Rethinking The “Proverbs 31 Woman”

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chetan. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chetan. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on July 29, 2011.

There’s something troubling me about a teaching going around.

I’ll probably be preaching to the choir here but on the chance that someone reads this who has swallowed said teaching, I need to give them a dose of reality.

The teaching goes something like this: Girls need protection, physical and spiritual. That’s why they need to stay home under their father’s protection until they can be safely entrusted to their husband’s protection. The extent to which this is fleshed out is different from family to family, but that’s the jist of the teaching.

So what about it? This idea of women needing “protection” is being used to keep them from going to college, getting jobs, and going on missionary trips, among other things. They are told that they are gullible, weak-minded, easily led, and not to be trusted on their own because they are easily deceived and taken advantage of. They need a strong man to come between them and the world.

Besides the fact that I see absolutely no scriptural backing for this idea, I can’t help but think that whoever came up with it doesn’t live in the real world.

I’ve heard so many use this as an excuse for why a woman shouldn’t go off to college. Because then she’ll be “alone” and without protection. What if her car breaks down? What if she has to go shopping in a bad part of town? What if something goes wrong and Daddy isn’t there to rescue her? Or a shady mechanic tries to rip her off?

My husband’s a trucker. I’m “alone” from about Sunday afternoon to Friday afternoon every week during the summer. I have to fend for myself and three kids. I sleep alone, a gun nearby, knowing there may come a night I’ll have to use it (and trust me, I can use it better than most men I know). I have to make all the decisions on how to run my house alone. I have to be mature and interact with the world around me (including men and atheists *gasp*) alone. I have to be discerning all by myself, able to judge right and wrong, wise and foolish. If I break down on the side of the road, my husband isn’t there to “protect” or rescue me. I have to deal with it as if I were single. I have to be strong and capable and mature and independent every single day. My husband leaves every week depending on me to be all these things and more. If I had an emergency, it could be 12+ hours before my husband could get to me. He didn’t need a girl who needed to be coddled, needed someone to make decisions for her, needed to be “led” and guided in daily interactions like a child. He needed a mature woman who could handle an imperfect life. And it’s a darn good thing that I didn’t spend my growing up years thinking I needed a man to handle my life or come between me and the big bad world. I had to learn how to be a functioning part of society and take care of myself and others.

My family’s well-being depends on this. 

I know girls who weren’t allowed to go grocery shopping, in a safe small town, without their dad or big brother for “protection”. They weren’t allowed to go anywhere without a man, for that matter. Their view of the Big Bad Men in the world they needed to be protected from has grown into a paranoia. They’re scared of their own shadows. They think all men are out to rape them or take advantage of them. And they truly believe they are gullible, weak, and cannot handle life on their own, because that’s the line they’ve been fed all their lives. It’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As my friend, Christi, said in comment to this idea:

This is exactly what patriarchy wants us to believe, that women are weak-minded things incapable of avoiding dangerous situation. I lived alone …and I never found myself in a compromising position. And how would a predator know whether a woman lived at home with her parents, or with her husband, or lived “alone” (with roommates)? 

And while we’re talking about this, why don’t people realize that homemakers are some of the most “alone” and vulnerable women out there? You seem to not realize that married young women have to do the exact same things that young women who are away at college have to do, and more. I have to go out and do my shopping alone, just like a college girl would (though I imagine that college girls get to carpool together). What’s more, I’m even at home alone. I’m pretty sure that I’d really be better protected on a college campus since I’m alone during the day (and night, since my husband works until 11 PM) and have often had to interact with strange men, sometimes even inside my house, while my husband is at work. Apartment maintenance men, internet guy, phone guy, UPS man, door-to-door salesmen, etc. Oh, and it’s usually my job to take our car in for repairs and oil changes. Car repairmen are actually pretty nice, or maybe it depends on where you go (which again, is simply a matter of making an intelligence choice). 

I mean no disrespect to my husband when I say this but, he’s really not here a lot to protect me because he’s busy working a full-time job in addition to being a full-time student. My marriage license doesn’t really afford me any more physical protection than I had when I was single.

You see, it is complete folly to train up a person to be completely dependent on another person.

You have no idea what their life is going to be like.

