"...But because I was born a woman, I could never become an adult. I would always be a minor, my decisions made for me. I would always be a unit in a vast beehive. I might have a decent life, but I would be dependent - always - on someone treating me well. I knew that another kind of life was possible. I had read about it, and now I could see it, smell it in the air around me: the kind of life I had always wanted, with a real education, a real job, a real marriage. I wanted to make my own decisions. I wanted to become a person, an individual, with a life of my own." - Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Photo courtesy of 4WardEver UK

I recently read Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and I must say it is now one of my favorite books. Her story is incredibly touching and inspiring.   Ali is a Somali-born woman who lived a majority of her life as a refugee in bordering countries, and then eventually obtained political asylum in the Netherlands to escape a forced marriage.   She is now a famous feminist and activist.

She wrote the screenplay for Submission, the following short film that I strongly urge you to watch:

This film was so controversial that Theo van Gogh was killed for co-producing it.   Ali herself has also received multiple death threats following the release of the film.

I can understand why many people would find this film offensive; people are often sensitive about their religious beliefs and hold their religion in the highest regard (at least in theory).   I can see why someone would find is disrespectful to mock their religion in this way, especially by showing a naked woman praising Allah.   However, all religious and cultural sensitivities aside, the film is extremely powerful and does an excellent job illustrating a very important point: religion can no longer be used as an excuse to mistreat and oppress women.   Clearly Ali is attacking Islam specifically, but this brings a bigger issue to light about ALL religions.   It is not just Islam that asks their women to be submissive to their fathers, brothers and husbands... But as can be seen from the recent media surrounding Michelle Bachmann's comment about being submissive to her husband, Christianity also asks women to be submissive to men:   “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

Photo courtesy of AeneaStudio

To me, the importance lies less in what various religious books state, and more in what people do with them. If people only used the good teachings from religions, it would not matter as much if religious texts also included oppressive ideas that no one practiced. The problem really lies in how people act, whether they believe in those parts of the texts, and if they use those texts to their advantage to uphold patriarchal values and improper power structures to oppress others around them.   We don't need to attack one another's religions, if at the end of the day we do what is morally right, regardless of what our religious texts preach.

Unfortunately, people often do practice the oppressive parts of their religions and religion is used to keep women “modest,” to prevent them from becoming full and independent individuals, and to keep them under men’s control.   I am not sure if the solution to this is to abandon religion completely, or to reinterpret it (as is done in Islamic feminism), but as Ali clearly demonstrates, action must be taken to stop individuals from using “sacred” texts to oppress half the human race.