Sunday, August 28, 2011

What Turns Genesis Sexist and When

"This is God's good design.
A design for male headship -- leading, protecting, and providing for the woman.
A design for female submission -- submitting to and helping the man; a companion-helper 'fit for him.'
Some will be doubtful ... even upset by this teaching of God's good design for men and women."
This is an except, the above lines are, from a new curriculum for young people, entitled "Rejoicing in God's Good Design: A Study for Youth on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood."  It's co-authored "By Gary Steward and Sally Michael."  Is it any coincidence that he is named first and, then, she after him?  Is that part of the editor's design?  The "this" referred to in the first line here are several written out verses in Genesis, namely bits of "Genesis 1:28, 2:15, 18" and "Genesis 1:31."  (A similar study, by the same two co-writers, this man and woman pair, is called "The Design of the Creator: Man Created Male and Female" and starts in with "Genesis 1:24-28, 31a.")

Thanks to Suzanne for mentioning this as she blogs on "Women's orientation to work: part 1."  In connection with the curriculum for youth (which she notes is linked to by the Council on "Biblical" Manhood and Womanhood), Suzanne has readers look at "Gen. 2:15, 18 and Gen. 3:16-19."  Bob makes the helpful comment that in Genesis 3:16 the Greek translation ἀποστροφή for the Hebrew (תשוקה) turns the preferred CBMW meaning around.

I'm interested in what turns Genesis sexist.  And just when things turned sexist.  Who is confused?  The CBMW has one interpretation.  The man-first, woman-second team authors of this curriculum focus on the ostensible confusion caused when you don't focus rightly on these few verses.  The four-men-and-men-first "Team" helping these two authors and the same "Team" with eight more following women helping these two authors are all working against this confusion.  (Go ahead; click the link again and read their plea to focus on these verses and to avoid confusion about it's one CBMW interpretation.)

Suzanne, however, gets us reconsidering.  So consider what she writes:
So I want to look at alternate interpretation for Gen. 3:16. The consequences of the fall for the woman relate to childbearing and her relationship to her husband. The consequence of the fall for the man relates to the soil. The most obvious interpretation is that just as woman was taken out of man, so the fall returns her to man. And in the same way, as man was taken out of the soil, so he is returned to the soil. We need to consider that the story of Adam and Eve has internal plot coherency that is not necessarily related to universal truths about men and women.
And that's it.  Those trying to train youths to see God's design in nature as having women and females submit to men and males really make the most of one interpretation of just a few verses.  They want Adam after the fall into sin and Eve after the fall into sin to be the normative good design.

The only other thing I really want to add here is something Jane Williams has written.  In her online essay "The Book of Genesis, part 6: Patriarchs and others," Jane asks "What is to be made, theologically, of the unabashedly male-dominated, hierarchical world of Genesis?"  And she begins to answer by suggesting what Suzanne has suggested.  She's not just looking at a few verses to dogmatically train youths about "God's good [sexist] design" for all times.  She's looking at all of Genesis, at how it flows downhill quickly into confusion from the hint of something good.

Jane rather astutely says this:
Genesis is a patriarchal narrative, through and through. Its world is one where women exist entirely as adjuncts to men, and where safety and success for women lie in marriage and reproduction. Monogamy and sexual fidelity are not expected of men. It is also a world where slavery and servitude is taken for granted. So the person with the least control over her own destiny is the female servant.

If there is a hint at the beginning of Genesis that this state of affairs is not part of the original ideal, it is accepted as inevitable for the rest of the narrative. The creation stories seem to imply that there is equality and partnership between the man and the woman before "the fall", and that the division of people into different "tribes" comes from violence and betrayal, rather than being inbuilt. Later on in the Pentateuch, when Moses is given the law by God, to regulate the life of God's people and demonstrate God's values, some basic rights for women and "aliens" are enshrined. But these silver threads do not predominate in the male-dominated, hierarchical world of Genesis.

There are strong women in the patriarchal narratives, but their lives and their influence revolve around their husbands and children.

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