Feminism

"Captivating" Review: 21-31, "What Eve Alone can Tell"

Eve

Stasi tries to start off this chapter on slightly better footing than her first. After asserting (again) that all little girls are desperately wanting to be princesses, she says this:

Rather than asking, “What should a woman do–what is her role?” it would be far more helpful to ask, “What is a woman–what is her design?” and “Why did God place Woman in our midst?”

These are the questions that she is going to attempt to orient her book on (although, as we’ve already seen, she can’t get away from the “what should women really be doing” question). As I’ve pointed out, these questions assume that something called gender essentialism is true and unchanging. Stasi and John believe that there are essential attributes and functions given to men and women (there are no transgender, demigender, bigender, non-binary, or agender people in their world), and these things cannot and will not change. These qualities are true for all men and all women, regardless of culture, ethnicity, class, or time– because God made us all, and he made us all with the same basic ontos.

Crown of Creation

In order to make this argument, John gives us a re-telling of how Eve was created (23-26), and caps off his description with this:

She is the crescendo, the final, astonishing work of God. Woman. In one last flourish creation comes to a finish with Eve. She is the Master’s finishing touch (…) Eve is . . . breathtaking.

Given the way creation unfolds, how it builds to ever higher and higher works of art, can there be any doubt that Eve is the crown of creation? (…) Not an afterthought. Not a nice addition like an ornament on a tree. She is God’s final touch, his pièce de résistance.

That is a beautiful thought. Wrong, but pretty. The prideful part of me would like to believe this, but everything I know about Genesis 2 from both Judaic and Christian perspectives compels me to acknowledge how wrong he is in trying to argue this. What he’s done is no better than what complementarians do when they argue that the “creation order” means that men are intended, by God, to have authority over women. Everything about Genesis 2:18-35 is about mutuality and equality, about ezer kenegdo, not about who was created in what order and what we could force it to mean for all people for all time.

Romance and Relationships

John argues here that women are more “relational” than men are– that women pay more attention to relationships than men do, and this is entirely due to the fact that they’re women. Neither John nor Stasi, as far as I can tell, will ever acknowledge that at least some of what they’re asserting about women might be “true” because of how kyriarchy/patriarchy enforces gender roles. They also do nothing to to overcome their confirmation bias— they look around the world, see lots of men and women acting exactly how they’d expect them to act based on gender essentialism, and that becomes more evidence for how they’re right.

If you want to know how people are doing, what’s going on in our world, don’t ask me– ask Stasi. I don’t call friends and chat with them on the phone for an hour. I can’t tell you who’s dating whom, whose feelings have been hurt– ask Stasi.

This is not true of me and my husband. He spends more time talking to his friends than I do, and more consistently. He is more aware of how people are feeling than I am, and what the relationship dynamics are like in our group. He knows about the relationships important to his friends– whether those relationships are romantic or not. I’m pretty oblivious to all of that, and some of that obliviousness is intentional.

Most women define themselves in terms of their relationships, and the quality they deem those relationships to have. I am a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend. Or I am alone. I’m not seeing anyone right now, or my children aren’t calling, or my friends seem distant. This is not a weakness in women– it is a glory. A glory that reflects the heart of God.

This needs to be re-worded: women in American culture are frequently defined by their relationships. This is not necessarily something they are doing to themselves, but something that happens to them by the expectations of our culture. I’ve had a few conversations with my mother about how she realized that she’d poured everything she had into her children and that hadn’t been healthy. She acknowledged that she had let herself be defined by motherhood, and she regretted it. My mother is a fantastic, interesting, brilliant person, and I know our home would have been richer if she’d had something to Be besides “wife” and “mother.”

But, John baptizes this culturally-mandated gender role by saying that being totally defined by our interactions with other people and not by our own interests, desires, dreams, or actions “reflects the heart of God.” I don’t wholly disagree with the argument John goes on to make about God wanting relationships with us. I’m in the middle of a theology class on Trinitarianism, and the whole “God exists as three persons in relation to each other, but One” thing seems rather important to the doctrine. There’s also Ephesians 5 and “I have loved you with an everlasting love” from Jeremiah that points to God loves us. God wants to know us, and for us to know her.

That, I’m not going to argue with.

That God’s desire for relationships is either represented strictly by women or almost entirely by women (which seems to be the argument John is making here) is ridiculous, especially since “It is not good for man to be alone” appears in Genesis 2.

The first year I was in grad school, for a variety of reasons most of the friends I made were men. One night, three of us were hanging out watching zombie movies, but by 3 or 4 in the morning the conversation turned to relationships. I didn’t really have a lot to add, so I listened to two men talk about girlfriends, and singleness, and loneliness, and after about half an hour I couldn’t keep the laughter in any longer. Suddenly, I was laughing so hard I was crying, and it took me a while to respond to their confused faces. I eventually explained that the conversation they were having sounded exactly like conversations I’d heard my entire life when it was just girls, just women– and I’d always believed that men would never have conversations like that.

In the few years since then, I’ve had that experience a few dozen more times. Women aren’t the only ones that are concerned about their relationships– romantic or not. Men don’t sit around and talk about nothing but concrete, like John would have you believe.

I believe that men are just as “relational” as women– and that every person will have slightly different attitudes about relationships. We’re all just trained by our patriarchal culture to act on the need for relationships in gendered ways.

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  • Good insights.

