(This is an excerpt from the full article)
Women and Christian FundamentalismThe fact is that the myth [biblical creation story] has projected a malignant image of the male-female relationship and of the “nature” of women that is still deeply imbedded in the modern psyche. — Mary Daly (45)
The Origins of Woman as Enemy
As a girl growing up within the confines of biblical literalist dogma, I was unaware on a conscious level that this particular fundamentalist interpretation of the bible was in complete support of the deep-rooted and enduring white man’s agenda. I also had no idea how profoundly this patriarchal dominance would affect my life or how it had affected the generations of women who came before me.
This ancient method of suppressing women’s power has its roots in the Judeo-Christian and Muslim religious traditions. The story of Adam and Eve in chapter two and three of the book of Genesis is generally believed to be the “literal” beginning of the earth, as we know it. There is a very similar corresponding genesis story found in the Koran as well. In the biblical story, God has finished designing the world, all the species of animals, and Adam in six days. He brings all the animals to Adam to name and should have realized that he forgot to make the most important constituent—woman. For how else would humanity continue without the power of the woman’s body to bring new life into the world? This obvious power is not named in the Genesis story at all; rather the woman’s position is diminished. Joseph Campbell postulates that it was fear and a jealousy of this feminine power that was at the root of the plan to usurp it. Campbell writes that before these patriarchal religions took over, God was worshiped as a woman, a fertility Goddess. Her ability to bring life into the world was revered. Amongst the Canaanites, a people defeated by the Jews and their land taken, the serpent was associated with the Mother Goddess whom they worshipped. Campbell says, “This is the symbol of the mystery of life. The male-god-oriented group rejected it. In other words, there is a historical rejection of the Mother Goddess implied in the story of the Garden of Eden” (55).
The Jewish patriarchs removed the female goddesses from their worshiped status and replaced them with one male God—Elohim or Yahweh– thereby taking the reverence for women out of the cultural tradition. In their version of Genesis, Eve is given a second-class creation, which set the stage for a long-term second-class status. Instead of God realizing his critical error in not creating a female to propagate the human species, God only understands that poor Adam doesn’t have “a help mate for him—a companion, someone to satisfy his needs” (Gen. 2:18). Kimberly Blaker, in her article “Eternal Subservience,” says,
Someone to satisfy needs is primarily what patriarchy is about. Patriarchal men are in search of the woman who can offer companionship and unquestioning obedience. They want a woman to serve as nanny, housekeeper, and cook. All the while, these men are building their own potential in the workforce and business world. What will be a wife’s compensation? Food, clothing and a roof over her head –so long as she never leaves this confined life. As these men well know, once she accepts this lifestyle, she becomes trapped as she is prevented from doing anything that could eventually lead to independence. (86-87)
So, instead of forming Eve from the soil as he did Adam, the patriarchs write that God causes Adam to fall asleep, takes one of his ribs, and makes Eve out of it. In chapter three, entitled “The Fall of Man” in the New International Version Study Bible, Adam blames Eve for his fall, saying she made him eat the forbidden fruit. God then curses Eve saying, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). And here we find the anti-climactic beginning to a deeply ingrained, enduring tradition to subjugate women.
This verse was used often in the fundamentalist church of my youth as “proof” that women should not be pastors, theologians, elders, ushers, or in any way equal with their husbands. In addition, verses from the New Testament were used as well: “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (1 Cor. 11:7-11).
The realm of creation has always been the woman’s domain. It is her round belly that is the life-giving microcosm, just as mother earth is the macrocosm that enables us to live by giving us the necessities we can’t live without: food, air, and water. But here we find that man is appropriating creation as his jurisdiction. No longer does man come out of a woman’s body, but suddenly, woman is born out of a man. Half the human race is now transformed into sub-humans, and only men are said to be in the image of God. God is hailed as the Giver of Life, so wouldn’t it logically follow that woman’s capacity to incubate a new life makes her more like God than her male counterpart? Perhaps it was this power that man feared and envied and, as a result, assumed authority over it.
