One of the unfortunate side effects of being in grad school is that you lose both the energy and enthusiasm for reading outside of your coursework. By the time I hit the pillow at night, I’ve already digested so much material that all I want to do is turn off my brain. Happily, Netflix has the remedy. [I’m now in season 5 of “Weeds.” Shane just killed Pilar with a croquet mallet.]
JSTOR is an online treasure trove of scholarly journals and articles that I rely on for source material, but I wasn’t aware that they also publish a weekly digest until my friend The Rabbit forwarded an article to me months ago. (Thanks, dude!) Here’s a clip from an article about advertising to women I found interesting:
…What do ads for household products—vacuums and kitchen appliances and cleaning sprays—tell us about women’s work in the home? In a 1990 paper for Gender and Society, Bonnie J. Fox explored that question, analyzing ads that appeared between 1909 and 1980 in Ladies Home Journal, the most widely read women’s magazine for much of the twentieth century.
The idea that household technology would liberate women from work was never a predominant theme in the ads…One of the most common themes, found in around a third of the ads through the decades, was the quality of housekeeping women could perform with new technologies. A 1920 ad promised “perfect results” in making jams and jellies. There were many appeals to scientific standards for cleaning, like one product that “gets all the dirt, all the impurities.” Ads that focused simply on characteristics of the product were similarly common. For example, one 1949 ad described stove burner technology as “the greatest achievement in Gas Cookery in America.”
Fox situates the ads in the context of a nation in which women were becoming less obvious contributors to their households’ economic productivity. In the early years of the twentieth century, it became less and less likely that wives would keep livestock, take in boarders, or otherwise earn money. Meanwhile, employment of domestic servants in upper- and middle-class households was in decline, and mothers also lost the assistance of their children as mandatory schooling expanded nationwide. All this provided good reason for housewives to see their status declining.
What interested me most about this article was how closely it parallels an argument made by some theologians to explain the misogyny – and subsequent demonization of Eve – that was “read back” into Scripture. (The vilification of Eve is something I will get into in detail at another time; suffice to say that the supposed ‘seduction’ of Adam isn’t in the Hebrew text – Eve simply hands fruit to Adam, and they both eat it; her provision of food for Adam conforms to the normal role of women in ancient Israelite society. Furthermore, Eve wasn’t present when the prohibition against eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was given, Adam was – but good old Adam throws Eve under the bus when confronted by God. Nice, huh? Also, Eve isn’t cursed as a result – the Hebrew text doesn’t support that – and much of the Hebrew Bible serves an etiological purpose: the story of banishment from the Garden explains why Yahweh’s chosen people no longer live and work in such a prodigiously fertile territory.)
Somewhere along the way, the text fell by the wayside, and the understanding of Eve underwent a profound shift. Compare, for instance, the book of Tobit, dating to the 4th or 3rd century BCE: You made Adam and also Eve his wife, who was to be his partner and support…This was your word: “It is not good for man to be alone; let us provide a partner suited to him.” to Eccelesiasticus, dating to the 2nd century BCE: Sin began with a woman, and because of her we all die. By the time of Tertullian, writing in Book 1 of “Apparel of Women” in the early 2nd century CE, we read: [Women should wear mourning clothes] in order to expiate more fully by all sorts of penitential garb that which woman derives from Eve—the ignominy, I mean, of original sin and the odium of being the cause of the fall of the human race.… You are the one who opened the door to the Devil, you are the one who first plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree…Because of your desert, that is death, even the Son of God had to die.
Some people like to claim that men are superior to women because man was created first, but this argument requires that you skip the creation story of Genesis 1, in which the animals are created before Adam (and Adam is created simultaneously with Eve); otherwise, using the basis of “first created,” we would have to place animals in the hierarchy above Adam (and Eve). However, if we believe that humans are superior to animals, and also take as fact that Adam was created before Eve, then we would have to accept that Adam was the mid-point of creation as creation moved to its pinnacle –Eve! — otherwise, Eve’s at the bottom, Adam’s in the middle, and our dogs should be walking us.
So what happened? How did Eve go from being the ezer ke-negdo, the “helper as partner,” of Adam, to being the original villain, solely responsible for not only the Fall of Man, but also the banishment from Eden and subsequent separation from God? And when did sex become part of the equation?
Some theologians have argued that the demonization of Eve, which gained traction in the 1st century CE and has informed our tradition and worldview ever since, was the result of societal changes that came about as food preparation (specifically, the milling of grain) went from being a solitary activity to one that was done at a communal mill. The improvement in milling technique increased both productivity and efficiency, just like the vacuums and washing machines of the early 20th century…but, as Fox pointed out in her research about ads, the new technology also precipitated a decline in the status of women.
It’s food for thought, no doubt…If you’re interested in any of this, check out Carol Meyers’ Rediscovering Eve or Phyllis Trible’s Eve and Adam as starting points.
In the meantime, try to be nice to the women in your life, or else….!