Brie Larson as Captain Marvel
Photograph credit: Marvel Studios
The power of patriarchy, abuse, and gaslighting in the Gospels and Captain Marvel
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
April 26, 2019
“Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:10-11 NRSV).
They were too emotional. Too attached to him. They were hysterical and must have thought they saw him. For women, we’ve heard this story before. We’ve heard male colleagues dismiss our ideas and opinions. We’ve had our own research and positions mansplained to us. We’ve been told that in order to be leaders we need to toughen up. We’ve been told to hide our emotions.
“Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb…
Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her” (John 20:10-11a, 16-18 NRSV).
Mary Magdalene is often called the Apostle to the Apostles. But at first, they did not believe her. At first, the male disciples all went home—even the beloved disciple of John’s Gospel didn’t stay at the tomb. Mary did. When Jesus called her name, Mary answered, and did what Jesus asked of her.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, but our tradition has slut-shamed Mary from the beginning. Why else would a woman be hanging out with a bunch of men? She must’ve slept with men. Why else would no one believe her? It must be because of her reputation.
Luke’s account mentions that she had seven demons cast out of her, but none of the other gospel writers mention this—but this passage has been used to show that Mary must’ve been crazy. John speaks of her weeping outside of the tomb, distraught that her friend had died, while the rest of Jesus’ friends went home. Again, Mary is seen as emotional, while the disciples are stoic and strong.
None of the disciples wanted to admit they were wrong. None of the men wanted to confess that a woman had it right. None of the men were willing to accept that a woman could teach, preach, and have God-given authority.
Gaslighting is a common tool of abusers to make their victims feel like they must be wrong, they must be crazy. Gaslighting involves the victim questioning their view of reality, their experiences, their knowledge, and uses their emotional reaction against them. Yes, the disciples, in hearing Mary’s proclamation and calling it an idle tale, are gaslighting her.
Similarly, Carol Danvers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was pushed around by her brother, yelled at by her father, and laughed at by her fellow Air Force recruits in the backstory of Captain Marvel. Vers, as she had come to know herself on Kree, was trained by Yon-Rogg of the Kree Starforce, who kept telling her that her weakness was her emotions. That to prove herself, she had to control herself. That she can’t use her special powers, that she has to fight him the way he fights. “You’re not as strong as you think,” he tells her, to make her question herself. He is gaslighting her, making her question her strength, her ability, and her knowledge. Near the end, Yon-Rogg gaslights her again: “Can you keep your emotions in check long enough to take me on?” He then taunts her. “Prove to me.”
In an epic moment, Carol blasts Yon-Rogg with her powers. “I have nothing to prove to you.” Yon-Rogg never could admit that Carol was more powerful than him. Instead, she must be weak because of her emotions. She must be less than him because she didn’t control herself in the same way he did. At that moment, the power of patriarchy Yon-Rogg used to hold women down—women who are smarter, more capable, and stronger—was destroyed by Carol’s words.
The disciples eventually experience the risen Christ themselves. They never admit in Scripture that they were wrong, and Mary was right. They never confess that they gaslit her and the other women at the tomb. Instead, for two thousand years we’ve had the rumor that Mary must have been a prostitute or had demons. Nonetheless, the power of patriarchy fails at those words: “I have seen the Lord.”
Mary Magdalene had nothing to prove to the disciples. In John’s Gospel account, she simply declares, “I have seen the Lord.” The disciples eventually experience the risen Christ themselves. They never admit in Scripture that they were wrong, and Mary was right. They never confess that they gaslit her and the other women at the tomb. Instead, for two thousand years we’ve had the rumor that Mary must have been a prostitute or had demons. Nonetheless, the power of patriarchy fails at those words: “I have seen the Lord.”
Mary was right, and she has nothing to prove to you.
The Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is pastor of Queen Anne Baptist Church, Seattle, Wash., and ministry associate of social media for the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches USA.
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