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Reinventing Eve

Categorized in these topics: Women in Collaboration

Response Paper
November 30, 2002

Reinventing Eve is the tale of one woman's journey into herself and back. The author, Kim Chernin, finds herself beginning an initiation, follows a descending path within, dwells in the shadowland of the underworld, and emerges as a disobedient truth-seeker. She relates this final disobedient stage of her journey to the story of Eve and her search for wisdom.

Chernin begins the tale by describing the inner tumult she felt in her middle twenties and her inability to source the conflict: "I had to be pried away from my allegiance to rationality and logic, from my tendency to identify with the male heroes in the novels I read, from my pride in being able (it was said of me) to hold my own intellectually with men, which meant talking and thinking in the way they find most comfortable…. I was a woman who had learned how to reason abstractly. I did not want to surrender to an experience guided by strong feeling and intuitive promptings, both of which I associated in a contemptuous and disparaging way with women." (3)

I could relate to this statement, as a woman who has successfully embraced male attributes and denied the feminine. Having recently returned from Europe, where I visited many of the so-called "goddess sites," I noticed a search within myself for validity; a sense of knowing; mother wisdom. As Chernin describes, "Years pass, during which we know that we are involved in something that cannot be easily named. We wake to a sense of confusion, know that we are in dangerous conflict, cannot define the nature of what troubles us. All change is like this (16)."

Due to my stirring at the goddess sites, coupled with an increased vocabulary to express these feelings of unrest, I began naming the source of my discontent. Once again, Chernin succinctly explains this awakening: "I began to admit I had been drawn out of my house by a wish to disinvent myself as a patriarchal woman, to give myself back to the nature that was in me, grow profusely, overstep my bounds… and finally admit… that I as a woman did not exist." (15)

This was the first stage: Initiation. The descent into the self follows, and finally the woman is left without societal rules and mores, standing naked with herself in the underground. It is here that "she will be asked to develop as a woman in ways that do not frighten them (the men) with the reminder that women, too, have a way to become powerful beings (134)." It is up to the woman to decide if she will accept this role or go against the structure of the patriarchy, defining herself and seeking the mother wisdom.

This is where disobedience arises. Eve, the original sinner, disobeyed the patriarchy when she reached out for the apple. She "had broken a patriarchal taboo against forbidden knowledge. Eve would have been a woman who awakened in a garden ruled over by the Father God and realized that something was withheld from her in that world where she was expected to be subordinate to her husband (147)."

Even the story of Eve has been usurped and modified throughout history; the symbols altered to indoctrinate fear and intimidation to those seeking enlightenment. For example, both the serpent and apple have been demonized in modern Christianity. It is little wonder, then, that "the serpent in these old tales is the Goddess Herself or her creative aspect and sometimes, in later stories, the snake was regarded as the Female Spiritual Principle, and Instructor, who comes to teach and inform (155)." Various cultures have regarded the Goddess and the serpent as one. "In the Greek myth, Eurynome, Goddess of All Things, 'rose naked from Chaos, divided the sea from the sky, danced upon the waves, stirred up the wind, was impregnated by it in the shaped of a great serpent named Ophion… and laid the World Egg' (155)."

The apple, on the other hand, symbolized the goddess to the Egyptians. Was Eve reaching for wisdom of the Goddess when she took the apple from the serpent? Has this story been turned into a tale of patriarchal punishment for women who seek knowledge outside of Christianity? It is clear that in order to suppress disobedience in women, these ancient symbols of power, femininity, and wisdom have been manipulated into something fearful.

Chernin explains that in order to change the fate of women in this patriarchal world, the archetype itself must be transformed. This powerful conversion is a virtual taking-back of women's history, for just like Eve, we resist knowledge as if it were a temptation. We are told in this society that we must resist this desire, to accept that a male God created all. "Eve imagines her hunger a temptation she should resist (181)". So it is that Eve, "who had been used to chastise us if we sought knowledge" becomes "the figure who tempts us to seek it (149)."

As women, we stand torn between decisions as Eve once did. This is "Eve's dilemma: a choice between obedience and knowledge. Between renunciation and appetite. Between subordination and desire. Between security and risk. Between loyalty and self-development. Between submission and power. Between hunger as temptation and hunger as vision. It is the dilemma of modern women (182)."


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