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The Bible’s Bamboozled Men and Hornswoggling Women By Denise Noe We commonly think of the society depicted in the Old Testament of the Bible as a classically “patriarchal” one. Indeed, it was a culture in which formal power was largely concentrated in male hands. However, certain stories in the Bible display a great deal of real power wielded by women. Perhaps most interesting is the way prominent women outwit men and are in no sense punished for their treachery.
In Genesis 25:28 we are told of the feelings of Isaac and Rebekah toward their twin sons: “And Isaac loved Esau . . . but Rebekah loved Jacob.” Here the Bible is perennially relevant and realistic. Most people would probably say parents of both sexes should love their children equally but parental emotions are often dramatically undemocratic.
As the official head of the family, Isaac has the power to bestow blessings that Rebekah does not. He wants to bestow a blessing on his favorite son Esau. However, he has become blind in his old age so Rebekah comes up with a plan to foil his intentions and grab the blessing for HER favorite son Jacob. She advises Jacob to pretend to be his brother. When he objects that his father might feel him and realize he is not the hairy Esau, she puts goatskins on his hands and neck (Esau must have been hirsute indeed). Isaac is taken in by Rebekah’s subterfuge and blesses Jacob. We do not read of any comeuppance for the cunning Rebekah. Perhaps the moral of this rather sordid tale is that the son favored by his mother is the son “blessed” both literally and metaphorically.
Genesis 31 is about Jacob’s leaving the home of his father-in-law Laban – a double father-in-law since Jacob is married to both his daughters, Leah and Rachel – accompanied by his wives, servants, and children. He does not inform Laban that they are on their way. Verse 19 tells us that,
By Denise Noe
In a column published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution looking back on the feminist movement that broke in the early 1970s, Ellen Goodman stated that women make 77 cents to every dollar earned by men. This figure was stated as if it were an automatic indication of either employers’ discrimination against women or a more overall societal tendency to oppress women by limiting their workplace opportunities and therefore their pay.
One of the reasons the above assumptions are false was thrown into sharp relief by a conversation I had with a man shortly after reading Goodman’s column. This man had been working on a job cleaning windows and was on a ladder when he had an accident that took his foot off. Luckily, doctors were able to reattach his foot but he was left disabled.
A major reason for the 23 cent gap in average pay for men and women is that the most physically dangerous jobs require more physical strength than the vast majority of women possess. People, regardless of gender, tend receive higher pay for work that puts life and limb in jeopardy. According to US Department of Labor statistics for 2006, 54% of workers were men and 46% women while 92% of those killed on the job were men and only 8% women. The 23-cent gap between men’s and women’s incomes is to a large extent a reflection of the workplace death gap.
Another reason for the gender wage gap is that women are more likely to move in and out of the labor market than men. That women spend more time out of the paid workforce than men does not necessarily indicate oppression by tyrannical male chauvinist pigs but can reflect the greater freedom we have to devote time to homemaking and/or child care and the generosity and caring of the men who take on the sole breadwinner role in order to allow us that freedom. Indeed, men often take dangerous jobs so they can adequately support the women and children in their lives.
The title of this essay is taken from the opening statement in the chapter on rape in war in Susan Brownmiller’s book, “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.”
Her sentence in turn follows an excerpt from “War As I Knew It,” the memoirs of General George S. Patton (“Old Blood and Guts). Patton writes, “I told him that although I would do my best to keep such incidents to a minimum there would unquestionably be some raping. I told him that he should forward the details of all such incidents to me so that I could have the offenders properly hanged.”
Brownmiller in turn writes, “It’s funny about MAN’s attitude toward rape in war. UNQUESTIONABLY there will be some raping. Unconscionable but unquestionable. When men are men, slugging it out, unquestionably there will be some raping.”
In war, men must “slug it out” in squalor, filth, sustained panic, and horror. They are immersed in brutality, killing and getting killed, watching as their best buddies are torn to pieces and living every second with the knowledge that they could be next.
“Unquestionably,” under the hideous and maddening conditions of war, some men who might live inoffensively in civilian life commit the atrocity of rape.
There are multiple reasons for this but two stand out in my mind.
One is that the conditions of war cause law and order to inevitably collapse. Thus, those men who are the least moral and well-socialized to begin with take advantage of the situation to commit this crime even though they might not have done so within the tighter structure of civilian society.
Another reason is that, under the enforced brutality and terror of war, the aggressive and sexual impulses of some men become confused. Their brutality “spills over” from its officially designated targets – other men in ground combat and specifically other men who are soldiers – onto women and takes a sexualized
Here’s To You, Greg! My tribute to the student hairdresser named Greg whom I’ll never forge. By Denise Noe
I was fifteen years old. It was 1972. Mom had two coupons for free hair stylings at a local beauty college. She let me make use of both coupons. I don’t recall much about the first styling.
I will never forget the second.
The student hairdresser who would perform that styling introduced himself to me as Greg.
It occurred to me that we were both unusual in that beauty college setting. Greg was a man in a sea of women and I was a teenager in a sea of gray and white elderly heads.
Greg was a handsome young man. He had an attractive face with bright eyes and a ready smile. He was blonde and I’ve always had a special liking for yellow hair. His hair was shoulder length and styled so that it fell in waves.
I was immediately and strongly attracted to Greg – and just as immediately embarrassed by that feeling.
After he received the coupon, he asked, “Is there any special way you’d like me to style your hair?”
“No,” I said, smiling back and shrugging my shoulders.
“Just anything I want to do?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“I thank you,” he said, taking a little bow at what he seemed to take as my implicit compliment to his good judgment or perhaps the privilege of being the decision maker on what he would do with my hair.
I was charmed by the gesture of that bow. I was really getting a strong crush on Greg and feared it must show.
We went to the place where hair was washed. Greg shampooed my hair. Then we returned to the station where he began working on my cleansed and wet hair and putting it in curlers. “Do you know any good jokes?” he asked.
Tongue-tied, I didn’t dare start telling the vulgar jokes I heard
By Denise Noe
I first encountered the story of Abishag as a child watching the BBC production of The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She was mentioned in the segment about Henry’s doomed fifth queen, Catherine Howard, who would eventually be executed for adultery, a crime that constituted treason in a queen.
On the morning after her wedding night, a distraught Catherine Howard (Angela Pleasance) sobbed in the arms of Lady Rochford (Sheila Burrell). The latter told Catherine she wept “as if you’re heart will break.”
Between sobs Catherine confided, “He called me his Abishag.”
Eyes wide with alarm, a shocked Lady Rochford asked, “Child, what are you saying?”
Then the new Queen spilled out the story of her husband’s impotence. He had quoted from the Biblical story of an elderly King David and Abishag: “He knew her not.”
One of my current projects is to read the Bible cover to cover and I recently came to the passages about David and Abishag. They are in 1 Kings 1: 1-4: “Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat. So they sought for a fair damsel throughout the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunamite, and brought her to the king. And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.”
David was sick and cold in his sickness. He craved the warmth of a human body next to his and apparently received comfort from Abishag’s sharing his bed. He enjoyed this comfort even though he did not have sex with her. Whether he did not have sex with her because he was no longer getting erections or simply because he chose not to is something that the Bible story does not make
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