Illustration: Steven L. Fornal

The War Against Eve

Science is the gender imbalance taken to its logical extreme, with all remnants of subjective feminine thinking removed.

By Lise LePage

I want to tell is hard to tell because it's the story of everything and it all starts in the beginning. It's the story of men and women and planet Earth, how they relate and how it got that way. More importantly, it gives us valuable clues about who we are now, as people of two genders, sharing and managing the world. Because there can be little doubt about who won the battle of the sexes. Men did. They run everything, and the things women run are underfunded. Simple as that. But the gender imbalance on planet Earth is more than just a simple matter of economics. Gender is at the heart of the human value system. It's the essential duality into which all other polar pairs devolve: yin and yang, strong and weak, active and passive, reason and intuition, objective and subjective, light and dark. And because the gender duality is so deeply engrained in our thinking, it informs everything we do. It becomes easy to see that when one sex predominates, as men have over women for the last 2500 years, the imbalance in our value system creates a world that is itself out of balance.

To see how the genders evolved together, we have to go way back, even earlier than Adam and Eve. Imagine yourself a single-celled organism in the year 3 billion B.C.E. There you are in a pool of other single-celled organisms, all more or less exactly like yourself, each a carbon copy of its parents, all of you sharing (more or less) common ancestry. How do you feel? Does anyone look interesting? Now it's time to reproduce. Perhaps it feels good to do this. You stretch and subdivide, and suddenly, you are two entirely separate beings. The genetic formula for this (that I just made up) is 1 = 1 + 1. But are you you, if all the others are just the same?

Now fast forward a couple of billion years or so to the year 600 million B.C.E. Suddenly, for some reason, maybe that aliens seeded us with DNA or God smiled, something truly miraculous happened. Some of those asexual single-celled clones started to get different. Real different. Suddenly, there were two kinds of organism within the same family of organism--male organisms and female organisms (or organs, depending on whether or not you were a plant at this point). From now on, reproduction is not as simple as having a single example of an organism. Now you have male things and female things, and the two have to find each other and unite in order to make a new organism. And since the formula for sexual reproduction is 1 + 1 = 1, that means that 50% of one parent and 50% of the other parent is genetically represented in each offspring.

What has this to do with gender politics you may well be asking? I will tell you. First, gender is at the heart of each human's sense of self (and each creature's as well). Our particular genders, male and female, determine to a large extent our behavior and identity in our various communities. Second, gender differences are real and exist for a biological reason. Thus it is no surprise that males and females often seem to be two entirely different species rather than two aspects of the same species. Third, the formula is very straightforward about what is required for the basic survival of any species, and that gets us back to 1 plus 1, one female thing plus one male thing. Nature does not privilege the male thing. There is no law that states (in the case of humans) because the male stuff shoots out of a rod-shaped organ it is more important than the female stuff which waits in a hidden place. Human survival requires both genders in equal proportions, or 50/50, to be exact.

So how is it that the human race came to privilege the masculine, as many philosophers, psychologists, historians, and other scholars have pointed out. What does 'privilege the masculine' mean? That's a grad school way of saying that whenever you have one of those polar word pairs, like masculine and feminine, we automatically assign a higher value to one of the two terms. Barbara Johnson, discussing the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, puts it this way: "These polar opposites do not... stand as independent and equal entities. The second term in the pair is considered the negative, corrupt, undesirable version of the first, a fall away from it. Hence...evil is the fall from good, error is a distortion of the truth, etc."

Assuming that we do in fact declare one side of every coin to be 'bad,' it is not a stretch to say that for the last 2000 patriarchal years or so, we have declared the female side of the coin to be debased and less valuable than the male side of the same coin. For instance, masculine is thought to be better than feminine, objective reasoning is preferred to subjective, active beats passive, and on down the line. In each case, we privilege the male-identified term, accepting it as the natural order.

