And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life; and man became a living soul. . . .
And the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a help like unto himself.
And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called a living creature the same is its name.
And Adam called all the beasts by their names, and all the fowls of the air, and all the cattle of the field: but for Adam there was not found a helper like himself.
Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it.
And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam.
And Adam said: "This now is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man."
What often passes unnoticed in the Genesis story is the degree to which the creation of woman is linked to a founding, or original, linguistic act. Adam is said to be the first to speak, the namer of things; woman—or the necessity of
woman, her cause—seems to emanate, in turn, from the imposition of names. The designation of things, or a primal instance of man's exertion of power over them, and the creation of woman are coterminous. Further, in this account of the ad seriatim creation of the genders, woman is by definition a derivation of man, who, as the direct creation of God, remains both chronologically antecedent and ontologically prior. This at least is how early commentators on Genesis—Augustine, Jerome, Philo Judaeus—understood things. "It is not good that any man should be alone," writes Philo. "For there are two races of men, the one made after the (Divine) Image, and the one moulded out of the earth. . . . With the second man a helper is associated. To begin with, the helper is a created one, for it says 'Let us make a helper for him'; and in the next place, is subsequent to him who is to be helped, for He had formed the mind before and is about to form its helper." Thus, woman, created from man, is conceived from the beginning to be secondary, a supplement. Here the act of naming takes on added significance. For the imposition of names and the creation of woman are not only simultaneous but analogous gestures thoroughly implicated in each other. Just as words are the supplements of thins, which are supposedly brought nameless to Adam, so woman is the supplement to, the "helper" of, man. She comes into being metonymically as a part of a body more sufficient to itself because created directly by God and to whose wholeness she, as part (and this from the beginning), can only aspire.
Adam's priority implies a whole set of relations that strike to the heart not only of medieval sign theory but to certain questions of ontology that make apparent that the Fall, commonly conceived to be the origin and cause of medieval misogyny, is merely a fulfillment or logical conclusion of that which is implicit to the creation of Eve. Woman, as secondary, derivative, supervenient, and supplemental, assumes all that is inferior, debased, scandalous, and perverse.
Adam, first of all, has what medieval philosophers called substance. His nature is essential; he possesses Being, Existence. "All good is from God," Augustine affirms, "hence there is no natural existence which is not from God." Eve, as the byproduct of a part of the essential, partakes from the outset of the accidental, associated with a multiplicity of modes of degradation implicit to her coming into being as becoming.
If Adam exists fully and Eve only partially, it is because he participates in what is conceived to be an original unity of being while she is the offshoot of division and difference. And unity, another word for Being, is the goal of philosophy because it is also synonymous with truth. "Philosophy as a discipline," writes Augustine in the De ordine, "itself already contains this order of knowledge, and it need not discover more than the nature of one, but in a much more profound and divine sense." The oneness that Adam once enjoyed, the uniqueness of singularity, is indistinguishable from the oneness that is the founding principle, the guarantor, of grammar, geometry, philosophy; and, implicitly, of theology,
since God is defined as the nature of one, that which is universal and eternal. "Christ," writes Tertullian, "is everything which is once for all."
This is another way of saying that Adam possesses from, is the equivalent of an Idea; for that which has unity and existence also has form. "All existing things would cease to be if form were taken from them, the unchangeable form by which all unstable things exist and fulfill their functions," asserts Augustine in a formula that appears almost everywhere in the discourse of misogyny. That is, man is form or mind, and woman, degraded image of his second nature, is relegated to the realm of matter. Put in terms more appropriate to the Patristic tradition, man is spirit or soul formed directly by God, partaking of his divinity, while woman partakes of the body in which inheres, again, the principle of division.
Herein lies one possibility of reading misogyny: if man enjoys existence (substance), being, unity, form, and soul, woman is associated with accident, becoming (temporality), difference, body, and matter—and with all they imply by way of a secondariness that summons the more specific recriminations which constitute the discourse of misogyny.
Woman's supervenient nature is, above all, indistinguishable from that of all signs in relation to the signified and of representation. As Philo Judaeus maintains, her coming into being is synonymous not only with the naming of things but with a loss—within language—of the literal:
"And God brought a trance upon Adam, and he fell asleep; and He took one of his sides" and what follows (Gen. 2.21). These words in their literal sense are of the nature of a myth. For how could anyone admit that a woman, or a human being at all, came into existence out of a man's side?
Since the creation of woman is synonymous with the creation of metaphor, the relation between Adam and Eve is the relation of the proper to the figural, which implies always derivation, deflection, denaturing, a tropological turning away. The perversity of Eve is that of the lateral: as the outgrowth of Adam's flank, his latus, she retains the status of translatio, of translation, transfer, metaphor, trope. She is side-issue.
