Last month an article began circulating, Raising an Esther in a Miley Cyrus World, and it struck a nerve. I chose to not respond on newsfeeds simply because the overwhelming voices were knee jerk amens.
Instead, I took the advice of Tristen Harris in his Ted Talk The manipulative tricks tech companies use to capture your attention and used it as a face to face conversation starter. What I discovered is that the reality of Esther’s world isn’t common knowledge.
Bear with me while I explain. I do believe we are raising daughters in an oversexualized world, but we have been doing so for thousands of years. Media has not created the problem, but rather brought the problem to light.
In 2009, as my soldier was headed out for deployment, the story of Esther captivated me. I decided to make his year deployment my “Esther Project.” Through studying her story, journaling through two deployments, and attempting to be an Esther the book Finding Joy: The Year Apart That Made Me A Better Wife was born.
The reason I felt a connection and calling towards Esther was because I saw a similarity in our story.
- The path her life went was not of her choosing. I fought my husband every step of the way in enlisting in the Army. This was not a life I wanted, but I chose my husband over my own desire and came along for the ride (you can read about my poor attitude in Blooming at Bliss). Esther did not choose to enter a harem, but she did choose to remain faithful to her Jewish customs.
- A full year lay before Esther in waiting for her king. When Esther entered the harem, it would be a full year before the king would lay eyes on her. When I said my last tearful goodbye to my soldier, I was saying goodbye to his physical presence in my life for a year.
- She was powerless. As my husband’s hand slipped from mine I felt powerless. The entire situation was outside of my control and no matter how desperately I wanted him to stay, he wouldn’t. Esther had no control over whether or not she would be in the harem. In fact, she had less say in her situation then I did.
What attracted me to Esther’s story was the idea. A year of pampering sounded like the perfect deployment distraction. I decided to take on the time apart by finding joy in my every day, pampering myself, and taking care of my own inner flaws. But mostly it was the romanticized vision that equated a harem to a spa that attracted me. This would not be the reality for my year and it was not the reality for Esther.
I quickly woke up to the realization that solo parenting three children under the age of 5 meant that a weekly shower would be a luxury and the only facials I would be receiving were of flung smashed peas. My first attempt at a luxurious bath resulted in my running outside nearly nude…(you’ll have to get the book to read the rest of that story).
It’s the idea of Esther, a Jewish girl who rose in the ranks to find favor with the king due to her own virtue, that weaves itself into the before mentioned blog post. It was easy to recognize that the sentiment behind the article, raising our children to be good obedient girls full of modesty and respect, was in fact the amen solicitor. But the romanticized view of Esther is not the reality of her story.
Esther was a 12 to 13-year old minority, orphaned and living in a land that was not her own. Following the public humiliation and disposal of the queen, Esther’s beauty (and the beauty of many other young children) attracted the attention of a king in need of a replacement. She was collected along with the others and any dreams she may have allowed herself disappeared. We don’t know because Esther’s desires are not important to the story, just as they were irrelevant to her fate.
It’s impossible to know Esther’s thoughts on being sent to the Harem, but the freedom of choice was not hers.
Esther was collected. Scripture says she was taken.
When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. Esther 2:8 (NIV)
Imagine for a moment those in government issuing a new law that our daughters be gathered and sent to the capitol and groomed to sexually perform for those in power. Sounds closer to dystopian literature or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale than a Sunday school story. The idea disturbs us because we believe it to be outside the norm of modern ethics.
For one full year Esther was groomed for King Xerxes. Her baths were to soften her skin for his pleasure. Her skin was perfumed to arouse his desire. Imperfections were treated and potential health risks to the king eliminated (WomenoftheBook.com). A full year was more than enough time to guarantee the legitimacy of children.
She is not the Disney princess in a beauty destined to love at first sight by her prince and yet she was not a sinner for refusing to fight back. She was a child on the brink of adulthood. She was in a land not her own struggling to maintain her Jewish identity in a world where she had no say in her future.
She was groomed to spend one night with the king. Her job was to “wow” the king so that he would remember her name and summon her again. Her destiny lay with her performance in the king’s bed.
Esther prepared one full year for one night with the king.
That was her reality. Esther was groomed along with hundreds of other girls to sexually please the man in power. I do not want to raise my children in an Esther world.
But life isn’t like that anymore.
Esther’s world isn’t ours.
Or is it?
- Since 2007 there have been a total of 31,659 human trafficking cases reported in the United States through the National Human Trafficking Hotline. (source: Human Trafficking Hotline)
- “The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary dramatically. Many victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces or manipulates them into prostitution. Others are lured in with false promises of a job, such as modeling or dancing. Some are forced to sell sex by their parents or other family members. They may be involved in a trafficking situation for a few days or weeks, or may remain in the same trafficking situation for ” (source: Polaris Project)
- Almost 19 million victims are exploited by private individuals or enterprises into forced labour, of those 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation. (source: International Labour Organization)
Esther’s story is not powerful because she fell into favor with a powerful king. Her story is powerful because despite the circumstances surrounding her she was able to rise above them. Esther used her story, her situation, her position, and refused to play the part of victim. She used the tools at her disposal (including sex and beauty) to save her people.
Her story is a story of hope to those who are oppressed and to those who feel victimized.
I do not want my daughters or my son groomed to be Esther. Her beauty, obedience, and submission helped her survive in a world where her desires were irrelevant. Esther is a powerful story full of overcoming oppression. She has to shake free of the confines of rules and become a woman of action in order to save herself and her people.
I want my children to have Esther’s strength and tenacity but I want them to live in a Miley Cyrus world where a woman has full control of her body and the right to choose her destiny. I want my children to dream about their futures and have tools beyond beauty and sex to full fill them.
Do I want my daughter swinging naked from a wrecking ball? Of course not. But I don’t want them forced into sexually pleasing another because they hold the power either.
I’m raising my children, son and daughters, to know that their body is their own and the decisions they make are their own. I’m raising them to see the value in varying views, to respect their own body and others, to never lord power over another, to be comfortable in their own skin and know unconditional love.
I am thankful for the shift to a Miley Cyrus world where a woman’s body is her own to do with as she sees fit. It wasn’t that long ago (mid to late 1800s) where unsatisfactory completely sane wives were carted off to insane asylums for easy disposal and less than 100 years when women were given the right to vote. In 1923 women were granted the right to divorce for adultery if provable and it wasn’t until 1996 that divorces stopped favoring the men financially (source: A Brief History of Divorce).
Throughout history, women have little say over the use of their bodies or control of their destinies. I am thankful for the freedom we have found.
My children will make mistakes, I am certain. But those mistakes will be theirs on a journey to understand God’s call in their lives. I cannot map out for them what that will look like.
God’s grace is BIG, it expands modern and biblical ethics, your opinion or mine.
(UPDATE: This has been encouraging a lot of great discussion on Facebook. Feel free to comment here or tag me across social media @HopeNGriffin. Whether you are in agreement with me or not I would love to discuss further and dig deeper. Just as Ted Harris, in the before mentioned Ted Talk, I believe that we should use these moments to further discussion and growth with one another rather than tear each other down. These are moments for building community and understanding. Let’s talk.)
If these ideas or even the story of Esther is new to you, I encourage you to dig deeper:
- What Was Life Like in the King’s Harem?
- Esther Actually: Princess, Whore… or Something More
- Esther: Bible from the Jewish Women’s Archive
- Esther: Royal Beauty by Angela Hunt