I decided to take the Women in the Scriptures challenge (outlined here by another blogger). I'm really enjoying it so far, and learning a lot. I would recommend doing this for any religious person, especially women. I feel like there's much we could learn from women in the scriptures, but common Sunday School lessons just pass over them in favor of the easier-to-interpret male stories.
The Importance of a Feminist Reading of Scriptures
Recently, I found a blog that used The Avengers as a way to introduce Book of Mormon heroes to little boys in an FHE lesson. While his goal was admirable (using something his sons already enjoyed to bring a modern and easier-to-relate-to twist to ancient scriptures), I disliked his end result. He included all of the male Avengers and Loki, but did not include Black Widow/Natasha or Nick Fury. You could excuse this by saying that the maker of this lesson didn't want to include Nick Fury because finding a colored character in the Book of Mormon would be racist. But I think it is more troubling to exclude both Nick Fury and Black Widow/Natasha because they have been "othered." By not bothering to find someone who fit into his analogy, even someone who is assumed to be white for Nick Fury, we are not acknowledging the white (assumed white, because the characters in the Book of Mormon were Middle Eastern in descent, but no one seems to remember that) male privilege that exists in Christianity.
And this made me very sad. The man didn't even recognize the implications of what he had done. But instead of attacking this man for racism and sexism, let's think about what was left out. Why was it not important to this man, and many others, to find a female religious example for his sons? Does he not think that his sons can have female role models? Why do we not even recognize the importance of having female spiritual role models for our daughters, let alone our sons?
The Male Gaze
"The Male Gaze" is a term coined by Laura Mulvey in "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," an essay that I absolutely love. Basically, the male gaze refers to the bias that men have as narrators. You can see this in different instances in scriptures when women aren't named, women are passive, female characters are depicted as seductresses who lead righteous men into temptation, etc. (I'm really not enough of an expert on feminism or scriptures to name every time when you can see the male gaze.)
As a former English major, I absolutely believe in the power of personal interpretation of a text. Basically, this means that the author's original intent when he/she wrote the text is unimportant. What matters more is what it means to you. There's no denying that somewhere in the Old Testament it says "wives, submit to your husbands." We can assume that the author literally meant for a patriarchal society where the "weaker sex" was controlled by the men with authority from God. But we do not have to assume that God meant that. We can assume that that exact phrase is part of the male gaze and the authorial bias, and not inspiration from divinity.
How to Do It
Characters may exert sexism within the Bible and Book of Mormon, and there's nothing we can do to change the actions of those ancient characters. But what about the narrator? Do we have to accept it when the narrator uses feminine derogatory terms, such as "the whore of all the earth," to describe evil?
I believe we don't. I think it is obvious that not every scripture is inspired by God, and that we can pick and choose meanings. Yes, this is taking liberties; English majors have to have "evidence," have to back up their different interpretations. But when it comes to spiritual matters, we are invited to find evidence through prayer, personal revelation, and personal impressions.
I'll give you an example of what I mean from my personal study and the Women in the Scriptures challenge. When I began to read Genesis, I decided to focus on Eve, especially Eve as a woman. Everything kind of goes okay until you get to chapter 3, where it says
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee (16).Obviously, I dislike the idea of Adam ruling over Eve. But I decided what it meant is that Eve's relationship with Adam will be one of the most important she has. She wants to see him happy, healthy, etc. His needs will always be in the back of her mind, particularly when she makes big decisions. Adam does the same for her - at least, this is how I want my modern-day relationship to be. It does not literally mean "rule over," to me, so much as "preoccupied by."
I hope I'm explaining this okay. Either way, I believe it is up to you to decide what these verses mean. You do not have to take them the way the author meant.