Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Worth Reading Wednesday: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

It's probably not a surprise that this week's edition of Worth Reading Wednesday is promoting Rachel Held Evans' book A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

In Held Evans' book, one of the topics she writes about is the "Proverbs 31 Woman" (chapter 4, January, "Valor").  She writes that in the Evangelical Christian subculture in which she grew up, she learned that the woman described in Proverbs 31 is "thought to represent God's ideal for women" (74), explaining that guys on her college campus "described their ideal date as a 'P31 girl'" and that "young women looking to please them held a 'P31 Bible Study'" (74).

I never grew up with this idea that a woman must aspire to this image.  When I was in college and took a "Women of the Bible" class, my professor explained that this Proverb was sung to Jewish women by their husbands on the Sabbath.  I remember thinking "how great that a husband thinks his wife is all that, even if she falls short" (because who doesn't fall short?), yet I also remember (I think; it's been a LONG time!) my professor thinking that the singing of the Proverb was telling women they had to do all of those things.  We had very different perspectives on this Proverb and the activity that goes along with it.

When I read Proverbs 31, I read it as the things that a woman is capable of accomplishing, not as a must-do list.  Are you a woman who is organized and competent?  Great!  Perhaps you have the makings of a great administrator ("She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls"--verse 15.  This verse shows that she is organized, can plan the day, and oversee help/employees).  Are you a woman who is generous and caring? ("She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy"--verse 20).  Perhaps you are called to use those skills to help others.

When I read about the Proverbs 31 woman, my thoughts are also drawn to the ideas of spiritual gifts in the New Testament.  Just as we all have different gifts and are all different parts of the body, perhaps this proverb is meant to celebrate the unique gifts of women as a body, and to show what we can all accomplish if we work together.

What does "Biblical Womanhood" mean to you?  Do you aspire to be a "Biblical Woman"?  If so, what is your understanding of what that means?  How have you learned about it?  What has your perspective been on the Proverbs 31 woman?  Do you see it as a celebration of women or as a list of what all women should be striving to be?


Nicole Lynn Baart said...

I'm with you, Kelly. I think Proverbs 31 is DEscriptive not PREscriptive. It describes the many wonderful qualities a woman may possess, but does not shackle her to every impossible standard. I also think that when you read the passage, it is rather easy to pick out the different themes that highlight "biblical womanhood." There is a focus on family, outreach, faith, integrity, wisdom... And all of those qualities can be lived out and expressed in the life of a woman in many different ways. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Yes, exactly. I think it also has to do with seasons of life as well. Nobody is going to do all those things at one time, but over a lifetime? Maybe... (and maybe not).

Helene Poulakou said...

Yes, I think this is a much saner approach!

Molly Johnson said...

I also used to think that this chapter was prescriptive, which made me feel like a constant failure. This was often taught in some of the churches I used to go to. It was the list of standards a woman (especially a married one) was expected to hold to and those who did not were somehow not as Godly. Once I begin to realize that this was NOT a list of things a woman needed to accomplish, I finally was able to shed all the man (and woman) made guilt and appreciate Philippians 1:6 even more. It's a good thing that my worth before God isn't determined by some list of activities I have to do, but by his grace and mercy!

Kelly J Youngblood said...

How did you start realizing this wasn't a to-do list, especially if the churches you went to taught that it was? And amen to the last sentence!