No idea what skills they’re going to need to provide for themselves or the people they love. No idea if they will get married, then widowed. Or even if they will marry at all. To raise a girl with the belief that she is weak and needs a man to be her mediator in life is to cripple her for life. To render her ineffective to do anything for herself or for the God that she’s supposed to be “glorifying”.

I know girls my age who are single and still at home with their parents, being told that they need to be “protected” and watched over until they get married and all that jazz. But guess what? I’m married and I’m still on my own. Age and marital status aren’t the magic keys to a perfect life. They are just used as excuses for controlling the lives of these girls. Real life doesn’t look anything like what the Patriarchy crowd are trying to say it does. Their view is way too narrow. Ask a soldier’s wife. Or a trucker’s wife. Or any woman who is married or single and has to be a mature adult and deal with the world on her own. Whose husband and children and lives depend on it.

I love it when my husband is home and able to take care of things so I don’t have to. I love being cared for and knowing that I don’t have to do everything by myself. I love feeling loved and protected by my man, just as much as he loves me caring for him. I love sleeping peacefully at night, knowing he’s right there and I don’t have to be so alert. But I also love knowing that should he not be there, I can still take care of myself and my children.

One last thought. You know that popular verse in Proverbs 31 that says “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her worth is far above rubies.”? Go look up the Hebrew word translated “virtuous”. It’s most often used in the OT to describe might, strength, fighting men of valor, army men, efficiency, wealth, strength and force. It is translated all these ways: army 56 times, man of valour 37 times, host 29 times, forces 14 times, valiant 13 times, strength 12 times, power 9 times, substance 8 times, might 6 times, strong 5 times, and a few miscellaneous words.

Gives you a rather different picture of what a “Proverbs 31 woman” looks like, doesn’t it?

Christian Patriarchy on Educating Daughters


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 12, 2014.

Okay, let’s take a few minutes to hash out Christian Patriarchy’s view towards women and education. I think this is necessary because I hear one side saying “you don’t believe in educating girls” and the other side saying “no no no, we do educate our daughters, your accusations are ridiculous.” So what is really going on here? I can’t necessarily get at what the ordinary family on the ground is doing, but what I can get at is what the leaders of the movement say. So let’s take a look, shall we?

In a nutshell, the leaders of the Christian Patriarchy movement teach that daughters should be educated for their role as wives, mothers, teachers-at-home, and Proverbs 31 women, but not educated for careers outside of the home. This is summed up in a quote by Michael Farris from his book, The Home Schooling Father:

I want my daughters to have business savvy like the woman honored in Proverbs 31. But I don’t want them chasing the feminist dream of the two-career marriage (or shall we say “living arrangement”). They can’t have it all, as many feminists are beginning to find out. I want to avoid the twin evils of neglecting the proper career training of my daughters, on the one hand, and pushing them to the feminist career mold, on the other. Proverbs 31 teaches a godly balance: A woman who possesses work skills and financial resources, but who uses those skills in a way that keeps her home with her children and husband. The woman in Proverbs 31 does not stay home barefoot and pregnant watching soap operas. She is busy with more than garden clubs and poetry societies. Yet, she is first and foremost at home with her children and husband.

In fact, home schooling offers women the best of both worlds. Home schooling is a job that society values–teaching academics to children. It provides serious intellectual stimulation. It provides many opportunities to be held in esteem by people outside your family. . . . The pay is low. But the ability to be home with your children while working is second to none.

My wife was a very good student in high school and college. Before we began home schooling she would sometimes complain about the lack of intellectual activity in her life of wiping spills, changing diapers, and doing laundry. A couple of times she even wondered out loud about the idea of going to work.

Since we have been home schooling, her need for intellectual challenged has been abundantly satisfied. She has always believed that a mother’s place is in the home. But home schooling turned this belief into an intellectually satisfying lifestyle which provides many tangible rewards. The career I will ‘push’ at my daughters is the same one practiced by their mother.

The leaders of this movement, in other words, want daughters to be taught skills beyond diaper changing and laundry, but they don’t want daughters’ education to orient them towards a career outside the home. Interestingly enough, I can see how these ideas played out in my own life. My sister Heidi and I both attended college but sought degrees that would allow us to bring in extra income by working on the side, out of the home, while filling our proper roles as homeschooling mothers. When we both decided that was not what we wanted, we faced the challenge of turning an education intended to bring in pocket money into one we could forge careers out of.

Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin, daughters of Geoff Botkin and authors of So Much More, similarly endorsed educating women in a blog post last year:

We all want to equip ourselves to be godly women, but do we really know what that equipping should look like? A diet of books on modesty, courtship, and cake decorating will definitely fill the bill if the role we aspire to is simply one of wearing modest clothes, going through a courtship, and decorating cakes. But if we truly believe the biblical role of women is bigger and more significant than this, we need put our money where our mouths are and pursue education and training to match.

They went on to emphasize the importance of women studying law, economics, business, history, and the sciences, among other things. They argued that daughters at home should put their time and energies into becoming educated in a variety of fields, not simply into cooking or cleaning or childcare.

Farris and the Botkin sisters are not the only ones arguing that daughters should be educated, though not for careers outside of the home. Voddie Baucham had his daughter Jasmine, who lives in his home as an obedient “stay-at-home daughter,” obtain a bachelor’s degree and now a master’s degree. Doug Wilson emphasizes the importance of a strong classical education for both sons and daughters and takes a pride in his daughters being well educated and well spoken.

Even Doug Phillips has weighed in:

An encouragement for fathers with older daughters might be for them to be involved in directing “higher education” at home. Having daughters that have graduated from high school still at home is usually something parents have not prepared for. For some families the encouragement needed is for the young ladies to learn all the homemaking and mothering skills required to create an inviting, Christ—honoring home. But, many girls have worked on these skills for years and seem to lack inspiration and vision to study God’s Word in depth and become firmly grounded in theology, church history, world—view, child training, philosophy of education, etc. for themselves. We feel that these are crucial issues for fathers to take responsibility for and direct their daughters in.

In other words, the leaders of the Christian Patriarchy movement are not against educating daughters. What they are against is educating daughters for careers outside of the home. They also have concerns about how their daughters go about being educated—namely, they do not want their daughters educated at secular universities. There is a lot of fear of secular education in these circles, and daughters are often seen as even more in need of protection than sons. Sons are to grow up and enter the world and be accountable straight to God. Daughters, in contrast, are fathers’ responsibility until they hand them off in marriage. Secular education, these leaders believe, provides only a truncated and twisted education that is not a real education at all. In fact, they argue that secular education as currently manifested is explicitly designed to corrupt young believers and lead them to atheism or, at the very least, to a liberal faith that “denies the gospel.”

This is why Michael Farris sent his daughters to Christian colleges. This is why Voddie Baucham enrolled his daughter in College Plus. Christian colleges, and, increasingly, online Christian colleges, are considered a safe alternative—although, again, daughters enrolled in these programs should have being a properly prepared wife, mother, and teacher-at-home as their goal, not a career outside the home. Some, such as Geoff Botkin and Doug Phillips, have continued their adult daughters’ education at home themselves, often focusing on a classical education approach and emphasizing law, economics, and history. Daughters are to be educated, but they should receive an education that teaches “truth,” not a perverted corrupted secular education.

I should note that all of this focuses on the leaders and not on the followers. What do the ordinary families following this ideology do? I suspect that class plays a large role here. The ordinary family may be overwhelmed both financially and emotionally by an ever-growing flock of children, and unable to properly educate even their sons. In this context, daughters’ academic education may seem less important, especially given that the daughters may be kept busy helping with the children and keeping the house running. Most families cannot afford a live-in nanny/helper like the Phillips could, after all.

