Women’s History Month: of haircuts, Mrs. Henry and Hebrew translations

By Jacki Wood

Anecdote #1: I once heard a woman complaining about how difficult it was to care for her nearly waist-length hair. Her friend asked why she didn’t cut it shorter and she replied her husband wouldn’t approve. I was probably five or six at the time and thought that was one of the dumbest things I’d ever heard in my short life.

Anecdote #2: I played AYSO soccer in Maryville from age five to 11. I was usually the only girl on my team. I loved playing and was pretty good at it, but there was always at least one boy who would comment about me being a girl or how I couldn’t play.

Anecdote #3: I loved playing pickup basketball at BYU. Being the only girl, I was generally picked last. They soon realized I didn’t need to be a guy to be good.

Anecdote #4: When I was in sixth grade at Washington Middle School, I could generally be found playing kickball with the boys at recess instead of standing around talking with the girls. I was made fun of a lot because of it. My homeroom teacher, Carolyn Henry, always encouraged me and told me I could do anything the boys could do and it didn’t matter what anyone said.

I’ve been reflecting on women and sports and equality the past few weeks after players on the US Women’s soccer team reached a $24 million settlement with the US Soccer Federation over unequal pay. March is also Women’s History Month, March 8 is International Women’s Day and March 15 is Equal Pay Day, the date that symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

While we’ve made strides over the years, it seems like we’re still trying to prove our worth as women. I hear the word patriarchy thrown around a lot, mostly negatively, and I want to look at it historically as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

Historian and author, Dr. Gerda Lerner, believed the establishment of patriarchy was not an evil conspiracy of men nor a singular event but developed from 3100 to 600 BC in early agricultural communities. They were sustained by the practice of intertribal exchanges of women for marriage.

“In a time when women’s average life span may have been less than 28 years, and when infant mortality was 70-75 percent, women were bearing and nursing babies all the time in order for the tribe to survive. So a sexual division of labor was created that was functional and approved of by both men and women.”

She said this system was created inadvertently with “unforeseen consequences” and “gave early peoples the notion that men had rights that women did not.”

Separate from the idea of patriarchy as a system of society, but similar, is Biblical or Christian patriarchy which is a set of beliefs concerning gender in marriage and family. It has its own misconceptions including those regarding Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit.

Religious scholar Bruce Hafen said: “The incorrect idea in Christian history that wives should be dependent began with the false premise that the Fall of Adam and Eve was a tragic mistake and that Eve was the primary culprit. Thus women’s traditional submission to men was considered a fair punishment for Eve’s sin.”

He continued: “Eve was Adam’s ‘help meet’ (Genesis 2:18). The original Hebrew for ‘meet’ means that Eve was adequate for, or equal to, Adam. She wasn’t his servant or his subordinate.”

The subjugation of women by men has been further supported in Genesis 3:16: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Hafen notes, however, the Hebrew “bet” means rule with not rule over: “Husbands and wives are interdependent with each other. They are equal. They are partners.”

Equal and with.

Those are ideas I support in both religious and societal practices.

They are ideas I’ve been thinking about since that woman said she couldn’t cut her hair. And ideas I’ve been fighting for since my soccer, kickball and basketball playing days.

It’s not about women being better than men, but that we’re not less than either.

Author Vera Nazarian said: “A woman is human. She is not better, wiser, stronger, more intelligent, more creative, or more responsible than a man. Likewise, she is never less.”

How do we continue to change things? How do we move more toward equality?

I believe one way is by simply encouraging girls like Mrs. Henry did for me. It may not seem like much but her words and belief in me created tiny ripples with far-reaching effects.