Bishop John Shelby Spong, best-selling author of Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, attempts in his latest book, The Sins of Scripture, to explicate this fear. He acknowledges that the “pro-male, anti-female bias” is universal and not just limited to the Judeo-Christian religions. He says, “This realization points us, I believe, to the fact that there is something deep in the human psyche that fuels an anti-female bias. If it is not a human phenomenon, it is at least present in the depths of the male psyche, and since prejudice is always a reaction to fear, it must, therefore, be assumed that men’s hostility toward women expresses a primal threat that needs to be addressed” (71). Spong quotes from each of the major religions to illustrate his point.
If a Buddhist is born a woman, it is considered bad karma. Buddhists are instructed to pray: “ I pray that I may be reborn as a male in a future existence.”
Jewish men are taught to pray: “Blessed be the God who has not created me a heathen, a slave or a woman.” The Talmud advises: “It would be better to burn the words of Torah than to entrust them to a woman.”
The Koran states that a woman is considered “half a man” and that “forgetfulness overcomes the woman. They are inherently weaker in rational judgment.”
From the sacred texts of the Hindus: “It is the highest duty of a woman to immolate herself after her husband’s death…. Women are to be barred from being competent students of the Vedas.” From the Hindu Laws: “In childhood a female is subject to her father. In youth a female is subject to her husband. When her lord is dead, she shall be subject to her sons. A woman must never be independent.” (72)
Never to be independent, half a man, forbidden to be students—all these words evoke images of African American slavery in America, the KKK, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and the many attempts by men throughout history to make the “other” into his slave or obstruct her from actively taking place in male-dominated society. By turning women into helpmates, secretaries, assistants, subordinates, slaves, gofers, girl Fridays, or peons, men are effectively cutting the competition in half and insuring that the future of their society will continue to be owned and operated only by men. By imbedding sexism into religion and therefore into the culture, men guaranteed that future generations would be raised to believe that women are inferior and must not be allowed to have power. We only have to look at our history to know that this is true.
In America during this last century, there have been –and still are– many men who acknowledge this prejudice and have worked with women to establish equality and fight the newly perceived injustices. However, it is the fundamentalists of all religions who are currently striving to retract women’s freedoms and ensure that women never receive more of the civil rights still to be granted. The Genesis story that they cling to was carefully crafted to establish male gods, discredit female ones, and implant sexism–a guaranteed method for misogyny to take root in three major religions and countless cultures worldwide. The introduction to the NIV Study Bible estimates that the book of Genesis was written between 1446-1406 BC. The fact that it is still being used 3500 years later to subjugate women is more than a little unsettling.
Bishop Spong says:
There is no debate about the fact that this hostility is real. There is also no doubt that this hostility has been justified as a virtue in religious circles. It has been claimed over the centuries that the all-powerful God of the universe, who was (and is) predominantly male, at least in the religions of the Western world, meant for life to be organized in this male-dominant way. If an attitude finds expression in every prevailing religious system in the world, and in almost every society, one begins to suspect that this attitude has its roots in something very basic in our humanity. Religion incorporates and explains human content far more than it creates human content. (74)
What in man’s nature is reflected in this anti-female bias? Can it be traced to deep insecurities, low self-esteem, and fear? Is it also a thirst for war, domination, and power? The need to subdue, control, and sometimes destroy the perceived rivals or opposition often points to doubt and anxiety that the oppressed people may be equally capable or, in some cases, their strengths may even exceed the abilities of the oppressor. Also it is sometimes related to a denial of one’s own frailty and vulnerability that is in turn projected onto the other and used as justification to despise and mistreat. Spong never directly says what caused men to see women as a “primal threat.” However, he does speculate that excessive aggressiveness had something to do with it. It appears that the nomadic warring tribes cultivated this type of pugnacity in their men. He says that they made:
Weapons [that] were so obviously phallic symbols and they would be developed into more and more overtly phallic forms as the years went by. Guns, rifles and artillery were simply erect rods, which exploded, hurling their payload at their enemies. On psychic levels surely this identification was clear. The analogy of the male organ being thrust into one’s female partner encouraged, I believe, the increasingly hostile male definition of a woman. Some of our slang words for sexual intercourse reveal enormous hostility even today… ‘make,’ ‘screw,’ ‘f—k,’ are not gentle loving words. When males refer to lovemaking as a conquest, both the hostility and the military connections are overt and clear. More than we seem able to recognize, women historically came to be thought of as the enemy of men. (73)