Gender Roles in Creation Myths

This blog post was written by students in Carolyn Ross’s Writing and Rhetoric course, “Writing Nature: Discourses in Ecology, Culture, and Technology,” at Stanford University in California, USA, in response to their reading of two creations stories:  Genesis 1-3 from the biblical Old Testament and a Pomo (California) Indian creation story, “Marumda and Kuksu Make the World.”  In addition, it considers a third creation story of the students’ choosing to expand and enrich our discussion of these texts.  Comments posted are from students in Mark Michael’s Rhetoric 102 course at The American University in Cairo, Egypt, and by other students in the Stanford class.  The American University, Cairo, students have posted their own blogs, addressing the Judeo-Christian creation story, the Pomo Indian creation story, and other creation stories of their own choosing.  For more on this exchange, visit this introductory post.

The Judeo-Christian and Cherokee versions of mankind’s origins both stress the “man” in mankind, by creating images of women who are divinely and socially conceived as being inferior and subservient to men.

The story of Genesis in the Bible is probably the most renown of all creation stories, and the basic creation of man and woman in the Bible establishes the framework for gender roles. According to the Bible, woman was created from man and for man. The first woman was made by taking a man’s rib and putting it in a woman’s body, implying in a sense that woman is dependent on man. Furthermore, the Bible states that God’s intention in making woman was to make “a helper suitable for (man)” (Genesis 2:18). Man was made to take care of the earth but woman was made to help man, implying that her intended capabilities and role are more limited and even that her task was to assist man. Later on, it is the woman who submits to the temptation of the tree in Eden which could imply that woman is inferior in terms of control and also that women more easily succumb to evil influences. Additionally, it is the woman who gives the sinful fruit to the man, which can also imply that women have the power to lead men astray. This later will affect society and gender roles by suggesting there is an implicit weakness in women that is not as easily found in men who were created in God’s image.

Then, there is the Cherokee creation myth. The myth begins with the idea that when all the world was water, there was only an island being held up by four cords which hung from the sky–this was called Galunlati, the place where the animals lived. When Galunlati got crowded, a little Water-beetle decided to explore the water & emerged with some soft mud which grew and spread to become all the lands. But the mud was still too soft and wet to live on, so Great Buzzard flew down and flapped his wings to create valleys and mountains. Then the earth dried and the Galunlati animals moved over to it. Men came after the animals and plants; at first there was only a brother and a sister, until he struck her with a fish and told her to multiply. And after that she had a child every seven days, until the world could no longer hold everyone, at which point the woman should only have one child a year, and it has been so ever since.

In this manner, the brother is shown to be the master over the woman, since he was the one who struck her with a fish and told her to multiply. By slapping her with a fish and demanding that she reproduce, the brother establishes the woman’s role in society (reproduction) and also that he is superior, as demonstrated by his ability to command her. In addition, the rules of bearing children were set by the myth and pressured women to then only have one child a year. Interestingly enough, the plants and animals arrive before mankind, which is very different from Genesis and points to a different cultural perspective that holds nature to a higher regard.

The interaction between man and woman in both creation stories are interestingly very similar. In both, men assume a role of superiority and women are given limited and specific roles, as in the case of “helper” in Genesis and “multiplier” in the Cherokee myth. Both use the medium of the creation myth in order to later influence the structure, particularly gender roles, of the societies from which the stories come.

–Tina Miller and Laura Kurt, Stanford University

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One Response to Gender Roles in Creation Myths

  1. passant elgayar, sally hamed says:

    The writer in both stories described how men took control over women and how he mistreated her. However, he is underestimating women’s abilities and roles not considering how smart she is, as she was strong enough to get him out of Eden. The author was totally unfair when he judged women as if she’s a devil not taking into consideration that without women the author and other generations wouldn’t have existed. Moreover, there was not enough description to the whole images f both stories, because he didn’t succeed in making us imagine the whole image. The Cherokee story was extremely offensive, how could he simply describe women as a tool for delivering loads of children and not considering that it’s man’s fault as well. The story was just giving hints and without details through the line. The only detail that was mentioned was when he described how the man used to slap his wife with a fish to deliver children, which is really humiliating for women’s dignity and pride.

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