Feminists who study women and the law confront a system which re- flects the values and interests of patriarchy. Carol Smart, in discussing the power of law to disqualify women’s experience and concerns, argues that there is a “congruence between law and what might be called a ‘masculine culture,’ and that in taking on law, feminism is taking on a great deal more as well.” Since a whole constellation of forces is at work in the establish- ment and reinforcement of patriarchy, feminists must look beyond the letter of the law and examine the cultural, social, religious, and economic forces behind women’s oppression. To this end, we will consider the role of reli- gion as one of these forces, because we cannot ignore religion and still hope to understand the patriarchal legal framework in which women and men operate.
The patriarchal components of most historic religions5 have largely been revealed. The result, at first glance, seems to be a clash between religion and feminism. The feminist must ask, whose purpose and goals does patriarchal religion serve? Why participate in a religion whose symbols only amplify what is already destructive for women and men? As a result, many femi- nists reject their religious traditions, concluding that they are beyond de- construction, reconstruction, and transformation. But many women, whose backgrounds represent a variety of religious heritages, have instead struggled to reconcile their identities as feminists and as members of a particular religious group.