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January 25, 2010

The Womanliness Project: Nature versus Virtue

(I wrote this after reading Cassandra’s original post in the series, The Womanliness Project. I’ve read only a handful of the comments to that post and none of the subsequent posts on the topic so if I repeat something already said, my apologies. This is such a slippery subject I figured I’d better get my thoughts down before I lost myself in the usual thicket.)


[The instructor] spouting Proverbs to an indifferent Fifth, quoted, "Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies", whereupon Bickford raised his hand and asked, blandly, "Please, sir, what was Ruby's?"
From To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield

If we could turn the clock back 50 or 60 years, the virtue landscape would look something like this:

A virtuous man is brave. He defends his family, stands up for what he believes in, and fights for his country.
A virtuous woman is brave. She sends her husband off to war without a tear and fights fearlessly for her children.

A virtuous man is strong. He supports his family, the economy, and the country.
A virtuous woman is strong. She has her husband’s back and holds her family together.

A virtuous man is responsible. He lives up to that responsibility to his family, his employer, is community, and his country.
A virtuous woman is responsible. She lives up to that responsibility to her husband and her family.

A virtuous man is loyal. He honors his commitments to his family, his employer, and his country.
A virtuous woman is loyal. She honors her commitment to her family.

A bit overstated, perhaps, but largely accurate. Fast forward to our day and women are going off to war themselves, supporting their families and their countries with their salaried work, assuming major responsibilities outside the home, and balancing their commitment to their families and their employers. We are mostly too fair-minded to call such women unvirtuous but we may well call them unwomanly.

Men are in a worse fix. A man whose only - or even heavily favored - commitment is to his family, who “neglects” his responsibilities to the whole of the world in his involvement with his wife and children is considered not merely unmanly but unvirtuous. For a man, virtue must be exercised in the full spectrum of life and in an appropriate balance else he is not virtuous.

I think some of this discrepancy has to do with what virtue is: a deliberate decision about character, a decision to act in a certain way with regard to the world. Men choose to be brave, responsible, loyal, and strong when it might well be easier not to be. They do this because they are striving to be nobler, to live up to an ideal, whether that ideal comes from philosophy or tradition or religion. Men become virtuous by deciding to live in ways that do not arise from - and often are opposed to - their natural state.

This is only half-true for women. A woman who is brave for her children, responsible to her children, loyal to her children, strong for her children is not considered to have made a soul-searching decision to be a better person; she is simply responding to genetic and hormonal programming. Thus a woman who is not seen as being sufficiently brave, responsible, loyal, and strong where her children are concerned is not unvirtuous: she is unnatural. Unwomanly.

And the half that is true virtue for women? That she is all those things with regard to her husband; that is considered virtuous because there a woman can decide. A man’s virtue encompasses his relationship with the world; a woman’s virtue encompasses only her relationship with her husband.

Furthermore, I think this same logic plays out when we consider most of what could be called virtues typical of women. Take tact, for example. I can make an argument that it is virtuous to be able to express yourself in a way that is kinder, more likely to lead to having a civil discussion than to having a rancorous exchange. In a man, we might call this virtue Prudence or Temperance or Courtesy. I can also make an argument that women are more likely to possess this virtue. But I suspect this is unlikely to be seen as a virtue for women, as a character decision they deliberately made. Rather it is likely to be viewed as a tactic women have adopted out of necessity: they’re not strong enough - physically or in terms of power or status - to speak their minds and let the chips fall where they may. We admire speaking softly but only if the person speaking carries a big stick. So to speak.

There is one glaring exception to all this, of course, one virtue that involves women making a specific decision about character: chastity and its handmaiden, modesty. Here we are reluctantly forced to give women credit for a truly voluntary virtue. Despite many attempts throughout the millennia, it has proven impossible to believe women are not interested in sex. Thus a woman who chooses not to indulge her sexual desires willy-nilly must be accorded the dignity of having her choice recognized. Chastity is a true and acknowledged virtue for women.

To Woman, lovely woman of the Southland, as pure and chaste as this sparkling water, as cold as this gleaming ice, we lift this cup, and we pledge our hearts and lives to the protection of her virtue and chastity.
A toast recorded by Carl Carmer in Stars Fell On Alabama, quoted in Florence King’s Southern Ladies and Gentlemen

Feminism was supposed to fix all of this, to give women access to all areas of life. Women, like men, would then presumably be actualizing their virtues across all possible activities. The first part pretty much worked: women now participate in almost all aspects of society. The second part, not so much: in some ways women never got on track with the whole virtue thing. Instead, large chunks of feminism made two mistakes. First, a very large chunk of feminism decided early on that women being liberated meant women acting like men. This was an understandable decision. Women wanted what men had - more options as well as more money - and the only model they had for how to get it was to act like men. It was also a perfectly workable approach for women like me: well-educated, enthusiastic about my work, neither had nor wanted children. It’s not clear that it was the best approach for women in other circumstances: women who were less well-educated, women who considered work a necessary evil rather than a source of pleasure, and - most importantly - women who had or wanted children. Deciding women should act like men short-circuited the process of discovering whether some women, given a full range of options, would choose to take a different path from that so well-trod by men - and whether a different path would succeed.

In the realm of virtue the decision that liberation meant women acting like men had an extremely unfortunate corollary: one chunk of feminism decided that chastity and modesty did not represent virtuous choices by women but rather represented women being forced into behavior that was not expected of men. There was, of course, some truth to this: chastity and modesty have always been considered less important for men than for women which led to such tiresome constructs as the Madonna and the whore, you sleep with the bad girl but marry the good girl, and other similar nonsense. But in deciding that anything - or preferably everything - goes in sex, that women should approach sex with the same casual attitude men did (or they thought men did), this group of feminists did women a disservice. Instead of saying that it was time to get rid of the double-standard but women should continue to make character decisions about how they approached sex, this group of feminists said that women should just act like men. In so doing, they obliterated the very idea of women making their own decisions about the one virtue we’d gotten credit for in the past. The one model women had for making character decisions disappeared.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not arguing that celibacy outside marriage is the only virtuous choice for a woman. I am arguing that the existence of sexting is pretty clear evidence women need to develop some definition of chaste and modest behavior - however minimal - and pass it along to their daughters. Acting like men has become acting for men and anyone who argues that constitutes liberation for women is nuts.

The second - and to me far more maddening - mistake made by a large chunk of feminists was to decide that women actually were in the grip of genetic and hormonal dictates and that this was a good thing. This is the Earth Mother, barefoot, in tune with Gaia strain of feminism. These feminists argued women are naturally more nurturing, naturally more caring, naturally more in touch with the beauty of nature. They are therefore naturally more inclined toward co-operation than conflict, more comfortable with flat rather than hierarchical organizations, more truly understanding of the desirability of peace, more considerate of others, and more attuned to the need to care for the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged. Besides the fact that this whole line of argument makes me vaguely nauseous, it also leaves no room for women to be virtuous, to achieve a desirable characteristic by conscious decision and effort. In this view, women are no more virtuous than shrubs or dolphins or rivers. Women may be good in the same way olive trees are good but that is not the same as being virtuous. Virtue implies choice; creatures totally at one with nature are not choosing.

So. I think there should be “one standard that applies to both men and women (the ‘be a grownup’ school of thought)”. But women are in a strange fix. Despite the fact that we have been liberated for nigh onto 40 years now it’s kind of like we never got the instruction booklet. Men have traditionally been taught virtues and taught to apply those virtues to all their endeavors. Except for the virtue of chastity and its companion modesty, women have traditionally been taught virtues only in the context of their relationships with their husbands. If we value the same virtues in men and women we must teach women how to apply those virtues - to apply all virtues - to all their endeavors. It is not in women’s best interests to be cast adrift on a sea of infinite choice with no compass to help them make the choices that are best for them.

If I may use a somewhat over-simplified example. Forty years ago women looked around and saw that men in white collar jobs worked 60, 80, 120 hours to succeed. Women decided they needed to work those same hours to succeed. But no one explained to women that men worked those kinds of hours to fulfill what they saw as their primary responsibility to their families: providing for them materially as well as they possibly could. So women saw the action but didn’t truly understand the motivation - the virtue - underlying the action. Had women understood that working so many hours was actualizing a particular virtue then women could have decided for themselves how they wanted to actualize that virtue. Perhaps a woman with children would have decided she could better fulfill her responsibility to her family by working less, by providing for non-material needs to the best of her ability. Or perhaps - since a girl can dream - what feminism originally hoped for would actually happen: men and women would sit down together and decide what responsibilities they had to their families and how best to fulfill those responsibilities together, with no preconceived notions about who was best suited for which roles.

Can we encourage women to take a step back and do the thinking we should have done forty years ago, figure out for ourselves how we want to interact with the world, explore whether there is an alternate actualization of universal virtues that might work better for women? I don’t know. But it should be interesting to try.

