Neoliberal Strategies of the Christian Right Essentialize Women
Neoliberal strategies play a significant role in adapting biblical interpretation to hegemonic normativity. As the Christian Right (also known as evangelical Christians) has intensified its pursuits in the systematic exploration of the Bible since the 1970s, its attention has shifted to biblical women. It utilized neoliberal strategies to essentialize women and maintain the status quo of heteronormativity. There are three ways that the neoliberal strategies of the Christian Right essentialize women. First, the strategy places the narratives of biblical women within an androcentric, heteronormative framework. Second, the strategy strengthens gender binaries. Third, the strategy makes the hegemonic interest of the Christian Right by presenting their biblical knowledge as separate from theo-political power. This essay will explain all three of these strategies.
First, the Christian Right highlights women of strength, power, autonomy, social structure, significance, and cultural contribution, yet still emphasize their primary, familial roles as wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. Authors do so by placing biblical women in the androcentric, heteronormative framework of biblical society. Evangelical authors essentialize biblical women by insisting that strong, powerful women are outliers to the norm. This assertion endorses androcentric, heteronormative ideology.
Second, authors of the Christian Right promotes essentialism by asserting that gender is ontologically autonomous. Evangelicals universalize biblical women as a prescriptive heteronormative, gender binary that is separated from historical, cultural, political, and social construction.For example, authors like Hebert Lockyer emphasize the femaleness and maleness of biblical characters in their rhetoric. In his writing, gender is self-evident and a common-sense notion born from the divine ordination of gender in Genesis 1. Hence, the gender binary is not only a natural truth, but a biblical truth. The feigned connection of a gender binary to scripture promotes essentialism in society.
Third, the Christian Right masks their hermeneutical interests of power by presenting their biblical knowledge as independent from their theo-political interests. Authors take care in characterizing themselves as “neutral mediators of knowledge” despite their acknowledgment of both their power and curtailed perspective. Evangelicals assert that their commentary pertains to all people since they do not write from their curtailed perspectives. The Christian Right believes that they separate societal experiences and power from their own interpretive lens. Evangelical authors believe the purity and admission of their subjectivity gives credence to the objectivity in their interpretation of scripture. Consequently, the authors’ inability to acknowledge their bias helps substantiate their interpretation of scripture as universal truth.
Overall, the Christian right uses neoliberal strategies to essentialize women in three ways. First, powerful women are highlighted only to emphasize their essential roles as wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. Second, the strategies reinforce the gender binary to promote essentialism in society. Third, the Christian Right masks their hegemonic intentions by presenting their knowledge as separate from their power. These strategies enforce a heteronormative status quo in society.
Suzanne Scholz, Introducing the Women’s Hebrew Bible: Introductions in Feminist Theology. (London: Bloomsburg Publishing, 2017), Kindle, 149.