On ‘Eve-ing’ in India

William Blake 'The Temptation and the Fall of Eve'

William Blake ‘The Temptation and the Fall of Eve’

I gather from the news reports on the scandalous gang rape and murder of the young woman in Delhi that sexual harassment of women by men in India is known as ‘Eve-ing’.

I do not know enough about Hinduism to be sure, but it seems likely that this ‘Eve’ is a reference to Garden-of-Eden Eve, man’s ‘temptress’, the source of man’s original sin.

Eve is one of Christian theology’s female triumvirate, the others being:

Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, who experienced immaculate conception.

Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, who was ‘saved’ from this way of life by Jesus, who taught her how to redeem herself through repentance. Mary Magdalene, the ever-grateful fallen woman, she of downcast, inward-looking, penitent eyes, rosary in her hands, redeemed through a lifetime of penance.

Mary Magdalene suffers to redeem Eve’s original sin.

Mary the virgin. Mary the ever grateful fallen woman, redeemed through a lifetime of penance. Eve the temptress, the source of man’s original sin. Mary Magdalene suffers to redeem Eve’s original sin.

These three women are the stars of Christianity’s moral code for women, built-up over 2,000 years; a code interpreted when and wherever people lived in Christendom and made concrete in their daily lives.

It is difficult to see how this view of women could not have shaped relations between the sexes. How could it not influence the internal moral life of women and the male gaze?

The implication is that pleasures of the flesh are dangerous and that sinfulness is ingrained in the female body. It gives men a sense of entitlement and women an inbuilt sense of shame.

In short: Do penance—sisters—or perish.

I do not know much about the role of Mary, Mary and Eve in Islam (I welcome comments on this) but if it’s anything like the above, it surely helps explain why men call their sexual harassment of women ‘Eve-ing’. Women ‘make’ them do it.

The main problem with this account of these three historical figures is that there’s no truth in it. Feminist Biblical scholars have established, fairly conclusively I think, that this characterization of Mary, Mary and Eve has little foundation in the Bible.

The ‘fallen woman’ Mary is a composite fiction formed by conflating the actual Mary with several other un-named Gospel female characters. In the Eastern Christian tradition these three Marys are different people.

The composite Mary was sanctioned in 591 by Pope Gregory (the Great) in these words:

She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected, according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices?

It is clear my brothers that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts. What she therefore displayed more scandalously, she was now offering to God in a more praiseworthy manner.

She turned the mass of her crimes to virtues, in order to serve God entirely in penance, for as much as she had wrongly held God in contempt.

Mary-the-Penitent was official doctrine until 1969, that’s 1378 years, when the Roman Catholic Church overruled Pope Gregory’s interpretation. But that’s a lot of tradition to shift.

Since then, feminist scholars have dismantled the Mary-as-whore image and discovered a Mary from Magdala, a woman of courage, leadership and independence who fought for those suffering from injustice.

Anyone who thinks the civilized West is above all this should see The Magdalene Sisters.

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