The Name God Gave Us

There’s something very special about bestowing something or someone new with its very own name. Naming a new baby especially is a huge responsibility, and an exciting and grounding experience for every parent – will the name I love now for my baby still be okay when they have grown up? Should I use a cherished family name, or the weird one I absolutely adore? What if everyone else criticises what I choose? What if my child turns out to hate the name I give them?

Then, having given them a name we practically plucked from the air, we proceed to marry it together with this other, more substantial entity – the family name. Thus, our children take with them all their lives the product of both of our our memory, and of our imagination.

People change their names sometimes, for many reasons. Sometimes it’s as simple and as noble as taking the name of the person we love in order to recreate and affirm the beginning of a new family history. This can be bittersweet. Giving up a name is a kind of surrender, as in marriage, but it can also be a way of empowering ourselves. We might choose to change the name given to us at our birth in preference for a new name as a way of breaking the ties with our family of origin, or simply making a new identity for ourselves. In either case, taking a new name can be like being born again, and this may be exactly what is intended. But to be born again, there must be a kind of death take place, and the loss of a name, intentional or not, is like instating a deliberate episode of mourning and of grief, perhaps to force the bringing about of a process of change and transformation.

There is another kind of name. There is the name someone tries to force on you against your will. Ignoring someone’s given name and calling them something else, or by profanity instead, is a particularly insidious kind of power-play. It’s meant to dehumanise and degrade, like giving a prisoner a number instead of a name. It is intended to remove identity, personhood and dignity. To take or replace someone’s name by force is equivalent to an act of extreme violence.

*****

The first name ever given to a woman was “woman”. This first female human was actually named by the first male human (Genesis 2:23). He (not named Adam just yet) named her “woman” because she was derived from himself – not an amputation, but an entity all unto herself, prised apart from his flesh and his bone. The name he gave her was in itself a thing of beauty – as was the first woman – derivative, but not unequal, taken from, but not lesser than.

An interesting point – neither the first man nor the first woman had proper names at all until something in the garden went wrong (Genesis 3:17). Before that they were simply known as – “the man” and “the woman”. When there was just the two of them and the community of God in the world, this no further form of personal identity was needed. But after their human eyes were irrevocably opened to the knowledge of good and evil, they received names into the bargain. After the fact, God tells the man that as a result of what he did the earth will therefore be cursed and he will always work hard to eat. He comes to be known as Adam – meaning the human-kind, the earth, the ground, the blood. God tells the woman she will bring forth children out of her own body with great pain, and be subject to her husband always. Adam thus takes it upon himself to name his wife Eve – meaning the mother of all human life. Their names became in essence a lasting legacy, with both their identities forever intrinsically linked to both their sacred origin, and the foolish thing they did. But, provided the close communion between them remains somehow, there will never be any reason to become confused about the new balances – or perhaps, imbalances – of power that circle between them……

*****

We all know how much weight a name bears. If we did not know, we would not use them like we do to wound, to brand and to disempower. When we call someone a name other than the one they were given, or the one they chose themselves, we are entering into a power-play we hope to win. Now, name-calling can certainly be a sign of endearment. Baby. Sweetheart. Mister. Honey. But in a different context, those same names can be used as subtle – or unsubtle – acts of hostility. Or patronisation. And there are other more visceral names that we use, absolutely intended to stand in for acts of unbridled and violent hatred, absolutely intended to oppress and ravage and hurt.

Bitch. Slut.Whore.

Strange how there are no exclusively male gendered equivalents to these words.

Unless you count these.

Mother-fucker. Son of a bitch.

Guys, when God invented the whole naming-giving thing, somehow I don’t think this is what he had in mind.

*****

Men shove names like slut and whore towards women’s faces all soaked in gall and vinegar, goading us hey, suck on that. But rather than being the great equalisers men hope they will turn out to be, misogynist slurs are nothing more than a feeble attempt to subvert the perceived power of women, and an effort to force us to surrender to sheer brute force rather than logic or reason or sense, or even grace. For many men this is okay because *apparently* God Himself created an order which dictates every woman must give over to the men around her, or else have it taken from her by any methods necessary. But even in the original nest of gender politics, in that gentle power-play of the name-giving exchange between Adam and Eve and God I see none of this spirit of violence, bitterness or oppression. I see a nod to the beauty of the past, the lost wonder of unbroken communion between God and humans, and a gentle resignation to the sadder, more difficult future where work and pain and birth and death would now be the joint human – and also the Divines –  reality. The past and the future. Together, but apart. The same, but different. Memory, and imagination.