This idea that gender imbalance is part of the natural order is important, because it allows the apologists for patriarchy to tell us that male supremacy is natural and that it's always been this way. Not true, say 20th century scholars. Prior to the rise of the Hebrew tribes in Israel, the religions around the Near and Middle East and in various places across Europe were matriarchal, for lack of a better word. They lived off the land in tribal communities and worshipped a goddess, as well as other divine beings of both genders. Most of these cultures, being more about peaceful existence than conquest and glory, left few permanent artifacts or monuments behind. Consequently, there wasn't a whole lot for archaeologists to find, and what they did find, they misunderstood, looking always for evidence of their own social patterns rather than seeing what was actually there. More recent scholars have re-examined the evidence to suggest that goddess religions were prevalent in the Western world and that both genders participated equally in these societies. (For a readable discussion, Merlin Stone does a wonderful job of putting together many of the various goddess religions of the pre-Judeo-Christian era in her classic "When God Was A Woman.")

Ah, but what happened to those goddess religions? Why do none of them exist anymore, if they prevailed for thousands of years before Christ walked the earth? The answer is to be found in a book so omnipresent that most people, even people who own no other books, own a copy. The book is the Holy Bible, and this powerful piece of writing dictates, literally, how many people around the planet view the world and their place in it. Because the Bible is said to be divinely inspired, or the word of God, people are taught to believe in it unconditionally, on faith, without question. Which makes it powerful stuff.

Now how does this book begin? Let's see if we can remember. "In the beginning," it reads. The first couple chapters of Genesis supply the foundation myth for a large chunk of the world's people, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam which all stem from the same roots. In fact, if you read the first two chapters of Genesis back to back, it's pretty obvious that they were written at different times by different people and tell entirely different stories. The first story is lyrical and relatively unproblematic--God simply creates man and woman on the sixth day, and all is good. The second chapter however introduces some very novel concepts about gender relations when you consider that the Hebrew authors shared their region with numerous goddess-worshipping peoples.

What most of us get from this story is that Eve ate the apple which made her disobedient and bad, and that's why we don't live in Paradise anymore. The story is actually a bit more complicated than that. In Genesis, we learn that Adam was the first human being, and that he, a man, was created in the image of his creator -- God. So right away, God is a man and this is important, because all around him were goddesses. This wrathful, authoritarian, my-way-or-the-highway kind of god had the added bonus of being a jealous god who would suffer no other gods before him. In short, he was a god bent on world domination. Goddess beware!

Later, after Adam complained of loneliness, God created a woman for Adam, and he called her Eve, which means Life. Eve, the first woman and mother of all living, was not the equal of Adam, but his helper. And as the weaker of the two, we are taught, she was open to temptation by the serpent, disobeyed God's explicit orders, and ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Never mind that Adam ate the apple too. Everyone knows Eve tempted him, just as the serpent had tempted her. As a result of her sin, Eve was punished. God cursed her to be subservient to her husband forevermore, to have greatly increased pain in childbirth, and other sundry penalties. Adam took his lumps too, cursed to a life of endless labor for subsistence, and the unhappy couple had to leave Eden (Paradise) forever.

Now why tell a story like this? One theory holds that at the time the early Hebrews were commencing the archiving of material that became the early books of the Old Testament, they were feeling pressure from neighboring goddess-worshipping peoples, including the despised Babylonians (who lived between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in what is now Iraq). Merlin Stone presents evidence that the Levite priests who first recorded the pertinent parts of Genesis had a political motive for writing it the way they did. She believes they chose a foundation myth that would bolster their defense against the goddess religions of the area, and create a rationale for despising them. The perhaps unintended consequence of this choice on the part of the early Levite priests was to brand all women evil.

Regardless of intention, it is clear that this story, of Eve and the first sin, has informed Western thinking on women and sexuality ever since, wherever the Desert religions took hold. Thus for many long centuries now, Western man has been punishing Eve.

Once Judaism, Christianity, and later Islam settled in as the religions of the Western world, the denigration of women in cultures ruled by those religions was institutionalized. Women generally had fewer rights, little education, and relatively low status in the world, until the 20th century, a testament to the power of religion to control social structures. Having said this, there have always been eras, interspersed throughout history, in which women did comparatively better. These eras are easy to find. Look for times where there was relative peace in the world and the arts flourished. The time of the troubadours, Elizabethan England, even the 1960s in our own era, were times when women either ruled or fought back with unusual zeal. Nevertheless, the power structure remained, by and large, in the hands of men.

