Women in movies and the Bible

Yes, I know this is totally off topic,  for what I’ve been blogging lately and doesn’t have much to do with the gospel of Thomas, but it is my blog…

Akma has posted a link to a Youtube video on the Bechdel test for women in movies.

It encourages the viewer to ask three questions:

  • are there two or more women with names in the movie?
  • do they talk to eachother?
  • do they talk about something other than a man?

So, as Akma notes, a conversation about the weather would get the movie a pass in the test. An amazing number of the box-office successes fail, although they would certainly pass if the genders in the questions were reversed.

It occurred to me that the Bible in general would also fail the Bechdel test. Although there are many incidences where men with names talk to men about subjects other than women and quite a number where women (often nameless, though) talk to men about a range of issues, there are very few where women with names talk to other women about anything much. The two that come immediately to mind are Naomi and Ruth’s conversations in the book of Ruth and Elizabeth and Mary’s encounter while they were both pregnant. I initially thought that Hagar being sent out into the desert might qualify, but Sarah makes Abraham do that.

Perhaps this is another contributing factor in the lack of women biblibloggers? In addition to the long tradition that has excluded women from leadership in the church, perhaps many of us have internalised from the Bible an idea that our voices are of no interest within the church?

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9 thoughts on “Women in movies and the Bible

  1. Judy, in the case of the Fourth Gospel, anonymity and femininity are actually praiseworthy traits. In her dissertation, Colleen Conway does an able job of showing that female characters are, generally speaking, presented in a much more favorable light than are men. Also, anonymous characters are generally the more sympathetic. When characters are BOTH female AND anonymous, they turn out to be the most memorable and sympathetic characters in the narrative. Take, for instance, the mother of Jesus in ch. 2. She is never named and she is regarded by many commentators as the first example of genuine Johannine faith in the narrative. She also talks to others (“whatever he says, do it”) There is also the Samaritan woman who becomes the first evangelist in the Fourth Gospel. She goes back and tells the anthropoi (men and women) in her village about Jesus. She *should* go down as the most marginalized of characters for the original Johannine reader (female, Samaritan, regarded as “sinful”), but the Evangelist presents her in an extremely positive light. Just some food for thought.

  2. Chris,

    Yes, I agree that women are presented in a more favourable light in John, and I love the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Mostly (always?), though, they win approval when they are acting like men or making themselves obvious in the sphere of men, not when they are interacting with other women. I would therefore question whether femininity is what is being valued – it seems to me that when women are praised, they are doing something that goes outside the traditional feminine role.

    I am not suggesting that it wasn’t/isn’t important to provide images of women which give them permission to take a role outside the domestic sphere, and in leadership. I’m just wondering whether neglecting the other aspect of women’s lives has affected how they see the place of their interactions with eachother in the 21st century.

    The other thing that interests me is what, in the light of Conway’s comment about anonymity, we are to make of the fact that John seems to have taken the story of the anonymous woman in Mk 14:3-9 and Matt 26:6-13 (the annointing in Bethany) and made her Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus in Jn 12:1-8?

  3. Judy,

    I would have to disagree with your assessment a bit. It is true that both the mother of Jesus and the Samaritan woman are appearing in public space rather than private. Jesus’ mother gives instructions to (presumably) male wedding attendants at a public gathering. The Samaritan woman goes back to Sychar and proclaims what Jesus has said to her in public space. This was most assuredly NOT the role or spatial sphere of women in 1st century Palestine. Their roles were relegated to private spaces. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are behaving like men. To my mind all of this equates to an ELEVATING of female characters. It seems to me that you are imposing an anachronistic feminist category. Maybe this is as far as the evangelist can go given his framework and assumptions. He wants the reader to find these characters most sympathetic and praiseworthy but he is not able to do so in a way that is consonant with 21st century feminist ideologies. Perhaps we can find the genius in John’s presentation and then find specific ways to help women think about the implications this has for how they relate to each other and the world.

    I think the same argument can be made about the Pauline teaching on marriage roles in Ephesians. Sure, the idea that the wife needs to be “submissive” has been caused women to be marginalized, but mainly because the truly radical part is being missed. Wifely submission may have been part and parcel of the cultural norms of the day (and one that needs to be questioned today). However, the husband providing sacrificial love was truly radical, especially when one considers that some of the rabbis were advocating forcible intercourse (i.e., rape) when wives were unwilling. In some ways, we have focused too much on the marriage role that causes modern offense (the submissive wife) without also focusing on the truly radical change required of the husband (sacrificial love).

    I hope this makes sense. Thanks for your thoughtful interaction on this topic.

  4. In my previous post, the second sentence in the second paragraph should read: “Sure, the idea that the wife needs to be submissive has caused women to be marginalized. . . .” For some reason the word “been” crept in there.

  5. Chris,

    I agree that in the context of early Christian society, the way that women are presented in John’s gospel (and in some other parts of the New Testament, including the section in Ephesians that you quote) was radical and elevated women. What I am trying to say is that, in the intervening two millennia people have largely not taken account of the original social setting. Until relatively recently, they have simply exegeted the text as though first century Israel/Palestine was the same as their own context and as a result women have both been excluded from leadership and only valued when they behaved like men. (Heads I win, tails you lose, often.)

    In other words, I am not trying to look at the original text in its social setting, but rather to look at the effect that taking it out of its social setting has had on women in today’s churches. If the church over the last two millennia had followed this lead, things would be different, I think. :-)

    Hope that makes sense – it’s quite late here and I may not get back to the blog until tomorrow evening, so I wanted to make some response.

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