When I read Sarah Moon’s post on Potiphar’s wife, all I could think of was the wayward woman. This has been on my mind for a while, actually. My mother read several chapters of the Bible aloud to us children after breakfast every day, and for quite some time she read a chapter of Proverbs every day, because there are 31 chapters, which made it perfect to read over again every month.
Proverbs 2: 16-19—Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words . . . . Surely her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life.
And then my mother would look up from reading, and look at each of my brothers in turn. Beware the wayward woman, my mother would tell them.
Proverbs 5:1-10—My son, pay attention to my wisdom, turn your ear to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it. Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you lose your honor to others and your dignity to one who is cruel, lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich the house of another.
And then my mother would look up from reading, and look at each of my brothers in turn. That part about your wealth going to enrich the house of another, she would say. That is referring to child support. It will sap you dry. Don’t go there. Beware the wayward woman.
Proverbs 7: 1, 5—My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you. . . They will keep you from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words.
And again my mother would look up at my brothers, each in turn. Beware the wayward woman, she would say.
It may seem odd, but this is what I remember most about Proverbs. The wayward woman, my mother looking up, my mother making eye contact with each of my brothers. Beware the wayward woman. Beware, beware, beware the wayward woman. There was nothing about being wary of the wayward man. Nothing. David seduced (or, quite possibly, raped) Bathsheba, the wife of another man, and he was still described in the Bible as a man after God’s own heart. No, all of the warnings were about the wayward woman.
In the evangelical world in which I grew up, men have a nasty habit of blaming women for their sexual indiscretions, and in many ways it goes back to this—the wayward woman. It’s not be true to yourself or think about the consequences of your actions. No. It’s that evil seductive woman is the path to death. Is it really so much easier to vilify women as sinful seductive whores than it is to talk about personal responsibility?
I don’t know how those teachings shaped my brothers’ views of women, but it really, really can’t have been good.