Friday, January 13, 2012

On Being the Perfect Woman

I have a confession to make. When I was about 12 years old or so, I stole the Kama Sutra from the library. I wasn't stealing it indefinitely, understand. I just wanted to read it without the librarians (or my mother) finding out. Young Jenna was a strange child, yes, we know.

It was an interesting tome, to say the least.

When I was done, I slipped it back into its proper, Dewey Decimal-ed place in the stacks and proceeded to mull over the contents of those first few chapters for pretty much the rest of my existence. The whole sex positions part has slipped my mind, mostly because there was much more interesting material tucked away between the dusty little cover. Less sensational but no less interesting for being so.

The blogosphere has been alive recently with arguments about the "new domesticity" and a "Christian" book about marriage which is so deplorable (I only read the first chapter, which was enough) that I'm not even going to tell you what it's called. Nevertheless, if you follow the Christian commentators on these subjects, they're talking about complementarianism/egalitarianism and "God's design" for men and women, blah blah ad infinitum. (Google terms if you need background info.)

As I was being domestic today, washing dirt off my sad excuse for spinach, a thought came to me and said, "Blog ME!"

So here it is:

You think the Proverbs 31 woman is an ideal that's impossible to look up to? Try being a Kama Sutra babe.

In the Christian subculture that I grew up in, women were often pointed to Proverbs 31, which supposedly is a blueprint for the "perfect woman." In fact, if you were really deep into said subculture, you might even know that since the chapter contains 31 verses, some people like to use the verse that corresponds with one's birthdate as a sort of future profession prophecy. As a child who devoured the WSJ's wine guide every weekend, I took great pleasure in "my" verse, which is best read in the King James Version:

"Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts."

Aw. I was meant to be a bartender...

Strange prophetic mumbo-jumbo aside, the Proverbs 31 woman wouldn't fare too well in a gathering of the people who are pushing others to be like her. She is frugal but yet keeps a houseful of servants. She's a shrewd real estate developer and investor, she's buff, trades (which indicates she works "outside the home"; after all, the woman has other people to do the domestic tasks), keeps her family in the latest fashions, and she's literally the talk of the town.

That doesn't sound much like the quiet, submissive, meek woman whose sole sphere of influence consists of the footprint of her house and maybe a garden. But that's not the rabbit trail I was going down...what struck me today were the similarities between this list of qualities and the 64 arts and sciences listed in the Kama Sutra. Not because they're identical lists, but because any woman who even attempted to learn even a small portion of the options presented would be self-sufficient. She'd be able to care for herself and her family in the event that her husband died, became ill or left...or if she stayed single. They're prescriptions for success, not some kind of checklist for the perfect woman. Though if they were, the Kama Sutra woman would be hands-down the winner. It reads like a selection of university degree subjects, which is why it's amusing to see that ALL of the 64 were recommended areas of at least general knowledge for a woman. (Speaking of polymaths...)

I highly recommend reading the list. It's perfectly G-rated. Also, it might give you some new ideas on how to be the perfect woman in 2012. Personally, I'd like to start off my resolution list with:

the art of mimicry or imitation; making lemonades, sherbets, acidulated drinks, and spirituous extracts with proper flavour and colour; and tailor's work and sewing. What about you?


anne said...

been yrs since I looked at Kama stuff...
amazing what is included, the games and such that "we" play, with words and whatnot...
I like this idea, tho never was directed to being a "perfect woman" by my fam or church or other. (perhaps because I already am?!?!?!? ;) )
thanks for the provocative read!

Ellen said...

I LOVE 'my' Proverbs 31 verse: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all." !!! Wow, I didn't need an ego boost, but that was sure nice.

Anonymous said...

Practice with sword makes my list, Jenna. And the learning to pronounce difficult words... they are clearly talking about learning Portuguese here ;) Thanks for the insightful post. Really enjoyed it!