I recently heard a story about women dealing with compliments. More accurately, it was a twitter story complaining about how men react to a woman’s reception to a compliment.
Regardless of the content of the compliment, the expectation was that the woman would be grateful, or coquettish in some way or another. Essentially: they would go gaga for any guy who said something “nice” about them.
Yet, it was maddening for a woman to do more than accept the compliment, or to answer with an “I know,” rather than a “thank you.” The woman was therefore demonized by the man because she was aware of her own good looks or stylish outfit. She was no longer a pretty little lady, but a bitch. Quite the leap for a mild reaction to a compliment.
Now we’ll bring this to the largest female-repressing text that’s still alive today: the Bible.
For Gilbert and Gubar, this goes all the way back to the old testament, where we tangle with the lesser-known first woman: Lilith. Or as she’s best known: “The mother of demons.”
“Created not from Adam’s rib but, like him, from the dust, Lilith was Adam’s first wife, according to apocryphal Jewish lore. Because she considered herself his equal, she objected to lying beneath him, so that when he tried to force her submission, she became enraged, and, speaking the Ineffable Name, flew away to the edge of the Red Sea to reside with demons” (Rivkin/Ryan 823).
First of all, if I were in this situation, I would pull a Lilith.
What quite literally happens is a rejection of the want of man, or Adam wanting to be on top. She is then LITERALLY demonized for her choices of leaving Adam and refusing to sleep with him. She becomes not just a demon, but gains the title as their mother, becoming a monstrous matriarch. Lilith goes from being Adam’s equal, to being lesser than him for pushing him away. Similar to our compliment situation from earlier, because Lilith is aware of her value she is worth less in the eyes of both Adam and God, who are male.
Yet, in Paradise Lost, and of course in the Bible itself, Eve is opposite Lilith. Firstly, she is created from Adam. She is made from his rib. This symbolizes that women come from man, and they are therefore NOT equal. Because of this, Eve is a perfect saint to Adam. She lets him crawl, walk, and stomp all over her, especially when it comes to sex. She is seen as the angelic matriarch who could not be more coquettish or lovely, simply because she bends to Adam’s will.
There seems to be a huge divide between these depictions of women. However, we cannot seem to get away from this in both the real world and literature. A woman will be seen as either saintly or demonic. There is practically no wiggle room in-between. Men categorize woman in one extreme or the other. Or, if they’re not egotistical misogynists, they probably view them as equal and the idea of an extreme sliding-scale of opinion disappears.
What are women? Angel, demon, or human. You decide.