Oh, Nicholas Kristof, now you've gone and done it. You've said aloud, and in the Sunday Op-Ed pages of the nation's biggest newspaper what anyone who has looked at religion objectively has long known--that religion is used as a tool to oppress women.
Notice what Kristof (and I) didn't say. We didn't say that religion oppresses women, because that removes the agency from the oppressors. It's a tool oppressors use to justify what they were going to do anyway; instead of oppressors having to acknowledge that they think women aren't as valuable as men, they use their holy writings (and interpretations of them) to say "God thinks women aren't as valuable as men, and we have to agree with God."
But Kristof isn't going to catch hell because he said anything inaccurate. He's going to catch hell because he said it at all. Those who defend the oppressive system will accuse Kristof of being intolerant of religion and will completely ignore the latter part of his article where he notes that some churches are trying to empower women. Others will accuse Kristof of painting with too wide a brush, as though thousands of years of history filled with example after example of male-dominated power structures oppressing women in the name of whichever god or gods are dominant in that area don't warrant a brush the width of I-95.
It's good that there are some religious groups which are trying to change the way women are treated and provide them with greater power. I applaud all efforts in that vein, even if I think the structures these groups are working within are hopelessly compromised. Obviously, I think a better way to do it is to remove god(s) from the equation, if only because it's clear that the god(s) created by the current dominant religious structures are misogynist. The holy writings of these religions are clearly opposed to equality between the genders--the best you get is when there are calls to limit the abusive treatment of women. Religious groups which argue for gender equality have to start from the premise that the holy writings their religion is based on are faulty, which immediately makes both doubters and fundamentalists wonder why they accept any of it as holy writ.
And both groups have a point. As a doubter, I think that most of the positive things one can get from religion are available from outside--the friendship and fellowship, the emotional support, the acceptance and the drive to make this world a better place aren't limited to religious groups. When I was a fundamentalist, I had an all-or-nothing attitude toward the Bible, though I'm still not clear on how we finessed the whole slavery thing, and so people who played the "some of the Bible is symbolic" card in an argument immediately lost any credence I'd given them.
Which isn't to say that all atheists are champions of gender-equality--we've got our share of misogynists as well. We just don't have a god to blame that misogyny on.