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Proverbs 31 Man

The summer issue of Mutuality is out the door! This issue’s “join the conversation” article focuses on gender stereotypes in marriage, cast in the light of Proverbs 31. Daniel Fan talks about his experience as a man who has lately found his own story strikingly similar to the Proverbs 31 woman.

Man CleaningProverbs 31 Man: Walking in the footsteps of the Proverbs 31 woman… as a man

By Daniel Fan

Maybe the biblical character you best connect with is Daniel in the lion’s den, or Mary when the stone was rolled away. Sometimes we connect with the well-known figures we would have chosen for ourselves. But sometimes Creator appoints us to walk in the company of stranger biblical fellows—companions we would not have chosen, but who enrich our lives even so.

This is the story of how I found myself walking the path of the Proverbs 31 woman, identifying with her story, and becoming what I call a “Proverbs 31 man.”

My tale doesn’t begin in a happy place. In 2008, the wheels came off the American economy. All my aspirations (along with my employment) skidded to a halt, while what remained of the economy tumbled on without me. It was a very humbling place.

Her husband is respected at the city gate.

I found no quick deliverance through professional leads, but Creator kept faith with me, if not my dreams. Just as the Proverbs 31 woman’s husband gained respect at the city gate, so my wife has become a respected community leader. She has received consistent promotions in her workplace at a local municipality, ensuring our financial stability.

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

With my wife at work all day, I necessarily took on more domestic duties, some of which I excelled at, and some of which required…discipline. While folding fitted sheets still escapes me, I have developed my natural gifts for improvisational cooking and for replicating dishes I’ve tasted, but don’t have recipes for. My current repertoire includes French, Italian, Chinese, Filipino, classic American, and fusion dishes. Using the ancient Chinese secret of pressure cooking, I can whip out a decent beef bourguignon in about an hour and a half. During parties, I often find myself in the kitchen surrounded by women, but interestingly enough, no one has ever questioned my masculinity after sampling my food. Cooking is not only for women: life’s too short to eat bad food, and only children cannot feed themselves.

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

Many husbands dread the question “Does this dress make me look fat?” I don’t. My wife loves me. You can tell, because I can say to her “I’d suggest the other dress with the more flattering ruching at the waist.” My wife values my input on everything from dresses to professional suits to casual wedges. Even her friends have commented on my choices for her.

She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family…. She sees that her trading is profitable.

In a strange twist of fate, I’ve had to turn what had been a hobby into an entrepreneurial exercise. I specialize in a specific line of sporting goods and accessories. My experience in this field allows me to quickly evaluate the origin, manufacturer, and condition of equipment, as well as estimate repair costs and market value of products. And because many of my sales contacts are on the East Coast and I live on the West Coast, it’s often an early-to-rise work schedule.

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

I have a calling to see the church do justice for women, minorities, and indigenous peoples. More than cooking, more than sales pitches, more than anything else, this is what Creator has tasked me to do. The twin skills of evaluation and articulation—knowing if the price tag matches the value and explaining that a certain piece doesn’t fit within a consistent mission—apply to the pursuit of justice. When the American church talks about justice for Africa, but ignores injustice on its own streets, that is more than a clash of colors. When the church markets a program of equality for all men, but forgets women, it is not offering a square deal. In the face of injustice, Creator commissions us not to break hearts, but to break silence. You might be surprised by what doors you can open with a well-placed letter or simply by appealing to the right person (and never quitting until you reach that person).

There are some parts of Proverbs 31 that I can’t claim yet. I’ll admit that my sewing skills are limited to reattaching a button. And I don’t have kids or servants to provide for (though I do sometimes get up at zero-dark-thirty to feed the cat). But that’s okay, because Proverbs 31 isn’t meant to be read as a checklist. It is a compilation of individual virtues, each of which is worthy of celebration. We would do well to embody any one of them, regardless of our gender.

It was not by choice, but by calling, that I found myself a Proverbs 31 man. And perhaps, if you look carefully, you will find yourself one as well.

How have you found yourself crossing traditional gender boundaries, whether out of desire or out of necessity? How have people responded? And how has this affected your understanding of God, yourself, or gender? Do you identify with any biblical characters not of your own gender, or figures who acted outside the prescribed behavior for their gender? What biblical women or men have inspired you to step across traditional gender boundaries in your society?

Author Bio: Daniel Fan is a writer and justice activist focused on gender equality, racial justice, and indigenous issues. He is an active member of Evangelicals 4 Justice. His writings include an award-winning screenplay entitled “Olohana” about the formation of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Daniel blogs, cooks, looks after the house, and pretty much tries to be a good Proverbs 31 guy. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, Emily Rice, and their cat.

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9 Comments

  1. Comment #104689 posted June 7, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Inspirational. God’s freedom lived out.

  2. Comment #104691 posted June 7, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    What a wonderful post! Thank you. I wrote a piece for an assignment when I was a business major, equating the Proverbs 31 woman as an executive entrepreneur running a business. If you look at that chapter in the light of the ancient Near East, the woman was comparable CEO of a small corporation.

    I am past the day where I thought the Proverbs 31 man was the guy having a beer at the corner bar with his cronies while his wife did all the work.

    Thank you for your post and giving me another “face” to that chapter.

    As a woman called to a very non-traditional calling (philosophy) I find more and more I need to have the patience of a saint with both men and women. Women don’t understand what I am doing (and who assume I’d rather be taking care of kids), yet most of my conversations are with men, who I can relate better to…sometimes.

    The majority of my friends are Atheists, and most Christians call me an evangelist.

