Last week’s TIME Magazine cover certainly stirred up a lot of debate (more on that tomorrow). Women weighed in on the issue from all angles. There was frustration over the media-generated “mommy wars,” over cashing in on parenting guilt, and the ways both men and women are culturally undermined by the message.
Some people’s reaction was more about the cover photo itself, a young, culturally attractive woman breastfeeding a preschooler. There was a lot of “Ew!” and “Ick!” (You know why? Because no woman ever, in the history of the world, has ever breastfed her kid by posing jauntily while he stood on a chair looking like he’d rather be anywhere else.)
Anyway, yesterday, Rachel Held Evans chimed in with her take on it. She came at it from a different angle, addressing the ever-present problem of the Proverbs 31 wife. (Ooh! Did you like my alliteration there?) Her excellent post gives a good dressing-down to the idea of being “good enough.”
I’m grateful for that post. See, here’s the thing. I have a whole heap o’ problems with how Ms 31 is usually handled. And it’s not what you think.
I’ve read dozens of blog posts, books, and articles about the ways this wife of noble character has been wrongly used as our standard for Biblical womanhood. Almost without fail, I have the same reaction to them: You missed the point. She isn’t the problem. We are.
Time and again, I hear the refrain of, “No woman can live up to this standard.” While this is true, the problem with that is that it sends the same message it’s railing against: There is an impossibly high standard, and you will never measure up. Don’t bother trying.”
The truth is, there is no impossibly high standard. Not being superwoman isn’t sin we need Jesus to rescue us from. Not being a combination of Martha Stewart and Supernanny isn’t morally wrong. Proverbs 31 is not a to-do list, some or all of which you must accomplish at some point to show you are a good, Biblical wife.
It could be a picture of the People of God. It could be urging men to look for women with qualities beyond physical beauty. It could mean that we all (men and women alike) should strive to protect, honor, and care for our families. But it’s definitely not an ideal standard of behavior.
Much like TIME Magazine’s article on attachment parenting.
See, just like the TIME editors, there are people who have used the idea of the Proverbs 31 wife to create an artificial battle between good, Biblical women and naughty women who ignore God’s directives. We’re supposed to believe that our choices are to be an appropriately submissive wife who stays home and bakes cookies, or we can be a man-hating feminist with delusions of penis envy. This is a completely fictitious war.
You know why? Because as long as within your family, you have determined the best way to work things out, you are doing what God desires for us. If you exclusively stay home, homeschool, sew all your own clothes, and bake homemade cupcakes with frosting from scratch, you are awesome. If you have a high-power career and spend 9 hours a day in your office and you hire someone else to cook and clean, you are awesome. If you do something somewhere in the middle between those, or some combination of those things, you are awesome. And guess what? Those things apply to men and women, singles and marrieds.
There isn’t some war raging between people who read the Bible one way and those who read it another. Both are good. Both are appropriate. This is not an essential teaching on which our salvation hinges. The important thing is whether what we do is loving to those around us, shows care and respect for those in our families, and honors God through obedience to Him in the way we best understand it. That kind of attitude is always the right one, no matter how it plays out in our lives.
I’m sure that some people have thought that my feminist ramblings were directed at them, as though I were saying that they should not want to live out the Scriptures as they interpret them. Not at all! All I want is not to be told that I need to change my personality or my skill set to fit an artificial cultural standard in order to be “in obedience” to the Bible. My husband and I should not need to radically shift ourselves just because he’s nurturing and I’m not, or because he’s better at keeping the family calendar than I am. And we shouldn’t be told that we have to change the way we study the Bible together or study the Bible with our children, especially if it’s leading our children to be faithful disciples. But neither should anyone else. If you are a Christian and God is being glorified in your home, then you are doing something right.
I’m not waging war on anyone, because there is no war to be waged.