- Don't assume that you have THE model of womanhood.
- Take time to be freeing and flexible to your readers
- Before normalizing any experience you've had look around, does it fit all types of women?
And God pointed my gaze to women (my agent, my publisher, my grandmothers, Deborah, Ruth, Priscilla) who didn't fit my neat list of feminine traits. Eventually, I came to a place where I could honestly say, "I am not offering an exhaustive index on femininity or the only biblical model for womanhood" (Ruby Slippers 25). Read more about re-working my original narrow conceptions of femininity in Ruby Slippers' "Epilogue" pg 192-193.
There is a steady stream of work, however, that says there is one form of Biblical Womanhood. Much to my dismay, the L.A. Times has covered one such example at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where you can get a BA in their newly opened degree in Home Economics (hooray for the Home Ec revival). Sadly, it's only open to women.
The journalist interviewed Dorothy Patterson who appears to be certain that her flavor of homemaking is biblical.
So in no particular order, here are some of the problems with equating Biblical womanhood with the stay-at-home flavor of femininity (a great way to be feminine, but by no means the only way!).
By the way, reading the article (free membership required) will give you some interesting perspective and background on my comments.
Problem 1: The college is equating God's purpose for women with being a helper suitable for man (Gen 2:18, Hebrew ezer = pronounced "ay'-zer", best translated ally). That's fine and mostly good, but to them, being an ezer means being good at home economics. So "helper" means sewing buttons, sustaining sparkling dinner conversations, and making a delicious meal. One woman who gave up her career when her husband wanted children is quoted as saying "If we love the Scripture, we must do it. We must fit into this role." Is this really what Scripture says? I find that the word most associated with ezer is the synonym warrior-protector, not homemaker. This idea leaves no room for the Proverbs 31 woman (a female often esteemed by Southern Baptists as the ideal woman) who is part organics farmer (v. 13), artist (v.13), international exports and imports monitor(v.14, 24), chef (v.15), food storage and distribution expert (v.15), administrator (v.15), public relations officer, (v.15),realtor (v.16), oenologist (v.16), pilates attender (v.17), accountant (v.18), textile operator (v. 19), defense attorney for the poor and oppressed (v.20), interior designer (v.22), fashion designer (v.13,21,24), high-achieving-up-at-the-crack- of-dawn-coffee-drunk -paper-read-off-to-work sort of woman (v.15, 18), and most of these positions bring her earning, i.e. real world money. She is a real provider and protector for her family, in both the public and private spheres. And it no where says she has a joint checking account with her husband. Though she may have. The point is not to be overwhelmed by her, the point is that we've got options ladies, real options.
Problem 2: This view of "biblical homemaking" bars wives and mothers from taking co-dominion opportunities in the public market place: law, business, academy, church. Now don't hear me wrong, I don't mean to say that staying home with kids, or even being a homemaker without children is a poor decision, but let's not prescribe it as the only godly position. The minimal number of Christian wives and mothers modeling what it looks like to be professors, attorneys, public servants, itinerant speakers, corporate executives has hurt more than a few women in deciding on what options are open to them. Would that we really had more Prov 31 examples around!
Problem 3: Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, et al., have constructed an artificial realm of womanhood (i.e. home economics), and failed to dig deeper into the real unique things women offer. A man can iron, sew, cook, entertain just as well as a woman, so making women Masters of Home Economics pretends that this is a "woman's realm" when in reality it's a human realm. Further it actually robs men from the work (both satisfying and grueling) of caring for hearth and home. If a wife prefers to be the home economics master, well and good, but let's not assume that this means she is
- more feminine
- more godly
- more biblically feminine
- more ezer.
Problem 4: Home Economics is something men can do awfully well. Shouln't we value men doing the dishes and loving through service? Shouldn't Eph. 5:25 "love your wives as Christ loved the church" invite men into home economics? We could empower and encourage men to find jobs that they do well around the house. If wives were submissive in all things, this would include letting men help us with the housework, right? In our home, Dale is the primary dish-washer, grocery-shopper and part-time vacuumer and does these tasks very well. I can do them well, too, but my femininity is not threatened by him doing keeping house anymore than his masculinity is threatened by scrubbing pots and pans.
Problem 5: The LA Times' journalist no doubt left this Seminary with the distinct impression that the Bible is the foundation for this narrow definition of womanhood. No wonder we're losing women to Wicca. Here's how I'd think if I were a non-believer reading this article, "If the Biblical god forces women into realms that do not fit their giftings, their passions, their goals, their soul, then perhaps this god isn't really God."
Problem 6: There appears a sort of sanctified Martha Stewart lifestyle in this training. With such a long list of home economics duties, the wealthy and middle class make out substantially better in fulfilling their God-given purpose than the women who are weak, sick, disabled, poor, divorced, abandoned, widowed. I don't think God would approve of that, since he's so big on helping the weak and oppressed. In fact, he's pretty angry with those who heap burdens on those who cannot lift them (Luke 11:46). And a well-managed household being a good testimony? Praising home economics too highly can begin to heap more responsibilities on women (who must be wealthy enough to stay home and manage all this) to perform well. Women already have a weakness here. For me, I don't need more spiritualizing of my home's cleanliness (for instance, do spiritual destinies really depend on how smoothly my home runs?) I already have enough tapes running in my head preventing me from taking my home less seriously.
Some of the women quoted by the L.A. Times said, "The whole point of taking college-level homemaking is to ensure that my husband won't ever feel that he has to darn a sock or do the laundry. Those are my jobs." and "I'm not one of those out to rebel, out-to-be-my-own-woman types." I want to say, "Do you believe it is automatically selfish, rebellious or unfeminine to follow Christ into unconventional places?" For a better read on Home Economics, I'd recommend Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life, where Margaret Kim Patterson dignifies the menial aspects of housework into one way of worshipping God. But she never equates a woman's value with this good work.
One secular author gave these comforting words that to me, speak more truth into femininity. As we pursue God's thoughts on women, let's keep them in mind, "No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anyone, but oneself." Virginia Woolf.