Whether women are better than men I cannot say - but we're no worse. - Golda Meir

Posted by at January 25, 2010 08:49 AM

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Comments

Oh Elise -- I love, love, love this.

So much to think about. I think you're right about most of this - especially the part about women not getting credit for the times when we do make virtuous choices (anyone who has ever been a mother knows that when your children wake up every two hours wanting to be nursed - and it takes at least 45 minutes to feed your child - and you haven't had more than an hour's sleep in a row for two months, the so-called "maternal instinct" flies right out the window). Sleep deprivation is a form of torture and rightly so.

I can remember having to write down when my oldest woke up and when I put him back down b/c I was literally hallucinating from lack of sleep. Deciding to continue nursing b/c I wanted the best for my small son was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made - I have never wanted so badly to have help as I did back then, but there was only me. And mothers do that sort of thing all the time. Despite the fact that many mothers DON'T put their children first (not that nursing is the only way to do that, or even required) such choices are put down to "maternal instinct".

I can testify that the only instinct I felt at 2 am was to hide under the covers and never come out :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 09:15 AM

Do you think it's possible that we haven't provided the same kind of moral education to girls because:

1. They tend to be more biddable in the first place - after providing years of home day care to other people's kids I quickly learned that I rarely had to tell a little girl to do something twice. Boys were another story.

2. Perhaps in the past, we assumed that love for their families would ensure moral behavior for women, whereas when you extend the scope of womens' interactions with the world outside of the family, they have the ability to do more damage (both to themselves and to others). Thus, they need a different kind of education with increased emphasis on self restraint and self discipline?

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 09:20 AM

Civic Duty is the term I recall for us guys.

Posted by: tomg51 at January 25, 2010 10:02 AM

Women not getting credit? Too funy. All we hear about is you poor dears. If men were so publicly vocal in their self-abortions as you "women" they would be ostracized as overgrown adolescents.

But you are not so much women as you are females. You would not know a real woman it you tripped over her. It is comical to watch you cast about looking for formulations of "womanliness". It i like handing an oboe over to an orangutan.

More Female vanity.

The real problem is that you are forcing us to squint our eyes and pretend that things are other than what they are. Women going off to war? Not really. It is the men that are being shot at, it is the men that are in battle. But you expect "credit" for "going off to war" nonetheless.

Going to work? What work? What meaningful work?

Excellence? What excellence?

Jobs that are in the main not productive and have some of the most miserable exucses for "men" in them (Law, media, financing chicanery, etc) and you preform as the mediocre men do.

You do not have the ability to contribute as a first rate man does. There is not a Newton, Brahms or Ford in your entire sex.

Females use PC nostrum to pretend that they are carrying the same load, but they are not. Men are carrying them. One day we may stop.

Just more feminist hypocrisy and self-delusion.

The sad thing is that one day you will wake up and see that, see that you have not "been loyal" to your families or your nation. You have been self-indulgent teenagers, not "women" at all--grim little parodies of men.

It never occurs to you feminists in all your navel gazing that one day you will be judged for all your nonsense.

It will be a different sorry then when it comes--especially when it comes out of the mouth of your children. It will be a different story on the other side of 60 when it becomes irrefutably clear just what the nation has sacrificed in humoring you poor dears in your "equality".

Men in a fix? Civilization is in a fix so long as it indulges this feminist nonsense and insists on pretending that women are other than what they are.

It is a sign of deep decadence.

Posted by: hattip at January 25, 2010 10:10 AM

Elise,

This is a very interesting and subtle argument, and one I will want to think about carefully before responding to in any lengthy way.

I would like to make a small suggestion to start, though, which is that you may go slightly too far here: "...what virtue is: a deliberate decision about character, a decision to act in a certain way with regard to the world. Men choose to be brave, responsible, loyal, and strong when it might well be easier not to be. They do this because they are striving to be nobler, to live up to an ideal, whether that ideal comes from philosophy or tradition or religion. Men become virtuous by deciding to live in ways that do not arise from - and often are opposed to - their natural state."

The word "virtue" comes to us from the Latin for "strength"; they were drawing on the Greek arete, which means "excellence" as well as "strength."

I don't think the concept was that you're doing something "unnatural," but that you're trying to perfect your nature. Men are brave in any culture; and other men are cowardly; and some men are brave here and cowardly there. So courage isn't unnatural; rather, it's the strongest and most excellent place on the range of behavior between rashness and cowardice.

What Aristotle said was that you would be happiest if you were living the best, the most excellent life: and that meant learning how to hit that sweet spot on those ranges of behavior consistently and unconsciously.

So, you're right that it's a decision to shape your life; but I don't think it's quite right to say that it's doing things that are "against nature." Rather, it's an attempt to use reason to perfect nature.

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2010 10:21 AM

Wow, hattip... way to COMPLETELY miss the point. But then again, I suspect you're merely trolling.

Back to the adult conversation.

I think you may be selling women short Elise. I get where you're going with the "they're not virtuous behaviors if they're expected", but I can tell you that there are womanly virtues that (at least some) men value.

Honesty
Gentleness
Compassion
Humor

That's just off the top of my head. And while they're valued in context of marriage, they also have value outside that context. With no offense meant in the slightest to our hostess, I am not seeking her as a mate. However, I value the virtues she exhibits nonetheless. She is a virtuous woman, even outside of the context of her marriage (and again, I am NOT implying she isn't within that context, I have no doubt that she is).

Posted by: MikeD at January 25, 2010 10:23 AM

Just for the record:

"....It is the men that are being shot at..."

I've been under fire in the company of several women, in Iraq.

It's true that women don't get assigned some of the most dangerous jobs (although we're really pushing the limits of that concept in certain areas, like civil affairs, which gets out among the population and works with them directly); but it's hardly true that they aren't at war, or that they don't get shot at.

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2010 10:27 AM

Back to the adult conversation.

No kidding :p

The sad thing is that one day you will wake up and see that, see that you have not "been loyal" to your families or your nation. You have been self-indulgent teenagers, not "women" at all--grim little parodies of men.

This, to a woman who stayed home to raise her children and has been married for over 3 decades :p

Way to swing and miss, hattip. But please, keep the comedy coming.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 10:29 AM

Grim, hattip is not constrained by anything so mundane as actual facts.

Facts get in the way of his righteous outrage!

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 10:30 AM

Mike, that's a good point.

I think what I meant is that when women do many of the things I think of as virtues (caring for others) this is attributed to our nature rather than being viewed as a conscious decision. Elise used the notion that feminists don't recognize WHY husbands and fathers work so hard (it's a conscious choice to be the best providers they can, made because they genuinely love their families just as women who work hard at home choose to do so when they could very well lie around and eat bon bons all day).

Feminists tend to cast a man's willingness to work long hours to being selfish. And it's true that men have a strong drive to achieve (just as women have a strong drive to nurture), but it's equally true that that most married guys would tell you they work harder b/c they feel a duty to support their families and would not work quite as hard if they were single.

Does that make sense?

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 10:35 AM

Civic Duty is the term I recall for us guys.

Exactly, tom. A point that is too seldom talked of these days.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 10:37 AM

Do you think it's possible that we haven't provided the same kind of moral education to girls because

I would go with your second point (and really like the way you put it):

when you extend the scope of womens' interactions with the world outside of the family ... they need a different kind of education with increased emphasis on self restraint and self discipline?

I also wonder if some of the problem arose because moral teaching has always been intertwined with all other societal values, including gender-specific roles. When feminism got going in the 70s, the people in the society who were most likely to see the value of moral teaching tended to view feminism as something to be stamped out (arguing that changing women's roles meant destroying morality) rather than a movement to be helped. Conversely, most feminists tended to view moral teaching as something to be stamped out (arguing it was simply a justification for restricting women) rather than something to be encouraged. So rather than the two sides working together to construct a new moral framework, each side refused to play nice with the other. Everybody's loss.

It's as if we ended up with a situation where the social fabric that had existed was destroyed - or at least badly damaged - and only parts of a new social fabric were ever built. I don't think this is unique to feminism, incidentally. I haven't thought much about this more widely but I wonder if all the "revolutions" of the 60s and 70s demolished parts of society they never rebuilt.

Posted by: Elise at January 25, 2010 11:28 AM

So, you're right that it's a decision to shape your life; but I don't think it's quite right to say that it's doing things that are "against nature." Rather, it's an attempt to use reason to perfect nature.

I think my argument still works with this different perspective, Grim. However this gets kind of dangerous because it can easily lead us back to the idea that women's nature is to stay home with the kids and men's nature is to go out and work, hunt, fight, whatever. I don't necessarily think that's where you're going with this but I'd have to think some more about your point to see how to work it in.

Posted by: Elise at January 25, 2010 11:32 AM

I think you nailed it, Elise.

The second - and to me far more maddening - mistake made by a large chunk of feminists was to decide that women actually were in the grip of genetic and hormonal dictates and that this was a good thing.

