Bec Cranford: Wonder Woman and Proverbs 31

Wonder Woman. Oh yes, images of Linda Carter and her spectacular blue eyes fill your head. And her twist (oh yeah, the twist.) Not to mention the Golden Lasso of Truth.

When Dc Comic books designed the character it was 1941. The “we can do it” women’s effort was full on, and so was World War II. Our heroine was drawn with this cool skirt and red shoes. She was a 2000 year old Amazon. Amazons were a mythical race of women warriors who trained for war. Yep, this Greek Warrior woman would help fight crime and spoil evil’s agendas.

We have all these ideas today from media of what the perfect woman should be. On one extreme we have those who think that all men are evil. And then we have this objectification of women for their vagina: mere sex kittens or property. And then the fundamentalists who feel that women are only baby makers and less than. So is a woman called to minister, lead, be a business mogul or teach?

Amazingly progressive for its time, we sing King Lemuel’s Mother giving us the example of a Valiant Woman; a woman worth more than rubies, diamonds, jade and gold. I realize I am writing to a cross section of sexual identity and some of you who hate the Bible: But let’s look and see how a woman can be a wonder woman according to the Hebrew text.

The Proverb was pretty freaking progressive for 1000 BC. You see the la donna eccellente, la sapienza here is the polar opposite to the other literature romancing women in Near Eastern societies. Greek literature praised the silent homebody, not the diligent take charge profit making wise teacher and philanthropist that is displayed in the ESET HAYIL. Other eastern cultures praised a seductive loose woman, whose delight was only beauty and whose heart dripped deceit. The ESET HAYIL, or noble woman really means Woman of Military Strength- valor, this word denotes a competent strength, wealth, membership of a selected class- a warrior class. She’s not a dumb blonde. She’s a refined lady. This acrostic poem originates from the Judah Camp after the exile.

It seems the biblical household in the reconstruction from exile was vastly different from 2 point five kids and a Labrador. The household is the major social institution! Households included multi-generational families- up to three and four families, day laborers, servants, concubines and slaves. The society was patrilineal- patrilocial-of moving from father- a wife married into the male’s family and patriarchal. The father was the president and the military in the family- but the wife; she was the congress and the Supreme Court. They shared responsibilities. She is not a bimbo, she is not a baby factory, and she is not a man-hater.

Ok so  now- the biblical text: (really, breathe deep, and try to forgive those ignorant people who beat you with scripture- it can be a liberating read- I promise)

TEXT: 10An (A) excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far (B) above jewels. 11The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. 13She looks for wool and flax And works with her hands in delight. 14She is like (C) merchant ships; she brings her food from afar. 15She (D) rises also while it is still night And (E) gives food to her household And portions to her maidens. 16She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17She (F) girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong. 18She senses that her gain is good; her lamp does not go out at night. 19She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle. 20She (G) extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy. 21She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are (H) clothed with scarlet. 22She makes (me) coverings for herself; her clothing is (J) fine linen and (K) purple. 23Her husband is known (L) in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. 24She makes (M) linen garments and sells them, and supplies belts to the tradesmen. 25Strength and (N) dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. 26She (O) opens her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the (P) bread of idleness. 28Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying: 29″Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.” 30Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who (Q) fears the LORD, she shall be praised. 31Give her product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

I have to admit, I have some baggage over this due to all those dumb purity conferences, and women’s ministry meetings I went to, where everyone made us try on makeup, and pray the women’s daily meditations. I can remember how my combat boots kicked the pews nervously at those pink and purple decorated seminars. I didn’t want to talk about babies, or cleaning the house. I was more than that. And it pissed me off that I was being held back because of my va jay jay. So when I had a fresh read of Proverbs 31, I felt as if I could put on my combat boots again- even if the only thing pink about me was my hair at the time- and I could be a leader.

Back to the bible.

This Proverbs 31 lady-She is a talented, diligent, selfless, no fear, wise and kind gal! Going back to the text we see reflected in vs. 13-18 that a wonder woman is capable because she is talented and has abilities. Um, let’s see- what and how and why is she talented and able? Hmm: vs.13- hey she’s crafty, artsy. (She’s crafty she gets around!) She seeks wool and flax she works with her hands. I think nothing is more natural for a woman or man to be creative. And yet, so many of us suppress this part of us.

