We have spent thousands of years creating a society in which genders relate to each other in ways deeply influenced by the openly patriarchal model in which a woman was created to be a helper to a man. We have cultivated the belief that a woman’s worth is found in her ability to support the desires of men. We have discouraged her from speaking her truth when it threatens to inconvenience or displease a man. We have gotten exactly what we would expect to if we were to plunk Adam and Eve down in an office building, sound stage or senate chamber in 21st century America.
What we need is a new archetype. Or a rebirth of an ancient one.
In early midrashic writings, rabbis explained the divergent creation stories in Genesis, postulating that the two accounts are describing two different women. The first woman, created from the same soil as Adam, was Lilith. The second, taken from Adam’s rib, was Eve.
Many people (though not those who’ve been longtime readers of Lilith magazine) only know Lilith, if we know her at all, as an evil woman who was banished from the Garden of Eden for refusing to submit to Adam. Through the centuries, she has been thoroughly demonized by many cultures and traditions. And for what? For daring to claim her place as an equal partner to Adam. For using her voice to say, “I am here. I am fully human. I will speak up. I am so much more than the fulfillment of your desires.”
Lilith is an archetype today’s silence breakers can use to fuel their work.
To build a society that operates differently, we need to start with new materials—new archetypes. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.
We have focused much of our energy during recent months on the removal of those who have abused their power, as well we should. However, moving forward into an era where women are supported to speak out when lines are crossed, we need to focus on empowering them to speak up sooner. If we want the next generation to live new stories, we must start telling new ones.
Myths become guiding forces when we act and re-act them over and over and over. We hear the message from someone who matters to us, often a parent, a mentor or a spiritual guide. When sex and power intersect with our own lives, we react according to the archetype we have internalized.
I have a friend in her mid-seventies. She is feisty, self-assured and full of the kind of gumption Lilith embodies. She was an executive in the days when women outside the secretarial pool were a rarity, and she stood up to dozens of harassers over the course of her very successful career. As we discussed the avalanche of sexual harassment allegations over lunch last week, she had a memory return to her, one of those “aha” moments in which we see why we are the way we are.
As a 14-year-old working a summer job at a radio station, she had been the recipient of flirtatious overtures by a twenty-something co-worker. It was nothing lewd or unsavory, but she was 14. As we’ve discussed ad nauseam with regard to Roy Moore, it is never okay for a grown man to hit on a 14-year old.
What made the difference in her story, as opposed to the girls in Roy Moore’s case, was a father who stepped in, not to rescue, but to give her the tools she needed to remove herself from an unhealthy situation. The parents of Roy Moore’s conquests, in contrast, seemed to encourage the relationship, or at least did not actively discourage it. They were buying into the myth of the gender dynamics of Adam and Eve and selling it to their daughters.
My friend’s father, however, painted a completely different picture for her. When the man asked her out to dinner, her father said, “Bring him to dinner here.” After a family dinner, the man wanted to take her to the movies, and her dad said, “We’re watching a movie here. Join us.” After the evening was over, her father told her that while a ten-year age difference might not matter some day, it mattered now.
He empowered her to tell the man directly that flirting with her was not appropriate and not welcome. He encouraged her to quit if the man persisted. And he put his money where his mouth was, promising to pay her remaining weeks’ salary from his own pocket if she were to quit. With her father’s support, she was emboldened to speak her truth.
I know that not all parents are financially able to make such an offer to their daughters, but we can all communicate clearly, through our words and through our actions, that their voices matter and that they should never be afraid to use them.
We are rewriting our mythology when we stop romanticizing female subservience in arenas as powerful as media and religion. What does that look like in practice? It looks like taking children of all genders to see Wonder Woman. It looks like speaking up when misogynistic ideas are presented as truth in religious settings. It might even mean making a hard choice to leave an organization—spiritual or vocational—that doesn’t empower women. Our daughters are watching and listening to the stories we’re writing with our lives. Let Lilith speak through you. It’s time.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.