This is precisely what aggravates me about so many men's activists these days. Rather than defend men who make virtuous choices (a good thing) they have responded to the erosion of respect for men by defending everything masculine, whether it's positive or not.

So we get the "You have to accept me just what way I am - that's how I'm wired", which is crap. It's crap when feminists try to peddle it and it's crap when men's activists try to peddle it.

We don't (and never have) accepted the premise that our children will grow up to be good and responsible citizens if they are allowed to do what comes naturally with no restraint.

We don't accept that our every instinct is, a priori, good; but rather teach our kids that we have all sorts of impulses that adults and virtuous people learn to restrain.

Once again, this has been my biggest problem with arguments I hear from conservatives - they are adopting the bogus arguments of feminists: arguments they rejected. But somehow what they think is bad for women becomes good when *they* do it because men can never do anything wrong?

Yikes. That's a bit of a problematic argument. It also happens, as bthun and other have noted, to be the argument used by radical Islamists. Not a company I'd care to be in, myself :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 11:40 AM

It's as if we ended up with a situation where the social fabric that had existed was destroyed - or at least badly damaged - and only parts of a new social fabric were ever built. I don't think this is unique to feminism, incidentally. I haven't thought much about this more widely but I wonder if all the "revolutions" of the 60s and 70s demolished parts of society they never rebuilt.

This is in large part the essence of why I think conservatives are a BIG part of the problem. I see us - on the one hand - lamenting the destruction of traditional roles and morals and on the other hand, actively trying to prevent society from shaping NEW roles and morals that are positive and require responsible behavior.

The problem is that they can't turn back the clock but they don't want to recognize that if you can't go back you have to go forward. I get it - you're angry that the world has changed.

So am I, in many ways. But the answer isn't, "I don't want women to have the increased choices this change brought about but at the same time I kinda like the increased freedom men now have ... so long as we're the only one who get to take advantage of it!"

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 11:49 AM

I think you have to aim for the middle here, because both extremes are wrong.

So, on the one hand, we don't say that 'virtue is working against nature,' because everything that is a virtue is at least a potential part of human nature. Furthermore, a complete denial of your nature causes problems, emotional or spiritual, that may result in serious damage.

We also don't say that 'everything that's natural is OK,' because what we want is the best of natural responses, not just any natural response. The idea is to perfect nature, not to embrace it however it comes.

So, for example, we might very well say that motherhood is part of women's nature; but that (like courage), it is something that exists on a range, and we should find the right spot on that range for each woman in each situation. And for some women, that may be that they never become mothers (e.g., nuns might never become mothers, yet still be fully virtuous). And for other women, it means that they fully embrace motherhood and raise a dozen children. And for still other women, it may mean being sure to embrace motherhood with part of their lives, in the right way so that they are the best kind of mother to their children; but not with the whole of their lives.

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2010 11:52 AM

"So, on the one hand, we don't say that 'virtue is working against nature,' because everything that is a virtue is at least a potential part of human nature. Furthermore, a complete denial of your nature causes problems, emotional or spiritual, that may result in serious damage."

In Christian theology, we are born with a sin nature, which means that we have both the original nature that God gave us along with the sin part that came from disobedience.

Virtue is then part of nature and is at war with evil that is also part of nature. That is, both are present naturally in a person. With discipline, virtue can become dominant in a person but but for it to truly take off takes spiritual intervention.

Proverbs 30 describes a virtuous wife as hard working and entrepreneurial so I am not advocating staying at home even though I believe that is best for the kids at lest until they start kids.

Posted by: Russ at January 25, 2010 01:03 PM

More coffee needed, "but but" = but and "lest" = least.

Posted by: Russ at January 25, 2010 01:05 PM

on the other hand, actively trying to prevent society from shaping NEW roles and morals that are positive and require responsible behavior.

This is something I've though a lot about in terms of having children out of wedlock. I don't think most of society is willing to return to the days when girls who became pregnant out of wedlock either concealed it by going away and giving up the child for adoption or were cast into outer darkness. Even if society was willing to return to that, I hope it isn't willing to return to the days when children born our of wedlock suffered from what wasn't their fault.

So how do we develop a new morality that makes having children out of wedlock a "bad" thing to do? Can it be flexible enough to say that having a child out of wedlock when you're 15 is a unacceptable but having a child out of wedlock when you're 40 and financially secure is okay? I think it could in theory by focusing on the hardship to the child of having a teenage mother. But how do you sort of "invent" a moral principle?

Posted by: Elise at January 25, 2010 01:08 PM

a complete denial of your nature causes problems, emotional or spiritual, that may result in serious damage.

I like this very much, Grim. If I had been able during my 20s and 30s to just accept that marriage and children were not in my nature instead of always feeling like they "should" be I would have been a much happier person.

And I have no quarrel with your larger point - the idea of finding where we each fall on the range of the range of natural behaviors makes a lot of sense to me. I do have a question though. You say:

we might very well say that motherhood is part of women's nature; but that (like courage), it is something that exists on a range, and we should find the right spot on that range for each woman in each situation.

What about men who want to embrace motherhood? Not in terms of having children, obviously. But can we say that it is natural for some men to be best suited for the role of primary caretaker for their children?

Posted by: Elise at January 25, 2010 01:15 PM

I think it could in theory by focusing on the hardship to the child of having a teenage mother. But how do you sort of "invent" a moral principle?

I think we do it by invoking what liberals call "the ethic of care". We don't demonize making a mistake but we do point out that mistakes can hurt more than just the person who messes up, and mistakes that affect more than one person are worse than mistakes that hurt only us.

FWIW, I'm not keen on saying that having a child out of wedlock at 40 is OK. Children need a Dad too. They need TWO parents.

It used to be that before you got married, you made sure you could provide a secure home and had sufficient income to support a spouse and kids. I think that before you get pregnant, you ought to ensure a stable home environment and adequate parental support for the arduous task of raising a child. You can take your chances by going it alone, but you are forcing your child to assume your risk.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 01:15 PM

Going to work? What work? What meaningful work? Excellence? What excellence?
Jobs that are in the main not productive and have some of the most miserable exucses for "men" in them (Law, media, financing chicanery, etc) and you preform as the mediocre men do.

This to a woman who worked as an applications programmer - and a remarkably good one, too. :p

Posted by: Elise at January 25, 2010 01:20 PM

Love your post, Elise. I wondered, tho, if for either male or female a virtue isn't simply something good that doesn't come easily to that particular person. Obviously, from the standpoint of the recipient (kids of TLC from a loving mom, husband of support and nudging at key points, etc.) a virtue is a virtue is a virtue. But realistically all of us have things we find easy, that come naturally, and we probably shouldn't claim too much credit for them. All of us have a life's work overcoming our sins and weaknesses, and not resting on our laurels.

For example, I grew up a tomboy running wild on a Pennsylvania farm, then became an expat brat overseas, wandering around dangerous neighborhoods and stupidly unafraid of muggers, mad dogs, disease, etc. I was a loudmouth, and had no fear of public speaking, debate, etc. So, being "brave" (to the extent that a short female can be) was not a virtue, just the way I was. I was also hot tempered, stubborn, quick with my fists.

The virtue it was hard for me to develop was self control, behaving in a "feminine" and demure fashion. It has always been harder for me to be a helpmate and cheerleader in my marriage (despite my knowing that such behaviors are virtues) than to earn a living, ferociously advocate for a sick child with an uncaring bureaucracy, etc.

I happen to think that kids benefit from having an at home mother, but I also think that some children have sick mothers, or depressed mothers, or mothers who are so brilliant at their work and so miserable at home, that a good nanny might do a better job at raising them. I received devoted care from a childless nanny when my own mother was unwilling (and often unable) to spend 24/7 with us.

IMHO (and, guys, please don't howl at my sexism, I know there are individual exceptions) most fathers are not usually the best caregivers day in and day out for young infants and children.

The rat psychology tests tell us that male rats who look after young rats secrete more pitocin and become less aggressive and more nurturing. Certainly many men take devoted care of their children when forced to by, say, unemployment or their wife dying or being ill. BUt, on the whole, most of the men I know are miserable at home or make the best of a bad job.

Often they do well with the kids, but don't keep house and the mom returns from the only job in the family to total stress, mess and no support). And men who stay home usually become isolated, and are patronized and find it hard getting the kind of support and having the social fun that moms do as groups when they are home.

For myself, I gave up a profession (hospital chaplaincy) that I loved to stay home with my kids and have never regretted it. Selfishly: I was blissfully happy nursing, looking after infants and young children, enjoyed making a home and taking care of my spouse,growing veggies, living frugally, volunteering at church, etc. But my husband and kids were happy too.

