Stewardship and Dominion: The Bible and Feminism

The notion of man’s stewardship and/or dominion over the Earth has perhaps been the religious concept which has resisted even the most drastic kinds of animosity towards it. This idea, which serves to give man legitimacy over the Earth’s resources, and its other inhabitants, comes out of the Book of Genesis – the creation fable. Although the terms stewardship and dominion have slightly different meanings (the former is basically just a more benign way of expressing the latter – which is understood as ultimate control and ownership), they are essentially one and the same, and trying to define them in their differences would only serve to legitimise their claim. It is important not to be fooled into thinking that the creationist definition of stewardship is paradigmatic of a revised, female-friendly ideology; stewardship, by the very function it performs, not only entails, but requires complete ownership, entitlement and use of power over others. So, from now on, in order to not commit a tautology, I am going to refer to this concept exclusively in the less deceitful guise of Dominion.

God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  Genesis 1:26

A most basic understanding of the term serves to reassure even the most depraved class of men, and we have witnessed how these primal ideas have developed into a series of brutal losses for womankind. There has never been, perhaps, such a calculated ambush on the livelihood of girls and women. The main problem with Dominion is that it is so hard to eradicate – and more often than not individuals in our culture are shocked to learn how much viable impact Biblical teachings have had on state of affairs today. The words of the Old Testament create a false credibility by confusing constructed social values (again, made by men for men) with a natural (or Super-natural) order. The fact that women were left subordinate to the men in the Bible is not collateral damage but a very nefarious business move, done this way not only to suite their current audience but also to create a safe and predictable situation for their fellow men. The fact that man was made in image of god, and that god himself has an explicitly defined sex, is one such demonstration of this. The now over-polemicised example of god then creating Eve out of Adam’s rib, is basically just a perfumed way of saying that god likes to be in the presence of tits, too.


And it is right there, squeezed between god’s obligatory manhood and his appreciation of Biblical bosom, that Dominion comes into play – where the grounds for ownership and use of male power have been disguised as one with nature. Dominion over the Earth that he inherits – with the implied advantages of plucking the most beautiful flowers, consuming the sweetest honey, and enjoying the fruits of god’s creation – one giant metaphor, really, for overseeing privileges of the female body and all that it comports. Biblical concepts of Dominion created social values based on the constant interference of men in female spaces – the right to female sexuality independent of the phallic fantasies which the men impose, menstruation, maternity and eventual infertility. Dominion allowed men to comment on the female body indefinitely. More often than not the statements made on behalf of men in the Bible (which is, all of the statements made in the Bible ever) regarding women are almost exclusively reserved for their physical state, and at that laced with disgust and desire.

 “And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean.” (Lev. 15:9-20)

What is striking about this idea of Dominion however, is also the complicated relationship men sometimes have with it. The vilest crime, it seems, an individual can commit is to be an ‘unclean’ woman – but it is also the most exciting of transgressions. In every organised ‘Western’* society, either pre- or post- Biblical culture, the rules of the game are very repetitive: obedience, sexual sub-ordinance, child-bearing. Yet, it is also true that in almost every historical period, the men have fantasised about individual women challenging these ideals, even if for a brief burst of time. For the Greeks, it was the heavily franchised story of the Amazon women, who cut off one breast in order to yield their arrows (the ultimate renunciation of the feminine), turned their war captives into sex slaves, and drowned their baby boys. They were, in all effects and purposes, a society which functioned without the Dominion of men – the ultimate contradiction for the male ego. So why recall, or even, why invent them? Who could forget also, the infamous Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships. For the Biblical men, it was the apocryphal story of Lilith, Adam’s first woman, with flaming red hair, and perhaps most importantly – with a particular taste for riding on top, a taste which enabled her to  become mistress of her own gratification. In less fictitious terms, there is also the great account of Anne Boleyn, who managed to manipulate King Henry VIII’s sexuality against him to break from the Catholic Church and make her Tudor Queen.

