most Christian denominations including the largest one, the Catholic Church. The soldiers fighting in battles at the direction of this male god are allowed to take women as booty in their victories, provided they wait a month to be sure that they are not pregnant by another man. Women are considered simply the property of man who may do with them as he wishes. While God spares Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac, he lets Jephthah sacrifice his virgin daughter to God in exchange for Jephthah’s victory over the Ammonites. The New Testament is hardly better with the admonition that women are to submit to their husbands, are not allowed to teach and must stay silent in the church. Like St. Augustine, other early church leaders only expanded this view of woman as something inferior. Tertullian, often called the father of Latin Christianity, stated that women are the “devil’s gateway.” Martin Luther, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, goes even further. He eliminates any veneration of women, including the Virgin Mary and any female saint by breaking with the Catholic Church. He states that if women die in childbirth, that is fine because “that is what they are there for.”

Marlene Winnell in her book, “Leaving the Faith,” discusses at length the pervasive feelings of shame, guilt, and inadequacy that are drilled into children raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home. Obedience to the father is paramount with the mother often standing by while the child is physically punished. She states “In the fundamentalist system, the self must be rejected because it is essentially bad and cannot be trusted.” How can any woman raised in this type of setting have the autonomy to go against everything she is taught and told to believe? Can a woman who prays every night to one of the male members of the trinity and hears every week a male pastor, priest, or rabbi expounding on the Bible be expected to walk into the voting booth and say, “Yes, I’m voting for a woman leader.” Yes, some did. But they had to overcome the constant barrage of religion’s teachings that woman is the lesser of man.

Currently, there is no psychological study that has been conducted that would prove this thesis. But wouldn’t it be interesting if one were undertaken? Select women from the following: a variety of Christian and Jewish faiths, unaffiliated but still religious, agnostics, and atheists. Ask each of them if they would support a woman as president at the outset, perhaps even in a group setting. Then seek their private responses to choices between women and men in a variety of settings of leadership to see which gender they would choose more often. I would venture to guess that there would be a large gap between the responses from the first and last groups mentioned and a wide difference between the response to the first question and the others in the study from the religious group. Religious women may be able to articulate their support for a woman president, but their psychological bias may prevent them from actually voting for one

The United States may indeed elect a woman president in the upcoming decades. But if it does it will be in spite of the pervasive role that religion plays in the lives of its adherents that promote that women are simply not the equal of men.

Karen L. Garst

The Faithless Feminist


About the Author Karen Garst