Good Question...Does female "pain-prone" reproductive physiology indicate that God apparently hates women?


Draft: April 26, 2001; added a pushback on April  27, 2001 (dealing with the "Curse" in Genesis 3)...May 11: added a quick 'quality control' response


 

Dear Glenn,

 

I have been struggling just to make it through each day now for a while not (since just before I was married).  I understand that you are very busy and this email might seem long-winded to you so I thought perhaps your daughter may be interested in helping me, if you can't.

 

I know (as I shared with you in personal correspondence) about how difficult this struggle can be, and I hope some of the below material can help you find some relief and comfort...

 

 

I am struck with the injustice in this world, not so much the injustice that is caused by humans but the inequality that God has created between men and women.  It's seems that God has created women's' bodies to hurt them (menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause) while men seem to get off scot free.  A man becomes a father by having an orgasm, a woman becomes a mother by going through years of discomfort and often days of agony.  Why is it always women who draw the short straw?  I can't read the bible because it wounds me to the point that I fantasize about ending my life. Men are physically stronger than women, they can force themselves on women yet women have no say on whether they conceive or not. My body is not my own, it is my husbands' as his is mine, yet it is my body that is at risk.  The idea of giving birth makes me want to step out of my body yet in the bible it seems that's how God "rewards" women. 

 

 

There are several issues you mention here, friend, and let me see if I can represent them fairly:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, let's go through each one of these and try to surface all the pro & con data, and try to see all of it as a whole (if possible). I'll try to confine myself mostly to objective data--from medical, historical, academic sources--but will also draw in semi-subjective perspectives from women of different (but non-religious) persuasions (e.g., feminists). Hopefully, this will keep the discussion less susceptible to bias or over-statement.

 

 

God created women's bodies deliberately in such a way as to be a major source of pain to them, and this pain is experienced in menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause by all or almost all women.

 

 

First of all, let's assess how much pain we are talking about here, and how extensive these are among women. To do this I need to divide history/cultures into what we might call "pre-analgesic" and "analgesic" cultures/histories, depending on the widespread availability of effective pain-alleviation medicines. [Although all ancient cultures had various substances and methods used for this, I might add, but with varying levels of success. Of course, much ancient pain 'effectiveness' might have been due to placebo effects.]

 

Since the vast majority of pain can be eliminated in analgesic-cultures, I will try to focus on the rest of human history, where the pain is more likely to be more unrelieved. [note: we are not trying to minimize the extensiveness/intensiveness of this very real pain, but only to "size it"--i.e., how close does it come to inflicting 'all women' and thereby perhaps grounding an accusation of unfairness?]

 

I also need to focus on non-pathological pain. If we are talking about "design" here, we need to restrict our research to how the systems are designed to function, and NOT try to analyze all the pathologies that are extrinsic (or at least, not 'normal') to that design. Accordingly, the many things that can go wrong with female (and male, for that matter) functioning are excluded from this study.

 

 

Menstrual pain. Menstruation begins around 12-14 and ends around menopause, and does not occur during pregnancy and regular nursing. In the ancient world, most women would have been married by 13-14 years of age, and commenced child-bearing at that time. Since children were normally nursed for 2-3 years in antiquity [OT:DLAM:120] and a little shorter in the Middle Ages, most women would not even have had very many menstrual cycles in their life, unless they became unmarried due to widowhood (common) or divorce (very rare).

 

For example, in the 9th-12th centuries AD:

 

"Demographers assume that women's potential for childbearing remained the same throughout the centuries, roughly twenty years. Women, regardless of social position, began to menstruate between twelve and fourteen. ...Demographers estimate that a woman might have five to seven successful pregnancies at two and a half year intervals if she lived a normal life span. From the woman's perspective, she could assume that she would be pregnant or nursing a child for most of her adult life." [WS:AHTO:105]

 

 

The actual type of pain associated with menstruation is called Primary Dysmenorrhea (basically, non-pathological cramps). Many women experience NO discomfort at all during menstruation, and for those that do, the discomfort declines over time:

 

"There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary. The primary form usually occurs in females who have just begun to menstruate. This form may disappear or become less severe after a woman reaches her mid-20s or gives birth [http://external.aomc.org/selfcare/common/menstrua.htm]

 

The largest variables in presence/amount of discomfort are health and diet:

 

"Menstrual cramps are like cramps elsewhere in your body. A muscle contracts too hard or too fast, constricting the blood flow and producing pain. In this case, the muscles are in the uterus...Mild cramps are often caused by factors other than menstruation itself. Good menstrual health, free from pain or cramps, is closely related to good health and a positive mental attitude. The simple health habits of good posture, exercise, adequate diet, regular elimination-all are important in preventing painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea). [http://bodymatters.com/questions/questions2.html#cramps]

 

The discomfort's primary cause is chemical imbalance, which is correctible by nutrition:

 

"Many women have dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps) just before or at the beginning of menstruation, and continuing for one to two days. The pains can be sharp or dull. Some women have such severe pain that they must stay in bed a few days each month. Most often, cramps are a symptom of a simple chemical imbalance....Menstrual pain is commonly caused by your body making or taking in too much of one chemical, and not enough of another. [http://www.aomc.org/HOD2/general/general-PAINFUL.html]

 

Treatment approaches emphasize rest, activity, and nutrition:

 

"Therapies for primary dysmenorrhea include rest; heating pad to the lower abdomen or back; nutritional, aerobic exercise; and medication. Nutritional therapy includes a well-balanced diet with an adequate intake of calcium (1200 mg. per day). An adequate fluid intake of 2 quarts of water each day is very important. Vitamin B6 , 50 to 100 mg. each day, may occasionally be helpful. [http://www.mckinley.uiuc.edu/health-info/womenhlt/mencramp.html]

 

With a vegetarian diet being highly effective:

 

"Reducing fat and eating a vegetarian diet can significantly decrease menstrual pain and premenstrual symptoms...Each study participant followed a low-fat, vegetarian diet for two months and her pain and menstrual symptoms were compared to how she felt before the study... Study results show about two-thirds of the women reported improvement in menstrual pain and premenstrual symptoms. Other research has shown that a low-fat diet can reduce the amount of the female hormone estrogen in the blood by as much as 30 percent. [http://onhealth.webmd.com/fitness/briefs/item%2C33890.asp]

 

What is interesting from this data, is that the prescribed preventative and remedial actions are essentially the life styles of the ancient women:

 

  1. The diet of most people in antiquity (except the elite) was vegetarian, mostly grains and a few vegetables. Beverages were water and milk, and diet was sometimes supplemented with fish or fowl (where feasible)

 

  1. Aerobic exercise was still done by the women (e.g. walking), although it could only be done in certain areas of work (due to the blood taboos).

 

  1. Due to the blood taboo, there were periods of forced rest and inactivity.

 

This means that the discomfort experienced by the vast majority of pre-analgesic women of antiquity would have been either (a) precluded--due to childbirth/nursing; or (b) non-existent/minimal--due to lifestyle.

