Observations around International Women’s Day 2012
On March 8, 2012, International Women’s Day and Purim occurred in the middle of a firestorm ignited by the names a talk show pundit used to characterize Sandra Fluke, a 30-year-old (Methodist) law student at Georgetown University who testified in support of no-cost access to contraception.
I got to thinking about Esther, one of the main characters in the Purim drama. Her story in the Hebrew Testament is vivid—if nothing else. A Hebrew girl, in exile, becomes part of the king’s harem and risks all to save her people from genocide.
The characters in this story are boldly drawn—it’s no surprise that Jewish children around the world learn to hiss at the evil Haman who uses his position of trust with the King for the fulfillment of his own vendetta against the people of Israel. On the other hand, Esther, the beautiful daughter of a people in captivity, follows Uncle Mordecai’s advice and ends up in the harem of a foreign king … for such a time as this.
In contrast to the radio pundit, the biblical text does not demean Esther for parlaying her beauty and appeal for a spot in the harem—instead, she is a woman responding to the claim of God on her life “for such a time as this.” Slut or Queen? Take your pick.
The history of women in the Judean-christian culture is like that. Madonna or whore. Slut or princess. Biblical women seem to be either in the lineage of Jezebel, Rahab or Mary Magdelene; or they are Miriam, Deborah or Mary, mother of Jesus.
Women of faith around the world may be forgiven if they do not find either extreme compelling. In fact, women bring both their devotion and their passion to the cross of Christ. We believe that God created both and that God honors both, offered to the creator in thanksgiving.
What other women, besides Sandra Fluke, are called to be leaders “for such a time as this”? Who else will be galvanized by these negative, demeaning and anachronistic characterizations to step forward in faith and as “whole persons in Jesus Christ”? The world needs heroines!
What better act in response to International Women’s Day than to dedicate yourself to transformation of women and the world?
Harriett Olson is the deputy general secretary of the Women's Division.