My thoughts (Vivian Wyatt):
Most people call the woman of Proverbs 31 the virtuous or good wife because she cooks, cleans, weaves, buys, sells, and rises while it is still night and provides food for her household. She is always dignified and she never puts a foot or a word out of place. She does all of this while sharing wisdom and kindness and serving God. When I imagine what she looks like, I see an expression of serenity and peace with a Mona Lisa smile. The expression “virtuous wife” may not be capturing her full essence; she seems more like superwife — the ideal woman. I can see why this chapter alone would make Proverbs a candidate for the canon. What patriarch wouldn’t want to see women living up to this standard?
I think Deborah is also an example of someone who could be called the ideal woman. She was a prophetess, counselor, warrior, the fourth Judge of Israel before there were kings, and the wife of Lapidoth, according to the 4th and 5th chapters of Judges. She too feared and served God. Deborah must have been a fearless warrior because when she reported to Barak that God said go fight a certain battle, Barak responded, “If you will go with me I will go; but if you will not go with me I will not go.” Maybe her tent was a little dusty and she wasn’t always caught up with her weaving — but she was a force to be reckoned with.
So, is the ideal woman one who obeys her family’s every whim, waits on them hand and foot, and lives to make sure they are doing better than okay? Or is she the woman who becomes prime minister, president, CEO of a multi-national corporation or even a four-star general? I believe the answer lies somewhere between these two extremes.
I believe that while the capabilities of the ideal wife of Proverbs are to be admired, we must remember that most of us live in a realistic world. In the real world we have to deal with job losses, kids on drugs, working outside of the home while taking care of everything inside of the home, and a myriad of other things that pluck our very last nerve. And while we should respect those women who succeed in fields outside of the home, we must remember that most of us live in a realistic world. In a real world there are glass ceilings, low pay for the same amount of work, having to forgo being with family as much as we like and hiring someone to help if we want our home to be sparkling clean.
Each of these women brings something valuable to the table and I don’t think we have to choose between them. I believe that on this particular continuum there are lots of places a woman could fall and be fulfilled; meeting her needs and the needs of her family. I think we have to find that sweet spot that works for us and fits our personalities. I don’t believe one is more virtuous or ideal than the other.
Ideal women only exist in fairy tales, poems, movies, and Proverbs 31 and yet they have been a source of anxiety for women for thousands of years.
Prayer for the day: God, help me to recognize who I am in you and who you have created me to be. Let me not be judgmental of women who stay home or envious of those who enter the fray of the marketplace. Help me and other women to know that we are the ideal woman for what you’ve called us to do. Amen
We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the suggestions on the How to Pray page.