 

In "analgesic" cultures (often also more 'healthy' cultures), the amount of discomfort is largely a function of individual choice and lifestyle. [My two daughters provide anecdotal confirmation of this to me: the one who has been constantly physically active and nutritionally-aware, experiences absolutely no discomfort whatsoever; the other, with a more "casual" lifestyle, experienced difficult periods at time.]

 

So, the fact that this is easily preventable (or certainly, considerably reducible) and not as pervasive as might appear, I would hesitate to consider this a "design for pain" at a significant level.

 

In addition to the fact that the pain is often reduced by "the mid-20's or by the first birth" (above), one other fact to consider is that the actual painful aspect only affects less than half of all women. The Merck Manual of Medical Information (Home Edition, 1997, page 1086) describes the extent of the regular form of menstrual pain (primary dysmenorrhea) in these terms:

 

"Primary dysmenorrhea is common, possibly affecting more than 50 per cent of women; it's severe in about 5 to 15 percent."

 

"Possibly more than 50%" is another way of saying "we only have evidence that it affects LESS THAN 50%". The number is thus most likely between the 5-15% range and the 50%, but even if assume the number is at 50% of women, it is certainly not even close to being 100% ("all women").

 

 

 

 

Pain in Pregnancy.  I am not actually sure why this one was mentioned, since pain in pregnancy is not even close to universal, nor is it typically severe. The major areas of non-pathological discomfort/pain would be in (a) morning sickness; and (b) low-back pain.

 

Morning sickness can be uncomfortable and irritating, but is certainly not in the league with actual child-birthing, nor even the pain of menstrual cramps.

 

 

Low-back pain, is a little more serious, but occurs in only  half of all pregnant women, and for them, only about half the time:

 

"For about half of all pregnant women, low-back pain is inevitable."

 

"Formal study of the incidence of low-back pain in pregnancy has been very limited. The overall prevalence of back pain during the 9-month period is thought to be approximately 50% "

 

 And the best preventative is, again, an active lifestyle:

 

"Before a woman becomes pregnant, encouraging her to become fit and resolving existing back problems is the key to back pain prevention."

 

[Source: "Back Pain and Pregnancy: Active Management Strategies", by Julie Colliton, MD, THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE - VOL 24 - NO. 7 - JULY 96]

 

 

Menopause. Menopause is the common term for the cessation of menstruation in women. Strictly speaking, the period of transition from menstrual to non-menstrual status is called perimenopause:

 

"According to CAMS, the term perimenopause includes "the period immediately prior to menopause (when the endocrinologic, biologic, and clinical features of approaching menopause commence) and the first year after menopause."

 

"The median age for the onset of perimenopause is 47.5 years. For most women, perimenopause lasts approximately 4 years. Only about 10% of women cease menstruating abruptly with no period of prolonged irregularity.

 

"Perimenopause is the correct term for what some call "being in" or "going through" menopause.

 

[http://www.menopause.org/aboutm/facts.html]

 

In pre-analgesic cultures (of the ancient world), most women (and men) would not have even experienced this:

 

"In previous centuries, few women lived beyond menopause; today, women spend one-third to one-half of their lives after menopause." [http://www.menopause.org/aboutm/facts.html]

 

Although there are many myths/stories/stereotypes of the "menopausal women", the actual experience can range widely, from liberating/positive to difficult/negative:

 

 

"Menopause happens to all women, but affects each woman uniquely. For some, the end of fertility (and the end of concerns about contraception and menstrual periods) brings a sense of freedom. Menopause is a bridge to a part of life when many women report feeling more confident, empowered, involved, and energized than in their younger years. For some women, however, menopause -- coupled with midlife emotional and social crises -- can contribute to serious health problems. "  [http://www.menopause.org/aboutm/facts.html]

 

"A popular myth pictures the menopausal woman shifting from raging, angry moods into depressive, doleful slumps with no apparent reason or warning. However, a study by psychologists at the University of Pittsburgh suggests that menopause does not cause unpredictable mood swings, depression, or even stress in most women...In fact, it may even improve mental health for some. This gives further support to the idea that menopause is not necessarily a negative experience. The Pittsburgh study looked at three different groups of women: menstruating, menopausal with no treatment, and menopausal on hormone therapy. The study showed that the menopausal women suffered no more anxiety, depression, anger, nervousness or feelings of stress than the group of menstruating women in the same age range. In addition, although more hot flashes were reported by the menopausal women not taking hormones, surprisingly they had better overall mental health than the other two groups. The women taking hormones worried more about their bodies and were somewhat more depressed...However, this could be caused by the hormones themselves. It's also possible that women who voluntarily take hormones tend to be more conscious of their bodies in the first place. The researchers caution that their study includes only healthy women, so results may apply only to them. Other studies show that women already taking hormones who are experiencing mood or behavioral problems sometimes respond well to a change in dosage or type of estrogen...Studies indicate that women of childbearing age, particularly those with young children at home, tend to report more emotional problems than women of other ages. ..The Pittsburgh findings are supported by a New England Research Institute study which found that menopausal women were no more depressed than the general population: about 10 percent are occasionally depressed and 5 percent are persistently depressed. The exception is women who undergo surgical menopause. Their depression rate is reportedly double that of women who have a natural menopause. ..Studies also have indicated that many cases of depression relate more to life stresses or "mid-life crises" than to menopause. Such stresses include: an alteration in family roles, as when your children are grown and move out of the house, no longer "needing" mom; a changing social support network, which may happen after a divorce if you no longer socialize with friends you met through your husband; interpersonal losses, as when a parent, spouse or other close relative dies; and your own aging and the beginning of physical illness. People have very different responses to stress and crisis. Your best friend's response may be negative, leaving her open to emotional distress and depression, while yours is positive, resulting in achievement of your goals. For many women, this stage of life can actually be a period of enormous freedom. " [http://www.nih.gov/health/chip/nia/menop/men3.htm#wte]

 

Most of the discussion on menopause (as can be seen from the above) relates to emotional health, and not to "pain" per se. Non-pathological perimenopause is mostly an emotional issue, and not a pain one. Even the famous 'hot flashes', although potentially disruptive, are mild in terms of pain:

 

"Hot flashes, or flushes, are the most common symptom of menopause, affecting more than 60 percent of menopausal women in the U.S. A hot flash is a sudden sensation of intense heat in the upper part or all of the body. The face and neck may become flushed, with red blotches appearing on the chest, back, and arms. This is often followed by profuse sweating and then cold shivering as body temperature readjusts. A hot flash can last a few moments or 30 minutes or longer.

 

"Hot flashes occur sporadically and often start several years before other signs of menopause. They gradually decline in frequency and intensity as you age. Eighty percent of all women with hot flashes have them for 2 years or less, while a small percentage have them for more than 5 years. Hot flashes can happen at any time. They can be as mild as a light blush, or severe enough to wake you from a deep sleep. Some women even develop insomnia. Others have experienced that caffeine, alcohol, hot drinks, spicy foods, and stressful or frightening events can sometimes trigger a hot flash. However, avoiding these triggers will not necessarily prevent all

episodes.