Christianity had a shot at breaking the early hegemony of masculinism. Jesus is widely regarded to have been more than tolerant of women among his disciples, and some of the Gnostic Gospels are attributed to Mary Magdalene, whose role was likely much larger than is recorded in the official Gospels of the New Testament. Elaine Pagels, in her work Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, proposes that the early Christians were appalled by the decadence of the declining Roman empire, particularly its sexual practices toward slaves. She believes that this backdrop of sexual excess contributed to the anti-sex attitude of early Christians, and to a certain extent, to their attitudes toward women in general (since the concept of original sin is retained in the Christian church). In any event, their reasons for continuing the pattern of sexism may have had a moral, rather than a political foundation.

For a variety of reasons, there was some effort to accommodate the early goddess worshippers in the new Christian church. Catholicism still affords women the role model of the Virgin Mary who, pale though she is compared to Mary Magdalene, is something at least. Through the custom of granting women sainthood and their own monastic tradition, women through the centuries remained largely appeased, despite the witch burnings, inquisitions, and other iniquities perpetrated against their sex as the Church eradicated the last vestiges of Paganism. The Christians also practiced the subtle art of cooptation, adopting Pagan feast days for their own holy days. A quick look at the current roster of holidays, both secular and religious, finds Pagan correlates for almost all of them from Groundhog Day to the 4th of July.

It wasn't until the Protestant Reformation came along that women were finally put firmly in their place as inferiors. The saints and Virgin Mary were banished from the Protestant church, along with other too-Pagan relics like statues, music, decoration, and stained glass windows. Anything pleasant, pleasing or pleasurable was outlawed and removed from these stern, masculine houses of religion. Women were veiled and dressed appropriately for their sexless role in the service of their husbands. The man of the house ruled supreme, just as God ruled the world of men. Advice to this effect is still handed out to engaged couples in the Protestant church, where in one such volume women are instructed: "Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be unto their own husbands in everything." (In The Presence Of God by Otto W. Toelke)

It's interesting to note that soon after the time of the Protestant Reformation, the first ships from England to America were landing on the shores of New England, full of disgruntled Puritans. And they didn't call them Puritans for nothing. These tough settlers were religious zealots of so conservative a stripe that the idea of leaving their native land to live in a complete wilderness populated with Indians seemed attractive as long as they were free to practice their religion. Together they founded the colony that brought us the Salem Witch Trials, dunking and stocks, and eventually The Declaration of Independence. You can call this a digression if you want, but since America now leads the world as 'its only remaining superpower,' it is significant that this country was founded by fundamentalist Christians.

Fortunately, religion did not retain its hold forever. Starting in the mid 1600s and lasting through the 18th Century, the Enlightenment swept across Europe and America, and with it, came a cultural shift away from blind adherence to church and institutional authority. The doctrine of faith was replaced by a doctrine of reason, in the belief that all men could know the truth, by sheer application of Reason. Suddenly the world opened up to a wide ranging inquiry, as modern men cast off the shackles of faith and tradition. Using nothing but their huge self-conscious brains, Enlightenment men made huge advances in science, technology, mathematics and physics, although not surprisingly, poetry suffered during this period.

Surely this Enlightenment must have been a good thing then? Freeing us from rigid thinking and false intellectual barriers? Yes and no. We were free, but at a price. Descartes, writing in the mid 1600s, spends considerable time and energy coming up with the maxim "I think, therefore I am." Cogito, ergo sum, he says. Trés simple. All you need is your brain, your ability to think. Everything else is secondary or false, including the unmediated evidence of your senses and the subtle murmurs of intuition.

But what are the results of such a postulation, I think, therefore I am? What about feelings? If I feel but don't think, am I still? If not, are feelings real? Are gut instincts and sensual data mere illusion before the sole reality of thought? There is a problem here, and simply put, Descartes' postulation divides the mind from the body, and throws the body away. While it may seem counter-intuitive for Descartes to do this, he was in fact describing the new reality in which man was soon going to have to live -- by rational mind alone. Later philosophers have expanded on the idea of rational man and his discontents, and continue to grapple with its issues to this day. But in the post-Enlightenment era, more practical men picked up the message and ran with it, using the ideals of reason and objectivity to create a new venue for themselves in science and technology.

For the gift of the Enlightenment to modern man was surely Science. Rigorous, rational, Science offered men the illusion of certainty, a sure path to the truth. Today, we have made a god of Science, if by god we mean that which cannot be questioned. Who doubts today that scientific principles are the best way to run a country, a health care facility, an educational system, or a prison? But it's no wonder. We have been taught blind adherence to the efficacy of science to solve all of our problems and we know no other way.