However, real life often intervenes. I was one of those women surprised by their contentment as a wife and mother, but I was not able to continue. Because of career detours of my spouse, I ended up supporting the family and having to play breadwinner. For 12 years now. This has not always been good for my kids or my equanimity, and I have become something of a harpie in the process. I can do the breadwinner thing when necessary. In a changing economy, whichever adult can find work must do so if the children are to be fed and educated. I am (I think) still a devoted mommy, packed lunches, volunteered, went to conferences, cook all our meals, still grow veggies, etc. But the homemaking stuff has slid. Also, I was a great deal nicer to my husband when not stressed to the gills about work then returning to more chaos at home.

I have no use for radical feminism or those who talk about children as if their care were burdensom, something that no sentient adult could bear. Such people shouldn't reproduce. I love my husband and kids, and would do it all over again.

Perhaps the real issue is that working women need household help: it's the laundry and dishwashing and scrubbing the toilets that drive one into insanity, not looking after children....But out of our budget.

I also feel rather strongly that people should not deliberately choose single parenthood, no matter how old or settled or prosperous or loving they may be. Kids need two parents, and I know that mine have benefited enormously from the fact that my spouse and are such temperamental opposites. When I feel like snarling at them, he takes over. And vice versa. When I am overindulgent, he lays down the law. And vice versa.

Obviously, plenty of single parents do a great job. But I would have been unable to raise my kids alone...Since one of them is autistic, perhaps I have stayed especially grateful to have a tall, deep voiced spouse to back me up!

Excuse my blather. A welcome change to think about all this after a dreary morning at the office....

Posted by: retriever at January 25, 2010 01:43 PM

I wondered, tho, if for either male or female a virtue isn't simply something good that doesn't come easily to that particular person.

Ooh, interesting question. It's sort of like the idea that courage isn't feeling no fear, it's feeling the fear and pushing forward anyhow. If we run across someone who truly has no fear, we might find him useful in certain situations but we wouldn't necessarily find him virtuous. We might - to take Grim's view - find him unbalanced.

Still, I'm inclined to take a somewhat more generous view. I think we still get credit even for those virtues that are relatively easy for us based on what we do with those virtues. It's easy for you to be brave but if you use your bravery to make other people's lives miserable (say by becoming a Mafia enforcer) then your courage is not a virtue. Instead you use it to advocate for a sick child. Again I suspect this is a matter of balance, this time a balance among virtues rather than along the spectrum of just one virtue. Bravery by itself is neither a virtue nor a vice; mix bravery with compassion or justice and you've got something. So I guess I'm concluding that virtue consists not just in a characteristic but in what you do with that characteristic.

Ah, yes, housework. I am incredibly lucky in some ways because I have a basically "masculine" level of tolerance for household chaos. I do realize, however, that I am fairly unusual among women in this regard. I believe one of the articles in the very first Ms magazine was called, "I need a wife" and was written by a professional woman who realized that maintaining a household - not just paying for it but running it - was a two-person job. I am prepared to argue that men can be excellent day-in, day-out caregivers for children - although they may "mommy" in a very different way than women - but even I wouldn't try to argue that men in general are as good as women in general at keeping house.

Posted by: Elise at January 25, 2010 02:12 PM

I think that's an interesting idea, and I'm inclined to agree that we get more credit for doing things that go against the grain. But on the other hand, one may have a natural bent but may still find certain aspects of corresponding activities onerous.

Example: men are naturally competitive and career focused, but left to themselves most men say they wouldn't work as hard as they do to support their families. IOW, they'd choose a different work/leisure mix if they only had to consider themselves.

Women are more naturally suited to the role of nurturer, but I for one never wanted ALL the responsibility of caring for my kids 24/7, 7 days a week. I got really sick of being "it" all the time.

So just as it's a virtue for my husband to tolerate the stress/worry associated with being the main provider (even though he likes working) I think it was a virtue for me to put aside everything I ever wanted to do or be to raise my kids and run our household (even though that was easier for me than it would have been for my husband).

Both involved sacrifices.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 02:21 PM

even I wouldn't try to argue that men in general are as good as women in general at keeping house.

Although, after I wrote this, it occurred to me that the military is famous for running a type ship. So why can men manage to keep a barracks - or a literal ship - full of other men clean but not a house?

Posted by: Elise at January 25, 2010 03:03 PM

So why can men manage to keep a barracks - or a literal ship - full of other men clean but not a house?

YAY! Something I know something about. The reason is twofold. First, with a barracks room, you're talking about a single room that is generally spartan to begin with. There's really no decoration, nor mantle full of knickknacks. There's no intricate scroll work, there's in most cases, no carpet. Whereas with a home, you've got several rooms, all highly cluttered with "non-essentials" that need dusting, carpets that need to be vacuumed, etc.

Second, with the barracks room, there's actually a defined and set way it is expected to be cleaned. The footlocker must be organized EXACTLY like every other footlocker. The wall locker will be organized in a extremely regimented manner. Everything has a diagram which shows how it must appear at all times. A house? Well, if you've got such a diagram for your house, you're a LOT more organized than I will ever be.

Third, inspections of the barracks room only truly take place when you're in training. Outside of the training environment, I can honestly say that during my five years of service, my room was never inspected at all. I suppose it might have been, were I to get into trouble. And that leads me to the fourth point.

When the room was being inspected, something WAS going to be found wrong. Without exception. No one passed inspection unless the Drill Sergeant wanted to pass the room. Which normally came after dinging it on several occasions. It really is a game. Something CAN be found wrong on every inspection. And it will be found if the Drill Sgt wants to find it. And then, correction will be issued so that you 'learn attention to detail'. It serves its purpose during training, especially during initial training where it's important to break down the civilian to make a soldier. And on this front, let's face it... you could go to Martha Stewart's home and find dust somewhere if you tried.

What it comes down to is, yes... as a cleaning impaired man, I CAN keep something clean and tidy. On a small scale, when fear of punishment is involved, and explicit instructions as to what needs to be cleaned how, and if you accept that everything still won't be perfect.

Posted by: MikeD at January 25, 2010 03:17 PM

I don't think you should tell a 40 year old anything differently than a 15 year old. The question is what is the proper circumstance for having a child. Without too much thought on semantics, my answer would be an honest belief of a reasonably secure home both financially and emotionally that is expected to consist of 2 loving parents - one father and one mother. I don't mean to exclude people with this definition, as financially secure may have different meanings to different people (and then there is the gay thing-a topic for another day).

Having said that, if a mistake happens or you chose to ignore my conventional wisdom, then you measure virture by the decision making process "given the mistake or prior conduct." In other words, so you messed up and got pregnant - now what? There is no escaping the consequences of our actions, but we always have the opporutnity and duty to make the best choices out of the now given situation. It is never too late to turn around. There may be costs because of prior mistakes (and they may last forever), but I commend anyone that started living right at any point in life and stuck with it.

As the son of teenagers that had the then typical quick shotgun marriage before momma started showing, I alway tell people that "my parents tried to keep me from being a bastard. Unfortunately, it didn't work."

Posted by: KJ at January 25, 2010 03:20 PM

That's an interesting point, KJ.

I can identify with the single parent thing on many levels b/c I had to make that decision. I wasn't married when I got pregnant and frankly considered it my responsibility to deal with the "problem" of supporting our baby financially.

But I also thought long and hard (heh... she said long and hard) about the parental rights of my not-yet husband. The LAST thing I wanted was to trap him into marrying me out of a sense of duty. I didn't want to be saddled with a man who didn't want me as much as I wanted him and I didn't view his parental rights as being inextricably linked to our marital status.

And if he didn't want/love me, I didn't want a dime of his money. In fact, if he didn't want me, I didn't really want anything to do with him AT ALL. I wanted him out of my life.

I was willing (and I said so) to shoulder the entire financial responsibility for our child and yet allow him to see the child without seeing me, and I would have worked to make this possible so my child would not have been deprived of a father's love and influence (even though it would have been very painful for me to have to continue dealing with him).

I also contemplated what I would do if he didn't want to spend the rest of his life with me, but felt we should be married (followed, I presume, by a quick divorce) for form's sake so that the baby had a name. I probably would have gone along with this but I can't say I would have liked it much b/c I think vows should mean something.

I was lucky in that he decided what he wanted was to marry me and make a real home for our baby. I didn't make it easy on him - I said no the first two times he asked me to marry him b/c I wanted him to be sure he really loved me and was in it for the long haul.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 03:31 PM

I didn't make it easy on him - I said no the first two times he asked me to marry him b/c I wanted him to be sure he really loved me and was in it for the long haul.

I'm not about to tell you something you don't know here, Cass. But you've got a damned good man there. That said, you pulled an awful big risk. Refusing once is fine. He's a strong determined man, he'll ask again. Refused twice? I'd begin to think you were seriously uninterested in a third offer. Then again, I have never been in his position, so I can't say I would or wouldn't have made the third offer (plus, let's not discount the fact that you're one hell of a catch yourself).

Posted by: MikeD at January 25, 2010 03:42 PM

Yes, I do.