 

"Hot flashes appear to be a direct result of decreasing estrogen levels. In response to falling estrogen levels, your glands release higher amounts of other hormones that affect the brain's thermostat, causing body temperatures to fluctuate. Hormone therapy relieves the discomfort of hot flashes in most cases." [http://www.nih.gov/health/chip/nia/menop/men3.htm#wte]

 

A more serious issue/hazard/risk, however, is osteoporosis--which is greatly increased in menopausal women. This is the thinning of the bones, associated with the reduced estrogen production in this period. In analgesic cultures, there are several treatment and prevention alternatives. In pre-analgesic cultures (typically not having this problem, obviously), the prevention regime proscribed today would have been standard fare for normal women:

 

"Prevention is more successful than treatment; it involves maintaining or increasing bone density by consuming adequate calcium, engaging in weight-bearing exercise, and for some people, taking drugs...Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking and stair-climbing, increases bone density. " [The Merck Manual of Medical Information (Home Edition, 1997, page 220]

 

One interesting fact about this problem is that the risk is reduced for women who have had prior pregnancies. [The Merck Manual of Medical Information (Home Edition, 1997, page 219)].

 

[Notice that both hot flashes and osteoporosis are treatable in analgesic cultures, and would not have occurred in ancient times--due to lifespan limitations and women's lifestyles.]

 

 

Childbirth. With the previous three issues (menstrual cramps, pregnancy, perimenopause), the pain was probably either too low-level (in intensity, frequency, or duration) or not widely enough distributed among women to support a misogynist charge against God, but with childbirth pain we get into a potentially much more serious arena.

 

One survey indicated that pain in childbirth/delivery ranked very high in the range of human experience:

 

"At the end of chapter 3, we looked at the McGill pain questionnaire. The sensory words most commonly used by mothers to describe the pain during labor are sharp, cramping, aching, throbbing, stabbing, hot, shooting, tight, and heavy. For the emotional affective feelings, the most common words were tiring and exhausting. A rating scale for pain intensity was used, with a number assigned by each mother. The average rating for women having a first baby was 35, and for those who had previous children the number was 30. These numbers are on a scale in which people with broken bones rate their pain at 20 and cancer patients at 27. Scores above 35 were reported only in cases of nerve injury or amputation. Evidently, the average reported pain of child-birth ranks high in the range of human experience. Of course, there is an extremely wide variation in the reported intensity and I have discussed variation elsewhere. But it is crucial to remember that, of first births in Canada, 9.2 percent of mothers described their pains as "mild,' 29.5 percent as "moderate," 37.9 percent as "severe," and 23.4 percent as "excruciating." A study of Scandinavian women (despite their reputation for toughness and stoicism) yielded similar results." [CS:PSS:84-85]

 

What is interesting to note about this use of McGill's pain questionnaire are the words that are NOT used by women to describe childbirth: terrifying, gruelling, cruel, vicious, blinding, unbearable. [Questionnaire choices are shown at CS:PSS:28.]

 

Childbirth/delivery is divided into a couple of major stages. The two periods that have strong pain-aspects are the "active" stage and the "transition".

 

The active stage has an average length of 2-3.5 hours [http://homearts.com/depts/health/fetal/childbirth.html#stage_1], with times being reduced for subsequent deliveries [Merck Manual gives 5 hours for a first birth, and 2 hours for subsequent ones]. Contractions (where the discomfort is) are generally 3-4 minutes apart and last 40 to 60 seconds. [At 3 minutes apart and one minute long, that would be 75 minutes of pain in a first labor, and 30 minutes of pain in a subsequent one, in this stage.]

 

The transition stage is the most difficult, but only lasts 60 minutes in a first pregnancy and only 15-30 minutes in subsequent ones. Contractions are very strong, 60 to 90 seconds long, and 2-3 minutes apart. [At 90 seconds long, and 2 minutes apart, that would be 25 minutes of pain in a first pregnancy, and either 6 minutes or 11 minutes of pain in a subsequent one, in this stage.]

 

Thus, the really serious (questionnaire level) pain ranges from some 100 minutes for a first pregnancy, to 36-41 minutes in a subsequent one. In the ancient world, this 40-100 minutes of labor pain would have occurred only once every 3-4 years or so (assuming normal fertility, pregnancy, delivery, and nursing cycles). [In analgesic cultures, almost all of this can be eliminated or reduced to significantly milder levels.]

 

 

 

So there obviously is significant/intense pain in this process, but the range of experiences of this is exceptionally wide:

 

"Data on expectations and experiences of pain in labor are presented from a prospective study of over 700 women who gave birth in six maternity units in southeast England. Most women preferred to keep drug use to a minimum, even though they expected labor to be quite or very painful. The ideal of avoiding drugs was unrelated to education or social class. Women who preferred to avoid drugs were more likely to do so, and were more satisfied with the birth overall than women who used drugs. In general, women tended to get what they expected. Breathing and relaxation exercises were widely used, and were most successful for those who had expected them to be so. Anxiety about the pain of labor was a strong predictor of negative experiences during labor, lack of satisfaction with the birth, and poor emotional well-being postnatally. [Birth 1993 Jun;20(2):65-72   at http://www.childbirth.org/articles/laborpain.html]

 

"A woman's need for pain relief during labor varies considerably, depending to some extent on her level of anxiety. Preparation for labor and delivery as well as emotional support from those attending the labor tends to lessen anxiety and often markedly reduces her need for drugs to relieve pain. Many women take no drugs." [Merck Manual, p.1175]

 

"While a few women will state that labor was not painful at all, and a few more will state that it is the most excruciating pain that they have ever felt, most women will fall into the middle ground. Labor pain that is tolerable and desirable...Pain comes from a couple of sources in labor. Generally these fall into three categories: emotional, functional, and physiological. Knowing what is causing the pain will help you deal with it. It is also important to realize that a certain amount of pain is normal and functional in labor, telling your body what is going on, allowing you to help yourself.  [http://pregnancy.about.com/health/pregnancy/library/weekly/aa100697.htm]

 

 

Indeed, as with much/most pain, it is an important contributor to the success of the process:

 

"We also talk about the physiological role that pain plays in normal birth. Nature's blueprint for birth includes pain, and this pain is purposeful. The sensations women experience in labor are part of an ingenious feedback mechanism which is essential to normal labor and birth. The painful sensation of the cervix stretching open sends messages to the brain to release more oxytocin, the hormone that causes strong contractions of the uterus -- which causes further opening of the cervix...Labor pain also guides the mother. The positions and activities she feels more comfortable with are the same ones that promote good progress in labor and help shift the baby into the right position for birth. Removing labor pain wipes out that feedback mechanism." [The Truth About Labor Pain by Pam England, CNM, MA & Rob Horowitz, PhD, at http://pregnancy.about.com]

 

 

Now, let me throw a completely different light on this issue (of childbirth pain) from the writings of an aggressive feminist and naturalist, Andrea Robertson. Consider some of her 'aggressive' statements about childbearing pain [http://www.acegraphics.com.au/resource/papers/painlabour.html]:

 

"Pain in labour is universal: it hurts to give birth. Since this is such a common experience it could be seen as comforting, a bond among women, a fundamental truth that confirms our special biological role and affirms the importance of our contribution to society. More often, however, it is seen as a blight, an unnecessary imposition, an affliction we must bear as the price for bearing children. This view, bolstered by the perception that pain is a symptom of disease and illness, has enabled medical men to convince us that pain is dispensable during birth, and is of no value, an evil to be cured with modern treatments and technology.