The demeaning, sexist, verbal assaults alluded to previously have no place in the dialogue between men and women, theological or otherwise. And whilst men may join the conversation on what women may or may not do with women’s bodies, they may never confuse concession with acquiescence. God certainly derived us from men’s bodies, but since then, much more than mere skin has come to separate the genders, and this divide cannot be bridged simply from the woman’s side. In fact, if there is division, men must be prepared to bear equal responsibility to bridge it, particularly if they also wish to benefit from the unity that will result – and benefit from it they certainly will. Men know this, or they would not demand so vehemently women give so much to procure it for them. However, to pretend that all disharmony and uncommunion between men and women and God can be blamed wholly on the unwillingness of one gender to lay down the power which helps her survive the world in which she find herself – a world where much of the hostility she must navigate is perpetuated by men for men’s sake – is a great folly.

To call a woman a slut or a whore in an argument – political or otherwise – is a form of feminine mutilation, an act of unGodly violence and a sign of intrinsic weakness. Firstly, it forgets and dishonours who we are, because all women were first named woman – prised apart from the stuff of men, and then Eve – mother of all the living. Secondly it disregards what we have done, which is survive this hostile world, beside and besides the man and sometimes even despite him, that we men and women – let’s not forget – created together. Any downfall this world and our society may or may not have suffered was an equal opportunity job. When it comes to gender politics, our slander and our blasphemy of the other does us all no good. In all our conversations about the inequities of power in this world, what we need is memory  – the grace and the grown-up-edness to honour what has gone before, politically, theologically, experientially and sociologically.  We also need room to develop a brand new imagination – giving all the ability and freedom to see a world where power is balanced far more broadly, freely and equally…perhaps even as broad, free and equal as God’s grace is.

*****

If you liked this, you may also like

Why I Don’t Submit To The Pastors Wife’s Husband, And Why He Won’t Ever Submit To Me

 

She Won’t Let Me Wear The Pants Or Stick My Thingy In Her, And Other Pressing Problems Facing The Church Today

Okay, so as a middle-aged Christian woman, in light of the recent rash of Driscollisms doing the rounds, I feel at this point I need to stand up say something. Someone certainly needs to tell these Bible-college educated boofheads a few home truths about marriage, leadership and sex. I’ve been hearing this same inane, misogynist drivel preached from church pulpits for about three decades now, and I’m so bloody tired of it, I just can’t tell you.

I wish everything they keep telling us to do actually worked, really I do. I wish all gender issues in the church and the larger problems of the world could be cured if I as a Christian woman agreed to never write essays or read books or rise above the creche roster at church, and promised to wear a french maids outfit while I dusted and baked. But this largely sexist idea that you guys – and it is the guys for the most part – seem to have about how all Christian men and all Christian women are wired – or ought to be wired –  just doesn’t work in the real world. And believe it or not, Mr. Anti-Women-In-Leadership, your church is in the real world.retro-couple

And, about that leadership thing. Let’s get this straight. You should stop telling men they ought to want to be leaders all the time, and telling women they ought to want to not be. Not all men want to be leaders, and not all men can be leaders, good or otherwise. And not all men want to live in a system of marriage or church or community where the kind of leaders you and your ilk advocate they become are even necessary. I mean, just listen to the way you talk to people, for crying out loud. Not all men are averse to the leadership of women, and many resent the fact you’re always telling them they ought to be. As hard as it is to believe, many men actually like women as fellow human beings, and don’t think women are just for marrying, or leading around, or sticking their willies in. I put it to you that an awful lot of men – more than you probably think – don’t want to be leaders, of their wives or anyone else. And these are not broken men that need fixing.