I was also very frank with him. I told him that I loved him and always would no matter what his decision was. But you're right - he is very smart. Smarter than I am a lot of the time :)

As for me being a catch, I am not so sure about that. But he did get someone who loves him more than anything.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 03:44 PM

Here is another viable persepctive:

http://www.despair.com/mis24x30prin.html

Posted by: KJ at January 25, 2010 03:46 PM

"But he did get someone who loves him more than anything."

Something that most men I know would be willing to trade body parts to get, if they haven't already found it.

Posted by: Russ at January 25, 2010 03:54 PM

As for me being a catch, I am not so sure about that. But he did get someone who loves him more than anything.

Those two statements are mutually contradictory. If you were not a catch, the second would not be true. If the second were not true, you would not be a catch.

Posted by: MikeD at January 25, 2010 03:58 PM

On a small scale, when fear of punishment is involved, and explicit instructions as to what needs to be cleaned how, and if you accept that everything still won't be perfect.

This is mean of me and please don't rat me out to the Sisterhood but this description makes me think of how some women I know actually approach "persuading" their husbands to help around the house. Well, except for the accepting that everything still won't be perfect, of course.

Posted by: Elise at January 25, 2010 07:09 PM

What about men who want to embrace motherhood? ...can we say that it is natural for some men to be best suited for the role of primary caretaker for their children?

A man can't "embrace motherhood," since motherhood is by definition a female quality. However, he can embrace fatherhood to such a degree that he is doing what you describe: taking primary care of his children, as certain men might feel called to do, or even many men might feel called to do under some circumstances (e.g., should he lose a beloved wife, he might both wish to redouble his efforts with their children to help them with a suddenly more difficult world, and because they would be a sort of living connection to his otherwise lost love).

I doubt that the children would experience this as finding they had lost a father, and gained a second mother. Rather, they would respond to him as children respond to their father: but it would be a case where their connection was deepened out of mutual need.

And indeed, this might very well be the 'balancing point of virtue' in this situation. We can imagine a scale like the scale from cowardice to rashness; on one end is "abandoning the children," and the other "obsessively trying to find them a new mother." Both are vices in that they might cause further harm to the children (and to the man). The balance point maximizes the good; it is the point along the line of natural responses that is best, and leads to the greatest available happiness.

The "greatest available" happiness is not very happy, in this case; but it is better than the alternatives. That is a problem with life, though, not with the man or his children.

If we run across someone who truly has no fear, we might find him useful in certain situations but we wouldn't necessarily find him virtuous. We might - to take Grim's view - find him unbalanced.

That is my view, but I must yield place to Aristotle! He wrote, in the Nicomachean ethics: "...but he would be called insane or insensible if there were nothing that he feared, not even an earthquake or a storm at sea, as they say of the Celts."

...why can men manage to keep a barracks - or a literal ship - full of other men clean but not a house?

A barracks has a drain in the middle. (I knew an Australian bachelor who told me that, if he ever built a house, it was going to be concrete with a drain in the center, just like a barracks. Then, come cleaning day, you just get out the high-pressure hose...)

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2010 07:14 PM

Here is another viable persepctive

Yes, I have more than once in my life comforted myself with the deep wisdom of Catherine Aird:

If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.

More seriously, I set out to write something along the lines of: imagine there was a woman who was 40 and would make a wonderful mother and was financially secure and lived near her large, loving family with lots of brothers and sisters and their spouses to help with the child, why shouldn't she have a child? Then I realized two things. First, this is kind of covered by "the ethic of care" since part of that ethic has to be deciding if the child will actually be hurt by being born out of wedlock. Second, the exact same argument could be deployed by a 15-year-old girl who lives in poverty with her large family. Except for the financially secure part but if she believes she'll never be any better off than she is now and knows that any man she could end up marrying would be just as poor as she is, financially secure is never going to be a possibility for her.

I haven't sorted those stray thoughts out but this would be interesting to work through as a part of this whole symposium. It also makes me realize that whenever I think or write about women and their roles or virtues, it always includes musings about children. It would be interesting to try to think about womanliness apart from children. I know A Conservative Lesbian did that in her post but more broadly, does considering women without children change the idea of what womanly attributes are?

Posted by: Elise at January 25, 2010 07:26 PM

come cleaning day, you just get out the high-pressure hose...

When I look around at my house, Grim, that sounds good to me.

he can embrace fatherhood to such a degree that he is doing what you describe: taking primary care of his children, as certain men might feel called to do, or even many men might feel called to do under some circumstances

I find commas confusing (as many an English teacher has gently pointed out to me) so I'm not sure if what you're saying here is that some men might feel called upon to take primary care of their children even without the loss of the children's mother?

Posted by: Elise at January 25, 2010 07:37 PM

..does considering women without children change the idea of what womanly attributes are?

I don't think so, Elise. It just changes the available modes of expression. One might say it limits them, in fact, since it removes one core experience from life.

There is a famous quote about men that says something like, 'There are two things for which a man can never forgive himself: that he never was a soldier, and that he never went to sea.' Of course that's not right: there are plenty of men who never wanted to be a soldier nor to go to sea. There can be women who never want to be mothers.

Would we say that a man who never was a soldier nor went to see has lived a full and complete life? Well, honestly, as a man, it's hard to say that. Yet I have known many men of just that type that I liked and admired, and who were virtuous men -- even if, for reasons of their own, they chose to limit their field of action.

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2010 07:40 PM

"..even without the loss of the children's mother?"

Yes, that is what I was saying. Some men might feel so called. Other men might not feel called in and of themselves, but might if some external circumstance made it important to them.

The death of the children's mother was a hypothetical example of what one such circumstance might be. We can imagine others.

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2010 07:42 PM

"I knew an Australian bachelor who told me that, if he ever built a house, it was going to be concrete with a drain in the center, just like a barracks. Then, come cleaning day, you just get out the high-pressure hose..."
Heh. Being a no wasted motion sort of guy, especially now a days, I've threated Walkin' Boss with the same mandatory feature in our next hovel.

I mean for what other possible reason would the good Lowered have seen fit to allow us pressure washers?

Posted by: bthun at January 25, 2010 07:49 PM

Or threatened... Sheesh. One day I'll find that darned, lazy, no account proof-reader.

Posted by: bthun at January 25, 2010 10:34 PM

on differing advice to a 15 year old vs a 40 year old over having a child out of wedlock...

The thing that keeps knocking around in my head is that I wouldn't hesitate to tell a 15 year that she's not yet old enough to have sex, but would never dream of saying that to the 40 year old.

Did we skip a step somewhere?

Posted by: Donna B. at January 26, 2010 04:24 AM

"There are two things for which a man can never forgive himself: that he never was a soldier, and that he never went to sea."

I had a close encounter of the "interesting" kind with a 15-foot tiger shark in Long Island Sound when I was a lad. I have long since forgiven myself for never having gone to sea.

It was *days* before I could work up the nerve to even wash my hands...

Posted by: BillT at January 26, 2010 08:04 AM

Well, as I said, it's just an expression. Most of us don't really 'go to sea' in the same way anymore; and most of that is just staring at the water (as the fellow says in Moby Dick:

"Now then, thou not only wantest to go a-whaling, to find out by experience what whaling is, but ye also want to go in order to see the world? Was not that what ye said? I thought so. Well then, just step forward there, and take a peep over the weather-bow, and then back to me and tell me what ye see there."

For a moment I stood a little puzzled by this curious request, not knowing exactly how to take it, whether humorously or in earnest. But concentrating all his crow's feet into one scowl, Captain Peleg started me on the errand.

Going forward and glancing over the weather bow, I perceived that the ship swinging to her anchor with the flood-tide, was now obliquely pointing towards the open ocean. The prospect was unlimited, but exceedingly monotonous and forbidding; not the slightest variety that I could see.

"Well, what's the report?" said Peleg when I came back; "what did ye see?"

"Not much," I replied - "nothing but water; considerable horizon though, and there's a squall coming up, I think."

"Well, what dost thou think then of seeing the world? Do ye wish to go round Cape Horn to see any more of it, eh?"The thing he really wanted to see was the strange places beyond the sea; of which, I expect you have seen a few. And that's a good part of what makes you the man you are.

Indeed, that's why I'm always glad to see you hanging around my place cracking bad jokes. :)

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 10:01 AM

Ah, bedevil the blockquote tag.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 10:02 AM

Just stopping by to lob a few thoughts, since this discussion is currently recommended on The Firebrand:

"does considering women without children change the idea of what womanly attributes are?"

Sadly, my experience has been that it can change the idea considerably for some people. I have learned over the years to conceal my lack of offspring with new acquaintances because all too often mentioning it provokes either condescencion or viciousness from mothers- particularly the mothers of small children. Simply put: to *some* mothers, women without children are incapable of true womanliness. Or virtue.
Or as one woman put it to me: They just never grow up.

