It feels a bit risky to quote ‘A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.’ For the record, I have a very capable – and wonderful – wife, who is indeed precious to me.
The writer goes on to list the virtues and tireless work of the ‘capable wife’, who seems to be doing all the hands-on running of the household but also running a business, speculating on land deals, caring for the poor and needy, while having strength, dignity and wisdom in abundance. Yet it’s her husband who’s ‘known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.’ No wonder the chapter ends with the plea, ‘Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.’
Is it a coincidence that this chapter is said to have been written by a woman, ‘the mother of King Lemuel’? A queen mother probably knew more than most about the reality of work and status in a patriarchal society, and of how much happened behind the scenes, uncommented on. In a society which had no prominent role outside the home for women, their ability and industry often went unnoticed.
Even with more freedom in public roles for women, we still live with a lot of inequality between male and female, and though this chapter may jar today, the combined weight of domestic and ‘professional’ work still weighs more heavily on women than on men. Perhaps the most useful way to take these words to heart is to resolve not just to work for better equality, but to notice and celebrate the work of all those who support others in their public life and work – male or female. Few people, if any, find and keep public success without private support. Let’s celebrate the work of those who stay in the background – whoever they are.