Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women

Eve's apology in defense of women

I’m going on a roll sharing all of my final essays with you guys because they have been incredibly difficult to write and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished throughout the semester! This essay is for my English Literature from the Sixteenth to Seventeenth Century (I know, it’s my actual nightmare) and it focuses on contrasting “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women” by Aemilia Lanyer with Christian views on women. I nearly died writing this paper so I hope you all like it as much as I hated writing it! Just kidding, kind of.

Aemilia Lanyer’s “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women” in her larger work, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, argues in favor of Eve after the fall of humankind whereas most scholars and religious leaders would have condemned the first woman for her actions. Lanyer’s approach to recognizing the equal responsibilities and failures of both people in the Biblical story contradicts that of the Genesis narrative as well as the interpretations of most Christian clergy. In the Christian Bible’s origin story of humanity, the majority of the blame for mankind’s fall is put on Eve after she ate of the fruit that doomed future generations. The discussion surrounding Eve’s impact on the future ruin of humans is significantly tied to how later Christians treated and continue to treat women as subordinates. While the Christian Bible accuses the first woman of causing the damnation of all people, equal, if not more, responsibility should sit on Adam instead, which is argued in “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women.”

Eve’s mistake of eating the fruit from the forbidden tree is used as justification for the inequality and oppression that women have suffered through in every generation following her own. At the beginning of “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women,” Lanyer references the moment that Eve bit flesh off of the fruit, ignorant of the true outcome of her actions and its impact on later women. Based upon her consumption, Eve carelessly damned all of humankind, which pastors and priests would argue was the original sin depriving humanity of eternal life. In her poem, Lanyer writes, “That undiscerning ignorance perceived / No guile or craft that was by him intended; / For had she known of what we were bereaved,” (25-27). The passage sits in between stanzas defending Eve’s actions and placing accusations upon Adam, acting as a brief apologia for what was to come. Specifically in the passage as she describes the bereavement of future generations, Lanyer brushes past the distinct punishments that God inflicted upon both men and women, while focusing more on how women would suffer.

Not only were women sentenced to severe, if not fatal, pain during childbirth, but they also became second class citizens to men as the latter became rulers over all humankind and have sought dominance over women. This description of the Fall in Genesis chapter 3 lends itself as rationalization for how women would later be labeled as submissive to their husbands and other male figures. The Christian church has based their views on women’s passivity in the house and in religious settings, women not being allowed to become pastors, and women’s acceptance of patriarchal systems upon the consequences God applied directly upon Eve in the chapter. Lanyer mentions, however, “let us not women glory in men’s fall,” (15) as a plea for Even and all women’s innocence in the ultimate doom of humans. Interestingly, the connection between God and women, and later Jesus Christ and the women with whom he interacted, juxtaposes the institution of Christianity’s treatment of women in the Church. In Elizabeth M. A. Hodgson’s article “Prophecy and gendered mourning in Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum,” Hodgson disputes that Lanyer’s arguments focus on how the treatment of women in early Christianity is in contrast with God’s original relationship with women, which Jesus emphasized on Earth (Hodgson 106). Hodgson infers that Eve and Christ shared a similar fate lacking mercy and charity that entangled women in a unique bond with Jesus unlike any connection He shared with man. The personal and intimate relationships that Jesus joined with the women he encountered, from the adulterous woman he saved from stoning to the Gentile woman at the well, revealed a connection that placed women in sacred roles rejected by men in religious clergy. Whereas Christian leaders saw women as second class people to men based on the Biblical punishment, Lanyer’s argument for Eve’s blamelessness is similar to that of Jesus Christ’s innocence and how he treated the women he met.

God did not directly provide Eve with the same information and true sight as Adam, so she did not fully understand how her choice would affect the rest of humanity. Although Genesis 3 illustrates Eve’s discussion with the serpent as her sharing the dangers of eating from the forbidden tree, God did not specifically tell Eve about the tree of good and evil, but instead provided only Adam with that knowledge. Lanyer reaches this point in the poem where she says, “Was simply good, and had no power to see,” (21) acknowledging that Eve did not have the same capacity to function on Adam’s level of knowing the harm that would come from eating the fruit. Prior to the Genesis chapter on the fall of humankind, the Bible emphasizes how God told Adam all of the rules in the Garden of Eden before he created Eve from his rib. The Bible verse that documents God’s creation of Eve falls instantly right after he tells the first man about the fruit they must avoid.