And the leaders of the Christian Patriarchy movement say things that play into the devaluing of daughters’ academic education in families that are overwhelmed already. For example, R. C. Sproul [Jr.] wrote the following of his exchange with a homeschooling mother:

The mother made a confession to me. She told me, “You know, my nine-year-old daughter doesn’t know how to read.” Now here is a good test to see how much baggage you are carrying around. Does that make you uncomfortable? Are you thinking, “Mercy, what would the school superintendent say if he knew?” My response was a cautious, “Really?” But my friend went on to explain, “She doesn’t know how to read, but every morning she gets up and gets ready for the day. Then takes care of her three youngest siblings. She takes them to the potty, she cleans and dresses them, makes their breakfasts, brushes their teeth, clears their dishes, and makes their beds.” Now I saw her rightly, as an overachiever. If she didn’t know how to read, but did know all the Looney Tunes characters, that would be a problem. But here is a young girl being trained to be a keeper at home. Do I want her to read? Of course I do, as does her mother. I want her to read to equip her to learn the Three Gs. [From earlier in the book, he notes the “Three Gs”: Who is God? What has God done? What does God require?] But this little girl was learning what God requires, to be a help in the family business, with a focus on tending the garden.

I’m not suggesting that the goal is to have ignorant daughters. I am, however, arguing that we are to train them to be keepers at home. These two are not equivalent. Though we aren’t given many details we know that both Priscilla and Aquila had a part in the education of Apollos. I’m impressed with Priscilla, as I am with my own wife. She is rather theologically astute… My point is that that brilliance isn’t what validates her as a person. It’s a good thing, a glorious thing, and an appropriate thing. But it’s like the general principle we’ve already covered. Would I rather be married to a godly woman who was comparatively ignorant, or a wicked person who was terribly bright? Who would make a better wife and mother, someone who doesn’t know infra- from supralapsarianism, but does know which side is up on a diaper, or a woman about to defend her dissertation on the eschatology of John Gill at Cambridge but one who thinks children are unpleasant? It’s no contest, is it? Naturally we want everything. We want all the virtues to the highest degree. But virtues come in different shades and colors in different circumstances.

In other words, educating daughters academically is good and important . . . but it’s more important that daughters learn to willingly and cheerfully change a diaper and make a bed. Doug Phillips has made similar statements:

The Bible actually has a great deal to say about what distinguishes a girl from a woman. For one thing, a mature Christian woman is one who has demonstrated that she has been trained and is ready for marriage. Historically, parents understood that it was their mission to raise their daughters to marriageable maturity so they could enjoy the husband “of their youth.”

To raise a daughter without thought to marriage, to instill in them a spirit of independence from the family, or to focus their training on a career outside the home, is actually to disqualify them for graduation and the next step in life. In contrast, a woman who meets the biblical requirements for graduation is one who is comfortable being under the jurisdiction of her father and seeks to make him successful in every way. She recognizes that God calls women to be under the authority of God-appointed men, first in the form of fathers, and later as husbands.

Note the similarity here to the Michael Farris quote I began with—”To raise a daughter without thought to marriage, to instill in them a spirit of independence from the family, or to focus their training on a career outside the home, is actually to disqualify them for graduation and the next step in life.” Daughters are to be educated, yes—but not for a career outside of the home.

The leaders of the Christian Patriarchy movement believe that preparation for being a wife, mother, and teacher-at-home involves more than simply learning to change diapers and do laundry. They believe that being a proper Proverbs 31 woman should involve learning business, economics, history, law, and education. But all of this is seen as preparation for life as a homemaker and homeschool mother—not for a career outside the home. Indeed, these leaders—from Michael Farris to Doug Phillips—argue that daughters should be actively discouraged from even considering a career outside the home, and should instead be “pushed” towards homemaking and homeschooling as their lifelong destiny.

I don’t have a problem with a woman choosing to be a homemaker and homeschool mother, but that should be a choice, not the only option available to them. And given how unstable the world can sometimes be, even women who choose to stay at home should make sure they have career options available in case of death, divorce, or economic downturn. Heidi and I were lucky. We attended college and received degrees. Even so, our choice of majors was so limited by our assumption that we were not preparing for careers outside the home that we had to make some tough choices when we decided careers outside the home were what we really wanted. How much worse it must be for those who do not receive a college degree, or even more, for those whose parents are so overwhelmed that their education goes on the back burner entirely.

If you tell someone involved in the Christian Patriarchy movement that they do not believe in educating their daughters, they will object to your portrayal and cease to listen to what you are saying. If you, in contrast, tell them that they do not believe in educating their daughters for careers outside the home, they will likely agree. Then, perhaps, you may be able to begin a conversation.