Vs.14. She’s not a materialistic pig- but she can manage the market place, not like a shopping addict- but she actually moves like a merchant ship going to the finest places, sometimes I wish we had whole foods or trader Joes more close to west Atlanta. She cuts coupons she searches out the sales adds, she pops some tags. She gets her peeps good junk. She is a bargain hunter. How many times does media portray women as gold diggers caught up in the pursuit of consumerism?

vs. 15. She is able to delegate. She is running a huge home: she wakes up early she gets the food started and she plans the events for the day, and casts vision and gives assignments for the home. Like a boss, she is a boss. She is over many servants and workers. She leads. Oh this isn’t a 1962 sales ad with a lady and a vacuum- No. This woman is running the household while her husband is sitting on his duff at the city gates.

Vs. 16: she’s an entrepreneur- she reads money magazine, I mean she knows what’s up with her 401k. Here we see considering a field, and then she buys it- she uses her money from her arts and crafts and talents to purchase this field. Then we see she is a green thumb- this lady is like awesome. She is not afraid to break a sweat,

vs.17, and she is a wise business woman.

Vs 18. She is a diligent woman! She keeps working. Keeps planning. Wonder women are diligent.

Vs 19 states that her lamp does not go out at night- this does not suggest she is staying up all night long watching reruns of mash and eating cheetos- but in near eastern culture if a light was on at night it was for security purposes, meaning that the homeowners were wealthy. She is insuring that her house has light in the night in case they fall out of the bunk bed, or stub their toes- she is thinking selflessly. She then goes back to work for them. Sure she could be having her toes pedicured every single day getting fat and eating bon bons- but she is working on her ideas: creating, and designing. Wonder-women amaze us with their creative expressions and their hard work, weather it is basket weaving or writing a theoretical paper on cancer. She works diligently to insure that her house hold and others are blessed.

Wonder women bless the needy. Vs.20. How many women do you know who run away from opportunities to be with the down and out- this woman decided to help. She gave them sandwiches, she ministered to the blind. Maybe she worked at the abuse crisis center or HIV clinic and loved on the broken. She went to the “ Mission” and fed the homeless. She spent time at “senior rest golden village” with the elderly. She was concerned about people.

Wonder women have no fear. She trusts in the Lord in vs.21. She makes here peeps awesome clothes. Not only that but she clothes them in fine things. She cares about how they are dressed. She doesn’t parade around the finest dress and neglect her household or her community. The purple and crimson dyes here are exotic. The purple dye itself was extracted from sea mollusks. Linen never takes dye easily. These were fine materials like wool. Things you’d have to buy from an expensive magazine nowadays. It would be like some Eddie Bauer Colombia grade winter, junk. She might have the boots with the fur, but so does her whole family. She herself is polished, but thrifty, she looks at Goodwill and scoops us the Neiman Marcus junk. She doesn’t spend ridiculously, but she looks stylish nevertheless!

Vs. 26 she is a teacher of wisdom and kindness is on her tongue. Wonder women teach kindness and are wise! She doesn’t say every little thing that pops up in her head. Man can I learn from her. She speaks words of Grace over people. Words of grace to her husband even, look back to vs.12. She does him well all the days of his life. She speaks encouragement- don’t bad mouth your man! Gents- you don’t want a lady who talks smack all the time. Not malice, not envy, not gossip. She is a wise teacher: The torah-hessed, here suggests that she teaches her household in kindness, she instructs them in the ways of God. She cares so much for them she looks well into the ways of her household. She is selfless like in Philippians 2.

She is a wonder woman because she loves God. She doesn’t put her hope in Lancôme, Clinique, Maybelline or Este lauder. She doesn’t put her hope in her “southern accent” and debutant training. Or Of her good Blood line and wholesome Christian upbringing as if some tradition will save here. She doesn’t fall back on charm &etiquette, she may have been born of noble blood- but she doesn’t see her pedigree as her definition: She trusts in GOD. In her relationship with the divine!

What wonder women inspire us today? Perhaps it is our mothers, great women of the faith, our sisters.

