Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sexism in the Bibliosphere

There are new "comments" guidelines over at Better Bibles Blog, some of which I've already transgressed and have been corrected for.  So if you find me writing about sexism in the bibliosphere, it won't be over there.  It'll be here.  So here goes:

When "past author" David Ker posts at BBB on an online bible version and notes aggregator, then "past author" Suzanne McCarthy makes this comment:
I have used the [tool] extensively on this blog. . . . I have never acknowledged that I use it. . . . The main reason is because of this note,

The idea of childbearing, then, is a metonymy of part for the whole that encompasses the woman’s submission again to the leadership of the man, though it has no specific soteriological import (but it certainly would have to do with the outworking of redemption).

One of my goals in leaving the bibliosphere is to not have to interact with ideas of this sort again. I think women should be protected from this kind of thinking.
I am just posting here to agree that women should be protected from this kind of thinking. But I also want to say that men too should be protected from this kind of unmarked sexist thinking. It is a tragedy that the bibliosphere is full of men and women with such male dominant ideas. The idea of childbearing is an idea as godly as and as humanist as any of us will have, and yet it is the excuse for the bigotry that feminists -- like Mary (all the Marys and Miriams of the bible) and Jesus too -- work against.  And the reality of childbearing ought to prompt us, each one, into talking with our own mothers today, in profound gratitude, whether we are thinking men or thinking women.


PS some odd notes:

1) David Ker left the blogosphere "until next year" (i.e., 2009), only to return to his popular blogLingamish after the election last week to post on Why American Christians look so stupid and what you can do about it. 

2) Suzanne McCarthy, at Suzanne's Bookshelf, announced leaving the blogosphere when she said: "Like many others, I have run out of energy for blogging for a while." And yet, she's continued to post nearly every day since, making several of us happy I'm quite sure.

3) BBB doesn't have Ker or McCarthy anymore as anything more than "past authors," but the blog does have a new look and those new guidelines:
The Blog posts and comments should focus on Bible translation issues, not theology, ideology, or personalities. Practice healthy communication: (1) Support claims with evidence. (2) Do not question the intelligence, spirituality, beliefs, or motives of anyone, including Bible translation teams or those who post or comment on this blog. (3) Do not tell someone what they believe; rather, ask them if they believe something. (4) Comments should relate directly to post content. Comments which do not follow these guidelines may be deleted or sent back to the commenter for revision.
It will be interesting to see how long McCarthy's comment stays up as originally posted. When I started my comment in reply to hers over there, I immediately remembered the difficulty I'd had in trying to adjust to the new rules and the enforcement of the rules. That's one of the main reasons, here, for this post.


Jane said...

Thanks for this JK
I too was sad to see DAvid and Suzanne leaving BBB - we'll have to see how things go there without them. I shall miss Suzanne's engaged input. But Wordpress is good - I've just started using it for my feminist theology group and will do so for our worship committee blog as well.
Leb wohl

David Ker said...

I'm glad that Suzanne has joined me in my inconsistency. As I've said before, blogging is like a mosquito. It sneaks up on you silently and leaves you itching.

But my understanding of the note that Suzanne is rejecting is that it is reflecting the cultural mores of Paul's days. I reject that application today while acknowledging that it was the belief in that era.

(Goes back into hiding...)

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for sympathizing and empathizing with me over David's and Suzanne's decisions. And is your feminist theology group blogging publicly (so we can see the values of wordpress and more!)?

Yes, I remember your mosquito comment, and your childish mocking of me with: "Liar, liar pants on fire hanging from a telephone wire." :) Oh, and I'm so glad to hear that the cultural mores of the bibliosphere of our day now are much better than the sexism of Paul's day then. Did you tell Suzanne? (...David...? ...Suzanne...?) :)

Suzanne McCarthy said...


You very correctly point out that I am quite likely going against the comment policy here. My comment includes statements that do not relate to the post.

I personally do not believe that the NET note refers to the mores of the time in which it was written. For example, in the Victorian era this verse was translated by Darby as "a woman shall be preserved through childbearing." No doubt, each century has had a distinct take on this.

Paul's female associates appear too often be unmarried, at least at the time that he mentions them. Phoebe, Nympha, Lydia, etc.

I also do not think that childbearing in ancient times was considered metonymy for submission to the male. I do not believe that for one instant. I believe that childbearing was within the domain of female authority.

Rachel, Hannah, Ruth, Tamar, and many women in the Bible were the initiators of the sex act which brought about their pregnancy. I think the NET note belongs clearly to this present day, when men seek to remove the proper domain of the female from the female so as to make all and every attribute of the female into bondage and submission. They want to turn the act of becoming a mother into an act of submission to the male rather than respecting women as life bearers.


I think that some men, and especially men who spend too much time in the evangelical Christian community, are desensitized to much of the very offensive sexism that goes on in Christian circles.

J. K. Gayle said...

Your comment here is very helpful in many ways! The context around Paul is huge; his friends (women and men) and his knowledge of the Hebrew and goyim women in the Bible.

Timo-theos's context (Timothy's comment) is one I always imagine too. His Greek father surely went to the plays or watched some of them. Here's from Aeschylus's "Seven Against Thebes" (using Paul's word τεκνογόνοι, "childbirth" much differently from how the desensitized men today you speak of interpret):

δυσδαίμων σφιν ἁ τεκοῦσα
πρὸ πασᾶν γυναικῶν ὁπόσαι
τεκνογόνοι κέκληνται.

And then there's Εἰλείθυια, or Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth and of midwifery. Hardly a figure subject to male gods or men. You would think that Hesiod's lore would be familiar to Paul and Timothy. They are corresponding in Greek language, and Paul knows rhetoric using it in Athens. There's a cultural backdrop here very different from the Victorian era, and from the evangelical era of many men (and some women) today.

Peter Kirk said...

One of the oddities of WordPress is that if you remove someone from the list of authors their past posts become anonymous. So the rest of us authors of BBB were not able to stop David or Suzanne from posting. Not of course that we wanted to! We would love to have them back, and be able to list them properly as authors.

I agree with Charles Dog on BBB in rejecting any general censorship of ideas we don't like. Some of those ideas are distasteful, whether racism or the kinds of attitudes Suzanne objects to. But I think it is for us adults to protect ourselves from such material, not to rely on the law or the self-restraint of publishers for this. The truth should win the argument not by coercion but by its own God-given power.

J. K. Gayle said...

Well put, Peter! I believe I agree with you and Charles. But thank you for making your useful comments here too. (And we appreciate the note about the issues with wordpress that keep tempting Suzanne and David to post).