The differences between our two versions [of the creation account in Genesis] are so pronounced that by now some readers may be inclined to conclude that what I have proposed as a complementary relationship is in fact a contradictory one. If, however, we can escape the modern provincialism of assuming that ancient writers must be simple because they are ancient, it may be possible to see that the Genesis author chose to combine these two versions of creation precisely because he understood that his subject was essentially contradictory, essentially resistant to consistent linear formulation, and that this was his way of giving it the most adequate literary expression. Let me explain this first in the notorious contradiction about the creation of woman, and then go on to comment briefly on the larger cosmogonic issues.
It may make no logical sense to have Eve created after Adam and inferior to him when we have already been told that she was created at the same time and in the same manner as he, but it makes perfect sense as an account of the contradictory facts of woman's role in the poet-edenic scheme of things. On the one hand, the writer is a member of a patriarchal society in which women have more limited legal privileges and institutional functions than do men, and where social convention clearly invites one to see woman as subsidary to man, her proper place, in the Psalmist's words, as a "fruitful vine in the corner of your house." Given such social facts and such entrenched attitudes, the story of Eve's being made from an unneeded rib of Adam's is a proper account of origins. On the other hand, our writer -- one does not readily think of him as a bachelor -- surely had a fund of personal observation to draw on which could lead him to conclude that woman, contrary to institutional definitions, could be a daunting adversary or worthy partner, quite man's equal in a moral or psychological perspective, capable of exerting just as much power as he through her intelligent resourcefulness. If this seems a fanciful inference, one need only recall the resounding evidence of subsequent biblical narrative, which includes a remarkable gallery of women -- Rebekah, Tamar, Deborah, Ruth -- who are not content with a vegetative existence in the corner of the house but, when thwarted by the male world or when they find it lacking in moral insight or practical initiative, do not hesitate to take their destiny, or the nation's, into their own hands. In light of this extra-institutional awareness of woman's standing, the proper account of origins is a simultaneous creation of both sexes, in which man and woman are different aspects of the same divine image. "In the image of God He created him. Male and female He created them" (Gen. 1:227). The decision to place in sequence two ostensibly contradictory accounts of the same event is an approximate narrative equivalent to the technique of post-Cubist painting which gives us, for example, juxtaposed or superimposed, a profile and a frontal perspective of the same face. The ordinary eye could never see these two at once, but it is the painter's prerogative to represent them as a simultaneous perception within the visual frame of his painting, whether merely to explore the formal relations between the two views or to provide an encompassing representation of his subject. Analogously, the Hebrew writer takes advantage of the composite nature of his art to give us a tension of views that will govern most of the biblical stories -- first, woman as man's equal sharer in dominion, standing exactly in the same relation to God as he; then, woman as man's subservient helpmate, whose weakness and blandishments will bring such woe into the world.
--Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, pages 145-46
The quotation above is fascinating, especially as it makes exactly some of the same points as does Shawna R. B. Atteberry's new self-published e-book, What You Didn't Learn in Sunday School, Women Who Didn't Sit Down and Shut Up, reviewed here.
Alter has his readers "recall the resounding evidence of subsequent biblical narrative, which includes a remarkable gallery of women -- Rebekah, Tamar, Deborah, Ruth -- who are not content with a vegetative existence in the corner of the house but, when thwarted by the male world or when they find it lacking in moral insight or practical initiative, do not hesitate to take their destiny, or the nation's, into their own hands." Atteberry has her readers do the same.
The quotation above is also fascinating because it gets to the literary that resists Western, Aristotelian thinking. In the first place, the writer of Genesis clearly values females as equals to males -- whereas Aristotle by his logic (his tightly-boxed up "objectivity") must conclude that females are merely inferior to males, are botched beings of human and of animal species. In the second place, the literary style of the writer of Genesis defies how Aristotle wanted his male-only Greek-only elite-only students to write.
Michelle Baliff, not a male, not a Greek, not a writer like Aristotle but more like the writer of Genesis, can better help us remember, as Robert Alter does too. She and the writer of Genesis, as Robert Alter reads him, helps us remember history in relation to "a remarkable gallery of women." Proper writing doesn't have to abstract out the women and it doesn't need to make, in some legislative or scientific vacuum, disparaging proclamations about the lack of females or the need to contain their speech, their writing, or their stories, which intersect with ours, whoever we are. Thus, when focusing on histories of men and of women, Baliff recalls, with some protest agains Aristotle, the following:
According to Aristotle’s aesthetics, a narrative must be arranged according to some organizing principle.... Aristotle also offers us the classificatory system of binaries to help us order our stories, to order our experiences, to order ourselves.... But perhaps Woman can (un)speak in the unthought, not-yet-thought, non-spaces produced by alternative paradigms, by new idioms, by paralogical and paratactical and, thus, illegitimate discourses. What... if our narrative had no syllogistic, metonymic, linear or triangular structure? .... What if Truth were a Woman... what then? Cixous replies, Then all stories would have to be told differently....
--"Re/Dressing Histories; Or, On Re/Covering Figures Who Have Been Laid Bare by Our Gaze," (Rhetoric Society Quarterly, v22 n1 p91-98)