Through a feminist lens, John Milton’s classic Paradise Lost demonstrates a great deal about Christian notions of femininity. Milton, while only a single Christian, is still regarded as an impressive theologian, and his work’s continued popularity speaks to this fact.In referring to humanity six separate times in Book II, Milton’s characters use a masculine conceptualization of the species in each instance. Humanity is referred to as “mankind” (line 383), as God’s “sons” (line 373), and four times as “Man” (lines 348, 497, 629, and 1023; one of these four times is the plural “men”). The text does not illuminate whether or not Eve has been crafted from one of Adam’s ribs yet in the chronology, so as to justify this nominal masculinity with the solitary existence of Adam. But from a feminist point of view, the fact that this gendered nomenclature is applied to the entire species demonstrates a fundamental bias toward masculinity, a bias which also presents itself in a list of other elements of Christian myth: Eve’s origin story, the masculinization of Christian deities (and their sons), the nature of Christianity’s most recognizable female idol (a virgin notable only for her immaculate maternity; i.e., for being God’s baby momma), and the gender demographics of Christ’s apostles (one female, whose role in the group’s social dynamics is suspect to higher scrutiny than most of her male counterparts).
It should come as no surprise then that the first major female character presented in Paradise Lost is an actual embodiment of sin, who the speaker judges harshly for her appearance (she’s half snake, from the waist down). Sin is the daughter of Satan who sprouted from his head a la Athena via Zeus, but was then raped by her father to produce Death, who then raped her to produce the numerous, incessantly barking hell hounds that surround her. This has villainized her in the poem’s epic world, putting her in an impossible situation of feeling at peace when everything she’s ever known has raped her, cast her out of Heaven, or held her captive at the gates of Hell. Her struggle with acceptance establishes a commonality between herself and Eve, the first human woman, who acts as a scapegoat for Christianity to explain why life is so hard.
Christianity, while perhaps not intended to reinforce patriarchy, has been adapted to do so in its Western contexts. From perhaps unconscious reinforcements of masculine supremacy seen in fantasies male omnipotence to explicit commandments that genderize the experience of sexual desire along marital lines, Christianity’s illogic has been no friend to women. Tragically, this is only one instance in a long history of Christianity’s impediments to honest humanism. But what can we expect from a religion that considers death a chance at immortality, knowledge a forbidden fruit, and woman a derivative of man regardless of scientific research (see: male gender as parasite) and empirical evidence (see: useless nipples) to the contrary?
Well, Mad Max Cothrel seems sufficiently pissed off. Read more of his intensities here.
And just for fun, here’s white-ass-man John Milton: