Public opinion and ideals have certainly changed from what can be interpreted in Proverbs to those of today. The shift of the roles men and women play in society is generally celebrated as a positive advancement in humanity’s progression. Although women today have more power and freedom than in Proverbial times, many of the same stereotypes, limitations, and expectations of women remain. In fact, one could argue that men still hold as strong of a dominating role over women today as they did in Proverbial times through the sexualization of the female body. As abstinence continues to lose its merit within modern society, mass sexualization and objectivity of women has grown. Instead of women being expected to be ideal wives who serve their husband like they were in Proverbial times, they are expected to be ideal representations of the female body who serve to satisfy men. Although most would welcome the notion that society has progressed from Proverbial times for the better in regards to the role of women, they are still demoralized, degraded, and held to equally high standards, just in a vastly different manner.
Proverbs states that women’s instruction is equally as informative as men’s through the verse,“hear, my child, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching,”because the father is stating that the mother’s teachings are important, and not to be rejected (Proverbs 1:8). Proverbs also emphasizes women’s equality by describing the wisdom of women as that of a prophet. Woman Wisdom personifies the teachings of a prophet in the early chapters of Proverbs, which allows the lessons of wisdom and righteousness to be taught by a woman. This creates a sense of importance for the speech and opinions of females. One might suppose from excepts like such that women’s presence in society during Proverbial times is meaningful and taken with high regard; however, instead of discussing how insightful and wise women may contribute to society, Proverbs ultimately equates Woman Wisdom to the ideal wife, whose significance is directly linked to that of her husband. Proverbs also personifies sin and temptation as “Strange Woman,” whose sinful behavior leads men away from God and Heaven. Strange Woman is the personification of how women are truly viewed in a patriarchal society. Women are seen as worldly possessions that a man, a husband, will own and use because that is the role of a wife in the patriarchal society. This same gender divide witnessed within Proverbs shapes the way modern society acts toward women. The contrasting personas of “Woman Wisdom” and “Strange Woman” are used in Proverbs to show the ideal type of woman a man should aim to marry.
Proverbs accepts women as intelligent and wise members of society, but limits them to purely serve as wives. After personifying Woman Wisdom as righteous, Proverbs describes the “ideal wife” for a husband, and equates Woman Wisdom to the ideal wife. As previously stated, women’s role in society, as written in Proverbs, is to simply be a wife to her husband. Since the role of women in society is to be ideal wives to their husbands, the ideal woman is equal to the ideal wife. The wisdom and insight that Proverbs itself admits women obtain is limited to carrying out stereotypical household chores and maintenance. This ‘ideal wife’ is one whom provides for her husband with “all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:11-19). Proverbscompletely contradicts itself by painting a picture of women as wise, insightful, and equally as influential members of society, then identifies their ideal vocation to be purely homemaking tasks (Proverbs 31:11-19). In other words, Proverbs depicts the ideal women as one who is limited to taking care of household chores, which is restricting to the potential that all women have.
This idea of a woman being primarily a housewife held strong in history until recent decades. Woman have much more freedom and independence in society today; however, they are becoming more sexualized. This leads us to question who we can characterize as “woman wisdom” today, and if she even exists. An article in the Huffington Post suggests that “One interpretation is that women are getting objectified for capitalism,” and “Another interpretation is that women have many more rights to express their sexuality now than they ever did” (Pittman). This further leads us to question whether it is correct to ever subject women to certain portrayals of the female sex. Women have made great advancements in gaining equality in society and are not expected to personify these “Woman Wisdom” characteristics. However, women are also being sexualized more now than in the past. Open the Bible, and the “ideal woman” is Woman Wisdom; open an internet search on who the “ideal woman” is today, and it will be all about the ideal female body and the sexualization of it.
Many modern Christians tend to have conservative opinions, especially regarding the sexualization of females. But today, are “Strange Women” all that strange? Rather, is it stranger to be “Woman Wisdom” today? The normalization of sex and sexuality has created a new reality. Does any female truly fit the mold created in the Bible of “Woman Wisdom?” Looking into who would be this “Woman Wisdom” figure today, it is nearly impossible to find someone who fits the mold. This leads us to question whether the Bible is a plausible guide for women today. Should Christians be instructed to follow these guidelines when society today is completely different than it was upon creation of the Bible and these guidelines? Moreover, will people continue to label women as either “Women Wisdom” or “Strange Women” in society today?
Biblical Scholar, Ordained Pastor, and Professor of Religion, Jennifer Knust provides a powerful analysis of the Bible’s contradictory and complex teachings regarding females and sex. She mentions that “the Bible does not speak with one voice when it comes to marriage, women’s roles, sexy clothes, and the importance of remaining a pure virgin for one’s (future) spouse.” (Knust, 7). Often, the Bible will be one sided about these sensitive topics, seemingly allowing men to get away with breaches to certain moral teachings. Men are even incited to treat women poorly, contrary to the chivalrous demeanor that they are “supposed” to follow. For example, as the book of Proverbs progresses, the role of Woman Wisdom moves away from an independent and authoritative prophet, and shifts towards the role of simply being a man’s wife, as previously emphasized. The “man” being referenced in Proverbs is continually empowered, and essentially provided advice on how to objectify his wife. This is shown through multiple statements in Proverbs, intended for teaching, such as “why should you be intoxicated, my son, by another woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” (Proverbs 5:20). While choosing the prostitute over his wife is regarded as sinful behavior, the final choice is decided by the man, which essentially gives him total power and responsibility in his relationships and in his marriage.
This empowerment of males over females is an underlying theme in the Bible that continues to have a lasting effect. This male-female dynamic has decreased substantially over time, but one cannot fail to acknowledge that is it still prevalent in modern society. The house-wife still remains a common identifier to the submission of women who sometimes sacrifice their careers to stay at home with their children, while the husband’s income provides for the family. This stereotypical family creates a situation where the wife is completely reliant on the decisions of her husband. Additionally, the role of an ideal woman becomes more clear as Proverbs develops, cementing its argument that a wife is simply at the disposal of her husband. Not only does this mitigate women’s roles in society, but serves to promote men as holding a clearly dominant role in the gender hierarchy. The uncovering and surfacing of a delicate subject is an action that is necessary to make to help us understand why humanity has only progressed so far over such a long period of time regarding women, gender roles, and sex.
Proverb’s viewpoint of gender roles and sex is demoralizing for the modern reader, regardless of religious affiliation. The text favors and highlights the journey of males’ attainment of God’s guidance and acceptance, while holding females to an excessively high standard for their actions, constantly demeaning their existence and role in society. These generalizations of women in the Bible allow the modern reader to understand and appreciate how far society has come since its compilation and creation; and yet, it also makes the reader question how much humanity has shifted from the ideals that have shaped society throughout history. Perhaps the role of women has changed, but for the better? Through biblical interpretation, modern experience, and textual criticism we can begin to answer the question of how the roles of women have evolved, and remained the same, in modern society.