This link between the derivative nature of the female and that of figural representation itself explains why the great misogynistic writers of the first centuries of Christianity—Paul, Tertullian, John Chrysostom, Philo, Jerome—were so obsessed by the relation of women to decoration, why they themselves were so fascinated by veils, jewels, makeup, hair style and color—in short, by anything having to do with the cosmetic. Such an obsession is evident even in the titles of the essays of, say, Tertullian: "On the Veiling of Virgins," "On the Pallium," "On the Apparel of Women." For the third-century apologist, woman is a creature who above all else and by nature covets ornamentation:
You are the devil's gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant
enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunic of skins? Come, now; if from the beginning of the world the Milesians sheared sheep, and the Serians spun trees, and the Tyrians dyed, and the Phrygians embroidered with the needle, and the Babylonians with the loom, and pearls gleamed, and onyx stones flashed; if gold itself also had already issued, with the cupidity (which accompanies it), from the ground; if the mirror too, already had licence to lie so largely, Eve, expelled from paradise (Eve) already dead, would also have coveted these things, I imagine! No more, then, ought she now to crave, or be acquainted with (if she desire to live again), what, when she was living, she had neither had nor known. Accordingly, these things are the baggage of woman in her condemned and dead state, instituted as if to swell the pomp of her funeral.
If man's desire for ornament, or for that which is secondary, is analogous to man's desire for woman, it is because woman is conceived as ornament. She is, by her secondary nature, automatically associated with artifice, decoration. The mildest version of such a paradigm is found in the often repeated licence for men to pray with head bare while women are enjoined to be veiled—and in its corollary, that woman is covering or veil: "But if a woman nourish her hair, it is a glory to her," writes Paul, "for her hair is given to her as a covering" (1 Cor. 11.15). Woman naturally decorates herself; and, according to Tertullian, is by nature decoration:
Female habit carries with it a twofold idea—dress and ornament. By "dress" we mean what they call "womanly gracing"; by "ornament," what is suitable should be called "womanly dis gracing." The former is accounted (to consist) in gold, and silver, and gems, and garments; the latter in care of the skin, and of those parts of the body which attract the eye. Against the one we lay the charge of ambition, against the other prostitution.
The traditional reading of the above passage equates a certain hostility toward women with a more generalized horror of the flesh. And yet, it is not the flesh that Tertullian denounces. On the contrary, it is the draping of the flesh with "dress and ornament" that is the equivalent of seduction:
The only edifice which they know how to raise is this silly pride of women: because they require slow rubbing that they may shine, and artful underlaying that they may show to advantage, and careful piercing that they may hang; and (because they) render to gold a mutual assistance in meretricious allurement.
To decorate oneself is to be guilty of "meretricious allurement," since embellishment of the body, a prideful attempt "to show to advantage," recreates an original act of pride that is the source of potential concupiscence. This is why Tertullian is able to move so quickly and naturally from the idea of dress to a whole range of seemingly unapparent associations—e.g., between transvestism and the monstrous; or between the toga and lust, adultery, cannibalism, intemperance, and greed. It is as if each and every act of clothing an original nakedness associated with the sanctity of the body, and not the weakness of the flesh, were a corrupting recapitulation of the Fall entailing all other perversions.
If clothes are at once the sign, the effect, and a cause of the Fall, it is because, as artifice, they, like woman, are secondary, collateral, supplemental. Dress is unnatural since, like all artifice, it seeks to add to, to perfect, the body of nature or God's creation:
That which He Himself has not produced is not pleasing to God, unless He was unable to order sheep to be born with purple and sky-blue fleeces! If He was able , then plainly He was unwilling : what God willed not, of course, ought not to be fashioned. Those things, then, are not the best by nature which are not from God, the Author of nature. Thus they are understood to be from the devil , from the corrupter of nature: for there is no other whose they can be, if they are not God's; because what are not God's must necessarily be His rival's.
A recreation, the artificial implies a pleasurable surplus that is simply inessential:
Thus (a thing) which, from whatever point you look at it, is in your case superfluous, you may justly disdain if you have it not, and neglect it if you have. Let a holy woman, if naturally beautiful, give none so great occasion (for carnal appetite).
Tertullian does not, of course, seek to determine how something can be "naturally beautiful," much less to wrestle with the supervenient status of his own thought upon the superficial. His indictment of the artificial condemns not only what we think of as the realm of the aesthetic, "adulteration with illegitimate colors," but extends to any investment of nature with human intention. Thus the constant comparison of iron, the use value par excellence, with gold, which is perverse because its worth is extrinsic. The affinity between gold, the product of excess labor, "the arts," and women constitutes an economic nexus taken as a given; their natures, by definition inessential and antinatural, attract each other because they partake coevally in a scandalous excess that offends.
