Sunday, September 10, 2017

On gender

Genesis 1-3 is a foundational text for Jews and Christians. It acknowledges one thing that women can do that men can’t—childbirth (but see below)—but nothing that men can do that women can’t.

In Genesis 1, human beings, explicitly male and female, are to ‘rule over’ the earth: no division of roles in bringing potential to its fullness.

Genesis 2 envisages companionship—implying mutuality, and presence to one another. Woman is described as relating to man as a ‘suitable’ or ‘corresponding’ (again, mutuality) ‘helper’ (no hierarchy to helping, or working alongside, one another) or ‘warrior’ (traditionally perceived as a male role, but not here, or at least not solely; the term is later also used of God, in whose image male and female are made).

In Genesis 3, things go pear-shaped. There are consequences to this. These are addressed to the man and to the woman, but they are not mutually exclusive; rather, each consequence address each sex. The consequence addressed to the man is that the work he does with the woman will become harder. The consequence addressed to the woman is that (without God as midwife) the work she does that the man can’t do (but he can help, as I did at the birth of all 3 of our children) will become more painful; also that their relationship will be(come) complicated. The response of the man to the desire of the woman to not be left alone in the work of bringing forth a child will be to ‘rule over’ her, which implies both the working to bring potential to fullness (as per Genesis 1) but also (now) a relating to co-regent as subject. It will get messy...

This ancient poetical text is an inspired observation of the relationship between men and women. It recognises difference, and sameness—and a minefield! It does not support exclusively ‘masculine roles’ and ‘feminine roles,’ or affirm gender-stereotyped outlooks such as ‘boys are more physical’ and ‘girls are emotionally aware.’ Indeed, it opposes such views.

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