Indiana University Bloomington

Gender and Care in Creation Stories and Pop Culture

Katy Ramsey, religious studies

Written for: REL-A 351

Instructor: Prof. Sonia Velazquez


Gender: (1) the state of being male or female, (2) either the male or female division of a species, especially as differentiated by social and cultural roles and behaviors (Please note the absence of sex in this definition).

Care: (1) effort made to do something correctly, safely, or without causing damage, (2) things that are done to keep someone/thing healthy, in good condition, etc., (3) suffering of mind.


The concepts of gender and care are intrinsically, albeit not obviously, linked in both human nature and society. In order to further examine how these concepts function in regard to each other, this paper suggests that as, in Genesis, God punished Adam with work and Eve with labor, He also distributed and engendered the burden of care. That is to say that by delegating care to Adam and Eve, God engendered it; he endowed Care with genders of its own. That is not to say that he exclusively linked female care with human females and male care with human males.

First, it is important that we recognize and differentiate between two main types of care. When we speak of care, we primarily use the terms “care for” and “care about.” The American feminist philosophers Jaggar and Bordo note that caring about is often used in relation to general ideas and concepts and does not require direct attention or interaction, while caring for typically involves direct interaction with a concrete object, such as a parent tying and retying a child’s shoe. They also assert that, as the types of care relate to gender, “traditional gender roles in our society imply that men care about but women care for,” although Sander-Staudt maintains that overall “care has pervasively been assumed to be a symbolically feminine trait and perspective.”

In Genesis, we see Eve’s search for knowledge ending with God’s punishment that He will “greatly multiply [her] sorrow and [her] conception; in sorrow [she] shalt bring forth children; and [her] desire shall be to [her] husband, and he shall rule over [her], (Genesis 3:16)” while God’s punishment for Adam is that “in sorrow [he] shall eat of [the ground] all the days of [his] life; … and [he] shall eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of [his] face shalt [he] eat [his] bread, till [he] return[s] unto the ground (3:17-19).” Thus, Adam is punished with work and care about work, while Eve is punished with labor, submission, and care for others in that bringing forth children refers not only to the actual labor of childbirth, but also to that of raising and caring for said children—and therefore the family as a whole—throughout both her and their lives. Adam’s parallel punishment is that in his work, he must provide for his family. In this way God distributes care between Adam and Eve, giving Eve care for living things and Adam care about working the earth. Although Genesis is the Christian creation story, the ideas represented in God’s punishment are not unique to Christianity. We can see similarities in at least two other creation stories: one, a fable by Latin scholar Gaius Julius Hyginus, and the second, a Japanese creation story from the eighth century called the Kojiki.

Hyginus’s fable holds that it was the female deity Care who created humanity along with Jupiter and the Earth (responsible for spirit and body, respectively), and that it is Care who possesses humans for the duration of our lives. Here we see not only a reaffirmation of the fact that Care is inseparable from human nature, but also the blatant genderization of care as female. This does not project the idea that all care is female, as Jupiter (male) outwardly shows care in his desire for humans to be named after him. Here, the female deity cares for the lives and well-beings of humans while the male deity cares about the abstract and detached idea of their name, and implicitly his own.

The Kojiki tells the story of two Japanese deities named Izanagi (He Who Invites God) and Izanami (She Who Invites God). They are tasked with creating the islands of Japan by giving birth to the land. As they begin, Izanami speaks first, saying “O, how good a lad!” which Izanagi follows by saying “O, how good a maiden! … It is not proper that the woman speak first.” They then cannot give birth to healthy children until they redo the ritual with Izanagi speaking first.

To better understand why this is, we must recognize the emphasis that the Kojiki places on the power of speech. The word used for “subdue” in the original translation is directly translated as “to make someone speak his subjection.” With this information, we see that in Izanagi’s rebuke of Izanami’s speech, he is indeed subduing her and therefore ruling over her, creating a parallel between himself and Adam, and carrying out the punishment of Eve’s submission.

We see further parallels between these two creation stories in the births of Izanami’s children. She gives birth naturally until she falls ill while bearing the Swift Fire Burning Deity, wherein “her genitals were burned, and she lay down sick. In her vomit there came into existence the Clay Earth God and the Clay Earth Goddess. Next, in her urine, there came into existence the Goddess of Irrigation and the God of Agriculture Creation (Kojiki 25).” This is a clear example of the Genesis proclamation that “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children,” and Izanami dies as a result, after which Izanagi kills the fire deity. This illustrates the male form of care, for although Izanagi cared about the abstract of Izanami’s death so much that he was willing to kill his own child to avenge it, he was not able to care for the actual deity, as Izanami would have had she survived.

