Betty Friedan, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Proverbs 31 Woman

In this post, I’d like to look at the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, and comment about whether or not Betty Friedan (and, in a few cases, Phyllis Schlafly) would approve of her.  I’ll paste the NIV, then I’ll comment on any verse that draws my attention:

Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character

 10 [c] A wife of noble character who can find?
       She is worth far more than rubies.

This chapter is about what a man should look for in a wife.  I doubt that Betty Friedan would appreciate a woman’s value being attached to how she functions as a wife.

 11 Her husband has full confidence in her
       and lacks nothing of value.

Ms. Friedan would probably appreciate a woman’s husband having full confidence in her, as opposed to being a husband who feels that his wife is too dumb to understand the family’s finances or to spend money without his permission.  At the same time, Betty Friedan doesn’t care for the version of the Feminine Mystique (the view that women can only be fulfilled as wives and mothers) that exalts the housewife as intelligent in an attempt to make her feel good in her subservient, boring role.

 12 She brings him good, not harm,
       all the days of her life.

Betty Friedan isn’t against this.  She feels that a husband may not appreciate his wife’s attempts at independence at first, but she also maintains that a woman working outside of the home could benefit her husband.  The woman is no longer nagging him in an attempt to feel good about herself.  She’s better in bed because she has confidence.  And she’s bringing more money to the family through her job.

 13 She selects wool and flax
       and works with eager hands.

Ms. Friedan wouldn’t want the woman to do this solely as a hobby, for she’d desire for the woman to get recognition and payment for this work.  Would she be okay with the woman making clothes for her family?  Sure.  She’s not against women performing a role as homemaker, wife, and mother—though she does say that it would be good if the man chipped in on the housework.  She’s just against women being made to feel that their sole usefulness comes as wives, mothers, and homemakers.  Also, she may say that a woman who makes her family’s clothes has too much time on her hands and is trying to stretch out her housework to make it fulfilling, when she should be looking for a sense of identity outside of the home.  On the other hand, Betty Friedan may also acknowledge that people made their own clothes back then, since there weren’t any Gaps or Wal-Marts, but that women need fulfillment outside of the home nowadays, when they no longer have to make their family’s clothes.

 14 She is like the merchant ships,
       bringing her food from afar.

Betty Friedan would probably admire the woman’s ingenuity and resourcefulness in acquiring food.  But, at the same time, she may frown if the woman’s only doing that to support her family, for she should be doing something for herself.  Ms. Friedan wants for women to have their own identity rather than existing solely to support their family.

 15 She gets up while it is still dark;
       she provides food for her family
       and portions for her servant girls.

See comments on v 14.

 16 She considers a field and buys it;
       out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

Ms. Friedan may like the fact that the woman makes a financial decision for her family, as well as runs a vineyard.  Could that be an avenue for the creativity and intelligence that women have—something that’s more fulfilling than menial housework (which v 15 describes)?

 17 She sets about her work vigorously;
       her arms are strong for her tasks.

 18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
       and her lamp does not go out at night.

The woman trades.  Sure, it’s for the benefit of her family, but maybe she can benefit from the challenge of creating something and seeing other people appreciate her product.

 19 In her hand she holds the distaff
       and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

 20 She opens her arms to the poor
       and extends her hands to the needy.

Ms. Friedan believes that women should be in careers that benefit society, so she may appreciate the spirit of v 20.  At the same time, she’s not big on women trying to find satisfaction in volunteer roles, for such roles have a lot of tedium and aren’t challenging enough.  So she may not want women to limit their search for fulfillment to serving on the boards of charities.

 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
       for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

See comments on v 13-14.

 22 She makes coverings for her bed;
       she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

See comments on v 13-14.  I want to note, though, that there he woman does something for herself: she wears fine linen and purple.  Ms. Friedan would like that.  At the same time, Ms. Friedan wouldn’t want the woman to just focus on being pretty.

 23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
       where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

This verse seems to imply that the woman works to make her husband look good.  Ms. Friedan wouldn’t want a woman’s identity to be subsumed into that of her husband.

 24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
       and supplies the merchants with sashes.

Ms. Friedan would like this because the woman is selling what she makes and is receiving recognition for it.

 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
       she can laugh at the days to come.

The woman is confident here.  Ms. Friedan would like that.

 26 She speaks with wisdom,
       and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

This acknowledges women’s intelligence.  Ms. Friedan would like that.

 27 She watches over the affairs of her household
       and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Ms. Friedan would like for the woman to be busy, but not to stretch out the time that she spends on housework in the name of not being idle, or in a vain attempt to find fulfillment in it.  Phyllis Schlafly, by contrast, would appreciate the part about the woman watching over the affairs of her household, seeing that role as challenging and fulfilling—like a supervisory position.  

 28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
       her husband also, and he praises her:

Phyllis Schlafly would appreciate the concept of a good wife and mother receiving praise from her family and finding some fulfillment in that.  Ms. Friedan says in her chapter on the suffragist movement that kids admired their mom more when they saw her standing for what she believed was right.  At the same time, she’d want the woman to receive recognition outside of the home as well.

 29 “Many women do noble things,
       but you surpass them all.”

 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
       but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Ms. Friedan doesn’t talk about fearing the LORD, but Mrs. Schlafly does.  Both would agree that women’s value shouldn’t be based on their beauty, for women have minds, and can be good and talented people, however they look.  Still, Mrs. Schlafly does say that women have power over men because men’s sex drive is stronger than that of women.

 31 Give her the reward she has earned,
       and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Ms. Friedan would appreciate that the woman is being praised outside of the home—at the city gate.  At the same time, the woman is mostly praised for helping her family, which Ms. Friedan may not like as much.  And still, who’s to say that the people at the city gate aren’t praising the woman’s financial shrewdness, ingenuity, and resourcefulness?  If they are, then Ms. Friedan would appreciate that.

On “Give her the reward she has earned,” that sounds like the Little House episode that I discussed yesterday, Oleson Vs. Oleson: the woman contributes to the household by doing housework and looking after the children, so she should be legally recognized as man’s partner, as she keeps her own property rather than giving it to the man at marriage.  But that’s not exactly what Ms. Friedan is saying.  For her, women’s value doesn’t depend on them doing housework or looking after the children: that’s the Feminine Mystique talking!  Rather, women have intelligence and dignity, and they should pursue some degree of independence and fulfillment outside of the home.

I guess what I get out of this discussion is that two things are important: fulfilling our potential and gaining self-esteem, on the one hand; and helping out our families and communities, on the other.  It’s good when the two can overlap, in the home and outside of it.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Little House, Religion, Television, Women's History Month. Bookmark the permalink.