Dominion over the other in the interpersonal relation

Dominion over the other in the interpersonal relation

1. The phenomenon of shame, which appeared in the first man together with original sin, is described with surprising precision in Genesis 3. Careful reflection on this text enables us to deduce from it that shame, which took the place of the absolute trust connected with the previous state of original innocence in the mutual relationship between man and woman, has a deeper dimension. In this connection it is necessary to reread chapter 3 of Genesis to the end, and not
limit ourselves to verse 7 or the text of verses 10-11, which contain the testimony about the first experience of shame. After this narrative, the dialogue of God-Yahweh with the man and the woman breaks off and a monologue begins. Yahweh turns to the woman and speaks first of the pain of childbirth, which will accompany her from now on: "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children..." (Gen 3:16).

That is followed by the expression which characterizes the future relationship of both, of the man and the woman: "your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16).

A particular "disability" of woman

2.  These words, like those of Genesis 2:24, have a perspective character.  The incisive formulation of 3:16 seems to regard the facts as a whole, which have already emerged in a way in the original experience of shame, and which will subsequently be manifested in the whole interior experience of "historical" man. The history of consciences and of human hearts will contain the continual confirmation of the words contained in Genesis 3:16. The words spoken at the beginning seem  to refer to a particular "disability" of woman as compared with man. But there is no reason to understand it as a social disability or inequality. The expression: "your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" immediately indicate, on the other hand, another form of inequality, which woman will feel as a lack of full unity precisely in the vast context of union with man, to which both were called according to Genesis 2:24.

A fundamental loss

3. The words of God-Yahweh: "your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16), do not concern exclusively the moment of man and woman's union, when both unite in such a way as to become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24), but refer to the ample context of relations, also indirect ones, of conjugal union as a whole. For the first time the man is defined here as "husband". In the whole context of the Yahwist narrative these words mean above all, a violation, a fundamental loss, of the original community-communion of persons.  The latter should have made man and woman mutually happy by means of the pursuit of a simple and pure union in humanity, by means of a reciprocal offering of themselves, that is, the experience of  the gift of the person expressed with the soul and with the body, with masculinity and femininity ("flesh of my flesh": Gen 2:23), and finally by means of the subordination of this union to the blessing of fertility with "procreation".

Distorted by lust

4. It seems, therefore, that in the words addressed by God-Yahweh to the woman, there is a deeper echo of the shame, which they both began to experience after the breaking of the original Covenant with God.  We find, moreover, a fuller motivation of this shame. In a very discreet way, which is, nevertheless, decipherable and expressive, Genesis 3:16 testifies how that original beatifying conjugal union of persons will be distorted in man's heart by lust. These words are addressed directly to woman, but they refer to man, or rather to both together.

Dominion over woman

5. The previous analysis of Genesis 3:7 already showed that in the new situation, after the breaking of the original Covenant with God, the man and the woman found themselves, instead of united, more divided or even opposed because of their masculinity and femininity. The biblical narrative, stressing the instinctive impulse that had driven them both to cover their bodies, describes at the same time the situation in which man, as male or female—before it was rather male and female—feels more estranged from the body, as from the source of the original union in humanity ("flesh of my flesh"), and more opposed to the other precisely on the basis of the body and sex. This opposition does not destroy or exclude conjugal union, willed by the Creator (cf. Gen 2:24), or its procreative effects; but it confers on the realization of this union another direction, which will be precisely that of the man of lust. Genesis 3:16 speaks precisely of this.

The woman, whose "desire shall be for (her) husband" (cf. Gen 3:16), and the man who responds to this desire, as we read: "shall rule over you", unquestionably form the same human couple, the same marriage as Genesis 2:24, in fact, the same community of persons; however, they are now something different. They are no longer called only to union and unity, but also threatened by the insatiability of that union and unity, which does not cease to attract man and woman precisely because they are persons, called from eternity to exist "in communion". In the light of the biblical narrative, sexual shame has its deep meaning, which is connected precisely with the failure to satisfy the aspiration to realize in the "conjugal union of the body" (cf. Gen 2:24) the mutual communion of persons.

Threefold lust

6. All that seems to confirm, from various aspects, that at the basis of shame, in which "historical" man has become a participant, there is the threefold lust spoken of in the first Letter of John 2:16: not only the lust of the flesh, but also "the lust of the eyes and the pride of life". Does not the expression regarding "rule" ("he shall rule over you"), of which we read in Genesis 3:16, indicate this last form of lust? Does not the rule "over" the other— of man over woman—change essentially the structure of communion in the interpersonal relationship? Does it not transpose into the dimension of this structure something that makes the human being an object, which can, in a way, be desired by the lust of the eyes? 

These are the questions that spring from reflection on the words of GodYahweh according to Genesis 3:16. Those words, delivered almost on the threshold of human history after original sin, reveal to us not only the exterior situation of man and woman, but enable us also to penetrate into the deep mysteries of their hearts.

L'Osservatore Romano June 23, 1980
Reprinted with permission