Some scholars find the poetic description in Proverbs 31:10-31 of the so-called “Proverbs 31 woman” demeaning to women. Joseph Blenkinsopp says the biblical passage is “the petit bourgeois portrait of the ideal wife…, or perhaps…an unattainable, male fantasy of the perfect spouse, who does her husband proud and brings up a clutch of perfectly adorable children while engaged in a daunting range of managerial tasks.”
But I don’t think it’s the description in Proverbs that is demeaning; the problem is the ultra-conservative interpretation of it used so often by Christian men to enforce control in the home.
Ellen F. Davis, a professor of Bible and practical theology at Duke Divinity School, helped me see this. In her book Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, Davis an extraordinary chapter that profoundly reinterprets Proverbs 31 through an agrarian lens, showing us just how radical it was…and can still be.
Proverbs 31, writes Davis, set an ideal “before a whole people living on the edge of subsistence: women householders deprived of the benefit of adult male labor, perhaps for months; men conscripted for [military] service away from home.” The Proverbs 31 woman possesses an “intelligence bred through generations of work done in particular places, with particular materials, in response to concrete and immediate problems.” These practical skills are protective of the life of the community.… Read the rest