“So the Eternal cast a deep sleep upon the man; and, while he slept, God took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot. And God fashioned the rib that God had taken from the man into a woman.”
Thus reads the two verses that underpin much of the Western world’s etiology – our mythical origin story – for our societal belief in a gender hierarchy and a gender binary.
These verses are often cited to reinforce the idea, long debunked not only by individual experience but by science, that there are only two biological sexes, male and female, and that one is subservient to the other.
In what the Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin calls “the most extended piece of contempt for women produced in the Midrash,” much is made of the fact that Eve was created from bone and not from the earth, as Adam was. The Midrash asks: “Why does the voice of woman carry, but not that of a man?” Because, we’re told, “It’s like a pot which if you fill it with meat, its voice will not carry, but if you put a bone in, its voice carries.” That is, woman was created from bone, because she is like a bone rattling around loudly in a cooking pot…
But there are actually two stories of the creation of humanity at the start of Genesis, and woman being built from man’s rib is the second and later story. The first goes like this: “And God created humanity in God’s image, in the image of God, God created it; male and female God created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
Here there is no hierarchy between one human being and the next and, as transgender interpretations point out, the verse says ‘male and female God created them’, not male or female.
That is, within that first human being created was the spectrum, one whose maleness and femaleness is expressed differently in each of us.