chapter  15
Engaging with Teenage Girls’ Understandings of Religion and Gender
ByJeannine Heynes
Pages 8

The girls were asked to talk about whether or not religious beliefs and practices were approached using the perspectives and experiences of women, and if, (and how) the gender of God was discussed in the RE classroom. The research project allows for a better understanding of the various ways that girls talk about issues of gender and religion and reveals how the discussion of gender can shed light on what is known about girls’ perceptions of religion, as well as how religious discourse can influence girls’ understandings of gender. This study is important because very little is known about how girls think and feel about issues related to religion and gender. For many years feminist theologians and philosophers of religion have argued that religious discourse is fundamentally masculine and sexist. By identifying the ways in which women have been ignored, marginalised and/or devalued through religious beliefs and practices, some feminists (Plaskow 1990; Fiorenza 1992; Gross 1993) argue that there needs to be more women included and celebrated in religion, while others argue that any teaching about religion reinforces gender stereotypes and gender roles (Basow 1992). While the focus of feminist theology has brought attention to the ways in which all major religions are based on male-dominated ways of knowing and teaching, the literature has focused primarily on the influence religion has had on adult women. Rarely has feminist theology listened to the experiences of girls who are RE students, and who are being asked to learn about religions and from religions in school

(Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 2004). Studies in gender and education have shown that what girls learn in school affects how they think about themselves and their positions and capabilities within society. Anita Harris (2004a) reminds us that schools are sites where girls interact with ideas and beliefs about gender, and where stereotypes about femininities can either be challenged, reinforced, or go unnoticed. Because RE is a school subject I argue that we need to know more about what students are learning in RE and the effects of this. Discovering how gender is represented in RE is important because it is linked with the way RE influences girls’ thinking.