Siiiiis. This week has been a rough one, hasn’t it?
No, I don’t mean in the world of Tang Tyrant’s political House of Cards — or even Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards for that matter. While the Fall of Hollywood and exposure of Mango Mussolini is indeed a flaming bag of dog poop, I know that’s not why you’ve been stressed, Sis.
You’ve been stressed and reeling since last week’s engagement announcement. You know the one. I told y’all last week to stop projecting your bullshit onto Cardi and yet, when I dared to read through the comments on threads from Crunk Feminist Collective [link] and Demetria Lucas D’Oyley [link], there you were. Dismayed and distraught that yet another overtly sexual woman was being wifed and praised for her willingness to buck the rules of misogynoir while you, in all of your regular degular splendor, remained alone.
The Coalition of Proverbs 31 Women are understandably furious. They’ve been falling on their faces before God in prayer, beseeching Spirit to send them that husband promised to them. They’ve been attending every revival, prayer breakfast, and women’s conference to prepare for their happily ever after. They’ve created the vision boards, requirements lists, and secret wedding Pinterest boards. These women took it to heart when told that “Boaz found Ruth working, not twerking” and have carried themselves accordingly, modest in dress and keeping those legs closed.
Now while they wait like Ruth to be found, Boaz has yet to reveal himself in their lives.
*sigh* Oh honey. I hate to break it to you but Boaz is never coming — and neither are you if you keep buying into this bill of goods sold to you by self-appointed relationship experts and women’s ministry leaders.
The Profitability of Women’s Brokenness
If you’ve ever been a Church Girl, or at least in proximity to church culture, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the story of Ruth and Boaz. It is taught as a model of God’s love for us and focuses on the tragic losses of Naomi and Ruth with the death of their husbands, a cleaving to one another, and ultimate faithfulness of God to bless them both through Ruth’s marriage to Boaz. Ruth is given to Christian women as an example of how to carry oneself during courtship.
It has been packaged and repackaged several times over in books, conferences, and even interesting musicals.
As Mariam Williams notes, this story — and the culture attached to it — plays on the long held suspicions of the body and pleasure. In the Christian faith, sexual pleasure is suspicious by default and, if not carefully controlled, becomes incompatible with a Godly life. It is a restrictive relationship wherein pleasure for its own sake is depicted as ultimately unfulfilling. Since sexuality is a part of the body, the original site of sin, it is irreparably dirty. It forces us to choose between the sinful pursuit of carnal please or true lasting joy.
But as always, I’m here to disrupt alladat. Let’s dispel the myths of the Ruth & Boaz story, shall we?
Myth 1: Ruth Passively Pursued Boaz
First, understand that Ruth didn’t meet Boaz by chance. Boaz was kin of Naomi’s deceased husband (Ruth 2:1; 20). Ruth then positioned herself to be favorably found, working in Boaz’s fields in hopes of being noticed (Ruth 2:2-7). Boaz does notice her and asks her not to work any other field. He offers her his protection from other men and provides her with water to drink should she become thirsty (2:8-9). And Ruth was indeed thirsty — for Boaz though, not water. She levels her game up and falls prostrated before him, meekly crying out that she doesn’t understand why he’s viewed her so favorably. Two claps for sis for this Emmy-winning performance, because it earns her a seat at the table complete with a meal and the opportunity to continue gathering in his fields without catching flack from his male employees (2:10-16).
Sexual women aren’t winning because they’re having sex. They’re winning because they’re actually *showing up* to the game. This story is usually sold to us as a woman who simply prepared herself but did not pursue the man. Ruth is our aspirational Old Testament Cinderella. Proverbs 31 women all around have mirrored this flawed notion, priding themselves on being the girl who doesn’t party, hang out, or ever leave home really. Just like Boaz didn’t show up on Ruth’s doorstep, Amazon Prime isn’t going to deliver your partner to you. Ruth was active in her pursuit of courtship so if you want to be partnered, you will have to do more than simply wait.
Myth 2: Ruth Sought Boaz out of Love
Although their story is depicted as one of loving reward for “spiritual obedience,” it’s not really a love story at all. Ruth’s courtship and eventual marriage to Boaz was a means for Ruth to secure the bag and ensure that she was provided for in her lifetime.
The way Patriarchy is set up, Naomi’s financial lifelines were gone with the deaths of her husband and sons (Ruth 1:1-5). Naomi saw very little hope for their financial security without men. She was preparing to return from Moab, where she’d lived over a decade, to her home of Judah because she’d heard that the Lord had considered his people and given them food (Ruth 1:6) — basically Naomi was planning to live off the kindness of others. In Ruth 1:11-14, Naomi is like “do I have sons in my womb that you’ll marry? I’m too old to have a husband. You should depart from me and try to find another man who can care for you. Because I’m old (and subsequently too old to have a suitor or more children), the Lord has surely turned against me.” Ooh the patriarchy is strong in this one. While Orpah, Ruth’s Sister-in-Law, decided to chuck the deuces, Ruth remained.
Proverbs 31 Women are taught to view relationships created for financial gain negatively. Yet, that’s exactly why Ruth pursued Boaz — Sis needed to eat and have somewhere to sleep. Love indeed covers a multitude of sin, but it doesn’t cover the mortgage and utilities. Boaz was, for all intents and purposes, Ruth’s sugar daddy.