WRT to the example of the single woman of 40 having a child:
This actually happened to my sister. She worked in a successful small business with several other women, and one of her coworkers decided to have artificial insemination to become a mother. The coworker lived in the same city with her family and they were supportive and willing to pitch in. That was fine as far as it went, but as time wore on, my sister and her other coworkers were forced to absorb more and more work and longer hours while the new mother struggled with single parenthood. Their extra work was never compensated and the mothering coworker never suffered a dimunition in pay, even though she was suddenly unavailable for overtime and other tasks. She was a nice woman and the baby was gorgeous, but it wound up being tough on a lot of people who had no say in the decision.

That said, it's only fair to remind readers that widows of 40 having been raising their children alone for milennia. So I'm on the fence with this one.

Finally, on the whole virtue vs instinct issue:
I think what's missing here is the idea that civilization itself exists as a *corrall* for instinct and impulse- in other words, civilization is largely the development of conscious structures intended to shape natural impulses in order to promote stability for the group. To me this means that different types of civilizations will call this or that behaviour 'virtuous' only if it supports the overall social structure. What we have here is an argument over what shape that structure should now take, which will affect which behaviours are labelled 'virtuous.'

Posted by: Lynne at January 26, 2010 11:04 AM

****These feminists argued women are naturally more nurturing, naturally more caring, naturally more in touch with the beauty of nature. They are therefore naturally more inclined toward co-operation than conflict, more comfortable with flat rather than hierarchical organizations, more truly understanding of the desirability of peace, more considerate of others, and more attuned to the need to care for the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged.****

Not quite a swing and a miss, but a foul ball.

What those feminists also did was look at the male model of doing things, and rubricize it as unnatual, aberrant, and evil; IOW, a good man must be more like a woman.

Posted by: peter dane at January 26, 2010 11:13 AM

....I should be clear that I think there are basic concepts of right and wrong that exist apart from socially accepted virtues. (You know, stuff like 'don't go around murdering people' and 'lying is bad.') I was just sort of thinking anthropologically there.

Posted by: Lynne at January 26, 2010 11:15 AM

Speaking of women and children, the LG just called me and told me she's pregnant again: Expect Mini-Yag^2 middle September!!!

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 26, 2010 11:42 AM

That's very exciting, Yu-Ain. Congratulations to you and your lovely bride.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 12:03 PM

Congratulations, Yu-ain!

To go back to the comments above, I'm picking up a sense that men desire or demand a set of traits in women that emphasize or validate (or protect?) their own masculinity. It's my impression that women do not quite reciprocate -- that their sense of their own femininity or basic identity has very little to do with the virtues that men embody. Whether our men succeed or fail at manliness may make a big difference to us in terms of wanting them to be happy, or wanting them to be possible to live with, or even wanting financial or physical security, but I can't imagine its having any real impact on how I see myself as a woman, or my ability to "succeed" at femininity.

Which is not to say that a man who's happy with himself and able to work and play well with others isn't a joy to have around. The more successful he feels, the better for all of us. I'm sometimes puzzled by what a man needs to feel good about himself, but I figure that's his business, as long as he doesn't expect me to play an unnatural role in order to shore that feeling up.

But I may have completely misunderstood you guys -- I'm almost sure I have.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 26, 2010 12:11 PM

*Breaks typing break to peck out a hearty* Bravo! And congrats to the YAG clan!

Posted by: bthun at January 26, 2010 12:12 PM

Congratulations, YAG!

T99:

"I'm sometimes puzzled by what a man needs to feel good about himself..."

Perhaps it might be useful to lay out what are traditionally seen as 'the virtues' by men. Aristotle said that happiness was an activity; and that in particular, happiness was the activity of living virtuously.

So, in terms of what makes a man happy, it's doing these things:

Courage -- testing yourself against the world in such a way that you learn to overcome fear, and handle adversity; but avoid rashness and the foolhardiness of youth.

Temperance -- learning to take life's pleasures, but without letting yourself be undone by them. Thus, for example, you do not forgo the pleasure of wine; but you do not lose your job or home because of it either!

Generosity -- you give freely to those who deserve it; but you are not wasteful or extravagant, nor do you give to those who will use your generosity to harm themselves (e.g., as by avoiding learning responsibility).

Pride -- you must have enough of a desire for accomplishment to drive you to seek excellence; but not so much that you accept recognition you do not deserve (which is base flattery that leads to arrogance; Nobel prizes issued on your first day of the job, say). You avoid hubris, but also avoid letting people treat you badly.

Temperment -- you are able to be angry about things that justify anger, such as injustice; but you learn not to become angry over little things, or at the drop of a hat.

Truthfulness -- you learn to speak the truth and not to lie; but also not to harm others by phrasing the truth in its most brutal form. (There is also a pride element here: you should be able to describe yourself without bragging, but also without playing down your honest accomplishments. This is one of the harder parts of the virtue to actualize; the Christian version is not to brag at all, but let others speak for you following Jesus' thought about taking a lower place than you deserve at the table.)

Friendship -- Aristotle wrote a lot about friendship, and it might play to your ideas about how men look to others (not just women!) for part of their good feeling about themselves. Friendship is a very important virtue.

Justice -- you should be able to mitigate your strength so that you do not oppress others; but you should have strength, to defend not only your rights and person but the rights and persons of others. You should be interested in their rights and persons, if they are part of your community, and should stand up for what is right.

According to Aristotle, a man who learns to hit the 'sweet spot' on all those lines of action will be happy. It's hard to imagine he wouldn't be.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 02:57 PM

It's my impression that women do not quite reciprocate -- that their sense of their own femininity or basic identity has very little to do with the virtues that men embody.

I am beginning to think that I am just weird.

My sense of identity - of who I am - has little or nothing to do with my being female. It never has.

All my life I've listened to various people tell me that I should or shouldn't or could or couldn't do what I wanted to do because you're female. I never saw the connection except once I had children and was able to see that since I was the primary caretaker, any time not spent performing that function affected more than myself.

There was never anyone I could share that responsibility with. That was just the way it was whether I liked it or not.

But that's not who I was. Or who I am. Or even who I want to be. It is more an accident of birth - part of me, but by no means the largest part; and a part I was happy to play, but by no means the only part I wanted to play.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 03:12 PM

Hm.

What you're saying actually makes perfect sense with regard to the discussion T99 and I were having about how alpha/beta males versus females compare to stallions/geldings and mares, or wild horses, or packs of dogs or wolves.

In all cases, the females exhibit individuation but nothing like the strong bifurcation of behavior between alpha/beta males. This is true even though there often is an alpha female in a leadership role; but being in that role, or not being in it, doesn't produce the marked alteration in temperment that we observe in males.

So perhaps one thing we've learned is this: women perceive sex as being less central to their identity than men do. For men, it's a core part of identity, and doing it well -- acheiving the respect of men and the love of women -- is a core part of who they are.

For women, that may be true if and only if they are currently engaged in an act that is somehow inextricably linked to being female, like motherhood.

That would explain part of the difficulty of the debate. The sexes arrive with deep-set, deeply felt assumptions about the role that sex plays in defining who they are, and these ideas are very different. Thus, women have trouble understanding why men have put such emphasis on it; and men can't understand why women would assert that it's of no importance when it is, to them, of quite central importance.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 04:04 PM

Congratulations, Yu-Ain!

men desire or demand a set of traits in women that emphasize or validate (or protect?) their own masculinity ... women do not quite reciprocate -- that their sense of their own femininity or basic identity has very little to do with the virtues that men embody.

Interesting. So men need a "womanly" woman to feel like a "manly" man but women don't need a "manly" man to feel like a "womanly" woman. I wonder if that is because the traditional manly role always involved protection hence the need for a woman who required - or at last appeared to require - protection. The traditional womanly role, however, encompassed both the need for protection and the ability to protect. The latter was associated with her children but could easily be transferred to fulfilling her role by propping up (protecting) her less than manly husband - a la Melanie Wilkes. So a woman can feel traditionally "womanly" either by being protected or by protecting.

What we have here is an argument over what shape that structure should now take, which will affect which behaviours are labelled 'virtuous.'

Well put, Lynne. Never let it be said that Cassandra is not ambitious.

According to Aristotle, a man who learns to hit the 'sweet spot' on all those lines of action will be happy. It's hard to imagine he wouldn't be.

I think the same would be true for a woman, Grim.

Posted by: Elise at January 26, 2010 04:09 PM

I think so too, Elise. I note, though, that you've added some things to it for women that don't make the list -- like chastity.

It may be that 'hitting the sweet spot' on chastity is really, really important to a woman's happiness. If it occurs on Aristotle's male-based list at all, it would be under Temperance: that is, enjoying the pleasures of the world in a moderate and productive way. That's not really what's being gotten after by chastity.

It may offer a clear road for you to try to sort out how to approach the problem you raise with chastity. How do you find the spot on the range that maximizes happiness? And how, then, can we support a society that allows women to hit that spot?

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 04:25 PM

It may be that 'hitting the sweet spot' on chastity is really, really important to a woman's happiness.