Lanyer recognizes this oversight and expands on a new argument that favors Eve’s position as a guiltless woman who was not given enough information about her living situation in order to make decisions that would affect everyone who lived after her. This passage does not, in fact, contradict the second chapter in Genesis, which briefly narrates God’s creation process that ended with Eve. Instead, Lanyer provides a fresh perspective on the dialogue between God and Adam, leaving Eve out entirely of their conversation about what the former’s plans were for the new planet. In the lines following the passage of her poem, Lanyer boasts Eve’s small mistake of eating from the tree because she did not share the same true sight that Adam had, which foresaw the imminent failures of humans (23). Although Adam himself did not predict that Eve would break God’s rule, she had no direct resources that provided her with clear guidelines of how to live and why she should avoid certain areas of the garden. Both God and Adam left her vulnerable to her own senses and the appeal of the serpent. Author Rebecca Moore suggests that Eve’s fall ruined any chance of full equality between the sexes in her article “In the Beginning … Eve” where she quotes Martin Luther’s statement that life for Eve and all women would have seen less submission and more partnership between men and women (Moore 23), although Lanyer’s argument indicates that equality was never an option as God did not allow Eve the same chances and information he gave to Adam.

Adam was most to blame for the fall of humans because he should have had the strength to deny Eve’s temptation, but he chose to disobey God out of malice and spite. One of Lanyer’s most important key points is her analysis that Adam voluntarily picked insubordination, while Eve made a decision based on her willful ignorance. As previously mentioned, God directly spoke to Adam in the beginning of Genesis, explaining all of the ways he would care for and nurture the land, living creatures, and his partner, Eve. Lanyer chooses this specific detail as her central argument, writing, “Her fault though great, yet he was most to blame; / What weakness offered, strength might have refused, / Being lord of all, the greater was his shame,” (34-36). Adam, being the first human created, had the responsibility of ruling over all of God’s creation, and he knew that eating from the forbidden tree was against God’s command, but he chose to follow Eve anyway. Lanyer creates a distinction between Adam and Eve’s actions in her poem, placing more blame on Adam for disobeying God with full awareness that what he was doing was wrong, while Eve made a mistake because of her blissful ignorance. The tone of her text also changes at this point in the poem as Lanyer writes with more aggression and disdain for the character of Adam who seems to escape the tale without as much received anger as his woman counterpart. Lanyer goes as far as to describe Adam as a perfect man who knew exactly what the consequences were for their actions prior to executing the sin (42-44), but wanted to disobey God even more explicitly than Eve.

As soon as Eve hands Adam the forbidden fruit, he could have rejected the gift, but instead eats it with his partner. This decision not only dooms humanity, but also calls into question Adam’s strength and level of guilt in the situation. If God had blatantly explained the reasoning against eating from the tree to Adam in early Genesis, one main reason for the first man to break God’s trust would be a malicious and overpowering desire for that which was not meant for him (71-72). An alternative perspective on the Fall comes from author Yaakov A. Mascetti’s article “‘With the Eie of Faith’: Aemilia Lanyers Religious and Feminine Sight in Context,” where he explains that “The incapacity to acquire a direct perception of light is for Lanyer an allegory of the male inability to perceive and understand truth,” (Mascetti 21). Mascetti’s argument raises a new question about whether Adam truly understood God’s commands and if not, why he would be put in charge over Eve, who learned to make her own choices throughout the Genesis story. This article suggests that women have always had clearer discernment of right and wrong based on their emotional and compassionate nature (20), while Adam and the men who followed him were unable to see past any malicious intent. This argument strays from the Biblical perspective on Eve’s role in the fall of humankind because it reveals Adam as the villain upon whom all future generations could blame their imminent damnation without Christ’s sacrifice.

Eve’s primary problem was her bountiful love for Adam and her desire to please him. Lanyer suggests the unique idea that Eve was blameless in the entire fall of humankind as she simply existed as a scapegoat who wanted to create her own path. The Genesis version of the Adam and Eve story does not necessarily share details about the couple’s true relationship outside of the commonly held belief that they were happily intimate until the sin that caused eternal damnation and suffering for humanity without Jesus’ sacrifice. The Bible verses, however, do not contribute any detailed information about Adam and Eve’s implied love for one another. Lanyer deliberately chooses to acknowledge Eve’s debilitating love for Adam as she recognizes the main reason why anyone would choose to disobey God’s commands in order to eat a simple fruit. Allowing Eve a character trait such as an overwhelming agape love for her partner provides a mental analysis of what made her choose the fruit of knowledge over an eternal life in the perfect garden. Lanyer’s statement shares a sweeter side of Eve when she writes, “Not Even, whose fault was only too much love, /Which made her give this present to her dear, / That what she tasted he likewise might prove,” (57-59). Instead of molding Eve into an emotionless woman who simply broke God’s rule for no reason other than temptation from a serpent, Lanyer crafted a three dimensional character whose overpowering love for the man in her life forced her to make a foolish decision out of curiosity and passion.

