Are there Essex Girls in the Bible?

I have a good friend who was born in Basildon but only lived in Essex for a very short time as a child. Having moved ‘up in the world’ to Berkshire via Sussex and a few other places, I frequently tease her reminding her, “You can take the girl out of Basildon but you can’t take Basildon out of the girl!”

I too was born in Essex but don’t worry, you know I wear pink heels, but you’ll never catch me in white stilettos! The term Essex girl is usually used to describe young women from Essex who are said to be promiscuous, vulgar, scantily-dressed and of low intelligence. I am rather hoping no one thinks I qualify on those terms. But after finally getting round to watching “Made in Dagenham” on DVD, I’m starting to think there’s lots of ways in which I would like to be identified as an Essex Girl.

The film is based on the true story of the Ford women car workers’ strike of 1968, in which female staff sewing seat covers at Dagenham, went on strike to get the same wage as their male colleagues at the Ford factory. Their campaign brought widespread media attention, stimulated political debate, and eventually led the way for the Equal Pay Act of 1970. The film portrays how the actions of a few women who passionately believed in their cause eventually resonated across the world. That’s some influence!

So, why Essex girls in the Bible? I know Song of Solomon refers to the Rose of Sharon but there’s not a single mention of Tracy to be found! Well, my viewing of Made in Dagenham came at a time when the Biblical story of Esther had taken on a greater significance in my life. I find it fascinating that the name of God is never directly mentioned in the book of Esther. God has no mention in Made in Dagenham either, but in my opinion, some of His kingdom values are woven through it. I can see some strong similarities between Esther and Rita, the main character of Made in Dagenham.

Firstly, they were both acutely aware that what they did would affect other people. Rita knew that coming out on strike could have negative effects in the short term. She risked poverty and the disapproval of those around her to lead the fight for something of long term significance. Like Rita, Esther’s attitude was also far from selfish. She knew she had to speak with the King to save the Jews from execution, and she knew that entering his presence uninvited could cost her life, but after much prayer support she still went for it.

Secondly, it didn’t matter where they were from. Rita is portrayed as someone with little social status, living in what seems to be a high-rise council flat, yet she influenced people across the world. Esther was an orphan, exiled from her homeland but God still used her to rescue the Jewish people. I strongly believe that whatever your background and whatever you’ve been through does not have to determine the extent to which you can influence the world for good. In fact I’m sure God uses what we consider to be our negative experiences more than we dare to realise.

Finally, they both demonstrated considerable courage. At the beginning of the film, Rita is rather shy and doesn’t really seem to enjoy the limelight. It is her belief in the cause that brings her out of her shell, enabling her to speak with passion and clarity about the women’s fight to be treated fairly. She rather reminded me of myself when I stand up to preach – nervous until the passion for what I believe and am trying to communicate kicks in! I wonder if Esther shared the same kind of experience when she finally got to speak before the king.

You see the Bible tells us that King Nebuchadnezzar took Esther out of Jerusalem, but apparently you couldn’t take Jerusalem out of Esther. Esther never forgot she was an Israelite, part of the body of people God had chosen to preserve a knowledge of Himself in a world which otherwise would not have known or cared about Him. And Esther’s mission is mine too – to preserve the knowledge of and promote relationship with a loving God, in a world which otherwise may not notice that He cares about them.

 “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  Esther 4 v 14

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