Case study of biblical proportions
To explain our first myth, I’ll make use of another myth. We all know the allegedly “simple” story of Adam and Eve. Nothing could be more evident than the fact that men and women exist, right? Anyone can take a look around and verify this.
It was even used against same-sex marriage in many countries, including my own.
However, taking a closer look at the story will reveal some nasty details.
To begin with, Eve wasn’t Adam’s first companion.
“Adam and Lilith never found peace together; for when he wished to lie with her, she took offence at the recumbent posture he demanded.
‘Why must I lie beneath you?’ she asked. ‘I also was made from dust, and am therefore your equal.’
Because Adam tried to compel her obedience by force, Lilith, in a rage, uttered the magic name of God, rose into the air and left him. “
So, as we see here, the so-called binary is actually an interesting threesome: Adam turns out to be a very insistent guy who, at the end of his patience, decides it might be more effective to just go ahead and be a rapist.
Lilith was erased from the Catholic Bible, but she lives on in traditions and even in pop culture, always personifying a demon, vampire, assassin, and occasionally as a creator goddess.
And finally Eve, the conveninet wife, who makes no trouble, and incarnates a logic that goes: “in case of conflict, suppress the woman’s independence“.
Apart from the human chracters of the story, we have God, the highest authority, who first ignores Lilith demands for justice and then decides the best cure for Adam is… a quiet wife who suits his needs better.
Two’s a binary, three’s a crowd
So what does this story tell us about the role of men and women?
The starting point is that man is the center of all stories, and his behavior is never questioned.
Adam is not punished or even reprimanded for trying to rape Lilith, and when she finally leaves him, God moves on to making a new wife for him, without a single word on how to treat her. There is no pointing out any of his acts as harmful.
Another possible conclusion is that there is no place in Heaven for free women. But not because they are excluded from it, of course, that would be sexist!
They just leave by their own decision, unable to stand the uncontrollable natural forces which make men abuse them while the authorities turn a blind eye.
The third conclusion is that good women, Eves, are at man’s disposition. That is, in fact, her essential definition.
It is also interesting that the myth of Eve’s creation reverses the biological roles.
No person, even in 1.500 A.C., ignored that tiny human beings are born from female bodies, and not male ones.
Nonetheless, the myth describes the exact contrary.
The Myth of Gender
Gender as an identity is not that different from Adam and Eve’s myth. And it is just as twisted.
The main problem is, there aren’t really two genders.
The Gender Myth is based in two fundamental concepts:
1. There are two, and only two, classes of people, and said class determines the behavior, tastes and feelings of the person.
This is basically a description of what we call stereotypes. Here’s a helpful graph for identifying some of them:
Of course, gender stereoytpes are way more complex than a chart can show, since they are actually a web of myths which justify and are built upon each other.
So here I have for an example, an image “celebrating” Women’s Day with a stack of stereotypes:
What is “the beauty of a lady” according to this image?
“Willingness to listen” as opposed to being outspoken about her feelings and ideas, I must guess.
“Patience to understand” was probably what Lilith was lacking in the Myth, hence her being replaced by Eve.
“Strength to support and the heart to care” Am I the only one getting the feeling that this and the previous statements are all about the woman being there for someone else?
You get the idea.
I’ve also written before about stereotypes in The Monster Woman.
I leave it up to you to go out and find more stereotypes in your daily life.
2.The origin of the differences between the two classes of people is located in their genitals.
This second idea may seem harmless at first: what’s new about discovering there are male and female humans, just as in every other animal species, and most of vegetable life forms?
Well, first we need to remember this can be problematic if it leads to believe that people must pertain to one of these two categories.
We could agree it is a limited statement, since there are people -albeit a minority- who are born outside of the binary of conventional biological sexes.
Second of all, what this idea is stating is not just “there are people with penis and people with vaginas”. It’s actually asserting that a person with penis will inevitably become a man, and a person with vagina will inevitably become a woman.
But being a man and a woman is not related to whatever we have between our legs, as much as it is related to behavior, ways of expressing ourselves, and the roles we assume in our society.
