Can you believe how fast the summer is flying by?! It’s hard to fathom that it is already the last week of August! Since we just returned from a little road trip to the USA, I thought I would share this late summer musing by blending a bit of American and Canadian content.
Since 1971, August 26th is celebrated in the United States as “Women’s Equality Day” — it commemorates the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the women’s right to vote. I’ve taken it as an occasion to celebrate the ladies North of the Border as well. (FYI, “International Women’s Day” is March 8th… perhaps we will celebrate then, too). We walked along Rosa Parks Street on our recent trip to Cincinnati, and had a wonderful discussion with the kids about her role in Canadian history as well. Racism. Women’s rights. Environmental activism. So many blog topics… so little time! Let’s just look at one, shall we? Now, I’m not a big women’s libber… but have been musing about this topic since one of the books on my summer reading list was “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.
The book peaked my interest after seeing advertisements for the American Web TV’s series based on the novel. I haven’t seen the television series (who’s first airing was in 2017) since my own imagination is probably less graphic than Hollywood’s visionaries… but it triggered my allure to the book, which I discovered was originally published in 1985. It’s my first book by renowned Canadian author, Margaret Atwood. The almost eighty-year-old famous Canadian is certainly well known to me, but I’ve never read her books until now! I was not disappointed. She is certainly a fine author, and definitely has a way with words. I was immediately drawn in and devoured the book in less than a week.
The novel is written in the first person according to its main character, Offred. It is her tale as a captive, fertile woman in the dystopian based realm of Gilead, which was once New England. (She was captured trying to escape to Canada). The “handmaids” are forcibly assigned to produce children for the ruling class known as “commanders”. The handmaid name was borrowed from the biblical story of Rachel and Bilhah, from which Atwood quotes (Genesis 30). It is not a tale for the faint of heart. Atwood’s graphic (although brilliant) writing is what obviously sparked the movies and television series. It is a twisted tale of power, steeped in the fundamentalist perversion of biblical old testament stories. And so I muse… how many more women think of the Bible in this way?
From what I can gather, Atwood (a self confessed “strict agnostic”) does not see this particular book as a feminist work, but it nonetheless makes mention to the overall thought that women, as portrayed in (especially) the Old Testament Bible, are nothing more than vessels for bearing children. I have often heard and seen many critiques of the Christian worldview, based on the fact that the Bible often makes references to this, and other “inferior” roles of women. Does the God of the Bible condone such patriarchal views as Genesis 30? How do we explain the stories of Hosea or Sarah in a #metoo world?
This summer, I had the privilege of sitting under the words of Dr. Marion Taylor, the graduate director for University of Toronto’s Wycliffe college. This tiny little lady, who got her PhD from Yale, came out on stage in this frocked and flowered dress, and yet spoke with such authority on women, that many of us sat in awe. Her resounding message stuck with me: does the righteous and sympathetic way we read the Bible reflect our understanding of how non-believers read the same stories? Do we see Hosea as an intimate metaphor of Christ and the church, or as an abused wife who is told to love again after abuse? Do we recognize the poetic language of Esther or Ruth in an ancient world or do we make current cultural flashpoint references in a confused society?
As a scientist, wife, and mother of both sons and daughters, and as a believer … I am a complex mix in this world of feminist views. I am compelled to see the old testament stories with a sympathetic view, and yet not compromise my beliefs that God has created a uniqueness in me, as an intelligent, gifted and competent woman. I strive to raise my girls (and my boys) to be strong and capable. I also choose to submit to my husband as the biblical authority in our home as a compatible wife. Human beings are not perfect. The old testament stories are prime examples of this. Once we start to abuse Christ’s ultimate authority, and pervert His plan, it is no wonder we see the characters in the Bible as abused and enslaved.
And so, I must remember to see my bible studies not only as love stories to me, as woman, wife and mother, but to share them with others. Others who may not yet understand their full identity in Christ as one who is honoured, loved and respected as one made in the image of God.