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Religious and Biological Approaches of Gender and Nature

Recent years, gender approach becomes a part of a broader human development approach based on equal opportunities and gender equality principles. Historically, women were seen as a secondary class citizens identified with childbearing and housekeeping activities.

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Today, gender equality becomes an issue of the day affected the economic sphere and trade relations. For feminists, gender differences are seen as a gender neutral activity permitting both men and women to participate in business practices and trade negotiations. Insofar as it affects women, a definition of gender discrimination is necessary since there will be many references in this book to discrimination, segregation, and differentiation. Gender approach is a part of human development process because women are involved in social life and economic activities on the global scale.

Liberation theologians do not have all the answer to gender issues. Their activities and those of the Base Communities have already produced leaders and numerous social organizations. The overall impression of family life in the Bible is a positive one, especially by comparison with contemporaneous sources. Sibling rivalry is relatively prominent in the early biblical narratives, and the house of David had its share of strife, but there is nothing in the Bible to compare with the cycles of internecine slaughter involving wives, husbands, and children which the Greek tragic tradition contains.

In religion, Jesus’ identity as “the son” is constituted by his relationship to God as the father; this is the unanimous witness of the traditions. In representing his most intimate understanding of God by the symbol “father” Jesus drew not only on religious tradition, but also on his own family experience. A man therefore had authority within his household over his wife, children, and other members (Alford 31).

The social status of women in general was low; and the religious tradition was particularly cruel, suggesting that women were ontologically inferior to men. In the time of Jesus the pious man thanked God in his morning prayers that he had not been created “a Gentile, a woman, or as one unschooled in Judaism.” Under the law women were classed with minor children, slaves, Gentiles, and idiots, obliged to observe all prohibitions but not all injunctions; indeed, there are only three injunctions which women had to obey without exception: the proper purifications after menstruation, the conscientious removal of yeast from the house at Passover, and the lighting of the Sabbath candles.

Women were not taught the Torah, they could not enter the inner courts of the temple, and they did not count in the synagogue towards the quorum of ten souls required for worship. Women could not be witnesses in a court of law A famous rabbinic saying, “Do not speak much with a woman,” was interpreted as applying specifically to conversation with one’s wife.

One custom which made this vividly apparent was that in return for his feeding, clothing, and supporting her, a woman was obliged not only to render the usual domestic and sexual service but specifically to wash her husband’s feet, a task to which a slave could not legally be compelled. With reference to his daughters, the father’s chief concern was to transfer them to their eventual husbands without blemish; to his sons his obligations were more extensive. He was responsible for teaching his sons the law and customs of religion, and, in the level of society to which Jesus belonged, he introduced his sons to the secrets of his trade (Bhagwati 310. If Joseph was indeed a carpenter, he would have initiated Jesus into the skills of carpentry.

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At all times the son owed his father obedience, and in their old age he owed both parents support and care. From the point of view of a modern understanding of human rights, the position of women in this patriarchate is shameful. It does nothing to mitigate this judgment that Rengstorf can find an early example of the anti-feminine morning prayer in Greek sources, although his claim that such chauvinism entered Judaism only as a result of Greek influence is worth serious consideration, in view of interpretation of the Old Testament evidence as giving women relatively favorable status (Fausto-Sterling 43).

The family was much less stable at the turn of the age than it had ever been before. Indeed, that situation has been compared with our own; the rate of divorce was high, the reputation of fidelity low. Children were a nuisance, and infant exposure, a rudimentary alternative to abortion, was widely practised. The evidence we have shows that while children in general were undesirable, female children were more so than male. The wife had the legal status of a daughter and so was subject to the same absolute authority, although her husband could only punish her with the consent of the council of the extended family.

Marriage took place by a solemn ceremony before witnesses; the wife and her goods passed into the possession of the husband; divorce was impossible. Men married at 18-20 years of age, women at 13-15 years. A wife’s status was reasonably high within the family, she took part in the council, received visitors, and appeared in public (Bhagwati 13).

Philosophy did make its impact on the relations between the sexes. Most widespread was the idea that a man should love his wife rationally — a union of mind and soul as it were — and save his passion for slave-girls. Also popular was the idea that marriage, not being found among the animals, was contrary to nature. In sum, philosophy contributed to the misery rather than the joy of marriage.

