Eve is one of the most well-known female characters in the world. She is most known for casting mankind from the Garden of Eden. Her story, along side Lilith’s story, have been perpetuated by men in institutions and social constructs for centuries; what has this done to the perceptions of these two women, and all women?
Eve was created by Adam’s rib while he slept. Because of this, many believe that she was subservient to him. Some think that it is because Adam was created first, or because Eve was made from a piece of him. Either way, it brings up the question of who is perpetuating the idea that she has to be weaker to her male counterpart.
Eve’s story is packaged and framed in a way that strongly reflects the society that tells the story. Realizing that men were the people who ran the church, were the only ones allowed to read and write, and hold government positions for centuries, shows that Eve’s subservient position could be used as a tool to prevent women from gaining societal power. Not only did her obedience to Adam help this narrative, but she also was given all of the guilt for eating the forbidden fruit. By casting the sins fully onto Eve, the first woman, social institutions were able to continue shame and sin onto women for centuries. This works because the weight of Eve’s sin is seen as the literal downfall of mankind; a sin that large should obviously need guilt from womankind for generations, right?
A final tool in Eve’s portrayal is her beauty. At first, nothing seems wrong with describing her as beautiful, but digging deeper shows a few issues. We all know that beauty standards are formed by what society deems is desirable. For this reason, how do we know Eve had beauty? If she was the first woman, there should be no basis of comparison; Adam probably would have loved an obedient companion no matter how she looked. If we ask ourselves why she is described as beautiful so often, it brings up an even deeper issue. As I thought about why men throughout centuries would describe her this way, I realized that it could be a link between beauty and obedience. She was the woman created after Adam who followed him in a subservient manner… and she was beautiful. Linking all of these traits starts to package beauty and desirability to obedience. The male translations of Eve, whether intentional or unintentional, have perpetuated all of these parts of Eve’s story to place rules and inhibitors on women in society.
Eve’s story is even more profound when compared to Lilith. In some translations, it seems that there was another woman created before Eve was. She had been created at the same time as Adam in some versions, but was made from sediment and dirt rather than pure earth like Adam. These “faults” made her disobedient. One of the things Adam disliked was that Lilith would mention how they were made at the same time so he was not above her. This has an interesting parallel to equality today- women wanting the same pay and other equalities because we are all human beings. In many ways, I found myself liking Lilith throughout the origin of her in the readings, not necessarily the horrendous folklore tales about her. Eventually, she has to leave Adam after he tries to force her into sexual acts she dislikes.
After she leaves, many versions and folklore tales claim she tries to seduce men while they sleep, steals children, and wreaks havoc on people as a demon. While discussing her story, I am strongly reminded of Medusa. Both were victims who became monsters. As we see with Lilith and Medusa, they both had sexual encounters and were then the targets of male rage. Lilith’s story created a target for men when they have sexual dreams or erotic thoughts. Medusa was the victim of rape but then became the one blamed by the men and women she was around. These stories add to the control of women and societal norms. Their sexual encounters made them unclean. We can see this idea playing out today as well. Women are constantly shamed for choosing their own sexual acts, or blamed when something is forced upon them. It makes me wonder just how strongly stories like these have framed our way of thinking about sex.
All in all, this conversation still brings my mind back to Adam. His denial to compromise with Lilith led to her portrayal today. I also wonder why more blame is not brought upon him for eating the forbidden fruit. If it took the physical form of Satan to convince Eve to eat it, then how come Adam was convinced so easily by Eve. He was also the only one who knew about the fruit in some variations. The male centric teachings of our oldest stories have had extreme repercussions; I think we should all look more critically at who is telling the story rather than just the characters within it.