 

"This view of labour pain as an affliction seems most prevalent among western women. In many cultures, pain in labour is accepted as a necessary, if uncomfortable part of birth, and is not seen as an insurmountable problem. Perhaps the fact that these women are usually cared for by other women, who understand birth and its mysterious benefits for the female psyche, is the central reason why pain is not feared but accepted. The enforced movement of birth from the home setting to a hospital has established birth as a medical event and the ready availability of drugs and technology in hospitals has encouraged its use (Wagner 1994). Women, often unaccompanied by knowledgeable support people, and made vulnerable by their emotional and hormonal state, are ripe for seductive messages conveyed by "experts" that labour pain has no benefit. Most of these "experts" are men who have a different biological view from women as a result of masculine reproductive information. Since men will never give birth, they have no need of innate birthing instincts, and therefore can have no deep sense of intuition and understanding of the birth process. Perhaps this explains why men are often so uncomfortable around women in labour --- they are unable to connect with the process at an instinctive level. Suspicion and fear can be created in such a climate.

...

"Since no drugs have been proven safe for the unborn in either pregnancy or labour (Haire 1994), then preventing possible harm to our children will necessitate women once again accepting that pain may be a necessary component of birth. Moreover, pain during birth may offer some positive advantages for the baby, since its presence is an integral part of the process and therefore unlikely to be an addition without some biological benefit. If there is a biological purpose for the pain, then understanding this role may alter attitudes to its action, whilst allowing insights into labour management that enhance rather than block this physiological entity.

...

These are important points for women to consider. Pregnancy proceeds without outside "assistance" and birth is similarly straightforward, cleverly designed to be as efficient as possible. Virtually all women have the potential to give birth easily and safely, and no special knowledge or learning is required. The intricate system of hormones, in an exquisite balance, ensures success almost all the time.

...

"The biological necessity for pain in labour is mediated by the body's ability to produce endorphins in times of acute physical stress. This phenomenon is well known amongst athletes and those who take regular aerobic exercise. The beneficial effects and protective nature of endorphins are helpful for enhancing performance and as they are similar to opiates in their chemical structure and action, they have the ability to cause addiction in those who regularly experience endorphin release.

 

"Endorphins offer a number of benefits for pregnant and labouring women:

·         They are natural pain killers, produced in response to the heavy work of pregnancy and the stress of uterine contractions.

·         Withdrawal behaviours are encouraged, useful for self awareness and protection.

·         They create a sense of well-being and promote positive feelings.

·         They may be an important link in mother-baby attachment --- creating a positive emotional climate for the first meeting with the baby.

·         The feelings of achievement and satisfaction with birth increase self-esteem and confidence.

·         The amnesic effect of endorphins enables women to forget the worst aspects of labour providing an incentive to reproduce again.

·         They offer a natural reward for the effort involved in giving birth.

 

"From the baby's perspective, endorphins may also be important, ensuring that the mother is feeling positive and nurturing when they first meet. The hormones produced in the baby's body in response to labour (nor-adrenalins) are important for all babies' immediate survival, ensuring that they are able to maintain body heat and breathe successfully, due to adequate surfactant production. In addition, the baby's pupils dilate and they exhibit quiet alert behaviour --- both very important in attracting and holding the mother's undivided attention (Lagercrantz & Slotkin 1986).

 

"Endorphins are nature's natural pain-killers, with numerous side benefits for mothers and babies. They are only released in response to the work and effort of labour, and specifically when pain is present. Therefore, women need first the labour and then the pain of contractions to ensure they have the endorphins they need. Without these factors, endorphins will not be produced, and the woman will not only suffer during labour, but may be in a less than optimal state to greet her new baby. The process of bonding, often thought to be a nice "extra" in a good birth, is actually critical for reproductive success and is guaranteed by a number of hormonal interactions.

...

"Improvements and change will come when women take charge of their bodies and acknowledge the special role of their hormones during labour...We need to come to terms with the pain of labour. It is not to be feared, but rather welcomed for its intrinsic benefits and rewards: pain is a necessary part of normal labour and is important for maternal physical and emotional well-being. It is also good for babies!

...

"The harsh reality is that we women have allowed our bodies to be taken over by the medical men peddling ideas that pain in labour is unnecessary and safely avoidable. We have condoned this takeover because we have been kept ignorant about the nature and purpose of our labour pain, and we have been swayed by arguments that seem persuasive, but are not based on fact. The time has come to reclaim our pain --- we and our babies need it to survive!

 

 

Notice that this feminist/naturalist view/perspective is entirely supportive of a 'normal pain is good' perspective, and the above perspective can hardly be accused of being some kind of theistic spin-doctoring for women(!)...

 

Of course, for most women experiencing childbirth pain, the pain is dwarfed by the goodness and joy of the experience...Jesus one time compared the joy of the resurrection to that of a mother (John 16.19ff):

 

"Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’?  20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

 

On a personal note, friend, I have been a very active, involved, and up-close father to my three kids. We did 'natural childbirth' for each of our three, blending elements of LaMaze and Leboyer in the early days.

 

With our second child--Britt--I sang "Jesus loves me" to the stomach wall every night for the last 3+ months of the pregnancy. When she was born, we dimmed the lights, I put her in the bath of warm water, and I began singing that song to her, in the familiar voice she had come to know...once I started singing, she stopped crying, grabbed my hand, and opened her eyes to see me...my wife took a before-and-after picture of that moment for me. Few things else in human experience compares to that, in my opinion, but I can tell you without the slightest doubt in my heart that MY experience was only a pale shadow of that experienced by my wife, as she held her in her arms, at her breast,  that first time in the Delivery room. As close as I was, I was still somewhat the "outsider" to something much deeper, richer, and real between mother and baby. And,  I remember so distinctly the feelings of "I'll never know what that's like" as I watched my wife nurse the little ones, laughing and giggling and gurgling and touching and rubbing them and baby-talking...the way her eyes shone and face glowed during those times.

 

The labor pain just didn't seem to matter to her somehow...

