Yoder-Short: The trophy queen says ‘no’

Jul 16, 2018 by

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No more bathing suits at the Miss America Pageant. Is the culture of female objectification finally fading?

Jane Yoder-Short


Snags in male domination are old news. Long ago, a woman from a different culture said “no” to parading in her heels and bathing suit — or was it her crown and naked?

It was the late fourth or early third century BCE. Ahasuerus ruled from India to Ethiopia. A “no” threatened to ripple through the great Persian Empire. A mere 12 verses in the first chapter of the Book of Esther tell Queen Vashti’s story.

Vashti supplies the prologue to Esther’s story. Esther enters the picture by winning the Queen Replacement Beauty Pageant prompted by Vashti’s “no.”

Vashti’s story begins with a party — an extravagant, 180-day party. There’s lavish food and too much to drink. When the party is complete, King Ahasuerus still feels the need to show off his power and wealth. He throws a seven-day drink-all-you-can banquet for the men in his city. After seven days, the king sends his seven attending eunuchs to fetch beautiful Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown. Some scholars believe it is implied that she is to wear only her crown.

In Ahasuerus’ view, Vashti is an object to be flaunted, like his good wine, golden goblets and power. What good is a trophy wife if you can’t show her off?

The eunuchs arrive to fetch the queen. Vashti refuses the king’s request. Is she tired of being an object to show off? Does she see the king’s request as a violation of her integrity? We don’t know what Vashti is thinking, but we know she is gutsy. She knew refusing the king’s orders comes with a high price.

Vashti’s “no” happens in a culture obsessed with women’s role and appearance. Panic sets in. If Vashti can refuse the king’s order, what will happen next? Will other women start saying “no”? Is cultural stability going to come undone? It’s time to clarify protocols. Royal letters are sent to all the provinces declaring every man should be master in his house. Women’s place is re-established.

We don’t know how Vashti’s story ends. We know she is banished from the palace. Did she find satisfaction in becoming more than a body, more than a trophy queen?

Vashti’s story is being played out in new ways. Women are saying “no” to parading in bathing suits, “no” to sexual harassment, “no” to silence about injustice and abuse.

Wealthy and powerful men are seeing a shift. Some kings are falling from their thrones. Fear of cultural shifts reverberates.

Saying “no” to unhealthy cultural norms opens the way to life. Jesus had a way of moving beyond cultural expectations. He said “no” to society’s expectation that men were not to speak to woman in public. He said “no” to the cultural label that a bleeding woman is unclean. He said “no” to the idea that a woman couldn’t learn at his feet.

We make choices inside cultural expectations. Can we see which choices lead to life and which of society’s expectations are degrading?

The story of Vashti reminds us to courageously say “no” to cultural pressures of beauty, power, extravagance and dehumanization. Our hearts tell us the value of people is not based on the right clothes, race or body curves. Jesus-followers say “no” to insensitive and destructive cultural and kingly orders.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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