Meanwhile, recalling the word pairs with which we began this exercise, mind, reason, and objectivity are male-identified (and better) while body, intuition, and subjectivity are female-identified (and denigrated). Yet what is science but an application of reason to the solving of problems using only objective (masculine) input, and explicitly excluding all subjective (feminine) input? Here, at the crossroads of religion and science, we see science picking up the old, anti-feminine biases and continuing them into a brand new era.

Science is the gender imbalance taken to its logical extreme, with all remnants of subjective feminine thinking removed. Rigorously applied, it becomes more than a philosophy or habit of thought--it becomes brain-washing. But the myths of science and religion are similar in this regard: they both proclaim themselves to be the infallible source of truth.

So while we must say that we believe in science, we don't trust it entirely. Because we've seen what unfettered science can do. Science has given us many good things, we are told. Things like genetic engineering, high-rise apartment projects, chemotherapy, ritalin, genetically modified food, cloning, factory-farmed meat, animal testing, herbicides, pesticides, toxic chemicals, environmental health disorders, air pollution, SUVs, nuclear weapons, biowarfare, chemical weapons, designer viruses, Mad Cow Disease, water shortages, educational testing, advertising, political polls, lockdown, privatized prisons, slavery, indentured servitude, cubicles, anti-depressants, Bauhaus architecture, stun guns, modernity, globalization, dioxin, animal extinction, habitat loss, androgynous frogs, mercury-laden fish, humvees, modern warfare, regime change, climate change, soullessness, homelessness, poverty, disease, police states, weapons of mass destruction, dredge nets, resource extraction, environmental devastation, free trade, planned development, urban sprawl, mental confusion, television, addiction, lovelessness, chronic fatigue, death...

It's the old double-edged sword. Science giveth and science taketh away. And yet, most Western people, and Americans in particular, continue to extol the virtues of science as the only way, whatever science may have us doing. The trouble is, science, being scientific, can justify anything. Want to see what happens when you cut a monkey's head open while it's awake and alive? (Documentary film entitled, Animal Connections.) Science can pose the question, create the experiment, perform it multiple times, and write up the results for a scientific journal, with nary a pang of conscience to slow the gathering of data. The scientific method itself precludes subjective reasoning--i.e., the application of heart, intuition, or conscience to the process of 'doing science.' Once envisioned as a tool to help man understand his world, it's become a binding philosophy used to justify massive exploitation.

From blaming Eve to deifying science -- how will it all end? Or de we even need to ask the question? It doesn't take a scientist to see that the supremacy of science at the expense of all else has left us in a bad way. All life on Earth is now threatened in one way or another. But isn't the problem bigger than science? Of course it is. Just look at the acres of self-help books on bookstore shelves, each endeavoring to show us how to 'heal.' No one knows what to call this wound in our psyches, shared equally by men and women, but it remains an invisible and insistent fracture. We know science is out of hand. We know our governments are not responsive to our needs. We sense that something, maybe everything, is out of whack, that too many people suffer under our system. Even the great abstract ideals like victory, profits, wealth, expansion go only so far. But what is it that we need, what's missing? I would argue that we need the goddess back. We need, once again, to revere the feminine just as we revere the masculine. We need to acknowledge that our survival depends on restoring this balance.

Getting the goddess back won't be easy though. Western man is now laboring under more than 2,000 years of cultural conditioning, leaving us desperately wanting but blind to our predicament. We can't continue like this. And yet we can't change.

Or maybe we can. We could start by getting to know this forgotten goddess, and remembering all the things she is, and that we are because we are of her. This poem, found in the Nag Hammadi Library as part of the Gnostic Gospels, is written in the voice of Eve or Wisdom:

"I am the honored one
and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.
I am knowledge and ignorance...
I am foolish and I am wise...
I am the one whom they called life (Eve)
and you have called Death..."

[Quoted from Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, page 67]

This Eve, like God, is the alpha and the omega, the resolution of duality. No term is privileged. All things come to rest in her. Perhaps when we can accept and honor her contradictions as part of the fabric of life, then will we find the healing we seek. Perhaps, then, we can finally end the war against Eve. ++

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