To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman's self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. --John Berger, Ways of SeeingI've already discussed the issue of the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve. To my two previous accounts -- the perfection of women and the subservience of the same -- I now add a third. It's one that caught my attention at the time as being relatively progressive. At the moment of the Fall, Eldredge points out: Adam isn't away in another part of the forest; he has no alibi. He is standing right there, watching the whole thing unravel. What does he do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I took this, at the time, as a refreshing condemnation of Adam in a world that's all too quick to blame Eve for the sins of the world. He was there, after all. He saw it, he did nothing. The sin is on his head just as much as it's on hers. Take that, men. But that's not actually what this says. What this says is, "Eve isn't capable of fending for herself." If Eve failed and we're out here, it's because Adam failed to realize that Eve is just a silly little woman, willing to be swayed by pretty, pretty words. This is where the fun starts. See, god shows up, says, "What the hell is going on here?" and punishes Adam and Eve. We focus mostly on the whole getting kicked out of Eden thing when this story comes up, but there's another part of it. Eve is punished, it says, by being made subservient to Adam, and so shall it ever be, world without end, amen.
What is striking about this story? They became aware of being naked because, as a result of eating the apple each saw the other differently. Nakedness was created in the mind of the beholder. The second striking fact is that the woman is blamed and is punished by being made subservient to the man. In relation to the woman, the man becomes the agent of God. --John Berger, Ways of SeeingEldredge, in discussing the Garden of Eden, initiates a conversation about how things are, how things should be. Berger initiates a conversation about how things are perceived, how we think they should be. This is a key distinction and at the core of the problem with evangelical Christian interpretation of gender roles. In the world Eldredge attempts to frame, there is a static purpose for a "man" and a different, equally static purpose for a "woman." In this, Eldredge really has no specific man or woman in mind, but instead a sort of ideal of each. It constricts women to what I term the second-choice agent. Yes, he states that women have their own desires which are not to be ignored, but that desire is to become an object for a man. This is entirely fitting with Berger's estimation of the woman as the nude. See, the nude is different from being naked. To be naked is to be without clothing. To be nude is to be objectified as an ideal representation of something. The perfect woman, whether clothed or not, is a nude in the world of Eldredge.
Durer believed that the ideal nude ought to be constructed by taking the face of one body, the breasts of another, the legs of a third, the shoulders of a fourth, the hands of a fifth -- and so on. The result would glorify Man. But the exercise presumed a remarkable indifference to who any one person really was. John Berger, Ways of SeeingAnd here we have the problem. The woman in the Eldredge story is Sleeping Beauty, simply waiting for Prince Charming to arrive and plant that kiss on her lips to bring her to life. It is true that none other than Prince Charming is capable of fighting through the various obstacles to reach her, but that hardly matters. Until he arrives to give her meaning, she has nothing, wants nothing except to be awakened. This is the story that we have told to little girls. While we tell little boys that they can be Prince Charming, all the girls get to be is the one who is asleep until that man arrives to bring her in to the world. So of course Eldredge would tell Christian boys who would be men that women want to be fought for, want to share adventure, want to unveil beauty. Sleeping Beauty has no desire for her own battle, her own adventure, to enjoy her beauty for its own sake. This would give women agency, force men to admit that women are people, too.
You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure. The real function of the mirror was otherwise. It was to make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight. --John Berger, Ways of SeeingArt, as they say, imitates life. Art, however, has far greater power. It illuminates life, even those parts we'd rather not admit to. By examining the ways we see things, by stepping in to the metaverse and observing the observer, we confront truth. Art imitates life. Art also creates life. That simple story of Adam and Eve, that story of a silly woman and a man who wouldn't be a man and protect his silly little woman created over a thousand years of art built around Adam and Eve realizing they were naked. In time we realized that we were more interested in Eve, but realized, too, that we were objectifying her. We had to bring Eve in on the joke, make her watch us as we watch her, make our puerile interest in her curves match up with her vanity at being looked at. Eve, then, is no longer a woman. A woman has agency, a woman has choice. A woman is a person with her own interests, her own desires, her own rights to personhood. A woman fully realized is a threat to the status quo. We know this by looking at history. Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I and II of England, Queen Victoria, Joan of Arc, Margaret Thatcher, hell, Hillary Clinton. These are simply the ones that come immediately to mind. There are many, many other women who have risen to prominence in their chosen fields. Some, like Catherine the Great, did so in spite of the fact that every chip on the table was stacked against them. Men, I think, see a formidable, capable woman and become scared. We know how to deal with other men, even the formidable ones. There are rules that men suspect women don't follow, don't know about, or don't much care for. There are also other rules, like the one that says, "Don't hit girls," that hold men back. Men feel powerless, I suspect, in the presence of a formidable woman. It is here that we must pause. For it is here that the Golden-Haired Woman enters the picture.