One such wonder woman was Harriet Tubman. Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland. She was beaten severely. One day so bad by a metal object causing serious injury. She began to have visionary dreams. She attributed these to God. Self-taught and diligent she was a devout follower of Christ. She escaped slavery! In 1849 she fled to Philadelphia. She snuck back to Maryland to get her family’s freedom: she never lost one passenger; she was diligent and worked hard. Over the course of her years she freed over 70 slaves from over 13 trips to the south. She was her people’s Moses and the greatest conductor of the Underground Railroad. She even helped radical abolitionist John Brown down at Harper’s Ferry. And the story does not end there; Harriet joined the Union Army as a nurse. She was the first woman to lead a group of soldiers south as a scout. Later she married a man and they adopted a young girl. Not to be undone in her old age she helped with women’s suffrage ultimately gaining the freedom for women to vote in America. Once asked by a white woman, “should women have the right to vote?” She said she had suffered for it. She donated a large parcel of land to the Zion AME with the clear instructions that a home for the elderly be built! She suffered last with pneumonia. The clergy man hustled in with his bible and the doctor with his bag. She turned with a glimmer and said “give my love to all the churches” she then coughed for a spell, and sputtered out here memorized farewell “I go to prepare a place for you, and where I am you will be also.” Harriet Tubman was a true wonder woman. What can Harriet Tubman’s life tell to us today? What can the Bible say about wonder women? I think we must throw out our misconceptions of women based on fundamentalist teaching or the sexual objectification!

Let’s look at the Bible. (I know novel idea.) Who can be a wonder woman? A woman who is talented, able, diligent, courageous, kind, wise, and trusts in God.

Do we  really want a dumb blonde, or a subservient door mat or a hoochie?

Women aren’t evil. We didn’t cause the fall! If you have misconceptions about women from fundamental traditionalism please throw it out. If you have misconceptions about women from porn and the Hollywood machine through it out. If you have misconceptions about women due to Milan, NYC, and Paris through them out. If you have misconceptions about women due to political extremists thrash them:

Replace those thoughts with the Wonder Woman, the Eset Hayil. A warrior woman. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain: BUT a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Final thoughts:

Now I realize some folks are gonna hate on some strands of conservative Christianity. I am a Bapticostalism reject myself, and Church of the Misfits has always been a place of refuge for those leaving fundamentalism. Yet, I have to give props to my Pentecostal roots. Pentecostals around 1906-1914, were for the majority of the time- pacifists, racially integrated  and pro women in ordination. The Pentecostal movement would not have happened without people of color and women. Unfortunately world systems of oppression and beast systems of control stepped in. Can you imagine going to an Assembly of God Church and having a woman pastor, of color, preach a message against imperialism and empire from a pulpit with no flag? Maybe not now. Maybe not today. But the early Pentecostals believed in Women in ministry. So next time someone says something jerkish about the tongue talkers remind them, that at one time, they were progressive.

Keep on being  a wonder woman. And support women in ministry, women in the marketplace of ideas, and women in positions of leadership. I mean if you want a clean house, elect a woman to congress.

With love,

Bec

You can find Bec Cranford on Twitter and her blog. Bec Cranford-Smith works as an advocate for the marginalized in Atlanta. She is a volunteer coordinator for the Gateway Center, a homeless service agency. She is also the Pastor of Church of the Misfits in west Georgia.She grew up bapticostal, but admits she left behind southern-fried religion to find Jesus. Www.churchofthemisfitsatl.com Www.gatewayctr.org.

This post is part of Christian Feminism Week.

  • Thursday1

    There are lot of weird parallels in this post to outright patriarchal thinkers like this guy:
    http://bonald.wordpress.com/in-defense-of-patriarchy/
    One could make a cast that the real objection to modern day complementarians is that they try to impose a premodern schema onto a modernist suburban lifestyle, where the result is, not too surprisingly, that the female sphere is degraded and reduced to almost complete insignificance. Maybe though the problem isn’t with traditional sex roles, but with modern suburbia. Something to think about. If anyone has an open mind towards this line of thought, you might want to check out the work of the Lutheran thinker Allan C. Carlson.
    http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/1933859407

    • Rebecca Bec Cranford-Smith

      Hey thanks so much. I often wonder if the hermeneutic used in complementarianism neglects the original languages. I understand how biblical literalists decide that women can not teach, its just ashame that Proverbs 31 is neglected with the torah-hessed or kind teaching by a woman to an entire household full of males.

