September 19, Ordinary 25B (Proverbs 31:10–31)
Does a good woman give and give and give without thought to her own well-being?
Those of a certain age may remember a perfume ad that first aired in 1979, the year I graduated from high school. It features a song, based on Peggy Lee’s “I’m a Woman”: “I can bring home the bacon / Fry it up in a pan / And never, never, never let you forget you’re a man.” A woman dressed for office work sings the first line. Then a duplicate version of her, dressed in a bathrobe, sings the second. For the third line of the ditty, a third version of the same woman appears on-screen, dressed in a formfitting satin dress. This is a woman who can do all the things. Except it takes three of her to do it.
At the time this commercial aired, women were rising up to say that we belong in the boardroom and not just the bedroom, in the workforce and not just the kitchen. Women can do so much more than we have been allowed to do—and by the way, call us Ms., not Mrs. or Miss. Our identity is not based on whether or not we are married.
The ad was meant to be inspiring and empowering. It targeted White women who were pushing against old ideas that treated them as weak and vulnerable, to be protected and valued as objects of beauty. The impulse to say “we can do more” was in resistance to being limited and held back. Unfortunately, it also reinforced another idea: that women, as givers and helpers, can—and should—give and give and give.