You either love-it or find it embarrassing; the passage in Proverbs 31 that begins, “A capable wife, who can find?” It reminds me of the movie, The Stepford Wives, that came out soon after I was married. Like all good satire, the film had too much underlying truth to be taken purely as fiction. In the 1960-70s patriarchal culture of the American suburb, a model home included a matching model wife, preferably ordered out of the Sears catalogue. A capable wife who can find? Indeed. Today, however, we see the ugly corollary, when men view women as objects they do terrible things to them at work. #MeToo is not just about women being sexually harassed by a few bad apples, it’s about putting a stake in the still beating vampire heart of men seeking Stepford-ish dominance both at work and at home.
So to understand Proverbs 31, I think we first have to go to the final verses which read, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands…” Before Stepford wives, the way many would have heard this verse is that women and men should have separate but equal roles in society. That approach fails to address the underlying sin of objectification. Once tell ourselves that it is okay to treat women as objects, beauty and charm become the most highly rated qualities, along with submissiveness. For the last forty-five years, women have had the legal right to be equally compensated and full partners with men in the workplace. But our actual progress in this country has been hit or miss. We have been slow to accept that beauty and charm are not the qualities any real person wants to be judged on. “Fear of the Lord,” is the Bible’s short hand for the internal wisdom that can make any person, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, valuable to society.
The thing I find most difficult about Proverbs 31:10-31 is its emphasis upon what the woman in question does. We are not human doings. We are human beings. It’s not our accomplishments that need praised, it’s our growth as compassionate people. The whole of Proverbs, as well as, much of the Bible’s wisdom literature, makes this point clear. How do we come to fear the Lord? We each permit ourselves to go on a spiritual quest for wisdom.
With this in mind, we can go back to Proverbs 31:11a, “The heart of her husband trusts her…” If we have learned anything in the last forty-five years it is that relationships matter. The reason this woman can accomplish so much is because she is in a supportive community and a set of loving relationships that values her as a person, allows her to grow in spiritual wisdom, and encourages her to find meaningful work in alignment with her God given gifts. So give her the fruit of her hands, but kick the Stepford wife notion to the curb.