These women however, have more than just transgressions in common – they enjoy, all of them, a short-lived victory over the infallible power of male authority. Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, is defeated and married to Theseus – domesticated castration. Helen also, after the war is won, is returned to Menelaus. Anne Boleyn, after a brief moment on the throne, is decapitated. The story of Lilith is harder to summarise due the diluted accounts of her existence, although in the Alphabet of Ben Sira Lilith allegedly found existence with Adam so insufferable that she vanquished herself from the Garden of Eden (lol), but it was not long until god could fashion his first-born a new wife. The pattern here is obvious – perpetual Dominion can be boring. But perhaps the more important point to grab from this is that these women excite men – sexually unpredictable, explosive and in many ways independent. The denouement of these women’s stories indicates men’s desire to escape the societal norms, and the eventual necessity to restore them. Women are allowed to walk between the extremities of obedience and misdemeanour  when the behaviour coincides with male fancy, but whichever the situation, Dominion seems to trump fantasy. Men like exciting female sexuality, but only for a short while.

The topic of Dominion is of course relevant to any feminist discourse at any given point in time, past or present. However, it seems especially pertinent in 2017 with the current administration in office in the USA. This is not to say that the Trump Presidency has decidedly changed the fate of women, or that indeed we have not seen such a disregard for our livelihood already. What is mainly shocking is the scale and urgency at which these damaging measures are publicly displayed. But it is not at all surprising. Often women wonder why their bodies are scrutinised, why their ovaries seem to be the only thing which are treated as if in a Socialist regime (that is to say, that they are spoken about and handled like a public good), or why their expression of intellect is in one way or another inexplicably tied to hormonal occurrences. The female body is as of today just as yesterday, treated like the Earth that the men inherit from the god of the Old Testament. Through it they express their rule, and onto it they project what they deem to be a value-system made to benefit everyone. We have seen modern-day Dominion in action on a huge scale over the last few months, with fervent cries to defund PP and enact bills which will offer men in power an entry way into abortion policies.

What is more morbid than these acts is indeed the animosity taken on behalf of the executioners. In the pictures alongside President Trump there is a sea of men in suits, huddled up together like a picture for the Little League.

trump eww
Trump & the ‘global gag rule’

This picture and indeed this argument is all together already a cliche’. Trump is one too, and any mention of him in any news story or article is likely to make anyone go intellectually flaccid so, I’m going to stop right here about him. Indeed, the point itself is not Trump, he is but one of many. The point is far rooted within us, displayed in men as the privilege to dictate the laws of the female body, and demonstrated in women by an adherence to, or acceptance of, these laws. This is perhaps why we have made such little progress in questions of abortion and contraception (watched closely in order to regulate female sexuality out of fear of a Pandora’s box scenario). Of course, in most developed countries abortion and contraception are widespread, and women lucky enough to find themselves in these places enjoy a less constraining life. The progress lacks insofar as these topics are still generally controversial – yes abortions are legal, but they are also largely kept a secret. Contraception too is available, but usually at the expense of women and girls who endure even unbearable side effects from the hormonal intake. The fact that these topics are controversial means that they are never truly accepted into normality, and this hinders the progress towards even safer and even more effective ways for women to enjoy sex.

This argument always seems to be going around in circles. Even with full recognition of all these facts, the reader still seems to be navigating opaque waters. There is no full-proof strategy through which women may be able to eradicate these circumstances all together… not at this moment, anyway. What is encouraging is to see so many women globally fighting for the owner’s rights of their bodies, and who recognise the power of agency. Women are each day becoming more aware of the choices which were never  any man’s to make for them, and with every passing moment take part in this shifting of social dynamics.

Women are truly very resilient – and this is not my bias speaking. In spite of it all, women achieved all the feminist milestones we have to thank for, completely by their own volition. In light of the circumstances, it is surprising to see that there were any Gentileschis, Curies or Austens, at all!

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