  • Rebekah

    Bec, I’m glad your post made it up here! I’ll admit, Proverbs 31 can be really challenging for me, and while I like your take on it, I do think that even the ideal of a Wonder Woman- even though all the things she does are good and awesome- can, like any ideal of womanhood, be oppressive to those who can never measure up. At the same time, it shows us what is possible. May we all learn to empower one another to break the molds of femininity (and masculinity) that oppress is and learn to cast our own. 

    I also am glad to see you giving props to the early Pentecostals. Although the fire and vision of those early times sadly succumbed to established values and mores, at it’s root I believe Pentecostalism was a doctrine of empowerment for those at the margins of society. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that despite its obviously problematic theology, it’s spreading in the global south. It’s not just because it promises pie in the sky or God’s blessing here and now. It’s because it says to people, no matter how poor or uneducated you may be (and for most people this is a matter of circumstance, not choice), you too have a divine calling on your life and by the power of the Holy Spirit can accomplish great things. 

    • Rebecca Bec Cranford-Smith

      Thanks, Bex. I use to hate going to women’s conferences because Proverbs 31 seemed so cheesey and pissed me off. I like the idea of a woman of military strength, even if I am a pacifist.

      • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

        I don’t think I’ve ever even been to a women’s conference!

  • Rebecca Bec Cranford-Smith

    I think the hermeneutic that many complimentarians use fails to dig deeper into the words of the original language, sadly. Bex, thanks for sharing. I wish Proverbs 31 could be liberating for others as it has me. I think the poem offers us a breath of power and creativity. Warrior Class women, has a ring to it, even though I am a pacifist

    • Kimberly Roth

      “power & creativity” <– LOVE that.

      • Rebecca Bec Cranford-Smith

        we need to be powerful and creative soon- together!

  • Melody

    Bec, this is great! And I love the example of Harriet Tubman you provided – I didn’t know many of those details about her, or, in fact, of the historical background of the creation of Wonder Woman. :)

    • Rebecca Bec Cranford-Smith

      Melody, you rock.and I send you hugs.

  • Adriene Buffington

    I’m more a xena warrior princess fan myself. . .

    I really love the way you acknowledge that people have bible-aversion, and nudge them to read it with you anyway!

    • Rebecca Bec Cranford-Smith

      Yeah, the bible…oh the bible.

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    I love Proverbs 31, but I think people too often forget that the woman portrayed in it never existed. Here’s my take on the Proverbs 31 Woman, and why she’s a model for men and women alike: http://timfall.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/mothers-day-and-the-myth-of-the-proverbs-31-woman/

    • Rebecca Bec Cranford-Smith

      true that, Tim!

    • emergingclarity

      Those kinds of women did, and do, exist today. There are women in the church, believers, who emulate that woman. They are wise, careful, and respected. I happen to know a few myself. I don’t agree with you at all. Sorry.

      • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

        My point, ec, is that she is not a historical figure. Rahab is historical person, Tamar is historical person, Bathsheba is historical person, but the Proverbs 31 woman is not. She’s not a person at all. She’s a personification of wisdom, as I noted in the article. I’m sorry you don’t agree with that, but it’s true.
        Blessings,
        Tim

  • emergingclarity

    Some of us “tongue talkers” still believe that women have a place in ministry. Not the Pentecostals, and not the Apostolics, and maybe not the AOG congregations, but there are charismatic churches with women pastors or co-pastors, women prophets, and the like. Many of us also don’t relegate women to the role of baby-maker and house-keeper. There is more to the fundamental side of Christianity than the mainline denominations.Please remember that the bath water, though murky, may have a good baby in it, and don’t throw us out when you toss the water in the rose bush.

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    Did you read the article I linked? I don’t want to reiterate all of that here in a short comment space. But the short answer to your question is found in the text of Proverbs 31 itself. King Lemuel uses language that sets up a standard, not a real person whose example everyone should emulate.
    Blessings,
    Tim