It was an opulent world, the one she lived in. Defined as the best home in the land, it was also the most dangerous. A place of law and everything in its place, including her. Vashti the queen was taught to know her place. But was that place her rightful place? Is the place we’ve been taught to “know,” the right place for us as well? Or is it a place of “don’t step out of place or you’ll be expelled?”
Xerxes the strong Persian king desired his wife to appear before drunk men, so he could show her to the people in the same way he had shown his prized possessions to the visiting nations. His wife, fresh from birthing his son and heir, was ordered to present herself as merely a possession before people who would perversely stare at her form. Suggested by scholars, that Vashti was to appear naked wearing only the royal crown, this would have been a rather dangerous situation among drunk men don’t you think? Although a queen of the strongest nation in the world, Vashti had little power, except she did have personal power. She could not control the court, or the world she lived in, but she could control her choices. She could raise her voice; she could summon all the courage she possessed and say no to being used as nothing but a possession or a form. And she did just that.
We know nothing about Vashti’s history, the rabbi’s call her vain and idolatrous, history cannot find her and so if we consider how little we know about her, perhaps we can decide on her character based on this one moment. A moment found in the first chapter of the book of her successor Esther.
Vashti is vilified in theology, but for what exactly? For refusing to be accosted, abused or misused? For exercising personal power and the right for every woman to say no when ordered to do something that goes against their character? We are a Vashti when we say no to abuse, when we say “no that makes me uncomfortable,” or “no I am not going to sleep with you.” We are Vashti when we stand on the sidewalk and protest against abuse, we are Vashti when we refuse to be judged by the food we eat or the figures we possess. We are her in so many ways and that’s a good thing.
The centuries old gate keepers of theology disliked Vashti because the gate keepers were all men, interpreting scripture based on their understanding and suspicion, hatred even, of strong women. Yet, theirs is the same laughable but sad behaviour of Xerxes and his court. Xerxes enraged with her rebellious behaviour and flat out refusal of his order, turns to one of his officials and asks what is to be done to the queen? Memucan answers and says “Vashti the queen has not only wronged the king but all the officials (royal representatives) and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all women, causing them to look on their husbands with contempt (disrespect), since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she did not come.”
Gasp! Certainly, because Vashti exercised her God given right to say no this has placed the most horrific fear in the hearts of the mighty men of Persia. Think about it, they fear a female uprising, an awakening among women, and this awakening would disrupt the very fabric of the Persian make existence. We could laugh at it, if it were not so sad and so familiar. This new law enforced upon Vashti’s refusal to be misused, now further restricted a woman’s personal power to choose what is best for her and her life. Patriarchy will rule and reign, period. This diabolical plan to silence the voice of women through law, fear, false doctrine, people, governments, and so many more outlets is not something new. It is something we are all too familiar with. Which is why we need a nation of Vashti women, right here, right now and we need a nation of Mordechai men. As much as we look lovingly at our matriarch Esther and admire her boldness to go before the king, we can forget that initially Esther wanted to remain silent. Yet it was her cousin Mordechai who insisted that she a woman, use her voice to change the course of a nation and a people, forever.
When Esther decided to use her voice, it took courage. Courage to go when unsummoned and Vashti held courage in her heart when she refused despite being summoned. Either way, it was the power of the female voice that could be heard louder than the dishes at the intimate dinner, or the drunkenness at a mass gathering. And it will be our voices refusing to be silent, that will be heard the loudest, it’s time to be a Vashti, for such a time as this.