The Sugar Daddy theory isn’t supported only by Boaz’s wealth, oh no! Boaz was OLD AS DIRT. Since this appears as part of the Old Testament, reviewing the Jewish Rabbinical assessment of the text reveals that Boaz was a ripe old 80 years old to Ruth’s 40 years of age (Source). You are wasting your youth trying to model the relationship of people two to four times older than you. You ’round here hollerin’ about waiting for your Boaz. SIS YA BOAZ IS DAMNED NEAR IN THE GRAVE IF HE’S REALLY LIKE BOAZ! You round here letting your good sex years die on the hills of a story about a man who if presented to you by God as your redeemer, you’d be looking at God cross-eyed.
Myth 3: Ruth Waited to Have Sex Until Marriage
Prepare yourself: I’m about to shatter a deeply held illusion for you.
In Ruth 3:1-5, We find Naomi once again plotting Ruth’s life for Ruth just as we did in chapter one. Naomi tells Ruth, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you.” That Social Security plan devised by Naomi instructs Ruth to put on her best clothes, perfume, and secretly go down to the threshing floor where Boaz will be alone. The kicker is, she’s not supposed to make herself known to him until after he is done eating and drinking for the evening. She then specifically instructs that “when he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” Ruth obeys her mother-in-law and does as is told.
Let’s review: Ruth is instructed to put on her freakum dress, go find Boaz, wait until he passes out drunk, then uncover his “feet” and lay down with him and wait for him to tell her what to do.
In case it isn’t clear to you yet, “feet” is a biblical euphemism for dick, Sis. Feet is used in the same context within these verses as it it is used in the book of Genesis: a polite way to describe male genitalia. In order to secure her future, Naomi instructed Ruth to give a drunk Boaz the NECK OF HIS LIIIIFEEEEE! Or, for the sophisticated reader, Ruth laid down with Boaz and performed oral sex among other things. Yes, Naomi really treated her daughter-in-law like a negotiable piece of property, pimping her out for survival sex way before marriage.
As Tod Linafelt puts it: “Boaz is clearly half-drunk and half-naked when he awakens to find Ruth lying next to him. Who is this woman, Boaz wonders? How far have things gone? With Boaz in a state of confused vulnerability, Ruth offers herself to him (“spread your cloak over your servant,” Ruth 3:9). She tells Boaz that he is the “next-of-kin”—the man in a position to redeem ownership of Elimelech’s property since there is no male heir (see the related law of the levirate in Deut 25:5-10). That is, Ruth sets things up so that if Boaz wants her then he must also help Naomi economically, thereby also giving Boaz a cloak of respectability with which to cover his romantic interest in this foreign woman, an interest suggested in Ruth 2:5 and confirmed in Ruth 3:10. Boaz, though vulnerable and confused during the nighttime meeting with Ruth, turns confident and effective in the daylight, as we see him publicly implement Ruth’s plan (Ruth 4:1-6).”
You might be thinking, “Bitch I KNOW YOU LYIN’!” But it’s right there in the text. While you’ve been denying yourselves the pleasure of sex, your patron saint of abstinence didn’t actually wait at all. Perhaps more important to note is the fact that Ruth didn’t wait and Boaz still married her and God blessed the union with a male heir while insuring that Ruth wanted for nothing financially.
EDITED [11/15/2017]: I spoke on this in the comments, but felt it was important to insert here with the conversations happening around this. I know you all love Strong’s Concordance (read: get a new concordance babes). Yes, a concordance is a great place to begin Biblical hermeneutics, BUT it is not the be-all, end-all to exegesis of the text. In classical Hebrew text, especially in context of the OLD Testament, it is oft cited/repeated that this word [feet] is an idiom for male genitalia. In context, the Piel verb that translates to the English “uncover” is generally used in context of illicit sexual acts. This idiom, however, is not carried over in the New Testament where we see plenty of foot washing. You can read a bit more about the Biblical idiom of feet in The Book of Ruth by Robert Hubbard (citing p.69 for this conversation). I would also recommend Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Ruth. More relatable still is Joshua, Judges, and Ruth for Everybody by John Goldingay.
You Can’t Build-a-Boaz
Boaz is never coming because he doesn’t exist, at least not in the way it’s been taught. The Ruth/Boaz narrative has been constructed as another tool to repress women’s sexuality. Women are holding themselves to a code of ethics based on a lie. We have been taught to equate our holiness, our marriageability, and our salvation to what we do with our bodies. It is a harmful practice that separates our sexuality and our spirituality while robbing both of fullness, meaning, and passion.
Sexual agency/positivity doesn’t require promiscuity, but your value isn’t hinged on putting down promiscuous people. Being an active participant in your happiness, emotional well-being, intimate courtship, and sexual fulfillment is not against God. It’s time to get free, Sis. Your freedom may not look like mine, but you still deserve to live in the fullness of your humanity and divinity.
If you’re a woman who’s ready to reclaim her sexuality and sensuality, I’d love to help you. I’m gathering an intimate group of women for authentic conversation and safe space connection and raw, authentic conversations on sex and faith. It is as much an opportunity for me to heal others as it is an attempt to heal myself. If this is your next step too, I’d love to help. Tap or click here to learn more.