Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Honorable mention — Elizabeth Cullen: Women’s rights and bibliolatry in the United States

Vol. 35 No. 9 November 2018
Elizabeth Cullen                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

By Elizabeth Cullen

It is well-known that men and women are prescribed different roles by the bible. Those Christians who practice a literal interpretation of the book preach that women should be submissive and seen but not heard. Just as dangerous to society are those who interpret the spirit of the text, because although they may grant women more rights and broader roles, completely discarding the underlying attitude of male dominance is incompatible with a biblical lifestyle. This has historically caused hurdles for women in the workplace and limited domestic protections. The #Metoo movement represents a drastic move away from the biblical oppression of women, and by harnessing the momentum of the movement, we as a society may be able to resolve many of the issues women face.

The bible often describes the relationship between man and wife, almost exclusively to the theme of female oppression. Although in the first creation story of Genesis, God creates man and woman at the same time, the second creation story takes a different tone. In the second creation story, Eve is presented both as subservient to Adam and as more flawed. In the story, God creates Eve as a companion from Adam’s rib, thus symbolizing male preeminence as well as women’s role as supporters of men. Later on, Eve is tempted by the serpent, eats the apple, and then offers it to Adam. This story places blame for Adam’s sin on Eve, who is presented as the original source of sin in the world.

Both literal and figurative interpretations of this story provide a biblical justification for victim blaming, especially in cases of sexual assault, as Eve’s actions with the apple allegorize a female temptress seducing a man.

It seems inconsistent that women are both blamed for seducing men while also being bound by the law to submit. Ecclesiastes 7:26 states: “And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.” Contradictingly, Colossians 3:18 says: “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as it is fitting in the Lord.”

In addition to marriage roles, the bible presents numerous rules and guidelines for women’s behavior in public and places in society. According to Leviticus, women are forbidden to become priests. Other classes excluded from the priesthood include the sick and disabled. The Hebrews believed that anyone with a defect was ill-suited to approach the altar, and it is very telling that women are placed in this category. Proverbs 11:22 restricts the types of behaviors that are becoming for women, “like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” First Corinthians has much to say about women’s behavior, including in verse 14:34: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submissions, as the law says.”

Both the Old and New Testaments provide dress codes for women that are stricter than those for men.

Deuteronomy 22:5 (Old Testament) states: “A woman shall not wear man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the lord your God.” Although most Christians would consider the laws of Deuteronomy to pertain only to the Hebrews of the Old Covenant, the same general attitude about women’s dress continues into the gospels and letters. First Corinthians mentions several times that women should keep their hair long, and First Timothy 2:9-10 states: “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.”

All of these examples from the bible have long informed public policy in the United States, but there has been a dramatic change in recent discourse. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 inaugurated the fight for gender equality in the workplace, but there is still work to be done as a society through legislation. The #Metoo movement has brought women’s rights to the forefront of public discussion, and there is momentum to tighten harassment laws through bills such as the Me Too Congress Act of 2017. Our country is p

oised for dramatic change in the protection of women, as the current liberal galvanization provides both a widespread desire for change and strength to move forward. Harassment, equal pay and sufficient maternity leave are just some of the issues that can be resolved through aggressive legislation and enforcement, and it is encouraging to see this happening throughout our country.

Elizabeth, 29, from Shepherd, Mich., attends Michigan State University and is seeking a master’s in finance and supply chain management. She graduated from Grand Valley State University with an undergraduate degree in music education. Elizabeth already holds a Master’s of Music degree from Central Michigan University.