Sexism is perhaps the oldest and most common of the social bigotries. Sexism is only one of several of the social vices which were introduced to our culture through the influence of ancient Hebrew values. (Homophobia, Slavery, and Stoning come to mind. Fortunately, we were above Stoning from the outset of our country’s origin, though hanging by the neck is certainly no social grace) These social vices were introduced into our culture through the Christian religion, which claims the Hebrew Bible as its Old Testament. Case in point:
The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a myth about a utopian paradise which was ruined due to the foolishness of a rebellious woman. The tale itself is rampant with patriarchal prejudice, and reveals somewhat of the roles and characteristics of the respective genders; as perceived in that era.
In this tale GOD is the all knowing, flawless male deity. The very fact that the ancient Hebrews envisioned the ultimate authority figure as male indicates that the culture was patriarchal in philosophy and practice. Thus this story utilizes “Father Knows Best” imagery in order to establish male dominion in the Hebrew culture.
ADAM is the weak male figure. One who fails to rule his relationship properly. One who fails to keep “his woman” subjugated. Thus, Eve is permitted to roam without chaperone, where she is subsequently lead astray by the influences of the world. The fact that Adam submits to Eve, and further indulges himself in her folly merely further discredits him as a male, and renders him somewhat of a pitiful figure in the Hebrew culture.
Which leads us to the female.
EVE is envisioned as foolish and rebellious. The notion of a woman thinking for herself was so anathema in the Hebrew culture that the writer likened Eve’s decision to make an arbitrary decision contrary to the will of the male authority as being like unto making a deal with the Devil. The independent thinking and free willed woman then is regarded as evil in the Hebrew culture.
Naturally then, anyone who tells a woman that she actually can think for herself is the ultimate evil. Thus the traditional view is that the Serpent, who basically told Eve that it was permissible to think for herself and to make her own decisions based upon her own observations; was in fact the Devil himself. Hence, the ultimate evil in the Hebrew culture is the person who dares tell a woman that it is permissible to think for herself.
Now, this type of thinking has been introduced into our culture through the Christian religion, hence our culture has traditionally lead women to view themselves as inferior to men, and has likewise traditionally encouraged men to take the lead of and assume authority over women in general. Consequently, our society has been slow to encourage women to assert themselves personally or professionally. Furthermore, those who would encourage women to think for themselves, or who maintain that women have the right to make decisions regarding themselves, their health, and their bodies are considered malcontents of our society. Hence, the various movements relative to such independence and intellectual freedom; from the women’s suffrage movement of old; to the equal pay movement and the freedom to choose to abort movements have traditionally been viewed with disdain and in many cases have simply been discredited as selfish and sinful throughout the history of our patriarchal society.
The status of women as inferior subjects and even irrelevant commodities was undoubtedly the perspective of the ancient Hebrew culture as demonstrated in other Old Testament tales. There is “righteous Lot” (righteous according to the New Testament book, but not in my book!); who offered his two daughters to be gangraped in an effort to save two perfect male strangers who he had taken in for the night. The fact that Lot’s wife (unnamed; her personal identity apparently being insignificant to the writer of the tale) is murdered the very next day by God himself (Papa Patriarch) for the violation of his divine will by merely “looking back” further confirms just how serious the Hebrew mind took the principle that “women are to do as they are told or else”!!!
There is a particular story from the Hebrew Bible which confirms the fact that women were regarded as mere commodities which I find most disturbing. The reason this particular account disturbs me so is that it sounds historical instead of mythical, hence I am afraid that it may be literal and true. I refer to the maltreatment of the Midianite women and girls at the hands of the Israeli soldiers AS SANCTIONED by Moses himself. According to the account, Moses is actually angry to learn that the Israeli soldiers have spared the Midianite women after the Midianite men have all been slaughtered, and so Moses orders the murder of all the male Midianite children and all the Midianite women, EXCEPT for the Midianite virgins. The virgins were to be spared… so that the Israeli soldiers could have them “for themselves”!! I find the mere thought that these young women were forced to be with the very men who slaughtered their fathers, their mothers, and their brothers to be simply repulsive and disgusting. The fact that Moses; one of the great Hebrew heros of all times, sanctioned and endorsed (who knows, perhaps even partook in) sex slavery reveals the thinking of the times. Women were mere commodities, and such was socially acceptable.
Sexism in our society is the result of the root of our religious ideology. Our culture continues to burden ourselves by trying to live by the standards which are 3,000 years old, and which were never right in the first place.
Sexism, like stoning and slavery, are biblical practices which have no place whatsoever in a civilized society. It is time for our culture to socially mature; and to set aside ancient and outdated patriarchal thinking, and to finally embrace the reality that though the genders differ in certain physical aspects, that neither is superior to and therefore never should have been subjected to the will of the other.
It is time for our culture to grow up.
It is time for sexism, misogyny, and patriarchy to be regarded as aspects of a shameful past, so that we can make a better world for today and for the eventual future.