The Absent and Misrepresented Women of My Adolescence

(system) #1

As a child, I developed an interest in the Bible only after I realized there were stories my Sabbath School teachers left out. For exampleI remember being shocked when I discovered that Joseph had a sister, Dinah. Why would everyone mention every single brother and question me to see if I could remember their different roles in his story, but no one mentioned his sister?

The women who were mentioned were either wicked women, like Delilah and Jezebel, or they were presented has having minor roles compared to their fellow male characters, like Sarah and the more important Abraham or Miriam and the more important Moses.

I was uninterested in the biblical text until I discovered the prevalence of women within my sacred scripture. I was given the opportunity to read and hear their stories without someone guiding me to consider the male as the primary and most important character. I could now read Genesis for the purpose of learning about Rebecca and Leah or read 1 and 2 Samuel to learn about Michal and Tamar. It was in this way that I found characters like me that I could identify with. These female characters were my entry point to the biblical world and what sparked my interest in personal study.

This methodology of reading the biblical text and focusing on the female characters has served me well and is what I am currently writing a thesis on. However, not everyone is okay with my interest in female characters. One Sabbath, a colleague and I presented on the women in Judges and discussed how important mutually beneficial relationships between men and women are to God’s community. We showed how as the Israelite community broke away from God, the relationships between men and women became more and more destructive. Despite our insistence that this issue was about the mutually beneficial relationships between women and men, an attendee instructed us to stop being angry with men.

To this individual, our focus on biblical women was an act of aggression towards men; and he is not the only one who thinks this way.

Why is it that the stories of wicked women and important men are told more often than the stories about immoral men and important women? Why is it that no one cares if a man speaks, but we have to go through decades of church wide discussions to permit women to speak? And why is it that controversial male leaders do not have their names removed from directories while women leaders are ignored? What is wrong with sharing stories of strong, good biblical women? What is wrong with female representation in church leadership?

There is a connection between our communal fear of strong, good biblical women and our communal debate over women’s role in the home and church. Ignoring, deemphasizing, and delegitimizing biblical women is connected to our actions of ignoring, deemphasizing and delegitimizing Adventist women and their God given gifts of strength and leadership.

We need to share the stories of women like Achsah and Deborah, emphasize characters like Hannah and Huldah, and legitimize the many biblical women we have misinterpreted as seducers and evil tricksters, like Tamar in Genesis. We need to do this on behalf of the girls in Sabbath School who are not hearing stories of good role models that look like them. We need to do this on behalf of the women who are underrepresented in congregations. We need to do this for the benefit of our church as a whole.

Mindy Bielas is currently a M.A. student at Claremont School of Theology, focusing on Hebrew Bible and Women and Gender Studies. She graduated from La Sierra University with a BA in Religious Studies and Pre-Seminary as well as a Masters of Theological Studies. Prior to her degree at CST, she pastored at Vallejo Drive SDA Church. When she is not studying she enjoys painting. To see some of her art work visit

The article image above was painted by the author.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Bodie Parkhurst) #2

I experienced much the same thing. Women as a whole are simply not taken seriously in Christianity. Yes, there are a few women who get trotted out time and again–Mary and Jezebel spring to mind–but they are only famous in the context of their relations with the men in their lives. The Bible certainly contains more women’s stories than we normally discuss, but taken as a whole the Bible as we have it reflects millenia of misoogyny–the stories are overwhelmingly about men. I would add that children suffer a similar lack of strong role models. As with the women, children are overwhelmingly portrayed in terms of their relationships with the men in their lives–the priests, the king, occasionally a father, or God (who, all information about the gender-neutrality of early references nothwithstanding, is overwhelmingly presented as male). I can’t think of a single story of a girl child. And if we look for stories of children who experience abuse or negative parenting and triumph–I finally just gave up. I grew up knowing that the Bible stories might be relevant for some people, but they certainly weren’t for me. There were simply no role models with whom my own experience resonated. Oddly enough, I have found strong, positive role models in the myths and literature of pre-christian cultures–stories that offer a way of coming to grips with and dealing positively with the reality of my own experience. I suspect there may be many reasons for this–the culture at the time of writing was in many cases very different from ours–different values, goals, mores, and cultures. And then the documents were edited repeatedly to"clarify meaning" and “correct” errors–which often meant to modify the information to meet the needs and comfort zones of later readers whose culture had shifted. The Christian Bible was assembled in an era when hatred toward and fear of women (particularly powerful women) had reached pathological levels. And the Bible reflects this. The question is, can we consider a book that has been shaped by wildly divergent special interests over millenia (to say nothing of accidental errors) God’s word? If so, how will we read it? Is it responsible to apply values that justified often-savage behavior as right acting. I know what I believe, but I think it’s a question each person must answer for himself or herself. The only real bedrock is the need, as Bart Ehrman puts it, to understand how the Bible was created, if we are going to use it as a guide for our lives.