The Problem with Faith and Fidelity
In the book of Ruth, we encounter three women at the crossroads of their lives: they were all widows, had no property, and needed to decide where they wanted to go. The choice of Ruth to journey with Naomi has been interpreted in Christian tradition as a faith conversion experience. Ruth made the right choice: she chose the ‘right’ God. But a feminist critique of the narrative would expose Ruth’s victimization and absence of resistance. Of her own volition, she offers to go to the field to gather grain and find favor with “someone”; falls prostrate with her face to the ground in thankfulness to Boaz’s kindness to her and receives his favors; obeys Naomi’s direction to uncover and lay down at Boaz’s feet and is acquired along with the land which was acquired by Boaz. At the end of the narrative even Ruth’s son is not hers for “A son has been born to Naomi.” Ruth uses her sexuality to ensure security and sustenance and submits to the designs of Naomi and Boaz. Ruth embodies the complex oppression of women: as extensions of husbands and of sons, as properties who can be possessed along with the land, and as women burdened with reproductive labor. Boaz took notice of her but she could have been ignored. Boaz provided Ruth grain for picking but he could also have deprived her. Boaz ‘knew’ her but could have rejected her to become his wife. Boaz impregnated Ruth and gave him a son but what if she had been barren? What if he had been sterile? What if there was no land to be possessed alongside Ruth? At every turn of the story, it could have gone the other way, as it does for so many women, and she could have become even more abused and persecuted as she struggled for life. At the end of the story, her bloodline is connected to the bloodline of David. Ruth is not like many women in real life. Ruth is a woman constructed by men in a patriarchal society.
In the Biblical texts, save for the Song of Songs, women express no interest in sex. They may be wives, concubines, lovers, prostitutes and adulteresses, but they are incapable of intense desire, pleasure and orgasm. They are desired by men, but do not desire men; whose bodies are offered for the pleasure of men, but find no pleasure in men’s bodies. It is in women’s sexuality that some women experience the greatest deprivation and perhaps, satisfaction. It is also when she is able to make independent and responsible decisions about her own body that she can begin to feel whole. Sometimes, women are not just in “a man’s world,” women’s bodies are thought of as belonging to men.
Faithfulness to God and fidelity to a husband have been held equal in many cultures. The root of fidelity is ‘fidelis’ which means duty or loyalty to a lord or a master. A person who does not believe or rejects his or her faith is an ‘infidel.’ Unfaithfulness or adultery is only the sin of women and not the sin of men in biblical culture. It is an ethic that dictates on women’s lives even today and subjects many to violence and oppression. An ethic that does not apply to men of many cultures and religions.