Women in Fundamentalism
Updated: Jan 15
Modesty, Marriage, and Motherhood
By Maxine L. Margolis, University of Florida
Printed by Rowman & Littlefield
Fundamentalism is a gendered ideology.
To quote Andrea Moore-Emmett (as quoted in this book on page 1) “There is a single profile in all fundamentalism. All are patriarchal, anti-feminist, anti-pluralistic and anti-liberal, with a belief that God is male and that the man in the family is the ultimate authority.”
Maxine Margolis is a researcher from University of Florida, who has written several books on the role of women and became interested in the way women were treated in fundamentalist communities.
Her book is an excellent resource to understand the ways Fundamentalist Groups control women, and how this control is central to their ideology and goes to the core of their cultures and behaviours.
This book examines fundamentalism and women across 3 different fundamentalist groups – covering a Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalist group. This is useful to see similarities across the 3 faith groups.
The 3 groups examined are: the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also called FLDS for short) the Satmar Hasidim Jewish community and Pushtun Fundamentalist Islamic community.
The belief systems and the role of women in these groups is explored in Margolis’ text as follows:
1. Who are they and what do they believe and what are their similarities?
2. Modesty and the control of women’s appearance
3. Marriage patterns and use of marriage to control women
4. Fertility and child rearing as a control mechanism of women (and of primary importance to a woman’s identity)
5. What might be next – are fundamentalist groups getting more extreme?
Key takeaways in a Truth / 2x2 context:
As my lived experience demonstrated to me, it is impossible to authentically live a feminist life inside The Truth. The ideology simply doesn’t lend itself to feminist principles – the lack of control for women over education, career choices and appearance simply can’t be reconciled with feminist ideology.
The Truth is one of many fundamentalist groups, with similar beliefs around the role of women. It is useful to consider the treatment of women, the way women are spoken of, treated and not given key leadership responsibilities when considering if The Truth is an ideology which suits you.
In my experience, it is men who have the most to gain from The Truth – having access to power and control mechanisms (such as those over their wife and children) granted by Truth leaders and power structures such as “Heading’ meetings, being ‘Head’ Workers.
The Truth has a culture of controlling women and children. Some examples of the control and the gendered nature is clothing and hair. Women are expected to dress in a particular style and wear their hair in a particular style. Men are expected to dress ‘conservatively’ however do not stand out in the manner women do. Truth culture favours men and boys, and women who do not have boys are often looked upon as ‘unfortunate’.
Children are controlled in their access to outside ‘influences’ such as access to media such as TV, Radio and internet. While some access may be granted secretly – children are discouraged from critical thinking and open dialogue which may lead to questioning the belief and cultural system. Children’s interaction with ‘non truth’ contacts is limited, which is also a form of control. Keeping children from sport, music, dancing and extracurricular activities tightly controls the views they can hold of the world and of people outside The Truth.
These controlling behaviours are mirrored in other fundamentalist communities discussed in Margolis’ book. It is useful to consider why and how women are used in these groups to uphold masculine power structures.