The New Testament suggests, however, that there was a serious ambivalence in the early Christian attitude towards the father’s authority (Brannon 42). This situation represents the confrontation between the impulse for reformation of the patriarchy on the one hand, which we hope to show emanated from Jesus, and the resistance of entrenched privilege on the other. Jesus broke the forms of the patriarchal family in the name of God the Father, and recognized the natural right of women to equal humanity with men.

The records of his life are clear in their witness: he had women in his entourage, he spoke with women in public, spent time teaching them; and in a breathtaking scene, whose full significance has yet to be understood, he let a whore wash his feet, let her perform a service for him which was the characteristic sign of a wife’s duty to her husband (Austin 87). He paid special attention to mothers and children, over the characteristic objections of his disciples, and he refused to condemn an adulteress, knowing how unfair the law on adultery was to women, upon whom alone it laid the obligation of absolute marital fidelity; he refused to be a part of the “double standard”.

He forbade divorce, and based the marriage relationship on the “one flesh” idea of Gen. 2:24, an idea which allows neither the subordination of one partner to the other nor the treating of the woman as a chattel whose adultery infringes the man’s property rights. Finally, it was to women that he entrusted the initial witness to his Resurrection, because only women-followers stood by his cross (Fausto-Sterling 21).

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Policies that ignore the economic role of women may, in fact, be detrimental to women. For example, attempts to implement new agricultural techniques have often assumed that men are in charge of all agricultural production. Giving all new information to men places women at a disadvantage, even though the women play an important role in many forms of agricultural production. The results indicate that a substantial percentage of women work in some countries, and these women often have important roles in family businesses. Inclusion of working women in the dissemination of new programs should be a high priority.

Policies are implemented through administrative and managerial positions. Our results show that women do not generally hold these types of positions. Indeed, fewer than 3 percent of employed women are in administrative or managerial positions in each of the three countries considered. Although there are more female professionals, these jobs are in education and health care. Thus, women have very little input at the highest levels of organizational control. Unless policy implementation penetrates beneath the upper levels of control, it is doubtful that the policies will be directly responsive to the needs of women. Development efforts undertaken to help Third World women have often been in the form of welfare-oriented programs (Austin 44).

The evidence that Jesus recognized the natural rights to which their humanity entitled women is clear, and especially moving when considered against the background of the regnant patriarchy. The price he paid for this fearless love was his own life; and before that final reckoning he lost his family and his respectability. He was crucified because he contravened the religious law in the name of God who gave the law.

His contraventions were all in favor of those whom the law oppressed — the “people of the land” who were ritually unclean because of their daily work, the whores and tax officials who collaborated with the occupation forces, the women and children who were at the disposal of their men. The heart of his message, in word and deed, was that God is a father who frees us from oppression by including us in his family; that when God’s will is done on earth all will be included and none excluded; that his fatherly care means equal dignity and worth for all.

This message was a threat not only to the interests of a religion that used the law to establish an elite, but also to a society which used religion to oppress the weak. The impulse that went out from Jesus caused him to be crucified; it is not surprising that his followers tempered it to their times (Burman and Parker 87).

The harshest reaffirmations of patriarchal power in the New Testament occur in the later layers of the tradition. When these strata were formed the church was settling down to the long haul of history, realizing that they had been mistaken in thinking that Jesus had promised an imminent end to the world. The powers of the new age which had attended his teaching, and flashed forth in his Resurrection, had to be contained within the forms of the old (Cloke et al 87).

The new age and the old led a parallel existence in this strange time between the times; therefore social attitudes were bound to be ambivalent, formed as they were by influences from different worlds. Rather than attempt to revoke this new liberty, which would have been against his convictions, Paul tries to mount an argument for the custom of the veil. He summons Adam and Eve to testify that man was created before woman, and indeed that woman came out of man. On this basis he constructs a hierarchy with God at the top, woman at the bottom, and Christ and man in descending order in between. The covered head is a sign that woman is under man in this hierarchy (Fausto-Sterling 42).

Both Luke and Matthew place the saying at a strategic point in their treatment of the meaning of discipleship. Luke has it at the beginning of the long journey to Jerusalem which is the image by which he portrays discipleship, namely, as the following after Jesus. Matthew has it before the storm on the lake which tested the disciples’ resolution and found it wanting. Only Luke has the injunction, “Go and announce the Kingdom of God,” and in this surely perceives the source of the urgency implicit in the command.

