by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love Joy Feminism
Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 106—108
This chapter is called “The Nature of Man and Woman.” Last week, in the first section of this chapter, we learned that it is in men’s nature to beat their chests and roar at each other while women by nature sit back, admire, and wait to be conquered. This next section is called “The Woman Was Deceived.” I think you can guess the topic. Debi starts by telling the story of the fallen angel Lucifer and God’s creation of Adam.
Debi explains that Adam was lonely and that Satan could have taken that time to tempt him, taking advantage of his loneliness. But instead Satan “waited for the creation of the weaker vessel.” See, “Satan knew that the man could not be deceived, but the woman could.”
Lucifer is a male being (Isaiah 14:12—20). He understands the natural resistance of the male. He knows males say “no” just to prove they are in command. But Lucifer could see that this soft, sweet female was vulnerable. God had made her by nature to be responsive, and she was trusting and naive.
This is why Satan approached Eve rather than Adam, and this is why his temptation was successful. Eve ate the forbidden fruit at Satan’s urging because she was the weaker vessel, not as strong as Adam. She would listen to Satan ready to be convinced while Adam would have listened with skepticism. The interesting thing is that the Bible doesn’t actually back up what Debi is saying here. Nowhere does the Bible say the snake approached Eve because she was female, and nowhere does the Bible say that Adam would never have succumbed to temptation. Debi is just making this stuff up.
Regardless, Debi is playing into some stereotypes here—namely, the idea that men are guided by logic and thought while women are guided by feelings and emotions. This idea is in no sense unique to Debi; rather, it pervades our culture today. And explaining everything that is wrong with it would take several blog posts. For one thing, lots of people don’t fit these stereotypes. Second, women are socialized to be more concerned with people’s feelings while men are socialized to be more interested in try argument. Third, this logic/emotion male/female dichotomy results in positioning feelings as inferior and pure unaffected “reason” as superior, which has all sorts of negative effects when it comes to things like classism and imperialism. The thing is, Debi takes these stereotypes, treats them as universal, and covers them with a religious gloss.
In my mind, I picture the man being created heavily armored. His armor is helpful both spiritually and physically. God loaded him down with resistances, giving him a nature that is doubting, skeptical, forceful, and pushy. God knew that in order for man to survive, and even prosper, he would need a natural armor that would drive him to keep pushing against the odds, while enjoying the challenge. God knew that Satan was a liar and the master of deceit, so he created man to question first and believe later. Man’s objectivity and lack of intuitiveness make him appear less spiritual than the sensitive, believing female. As a general rule, man is ruled more by his mind than the female, who is governed more by her sensibilities.
Picture God as deliberately creating the woman without this armor, because he intended for her to stand behind her husband’s armor. He was to be her covering her shield, and her protector. Satan was able to deceive her when she left Adam’s side and was confronted by the Devil’s logic alone. She didn’t have the armor to ward off his fiery darts of deceit.
Oh, so much to say here.
It’s worth noting Debi is simply pulling all this out of her magic hat (which is of course simply a nicer way to say that she’s pulling it out of her ass). This is true for both the idea that women are more easily deceived and the suggestion that men are more cerebral. For one thing, the Bible doesn’t say that women are more easily deceived. Sure, it says some things you can fairly easily twist into meaning that, but people like the Pearls claim that they are merely taking the Bible at face value. The Bible also doesn’t say that men are more cerebral or that women are more intuitive. Seriously, look for it. It’s not there. This stuff comes not from the Bible but rather from culture. Basically, when it comes to these points Debi is basing her theology on both medieval (women are easily deceived) and Victorian (men are cerebral and women are intuitive) gender stereotypes. (Yes, misogyny in the church goes back much further than that, but I am completely unconvinced that Debi’s actually pulling on figures from church history rather than more present cultural factors like the remnants of medieval and Victorian ideas about gender.)
