"Vashti was a biblical feminist; she wouldn't dance for the King."

That's a line from the chorus of a new-age Purim song.

A new tradition being peddled is the "Vashti flag." According to one writer, waving Vashti flags (complete with bells attached) serves to make the holiday "an opportunity to honor women's power in the face of those who fear it." According to another writer, "valuable lessons" can be learned from both Esther and Vashti. Vashti "has become our model of the strong woman who won't take any garbage from those around her," she explains.

So it seemed when I took a Scroll of Esther for a quick read.

…On the seventh day, when King Ahasuerus' heart was merry with wine, he ordered his chamberlains to bring Queen Vashti before him wearing [only] the royal crown [yes, you read that right], to show her beauty to the nations and ministers, for she was indeed beautiful.

But Queen Vashti refused to appear by the king's order brought by the chamberlains, and the king grew furious and his wrath seethed within him.

"Good on yah, Vashti!" the feminist in me proclaims"Good on yah, Vashti!" the feminist in me proclaims. Ahasuerus had it coming!

The sound of obnoxious male chauvinism only gets louder:

So the king conferred with the sages, asking them: "By law, what should be done with Queen Vashti for failing to obey the order of King Ahasuerus?"

Memuchan declared before the king and the ministers: "It is not against the King alone that Queen Vashti has sinned, for word of the Queen's deed will reach all the women and it will belittle their husbands in their eyes. For they will say: 'King Ahasuerus commanded that Queen Vashti be brought before him, yet she did not come!'

"If it pleases the King, let a royal edict be issued by him that Queen Vashti may never again appear before King Ahasuerus [nice for 'kill her']… and all the women will respect their husbands, nobleman and commoner alike…"

The idea pleased the King and the ministers [duh], and the King did as Memuchan advised. He sent letters to all the king's provinces saying that every man shall be master in his home…"

What sexists.

And what a heroine Vashti was. Celebrating her now seems natural.

A disturbing thought suddenly hits me.

What about Esther? Was she also "liberated"?

Try as I might, I can't rid my mind of the picture of compliance, obedience, and even submissiveness that sticks to her profile.

What about Assertiveness, Boldness, and Courage in the face of her man—the ABCs of any self-respecting woman? Why no hint of them?

The Other Side of Vashti

I did some digging-around. Here's what I found.

Vashti wasn't liberated at all; she was a fraudVashti wasn't liberated at all; she wasn't a proud woman who couldn't countenance exhibiting herself for the gratification of piggish men.

She was a fraud.

First, she had posed in the past clad in (just) a crown.

Second, she would gladly have done it again if not for an ugly rash which covered her body.

Thirdly, she had her Jewish maids sport birthday-suits when they worked, to humiliate them.

Three strikes. She's out.

No, Vashti was no feminist. She viewed herself exactly as men of her time did—as a beauty-object, not a person. She never went public looking less than picture perfect.

Her self-worth hung limply on her many clothing-racks, with some extra doses squeezed into tubes of skin-cream. Her level of confidence was weighed daily by a scale and was dictated, more often than that, by a mirror.

She had reduced herself to a human mannequin. She would rather be caught dead than ugly.

Unfortunately, she was caught both.

How About Esther?

Now to Esther's biography:

When the time came for Esther to go to the king, she did not ask for a thing [cosmetics] other than that which Hegai, the king's chamberlain, custodian of the women, instructed. And [therefore!] Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her.

Here was a woman glittering with healthy self-esteem. She valued herself over her looks.

This she proved (again) upon entering Ahasuerus' den.

After fasting three days, she looked green. Hardly strategic.

She didn't hide behind a mask of makeup, or a jewelry display—yet she sparkled.

Esther didn't hide behind a mask of makeup, or a jewelry display—yet she sparkledWith dignity, purpose, and grace.

Ahasuerus wasn't used to real women.

The scepter he stretched towards Esther was living proof. Even a dog like him had no choice to be impressed by Esther's dignity.

So after all dead and done, which of our Purim women was truly liberated?