by Christine Schenk, NCR
An email arrived in my inbox about two weeks ago with this provocative subject line: “Is religion the biggest problem facing feminism today?” Turns out, a columnist from Sojourners, JamieCalloway-Hanauer, had blogged about Gloria Steinem’s response to Jennifer Aniston at the first ever MAKERS conference held Feb. 10-11 in Los Angeles. Sponsored by PBS and AOL, the conference heard from a veritable who’s who of respected women leaders from Gwen Ifill to EllenDeDeneres to Carol Burnett to, well, Gloria Steinem.
Along with many Catholic women of my generation, I am a big fan of Steinem. She is modest, calm, reasoned, and strong. She leads a movement that is changing the lives of women worldwide for the better. After Aniston asked her “What do you think the biggest problem with feminism today is? Steinem named religion as one of three “biggest problems” after anti-feminism and income disparity: “What we don’t talk about enough is religion. I think that spirituality is one thing. But religion is just politics in the sky. I think we really have to talk about it. Because it gains power from silence.”
While I’m not sure I agree that religion is “just politics in the sky” one can easily see why Steinem might believe it. Look at the political flak American sisters experienced from church leaders for supporting expanded access to healthcare for low income people. U.S. bishops opposed the Affordable Care Act because of the quintessentially “women’s issue” of access to family planning. Would anyone deny that the “politics of religion” influenced this struggle? Not me. And then the sisters were criticized for being “radical feminists” (whatever that is) to boot…