Letters from TZ

What came first, the sperm or the egg?

All babies are created female. At least that’s my interpretation of the facts. The truth is that the sex chromosomes don’t actually affect the development of the fertilized egg at the very beginning of a child’s life. Some argue that in the early stages babies are genderless. They do however, have female reproductive organs. For a baby to turn out male, the male chromosome (Y) must kick into action to cause a release in testosterone, which results in the development of male reproductive organs from the female ones. If this doesn’t happen the baby will develop into a female. Or as I would argue, remain female.

Odd, isn’t it? Considering that women were fashioned from a man’s rib, or so the story goes. God put man to sleep, extracted his rib and formed a woman out of it. And then man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” If that isn’t a contradiction, I don’t know what is. Scientifically, we all start out female but spiritually, we all started out male.

But then it gets even more confusing. When the human creation project was getting started, man and woman were apparently created together. Well, kind of. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them.” That’s the gospel according to the 27th verse of the first chapter of the first book of the Bible.

So. What came first, the sperm or the egg? I suppose only God really knows. Wisely, He’s not telling. Instead, His user manual makes good work of fudging the issue. In Genesis, women are helpers. In Corinthians, they are loyal subjects because according to the Apostle Paul, the head of a wife is her husband. In Proverbs, women are multi-tasking powerhouses but in I Peter, they are “the weaker vessel.”

It’s no wonder the gender war continues to rage. Biblically speaking, the role of women in the lives of men is unclear. But the upside to all the ambiguity is that there is ample room for self-determination. In that pursuit, it is interesting to note that where Genesis calls woman a ‘helper’, the original Hebrew text actually called her a ‘helpmeet’. ‘Meet’ is an Old English word which means ‘fit to’ or ‘corresponding to’. The word ‘helper’ or ‘helpmate’ conjures images of some kind of lowly assistant. But the word ‘helpmeet’ suggests equality and that is something most women can live with, if indeed we must resign ourselves to the fact that we were formed from a man’s rib.

But I suppose if you really wanted to define a woman – and somehow believed that you could – she would have to be the Proverbs 31 woman: A multitasking powerhouse. To paraphrase, she is an excellent wife who is far more precious than jewels. She is hard working and industrious, both a trader and a producer of goods. She is generous, strong and dignified. She wise. She is beautiful. She is God-fearing. She is blessed.

Well, on a good day anyway. Most days being a woman is more about multiple personalities than multiple tasks. It’s about being every woman. The successful professional, dedicated wife or girlfriend, attentive lover, dependable friend, loving mother, supportive sister, caring aunt etc. There is always something for a woman to do and someone for her to be. A woman’s work is never done. So maybe it would have been better to be doused with testosterone at the androgynous stage of our development. Maybe, it is better to be a man.

Then again, maybe it’s not. Men have their own set of problems, all of which are very well documented. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade my femininity for anything in the world. Not for a million dollars and certainly not for a sack full of sperm. I’m quite happy with my ovaries, thank you very much. Happy is what I am. I cannot overstate how happy I am because last week a friend challenged me to kill my ‘woman-of-sorrows-well-acquainted-with-grief’ image and find something to be joyful about. “Enough with the anguish,” he said. Well, my friend, as you can see I have found something to be happy about.