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What does it mean to be a woman?


“She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man”
– Genesis 2:23

Women’s Month

March is International Women’s Month and March 8 is also declared International Women’s Day. Actually, every month should be women’s month and everyday should women’s day. But in any case, March is significant to women all over the world, because it reminds them of a group of women workers who were locked in a factory and burned to death in March many years ago in New York, USA. This tragedy had opened the eyes of the world to the plight of women, who were victims of human greed and selfishness, violence and discrimination the world over, simply because they were women.

Our reflections for today are focused on what it means to be a woman. What does it mean to be a woman? This is a simple, yet deep and perplexing question that haunted the Yahwist Writers (they were called such because they use the name Yahweh for God) of the second story of creation in the Book of Genesis (2:4b – 25).

Women in Monarchical Society

As scholars commissioned by King Solomon to write and preserve the traditions of the Israelites, the Yahwist Writers might had seen how women were treated in a monarchical society, especially by powerful monarchs, like King Solomon himself. They might had seen how women were dehumanized, how they were made as slave-servants of the powers-that-be, as objects of sexual pleasure, as physical decorations of the palace, and as instruments of diplomacy. Thus, the question arose: Is this what it means to be a woman?

The same question continues to haunt us today, as we see and hear our poor young women going abroad to work as domestic helpers or entertainers, risking their very lives and dignity just to earn the much needed dollar, or even sell their bodies in order to survive. As we see and hear of women carrying solely the burdens of family responsibilities and suffering the dehumanizing effects of a macho culture in a male-dominated society we may also ask the question, is this what it means to be a woman?

The Yahwist Writers proclaimed, “She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man” (Gen.2:23). This Biblical text is most often used to give moral and religious justification for women’s subordination to men. However, such is a gross misinterpretation and distortion of the text. Ironically, the intention of the text is just the opposite.

This mythical imagery in the Scriptures pictures to us a woman’s place in society, in the spheres of human life. It shows dissatisfaction and even protest against the prevailing view concerning women in the monarchical society, wherein people, especially women, were classified and stratified according to prestige, wealth, and power, including sex.

A Rabbinic Parable

There is an old rabbinic parable which tries to explain in figurative manner this mythical story of creation. According to the parable, the woman was formed not from the bones of the foot of the man so that she would not be lower than man, nor from the bones of the head so that she would not be higher than man. Instead, she was created out of a rib of the man so that she would be forever near the heart of humanity! “Bones of bones, flesh of my flesh!”

To be a woman, therefore, is to affirm and assert one’s humanity. A woman is also a human being! She is a symbol of protest against any form of dehumanization. When one says, “I am a woman”, she is simply saying that she should not be treated as a thing, but as a human being. To claim that you are a woman is to claim your humanity. Woman, indeed, is part of humanity. This is what it means to be a woman.

A woman, therefore, is an equal partner of man in the long struggle to make this created world a better place to live in. For it is in such equal relationship of sharing, communing, and struggling together that humanity finds its real meaning and fulfilment. # nordis.net

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