Patriarchy and the Oppression of Women
Imagine attending a week long conference every single year for as long as you can remember. A conference that drills ideas into your head about God and human relationships. A conference that gives you simple, black and white formulas for success in every area of your life.
Imagine marinating in those ideas your entire life until they become the lens through which you view everything including love, marriage, parenting, decision making, and your relationships with God and others.
Imagine you get married, and your spouse dismisses you, neglects you, blames you, shames you, mocks you, and scapegoats you on a regular basis. Imagine that the formulas you grew up with taught you that he is superior to you because he is your husband. That he must be respected even if his behavior is selfish and cruel. That your duty is to serve him and protect his reputation at all costs to your own personal needs. That you were designed to die to who you are as a person so that he might thrive and reign as king over you and your children.
Imagine that you live like this for two decades, groveling in false guilt, apologizing over and over for your negative reactions to his cruelty and neglect, begging God to love you and feeling that you are worthless and unlovable because you are female. Imagine trying to cover up the pain in order to be accepted by other religious people who believe all the same “rules” about male and female behavior and relationships.
Is that you? It was me. The belief system I lived and breathed my whole life was Patriarchy. It is a caste-type of system that was prevalent in ancient times and is still used as a propaganda tool in Christian circles to elevate men and maintain control over women.
It creates utter confusion and pain in the lives of women because it squelches their God-given potential and prevents them from fulfilling the purpose for which God created them. And it does this under the guise of being “Biblical.” And who can argue with the Bible, right? If someone wants to control a Christian woman, all he has to do is say, “God says so!” and if she loves God, she’s stuck. (This is called spiritual abuse, by the way.)
You might think patriarchy is biblical since the people who lived during the time of the Bible operated under its system. But it’s not. It’s actually antithetical to all that God teaches us in Scripture about men and women and their relationship to one another and to God.
You might think patriarchy is biblical if your pastor and counselor and small group leader and Bible translators all operate under its biased system and have taught it to you for as long as you’ve been a Christian. But it’s not. Patriarchy is a lie from hell rooted in prejudice, and it’s designed by the father of lies to keep half of the Church of Christ tied up and gagged. This has serious negative repercussions on the impact of the Church in the world. Exactly what Satan wants.
The Key to Getting Out From Under the Oppression of Patriarchy
If the method of getting you locked up in the dungeon of patriarchy was a lie – then the key to getting out of that prison is the truth.
You need a complete overhaul of your belief system. You need to deprogram from the lies you were taught. These lies are not just in the Christian community. Culture, at large, is saturated in patriarchal thinking. It’s such a deeply rooted part of humanity, tracing its roots back to the beginning of time, that we don’t even know just how intertwined its poisonous tendrils are within our souls.
If lies are what keep us trapped, Truth is what sets us free. But what if we’ve been told the Source of all Truth actually promotes this false, gender-biased pile of crapola?
That’s where education comes into play. I never knew the truth, because I never learned the truth. Nobody ever told me. Nobody around me knew it either, and nobody even wanted to know.
What about you? Do you want to know? I found a great resource that will help you get your head around this. It’s called The Equality Workbook: Freedom in Christ from the Oppression of Patriarchy by Helga and Bob Edwards.
Who Wrote This Workbook and Why?
Helga and Bob Edwards have been married for 21 years. They both have degrees in Religious Education and Social Development Studies and master’s degrees in Social Work. They specifically wrote this book “to help readers identify and remove patriarchal bias from Bible translation and commentary. This workbook also explores the following topics to help women recover from the harmful effects of patriarchy:
- Overcoming the lies of shame
- The grief process
- Freedom from co-dependence
- Setting boundaries
- Patriarchy and domestic abuse
- Managing triggers
- Healthy egalitarian relationships
- Communication and problem solving
- Overcoming negative patterns in relationships
Patriarchy has a False Foundation
How would you feel if you found out much of what you had been taught your entire life about marriage and male/female relationships was a lie? That you had made important life decisions based on that lie? Decisions that had tragic consequences not only in your life but also in the lives of your children?
You might feel betrayed at first. I did. I was angry. Betrayal does that to a person. But then you might feel liberated to discover that you no longer have to live under those parameters. You are free to move into a brand new and beautiful relationship with Christ that is rooted in His Truth and love concerning women in general, and you, specifically!
The first thing the authors do in this workbook is to expose the truth about where the anti-female bias you read in the Bible actually comes from. (Hint: it wasn’t in the original words of Scripture!) We believe the Word of God is inspired by God and is His written method of revealing Himself to humankind (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So it’s important to know if what is wrong is us, the Bible itself, or someone’s false translation and interpretation of the Bible. You will be relieved to know it is the latter.