Homeschooled and Kept Ignorant, But Still Queer: Melissa

Homeschooled and Kept Ignorant, But Still Queer: Melissa

HA note: Haley, Melissa’s spouse, shared her thoughts yesterday. Their courtship and coming out stories have been shared by Melissa on Patheos.

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through adulthood. I was the oldest in a large family, and very sheltered. We had the patriarchal beliefs common in the Christian homeschooling movement, so my role in life was very defined. I liked a lot of things about being a girl, but I sometimes wished I was a boy so I would have more freedom to go places, study something in college etc.

At the same time, I was fine with dressing modestly. The idea of getting male attention wasn’t really that appealing to me. I had a hard time imagining a guy I would feel comfortable submitting to and living with, and yet I had been told from early childhood that someday I would grow up and marry a good Christian man who would protect me from the world and support us financially while I stayed at home and had lots of babies to homeschool.

I wanted to be “right”. I wanted to be approved of. I wanted to fit in with my community and become that older Proverbs 31 Woman that all the younger girls asked for advice. I did the best I could to pay attention and please my parents by being who they wanted me to be. By age 17 I was very depressed, and thought about suicide often. I wanted to get out of my parents’ house and away from the expectations and restrictions so badly. As a female, the only way that was going to happen was when I got married. So whenever we were in places where I could potentially meet eligible young men such as homeschool conferences or homeschool gatherings I would anxiously watch and hope that someone would notice me.

I had no idea gay people existed until I was 14 and reading World Magazine and came across a negative reference to the dangers of “homosexuals”. I asked my mom what homosexual meant, she said it was when two men thought they could be together in the same way a husband and wife are together. It seemed like she thought it was a big deal, a bad thing. Of course at the time I didn’t have any real understanding of sex either. I knew that babies grew in a mothers belly, and I had attended the births of several siblings, so I knew how they got out, but I was still under the impression that sex was a magical transference of seeds needed to start a baby, that happened while you slept in the same bed. I started to suspect there was something more to it when I was reading all the purity books about how amazing sex was after you were married, and how hard it was to stay pure before you were married. If sex was supposedly this amazing, there had to be more to it than just sleeping. I tried looking up sex in the dictionary, but “act of copulation” didn’t help me very much. Eventually when I was almost 17 I found a book in the library that I did not dare to check out, but read as much as I could as fast I could in the corner until it was time to go home. It was here that I first learned about penetrative sex and what an erection was. It didn’t dawn on me that if men could be together, then there was such a thing as gay women as well until a year later.

I may not have known what sex was, or what being gay actually meant, but I knew I had a hard time imagining being with any of the guys I encountered. I hoped that my mom was right, and that god really was going to help locate he perfect guy for me. I did not have friends my age, most of the homeschooling families we knew had much younger children, and we didn’t go to church.

By the time I was 18 I had had enough sexually arousing dreams about women and enough urges to kiss or touch the breasts of friends I hardly knew to start to question if this was normal. My sisters or cousins would talk about celebrity guys who were attractive in their opinion and I didn’t know what to say, so I picked whoever was the most stereotypically masculine to hide the fact that I thought Catherine Zeta Jones was way sexier. I asked my mom what had attracted her to my dad, and when she said his broad shoulders that became what I would say I found attractive when people asked what my “type” was.

Eventually I got up the courage to ask my dad what our beliefs about gay people were supposed to be, I didn’t say I was asking for myself. He told me that homosexuality was caused by an especially disgusting demon, he almost seemed to shudder just thinking about it. My dad claimed to have heard and seen both demons and angels, so I felt that he must know what he was talking about. I was pretty sure I had never encountered a demon, and I had been very careful to follow the rules of the house so as to stay under the “spiritual umbrella of protection” my father provided, so I did not understand how I could have allowed demonic influence into my life. Maybe I wasn’t gay. So I asked about bisexuals, what did we believe regarding them? My dad said they did not really exist, that the only true bisexuals were demonically influenced witches. I knew I wasn’t a witch, and I was too scared to inquire further and give myself away.

