Woman As Folly
Last year, I traded a New York City apartment for a house in a Midwestern cornfield. After living on the East Coast for nearly a decade, I didn't know what to expect from the dramatic change of scenery. The thought crossed my mind that the move might show me something new about America. It ended up showing me something new about God.
On a wintry Wednesday night in our new Midwestern life, I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary when my husband and I gathered with a few friends from church for Bible study. We'd just started a DVD-based study about marriage, and as we pushed play to begin the lesson, I glanced down at a photocopied handout with the speaker's key points. On the white page in front of me, I read excerpted verses that played like a study in the overuse of ellipses:
Gen. 3:17— Then to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife … "
Deut. 13:6— If … the wife you cherish … entice you secretly, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods … "
Job 2:10— He said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks … "
Prov. 9:13— The woman of folly is boisterous; she is naïve, and she knows nothing.
2Tim. 3:6— … captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses.
The speaker on the DVD said these verses showed that women should appreciate the desire of men to analyze and provide counsel. But I had a hard time moving beyond the underlying premise, at least as I heard it: Women are foolish. Granted, a verse or two appeared on the following page about how a prudent wife is from the Lord, but that didn't counterbalance the overarching impression that women are at worst, shrewish, at best, naïve. When we began to discuss the lesson, I was more than a little surprised to realize my opinion wasn't the consensus view.
"I think men are more aware than women of their tendency to sin," one of the men suggested. "Maybe they can use this wisdom to help guide their wives."
I couldn't believe this was being discussed as a legitimate idea. I wanted to ask if he really thought that women are blinder than men to their own foibles. Instead, I stared ahead and tried to think of a constructive response.
And then I remembered. I do know a few women who might fit the description of the "woman of folly" in Proverbs 9. I'm usually too incredulous to speak up when they behave outrageously. But that's also because I watch them on-screen, on the reality show The Real Housewives. It's an expanding franchise that started in Orange County and now includes programs based in New York and Atlanta. As a Los Angeles Times writer described the series, "The general premise—that if you put a group of well-off women together, they will spend their time buying luxury goods, obsessing about their appearance and stabbing each other in the back—is, essentially, misogyny on a stick." Of course, it's these very qualities that make the housewives celebrities, in the newest evolution of the word. Celebrity is now defined not by accomplishment or talent but by bad behavior. We're less fascinated by on-screen glamour in the style of Lauren Bacall, and more preoccupied by off-screen antics in the style of Lindsay Lohan.
The cast of The Real Housewives seem to revel in their foolishness, but their misdeeds are perhaps a lesser offense than my confession that I enjoy their company. A New York Times writer aptly described the sentiment of reality-show viewers like me: "I watch reality shows to escape from meaning, to watch someone else's marriage break up or a friendship collapse with no more investment than I have in a Toyota commercial. I don't feel their pain—which, bombarded as we are with calamitous information, is sort of the whole point, isn't it?"