Feast upon the Word Blog

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Garden Oracle: Fallen Nature of Male Dominance

Posted by BrianJ on January 24, 2010

“Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

– God, to Eve (Genesis 3:16)

*Situational Irony

The characters at the end of the Garden/Fall narrative experience the opposite of what they intended or how they began: Satan attempts to exalt himself but gets debased; by covering themselves in fig leaves, Adam and Eve actually reveal their guilt; etc. We see some of this situational irony during the Garden judgment oracles, when God explains the consequences of the Fall.

Whereas initially the Garden sustained Adam (through seemingly little effort on his part), after the Fall the ground was “cursed…for [his] sake.” God continued, “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.” In other words, the earth would now produce exactly what Adam did not need: “thorns” instead of “herbs”.

None of this should be taken as some sort of ideal—as though by warning of thorns and thistles, God meant that there must be or even that God wants there to be thorns and thistles on the earth. No, this isn’t the ideal; rather it’s a statement of what the Fall will mean, in practical terms, for Adam. So when you see a thorn or thistle in your yard, feel free to tear it up—root and all—and have no fear that you’re somehow “upsetting God’s plan as intended.”

Now let’s look at the words to Eve:

“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

Many take the last part of this pronouncement to mean that man should be the head of household, the one in charge, the presider. But why take only this one part of the post-Fall judgment as “the way it should be”? If we view thorns and thistles, physical death, and sorrow as “unfortunate and undesirable consequences of the Fall,” then why not view male dominance the same way?

*A Ruined Partnership

Another aspect of irony in this story depends on how we interpret the account of Eve’s creation:

“And I, the Lord God, said unto mine Only Begotten, that it was not good that the man should be alone; wherefore, I will make an help meet for him. And I, the Lord God, caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam; and he slept, and I took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh in the stead thereof; And the rib which I, the Lord God, had taken from man, made I a woman, and brought her unto the man.”

What is the significance of Eve being formed from Adam’s side, as opposed to his foot or his head (or something else)? Others have suggested—and I tend to agree, at least for the most part—that this symbolizes that, in God’s plan, Eve was not intended to be subservient to or ruling over Adam; she was his partner, his help meet, his indispensable companion. Adam gets the symbolism—“This I know now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh,” he says—and just to make sure that we get it, the narrative adds, “Therefore shall a man…cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.” Eve supplied that which Adam lacked and, by implication, Adam should supply what she lacked.

Well, in the Garden anyway. After the Fall, God’s words come across as a kind of lament as well as a warning: whereas Man and Woman were created to be partners, now (the Woman is warned) Man would assume a domineering role. (And “assume” is perhaps exactly the right word here; I don’t see God telling Man to behave that way.) A question for male readers: what does it mean that of all the sorrows God could have warned Eve about, he chose to warn her about painful childbirth and…us?

*Partners in Crime

I’ll note that this interpretation doesn’t let Eve/Woman off the hook. Part of what God says to her—“thy desire shall be to thy husband”—doesn’t make much sense (to me) as written  in the KJV, but at least one translation that is actually written in English (wink, wink) clarifies it: “You will want to control your husband,” it read, “but he will dominate you.” The breakdown in equal partnering, it seems, comes from both directions.

15 Responses to “Garden Oracle: Fallen Nature of Male Dominance”

  1. RobF said

    Nice insights. To me the story of the Fall seems to have something to do with humans refusing to accept things the way they are and their coming to judge everything as either good or bad. Weeds are just plants, unless you decide they shouldn’t be where you want something else to be, then they are weeds. Marriages are equal partnerships, until one of the partners decides perhaps they know better and things should be otherwise. I wonder as Latter-day Saints if we aren’t too quick to accept the “we really needed that fruit of opposition” rationale? Maybe there really is some other way. Considering the source, why would we be so quick to accept the statement that there is no other way?

  2. RuthS said

    I’ll note that this interpretation doesn’t let Eve/Woman off the hook. Part of what God says to her—”thy desire shall be to thy husband”—doesn’t make much sense (to me) as written in the KJV, but at least one translation that is actually written in English (wink, wink) clarifies it: “You will want to control your husband,” it read, “but he will dominate you.” The breakdown in equal partnering, it seems, comes from both directions.

    That is a can of worms better left unopened. Another translation says “To the woman he said,’Pain increasing, groans that spread into groans: having children will be labor. To your man’s body your belly will rise, for he will be eager above you.'”

    This makes more sense to me in the context of what the Lord is talking about in terms of their survival and the survival of the human family.

    RobF: There probably is some other way. However the source of this information is unreliable at best. In my view, this is another can of worms best left unopened.

  3. anony said

    I know you included the example of Eve being from Adam’s rib and thus they must be on equal footing, but if you’re arguing that the opposite of fruits and flowers (what Adam did need) was going to be produced in weeds and thorns (what Adam did not need) then the opposite of male dominance is not equality–it is female dominance.

