In my research for this project, I’ve been uncovering several words, phrases, ideas that keep coming up in describing the quintessential Christian woman: Femininity. Biblical Womanhood. Radical Womanhood. No doubt, we’ll address these ideas in other posts, and threads of these ideas run through almost all of evangelical Christianity’s construction of the female image. But one concept seems to operate as a codeword, encompassing all these other ideals: being a Proverbs 31 woman. From what I’ve deciphered, someone who achieves status as a Proverbs 31 Woman is, undoubtedly, the most feminine, most biblical, most radical woman possible.
No pressure, there.
I decided to delve more deeply into the world of Proverbs 31 womanhood, and so purchased for myself a “90-Day Guide to Living the Proverbs 31 Life.” Called Becoming the Woman God Wants Me to Be, the book, by Donna Partow, holds mighty promise: imagine, in ninety days, becoming all the woman God wants me to be! (I only spent $5.00 on the book through Amazon’s used sales, so figure I’m already ahead of the plan: in week six of the book, I will learn about financial planning.)
The introductory chapter suggests the author herself had her doubts about the Proverbs 31 woman. She writes, “somehow I thought the Proverbs 31 woman was a mythological creature or worse—I thought she was a weapon spiritual leaders use to make all of us ordinary Christian women feel bad about ourselves.” Well, yeah: I’ve kind of felt that way, given what little exposure I’ve had to the Proverbs 31 campaign. But Partow promises this book will be different, that I won’t feel like an ordinary-Christian-woman failure, and that becoming a Proverbs 31 woman will become a goal worthy of my life’s devotion.
Three pages later, in the same introduction, I learn I’m supposed to follow a “cleansing diet” in my quest to Proverbs 31 perfection. And, well, I’m already thinking some kind of colon blow (that’s a cleansing diet, right?) isn’t going to help me much in becoming the woman God wants me to be.
What strikes me most in thumbing through this book is that the chapters could easily appear in a non-Christian self-help book. There is information about financial planning, de-cluttering and organizing your home, becoming more fit and healthy, preparing for retirement—all cloaked within the language of Proverbs 31 and its apparent directives about what it means to be a godly woman.
Interestingly, the few chapters on work/life balance suggest not that a woman work outside the home—that would, of course, be a spiritual no-no—but that she try her hand at in-home businesses. The Proverbs 31 woman is an entrepreneur, after all, making her a “safe” model for the working woman. So, apparently, if I want to be the woman God wants me to be, I need to take up direct marketing, or figure out my own at-home business model—two chapters in the book give me the details for this plan. If God wants me to go into direct marketing from home, God also wants me to be really miserable, since I hate making phone calls or talking to strangers. But hey, I’ve not done the rest of the Proverbs 31 program yet, so perhaps I haven’t yet developed the skills to be a direct marketer, and ninety days with this book would make me change.
I wonder if there are other models for being a Proverbs 31 woman—ones that are more liberating than this one, or the many others I’ve seen on the web. Is it possible to read Proverbs 31 in a way that frees women, rather than conscribing them to a certain list of characteristics they must meet to be what God wants them to be?
Something to consider. And in the meantime, I’ll keep thumbing through the book, thinking about the ninety-day program to achieve God’s approval. Whether that includes the cleansing diet proscribed remains to be seen.