A Feminist Critique of the Book of Genesis, As Inspired by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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“The canon and civil law; church and state; priests and legislators; all political parties and religious denominations have alike taught that woman was made after man, of man, and for man, an inferior being, subject to man.”

This statement by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, taken from The Woman’s Bible, is the principal argument against Christianity amongst feminists. The bible maintains that, from the beginning, women were to be the inferior counterpart to men. In the origin story, found within the book of Genesis, we see Eve created from the rib of Adam, sequentially coming in second in the order of mankind. Later, Eve is persuaded against God’s will and is convinced that the apple holds the key to enlightenment when the snake tells her,  “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil”(Genesis iii, 5). After receiving this advice, Eve’s understanding of the apple was that it contained the knowledge and enlightenment necessary to be like God. We are able to follow this thought process when the Bible states, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat”(Genesis iii, 6). Although the Bible attempts to disguise her motive by claiming that she saw the fruit was “pleasant to the eyes,” her third, and most important, driving factor is to be wise. We can assume this because the Snake was able to urge Eve towards considering the consumption of the apple through an argument of knowledge. Eve desired to possess depth and a sense of judgement, and sought to enlighten both woman and man. However, she is then punished for her thirst of knowledge. God condemns Eve’s curiosity and intuition, declaring, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children: and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”(Genesis iii, 16). Because the woman aspired to know more than what she was told and disobeyed God, she was punished and confined to a position of child bearing and man serving. Although her husband bit from the fruit as well, he was punished with less severity due to the fact that he did so blindly, whereas Eve did so out of her own ambition. This story insinuates that when a women strives to go beyond the position prescribed to her and desires to increase her knowledge, she will be punished and frowned upon by God. Resultantly, we see women as unchallenging and devoted mothers and wives throughout the bible, and throughout the religion of Christianity as a whole.

The impact of Genesis was felt strongly during Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s time, the eighteenth century, with the era being defined by its culture of domesticity. This culture revolved around the concept that women were to possess four cardinal values: piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness. These values stemmed from the devotion to the Bible and to Genesis, seeing that all four values can be derived from the aforementioned story. It was a necessity for a woman to be pious because disobeying God invites consequences, as we have seen with the bite of the apple. Women were to be pure because God declared that their desire was only to be to their husbands, meaning that they could not engage in carnal relations outside of the bonds of marriage. Domesticity revolved around the upbringing of Children, which God deemed as the woman’s task. Lastly, God demanded that women be submissive in declaring that, “he shall rule over thee,” or men should rule over women. These core values of the culture of domesticity originated from the scriptures and preaching of the Bible.

It can be understood that Christianity’s introduction and foundation, the book of Genesis, perpetuates misogynistic values and prescribes gender roles. However, believers in the Christian faith should not lose hope or give up on their religion. Christian reform, though daunting, is feasible. Through the Apocrypha, along with chapters already existing in most bibles, we can alter the ideology surrounding women in the Christian religion. Now that the problem is identified, a solution is only a few steps away.

 

Learn more:

The Woman’s Bible by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

http://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/elizabeth-cady-stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Feminist as Thinker: A Reader in Documents and Essays by Ellen Carol Dubois and Richard Cándida Smith

 

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