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The call of the Kingdom of God brooks no excuse, no delay, and leaves in shreds the ties that bind. The duty of a son to bury his dead father promptly was solemn, and indeed, given the fact that a dead person had by law to be buried the day after death, an urgent matter; but the call of the Kingdom takes precedence. The setting of the saying — a young man asking to be allowed to delay following Jesus until he has performed his last and most solemn filial duty — may be a product of the tradition; it may be a frame constructed for the enigmatic word, “Leave the dead to bury their dead, and come follow me [announce the Kingdom].” Be that as it may, it is an accurate explication of the saying’s intention. Jesus not only renounced his own family obligations but called others to do so as well (Cloke et al 54).

In Mark 7:9-13, Jesus attacks the Pharisees for the ‘corban’ custom, by which a man could evade his duty to support his aged parents. One did not actually have to deliver the goods pledged to religious ends under the corban vow; they merely became available to one’s own use, free of obligation to parents. It might seem a contradiction that Jesus, who claimed for himself and his followers the right to abandon their parents, should castigate the Pharisees for doing the same thing. However, the issue is not whether the parents should be supported or not, it is rather the grounds on which the claim to be free of that obligation is made. In the case of corban, it is the unwritten law which renders the written law inoperative; but Jesus does not accept the unwritten law in this case (Easterly 51).

Historically, one of the most important implications of this was the change in social status of women and children. Family life takes on a new dimension when human beings are no longer regarded as property, when the foundation of family life is not just the prevailing pattern of social organization but the relation of persons mutually bound to Christ. Roles are no longer defined by law, but by the will of God.

Authority rests on the claims of love (Webber and Fort 51). It is on this basis that welfare programs are conducted, and if they have matured from the older “charity” to methods of self-help that maintain self-respect, it is because more knowledge and greater wisdom have channeled this basic respect more constructively (Kimmel’s Michel 55). On this same basis medical benefits are extended to all who need them, education is made available for all who will receive it, and the responsibility and privilege of government are shared democratically (Fausto-Sterling 44).

Christians simply do not agree at this point on the reason behind missions, though instinctively they recognize their importance. Perhaps the emphasis on God’s revelation in history that we have carried throughout this book can shed other light on the situation. This emphasis reminds us that basically the Gospel is not an idea, but good news, and that Christianity is the whole response of people called forth by the proclamation of that news.

This means that to consider merely the beliefs of a religion is to miss the important aspects of that religion (MacGillivray, 2005). This of course means that Christianity is definitely exclusive-one cannot serve two masters–but exclusiveness is not narrowness, incapable of recognizing good in other people. which a man and a woman bind themselves to each other exclusively for life; yet it is only in Christian lands, where this concept of marriage prevails, that men and women may associate socially with freedom. The harem, where women are secluded, is never associated with the exclusiveness attendant to the Christian idea of marriage (O’Brien et al 43).

At the same time that equal opportunity policies ar beginning to be implemented, many policy-makers and activists are questioning the extent to which equal opportunity policy is an effective strategy for reducing the wage gap. Instead, it is being suggested that equal opportunity policy needs to be supplemented by other policies specifically designed to attack that problem head-on.

Works Cited

Alford, R.D. Naming and identity: a cross-cultural study of personal naming practices. New Haven, CT: HRAF, 1999.

Austin, J.L. How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon, 1999.

Bhagwati, J. In Defense of Globalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Bem, S.L. Lenses of gender. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.

Brannon, L. Gender. Psychological perspectives. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2004.

Burman, E., and Parker, I. (eds). Discourse analytic research. Repertoires and readings of texts in action. London and New York: Routledge, 2006.

Cloke P, Crang P, Goodwin M, Eds, Introducing Human Geographies, Second Edition, London, Arnold, 2005.

Easterly, W. The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics. Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, 2001.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sexing the Body. Oxford University Press, USA; illustrated edition edition, 2000.

Kimmel’s Michel S. The Gendered Society. Basic Books, 2000.

MacGillivray, A. Globalization. Carroll & Grafm 2005.

O’Brien, R., Goetze, A., Scholte, J., Williams, M., Helleiner, E. Contesting Global Governance: Multilateral Economic Institutions and Global Social Movements Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Webber, D., Fort, B. Regional Integration in Europe and East Asia: Convergence and Divergence? Routledge, 2005.

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