Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Question of Patriarchy

Alice C. Linsley

While some feminists consider the Bible outdated and chauvinistic, through the lens of the sciences of anthropology and psychology it appears to be quite accurate in its descriptions of human behavior. Due to their bias, feminists miss some significant details that serve their cause of elevating the status of women. Bible scholar Jane Schaberg (University of Detroit Mercy) finds the Bible to be a source of valuable information about the role and experience of women during Biblical times and she is a feminist.

Feminist scholarship, writes Schaberg in her Biblical Views column for the November/December issue of BAR, aims to turn the old, male-dominated understanding of the Bible on its head and thereby reveal new insights into the lives of often-marginalized women in the ancient world.

Likewise, while feminist scholarship on the Bible does not necessarily aim for complete objectivity, which Schaberg calls an "impossible ideal," it does aim for fairness in assessing the scriptural texts. Feminists also focus attention on issues that have often been sidelined in biblical studies, like slavery, gender equality and sexuality.

It is assumed that the ancient laws were enacted to subordinate women and Genesis 3:16 is often quoted to support this view. "Yet your desire and craving will be for your husband and he will rule over you." This relationship of subordination is not established by Horite Hebrew Law, though Horite Law recognizes this arrangement. The subordination of the female to the male is a direct result of fear, the first emotion described after the Fall. When men are fearful they become aggressive and defensive of their turf and family. When women become fearful, they tend to get "clingly" and surrender their wants/needs in order to preserve the relationship.

Feminists argue that patriarchy is the result of universal oppression of women by men. They want to make men the oppressors, and ignore the effects of fear on males and females. In the biblical worldview patriarchy came as the result of fear entering the male-female relationship after disobedience (Gen. 3:10).  Because of fear, the woman's desire is for her husband and he "rules" over her (Gen. 3:16).  In her seminal book, In a Different Voice, Harvard psychology professor Carol Gilligan demonstrated through her research how this is so.

The feminist worldview and the biblical worldview are contradictory.  This is especially evident when addressing the question of patriarchy.  Patriarchy is the universal norm.  Feminists will argue that this isn't true by pointing to soft patriarchal societies where line of descent or rights of inheritance are traced through females.  A true matriarchy is characterized by the following conditions:

* line of descent must be traced through the mothers
* rights of inheritance must be figured through the mothers
* political power must be vested with ruling females
* females must have the final say in deciding matters for the community

It is a matter of fact that, after eighty-five years of ethnographic studies, no true matriarchal society has ever been identified by cultural anthropologists.

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