Proverbs 31 does not help women.
We talk a lot about the unfair standards that women are held to. By now, most of us know that the women in advertisements are not real. We are learning to love our bodies, and our stretch marks, muffin tops, weird butts, and silver hairs. But what about the unfair standards we set for ourselves? I have a major beef with the way Proverbs 31 has been used to make women feel crummy. We do it to each other, we do it to ourselves, and that sucks.
Presently, I do not claim to be Christian. Sometimes I have total faith that a magical baby came to save us all, and sometimes I don’t. That is my personal struggle and not the focus of this opinion piece. Still, no matter where I find myself on the faith spectrum, I have always retained my love for the Bible. I have read it in its entirety many times. The KJV is my favorite. I love it because my Baptist mother loved it and because it is the version that I am most familiar with. But just because I love the Bible, that doesn’t mean that what certain people do with it can’t piss me off.
This Proverbs 31 thing is a theme that I see repeated over and over again in the blogs that I read. So many of us want to be a Proverbs 31 girl, Proverbs 31 woman, or a Proverbs 31 wife. We wrongly believe that modeling ourselves after the woman in Proverbs 31 – being virtuous – is the only way we can be good enough for our ourselves, for our children, for our husbands, and for God. I say screw that. Killing ourselves to be virtuous, as defined by some interpretations of Proverbs 31, is for suckers.
Proverbs 31 wasn’t written for us.
It documents a mother’s advice to her son, and it was written for dudes, by a dude. It is a how-to-pick-a-wife guide, and not a set of instructions for women to follow. That poem was never meant to be used as a ruler for you to measure your womanliness with. Trying to be the woman in Proverbs 31 is stupidly unrealistic. It is really good advice for a man, but not for you, chickadee. Lemme ‘splain to you:
“She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.”
Does this mean we should get up at the crack of ridiculousness every day to make breakfast? Remember that this is advice from a mother to her son. It is totally understandable to want your boy to get a proper meal, but he can make breakfast sometimes, too. There is no reason to get up so early. Scrambled eggs take like 5 minutes to make. And cold cereal never killed anyone’s household or maidens.
“She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.”
This virtuous woman has some serious business savvy and a green thumb. Forget about business savvy or lack thereof, I just hate being outside. No giant floppy hat or 100 SPF lotion is going to prevent me from getting a nasty sunburn. Does anyone really like gardening? I tried it and didn’t like it. Having fresh tomatoes is nice and all that, but to me, they don’t taste different from ones I can get at the grocery store. I guess virtuous women can’t live in apartments, either.
“She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.”
Um. What? Do women who don’t live at the gym lack virtue? Is this supposed to be a body image thing? Perhaps strong arms were a womanly requirement in the Old Testament days for warding off predators. Or was that just for cave people? What’s this loins stuff? Are we talking about Kegel’s exercises here? Also, please leave me and my loins alone. Do. Not. Bother. Me. About. My. Loins. (Shut up. Stop screeching, church lady. Un-wad those undies. I know what the girding of loins thing is all about. I’m trying to entertain while I inform and this is comedy gold here!)
“She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.”
This poor woman has to get up early and stay up late? That is so mean. I wonder if King Solomon’s mom knew about the importance of adequate rest in weight management. Lack of sleep causes high levels of cortisol and high cortisol levels make you really hungry. You knew that, right?
“She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.”
This virtuous woman is incredibly crafty and has never experienced an Epic Pinterest Fail like I have. I’m so down with helping the poor and needy, but when is this virtuous woman supposed to have time for charity work? She isn’t getting any sleep as it is. Where is the verse about coffee? Or diet pills for energy and hunger control? Cocaine for energy and hunger control? Seriously, trying to do all of that would make anyone turn to stimulant drugs because there is no other way that anyone could actually accomplish so much with so little rest.
“Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.”
What is he doing sitting around with some old dudes in the gates? Does he not know there are chilluns to be fed and, apparently, a vineyard to tend? Maybe this virtuous woman has servants and farmhands as well as maidens, but if that is the case, why does she have to get up so freaking early? Why does the mister get to sit around at the gates – or at the bar – while the missus is working herself into an early grave?
“She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.”
This sounds like she has a job outside of the home, but it is her responsibility to feed everyone? Forget the cold cereal. Everyone gets cold Pop Tarts on a paper towel. No time for dishes, a virtuous woman has to get to that day job and make mad money.
“Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”
This. This I like. No beef with this. We should all be kind and wise.
“She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.”
But what about her day job? Virtuous women stay at home with all those kids or have a 9-5 or a 10-6 or an Etsy store but do not allow laundry to pile up? There are no sticky surfaces in a virtuous woman’s household? But she has kids, right?
“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”
Oh, she definitely has kids. Y’all better be blessing and praising this lady. As for me, I will happily forego the blessings and praisings of my family to not feel like I’m about to die of overwhelm and fatigue.
Proverbs 31 doesn’t mean what you think it means.
What? Really? Rachel Held Evans says “a virtuous woman who can find” is best translated, “a woman of valor who can find?” Valor? How awesome is that? We can all strive to be valorous – and kind and wise – and still get some shuteye. Rachel’s post inspired me to learn more and to write mine.
Now, hold on to your pretty hat, church lady, and get ready to with that fan. You are about to get a mini bible lesson from a part-time agnostic, full-time heathen.
In case you forgot, the KJV version of Proverbs 31:10 reads thusly:
“Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.”
The actual Hebrew words translated to “virtuous woman” in the KJV and in other versions of the Christian Bible are “eshet chayil.” Eshet is a form of the Hebrew word for woman, and Chayil connotes bravery or strength. Bravery and strength are virtues, so it is understandable that the scholars who put together the KJV chose to use that word. It’s still wrong, though.
The Tankakh is the Hebrew Bible and it is the textual source for the Christian Old Testament. In the English version published in 1917 by the Jewish Publication Society of America, that verse instead reads:
“A woman of valour who can find? For her price is far above rubies.”
Going out on a limb here, but my guess is that Jewish scholars of the Hebrew Bible probably did a better job of translating the Hebrew language than others would have been able to do.
I don’t think a valorous woman is all that hard to find. I do believe that she is an amazing and precious creature. Are you valorous? I bet you are. I’d love to hear what you think about valor vs. virtue.