While God created men to be generally oriented toward work, God created women to be generally oriented towards relationships of helpfulness and companionship.This is often taught in conjunction with the notion that women stay home and nurture the children and create an environment that is supportive to the husband's career. The major tasks of women would be to bear and raise children, to cook and clean the house, and see that the family is well supplied with clothes and other goods. These clothes and goods are bought with money earned by the husband, who is the "provider." The main teaching role of women in this model is to teach younger women to fulfill these tasks.
The following verses are often used in this connection, Gen. 2:15, 18 and Gen. 3:16-19,
2:15And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.While it is true that women bear children, there has been no civilization in which men's participation in agriculture was dominant over women's participation in agriculture. Women worked the soil in ancient Israel and they continue to be participate in farming and agriculture today. In many countries women participate in agricultural work at a far higher rate than men.
18And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.3:16Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
17And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
So I want to look at alternate interpretation for Gen. 3:16. The consequences of the fall for the woman relate to childbearing and her relationship to her husband. The consequence of the fall for the man relates to the soil. The most obvious interpretation is that just as woman was taken out of man, so the fall returns her to man. And in the same way, as man was taken out of the soil, so he is returned to the soil. We need to consider that the story of Adam and Eve has internal plot coherency that is not necessarily related to universal truths about men and women.
Women work the soil and we can't get around that. Women share the physiological makeup of men, and die and decay in the same manner as men. Eve returns to the soil, just as much as Adam does. But the story is not about that. The story contains the plot line that man came from the soil and returned, just as woman came from man and is returned to him.
However, the woman also suffers in childbearing. Children are the main asset of women. Women wanted to produce children in order to establish their value to the family. The chief asset of a man was land. Just as Rachel schemed to bear children, and Rebekkah manipulated Isaac in Jacob's interest, so men schemed over land.
This does not mean that men bear an intrinsic relationship to the land that women do not share. Far from it. But it does mean that, in the creation narrative of Gen. 2 and 3, the male bears a relationship to the land that the woman does not. This reflects the legal and political situation in ancient societies where women were not typically landowners.
We are left now with the fact that women exclusively do bear children, but men do not exclusively own land or work the soil. Perhaps I need to qualify this last sentence. Women have a very specific but time-limited exclusive role in raising a child. Just as women are connected to the land, fathers have a close relationships to their children. A father as well as a mother suffers when a child dies. Fathers are equally invested in their children and children are the asset of both parents as is land.
We can safely say that both men and women are oriented to relationships, and both men and women are oriented to work. This may look different according to the sexes, there is some truth to the varying availablity of women to work, but this is slight when we consider that women globally partipate in physical labour full time in addition to bearing children.
I hope to blog about women's orientation to work and how this plays out in the Bible and in undertanding women's leadership in the epistles of Paul. I feel that it is important to respond to the teaching that men are to provide, protect, work and initiate, and that this is what makes men leaders, and women the receivers and affirmers of male leadership. My focus will be on certain areas of women's work in the biblical narrative.