A major thread of the Western Culture in which we currently live can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Thence it comes to us via the Roman Empire and is subsequently overwhelmingly influenced by Christian theology and practice. An examination reveals that misogyny is an integral and indispensable component of the relevant creation myths. That legacy of misogyny has been nurtured by the church for over two thousand years to deliver its burdens to us today.
The creation stories of humans in Greek mythology differ somewhat. (Condensed and simplified from Ref.1) In one version, the gods created 5 races of men, starting with men fashioned from gold. When these men died out, they were followed by men of silver, men of brass, godlike heroes and finally men of iron who exist to this day. In the other version, men were created by Epimetheus, but they were such poor creatures that his brother Prometheus had to step in to give them their upright stance and steal fire from the gods for them so that they could survive. In both cases, only men were created, no women.
Zeus himself later created women in his anger at Prometheus for caring so much about men. There are two stories about that first woman. Zeus created her as “a great evil for men, sweet and lovely to behold,” and the other gods gave her gifts, “silvery raiment, bright garlands of flowers and a golden crown - great beauty shone from her.” Because of the things that the gods gave her, she was named “the gift of all.” “From her, the first woman, comes the race of women, who are an evil to men, with a nature to do evil.” Today we know her as Pandora.
Her name instantly leads us to the other widely-known story. The gods each put something into a box which they gave to Pandora and forbade her to open. Overwhelmed by curiosity, she opened the box and innumerable plagues, sorrows, mischief and so forth, flew out to torment humanity. In terror she clapped down the lid, retaining only hope to comfort mankind during its misfortune.
Pause and reflect on those ideas. “…women, who are an evil to men, with a nature to do evil.” Pandora, a woman, too weak to resist her own curiosity, who released innumerable plagues, sorrows, and mischief upon mankind. In the creation myths of the Ancient Greeks, the tribulations of human life were not explained by the reality, struggle and imperfection of existence, but were blamed exclusively on one woman, and, by extension, all women. Thus, misogyny was woven into their fabric of creation and eventually placed on the record. Not surprisingly, these ideas were perpetuated into the everyday life that immediately followed.
“The Greek patriarchy oppressed and secluded women throughout the thousands of years of what is considered “Ancient Greece.” Women were only to marry, bear children, and provide around the house. They were not to attend school or social events or participate in political or military events. Women had very little freedom and (experienced) double standards when it came to marriage, sexuality, employment, and social aspects of their lives. Men were all-powerful and dominating, while women were shameful and deceitful. Ancient Greek mythology blames women for the downfall of men.” (2, 3) Since that time we have come so far technologically, but socially, one wonders. To elements of the far right, that haunting description of life three thousand years ago reads like a passage that could have been ripped from their manifesto today.
Sadly, the creation story from Genesis is equally derogatory to women. Again, there are two conflicting versions of the event. In Genesis 1:27 “God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them.” However, in Gen. 2:7 for undisclosed reasons, God created Man again, this time from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into him. God realizes an omission, so he anesthetizes the man, zips out a rib and creates woman from that. (Gen 2:21-22)
(You would think that these omnipotent, omniscient gods could get their acts together and each transmit their own clear, concise creation story of humanity to their respective mortal scribes. Perhaps, as The (recently-departed) Queen noted, “…recollections may vary.”)
Whatever their creation history, we rejoin Adam and Eve enjoying life in the Garden of Eden, though God forbids them from eating the fruit from the tree of “knowledge and evil.” But the cunning serpent has a plan and beguiles the woman, Eve.
“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave it also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” (Gen. 3:6) There it is again! It’s the woman who messes things up. She could have just let things be, but no, she wanted to be wise. The woman, Eve, ruined it for everybody.
Well, God is upset. (Remember now, this is God personified as Yahweh, the revengeful, smite your enemies, warrior god of the early Old Testament, not the version from 1,000 or so years later trying to rehabilitate his image as a loving and forgiving Deity in the New Testament.) He is in no mood to be forgiving. “Unto the woman he said, 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.” (Gen 3:16) And then, in a fit of pique, God banishes humanity from the Garden of Eden.
How vicious. Condemning her to bear children in sorrow and pain is bad enough, but he then further burdens her to be under the absolute rule of her husband. Many generations of male preachers/ministers/clergy have thundered to their congregations, “It is there in Genesis 3 verse 16, a clear, direct, edict from God, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. No ifs, ands or buts; your husband shall rule over thee.” And all the assembled brothers nod and chorus, “Amen.”
No wonder there is misogyny in Western society, it is woven into our creation mythology from Time Zero. The stories would not work without it. In either set of myths, it’s the woman, the evil woman, the weak woman, the God-disobeying woman, who is at fault, and who therefore causes the rest of humanity to be cursed forever. I was taught both these stories in Primary and Sunday School over 60 years ago. Subtly, but unequivocally, inculcated from a young age with the idea that women are second class, that women are the source of societies’ ailments and sinful ways.
Every Christmas there is a beautiful celebration service in the Church of England known as The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.” (4) It is performed from mighty Cathedrals to tiny parish churches and the most famous version, from Kings College, Cambridge is broadcast nationally and internationally at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Even in this celebration during a season of goodwill and giving, the misogynistic message is reaffirmed. The First of the Nine Lessons relates the Biblical story of creation and includes that verse from Gen. 3:16. I stand guilty of perpetuating the insult; I read that First Lesson to our village congregation in December 1965.
Obviously, these stories were concocted from thin air by late Bronze Age men as a way to demean and control, a way to exert power. The messages have been preached by men for millennia. And they have worked. Consider the effect, and incredible suffering, that the little phrase “and he shall rule over thee,” has caused for the past 2,000 years.
It is only fair to note that for almost all of recorded history, and sadly still in many places today, a woman’s lot has been and is grim. One wonders how much better it could have been for women, and probably all humanity, if, for the past three thousand years, equality and not domination had been practiced.
How do we respond to this history today? Do we identify, proclaim and illuminate the cultural origins of misogyny? Do we demand the teaching of CCT (Critical Creation Theory)? Demand that teaching Greek mythology and the Biblical story of creation be accompanied by the appropriate dispassionate discussion of the misogyny therein? Should women demand reparations from the churches? Well, how about a plethora of class-action law suits by persecuted women against individual churches that espouse male domination?
Turn those thoughts over in your mind. Can you imagine the resulting cataclysmic explosion of vitriol and (probably) violence if we were to suggest any of these actions? It would relegate the War on Christmas to an insignificant skirmish.
As with so many cultural issues, any progress will require patience, probably take time, be incremental and require education. The scientist in me says we should quit teaching unscientific creation myths and educate children with current, data-based theories of human origins, including the holes and unanswered questions.
Here is another complementary approach, facing down a direct insult head on. In the summer of 2020, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a congresswoman from New York, was accosted by a (soon to be retiring) Republican from Florida, Rep. Ted Yoho, at the US Capital. Following a testy exchange from him, he departed, calling her a “f**king b*tch.” He later issued a non-apology apology on the floor of the House. Her dignified, intelligent, reasoned response to him, and 3,000 years of misogyny, is well worth 10 minutes of your time.
1. Mythology by Edith Hamilton. Mentor, 1969, Pages 68-73