    Consequently, no one wants to talk with me!

    *grin*

    This is a lonely walk…*not smiling here*

  3. Don Johnson
    Comment #104692 posted June 8, 2013 at 5:55 am

    In this season of my life, while I am an occasional consultant, most of the time I am simply a househusband, so that is what I say when asked what my profession is. I think it is becoming more acceptable to claim this as a job title.

  4. Comment #104693 posted June 8, 2013 at 11:28 am

    I can’t help but wonder if from an Egalitarian perspective the idea of a “Proverbs 31 Man” goes against the grain of gender equality–or at least it goes against the edification of women in the context of a male-dominant society. It seems to strip the meaning of the passage as being a model for women. There is no more exclusivity of God speaking specifically to a woman and not a man. This doesn’t seem to help the case for feminine competency and the argument that women are equally powerful in the world.

    As a man, this feels uncomfortable to bring up the idea of a “Proverbs 31 Man.” Call it cultural, call me stuck in “traditionalism.” But if I were to claim this passage as something I can embody, I feel I would rob women of a place in Scripture where God is specifically calling her to greater holiness and showing her what a godly woman looks like.

    • Comment #104694 posted June 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      I don’t think Prov. 31 is a place in Scripture where God is specifically calling a woman to greater holiness. It seems to me that all believers are called to greater holiness by the same things. Prov. 31 is simply a mother telling her son what to look for in a good wife. Nothing more or less.

      • Comment #104701 posted June 10, 2013 at 4:41 pm

        Im not sure it’s quite that simple. There is no instruction for the son to emulate these things so this must be a place where God is calling wives to greater holiness and even unmarried women by aspiration. If the mother is telling her son what to look for, but no women are striving to be like the Proverbs 31 woman who is there for her son to find? There would be no one for him and his mother would have misled him.

        • Comment #104705 posted June 11, 2013 at 10:31 am

          Brian, times change. Women are not all alike. Men are not all alike. There is little that can be interpreted as holiness in Prov. 31(written several thousand years ago) by adhering to it. Holiness is about our worship, trust and obedience to God in spiritual matters.

          Whether or not a man or a woman spins wool, sews, knits, etc. is not the point. The point is for men and women to be providing for the family. In Europe it is common that big strong men knit. I know a wonderful man of God, a gifted psychologist now retired (a tall, large, strong man), who knits the most incredible bed covers. He is working with his hands in ways that provide beautiful blankets, bed covers and other things, blessing his whole family. And it gives him peace, a time to commune with God, and satisfaction. For this man and many like him, this brings him closer to the Lord.

          But trying to demand that all women do the same (and deny the men) does not bring the same results. The point is not in the specific actions of buying properties, sewing beautiful clothes for everyone, getting up early to cook for everyone, planting a vineyard, going out looking for the poor to feed, keeping ones body strong and healthy. Men can and do, do all those things. The point is in doing things in your own cultural lands, that fit with your own skills and situations that improve the lives of those around you and your own walk with God. I think if people aim at those things it will help to point them toward a holy life.

          Roles were invented by the French to describe a character part in a play, in the 1600′s. Living life is not something one plays at to entertain others. As believers our job is to believe in the Messiah, love God with our whole being, and love others as we love ourselves. Not a formula, but a goal that can encompass many activities.

        • Kim Martin
          Comment #104773 posted July 14, 2013 at 12:07 am

          @ Brian Tromburg

          Many of the attributes listed in Pr 31 apply to men too. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life (Pr 31:12). As believers, men and women are admonished to “do good” to our enemies (Lu 6:27, 35). Men and women are admonished to “do good” and to share with others (Heb 13:16).The virtuous woman is hard working and not idle (31:17, 27). Apostle Paul proclaimed the value of hard work and sternly warned men (and women) not to be idle (2 Th 3:6-12). She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy (31:20). As believers, we are all admonished to care for the poor and needy (Ma 25:34-40). She is clothed with strength and dignity (Pr 31:25A). King David wrote, ” the God who clothes me with strength… (Ps 18:32A). Therefore, being clothed in strength is an attribute for men too. She speaks with wisdom… (31:26A). The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just (Ps 37:30). Therefore, wise speech is not just a characteristic for the virtuous woman, but it’s also characteristic of a righteous man.

  5. Trevor Trevor
    Comment #104703 posted June 10, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Brian, I think that you might be missing the point of the post here which is that in our culture, roles can, as has happened in the case with the writer, be reversed through a downturn in economic circumstances. Now that the writer is restricted to the confines of managing the domestic front he has found comfort in identifying with the Proverbs 31 woman because her obvious entrepreneurial skills freed him up to exercise his own alongside running the home. The Proverbs 31 woman is praised for her industriousness and the writer takes comfort in the fact that he too can find personal worth and satisfaction in being praised for his own insights and creative endeavour.

    In OT times it would never have been conceived that a woman should be recognised outside of the home, it was her husband who sat, with other men, at the city gate. The writer’s situation is reversed. He is confined to the home and his wife is now a full and active participant in community affairs. If the roles were exclusive he could really feel emasculated, but he doesn’t, in fact he feels liberated and happy to take on a role that is more often only the domain of women. Not only that, the Proverbs 31 woman is so unlike our traditional view of the stay at home, stuck in the kitchen Mum that it frees him to explore the boundaries and engage in other fulfilling activities, as his bio declares.

    The series of questions that Daniel proposes at the end of his post appear to me to provide a very helpful explanation of why it is that he labels himself proudly as a Proverbs 31 man, challenging us to rethink the exclusiveness of assigned gender roles.

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