Ummm... I'd have to say... no. I have noticed that chastity really important to men (not for them, mind you, but for women). Noticing that it seems to be important to men and valuing it ourselves are two very different things.

As you point out, chastity isn't moderation. It's total deprivation.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 04:30 PM

I wonder if that is because the traditional manly role always involved protection hence the need for a woman who required - or at last appeared to require - protection.

That's not quite it. "Require" has nothing to do with it. I will feel every bit as called to protect Mini-YAG when he is 21 years old and in the prime of his life as I do right now when he's only 10 months old and helpless. The only difference is that when he's 21 we'll be protecting each other. Neither of us will "need" the other's protection. But we'll still get it because it is our need to give it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 26, 2010 05:08 PM

No, I'm sorry, I wasn't clear. Deprivation is not what I meant at all. I'm not talking about celibacy, but about the use of your sexual function in a way that isn't merely about pleasure.

What I meant was that chastity isn't 'being temperate with pleasure,' because it is concerned with far more than pleasure. There are issues of parenthood and the union of two people, so that it's not quite like the virtue of 'temperance,' in which you are merely balancing two of your own interests (the good of wine, say, and the good of not being a drunkard).

"Chastity," as I understood Elise to be talking about it, is making sure that you use your sexual function to achieve several specific ends:

1) Pleasure,

2) A certain unity of spirit with the man/woman you love,

3) Reproduction.

And in order to 'hit the sweet spot' on this, you have to balance a whole lot of things. Age, income, the stability of your family structure, etc.

All I meant to say is that getting this issue right may be of quite central importance to a woman's overall happiness. It's one reason we were talking about how a 15 year old girl might reasonably make a different decision than a 40 year old woman about childrearing. Both need forms of chastity to be happy, but the 'sweet spot' may be quite different for them because they are in different parts of their lives.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 05:10 PM

As you point out, chastity isn't moderation. It's total deprivation.

You're confusing chastity with celibacy. In the case of a single woman (or man) chastity does indeed imply celibacy. But in the case of a married man (or woman) it implies having sex only with your spouse.

Also, I think chastity also embodies the appearance of chastity. IOW, not flirting with people not your spouse, or putting yourself in a situation that if not invites, at least supports unchaste behavior (like a night out at the bar with same sex friends without your spouse).

Posted by: Tony at January 26, 2010 05:19 PM

If chastity is defined the way Grim just defined it, I would agree.

Chastity, as I have always understood it, was merely complying with the mores of society. In the west that means single women don't have sex but it's fine for single men to have sex.

I have never been sure who they were supposed to have sex with since single women are supposed to be chaste and if they have sex with a married woman that's adultery. What I have been able to discern is that if a single man wants to have sex, that involves inducing a woman to do something society says is wrong and immoral.

But strangely, there's nothing wrong with him doing that.

Got it :p That's what I get for trying to apply the rules consistently.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 05:33 PM

I think chastity also embodies the appearance of chastity. IOW, not flirting with people not your spouse, or putting yourself in a situation that if not invites, at least supports unchaste behavior (like a night out at the bar with same sex friends without your spouse).

Again, it has been my distinct impression that most people these days (or even in my parents' day) would consider it ridiculous to hold men to this standard. Women, of course, are a different matter entirely.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 05:37 PM

For clarity's sake, the comment above applies to going to a bar with friends of the same sex, not to flirting.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 05:38 PM

Are you saying, Cass, that you think society objects to women going to bars together? I have to admit I never had that impression.

In the 19th century, there was a generalized idea that women shouldn't go into saloons at all; but that was driven chiefly by the Temperence movement, which was strongly associated with the women's movements. In other words, it was because the same people who were leading the charge against alcohol were the ones doing most of the talking about women and their role in society.

(One of my favorite lines from The Quiet Man comes while John Wayne is objecting to Irish courtship traditions as being troublesome compared to America. The matchmaker scoffs. "America," he says. "Pro-hib-ition." Hm, yes, point taken.)

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 05:49 PM

No. I'm saying that if society values chastity in women and chastity is (as Tony avers) partly not going to bars w/out your spouse and with people of the same sex, then it would seem that society would tend to frown on women going to bars w/out their spouse.

I also happen to think in general that society frowns on married women going to bars regardless of why they're there in a way they don't frown on men doing the same thing. But then society doesn't particularly value chastity in men.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 05:58 PM

Grim, that list of virtues that make a man happy are pretty much the same ones I'd choose for myself -- I don't see them as gender-specific. If anything, I see the de-emphasis of those virtues in the case of women as a way of assuming that women aren't quite real and therefore don't need the kinds of challenges and heroism that adult men do in order to feel fully adult and alive. In a wealthy, technologically advanced culture it's possible to avoid many kinds of risk and to make the practical need for heroism somewhat rare, but that can't change the fact that people (male and female) who don't step up are viewed with some condescension. Women are encouraged to opt out of the necessity wholesale, but if they take up the offer, they pay for it with a kind of pervasive condescension. That's true even if they're lucky enough to have a terrific male protector around who will take all the heat onto himself, which is a practical solution but not a spiritual one.

The chastity idea is interesting. As a religious matter I accept the notion that chastity (not celibacy) is a very important duty in life for both men and women, even if I may not completely understand why. As a practical matter, chastity is important to me only to the extent that I would make my husband unhappy by cheating on him. And perhaps it's important also because my experience tells me that I can't easily separate sex from intimacy and therefore will make myself unhappy if I'm too careless about whom I share sex with, because my male partners are far less likely than I to feel the same way, and unequal intimacy is likely to be painful.

My husband's chastity is important to me because it tells me something about the depth of his commitment to me, his ability to follow through on a promise, and the extent to which he can avoid cheapening his feelings by divorcing sex and intimacy. I associate the ability to pull off that kind of split with emotional landscapes that do not bode well for our domestic happiness.

Anyway, when I said I was puzzled by what a man needs to be happy, perhaps I was thinking more about what he needed to see in a woman in order to be happy with her. It's true that I can't entirely empathize with a great deal of what must be going on in the life of a man who is concerned with alpha status. Beyond recognizing that a certain level of alpha status makes for pleasant and convenient independence from people under whose control I would find it unpleasant to be, I probably am just a little tone-deaf to the depth of the drive. No one likes being under a bad leader, but I'm as happy under a good leader as I'd be serving in the leader role myself. Happier, probably.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 26, 2010 06:01 PM

I couldn't resist quoting this passage about Barbara Kingsolver's young daughter's alarming confusion on the subject of stallions and geldings:

"When it comes to mares and geldings, she knows the score. I'd recently overheard her explaining this to some of her friends. 'A stallion is a boy that's really fierce and bossy,' she told them. 'But they can give them an operation that makes them gentle and nice and helpful. You know. Like our daddies.'"

This helps me understand something about why men might view domesticity with some alarm. We women do experience something similar, though, maybe, when someone tries to fit us into a certain kind of ideal womanhood -- a sweet repository of culture who stays home and nurtures, and never makes the men uncomfortable with a challenge.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 26, 2010 06:14 PM

Cass:

I don't think I've encountered that sentiment, but I assure you I don't harbor it myself.

T99:

All I was trying to do there was to lay out what Aristotle had to say. As I told Elise, I agree that women may want almost precisely the same virtues. There are only two differences I'd note.

The first one is chastity, which she listed as being of special importance for women. (For men? Aristotle doesn't even consider it, but the Catholic thinkers who followed him considered it to be quite important -- I borrowed the list of the 'three values' to be balanced in sexuality from St. Thomas Aquinas. It may or may not be the case that happiness is maximized by taking the monkish approach that they sometimes call for!) It may be that this one is of particular importance to women, because getting it right is so deeply tied to their happiness.

The other one is that, just as two women (one 15 and one 40) might have different 'sweet spots' on the chastity scale, so too might women and men differ in where they find the right point on any given virtue. Really, that's true for any two people in different situations: but I think it's possible that sex may sometimes influence where the point lies.

For example, in the virtue of friendship: I have noticed that womens' friendships seem to be of a different character from men's. I'm not sure precisely how to describe the difference, but it may be that there is a real difference.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 06:23 PM

Grim, are you talking about how chastity in men is important to women, or how chastity in themselves is important to women? I think I may have gotten a little lost and responded to something you weren't saying.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 26, 2010 06:42 PM

I was talking about how chastity in women is important to women: by allowing them to have the relationship they want to have to marriage, family, career, and so forth.

For some women that may be avoiding motherhood because they would be miserable; for others it may mean making sure there is time for both family and career; etc. I'm defining "chastity" as hitting that 'sweet spot' on the range of action pertaining to sexuality and reproduction.

This is as opposed to temperance, which has to do with only the pleasurable aspects of sexuality. That seems to be how Aristotle thought of the problem, and I think that approach is wrong.

The virtue of chastity seems, as Elise began by saying, to have a central importance to women's happiness. Since happiness (eudaimonia) is the goal of ethics, then, it must be a virtue of particular importance to women.