 

Another mother--who had experienced the intense anguish of miscarriage and childdeath--put it this way [http://pregnancy.about.com/health/pregnancy/library/blpaininbirth.htm]:

 

"In my history as a mother, about 10 years, I have deliberately chosen to endure pain countless numbers of times. Just as you point out, most of us, including me, also take deliberate steps to avoid pain, like popping the Excedrin or having that THIRD glass of wine after a particularly exhausting day...:)

 

"Birth, however, is not like having a toothache, backache or headache. Birth is a cataclysmic moment, a spiritual touchstone, and just as transformative for families and for the woman as it is for the baby. Nothing compares to my birth experiences in terms of changing my perception of the UNIVERSE and of myself and others, much UNLIKE my latest headache. :) [but maybe you have REALLY tremendous headaches. LOL] Birth is ALSO extremely commonplace, basic to human nature, rustic and earthly, much like a headache

 

"I have reverence for the pain of childbirth. For me, to numb it is like caging a mysterious but beautiful, powerful animal because we are afraid of it. It doesn't impede my joy, it helps to define it much more completely. It shapes who I am, as a mother, a woman and a human. It perhaps brings me closer to the powerful, mystical place my baby has come from, with me as the vessel.

 

"I guess I'd like to make the case for pain. I would like to, one more time on this list, remind people of the complicated soul and spirit of our topic. We all talk about angels and spirituality each day in reference to the souls of our children. In the same breath, however, we believe we have the right to strictly biologically control an incredibly complex process of reproduction, we wonder aloud why it is WE who must endure repeated loss, as if it isn't really normal to even have ONE miscarriage, or it is unjust (justice being a PURELY human invention) that, even if we do "everything right" we continue to suffer loss. We feel jinxed, tortured and obsessed. I know this, because I spent years of my life feeling this way. I spent three solid years dealing with the death of my babies, the near loss of my life, the burial of another baby lost late in pregnancy, the shattering threat to my marriage and my whole personality. Now THAT'S pain. And I would not trade it for the world. I have become a more humble creature, more rich in my understanding of humanness, more at peace with what seems like the unlikely marriage of pain and faith. Would you trade it? "

 

"But let us not be so narrow in vision to wonder aloud WHY anyone would CHOOSE to feel the pain. A headache interferes with our daily life. Childbirth shapes it.

 

 

An anonymous childbirth instructor, in an article dealing with various pain-prevention methods summarized this well, with this quote:

 

"View pain in labor for what it is - normal, healthy, productive, intermittent - and ending with the ecstasy of your baby's birth."

 

 

[Note: Some of the subjective aspects of this discussion apply only to wanted pregnancies and births, and NOT to unwanted ones, but this would be the normal case in pre-analgesic and pre-modern societies anyway. I suspect--but haven't looked at the data--that the ratio of wanted-to-unwanted pregnancies/birth in even the modern world would reveal it to be the 'norm' here as well (with some major exceptions in population-control areas, obviously).]

 

Now, if I back up a little here and reflect on this, I notice several things about the data:

 

  1. None of the discomforts, although certainly non-trivial in many cases,  listed above are chronic, unrelieved, continuous, severe for ALL women, or destructive.
  2. Most of them would not have been issues for ancient and pre-analgesic cultures.
  3. None of them are significant issues in analgesic cultures
  4. None of them are universally (by all women) experienced as excruciating or unbearable. There is a tremendous variation in women's experiences of these, with some not considering them 'pain' at all.
  5. Some of them are not experienced by even a majority of women.
  6. The most intense pain (i.e., childbirth) is purposeful, important, controllable, transitory, and dwarfed by the overall joy/depth of the experience.

 

If God really wanted to hurt women, their pain would likely/conceivably be much more horrific, continuous/continual, throughout all their lives, uncontrollable, and without any benefits--especially joy and celebration...

 

There are, of course, women who decide that the childbirth experience was catastrophic for them, and there are others who find it incredibly joyous/fulfilling. But the variation in response alone should tell us that it is highly questionable to conclude that the pain-reward mix of childbirth demonstrates a misogynist character of God...

 

Accordingly, I cannot see that these experiences/patterns can successfully ground an argument that God hates women...The overall childbirth experience alone might suggest the complete opposite--that of preferential treatment...

 

=============================================================================

 

Pushback: "Wow--this is incredible, Glenn...you can write 15 pages on this topic and NEVER MENTION the fact that this was a curse God put on women in Genesis 3?! How could you ignore such a clear teaching of the bible, and still call yourself an evangelical, etc. etc. etc."

 

And related to this is:  "The bible talks about Eve giving Adam the Apple from the tree.........so God says she will have pain with child birth.  I also know that God will forgive us for our sins and I have a hard time believing that Eve wasn't forgiven for her sin? "

 

Well, the reason I didn't mention Genesis 3 in this topic is that I personally no longer believe it is directly related to the subject of female physiology--apart from the fact that only the Serpent and the ground were actually "cursed" in the passage. Let me try to answer the second (less abusive, smile) question first, and in the process, maybe I can set forth how I now understand Genesis 3--as a conservative evangelical...

 

The Genesis 3 passage, of course, reads like this (from traditional translations):

 

To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you shall bring forth children; Yet your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”

 17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life.  18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you shall eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” [NASB]

 

 

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 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.” [NIV]

 

 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [NRSV]

 

To the woman he said:  I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing;  in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.”

17 To the man he said: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat, “Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. 18 Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you,  as you eat of the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face  shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground,  from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.” [NAB]

 

Western interpreters have traditionally understood these references to the pains of childbirth (even to the point of resisting the introduction of anesthesia into labor/delivery in the 19th century!), but I have lost my confidence that this is the correct exegesis of the passage, for the following reasons and considerations:

 

 

1. The effects of the first 'sin' (i.e, disruption and dissonance in the universe) were massive, and not at all restricted to Adam's workload and Eve's childbearing. The cosmic disruption (like ripples you can't ever call back) had BOTH a moral aspect to it (i.e., 'sin' or 'moral failure' or 'crime) which WAS forgiven both Adam and Eve; AND a physical aspect to it (i.e., consequences) which can only be softened or worked around. [For example, I can give someone a black eye, and get them to forgive me instantly, but the swelling won't instantly go away/down...some consequences ripple-through...and if I had chopped off their right thumb in anger, it would NEVER grow back or be restored, even though they could completely forgive me.

 

2. In this first case, the disruption affected the physical processes of life, throwing them out of synch with one another...various cycles of agriculture, for example, would now be out-of-phase, creating 'pain' for the man-gardener [the Hebrew word for 'painful toil' in verse 17 (cf. also Genesis 5.29: "the toil of our hands"), 'asab, for the man is the SAME Hebrew root used for the 'painful toil' of the woman in childbearing--the difficulty for each is to be equal for each, essentially], just as the muscle systems can work against one another in childbirth, sometimes...

 

3. This Great Disruption affected processes everywhere--for example, human life span began to decrease over time right after the Garden--but the only aspects mentioned in Genesis 3 are the one's 'closest' to the initial 'jobs' given Adam and Eve. Adam was a 'farmer/gardener' and so his initial and perhaps most vivid encounter with this large-scale disruption would be in his day-to-day work; Eve was the 'mother of all living' and it would be in that role that she would encounter the effects of the disruption most vividly. The Disruption was not at all confined to these two aspects of cosmic experience (Paul used the phrase "all creation" in Romans).

