My Proverbs 31 woman is a different woman than what we think of when we envision the her, the enigmatic goal of Proverbs 31.
Proverbs 31 speaks of a woman cloaked in dignity, who handles all things with grace, knowing when not to speak and when to use wisdom when she decides to. A Proverbs 31 woman is painted as well-rounded; she loves her husband and household fiercely, knows multiple tasks, and does not delight in laziness. She is a woman with a soft voice and carries herself with an air of otherworldliness; we think she probably bakes scones every morning and wears her clothes in a way that suggest effortless ease. I will never be this woman, not in the way she is described to me by others, not in the way I envision her.
I am an angry woman. There are days when my rage is palpable, and the only thing that can calm me is when I think about how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go. Some days, my rage is a tightly coiled snake in the pit of my core, waiting to strike out at the next person who so much as breathes wrong. It is a taut wire, burdened by the weight of expectations, roles to which I’ve been assigned unwillingly, and the history of womanhood built with man’s architecture.
I am a tired woman. There are days when I can’t get out of bed early, the way a Proverbs woman can. Some days, I can’t summon the energy it takes to exist in the space my body consumes; I have spent so many years shrinking myself smaller, apologizing for my consumption of air. I have apologized for my soft hips, my waist’s roundness, the closeness of my thighs. I have cloaked myself not in dignity, but the clothing that was not made for a woman like me, and I thought it was a reflection of my own failures. I have not been considered, and I’ve tried to atone for their oversights.
I am a loud woman. There are days I scream so loud, my voice goes raw and I look to my audience expecting a reaction, only to find no one in the room. I have screamed, LOOK AT ME, RESPECT ME in volumes that don’t even require my voice. I carried my neglect from childhood into my first relationship, choosing a partner based on my lack of self-love and esteem. I chose the first man who really looked at me and paid attention, buying the notion that we must be grateful when we are chosen. We are taught we must be grateful, despite the quality of who chose us, and I graduated at the top of my class in that school of thought.
I am a woman divided. I am constantly torn between fighting and fleeing, eating and starving, building and breaking. There are days my strength is a mountain that has been rooted for millennia, the slopes holding trees that provide shelter with their branches, and fruit as nourishment for the people who have settled in my steadfast warmth. And then there are days when I am the brittle tree leftover from all those resources gone, my snapped branches used as kindling for their last fire. I crave connection and community, while not wanting to surface for weeks. I want what I can’t have, and I have what I can’t want.
I am a strong woman. I broke six years ago and had to let go of my pieces, hoping to grow better fitting ones in a new country. I have blood and dirt underneath broken fingernails, used to climb out of a dark hole that I was thrown in and made a home out of. I am a woman who is messy and complicated, but capable of learning and growth. I am a woman who says ‘fuck’ a lot; not for shock value, but because my mouth is diverse and my worth is not tied to the language I use. Because ‘fuck’ is part of my vocabulary, no different to me than words like hello, blanket, peace, and table. I am married to the only person on this earth who can calm my rage, quiet my fears, and make me laugh harder than my ribcage can support. If I am consumed by a wild fire, my husband is the cooling salve that heals my burns. But when we make love, we burn together, and when I ache, he honors the process.
I talk about things that others shy from discussing, because we are told not to. This anger that consumes me is almost always related to breathing beneath a system that my sisters and I fight so hard to dismantle. We are tired from being told how to react, how to exist, to be quiet, to be graceful. To calm down. I cannot be calm and carry myself with quiet dignity, because my dignity is directly tied to my instinct to fight. My Proverbs 31 woman is one who stands her ground and fights with every breath. I am a Proverbs woman who understands that pushing people to levels of discomfort – including myself – is crucial for change. I am a Proverbs woman who understands that the French revolution didn’t start with “I don’t mean all monarchs are oppressive.”
I am also a woman who understands forgiveness and reconciliation, who sees their value and necessity in change. They are the essential aftermath of destruction; they are the healing needed to repair a fractured system. I am a woman who can fight with a friend and say I’m sorry, because pride has no place in love. I am a woman who identifies more and more with cats because I prefer being left alone, but cherish affection when it’s given, and that sentence makes no sense in this context but I have the power to put it there. I am complicated and messy and can’t bake bread, but I know a lot of skills and I had to grow up mean and strong.
I am a woman born from the aftermath of brokenness, the very thing that Jesus nurtured. I am a woman who tries. I am a woman who, when outraged, tries to channel wisdom in that anger because sometimes you just have to get angry. I am a woman who has earned the right to exist in the space I take up; earned by simply living. I am a woman who no longer apologizes for my wide hips, or the fact that I will only have a gap in my thighs when my husband is between them. I am loud, and tired, and angry, and divided, and broken, and healing. I am not the ideal, I am not the perfect. But I am the loved, I am the cherished, and I am a warrior.
I strongly suspect that by embracing these things, I am becoming that woman of Proverbs. The woman of Proverbs who can change the world, because she is not alone, and her wisdom was gained the only way wisdom can be. Through pain, through starvation, through anger, through redemption and through willingness.