When the Bible was translated into Latin (the official language of the Romans) in the fourth century, “the meaning of passages within the Bible concerning women began to change.” The translator, St. Jerome, was influenced by Roman culture (which was extremely patriarchal) and Neoplatonism which viewed humans and even the Trinity in terms of hierarchy. Other theologians including Origen, Augustine, and Chrysostom were all influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy and the result was a patriarchal shift in the way the Bible was translated.
How? Where the Bible said nothing about female subordination, these theologians would “INFER male authority from the text.” They brought their own assumptions and beliefs about men and women to the text and then read and wrote them into the Bible translations through small word changes and subtle sentence structure alterations which are still in our current translations today.
What if you could read the same Bible verses that Patriarchal teachers have used to subjugate and control women in their original language and context?
That’s exactly what Helga and Bob do in this workbook. They address every single passage in Scripture that is used in a prejudiced and biased way against women, and they teach you what God REALLY wrote in the original language along with the incredibly interesting history and culture behind the passage.
It’s eye-opening. And when the workbook promises to set you free from the oppression of patriarchy, it delivers. For me, learning the truth about this one issue took care of so many confusing questions I had about the Bible. What used to appear to be contradictory now became beautiful and seamless truths that made sense on every level. God’s Word says the Truth sets us FREE. Suddenly I understood what that really means!
I’m going to write out just a small portion of one of the chapters so you can see how this book works. I hope this will whet your appetite to find out more.
Tradition Concerning Male Authority (Often Referred to as “Headship.”)
As for a husband’s alleged authority, this was traditionally based upon the notion that because Eve was created after Adam, she must have been subject to him. Chronology in creation was thereby associated with rank. The man was created first; therefore he was assumed to be the “leader.” Complementarians today refer to this as the doctrine of male “headship,” and it has been inferred from the following passage: “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (I Corinthians 11:3, NIV).
A tremendous amount of literature has been written about this verse. Much of it focuses on the meaning of the Greek word translated as “head.” The word Paul chose to use here is “kephale.” In the Greek language found in the New Testament, this word was often used to mean “source.” The human race was created through Christ (John1:3); he is the “source” of “every man.” Adam, the first man, was the “source” of Eve, the first woman (Genesis 2:22). God was the miraculous source of Jesus’ incarnation as a human being (Luke 1:35).
On the other hand the Greek word more often used to mean “ruler” was “archon.” Paul chose kephale here for good reason. He is talking about God as the “source” of both women and men in I Corinthians 11:12. He also refutes the tradition of male authority by reminding the Corinthians that just as a man was the source of the first woman, so a woman is the source of every man. “Nevertheless [plen], in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God. (I Corinthians 11:11-12, NRSV).
Is Paul teaching here that men are to be the archons of their wives in Christian marriage? A close examination of Paul’s language in its original context indicates that he is actually saying the opposite. A man may have been the “source” of the first woman, but the woman is the “source” of every man. If source means “ruler,” then women would have every right to claim to be the “rulers of men.” Source, then, is not meant to be confused with a superior rank. Paul is refuting a patriarchal tradition which had wrongly been inferred from the creation account.
Returning to the specific issue of head coverings, did Paul agree that a woman must shamefully cover her hair, submit to a man’s authority, and even take responsibility for the sins of fallen angels? No, he did not. On the contrary, he tells the church that a woman’s hair is her glory, and that men owe their existence to God…and to women. Freedom, love, and equality are the principles espoused by Paul, and he tells the church to stop being contentious about such things (I Corinthians 11:16.)
To a large extent, the church has not listened to Paul. Rather than rejecting oppressive oral traditions and hierarchical pagan philosophies, church leader from the 3rd century forward have confused the teaching of fallible human beings with the revelation of an infallible God. An entire theological system has been based upon the notion that women had to cover their hair in public worship. On the basis of this inaccurate reference, women are often told that they require the spiritual “covering” of a man to keep them from error. Women in the church are told that they must submit themselves to the “covering” of male pastors and priests. Wives are told to subject themselves to the spiritual “covering” of husbands. The idol of masculinity is lifted up as that which will guard the church against sin and error. Men assume the role of mediator between women and God.
The doctrine of male authority as a “spiritual covering” for half of the human race stands in direct contradition to Paul’s words concerning Jesus’ role as the exclusive mediator between God and all humanity: “There is one God. There is also one mediator between God and human beings – and human, the Messiah Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5, ISV). Due to an ancient error in theology, the apostle Paul’s words against oppressive traditions have been turned into an endorsement of them.”
Now, wasn’t that freeing? And it sort of ticks you off to realize that what God was trying to communicate got twisted into its exact opposite message. Sounds like the influence of the upside down king of darkness, huh? If this is an area you feel confused about and you would like to learn more, I encourage you to get a copy of The Equality Workbook and find out what God’s Word REALLY says about men and women.