Monday, June 30, 2014

Badly Behaved Women: The Story of Exodus

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once said, “Well behaved women rarely make history.[1]” Harriett Tubman, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Wright Edelman, Hillary Clinton; these women all have a mark in history because they refused to bow down to conventional standards of the world and decided instead to stand up for what they believed to be right. Across time women have made their indelible mark in social change; they have stood, or in some cases sat down for “the cause.” Their contributions to liberation are no less potent or powerful than those of men, but they are often given less attention because the traditional spheres of influence for women have not been the same as conventional male spheres. During the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King was considered the voice and face of the movement; he was the preacher, the teacher, and the leader. History records his contributions everywhere, and every January we commemorate him, as we should, for his work. But the same attention is not given to Rosa Parks, whose bold action provided the spark in the movement. There is no day to celebrate her sacrifice. If we do as Kim Elli, et al, suggests, and adopts the Israelite exodus as a liberation movement[2], then the same statements for the contribution of women hold true. There were many who fought, struggled, and died for the liberation, but the story becomes centered on the development and sacrifices of Moses. 

In the Exodus text the male experience in considered to be universal. Moses is supposed to speak to and for all of us. Moses is the one chosen by God for the task of saving the Israelites, much as God chooses to embody God’s self in the form of Jesus for the salvation of humanity. If that correlation holds true, then Moses’ mother is no less crucial to the story of the Israelites than Mary, the mother of Jesus, is to the salvific story for humanity; “she is not simply saving her own child. We must understand it as coming from her deep commitment to the urgency of salvation of the oppressed Hebrews.[3]” However, we, as modern readers of the text, have been pre-condition to make minor female characters in the narrative and then to ignore the calling of the “minor” actors in the text in favor of the story and calling of the protagonist in the plot. However, even in the act of preserve the life of her child, Moses’ mother risks everything in order to preserve life. She makes a decision to blatantly ignore the social rule both out of maternal instinct but also out of the persevering spirit of her understanding of this conscious act of rebellion.

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