Wearing long or short hair does not depend on a person’s biological sex: it’s shaped through the social norms assigned to that sex. Skirts are “women’s clothes” because that’s what culture says. There isn’t a single gene in human DNA which carries the preference for wearing a certain kind of clothes -or lifestyles.
Simone de Beauvoir described this by saying: “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
We could also paraphrase Makota Valdina, and say: “I am not a woman, I’m a human being who was feminized.”
Famous Drag Queen RuPaul also shares this idea: “We are born naked, the rest is Drag”
On the other hand, we do live in a society in which the majority of individuals identified as men and women through most of its history. So it would be reasonable to ask:
If being a man and being a woman has to do with more than just genitals, why is there such a massive adherence to the rule of genders? Why did the male sex systematically become men, while the female sex systematically became women?
Gender or death
Judith Butler brings one possible answer:
In summary: if some people murder a person because s/he’s breaking the rules of her/his gender, we must ask about the link between gender and coertion.
It doesn’t take a lot of observation to note that during most of this history, most women had no choice whatsoever.
For many women and men of our world, sticking to gender norms was (and is) a matter of survival.
Or, as Dee L.R. Graham expressed:
“Until male violence toward women stops and women feel safe with (and safe from) men, it is impossible to say whether women’s femininity, love for men, and heterosexual identity are anything other than survival responses.”
Thus ends the story of Adam and Eve: she must submit to him, and love him, and be “feminine” because her life depends on it.
Not quite what I would call a happy ending.
On the contrary, it proves gender are artificially crafted.
If it was “natural” to behave like a man or like a woman, nobody would be able to break the rules, and nobody would need to be punished for it.
Even occasional exceptions to the norm could be tolerated, since they wouldn’t be a threat to the natural tendency.
However, real life examples work exactly the opposite way: we must learn our lines and execute the script assigned to our gender in a convincing form, or else.
It takes a whole education system to teach girls how to behave like girls, and boys to behave like boys, with a rigorously detailed set of rules on what each group can and can’t do. Penalties for infractions range from nagging and name-calling to rape and death.
Diverse experiences and voices, those which are non-binary and/or non-hegemonic are systematically silenced, denied and erased to keep the illusion of a “natural majority” of people who fit their gender role.
But then again, how do we break out of Adam and Eve’s roles?
Lilith to the rescue: the gender rainbow
I think we need to stop for a moment and understand in depth what binary gender means to a person.
What this binary does is to reduce the limitless possible experiences of being human to two, and only two, very specific ways of being, which will be assigned at birth according to the person’s sex.
In Adam and Eve’s myth, Lilith represents everything Eve is not allowed to experience: freedom, self-determination, rebelliousness and even evil and wrongdoing.
Lilith is all and any deviation from the norm: she has no obligation to be feminine, or heterosexual, or wife, or mother.
But she also represents everything Adam is not allow to be, in order to be a man.
Adam must not be “feminine”, he’s not allowed to experience his emotions except to project them on Eve, he must work and leave his house and children to Eve’s care.
Lilith is the incarnation of all the worlds which the gender binary intends to exterminate.
If we applied such a binary to colors, it would be like saying all light colors are white, and all dark colors are black.
We would spend our lives believing we know all colors, because we can tell black from white.
But if that was the only difference we’re able to tell, we would miss the majority of colors.
Light blue and pink would be the same to us, we wouldn’t know the difference between one and the other, because we would be convinced that both of them are white.
None of the great artworks of our culture would exist, because no one can mix colors s/he doesn’t know.
It would be a very dull and boring world to live in.
And that’s exactly the gender binary world we live in.
Adam and Eve represent two different jails people are locked into, each one with a limited set of choices, in which black and white absorbed every other color.
Lilith, instead, represents freedom and experiences outside those gender roles and default rules. She represents everything we don’t dare to imagine from our established roles.
The road to dismantle gender is a collective road, and the most powerful tool is the multiplicity of voices and experiences, the acceptance of human diversity disregarding the prejudice of what “must be”.
It is, in equal measure, a path of personal growth and self-questioning.
Lilith is an invitation to re-think and re-evaluate ourselves and our behavior, and to ask ourselves about our own prejudices.
It is not an easy road, but so far it has been more than worth it for me.
Just like it would be worth looking for the rainbow in a black-and-white world.