Sometimes I worry about my spirituality, because my preferences for biblical characters tend to lean toward the sidemen, the people who weren’t role models in starring roles. Thomas. Martha. Vashti.
I’m not the first one to notice Vashti’s uncompromisingly feminist qualities. Many others have noted her refusal to be a sexual plaything for a bunch of party boys. But there’s another quality about her that I find equally admirable: leadership.
The book of Esther opens with everyone partying, and Vashti is throwing a separate party for the women. All my life, I’ve envisioned this as an ancient Mary Kay party. But what if these women were conversing on serious issues? As noblewomen, they were probably educated. I don’t know enough to verify that, but we do know that when girls start thinking, boys be like “Whaaa..?”:
Memucan spoke up in the council of the king and princes: “It’s not only the king Queen Vashti has insulted, it’s all of us, leaders and people alike in every last one of King Xerxes’ provinces. The word’s going to get out: ‘Did you hear the latest about Queen Vashti? King Xerxes ordered her to be brought before him and she wouldn’t do it!’ When the women hear it, they’ll start treating their husbands with contempt. The day the wives of the Persian and Mede officials get wind of the queen’s insolence, they’ll be out of control. Is that what we want, a country of angry women who don’t know their place? – Esther 1
Vashti was influential and intellectually disruptive. She wasn’t acting in a solitary vacuum. She was a thinker who valued herself so much she staked her life on it. She was teetering on the brink of rousing the women in her country to redefine themselves.
Would Vashti have supported Esther, who seems to have made choices in direct contrast to Vashti’s choice? I think so, and here’s why: Beauty is a form of power. The king was clearly drawn to intelligent, as well as beautiful, women. Esther saw that an entire population of people was in peril, and she used every tool, including both beauty and intelligence, to manipulate the powerful people to save the powerless.
Both women sought to empower — Vashti for women’s rights, and Esther for the Jewish right to exist.