This bit about men being created with armor and men without is likewise a product of Debi’s magic hat. It’s not in the Bible, anywhere, and it also doesn’t fit into actual lived experience. The problem with what Debi is doing is that being told over and over that you are weak and cannot do things yourself or safely make your own decisions may result in you actually starting to believe it. In other words, it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. But I want to return to the Bible for a second, because it occurs to me that Debi is ignoring the most explicit place in the Bible that having armor is discussed: Ephesians 6:10-17.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The book of Ephesians was written to both male and female Christians in Ephesus and there is nothing in this passage that indicates that Paul only intended to address the men in his audience with this passage. Rather, this passage appears to suggest that both men and women can put on the armor of God and “stand against the devil’s schemes.” Both men and women can take up the sword of the spirit and the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of faith and the belt of truth. What Debi is saying is that this is wrong, that God made men with armor and left women defenseless.
Speaking of which, how in the world does that make any sense, right? If you were creating two turtles, would you intentionally leave one defenseless, bereft of a shell? Seriously, the turtle without a shell is just supposed to stand behind the turtle that does have a shell? Why not just create both turtles with shells? And beside that, we’re supposed to believe that women should never leave the side of their male protector? Really? What if a woman needs to do some shopping, is she supposed to take her husband with her, always? I’m guessing Debi would say no, but isn’t that what Debi suggests Eve’s mistake was—that she stepped away from Adam for a moment?
As for why women would be created without armor:
God designed the woman to be sensitive and vulnerable for the sake of the little ones whom she must nurture. The soul of a mother had to be vulnerable, the outer shell thin. She must be quick to feel, to hurt, to love, to have compassion, to take in the broken, and to believe the best. Vulnerability is a woman’s greatest natural asset and the point of her greatest weakness.
You can see how a reader predisposed to believe Debi’s words would be nodding along here. Debi is putting together something that appears to make some internal sense. But when I read these sentences, I can’t help but think of a mama bear. Would someone seriously suggest that a mama bear’s “vulnerability” is her greatest natural asset? Would someone seriously suggest that a mama bear needs to be “vulnerable” in order to nurture her cubs? I’d rather think the opposite. Being a mother does not require being vulnerable or having a thin outer shell. Sure, being a parent means you open yourself up to hurt, but if you go into it being exposed and think-skinned, you’re going to find yourself in a heap of trouble. Motherhood—parenthood—requires inner strength, tenacity, and grit. It is not for the weak at heart.
Having given this reason for women’s lack of armor, Debi next explains that a woman can become like a man—can attempt to fashion armor for herself, if you like. But the results, according to Debi, aren’t pretty.
A woman can become tough and hard, skeptical and cautious in relationships, just like a man. She can become guarded and cynical, but in so doing, she is no longer feminine, no longer attractive to a man, and she will even begin to not like herself. Unprotected by the covering of her husband, she will grow miserable fighting her own battles and trying to survive on an equal footing with men. Just look at the faces and mannerisms of outspoken feminists and lesbians. In their attempt to shed their vulnerability and express their independence, feminists begin to exhibit traits and behaviors completely outside of their created feminine nature. They lose their beauty and charm and become very poor excuses of men.
Feminists and lesbians seem to be the perennial punching bag of female readers who write books for conservative Christian audiences. I’m not the second, but I’m definitely the first, and let me st your mind at easy: My husband still finds plenty of beauty and charm in me. Also, I promise that I don’t actually hate myself.
One line from this very typical paragraph especially stuck out to me: “In their attempt to shed their vulnerability and express their independence . . . ” In Debi’s world, women are to be vulnerable and men are to be independent. While ordinary people generally see an individual’s attempt to shed vulnerability and embrace independence as a positive thing, Debi only sees it as a positive thing if it’s a man who is doing it. Men are to be bold independent leaders; women are to be vulnerable submissive followers. Independence in the hand of a man is invigorating and attractive while independence in the hand of a woman is ugly and unfeminine.
In the end, this entire section is in some sense simply Debi’s attempt to justify the “weaker vessel” rhetoric. Women are more vulnerable and sensitive because they must be suited to raising children; Men are stronger and more independent because they must protect and provide for the women and children under their care. The idea that both men and women might be able to cooperatively find a balance between the two, each with aspects of vulnerability and aspects of independence, eludes Debi completely, as does the increasing obviousness that her stereotypes about gender come not from the Bible or nature but rather from Victorian social norms.
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Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism
Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce