Eve and Adam Have Nothin’ to Offer
When it comes to female objectification, Eve and Adam have nothin’ to offer those who want to know why males objectify females. Mark Twain didn’t directly delve into that topic when he wrote his creation stories. But he did recreate the first heterosexual couple, and he did exaggerate certain gender-specific tendencies in each character. Readers in his day would have recognized these masculine and feminine tendencies as legitimate.
After all, Mark Twain was anything but stupid. He built his humor on the bedrock of exaggeration and understatement. And you know he understood how to use those comic devices! He knew it wouldn’t be funny for him to assign, and then exaggerate or understate, gender-related tendencies that didn’t mesh with what his readers had experienced in real life. But he did not choose to directly deal with the matter of female objectification, a male tendency the readers of his day would also have recognized as legitimate. He didn’t deal with it, but he certainly could have. Female objectification is not a brand new phenomena. It has been around for far too long.
Twain’s Female Objectification Reconsidered
However, after carefully analyzing our composite of two of Twain’s creation stories, we found evidence Adam did objectify Eve, if not overtly, at least to a degree. And since, to a large degree, Twain set out to portray Eve and Adam as archetypal characters, one could easily conclude that Twain had indeed objectified females.
We absolutely doubt that Mark Twain intended to do that. Friends and critics of Twain believed that “Eve’s Diary” served as a eulogy and tribute to his beloved wife Olivia. If so, Twain would not have demeaned her by intentionally objectifying the female gender.
But whether intentional or not, Twain portrayed Eve and Adam’s developing relationship in a way that suggests female objectification. Twain’s stories seem to suggest that Eve’s beauty influenced Adam’s attitude toward her. The first positive thing Adam had to say about Eve (and the only positive thing he said until after the fall when he began to recognize her truly great and abiding worth) was when he observed and appreciated her physical beauty. Although he continued to complain about her, from that diary entry forward, he started to let Eve share his life. From there on Adam also began to at least partially comply with Eve’s wishes, and she began to mostly get away with doing things he really didn’t condone.
But the clearest indication of objectification is the entry in Eve’s diary immediately after Adam finally noticed and admired her beautiful body. Eve remarked “we are getting along very well now and getting better and better acquainted”. This entry indicates a major change in Adam’s attitude toward Eve, however grudging it was. And it certainly seems that change has something to do with female objectification.
Stories about sexual abuse, physical and psychological, now headline the news. Probably at least half the population believes exposure of sexual abuse is long overdue. News reports, because of their immediate nature, offer a perfect opportunity to open discussions about problems that need to be solved. And sexual abuse, finally making steady news, deserves immediate discussion and solution.
Discussions about current news events can edify almost anyone. That includes middle school students, who are on the edge of puberty and just entering the realm of complicated thought. Entry points seem the perfect time to influence attitudes that might last a lifetime.
I sometimes wonder whether today’s educational standards hamper imaginative teachers of middle school students. Do educational standards prevent teachers from ‘teaching the news’? I blogged recently about how middle school students learn by talking. If you buy into that, why not find a literary device that can spur discussion about the news?
“Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Eve and Adam” is one such literary device (we only modified it slightly – it’s still Twain’s literature!). The subject of female objectification, intentional and unintentional, is the absolute starting point for understanding and preventing sexual abuse. As mentioned earlier, female objectification either is or isn’t part of Twain’s creation stories. So why not start the discussion of objectification right there. Right at the beginning – with the fictional Eve and Adam and the author, Mark Twain? The book also entertains, plus it contains many other things kids would want to talk about. I would use it in a lesson plan if I knew how (and was certified) to teach!
The woman Adam learned to love.