Did you know that in North American culture, until the 1940s, baby boys wore pink and baby girls wore blue? “The reason,” explained 1918 trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department, “is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
While this is different from what many people today would expect, that was a stereotype of the time. You may have heard some of these others stereotypes and ideas related to the concepts of gender:
“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.”
“Boys will be boys.”
“You throw like a girl.”
“Guys are visual, women are emotional.”
Apart from biological sex, cultures have different ways of defining and prescribing how the different genders should act. Pretty much any culture will have some kind of gender “roles”, as they say. These are the collections of ideas, customs, practices, and expectations that traditionally make up your identity as a man or a woman. Sex remains consistent across every culture. Expectations for the genders, however, vary from place to place.
And while some of those expectations are as insignificant as associating the colours pink and blue with one gender or the other, other expectations can be more damaging – for example, that men aren’t good with children, or that women are bad at math. Often gender expectations leave people constrained, unable to express what they love or fully employ their skills and talents.
Where do these gender roles come from? Well, from a Biblical perspective, it seems pretty straightforward to identify the origin of both sex and gender. Let’s go to the very beginning of Genesis. God has just created everything else in the world, and then he turns his attention to humans. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, NIV).
So God creates Adam and Eve. Male and female, he creates them. They’re different, and that’s why we have different expectations for men and women today.
It seems pretty straightforward, right? Maybe not.
To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken; for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
This passage is often referred to as “The Curse” – a name that raises two vital questions. Is God actually saying he will give Eve pain and cause her to desire for her husband, and make Adam’s work much more difficult? Or, is he just predicting that these realities will unfold as a result of Adam and Eve’s actions?
On the one hand, various points in the Bible outline expectations for men and women that are very different, and often privilege one gender over the other. On the other hand, the Bible contains stories of women like Deborah, who led the people of Israel, or Abigail, who defied her husband Nabal and saved her family from David’s anger. Our own church looks to Ellen G. White as a prophet and spiritual leader.
God has always worked within the context of human history. While at one moment, one course of action might be necessary, while in another moment, God might instruct something different. This is not a contradiction within God, but the same God interacting with humanity in different situations.
God’s ideal at creation was for Adam and Eve to stand as equals, able to help and support each other.
It is not until after the fall that an imbalance of power existed between Man and Woman. In Galatians 3:28, Paul writes that in God’s kingdom, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We can see that God’s plan is to move back to the state of perfection - in Christ - to where man and woman can stand shoulder to shoulder as equals.
The most important thing is for us to respect the Image of God in every person we meet, and to ultimately love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31).
One day, there will be no more curse, no more human conflict, misunderstandings, power struggles, or people wearing pink and blue: all will be One, under Christ.
Questions for Reflection:
Does God have different roles for men and women? Can those roles be different yet equal?
Can you think of gender roles that people claim are from God/the Bible, but are actually mostly based on society’s views or cultural ideas?
How much of the concept of gender is constructed by society? How much does it change from culture to culture?
What’s one gender role or expectation that you’ve encountered personally? How did you react?
Read this quote from Ellen G. White. What do you think it means for our conversations about gender today?
- "Eve was created from a rib taken from the side of Adam, signifying that she was not to control him as the head, nor to be trampled under his feet as an inferior, but to stand by his side as an equal, to be loved and protected by him". (Patriarchs and Prophets, pg. 46)