Several years ago at Red Wing High School a boy was sent home for wearing a knee-length dress. Question: Why has it become socially acceptable for women to wear traditional men’s clothing but not acceptable for men to wear traditional women’s clothing? Is there a subconscious unspoken assumption in our male-dominated culture that says it is understandable and tolerable for an “inferior” to want to impersonate a “superior” but not the other way around? Any answer goes to the core of our cultural psyche. But whatever the answer may be, it most certainly is wrapped up in our religious traditions and history, and possibly (and more specifically) the story of Adam and Eve.
The Adam and Eve story is by far the most influential story in our social history. It is the story that has justified the mistreatment of women for thousands of years. And, more importantly, it is the punishment of Eve that needs to be understood. Eve’s punishment from God for her disobedience in the Garden of Eden was twofold: 1) pain in child bearing, and 2) her husband shall rule over her.
The Bible makes it very clear that women are to be inherently punished by being ruled over by men, and this punitive part of the Adam and Eve story has been the basis for sexism in American culture for most of our history. The apostle Paul wrote the following words.
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing.” 1 Timothy 2:11-15
As a father I want my three daughters to have equal opportunity and respect, and I am grateful they are not living in the world my parents and grandparents grew up in, a world where women were expected to be homemakers and subservient to men. To illustrate this point, let’s go down amnesia lane and look at a few ads from the not-so-distant past.
You would have to be totally ignorant to not know that women in America have fought long and hard against biblical traditions to gain equal rights, and It is not surprising that the states voting against the nineteenth amendment(women’s suffrage) were all from the Bible Belt.
So who should we thank for women gaining more rights? My first vote goes to Charles Darwin (yes, you heard me correctly, Charles Darwin). I tell my students that Charles Darwin may have done more to advance the cause of women’s rights than anyone else. This typically evokes a lot of consternation in my classroom, and rightly so; Charles Darwin is never mentioned in the history of the Women’s Rights Movement, but he should be. Why? Because it is not a coincidence that women started to gain true opportunities and rights precisely at a time when science and human evolution were weakening the grip of biblical thinking on our culture. Our cultural acceptance of Charles Darwin has turned the story of Adam and Eve into an ancient myth, and in the process greatly eroded the foundation and justification for the unequal treatment of women, thereby opening a window of opportunity for new legislation and civil liberties for women. In other words, Darwin unintentionally debunked the historical and biblical rationale for the oppression of women.
The “war against women” is still being fought by ultra conservatives who want a return to a more traditional bible-based society where women are “ruled over” by men, where the punishment Eve brought upon all women can be legislated into laws (as was clearly the case before the Age of Reason and scientific thinking). And, more importantly, I need to stress that the war can still be lost if we are not vigilant; there are numerous examples in history were secular societies have digressed back into the dark ages of religious fanaticism.
Sexism and sexists attitudes are obviously not dead in America (just pick up a copy of Maxim Magazine if you don’t believe me). Although women in America are no longer considered property of men, as was the case in biblical times, they clearly have not been culturally elevated to the same level of dignity and honor that men enjoy. Yes, we have come along way, but as long as a boy can be sent home from school for dressing like a girl we still have a way to go before truly becoming a culture where womanhood and manhood are honestly viewed with equal respect.
I’ll be the first to admit I may be wrong in my analysis. And so if you have a better explanation as to why our culture generally allows girls to dress in traditional boy’s clothing(pants) while recoiling when boys dress in traditional girl’s clothing (dresses), I would love to hear it!