Editor's note: Our free Pop Psalms ebook, featuring all 12 essays in one place, is available here.
The Proverbs 31 woman has always been intimidating. She has become the woman every Christian woman is measured against. She’s an entrepreneur, a mother, a seamstress, a wife, a fashionista, a cook, and a caregiver to the impoverished. She rises before dawn to tend perfectly to her many roles. The Proverbs 31 woman runs her world, just like Beyoncé Knowles-Carter—entertainer, creator, wife, mother—runs hers. This parallel is especially clear on Beyoncé's hit 2011 song, “Run the World (Girls).”
Despite the catchy beat, the women in “Run the World (Girls)” can seem to be living a life as unattainable as the Proverbs 31 woman. The girls in “Run the World” can do everything. They “bear the children” and “then get back to business.” They have “endless power” and can “build nations.” They “rock the latest fashions,” but do not tolerate disrespect from men. The idealized version of womanhood presented in “Run the World,” alongside Proverbs 31, seems to belie most of our realities. So while we might read along in our Bibles and join Beyoncé in shouting “Girls, we run this motha, yeah!” we do not feel very powerful; we mostly feel tired and inadequate.
It can be tough to consider a field and buy it when you only make 80 cents (white women), 62 cents (black women), 54 cents (Hispanic women), 57 cents (Native-American women) for every dollar a man makes. In the midst of a global pandemic, studies show that the increased burden of household chores, children’s education, and full-time jobs fall mostly on working mothers. The sheer weight of all these responsibilities is threatening to crush a generation of working mothers mentally and emotionally, on top of the potential to permanently derail their career prospects and earning potential. Just like the Proverbs 31 woman, 70 percent of mothers with kids under 18 are participating in today’s workforce, yet there seems to be diminishing returns.
In “Run the World,” Beyoncé empowers women through the confidence in her voice and the driving, electronic drumbeat, reminding them of all the extra, sometimes hidden work women do behind the scenes to make their families, their communities, their countries better. As the median age for marriage and the number of never-married women continues to rise, the view of idealized womanhood tied to motherhood and marriage can feel tortuous to the single and childless (especially those who are not single and childless by choice). A woman who is not married or a mother is forever on the JV team, not really a “#girlboss” because she is not juggling soccer practice and ballet classes on top of board meetings and balance sheets. If the modern woman is constantly asking herself if she can have it all, the Proverbs 31 woman seems to give a taunting yes. After all, she managed to clothe her children in scarlet before the invention of sewing machines—as effortlessly as Beyoncé turns her 24 hours in a day into jaw-dropping visuals, project after project.
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But what if songs like “Run the World” and Proverbs 31 are not meant to be seen as impossible checklists where every box must be checked to measure up? Perhaps “Run the World” is meant as a counterweight to the narrative of women as the weaker sex. It reminds us of all the ways women, like Ginger Rogers, do everything men do, only “backwards and in high heels.”
Likewise, Proverbs 31 is a countercultural allegory of the value of women. First, the poem itself comes to King Lemuel from his mother. The implication is that men can learn from women, whether it is theology or the qualities that make a good wife. Women are capable teachers and their words are to be heeded. Though she is nameless, King Lemuel’s mother is an important influence in his life, and her words about the model woman of God have survived (to the consternation of some) for generations. Further, the woman she describes is “worth more than rubies” not because she is beautiful, but because she is wise.
Throughout Proverbs, wisdom is portrayed as a woman. In Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, Lindsay Wilson provides a number of parallels between the Proverbs 31 woman and Lady Wisdom. Wilson highlights that both are worth more than precious jewels, both bring praise at the city gates, and both begin with a fear of the Lord. If the Proverbs 31 woman “is wisdom exemplified, she reminds us that biblical wisdom is not just head knowledge,” but a guide for living what is considered a good and fruitful life. Wisdom is not a gendered gift. It should be sought by men and women alike.
The Proverbs 31 woman, like “Run the World (Girls),”' celebrates the unique and varied contributions of women to their families, their neighbors, their communities, and the world. She teaches all of us that part of the blessed life is using our skills in practical ways to serve beyond just our nuclear families. She is generous with those who labor for her and with the poor. She is honored at the city gates. She makes the most of every opportunity. She is strong, but she uses her strength in the service of others.
The Proverbs 31 woman runs the world, and while most of us are aiming to run much smaller real estate, we can be encouraged rather than condemned. Bottom line, even if you are not a #girlboss, a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised, not for what she does, but because of who she is—a daughter created in the image of God her Father, with a unique purpose and plan for her life.