  4. BrianJ said

    Robf: one commentary I read suggested that part of the change with the Fall was that in the Garden Adam and Eve judged everything in terms of true/false whereas after the Fall they judged in terms of good/bad (not in the sense of righteous/evil but in the sense of desirable/undesirable). That’s really part of a different post I have planned though….

    RuthS: I intend to open every worm can. Why not? Set the worms free!

    I looked at many of the different translations, but I found that the translator’s notes seemed to give more support for the “You will want to control your husband” version. You can read that argument at the link I provided in the original post. I also don’t see why the Lord must restrict his comments to Eve to only reproduction.

    Anony: I don’t argue that the opposite of male dominance is equality. I argue that the opposite of equality is contention for dominance; i.e., man and woman need to be engaged as equal partners but instead they will both vie for control.

  5. Molly Bennion said

    Lots of agreement here, BrianJ. This is a short version of how I get there. Once “helpmeet’ is introduced the stage is set for opposition, one of the other potential meanings of helpmeet. Yet the command is to ‘cleave’ (d-v-k,a Hebrew word describing devotion to God) and ‘one flesh,’ commonly interpreted by Mormons and nonMormons alike to mean a union on all levels. That would seem the ideal of Eden and of God. After the Fall, the opposition is logically and metaphorically enlarged setting Eve, “born” of Adam’s rib against her metaphorical physical source and Adam against the earth, his metaphorical physical source. In fact I think the curses each go both ways; we all oppose both each other and the physical earth to our detriment. In much of humanity women and men have tended to play out the specific curses on their own genders a bit more than the curse on the other, but that doesn’t excuse either for sins against union of many kinds. Yet the opposition makes free agency, knowledge and even wisdom possible so that hopefully we may seek the ideal, a ‘one flesh’ marriage and a spiritual union with God.
    While I think Adam and Eve understood the necessity of the Fall, I wonder how much they understood of their punishments, which have proven most difficult.

  6. BrianJ said

    Molly: “we all oppose both each other and the physical earth to our detriment.” I wish I had said it that way. Thanks!

  7. Thomas Parkin said

    “If we view thorns and thistles, physical death, and sorrow as “unfortunate and undesirable consequences of the Fall,” then why not view male dominance the same way?”

    AMEN! I started thinking along the lines you’re discussing a couple years ago – although I think I intuited something like it for many years. It has completely reoriented the way I view Genesis, and the Endowment.

    Thanks, Brian. ~

  8. kirkcaudle said

    BrianJ, great work here. This reading is definitely worth pondering while considering the Adam and Eve narrative.

    I have never heard of a translation of Gen 3:16 along those lines. I wish I knew Hebrew so I could understand the text better. Maybe when I have some down time I will look up the Septuagint version and see what I can come up with.

  9. J. Madson said

    very enjoyable read. Reminds me of Nibley’s classic “Patriarchy and Matriarchy” essay

  10. Robert C. said

    Great thoughts, Brian.

    I recently read a very interesting essay that discussed the “help meet for him” phrase in Gen 2:18 in terms of the “opposition” connotations of the Hebrew kenegdo. (The NET footnote mentions this connotation of opposition, though not as strongly as the essay argued.)

    So I’ve been wondering about this in light of the discussion of opposition in 2 Nephi, and something else I read regarding opposition in Genesis, how God doesn’t fight against the opposition that he repeatedly faces, but turns the opposition to something good. The waters of chaos are organized into the beauties of creation. The agency of humankind which is, at root, an opposing force to God’s own will and desires, is not denigrated and fought against, as Satan’s approach was (per the Book of Moses), but it is celebrated, respected and worked with.

    I think there’s something fundamentally good, in this sense, about the opposition that woman represents to man/Adam in the creation story, and I think it is precisely because woman’s own gift of free will continually provides a check on any of man’s desires to dominate, in parallel to Satan’s desire to abrogate others’ agency.

    Or something like that?

  11. BrianJ said

    Well, I’ve really never understood Lehi’s point about “opposition in all things.” Recently I think you pointed out that the creation account is one of separating one thing from another, and that made me think about “opposition” differently. Previously I always thought of it as “opposites,” and surely some of the creation is a game of opposites: light/dark, day/night, under/over the firmament, land/sea. But some things don’t oppose so clearly: what’s the opposite of herbs? or the sun? or cattle? So now I’m wondering if “opposition” = “separation,” and what Lehi really means is that things “must needs be” separated in order to have meaning.

    That said, I appreciate what you’re saying about God not fighting against opposition. (Even that means I’m going back to the traditional meaning of the word!)

  12. jennywebb said

    Brian,

    Just wanted to let you know I’ve been thinking about this post all week. Thanks for writing something thoughtful and interesting!

  13. RobF said

    BrianJ:
    “things “must needs be” separated in order to have meaning.”

    Whoa! Talk about a light going on in my mind! Hidden right there in plain view this whole time. Wow.

  14. BrianJ said

    Jenny: thanks!

    Rob: but I can’t take credit; I stole the idea from someone else here at FUTW—either you or Robert or Joe.

  15. […] to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.” Note that I’m also not thinking in terms of opposites, as though the two trees are enemies or something, just that I don’t see why the two trees […]

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