 

4. Actually, I should also point out that the word translated 'pain' there, might actually mean 'sorrow' instead--it is NOT the normal word in the bible for childbirth pain (which is hebel)...and this sorrow could refer to bringing children into a post-Eden world, a world that contained deception, treachery, and failure in it.

 

·         "There is no doubt that this term refers to physical pain. Its root lies in a verb that means 'to injure, cause pain or grief.' Whether the pain would lie in the agony of childbirth or in the related grief that accompanies raising that child cannot be finally determined; the text would seem to allow both ideas." [HSOBX]

 

·         The meaning of the two words given by TDOT are "sorrow, labor" (for woman) and "sorrow, toil" (for men)--there is a different word for childbirth pain (hebel: "very intense pain in childbirth" [Swanson Dict of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Old Testament )

 

·         The HAL gives the following meanings for the word:

1. hurt:  a hurtful word : Pr 15.1;

2. strenuous work Pr 10.22 , 14.23 ; pl. what is acquired with difficulty Pr 5.10,  bread acquired with pain, or bread of anxious toil Ps 127.2,

3. pain (of childbirth) Gn 3.16

 

·         The Swanson definitions focus largely on the difficulty, trouble, hard work of doing something (e.g., labor!)

 

·         "Neither the word used here for 'pain,'  nor the earlier one,  is the usual one for the pangs of childbirth." [WBC, in. loc.]

 

·         "The next clause strengthens the one we have been discussing by adding 'in sorrow [or pain] you will bring forth children'. Once again note that bearing children in itself  was a blessing described in the so-called orders of creation of Genesis 1:28. The grief lies not so much in the conception or in the act of childbirth itself, but in the whole process of bringing children into the world and raising them up to be whole persons before God."[HSOBX]

 

·         "Some believe that the Hebrew root underlying "pains," "pain" and "painful toil" should here be understood in the sense of burdensome labor (see Pr 5:10, "toil"; 14:23, "hard work")" [NIV Study Bible Notes]

 

 

5. [See  http://www.christian-thinktank.com/wgencurz.html for a discussion on the "he shall master you"...]

 

 

6. The 'increase your pain in childbearing' is literally 'increase your pain/toil/sorrow and your pregnancies'...the Disruption Factor would have created much more "vulnerable" lives (which it did, through both harsher living conditions, shorter lifespans, and through increasing amounts of human treachery/violence), and for the human race to continue, expand, and thrive would have required a faster child-production rate (as it would also require a faster and higher-yield agricultural production rate, to compensate for the effects of the curse on the ground)...there is a certain amount of exertion-pain with normal childbirth (severe muscle exertion pain, as an extreme weight-lifter might feel in spurts), and this could have stayed constant with only the SUM TOTAL of the discomfort increased, through increased FREQUENCY of childbirth events (to offset natural death rates). As death invaded the world, infant mortality would also have arisen, and nothing bears so much sorrow/pain/grief for a mother than the loss of a child. This too, would have increased, with the required increase in childbirth rates.

 

7. Finally, let me also point out that there are a couple of very important textual problems in the passage, and that a strong case can be made for a radically different understanding of this passage. Let me give the summary from HSOBX on this:

 

"Katherine C. Bushnell, in God's Word to Woman, suggests that verse 16 be translated differently since the Hebrew text could support such a reading. She noted that some ancient versions attached the meaning of 'lying in wait', 'an ambush', or a 'snare' to the word generally read as 'multiply.' This idea of a snare or a lying in wait, however, may have been moved back to Genesis 3:15 from its more normal position in Genesis 3:16. Bushnell would render the opening words of verse 16 this way: "Unto the woman he said, 'A snare has increased your sorrow and sighing.' "

 

"This translation is not all that different in meaning from the more traditional "I will greatly multiply..." The difference between the two readings is found wholly in the interlinear Hebrew vowel signs which came as late as the eighth century of the Christian era. The difference is this (using capital letters to show the original Hebrew consonantal text and lowercase to show the late addition of the vowel letters): HaRBah AaRBeh, "I will greatly multiply," and HiRBah Ao-ReB, "has caused to multiply (or made great) a lying-in-wait." The participial form ARB appears some fourteen times in Joshua and is translated as "ambush" or "a lying in wait."

 

"If this reading is correct (and some ancient versions read such a word just a few words back in verse 15, probably by misplacement), then that "lier-in-wait' would undoubtedly he that subtle serpent, the devil. He it was who would increase the sorrow of raising children. This is the only way we can explain why the idea of "a snare" or "lying-in-wait" still clings to this context.

 

"But another matter demands our attention in verse 16, the word for conception. This translation is difficult because the Hebrew word HRN is not the correct way to spell conception. It is spelled correctly as HRJWN in Ruth 4:13 and Hosea 9:11. But this spelling in Genesis 3:16 is two letters short and its vowels are also unusual. The form is regarded by lexical authorities such as Brown, Driver and Briggs as a contraction or even an error. The early Greek translation (made in the third or second century before Christ) read instead [...] meaning "sighing." The resultant meaning for this clause would be "A snare has increased your sorrow and sighing..."

 

"Furthermore, it must be remembered that this statement, no matter how we shall finally interpret it, is from a curse passage. In no case should it be made normative. And if the Evil One and not God is the source of the sorrow and sighing, then it is all the more necessary for us to refuse to place any degree of normativity to such statements and describe either the ordeal of giving birth to a child, or the challenge of raising that child, as an evil originating in God. God is never the source of evil; he would rather bless women. Instead, it is Satan who has set this trap."

 

[Note: in addition to the LXX rendering of "conception" as "sighings/groanings", Augustine comments on this clause in a similar fashion: "For she clearly has her pains and sighs multiplied in the woes of this life." (Manicheans 2.19.29).]

 

What this would mean--if this understanding is correct--is that the passage may simply be a descriptive one (instead of a prescriptive one), in which God is reminding the woman that the Evil one was not a dispenser of blessings and life, but of sorrow, grief, and toil...

 

Whether this last point is correct or not, it seems to me that the passage is focused on the subjective aspect of birthing and raising a child in a post-Eden world.

 

[There is not even a hint in the biblical text, by the way, that this applied to anyone other than or anyone after Eve(!), so to argue for extensive physiological changes in female anatomy which occurred at that time, and which were passed on to her female progeny  is going way beyond the textual data...I cannot imagine the subjective/emotional aspect alone of having actually lived in the Garden and then bringing each child into a fallen world of alienation and hardship...its hard enough to do that NOT having seen the Garden, if you know what I mean...]

 

So, that's why I didn't bring it up here...smile...

 

============================================================================

 

 

Okay, on to the next piece...

 

 

This looks especially malicious (of God) since men have no corresponding types/cycles of pain, relative to reproduction.

