A Call For Stories

Jul 8th, 2018 | By | Category: Articles

As a child living in the Western world, I was introduced early on to two creation stories about women.  The first one came from my Christian upbringing.  In the beginning, the story goes, God created Eve, the first woman, from Adam’s body because Adam was lonely.  God also created a tree whose fruit gave knowledge of good and evil, but God forbade Adam and Eve from eating the fruit.  One day, at the prompting of a serpent, Eve ate the fruit and shared it with Adam.  When God found out, he cursed Eve with pain during childbirth and subordination to Adam, and he cast them both from the garden.

The second story came from Greek mythology, which used to saturate our culture in the form of “classical” education.  In Greek mythology, Zeus creates Pandora, the first woman, to punish Prometheus for stealing fire.  As a wedding present, he gives Pandora a jar (mistranslated as “box”) but warns her never to open it.  When Pandora inevitably gives in to curiosity and opens the jar, death and all of life’s miseries fly out of it.

In both stories, woman is blamed for introducing death and suffering into the world.  No one traces the story back another step, to the male deity who created woman in the first place.  Why did God create a tree of knowledge if he didn’t want humans eating from it?  In the Christian interpretation of this narrative, it’s unclear why the tree is there in the first place.  Some waffle on about “free will”, but is it truly free will if Eve is punished for exercising it?  The Greek story is much more direct.  Zeus literally creates Pandora to punish men.  The Christian narrative punishes woman for her choice, while the Greek punishes woman for her existence.

Understandably, neither of these narratives about the origin of women were helpful to my young self.  Stories like this serve to mold women into compliance from day one.  In If Women Rose Rooted, Sharon Blackie observes the effect these stories have on a woman’s place in society:

The stories we tell about the creation of the Earth, and the origins of humankind show us how our culture views the world, our place in it, and our relationships with other living things which inhabit it.  And the key consequence of this particular creation myth is a belief, prevalent now for centuries in the West, that woman are naturally disobedient temptresses who must be kept firmly in their place.  We are weak-willed, easily persuaded to think or do evil, faithless, untrustworthy, mendacious, and motivated purely by self-interest.  The story of Eve in the Book of Genesis is the underpinning for countless measures which have limited the actions, rights and status of women.  No matter what women might achieve in the world, the fundamental message of the sacred texts of the world’s largest religious grouping, which for 2,000 years have supplied the foundational beliefs of our Western culture, is that men should not trust women and that women should trust neither themselves nor each other (6).

If women cannot trust themselves, then who are we supposed to trust?  Our culture has the answer at the ready: trust men!  Especially, trust religious leaders, trust the words supposedly breathed onto paper by a male god over 2,000 years ago.  I fell into this trap, and how could I not, when all the women I saw around me were following the same lie?  I always wanted to be “good”.  According to the religious texts of my upbringing, the best way to do that was to remain silent, obey male authority, and confine my activities to raising good, Christian children.

Reading this story from the outside, one might think that I was raised in a religious cult.  In some ways I was, but my life looked nothing like the stories on TV.  I lived in mainstream, suburban, white America.  I went to public school.  I had good grades, and I was accepted into a prestigious private college.  I was allowed to pursue an education.  I was encouraged to wait to get married until I was older.  However, this was not because my captors believed in equal rights.  They simply knew that they already had such a tight hold over my mind that they didn’t need to control me through marriage and children.  Education is supposed to offer a way out and a way up, a way for people to better their situation.  After my first semester of college, do you think that I walked away from the toxic religious world of my upbringing?  No!  Not only did I not walk away, I went back home!  That’s right.  I went right back to the place I was being abused.  Why?  Because I realized that I could not survive in the outside world.  My captors had purposely kept me from developing the tools I needed to function on my own.

In her groundbreaking story “Nanette”, Hannah Gadsby speaks about the extent to which shame damages children:

When you soak a child in shame, they cannot develop the neurological pathways that carry thoughts of self-worth.  They can’t do that.  Self-hatred is only ever a seed planted from outside in.  But when you do that to a child, it becomes a weed so thick, and it grows so fast, the child doesn’t know any different.

These stories about woman’s creation are exactly how the shame starts.  As a little girl, how are you going to see yourself if you’re told that your ancestral mother brought death and suffering to all humanity?  According to Gadsby, society offers little girls two choices:

There’s only ever been two options for a little girl to grow up into.  Virgin or whore.  We were always given a choice.  Take your pick.  Ladies’ choice!  That’s the trick.  The patriarchy, it’s not a dictatorship.  Take your choice!  And I don’t fit very neatly into either of those categories.