    Yet of course, we men are relational when permitted to be vulnerable. (But we are not permitted to be vulnerable in the American masculine myth.)

    Complementarians seem to miss their own trinitarian contradiction. While they attribute permanent subordination in the Trinity and assign males as the Father and females as the Son, they forget the Father still has a heart! The stoic male pictured in a Father God of Western culture is more of a product of rationalism, encrusted in the horror of two world wars. I understand why and sympathize. But by all means, we must heal from that and not enforce it!

  • “This needs to be re-worded: women in American culture are frequently defined by their relationships. This is not necessarily something they are doing to themselves, but something that happens to them by the expectations of our culture.”

    Yes! This! My husband and I are currently expecting our first child. From the moment we got the positive pregnancy test, I started dreading making the announcement on facebook, where I am still friends with lots of people from the conservative fundamentalist church where I grew up. I knew that as soon as I announced the coming baby, I would be a mother, and nothing else, in their eyes. After a month of agonizing over how to say it, I finally made the announcement together with a picture I had painted of a woman holding a small baby as she reads a book. I titled the painting “Philosopher Mother” to make it clear that I will not stop being a philosopher just because our family is growing, any more than my husband will cease being a counselor because he is now a father also. I want who I am to grow, not shrink, because of the new relationships that enter my life.

  • cm

    this myth has been really hurtful to me ( a woman who is socially-inept/awkward compared to this idea of woman as social creature) I remember crying in my teens because my mom made fun of me caustically for talking on the phone for hours like a stereotypical teen. I cried because I wished I did/was. There were 2 girls who called me, but they didnt call me to chitchat. They werent really my friends. They called me for advice and homework help, then left me out of party and sleepover invites. there were whole seasons of my life when I walked around feeling as if i was missing an organ that other girls must have, where i was mocked by both girls and guys, where my inability to just magically RELATE was anguishing to me. I think I have begun to be able to focus on who I am and what my strengths are instead of all the ways I fail, now, in my mid-30’s. I hate gender stereotypes.

    • I completely relate to that, cm. It has taken me years to overcome the shyness and discomfort I experienced as an introverted and unpopular geeky teen. I’ve since worked out that I am not actually that shy a person but the hurt I experienced then caused me to become more closed off than is my actual natural inclination and I missed out on opportunities to ‘practice’ small talk and all these things that my introversion made naturally more tiring. I like people but I will never be a ‘relationships’ person that Stasi and John claim women are naturally gifted to be. It’s a complete lie as far as my experience goes.

    • I’m not familiar with these views, but I used to get school reports that went like this : Good student, still remains incredibly selective of her friends. I still have trouble getting to grips on why is was a bad thing.

      I cried too – no one invited me to sleepovers and I didn’t talk on the phone for hours. If I called someone up when I was older, it would be to confirm plans I wanted to make. “Shall we go see the movie and then Pizza Hut? OK bye”, only to have my friend say “Wait, wait! So how are you?”

      I’m happy being introverted – I spend some time with people and I draw my energy from alone time and that suits me fine.

  • Interesting. I would agree – I remember a night in China when one of my co-teachers wanted to talk. So he came down to talk and talk about all he was worried about might or might not be going on with his then-girlfriend.

    He was a good friend of mine and I tried to pay attention – but around 2am I fell asleep while he was still talking. Then he was mad the next day that I didn’t listen long enough (he was in my apartment for four hours worrying).

    He wasn’t a “feminine” guy. He was just a really good friend. But the gender roles fell apart in that situation. They had no bearing on reality. That was just the first of many times I would realize that over the next few years there.

    Living in China in general destroyed my neat little American view of gender. A lot of what I thought to be universal turned out to just be culture

  • As a female who has never fit into most of my gender’s stereotypes, I can’t agree with this more. When I was growing up, it made me eccentric — running away from friends trying to put makeup on me, losing friends because “calling to chat” seemed inefficient and irrational.

    As an adult, my inability to meet gender expectations has been damaging. I constantly struggle with “looking professional” (i.e. using lots of beauty products to appear flawless), which is essential to getting above the bottom rung in the workplace. In my marriage, even my fairly open-minded husband can’t hide the fact that he sees me as a little bit “broken” for not being the least bit vain, and being unable to produce the kind of “womanly compassion” he seeks when feeling emotional, and generally not meeting expectations he didn’t even consciously know he had of women.

    I enjoy friendships and relationships as much as any human does, but I find myself constantly trying to artificially fit myself into the female stereotype just to be accepted into society. I try, but I fail. As a result, my strengths — “manly” attributes like a keen [non-manipulative] mind and an even temperament — are seen as weaknesses, and my lack of femininity is also seen as a weakness. I can’t meet expectations, so I’m cast out.

    • Gary Eddy

      I have been around to many manipulative men. They can be worse than any woman I have every met. In fact the women I get along with best are not manipulative at all. Thanks for your comments and for what it’s worth you seem to be fully human & woman.

      • Thank you for the encouragement! 🙂

  • Gram Pol

    A minor nitpick among some far weightier topics but since the weightier topics have been pretty well addressed :

    She is the crescendo, the final, astonishing work of God.

    What the hell does that mean?! A crescendo is a building-up, an increase (in volume). A crescendo is NOT an epitome or reaching an apex; it is a process! Bad John! You sit in the corner until you can use the word correctly! (and until you develop better attitudes towards women)

  • Gary Eddy

    Agree with your conclusions on this one.