(Redeeming God)

A Feminist Perspective on Bereshit

As I sat in shul two weeks ago, I couldn’t help but cringe at the retelling of the creation of Eve, the first woman to exist. As I read through the parsha (Torah portion), I noticed that many notions placed on Eve are echoed in our society today, particularly when it comes to sexual assault and trusting women. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, it’s important to look at the Torah with a modern eye while thinking critically in order to notice sexist behaviors.

After the snake tells Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, each character gets punished in his or her way. The snake’s punishment is that his offspring will be cursed to tread on the ground. Adam’s punishment is that he will be surrounded by thorns and will have to work hard for food. However, Eve’s punishment is that she will experience pain in child-bearing as well as in menstruation. While the other punishments relate to each character’s surroundings or futures, Eve’s punishment blames her body for the sin committed. 

In contemporary society, we have seen women being blamed for their bodies time and time again. Most of the time women feel this blame through sexual assault. Avigail Gordon, a clinician who has studied trauma stemming from sexual violence says that, “After a sexual assault, many survivors torture themselves with self-blame. It’s not uncommon for the survivor to obsessively review the event to identify how she caused it or failed to prevent it.” From the times of the first woman created to now, women always tend to blame their bodies for sins that aren’t exactly their responsibilities. But, why is this guilt so toxic?

This shame placed on women is in part due to societal implications and others not being able to control their own sexual desires. For survivors of sexual assault, though, processing guilt is difficult.  “These survivors experience flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks and repetitively relive the event in their minds, often for years. In fact, part of the treatment for trauma is placing the blame back where it belongs – squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator,” said Gordon. Instead of blaming women for their own bodies, a creation of G-d, we should start by seeing women as more than objects for men’s pleasure. 

This self-blame that lots of sexual assault survivors feel stems from Eve’s punishment in the Torah. The attitude that women’s mistakes are the consequences of their bodies is a highly toxic and harmful approach. This belief system needs to change and it starts with ourselves. 

Whether through menstruation pain or child-bearing pains, we must all carry the burden of Eve’s original mistake. Yet, we don’t have to let these stories control who we are as a society and who we are as Jews. We can move forward through believing sexual assault survivors and by treating women as more than sexual beings used for their bodies. Through respect for every human regardless of gender, we can create a more tolerable society for women.

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Ada Perlman is a senior at The Ellis School. She has worked for Fresh Ink since sophomore year and is currently a staff editor.

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