In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the denial of women as equal members of the religious body, as well as of their very humanity, is nowhere more clearly illustrated than in the first book of the Bible. Genesis 2:21-23:
“And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs…[from which] made he a woman…and Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.”
Here we have the biological import of woman—that of childbearing—taken from her and given to man: Man is born of the earth, and woman is born of man. The serpent then tempts Eve, and Eve tempts Adam. The disenfranchisement and vilification of woman is complete.
The Judeo-Christian tradition attributes the birth of humanity to man, denying woman even that singular ability. She owes man everything, even her very existence. The debt of life is owed not to the mother but to the father; and man is the father of woman, and God the father of man. The only things woman has birthed are sin and damnation; and man, in his benevolence, whether as father, son, brother, husband, priest, patriarch or christ, lowers his hand to woman that he might save her from herself.
This is the traditional—and, by traditional, I mean preserved and promulgated—reading of the Hebrew Bible. Of course, the preservation, interpretation and dissemination of scriptural teachings has long been the role of men—a role declared and closely guarded by men; and while the sexist implications of this and many other Judeo-Christian myths is not often elucidated, they have nonetheless been inculcated into the minds of the religious—male and female, young and old—for thousands of years; and that kind of tradition is hard to question yet alone overcome.
But there are alternative interpretations of scripture. For instance, regarding the above creation myth, Anne Fausto-Sterling, in a 1993 article, The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough, relates that early biblical scholars regarded Adam not as a man but a hermaphrodite (p. 23). The birth of Eve, in this context, would represent not the subordinance of woman to man but the bisection of the human being into two sexes requiring the (re)union of two people to make one flesh (Gen. 2:24).
Even if we were to stand by the so-called traditional, patriarchal interpretation of the Genesis creation myth, for the Christian tradition at least there might be hope. In the New Testament, Jesus is born of a virgin. Specifically, Mary is impregnated by the Holy Ghost (Matt. 1:18). Here we have inception and birth without the seed of a man. The Holy Ghost, at least according to feminist theologians Elizabeth Johnson (1992) and Paul K. Jewett (1980), often operates as a feminine God metaphor (p. 83; p. 49).
The participation of the feminine aspect of God in this myth excludes the metaphorically masculine; and, in this wholly female inception and birth of the salvific, we have the assertion of the importance of woman to the spiritual future of humanity. Whereas before, with patriarchal theology, we had God as the father of man and man as the father of woman; now, through feminist theology, we have woman as the mother of God and God as the savior of all humankind.
Fausto-Sterling, A. (1993). The five sexes: Why male and female are not enough. The sciences, March/April, 20-24.
Jewett, P. K. (1980). The Ordination of Women. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Johnson, E.A. (1992). She who is: The mystery of god in feminist theological discourse. New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Co.