Please welcome today’s guest writer, Jenna Van Donselaar. Jenna graduated from Calvin in 2018 after majoring in biology and religion and tacking on a gender studies minor right at the end. She now lives in New Haven, CT, where she studies ecology and religion at Yale Divinity School. In her free time, she runs slowly and watches good television.
“I really, really, really, really, really, really like you
And I want you, do you want me, do you want me too?”
In Carly Rae Jepsen’s track “I Really Like You,” from her 2015 album E•MO•TION, Carly Rae repeatedly proclaims her feelings to her potential partner, unapologetically proclaiming her infatuation with this person. See, Carly Rae writes about her life as if it’s worth singing about. Why shouldn’t Carly Rae write songs about the boys she “really, really, really, really, really, really” likes, and sincerely proclaim this experience as her own? While Carly Rae has been written off by many as uninspiring pop, I would argue that every feminist biblical scholar should wholly embrace Carly Rae Jepsen as the creator of anthems proclaiming (and celebrating) the authority of women’s experience.
When I was younger (think early high school, when I was into showing off how smart I was to my grandparents), I used to tell adults that my favorite book of the Bible was Hosea. The book of Hosea begins with YHWH saying to Hosea, “Go, get yourself a wife of whoredom and children from whoredom; for the land will stray from [“whore away from”] following the Lord” (Hosea 1:2 JPS). Thus, Hosea marries a whore (Gomer) who continues to be unfaithful, and throughout the book Hosea divorces her after she has been unfaithful before remarrying her, drawing her back into the covenant they made. Notably, the marriage between Gomer and Hosea is intentionally and blatantly drawn as a metaphor for God’s faithfulness to the unfaithful nation of Israel.
While it could be argued that the gender of the characters is insignificant, there was a reason why I located myself as Gomer in the story and not Hosea. Certainly, this metaphor and stereotype is significantly damaging for many women, even if the intention of the text is not to instruct men or women in any way. A man is portrayed as analogous to God, steady and reasonable, while the woman in the story is unstable and in need of rescue. As a teenage girl, I learned that my emotions were silly, my desires fickle, but thankfully God (and benevolent men) were stable and would always welcome me back into their loving arms, just as Hosea continually brought Gomer back to him.
The marriage metaphor is not unique to Hosea, but it is here that it is most fully fleshed out. In “The Hebrew God and His Female Complements,” Athalya Brenner explains how the marriage metaphor is used often in the Hebrew Bible as a way of showcasing the kind of covenant made between God and Israel (63). Claudia Camp argues that when reading Biblical texts, it is important to think about them historically, asking what they tell us about women’s power in that society (“Woman Wisdom and the Strange Woman”86). When reading the book of Hosea, I see women portrayed as both agents of folly and as objects to be attained. This view of women is not prescriptive but reflects the notions surrounding women’s roles at the time.
These ancient notions about the power and stability of women captured in the biblical text have had lasting power today. Carly Rae’s music, loudly and joyfully grasping at emotions, provided me with an alternative narrative for reading the power and stability of women outside of biblical texts. Carly Rae is a woman who, while e•mo•tion-al, is nonetheless capable and serious, and her fickleness is no longer a liability. Being young and being a woman with feelings, even romantic feelings, is not something to be ashamed of and maybe could be something to dance about.
Brenner, Athalya. “The Hebrew God and His Female Complements.”
Camp, Claudia V. “Woman Wisdom and the Strange Woman—Where is Power to be Found?”
Jepsen, Carly Rae. E•MO•TION. 2015.