Victoria asks, “[W]hy should it be that what women do (have babies) leads to worshiping the creation? Whereas what men do, including the Holy Spirit (provide ‘seed’) — and again, I am not trying to be rude or stir up trouble — leads to worshipping the Creator?”
An excellent question, much like one asked by a very troublesome catechumen many years ago. I say this while winking in her general direction, because you would never know this pious woman ever raged against the Church’s legacy. She was rankled by the apparent dismissal by the Church of women and their contribution, evidenced by their exclusion from holy Orders. Today, she even covers her head in Church! You would hardly recognize her as the argumentative person we knew before.
I remember well my response, because with it a light dawned in her eyes, and she started showing a softer, receptive attitude towards Orthodoxy. Victoria is asking in a completely different spirit, of course, but I see the same honest struggle with the questions facing post-feminist Orthodox women.
The answer is intimately linked with the mythology and symbology of the ancient Near-East. Though the mythology is very localized, much of the symbolism is quite universal. You’ll remember that in the Enuma Elish humans were created from the body of the defeated goddess Tiamat. In the Jewish creation myths — more anti-myths, judging from their deliberate opposition of symbols to those familiar to their audience — humans are created from earth, from dirt. They are created in the divine image, but they have nothing of the divine substance within them.
Male gods are separate from their creation, while goddesses create from themselves — they pass on to their creation their own substance. The creation of a god is completely other and separate from him, while a goddess nurtures her creation within herself, flesh of her own divine flesh, and then gives birth to it. (Indeed, in most polytheistic religions, a god needs a goddess to be creative.)
In the Jewish mythology, the writers were careful to craft a creation story that portrayed God as masculine — though not male. He is completely separate from his creation. At no point in the creation stories is he portrayed as nurturing the creation as mother would a gestating child, or giving birth to the creation.
There are two nods in this direction: In the first creation story, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Gen 1.2) This conjures images of a mother bird covering her chicks with her wings — yet, we do not see the creation taken out of the divine substance. In the second creation story (Gen 2.4-25), where Adam is fashioned from soil and receives the breath of life from God. The story here plays on the word breath, which in Hebrew and Greek is the word for spirit. Here it is even clearer, the man is “fashioned” from soil, from dirt, and then given life by the Spirit of God. The parallel to the Tiamat myth is present, and so is the clear opposition to it. Humans are not made from God, nor from a goddess: We are made from dirt, and we will return to dirt when our days on earth come to an end.
Hopefully, this provides some insight into why it might be of more than passing significance that God has a masculine and not a feminine gender — while of course being neither male nor female, having no sex. Ultimately, the Orthodox Church will resist all attempts to feminize God out of fidelity to the Faith we have received, but sometimes it helps to see some of the possible reasons why.