The devastating effects of this false choice are seen in little girls who are sexually abused.  If our innocence is our value, what do we become when someone else (generally a man) takes our innocence from us?  Our biblical stories do not acknowledge consent.  They do not differentiate between consensual sex and rape:

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days (Deuteronomy 22:28-9).

In this law, it does not matter whether the girl wanted the encounter, though language like “seizes” and “violated” indicate that she probably did not.  If an unbetrothed girl is raped, she must marry her rapist and live with him for life.  Now, what if a girl avoids being molested and remains a virgin until marriage?  According to Deuteronomy, she must be able to prove that she is a virgin or risk death:

If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days. But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).

Suppose a girl remains virginal until marriage and is able to prove it?  What happens if this girl, now a married woman, is raped?  Her fate is much darker:

If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 22:22).

There is a pattern throughout this chapter of Deuteronomy.  When the story calls for girls and women to be killed, regardless of whether they consented to the sexual act, it is done in the name of “purging the evil”.  There is a devastating connection between a woman’s sexuality and her societal value.  If your mythology revolves around women bringing evil in the world, then it is logical that your laws will call for the death of women in order to purge the evil they mythologically brought into society.

This is the story planted in the heads of millions of little girls.  “Your worth is tied to your sexuality.”  When a little girl is violated, if she has been raised in this religious culture, she has no stories to teach her that she is still valuable.  She ends up like me, like Hannah Gadsby, who had minimized her humanity by the time she was an adolescent, “The only thing I knew how to do was to be invisible and hate myself.  It took me ten years to understand I was allowed to take up space in the world.”  As an adult, Gadsby was beaten by a man simply because she was a lesbian, but she didn’t report it because, by that time, she had no sense of self-worth:

He beat the shit out of me and nobody stopped him.  And I didn’t report that to the police, and I did not take myself to hospital, and I should have.  And you know why I didn’t?  It’s because I thought that was all I was worth.  And that is what happens when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate.  And that was not homophobia, pure and simple, people.  That was gendered.  If I’d been feminine, that would not have happened.  I am incorrectly female.  I am incorrect, and that is a punishable offense.

 

We need better stories, ones that teach us about the inherent worth of all human beings.  Let us not make the mistake of turning on men as a category.  They are trapped in this narrative with us.  Take one step further back.  Who created this story?  Given that women in ancient Greece and Palestine were generally illiterate, it’s safe to assume that the Christian and Greek story was written by men, but not just any group of men.  Specifically, these stories were written by men with enough power and wealth to access the education and materials needed to record the stories and ensure that they had a lasting influence on society.  The solution, therefore, is to target and remove from power the influential, wealthy men who are currently controlling our stories:

Donald Trump, Pablo Picasso, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski.  These men are not exceptions, they are the rule.  And they are not individuals, they are our stories.  And the moral of our story is, “We don’t give a shit.  We don’t give a fuck about women or children.  We only care about a man’s reputation.”  What about his humanity?  These men control our stories!  And yet they have a diminishing connection to their own humanity, and we don’t seem to mind, so long as they get to hold onto their precious reputation (Gadsby).

It is time for us to create a different story.  We can draw inspiration from other cultures’ stories of powerful women, or we can write our own.  Gadsby’s story reaches out to all survivors of abuse:

To be rendered powerless does not destroy your humanity.  Your resilience is your humanity.  The only people who lose their humanity are those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless.  They are the weak.  To yield and not break, that is incredible strength.  You destroy the woman, you destroy the past she represents.  I will not allow my story to be destroyed.  What I would have done to hear a story like mine.  Not for blame.  Not for reputation, not for money, not for power.  But to feel less alone.  To feel connected.

To find our stories, we must first examine ourselves and disentangle our beings from the toxicity and lies that have been planted in our beings since we were born.  We must acknowledge our past, but we must also work to create a brighter future or risk visiting the same traumas on the next generation.  I’ve been trying to use this blog to tell stories about women who defied convention.  I can’t do it alone.  Please add your voice to this fight.  Because it is a fight, and the ones who stand the lose the most are our children.

References

Blackie, Sharon.  If Women Rose Rooted.  http://sharonblackie.net/if-women-rose-rooted/

Gadsby, Hannah.  “Nanette.”  https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8465676/

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One Comment to “A Call For Stories”

  1. Thea says:

    Well written and absorbing, thank you for posting.

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