So I told myself I was imagining things. This wasn’t really true about me. The only reason I was attracted to women, was because I had zero sexual experience, and the only body I had access to was my own, as soon as I got safely married and had sex, I would be attracted to men like I was supposed to be. I had never read anything that portrayed gay people in a positive light. I had never met a openly gay person, or even seen one to my knowledge. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I was sure that getting married would fix it.

The amazing thing is, that only a year after we began going to church, I met someone who I thought was a boy and fell in love. He was tall and had beautiful blue eyes and soft full lips that I so wanted to touch even though we were not allowed. We could talk for hours and he actually listened to and thought about the things I said. I had never had anyone treat me so kindly and respectfully. We had a parent supervised and controlled courtship, and got married after 10 weeks, and only 8 days after kissing for the first time. Basically, I went from having never held hands to having sex in a little over 2 months.

As you can imagine, sex was still an awkward topic. The attractions I thought would magically disappear after marriage, didn’t. I didn’t dare talk too openly about it, but sometimes it worried me. I was happily married, I was attracted to my spouse, but I was still very attracted to women and worried that I was a bad person for feeling the way I did. I had many other detrimental beliefs related to sex as well. I had an understanding that I was obligated to be there to service my husband’s sexual requests whether I felt like it or not. I had always been told that god had designed men with very active sex drives, and that if they were rejected by their wives, men would turn to pornography, or even another woman, and I would have no one to blame but myself. I had no concept of consent. In fact when I was first married I had made a promise to myself that I would never say no to a sexual advance from my husband, even if I was sick or exhausted. I also had a lot of anxiety about my worth being tied to how often my spouse wanted to have sex. When my spouse was too tired or just not really interested in having sex, I worried that I wasn’t attractive enough or wasn’t performing adequately. Sex was often one big ball of worries fear and second guessing.

Five years later I had the surprise of my life when my husband came out to me as transgender. What happened next was a 2 year journey that inspired more growth both in our relationship and as individuals than ever before. We discovered just how much each of us had been hiding from the other for our entire marriage. Shedding that fear of rejection and judgment and being honest is one of the most powerful transformations I have ever experienced. When Haley told me that she needed to transition to female and live as she truly was, I wasn’t really phased, and that fact led me to face my sexuality head on for the first time in my life. Haley was patient, and waited while I read and read and asked her question after question. Eventually when Haley felt ready to transition, we came out publicly to our families and started our marriage over again as a lesbian couple. I couldn’t ask for a better partner or co-parent, and the respect we have for each other has only continued to grow. Reactions were about what we expected, and we were reminded many times over why we had hidden for so long. Some people cut us out of their life and refused to speak to us. People who hadn’t communicated with us for years sent us long emails detailing how wrong and evil we were for making this “choice”. It was exhausting and draining, and I was so grateful that we were adults and financially independent before we had dared to come out.

Sometimes I wish that I hadn’t had to spend so much of my life living someone else’s idea of who I needed to be. It has been quite the task to learn how to relax and just be rather than second guessing every single thing I think, do or say. I also wish I had known how many wonderful supportive people were out there, just waiting to embrace us for exactly who we were. Coming from such an isolating, restrictive and judgmental community growing up, it has been a new experience to meet people from all backgrounds, religions and sexual orientations who are accepting and loving. I have also been surprised by how many people from our old life have come around in some way. My parents in particular come to mind, after a rocky start and 3 months of silent censure, my parents have found the ability to be tolerant. Even though they do not understand or affirm our sexuality or the journey our marriage has taken, they have chosen to try to love us and be with us.

It’s been almost 8 years since we got married, 3 years since Haley came out to me, and 1 year since we came out to the world. I thought we had a unique story, but since telling our story on my blog we have been contacted by so many other couples who married in the closet and stayed together after coming out. There are so many years that we lived in shame, sometimes we can get frustrated with all that time wasted, and pain endured. Only one year in, sometimes it feels like the new goals and dreams will never happen. It’s been a lot of work starting over from ground zero, some days we fall into bed too exhausted to even say goodnight. Sometimes old messages haunt us, telling us that we are not good enough, that we are failures, that who we are is somehow less than. But overall there is something about the honesty of this life that feels really good. We have the story that we do. We came from the background we did, and it took as long as it did for us to overcome the shaming messages and be ok with who we are.

There really is nothing to regret, only a life to live, fully.