The Problem with Proverbs 31

sewing buttonsI am officially ready for the start of another semester. And by ready I mean that I have successfully re-attached two wayward buttons to the pants where they belong.

Each spring when I hang up my “work” clothes for another season, I promise myself that I will go shopping before the fall semester and purchase at least a couple of new items to spruce up my tired wardrobe and, perhaps, replace my thread-bare pants. And, each fall when I return to my closet the night before my first day back, I remember the promise I have so skillfully dismissed for another year.

This recurring cycle is how I came to the absolute dire necessity of affixing two wayward buttons. I suppose I shouldn’t feel slighted, they’ve put in a good 6-7 years. But still, I was pretty miffed when I pulled on my pants just in time for the all-faculty meeting only to discover that there was no way either button had any hold left.

For some of you, repairing my pants by reattaching two measly buttons may hardly seem like a feat to mention, much less in public. Truth be told, I am a wee-bit embarrassed to admit that sewing two buttons onto two pairs of pants took WAY longer than it should have. And, if you must know, yes, I did, in fact, learn how to sew on a button in a Jr. High home-economics class required for girls (which was the ONLY reason I was in the course, as my teacher can attest). Still, that was ages ago and while I resented then the idea that as a girl one of the requirements I had to achieve was attaching a button or repairing a sock, I still find the thing a chore—so much so that I would rather live with pants that could become undone at any point rather than break out a sewing kit (if you can call it that) and get to work.

So, if by now you are wondering why I am belaboring this point of sewing and buttons and what they have to do with being ready to teach, here it is: as a young Jr. High school girl I keenly felt the sexism embedded in the assumption that girls must be taught home economics while boys needed to know their way around saws and cars. I did not get to make a choice about what I wanted, which was to build birdhouses and checkerboards. Instead, I learned to make pudding and potatoes and cut out McCall’s patterns and somehow get the pieces to look vaguely like clothing.

The roles society deemed appropriate did not fit me then and I knew it intuitively even though I had yet to understand the social underpinnings of these so-call necessities.

Now, years later, I still resent the idea that this is a skill I should have, so much so that I have refused to become adept at something pretty mundane. The irony is, of course, the one thing I must do in order to be prepared to teach (with my feminist convictions) is to sew on buttons, a task that has been—and mostly continues to be for many—women’s work.

Maybe one day we’ll actually move beyond these baseless assumptions about gendered roles and tasks. That time is a long way off, though, if you look at any of the latest gimmicks devised by Proverbs 31 proponents.

“In many ways, the Proverbs 31 woman is evangelicalism’s Martha Stewart, minus the jail term. The Proverbs 31 woman decorates her home well, dresses in fine clothes (marked by the K-mart brand if necessary), and makes fabulous meals for her family. Compare many of the Proverbs 31 websites with Martha Stewart’s Real Simple magazine, and you see little difference: images of beautiful (white) women standing in well-appointed homes (or, inexplicably, in fields of grain); links to recipes, decorating ideas, and child-raising tips; and day-by-day resources to help make a woman’s life manageable and perfect.” (If Eve Only Knew, pg. 40)

The problem with this Proverbs 31 image is that a serious reading of Proverbs shows this is not intended to be an idea of the perfect woman. This is an image of Wisdom Woman, a feminine image of God.

Is it any wonder women are frustrated when they can’t live up to this divine reality?

For further reading about Proverbs 31 we hope you will check out our new book: If Eve only Knew.