The presence of God’s distribution of care and punishments is not limited to religious works, however. It is also found in modern works, including Kubrick’s The Shining, So Far From God, a novel by by Ana Castillo, and the anonymously penned Lazarillo de Tormes. The representation of these punishments and care in relation to gender as seen within these works provides insight into the many different functions of gender and care in society.

In The Shining, Adam’s punishment is seen in the deterioration of Jack Torrence, who gradually goes mad as a result of months of work. His care about work trumps his care for family as he treats them with increasing hostility, culminating in attempts to murder them. Meanwhile Eve’s punishment is seen in the character of Wendy, as she is submissive to Jack throughout the majority of his ordeal. Both of these punishments are beautifully depicted in the scene where Jack yells at Wendy for fucking up his life after she suggests that they leave the hotel to seek medical attention for their son, Danny. Here Jack is focusing on care about his work as Wendy is focusing on care for Danny. In response to being yelled at, Wendy sits down and cries, projecting the submission of Eve’s punishment. Here her submission overwhelms her care, however later in the film we see a shift in the strength of these two factors of punishment. As Jack is attacking his family, Wendy’s choice of defensive weapons progresses from toy bat to real bat to knife, and marks in inverse proportion the transitions of the degree to which she is submissive. That is, she becomes less and less submissive as Jack’s lack of care becomes more and more apparent to her, and as her instinct to save herself and care for Danny increases. This transition shows us that the punishments of Eve are fluid and can struggle for power within a person depending on circumstance.

Confirming the notion that the genders of care do not strictly follow the genders of humans, Dick Hallorann, the hotel chef in the film, embodies both masculine and feminine care. He cares about the family’s well-being by calling the hotel during the storm, and then moves to actively caring for them as he actually goes to the hotel to try to help Danny, reinforcing the idea that physiological sex does not determine or limit which gender of care one enacts.

Chapter 11 of Ana Castillo’s So Far From God chronicles the last year of a character named Fe’s life, which she spends married to her cousin Casey and working at Acme International cleaning parts for high-tech weapons. Fe, who contracts cancer due to the dangerous chemicals she works with, parallels Eve and feels her punishment in many ways throughout this chapter. Because of her cancer, Fe worked for months with “nausea and headaches that increased in severity by the day (Castillo 178),” a clear example of laboring through sorrow. With Acme International’s less-than-stellar treatment of its workers, we see the male form of care exhibited in an institution, as the company cares about “utilization and efficiency” more than for the health of their workers.

In the relationship between Casey and Fe it is Casey who exhibits female care while Fe showcases male care: Fe cares about working hard and making money whereas Casey cares for her well-being, which he shows by tattling on Fe to her mother for taking Rolaids “all the time” for indigestion. This chapter and these characters thus reinforce the idea that care is gendered while reminding us that gender is not always specific to sex.

Another example of female care being present in male characters can be found in Lazarillo de Tormes, which tells the story of the childhood and masters of a poor hungry boy named Lázaro. His first master is a Blind man from whom he quickly learns that he must care for himself. Although Lázaro is male, he is affected by God’s punishment of Eve to sorrow through labor and to be submissive to his masters, except in the case of his third master for whom Lázaro cares, thus putting Lázaro again in Eve’s shoes. About the hunger of this third master Lázaro says, “I felt for his suffering as I had often endured it and still endured it most days. I wondered if I could go as far as inviting him to share [my bread]… I wanted him to eat as he had the day before (57).” Here Lázaro exhibits female maternal care towards the person who rules over him, much like Wendy of The Shining before she had given up hope that Jack would not kill his family. The fact that Lázaro exhibits so many female characteristics and traits of Eve shows us again that the sex of God’s punishments is fluid, although the gender stays the same. That is to say, the same punishments are found together no matter the sex of the person in question; submission and labor go with feminine care while male care follows work.

With these examples it is clear that God’s punishment of Adam and Eve, and His distributing and engendering of care, have been present and influential in many different works in society. The fact that this distinction has been sustained, paralleled, and referenced throughout centuries in many different ways, religions, and genres reinforces the idea that care is essentially human; in other words, we wouldn’t spend so much time writing and reading about it — and suffering through it — if we didn’t care about it. In writing of it, we show that we care both for and about it, and we give care life as Care gave humans life.

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