Taoism offers Chinese women a spiritually equal role

By Brooke Berard

A legacy of oppressive orthodoxy, restricted sexuality, inhumane rituals and indifference to feminine power surrounds many of the world’s main religions. Doctrines may vary, but patriarchy appears to be the dominant religion for most of recent history.

Hidden in misunderstanding and obscurity, the religion and philosophy of Taoism offers a refreshing change from the more traditional views of women. Taoism originated in ancient China, and stemmed from shamanistic practices, ritual and myth. It was officially founded by the man Lao Tzu in the sixth century B.C.E.

Taoists believe that happiness and peaceful coexistence can be achieved by following what they call The Tao, also known as The Way. The Tao is a concept that cannot be fully understood; it is the mysterious way of nature that is inherently female, acting as a mother to all things. The fundamental basis of this religion is built upon the supreme power of the female for creation and enlightened understanding. Therefore, it is no surprise that women are treated with reverence and respect.

In most religions, the female is portrayed as the temptress, ensnaring the hearts of men. This is not true in Taoism. Sex is used as a powerful force to better understand The Tao, as well as for prolonging life. It is not an act tied with fear or guilt, but is used for spiritual transcendence. There are even texts explicitly detailing how to completely satisfy a women. The female body is seen as beautiful, not something to be embarrassed by.

“The Golden Lotus” and “The Vermilion Gate” are loving terms given to female genitalia. Even menstruation (considered a polluting act in most religions) is viewed positively. Menstrual blood is the essence of a woman, something she should nurture to increase her life span.

In Taoism, women could become ordained. They were equal with men for all ranks but the highest of Divine Lord. Goddesses populated the Taoist pantheon, including the well-worshipped Queen Mother of the West, who could grant immortality.

The development of this unique religion in the heart of patriarchal China is amazing. Unfortunately, Taoism was never widespread. Like women, Taoism was viewed with suspicion and given little credit in Chinese histories. As Confucianism grabbed hold through the centuries, its more conservative values took away much of the sexual freedom experienced by Taoist women.

Taoism offers women positive body images and encourages them to see themselves as an important part of the cosmos. Ages ago, this religion provided the groundwork for promoting the status of women. Sadly, this is a lesson that still remains unlearned in our modern world.

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