“Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
This was the question stretched across banners in front of the White House, distributed on pamphlets, and spoken all over the country in the 1910s. Inez Milholland, an icon of the women’s suffrage movement, first uttered them. They were her last words before she collapsed, and soon died, while campaigning for women’s suffrage through the western United States. This is also the question that pervaded my mind as I watched the film Iron Jawed Angels.
Digging deeper into Prov 31:10–31 in context reveals it was never intended to be a how-to manual for becoming the perfect woman. In the context of Proverbs, this passage is the parting mnemonic incentivizing young men to pursue wisdom and marry wisely.
Over the past forty years, the remarkable presence of women in Prov 1–9 has drawn an equally remarkable number of studies, a gift from the rise of feminism and women in the academy. The combination of these two forces brings attention to the once invisible women in the text, figures generally overlooked or ignored as males have read and interpreted the text for other males. Now, however, the text again gives birth to these marginalized figures, providing them with bodies, eyes, ears, hands, feet, and especially, mouths for speech. Of 256 verses in Prov 1–9, 132 specifically mention or speak about women and another seventeen verses either introduce these texts or draw conclusions from them;hence fifty-eight percent of Prov 1–9. Yet, ironically, all this attention to women comes because of the writer’s interest and concern for young men (1:4), with a secondary appeal to older, wise men (1:5). For the sages, it would seem that the way to a man’s heart is not through food, but through women. After all, the author seems to assume, what better way to engage the attention of a young man than by speaking about or describing women?
This paper argues that a close reading of Deborah's story and song reveals an ’eshet hayil, a “woman of valor” (cf. Ruth 3:11, Prov 12:4, 31:10). This is evident not only in the direct references to her, but also in the narratives regarding her associates Barak and Jael.
Proverbs depicts the reality of its day, but provides moral principles in the context of that reality that actually challenge many of its society’s ideals. Yet both the society and moral principles depicted in Proverbs provide an interesting contrast to many cultures before and after them.
The best example of a woman in leadership over Israel is Deborah, one of the judges, all of whom were responsible for keeping the Promised Land free of foreign domination. Judges 4 is the prose account of Israel’s victory over the Canaanites from Hazor. Judges 5 is the “Song of Deborah” which tells the same story in poetic form.
The scandal of the evangelical mind, Mark Noll tells us, “is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." The reasons he lists for this are many, and include evangelical over-emphasis on the emotionally-charged experience of conversion, an overly-populist approach to evangelism, a preoccupation with personal sanctification to the exclusion of concern for creation, for society, and for the institutions represented therein, and a fortress mentality left over from the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early twentieth century.
There is a considerable lack of clarity at both the popular and scholarly levels about exactly what evangelical feminists stand for vis à vis the standard platforms of conservative Protestantism on the one hand, and secular feminism on the other.