 

There are two points I want to make here.

 

1. The low 'involvement'  or 'risk' of men in the pregnancy/childbirth process is matched by the much lower emotional/physiological 'reward' granted to them;

 

2. The low 'involvement' or 'risk' (and/or 'wear and tear') of men in the reproductive process is generally balanced by their high 'risk' associated with long-term provision for the child (in pre-analgesic cultures).

 

 

On the first point, I have already sorta mentioned it, that the father doesn't get the endorphins, doesn't enjoy the uniquely intimate connection with the baby, and can never do any better...(And, on a lighter note,  in the ancient world of the bible/ANE, the fathers didn't get 'maternity leave' either: mothers didn't have/get to do much work for 2-4 months after the birth, due to aspects of the blood taboo.).. The involvement and risk/reward trade-off is very, very real in this endeavor...

 

The second point is something that really needs to be considered--in most of ancient history. The reproductive process is only one part of the task of  'making new people'. In the pre-modern world, it was the father who generally had to (a) provide the bulk of the material support for the wife/kids (i.e., "making a living"); and (b) defending the family against hostile forces (e.g., wars, raiders, bandits, etc.)--a definite 'health risk'(!). The process of provision and protection was a multiple-decade process that involved long days of hard manual work, frequent violent encounters from enemies and the treacherous, and sudden changes of fortune (due to famine, pestilence, environment, government).

 

Although it would be impossible to adequately "compare" the total-pain-discomfort-effort of men and of women in ancient cultures, the fact that both partners worked long and hard and 'with health at risk' argues that we should not isolate 'the pregnancy and childbirth' cycle as the only arena of risk and pain. This would be simply the reverse of the superficial position that "only men did the really hard work back then"--and therefore a position equally superficial.

 

To illustrate the other side of this, we might consider some of the practices of the desert monks in antiquity. Their stories are quite colorful, but their lives of sexual abstinence were a constant struggle. Some found a 'motivation to singlehood' in the cost associated with providing materially for a wife and family:

 

"Monks who burned with the desire to return to the valley and take a wife were given the example of a monk who was so tormented by desire that he said ten women would not be able to satisfy him. No one could stop him. Passing through the village one day, Paphnutius heard his name called by a thin and ragged man whom he did not at first recognize. "'No doubt you have taken ten wives?' And groaning, he said, 'Truly I have only taken one, and I have a great deal of trouble satisfying her with food.'"...To cure himself of wanting to go and take a wife in the village, one solitary had made himself a woman out of clay and he would work as if he had to feed her. Then he made a daughter, and worked even harder to feed her. His exhaustion cured him of wanting to leave the desert." [HI:Porneia:162f]

 

 

So, I suggest we  look at the combined task of child-bearing, education, provision, protection, etc. to help keep this in a balanced perspective.

 

 

 

This disparity is consistent throughout human life ("always women who draw the short straw").

 

I am not sure I understand this point correctly, but as it is stated here, there is ample evidence to suggest that this is inaccurate or  surely at least one-sided. Consider just a couple of major areas--dealing with death and pain--in which men 'draw the short straw' (sometimes by their own doing/nature, of course!):

 

 

[And if someone objects that an early death is not really  'bad'--since death "ushers us into the wonderful presence of God"--I would have to remind such a spiritually high-minded person that pain itself is also viewed positively in the bible...we are supposed to 'glory' in suffering, because it develops our character and our ability to empathize/help others...smile]

 

So, I am not sure the data we looked at from the reproductive functions (e.g., menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause) would be strong enough to conclusively 'outweigh' the five facts above...If anything, the pain/death numbers might suggest just the opposite (e.g., preferential treatment of women)... But in any event, this would at least indicate that the conclusion that "always women who draw the short straw" would need considerable evidence to substantiate it.

 

 

 

Men are physically stronger than women, and this disparity in strength makes women at the mercy of physically-stronger men (e.g., rape, dominance).

 

First of all, let's see how different female humans are from male humans, and if this is predictive of general dominance (we will discuss physical coercion in a moment):

 

"Primatology does not currently explain why women should be subordinate and men dominant in many human societies...Neither does biology. Increasingly sophisticated studies of human anatomy and physiology reveal no clear reason for either sex dominating the other. Biological evidence does explain differentiation of function, but little more. In contrast to many animal species in which there are dramatic anatomical differences between females and males--in coloration, size, and strength--human females and males differ relatively little from each other." [WS:AHTO:9]

 

"If conditions of diet, health, and exercise are equal, women will be, on the average, 10 percent shorter, lighter, and weaker than men. Some women will be stronger than most men; some men will be weaker than most women. But in addition, the hormone testosterone, produced exclusively by males from puberty on, has been associated with "a differential readiness to respond in aggressive ways." Male strength and aggression may lead to male dominance of women but need not do so: Male dominance is not universal in human society, and male aggression is culturally controlled in a variety of ways. [WS:AHTO:11]

 

"On the other hand, only women have the ability to give birth. In addition, if conditions are equal, women will be longer-lived than men, by a factor of 10 percent. Like male strength and aggression, female childbearing and longevity could lead to dominance. But such dominance by females or males because of their physiology alone is neither inevitable nor universal. In biological terms, either sex could dominate the other, but it is not determined that either will, nor even that one must do so. Given this, how can the fact that in most societies women are subordinated to men, or at best, equal to them, be explained? Why are men more likely to subordinate women than women to subordinate men? While biology offers no conclusive answers, psychology can shed some light on this question. [WS:AHTO:11]

 

"In addition, adult men are genitally vulnerable in ways that women are not. The male genitals are more exposed than the female's, and male fear of genital injury or castration is present in many cultures. Women seem to have no equivalent fears. While rape exists in many societies, it does not seem to carry the negative psychological weight for women that castration does for men. Women can feign or hide sexual arousal; a man's arousal is quickly evident and often beyond his conscious control. In sexual intercourse, a woman can experience multiple orgasms; a man has a more limited orgasmic capacity. Moreover, a man may be impotent, which among other things will prevent him from inseminating. Even if a woman is not sexually aroused, she is still capable of intercourse, conception, and motherhood. Motherhood gives a woman value and a function; fatherhood is far less significant in most cultures. Women know that their children are their own; men must rely on more indirect proof of their paternity. Even when clear on his role in conception, a man cannot be positive of his paternity. As the psychologist Erik Erikson has written, "Behind man's insistence on male superiority there is an age old envy of women who are sure of their motherhood while man can be sure of his fatherhood only by restricting the female." [WS:AHTO:12]

 

The net of this is this: biological differences are not adequate to explain general male dominance, they are relatively minor, and could be used by either sex to attempt to dominate the other.

 

But more to the point is the issue of physical or forceful coercion--and specifically the case of rape and/or sexual assault.

