I’ve grown a bit feminist in my old age. Not in the bra-burning, women are better than men way (that’s just reverse sexism, which is no better), but in a women are just as valuable as men kinda way. I think that’s part of why I’ve been writing these Wednesday’s Woman posts – I want to focus on how much God values women. Because if He does, certainly we (as individuals and as a society) should. So, this post is going to be a bit more opinionated than perhaps some of mine are. My opinions are right, of course (just kidding…but seriously), but please feel free to agree or disagree in the comments. I think we could really get a healthy discussion going.
If you’ve been around the church for more than a minute, you’ve likely heard of the Proverbs 31 Woman. She’s the subject of many a Mother’s Day sermon, women’s ministry meeting, and more than a few men’s “what I’m looking for” section on Christian Mingle. There’s even a radio ministry named after her. Throughout Christendom, this probably figurative woman has been held up as the gold standard for what women should be.
And I’ve hated her.
Of course, I know you’re not supposed to hate something in the Bible. And truth be told, it wasn’t really that I hated the P31W, so much as I hated how abused her example has been. Every time I’ve heard a sermon on her, it’s been ladled with subconscious guilt and shame: “Here is the epitome of perfection. Live up to her, or you’re failing as a Christian woman.” Or, perhaps even more significantly to me, she has been used as a proof text for “barefoot and pregnant”. I may very well want to stay at home and have 10 children (just kidding, I’d like 2), but I don’t believe that is the only Biblical calling for a woman. However, almost every citation of the P31W has implied just that: women should only stay at home and breed.
I know I’m not the only woman who has felt this pressure from within the church. I’ve talked to many other women who, like me, have grown tired of hearing how perfectly docile we’re expected to be, thanks to the Biblical example. The problem is, though, that’s not the Biblical example at all. To anyone who reads the chapter, it’s pretty clear that the P31W was actually kindof a badass (pardon my probably blasphemous French).
So, here is my defense of the Proverbs 31 Woman, my redemption of her oft-quoted portion of Scripture, and my challenge to all who have misused her verses to subject women (intentionally or not) to a benevolent sexism and a “cult of domesticity” (that’s a 1900’s historical reference for you. You’re welcome).
- Vs. 10 – Noble character. I think we can agree that this is a valuable characteristic in anyone, male or female, and broadly defined.
- Vs. 11 – Her husband has full confidence in her. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that means in more areas than just birthing children and making sandwiches, especially in consideration of the following verses.
- Vs. 13-14 – she makes clothes and food – ok, I’ll concede these are more of the traditional “in the kitchen” variety, but she is doing the buying and negotiating here, so the woman had to have had a brain; her husband trusted her with the money.
- Vs. 16 – she buys property out of her earnings. I love this verse for several reasons. First, I’m not totally sure where these earnings are coming from, but they are hers. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a joint-checking account, but I like that Scripture recognizes that she has her own income. Even more interesting to me is that she’s buying property. Major financial decisions are being made by the woman. Now, perhaps she consulted her husband. I would recommend anyone talk to their spouse before buying fields. But, we don’t know what P31W did. Scripture only says that her husband has full confidence in her, so maybe he just gave her a proverbial blank check to use their money as she saw fit. Regardless, she’s out there getting things done.
- Vs. 17 – her trading is profitable. This woman is smart and business savvy. She’s knowledgeable in more than Pinterest recipes and cleaning hacks.
- Vs. 21 – she’s not afraid of snow. A little white stuff (I honestly didn’t know that existed in Israel) is not going to send this damsel into distress.
- Vs. 26 – she speaks with wisdom. This woman can think and speak for herself and it behooves those around her to listen.
- Vs. 27 – she watches over the affairs of the household. She is not a slave; she’s a supervisor.
- Vs. 28 – her kids and her husband respect her. They see all that she’s capable of and give her the credit that is due (note: this is also a figurative ideal)
- Vs. 30 – she fears the Lord, which is worth more than all her domestic works combined (see: Mary and Martha)
- Vs. 31 – the whole city rewards and praises her
This is not a picture of a meek, mousy woman. P31W is a girl who knows how to get things done – with integrity and kindness, sure. But, with a brain, a drive, and a commitment (to the Lord, her family, and her work) that brings her recognition through the whole area.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way disparaging Stay-At-Home-Moms or even Biblical ideals of submission in a marriage relationship. I think staying at home is noble and valuable, and honestly something I hope I’ll one day get to do. But, I am trying to illustrate that for moms who can’t or aren’t called to stay at home with their children (or for women who don’t have them), there’s no shame. God gives each of us different gifts, and we can see so many of them reflected in our Biblical prototype here.
So, don’t let anyone guilt you into being anyone or anything other than what God has created and asked you to be. And whenever someone tries to misuse our new friend, P31W, just remember me calling a Biblical character a badass, and then hopefully you’ll smile and be reminded that God is not sexist.