Eve’s never-ending loyalty to Adam was one characteristic that defined her person as she aimed only to provide him with the love and appeasement that he desired. However, her yearning for what benefitted him eventually caused her own downfall because, based on Lanyer’s reading, she focused more on what Adam wanted instead of what God commanded. In return, Adam never tried to reprimand Eve for her mistakes, including the most damning one in early Genesis. Lanyer portrays the pair’s dynamic as Eve providing Adam with any form of love he desired, while realizing how he took the knowledge she initially stole from the forbidden tree and declared it as his own, just as the continued line of men have taken from women’s intelligence throughout history. As a reward for all that Eve contributed to Adam’s livelihood, author Elaine V. Beilin writes in her article “Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance,” the importance of women in early Christianity, including Eve’s role. Despite how the religion has punished and oppressed women for centuries, Beilin argues that Eve was a visionary and pioneer in Christian history who only wanted a new world the differed from the one in which she lived (Beilin 181). Instead of placing blame on Eve for her mistake, both Lanyer and Beilin suggest that the first woman be praised for her infinite love for the man whom God created and how she trail blazed a path for all women to get to Christ.

Eve was originally made out of Adam’s rib, therefore any of her disobedient traits or characteristics directly grew from him. The creation of Eve is visually portrayed in the second chapter of Genesis where God takes a rib from his first man and uses it to craft him a suitable helper. Based on this story, religious leaders have established the idea that women were created for the purpose of serving men and allowing their testosterone-fueled minds take the lead, while women followed closely behind. The passage is taken from one of the closing stanzas as Lanyer writes, “If any evil did in her remain, / Being made of him, he was the ground of all,” (65-66). Based on God’s reasoning behind creating Eve out of Adam’s body to become his helper, Lanyer proposes a unique argument that every defiant and insubordinate quality flowing through her mind initially stemmed from the first man. This argument throws a wrench in the common Christian belief that women exist only to support and respect the men they love because men are thought to have more power and authority in the Christian religion. However, Lanyer’s argument raises the debate of whether Eve must obey Adam despite being made of the exact same fabric and containing equally beneficial and harmful characteristics.

Any argument that places full blame on Eve for the fall of man must reference the statement that Eve was made out of Adam and therefore, he should be held just as accountable for the sin. The article “Feminist Questions of Christianity” by Caryn D. Riswold recognizes the imbalance of power and authority given to Adam and Eve and prepares the statement that the outdated view of women as solely responsible for the fall and entrance of sin in the Garden has influenced many societies about the first woman’s role in the early collapse and why religious institutions have become more politicized over time. In the article, Riswold writes, “This idea of some ancient and primordial human decision has had a tremendous influence not only on Christianity’s view of women but on dominant Western cultural ideas about women and men,” (Riswold 26). Despite the Biblical scripture describing the shared anatomy of both Adam and Eve, the latter is still charged as the cause of humans’ eternal suffering without Christ. Both Lanyer and Riswold’s article attempt to sway the common notion that Eve must take all of the blame for her actions as they try to not allow Adam to escape judgment without proper attention paid to his physical liability in the choices he and Eve made. If Adam is not held accountable for his role in the fall, future generations of religious clergy will continue to subtly spread the belief in men’s superiority and women’s weaknesses, although they were molded from the same body.

The disparity between Christian views on women throughout history based on Eve’s role in the Biblical creation story and Aemilia Lanyer’s “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women” is evident upon further analysis. While most prominent religious figures would have followers believe that Eve was the cause for the fall of mankind and all human suffering, Lanyer offers a different approach with an understanding of how Eve arrived at the forbidden tree and why she chose to take of its fruit. Although Eve made her own mistakes in the Garden of Eden, criticism for the damnation of humans should be placed more on Adam rather than the woman created from his bones.

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