How does the representation of Eve in the Bible affect the portrayal of women in contemporary media?
I was recently asked this question via email, and it is an important one to discuss due to the amount of media we consume on a daily basis. We must guard against digesting and incorporating the worldviews presented to us by contemporary media. We do this by submitting everything we encounter to a Christian worldview. The Christian view is not the view that the world will impose upon you—the world will define you by default if you do not intentionally train and discipline yourself in following Christ. Recognizing and responding to errant worldviews is an important part of this training in our digitally saturated society.
Although the original question specifically addresses the portrayal of women (based on Eve) in contemporary media, it can be broken down into two parts:
- What is a biblical view of Eve?
- How does the modern view of Eve affect the portrayal of women in contemporary media?
Because erroneous views of Eve inform the portrayal of women in contemporary media, we must understand the Christian vision of women in order to discern those distortions.
Created in the Image of God
From the very beginning, it is clear that God created humanity in two parts—Adam first, and Eve second. Both were necessary in order to reflect the imago Dei, the image of God: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).1 This verse is purposeful in demonstrating that both men and women constitute the image of God in humanity.
Genesis 2 provides further explanation of this truth, for after Adam had named all the animals, a “helper suitable” was not found for him. God then said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). As a result, God fashioned woman from man, taking one of Adam’s ribs and creating Eve. While the word “helper” tends to have connotations of inferiority in modern English, the biblical use of “helper suitable” (ezer kenegdo in Hebrew) has no such connotations. In fact, the word ezer is used of God, who is our helper (see Psalm 33:20). In addition, the word kenegdo, which is usually translated “suitable for,” literally means “across from” or “corresponding to,” implying an equal and complementary relationship. Ezer kenegdo, then, is a positive image—man and woman both bring something to the table, glorifying God by reflecting His image.
Ezer kenegdo . . . is a positive image—man and woman both bring something to the table, glorifying God by reflecting His image.
This early section of Scripture also gives us the Christian understanding of marriage: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Marriage involves the union of man and woman; because both reflect the image of God in their unique ways, marriage is a beautiful picture that helps us know and understand God more. Not only that, but marriage also gives us a clear image of Christ and the Church (see Ephesians 5:21–33), in which the unity of men and women point to the union of Christ with the Church in a mysterious way.
It can be difficult to imagine how men and women equally demonstrate the imago Dei because when Adam and Eve sinned, their relationship with one another and with God was broken. As a result of the Fall, we have entered into constant striving with one another, which has led to numerous ideas about Eve (and thus women in general) that are far from biblical.
One of the most common misconceptions in both the church and in secular culture is that Eve is somehow inferior to Adam, and that women therefore are not capable of being as spiritual as men. The underlying assumption of this misconception is that God somehow made a mistake in the creation of women, choosing men to reflect His image while passing over women as lesser creatures. Jesus corrected this view in the way He treated women during His earthly life—instead of turning them away, He gladly taught women (see Luke 10:38–42) and demonstrated their value (see Luke 7:36–50; 8:43–48). Not only that, but the first witnesses of the resurrection were women (see Luke 24:1–10)!
In short, both men and women have a role to play in God’s kingdom, and He created both with value. They equally reflect the image of God; one without the other is not complete. This is not to say a person is incomplete apart from marriage (see Paul’s view on singleness in 1 Corinthians 7), but that humanity is not complete without both men and women, who complement one another in the different ways they demonstrate the image of God and glorify Him.
Recreated in the Image of Culture
Contemporary media does not understand this biblical picture of Eve (and thus the value of women in general). Instead, media tends to portray women in one of two ways:
- A Jezebel-type woman who either exercises dominion over men through her sexuality or who is treated as a mere sexual object
- A submissive, subservient woman who is not complete without a man (whether he is her husband or not)
That first type of woman is probably the most common in our current culture. She is a woman who seizes control or finds value through sexuality, and her sin is usually portrayed in a positive light. Such a woman gains equality through her practice of her sexual “rights.” Instead of the Christian portrayal of marriage, women are seen as gaining ground through sexual conquests (or, as is more commonly shown, through being conquered sexually). This depiction ignores the biblical foundation of the created equality of men and women in the image of God. Instead, it glorifies the results of the Fall in Genesis 3:16b by celebrating either a woman seeking to rule over the men in her life or a woman being utterly dominated by men. It also reduces that image to one of sexuality instead of one that encompasses all of human nature (i.e., the mind, will, and emotions, not just the body). Ultimately, then, this depiction of women in contemporary media distorts God’s true intention for women and defines them based on Satan’s lies.
[Contemporary media] reduces that image to one of sexuality instead of one that encompasses all of human nature (i.e., the mind, will, and emotions, not just the body).
The second type of woman has become less common in media, though she is still present. This is the type of woman who never seems to have any ideas for herself; a man must save her. For the completely subservient woman, consider how women are usually portrayed in the old Westerns—helpless and in need of a man. This distorts the Christian vision of a complementary relationship in which both men and women have value and glorify God in unique ways, falling into the trap of considering man as the priority and woman as secondary or as a mere means of fulfilling the man’s desires. Also consider how women are portrayed in older superhero films; they are often weak and highly sexualized.
Even though there has been a recent trend in superhero movies to portray woman as savior, those films often turn women into men instead of celebrating the Christian vision of women. An example of this is Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) in Captain Marvel and in Avengers: Endgame. In Captain Marvel, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) tells Danvers, “There’s nothing more dangerous to a warrior than emotion.” Statements like this made throughout the movie push back against the stereotype of women being overcome by their emotions and thus failing as warriors. In doing so, however, the movie goes too far, presenting emotion in an entirely negative light. Not only that, but the movie presents emotion as an entirely feminine attribute. By eliminating emotion, the movie seeks to eliminate what it sees as feminine. Then, in Avengers: Endgame, Danvers makes another appearance, this time with a short haircut. While her haircut may seem like a small detail, it is an intentional choice to diminish her femininity and make her look more like a man. As a result, these two movies end up portraying the ideal man as the ideal human, not recognizing that God intentionally created both Adam and Eve.
In both portrayals—as a Jezebel-type woman or as a submissive, subservient creature—contemporary media misses the mark of a true Christian understanding of women, relying on and reacting against various misconceptions about the identity of women, starting with the story of Eve.