Another thing. Despite all that weaker vessel stuff, not all women are weaker than men, physically, mentally or spiritually. Some women are naturally very strong, and many have had to learn to be, and that is not an anomaly that needs solving or correcting. Little Man, not all women who are strong want to emasculate you. I am a strong woman, however, when I come into the presence of others, I do not assume because I am strong I am the boss of everyone else, and therefore all those present must defer to my strengths because there can be only one. I am happy to work with and appreciate the strengths – and the weaknesses – of other people, and give credit and respect where due. Regardless of what the misogynist men church teachers say, neither men nor women should assume their strengths are God’s gift to others, and that others must therefore submit and make way for them. My husband and I work together. He knows what my strengths are, and he is happy to use that to his advantage. He’s a smart guy. We try to let the other one do what they are good at and naturally enjoy, and we work hard not to dominate, but to compliment each other.

I tried downplaying my strengths once to allow my husband to rise up and be more like the strong Christian man the church said he was supposed to be in every area of our marriage (because he had the penis) but that was a disaster. He didn’t want to ‘lead me’ – he married me because he liked me and thought I was attractive and interesting, not because he thought I was weak and stupid and needed him or I would die alone in the woods. We figure God knew just what he was doing when he put us together, and when we both use our powers for good and not evil, everything works just fine. When things go wrong, it won’t work to blame someone else for being weak or a usurper. We just get onto the problem and sort it out.

Let’s just call this need some Christian men have to dominate and control others exactly what it is – basic emotional insecurity. If a man is intimidated by and feels he needs to dominate another person, and this is further compounded by the fact she is a woman, he is insecure first, a bully second, and a silly misogynist third. Buddy, your problem isn’t that your wife won’t follow your leadership, its that you’re trying to create an autonomous dictatorship in what is meant to be a democracy. Ironically, I have met a lot of incredibly strong women who got that way after surviving their stupid, despotic husband who used spiritual, emotional and physical rape as a “Biblical” leadership strategy. If you try to break your wife by demanding she follow your leadership because God said she has to, she may get strong in a whole bunch of ways you didn’t count on, with Gods help…and I will promise to help her do it.

Now, the sex thing. Pay close attention, because this is very important. Regardless of what they preach in church and write in their preachy marriage books, not all women have naturally low sex drives. A lot of women have naturally high sex drives, higher than their husbands do, higher than most men do in fact. Many men have naturally low sex drives, and it’s perfectly normal, i.e.: not a problem that needs fixing. If your wife doesn’t want to have sex with you, that is YOUR problem, not hers. You’re the one with the erection – sort yourself out, for goodness sake, and leave her alone. You do realise her part of the equation bleeds for a week every month, yeah? And besides, maybe your breath stinks. Maybe you stink. Maybe she really is tired or has a headache because of all the other problems she has to take care of as a result of the other times you put your thingy in her – i.e.: your children.  Your dick is your priority, not hers.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that if a woman has a low desire for sex she’s called “frigid”, but there is no derogatory name for a man with a low sex drive. As if it were impossible for a man to have a low sex drive, or for a woman to be sexually frustrated. Hello. There’s no name for a man with a low sex drive, because we don’t presume that everyone with a penis will just instantly feel like sticking it into us when we snap our fingers, and – funnily enough – your puerile name calling didn’t make us horny when you did it to us. Neither did those sermons you wrote telling us we need to deal with our sexual “problems”. The fact that you wouldn’t even know a sexually frustrated woman if you fell over her – and yet a sexually frustrated man doesn’t seem capable of thinking or talking about anything else – says a lot about our genders ability to take care of our business, don’t you think?

Mr Sex-Obsessed, Misogynist, Power-hungry Pastor-man, every time you talk at people about what is normal and what is not when it comes to sex, family and relationships you effectively cause 99% of your congregation to become just a little bit more neurotic. I don’t care to read your book and find out if God gets mad when we put that into there. If you’d stop banging on about it – no pun intended – many people would not ever presume their sex life was broken and needed fixing in the first place. And this is the real problem, isn’t it? The church stopped talking a long time ago about how great and amazing and awesome people are and all the things they are capable of and can aspire to and create together, and instead started repressing everyone and bitching about them, while at the same time complaining about being repressed. I’ll come back to church when you guys start healing and uniting all people, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, celebrating their humanity and diversity, and just stop with the generalisations, the misogyny, and the micro-managing sin via behaviour modification. It’s just boring.

 

 

If you liked this, you might like –

On How The Infidelity Of The Christian Man Is The Fault Of His Wife’s Ponderous Thighs. Or Crap To That Effect.