I am watching a documentary on Japanese geishas. These women can never cry or show dissatisfaction. They are told to let the man enjoy himself. This is their duty. The way they do this is by acting completely pleased, no matter the circumstance. The documentary shows the girls walking on the street in their elaborate outfits and makeup, speaking with high voices, being formulaically polite to all, giggling, and making small talk.
A few years ago, I lived in a different culture. One woman there thought my disregard of cooking and cleaning (and my desire to offer my opinion when men spoke on issues) was unGodly. She bought me a book about how women should really act around men- submissively and passively. I ignored her. I knew I didn’t want to live in fear that if I didn't perform I wasn't worthy. I didn’t want to welcome such a mindset into my life. Then, I was told by someone I trusted that I was not submissive enough...and that my questioning and voicing of my thoughts made me like a ‘quarrelsome’ woman in the Bible.
I know I’m strong. And I know I’m determined to be myself. I have always been sure to be honest. I have never pretended to like cooking and cleaning, even if I knew cooking and cleaning would garner me praise. I didn’t want to perform or pretend in any way in order to be considered valuable. To me, pretending was a sad way to live- a geisha way to live... confined and fake and striving.
After a series of heartbreaking events, I started to question if I was wrong. I thought- maybe life is just a strategic game and the key to getting someone to value you is to perform.
Here’s a list of ways to be desired by men.. to perform.
Be happy all the time.
Don’t show yourself crying.
Never look annoyed
Don’t voice opinions that differ to men’s
Be quieter than the men around you
Learn to cook for men
Clean up after men
Get men tea or coffee when they come in your house
Don’t challenge men. If something seems off, just trust that you have interpreted it wrongly
In fact, don’t ask men challenging questions at all.
Don’t make more money than men
Don’t talk about your goals if they don’t line up with the man’s goals
Submit in every way. Don’t speak in controversial issues unless it’s telling men they are right.
Learn to enjoy what the men enjoy. If the man loves skiing, you should love skiing.
Wear makeup at all times.
Keep yourself in shape.
Wear clothes that they like
Be childlike and sexy, all at the same time
Don’t know more than the man
Be at his beck and call at all hours (in order to prove yourself servant-hearted)
I have felt every single one of these requirements over my life in a small way and I have rebelled against them. I had confidence that these things that I saw in different cultures and often in the older generations weren’t beautiful or holy or freeing. I was convinced that they described a woman in captivity, not the free woman that God created me to be.
Then, I started reading Proverbs 31. The woman was listed as ‘a wife of noble character.’ According to the chapter, she brings her husband good and not harm, works with her hands, provides food for her family, serves the poor, makes coverings for the bed, makes and sells linens, and watches over the household.
I sat back in defeat.
Maybe my rebellion against this 1950's housewife style was actually rebellion against the Bible. Maybe I’m SUPPOSED to be in the house, cooking and cleaning. Maybe the condemnation I received was valid and that this IS MY problem.
Even more- I read about the quarrelsome woman. Was I her? Was I quarrelsome? Was I supposed to (Biblically) not challenge men? Maybe only men were allowed to ask questions.
Then, even more, there are verses that seem to tell women to be submissive, not to ask questions, and submit in every way to men.
I couldn’t believe it. That list I shared has NO freedom in it. How could it be what the God of freedom has for me? I thought- maybe I’m a problem. Maybe my habits just aren’t choosable or acceptable. Maybe I just need to learn the ways of submission and I have failed... and that this is why I’m not married. It’s my fault. I’m the problem. I’m not a Proverbs 31 woman. And I can’t believe I thought freedom was possible.
Then, a woman came to my church. She is a well-known prophet- someone who hears from God with such accuracy and precision that she goes around the world speaking to people. She speaks out things in people's lives that they've never mumbled to a soul.
I knew that this lady would speak over me, just as she did for everyone. I had very little confidence that I was doing anything right in my life and I was feeling like I really must have messed things up. I suspected God would use this lady to say half nice things to me and half corrections. I was eager to hear corrections, but I just begged God not to embarrass me in front of everyone.
She started speaking to me... and it wasn't embarrassing at all. It was all good things. I couldn’t believe what she was saying... what GOD was saying through her. I was shocked to hear what gifts He gave me, and yet it all felt so UNshocking and right at the same time. She spoke for around 5 minutes, confirming that my dreams were actually from God. God confirmed a destiny that no one knew my heart wanted. And then, at the end of these 5 minutes, she said,
“Dear you have (an) undivided passion for God, an undivided heart before the Lord, a purity of heart that is rare to find for you have given your heart to be purified and (have) made choices before the Lord to keep a pure heart and a pure mind. Even though you are very young, you stand before the Lord as a woman of noble character as Proverbs 31 and the Lord indeed brags about you in the streets of the nations.”
Then she was done. Her words to the next person blurred as I went to sit down. I couldn’t believe what I had heard. Most of all, I felt God confirming something in me. Some of the words I got were for the future, for the person being awakened in me... but this word was about the present. I WAS a Proverbs 31 woman.
She didn’t say anything about that to anyone else there, so I knew this wasn’t just something she said. God knew I needed to hear that. Most of all, it has shown me that when King Lemuel of Massa wrote Proverbs 31 about what his mother taught him, it wasn’t meant to confine women to performing cooking and cleaning duties in order to earn a husband. It’s not about the cooking or the cleaning or the things we do to prove ourselves as enough, it’s about the heart. I don't fit what I thought Proverbs 31 was saying, but God called me a Proverbs 31 woman, meaning maybe its not about being a housewife.
If God called ME (present me) a Proverbs 31 woman, then I know housework cannot be His prerequisite.
It has shown me that God is not a God of captivity! Or a God of that list ^ I wrote about. I have always known that in my heart, but now I grow in confidence in these truths.
Since then, I have taken a Bible class and studied hermeneutics about what submission means in the Bible. The more I research, the more I am encouraged that God didn’t mean for women to be put in these boxes. I am more and more convinced that true heavenly relationships are not control-seeking through these confines- whether by the man controlling the woman or the woman controlling the man.
The best comparison to this captivity that I can think of for men would be if men felt this pressure to make money... and believed the amount of money would determine how good of a husband they would be. This is just as toxic as the lies women hear.
Jesus has shown me that He is a God of freedom! That the verses that confine women to lives in the kitchen, and of not speaking in church have been truths in the contexts they were spoken in, but misunderstood for many years since. God has shown me that submission is not what I thought it to mean, and that when men try to make women into ‘things’ that fit their needs, we all miss out on what God had intended for us.
(Side-note: There's one book I read called "The Blue Parakeet," which is about hermeneutics. The last third of the book addresses the verses on women in the Bible and I recommend it!)