Here we arrive at an idea that runs deep throughout medieval thought and that indeed can be considered to constitute the essence of a certain theologizing of the aesthetic. To wit, the artificial participates in a supervenient and extraneous rival creation that can only distract man's attention from God's original "plastic skill": "Whatever is born is the work of God," Tertullian concludes. "Whatever is plastered on is the devil's work. . . . To superinduce on a divine work Satan's ingenuities, how criminal it is!" The decorative not only constitutes, as in the case of gold, an artificial investment of value, with all that such intention implies by way of potential concupiscence, but is a literal adding to the "weight" of creation:
The wonder is, that there is no (open) contending against the Lord's prescripts! It has been pronounced that no one can add to his own stature. You , however, do add to your weight some kind of rolls, or shield-bosses, to be piled upon your necks! . . . Nay, rather banish quite away from your "free" head all this slavery of ornamentation.
From the always scandalous dressing of the naked body of nature emanates the entire range of perverse terms associated with "meretricious garbs and gar-
ments." In particular, the church fathers move quickly, by association, from the symbolic—artifice, idolatry—to the erotic—concupiscence, fornication, adultery, as if representation itself were, always and already, an offense. Verbal signs, in particular, stand as a constant reminder of the secondary and supplemental nature of all "the arts." "With the word the garment entered," Tertullian asserts, implying that language is a covering that, by definition and from the start, is so wrapped up in the decorative as to be essentially perverse.
This nexus of ideas suggests that the representation of woman as ornamentation is an integral part of a broader paradigm, or that her perverse secondariness is the secondariness of all symbolic activity. The deep mistrust of the body and of the materiality of signs defined by their accessibility to the senses constitutes, in fact, a commonplace of what we know about the Middle Ages—yea, something that might be considered to constitute a cultural constant alongside of, indeed allied with, that of misogyny. God produced signs, Augustine writes, "in order to signify His presence, and to reveal Himself in them, as He Himself knows it to be fitting, but without appearing in that substance itself by which He is, and which is wholly unchangeable." If, as Tertullian claims, "all things that are not of God are perverse," and if, as Augustine maintains, God is not in signs, then not only are signs perverse, but words or verbal signs stand as a particularly degraded excess. For where numbers signify permanence, reason, and order, language belies only corruption. Words are to images in the mind as the corporeal or sensitive is to the domain of the spirit; they are secondary, derivative, supplemental, rival and potentially confusing semblances that rely upon the fallible function of sound. This is a well-known topos among Patristic writers. Where it becomes interesting for our purpose is in the explicit analogy between woman and the sensible; for, as Philo reminds us, the relation between the mind and the senses is that of man to woman:
To begin with, the helper is a created one, for it says, 'Let us make a helper for him'; and in the next place, is subsequent to him who is to be helped, for He had formed the mind before and is about to form its helper. In these particulars again, while using terms of outward nature, he is conveying a deeper meaning. For sense and the passions are helpers of the soul and come after the soul.
The ontological status of woman is, then, analogous to that of the senses within the cognitive realm. Man as mind and woman as sensory perception are, as Philo explains, mutually exclusive: "It is when the mind (Adam) has gone to sleep that perception begins, for conversely when the mind wakes up perception is quenched." Woman, formed of flesh from the rib, remains bound by the corporeal. "'He built it to be a woman' (Gen. 2.22)," Philo continues, "providing by this that the most proper and exact name for sense perception is 'woman.'" Nor is it even necessary to distinguish between active and passive intellectual faculties.
Woman as sensitive soul is allied with the sensual; to perceive her, John Chrysostom maintains, is no less dangerous to men in general than the faculty of perception is to the soul of every man:
Hence how often do we, from beholding a woman, suffer a thousand evils; returning home, and entertaining an inordinate desire, and experiencing anguish for many days; yet nevertheless, we are not made discreet, but when we have scarcely cured one wound, we again fall into the same mischief, and are caught by the same means; and for the sake of the brief pleasure of a glance, we sustain a kind of lengthened and continual torment. . . . The beauty of a woman is the greatest snare. Or rather, not the beauty of woman, but unchastened gazing!
Here we arrive at a series of paradoxes within the discourse of misogyny. To wit, if woman is conceived to be synonymous with the senses or perception, then any look upon a woman's beauty must be the look of a woman upon a woman, for there can be no such thing as a male gaze or desire. This is why any answer to Saint Chrysostom's question "How is it possible to be freed from desire?" must be to be free of perception, or from the feminine altogether. In this sense misogyny is bound to the desire to escape the senses, perception, the corporeal, or consciousness, which leads to the inevitable conclusion that it contains a desire for the absolute, or for a totality that is the unmistakable symptom of a death wish. Nor does the paradox end there, since the identification of misogyny with the desire for perfection is the site of another contradiction—a conflict between the keenness of the awareness of woman as flaw and the desire for wholeness, expressed in the persistent exhortation to virginity.