 

Several points come to mind, for us to consider in thinking through the relationship between rape and biology:

 

1. A 10% raw strength/size difference (the "designed by God" part) is really insufficient to account for this. A 10% difference in height would be about 5-6",and a 10% difference in weight would be about 10-15 pounds. The muscle mass difference (36% for women, 42% for men--WS:AHTO:10) is relative to size, but is also subordinate to other factors such as dexterity, development, endurance, etc. The observed differences in actual people, of course, are greater, but these are due to what the culture 'encourages' for the different sexes. In other words, the actual differences are much greater than the 'designed' differences.

 

2. We know rape is about power, aggression, and dominance. And all cultures place certain limits on the use of force/power by males (and females too, for that matter). Physical advantage does not have 'free reign' in ANY society in history--there are always some limits to its application, use, and abuse. It's more than simply a question of biological power.

 

3. Statistically speaking, 50% of males are weaker than the other 50% of males (obviously). Some of this difference would be genetic/biological (e.g., 'designed in'?). Would we be on solid ground to attribute (non-prison) male rape to God's 'hatred' of the 'bottom 50%' (because they were physically weaker)? Probably not...

 

4. "Almost as many boys as girls will be sexually assaulted by age eighteen" (http://www.cs.utk.edu/~bartley/sacc/whatIsSA.html). Most of these cases will involve older perpetrators. Would we be on solid ground to attribute these rapes to God's 'hatred' of the sub-18 crowd (because they were physically weaker)? Probably not...

 

5. The incidence-rate gap between female rapes and male rapes is not as wide as one might originally suspect, if based on biology:

 

a.        "1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. (FBI, 1990) " [http://www.cpsdv.org/SV/sexual.htm]

b.       "Approximately one in six boys is sexually abused before age 16" [http://www.jimhopper.com/male-ab/]

c.        "Almost as many boys as girls will be sexually assaulted by age eighteen" [http://www.cs.utk.edu/~bartley/sacc/whatIsSA.html]

d.       "Students of sexual abuse, drawing upon a wide number of studies conducted in the 1980s which sought to overcome the reluctance of the abused to discuss their experiences, have now concluded that boys and girls up to the early teen years have an equal chance of being sexually victimized; a summary of these studies was published by Eugene Porter in 1986." [http://www.igc.apc.org/spr/docs/malerape.html]

e.        "For the later teens and adult males, figures are harder to come by, but a consensus appears to be forming that 'in the community' (a phrase excluding incarceration facilities) between one-seventh and one-fourth of all rapes involve male victims. " [http://www.igc.apc.org/spr/docs/malerape.html]

f.         "Some rape crisis centers see nearly equal numbers of girls and boys up to age 12." [http://www.youthresource.com/library/ygm5.htm]

g.       "A household survey conducted for the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics stated that the rapes of males reported to their interviewers were 25.9% of the number of completed rapes reported by females in the same survey; when applied to the national population that would be about 12,300 rapes of males per year. These figures are believed to be underestimates due to a reluctance of male victims to identify themselves to the interviewers. " [http://www.igc.apc.org/spr/docs/malerape.html]

h.       "Rape crisis counselors estimate that while only one in 50 raped women report the crime to the police, the rates of under-reporting among men are even higher (Brochman, 1991)." [http://www.ncvc.org/infolink/info38.htm] Compare: "One perpetrator kept records showing he had sexually assaulted over three hundred boys in one summer, mostly hitchhikers; he was arrested only when one of the boys complained to the police, the rest having  remained silent. " [http://www.igc.apc.org/spr/docs/malerape.html]

 

 

6.  How would we explain the female sexual assault of adult males? The case of children is obvious and well-known, but not so the reverse-scenario:

 

"According to a report published in the British Medical Journal 1999;318:846-850,  2,500 British men were surveyed. 3% reported they had been sexually assaulted as an adult, and nearly half of them were assaulted by women." [Reuters Health, March 26, 1999; referenced at http://www.xris.com/survivor/msa/information.html]

 

7. Male rape is also an act of violent aggression and power, and is somewhat more violent that female rape (on average):

 

"Comparing rapes of females with rapes of males, it has been found that in cases involving male victims, gang-rape is more common, multiple types of sexual acts are more likely to be demanded, weapons are more likely to be displayed and used, and physical injury is more likely to occur, with the injuries which do occur being more serious than with injured females" [http://www.igc.apc.org/spr/docs/malerape.html]

 

 

What these facts and counter-examples lead me to believe is that arguing from physical differences (such as statistical 'weakness') to God's hatred of the 'weak' is very dubious. There are just too many more variables (e.g., culture, peer pressure, individual psychology) that seem to be more important in the discussion on sexual assault, and these factors are not a function of God's "design" of our physiology.

 

In short, physical "inferiority" can put someone at the 'mercy' of someone stronger, but this situation is not the sole liability of women; it applies to anyone--the young, disabled, impaired, confused, outnumbered, the needy, the unprepared...and we cannot infer from this that God 'hates' them for their inability to withstand greater force, guile, or threat.

 

(Those familiar with the bible will recognize quite the opposite theme throughout the Book--that God has a special place in His heart for the weak, the poor, the victim, the alienated, and the less-than-elite:

 

"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are [1 Cor 1.26ff])

 

 

 

 

By implication: this deliberate injustice reveals that God is not good (at least, not to women)

 

I guess where I come out here is that I cannot find injustice to women in this data, from the standpoint of the biological issues we have looked at so far.

 

 

 

 

 

So, at least on this issue--female physiology as an indicator that God hates women--I have to conclude that the data we looked at doesn't seem to offer much support for that position. I am NOT SAYING that these pains aren't real, at times intense, or difficult challenges for many individuals. I am only arguing that the pattern of these difficulties is not sufficient grounding for an objection against God...indeed, many precious souls will argue that "only God" got them through some of these moments...

 

I realize that this data/discussion will sound very 'clinical' and 'statistical' and even 'cold', but the point of the study was to surface as much hard, objective data about the physiological, statistical, and medical realities. Our subjective experiences and perspectives and worldviews are of course also at play in our assessment of such data, but we need to always be willing to revise our perspectives, if the overall data suggests that it is time to do so. There are no doubt other issues and contrary data that can be brought forward, both for and against this position, but I hope this discussion shows at least that the case against the good heart of God is not that obvious, conclusive, or easily defended--at least not on the basis of physiology.

 

 

So, its not at all something like you have been apparently  told by others, friend: "Yes, its bad for women, but they deserve it" or "Yes, its bad for women, but somebody has to bear it..." I find it mind-blowing that someone could tell you that...

 

My (earlier) studies on Women and the Heart of God opened my eyes so much, as to how special women are to God...I personally had no idea of the depth and richness of His warmth toward such grace-bearers, before going through the Self-Disclosure of His heart...

 

You have many other questions in your emails to me, and I appreciate you sharing them with me--maybe as we work through them, the fears and anguish you feel will melt or soften, and those with similar anguish will find peace...

 

Warmly,

Glenn miller

 

 

(p.s. God "rewards" women in many, many different ways...but that's another story, for another time...smile)


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