No, I Don't Want My Daughter to Be Like Ruth or Esther


No, I don't want my daughter to be like Ruth or Esther

Photo by Ariel Lustre on Unsplash

May you be like Ruth and like Esther...
— From "Sabbath Prayer" via Fidler on the Roof

Umm... No thank you.

Judeo-Christian circles occasionally have some odd traditions and sentiments. Countless times, I've heard parents pray for their daughters to become women "like Ruth and Esther," two terrific protagonists in the Bible. It's such a popular sentiment that it even crept its way into 1970s show tunes via Fidler on the Roof

But it's weird. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, especially my own daughter.

Ruth was a childless widow, living in poverty in a foreign land. And, while the Biblical account of her life certainly bears a few bright spots (her devotion to her mother-in-law being one of them), the overall tone of the book of Ruth is actually quite sad. It's as though a pre-incarnated Charles Dickens had the privilege of penning Ruth's biography. Even Ruth's salvation comes through a desperate attempt to enact a levirate marriage via an illicit evening with someone who was essentially a stranger. Because kids may be read this, I'll let the lyrics from "That Summer" (by the psalmist Garth Brooks) sum up what transpired between Ruth and Boaz:

She was a lonely widow woman
Hell-bent to make it on her own
We were a thousand miles from nowhere
Wheat fields as far as I could see
Both needing something from each other
Not knowing yet what that might be

’Til she came to me one evening
Hot cup of coffee and a smile
In a dress that I was certain
She hadn’t worn in quite a while
There was a difference in her laughter
There was a softness in her eyes
And on the air there was a hunger
Even a boy could recognize
— From "That Summer" via Garth Brooks

Then there's Esther. An exiled girl who, through no fault of her own, was forced into a sexual audition to become the consort of the king of Persia. Functionally, Esther lived as a glorified sex slave to a king who had an extensive harem, at least one banished ex-queen, a history of genocidal decrees, and a strong reputation for killing people just for showing up at his place uninvited. While Esther endured her fate with exceptional faith and courage, the little bit that we know about her life is both terrifying and filled with degradation.

Ruth and Esther were seemingly wonderful women. They went through incredible hardships and seem to have emerged relatively unscathed. I absolutely admire their tenacity, strength, and faith. But I also hope that my daughter never comes even marginally close to experiencing a life similar to those of Ruth or Esther. 

To our culture's shame, we often condition our daughters to expect victimization in their lives. Through our selection of female heroines, we often inadvertantly normalize the very things we claim to oppose, such as objectification, abuse, and degrdeation. Everyone from Helen of Troy to Pocahontas to Barbie help shape the narrative of female victimhood and devaluation. Fortunately, the Bible is filled with stories of fantastic heroines. Deborah, Hannah, Mary, the other Mary, Priscilla, etc. are among the many great examples. Instead of encouraging or even praying for our daughters to emulate victims of terrible circumstances (i.e. Ruth and Esther), maybe we can try to set less dire expectations for their lives.

— John