Now, you could argue that 'chastity in men' is also of particular importance to women, because it helps them to achieve their goals in this area. That's certainly plausible, but it wasn't what I was thinking about.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 07:10 PM

I'm not at all sure what Elise meant.

I thought she was saying that women's chastity has been viewed as a virtue by society at large and by men in particular.

And I would tend to say that women don't value their own chastity any more highly than they value male chastity, nor do they (in my experience) have significantly different standards for men and women in that regard.

It has been my experience that women want sex to be about more than using the other person and discarding them. And that they want marriage vows to be upheld by both parties equally because when they are not, marriages are destroyed and children left fatherless. It's an issue of trust more than anything else.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 07:17 PM

I was thinking of this part of Elise's paper when I wrote that:

"Don’t get me wrong: I’m not arguing that celibacy outside marriage is the only virtuous choice for a woman. I am arguing that the existence of sexting is pretty clear evidence women need to develop some definition of chaste and modest behavior - however minimal - and pass it along to their daughters."

Also this, from her early comments:

"So how do we develop a new morality that makes having children out of wedlock a "bad" thing to do? Can it be flexible enough to say that having a child out of wedlock when you're 15 is a unacceptable but having a child out of wedlock when you're 40 and financially secure is okay?"

So this is what I was speaking to: her desire to set a new standard, and one flexible enough to encompass these cases.

I think you very much can do that, if you take model of virtue as 'hitting the sweet spot' on a range of behaviors. Chastity, the virtue of making sexuality/reproduction contribute the most it possibly can to happiness, then becomes something you can promote as a virtue.

It also is flexible enough to handle the two cases she posits. But it's binding enough to be useful, because it's not just temperance: it's not just "getting the pleasure without the pain." Rather, it recognizes that chastity is about not just the pleasure (Aquinas' point 1), but the unity of spirit between lovers (point 2, and your own 'more than disposability' point), and also reproduction (point 3).

Hitting the right balance with regard to all three points, and all three people involved (including the potential child), will make it binding enough to imply serious changes to behavior. Yet it's also flexible enough to handle different people making different choices at different places in their lives.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 07:39 PM

Ah. Then we were discussing different parts of her essay :) Thanks for the clarification.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 07:48 PM

A few random thoughts, for what they're worth...

I have learned over the years to conceal my lack of offspring with new acquaintances because all too often mentioning it provokes either condescencion or viciousness from mothers- particularly the mothers of small children. Simply put: to *some* mothers, women without children are incapable of true womanliness. Or virtue. Or as one woman put it to me: They just never grow up.

Bingo. I'm beginning to encounter that as well. Back when I was (and looked!) younger, it seemed to be more tolerated. But now I'm starting to see that pursed-lips frown--or even outright hostility and put-downs--when I opine on the subject of children. And yes, I do wonder how not having children has shaped my outlook and character. I'm definitely starting to feel that there is a part of me that I will never be able to explore because the experiences of motherhood will never draw it out of me. Does that make me less womanly? I suspect I'll never have an answer to that question... I don't know how to go about even discussing it because I have no perspective from the other side of the equation.
So men need a "womanly" woman to feel like a "manly" man but women don't need a "manly" man to feel like a "womanly" woman.

I’m not sure I’d agree with that. Since I didn't have a man in the house after the age of 11, I didn't experience the sense of being protected by a male as I became aware of my femininity in my teenage years. In fact, the first time I felt that protection I was much, much older. And it was powerful—I instantly noticed how it made ME feel; it was strikingly different. It allowed me to relax a bit, to let some of those "feminine" or "receiving" traits come to the surface in ways they never had before. In fact, in some ways I think I later swung too hard in the other direction, becoming a bit helpless at times.

I have a couple of very specific memories of being protected by men because they were striking in their novelty. They made me see myself differently, made me recognize the “you man, me woman” aspect of aspect of male-female relationships that I don’t think is EVER completely absent. They made me feel cherished, made me see myself as something worth protecting and someone valued simply because of who I was. The recognition of that protective attitude was a profound experience for me because I’d never encountered it before at a time when I saw myself as female (vs. my self-image as child when my father was around).

I've since found a better equilibrium between independence and helplessness, but I don't know which was more "genuinely me," the fiercer and more independent person I'd had to be up to that point, or the softer and more receptive person I became in the presence of protective males. It's something that I suspect most women have more experience navigating and integrating than I do, but from my experience it seems to tell me that BOTH sexes are affected by each other and thus define themselves to a certain extent by how the other responds to them. My experience makes me doubtful that a heterosexualwoman who has never been wanted/pursued by a man would see herself as fully womanly, nor that a woman who has never seen herself inspire a man’s protective behavior ever discover her full range of femininity.

The independent-minded feminist in me hates the above idea (that we require the input of others to be fully-realized), but there it is…

As for the single woman of any age purposely having children, I am thoroughly opposed: http://fuzzilicious.blogspot.com/2010/01/tragic.html

Posted by: FbL at January 26, 2010 10:31 PM

What's wrong with that idea? Honor is a social virtue: "to honor" is to sacrifice things of yourself or your own for something you think greater. Honor is the quality of a man who does that.

And that means, the 'honor' we show a man who has 'honor' is about him giving something to us, and us giving something back. Right?

Faith is a social virtue: for since I am limited, I must have something in which to place my faith.

Hope is a social virtue: for since I must die, I must have something outside myself in which to place my hope.

Love is a social virtue: for how shall I love, if I have no one to love? And what is greater than love?

Charity, perhaps: depending on how you translate caritas. And what sort of a virtue is charity?

If you're basing your concept of a "fully-realized" life on grounds where you don't care about other people, you may be building in the wrong place.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 10:42 PM

Not that I suspect you of doing that, dear FbL. I know that is not true of you, of all people.

But if you have that idea rooting in some part of your heart, feel free to tear it out. It is a weed. :)

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 10:44 PM

It's not that I don't care for/about other people, but that I resent (and fear?) the idea that I might need them for my happiness or self-actualization.

Much of my life has "taught" me to never rely on or expect anything from others (in other words, good things and positive input from others or coming about because of others' presence are to be welcomed and treasured when available, but needing them is dangerous--sadly I've had repeated lessons in that).

And I know that obviously I don't completely believe that, or I wouldn't do what I do. But yet I'm learning that I DO sometimes act as if I must be able to survive without input from anyone else... for if I need something that I cannot have/get, then what happens to my happiness or self-actualization?

That I accept that need in others but not myself is obviously irrational, but it's amazing how silly things can burrow into oneself...

If it's any consolation, I'm more receptive to that need than I used to be. :) It seems that it's actually quite opposite from what you feared--the direction is toward diminution rather than growth. ;)

Posted by: FbL at January 26, 2010 10:57 PM

Well, I'm not sure how much you want to "rely" on people; or even "expect things from" people. But the very best things in life do come from our friendships, our love, and our faith. These are all relations outside of ourself.

In any event, I only mean to challenge the idea. I know that you are a very kind and caring person, who goes to great lengths to involve herself with others and help them. While you may not rely on others, they do appreciate you; at least, I do, and I am sure othes do as well.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 11:08 PM

Heh. I had a sudden flashback to my ex-boyfriend. He once said to me, in reference to our interactions before he asked me out, when I was putting on my best face and ignoring his flirtation because I didn't believe he was serious, "You acted as if you were just fine and you didn't need anything from anybody, but that's bull___. I saw right through you."

Which takes me to another memory from him... riding on a full trolley with the air sizzling in the 3 inches between us, his back to the door and his arm around me as his policeman's eye scanned the car like a hawk until he had decided no one was a threat. Which takes me right back to the protection-and-femininity I was talking about... It was awfully tempting to melt into those three inches between us and just curl up in his embrace.

In fact, whenever we went out together I usually had no idea where I was as we walked around the city; I simply followed his lead. The few times he'd be in the passenger's seat while I drove, I frightened him with my suddenly-diminished driving skills. I would wink and tell him it was because he was so deliciously distracting, but I suspect it was that lack of balance/equilibrium I wrote about above--in his protective presence I instinctively just let it all go.

Posted by: FbL at January 26, 2010 11:09 PM

Grim, my comment of above was written before I saw your latest. Thank you for the kind words. As I said, I know the idea of irrational (and I don't even apply it to myself in all situations), but it's rooted in some pretty deep places, so it's stubborn...

Posted by: FbL at January 26, 2010 11:16 PM

Oops... Typo above: "of irrational" should be "is irrational."

Posted by: FbL at January 26, 2010 11:22 PM

FbL, you're making me thoughtful. Despite what I've written above, there is something to the idea of what we become when in the sphere of a strong man's protection. Like you, I strongly resist the danger of dependence, so I tend to discount its importance. But when my eyes are most open I know it has its effect, and it's not all bad, and it does suggest that I sometimes define myself in relation to a man's virtues. It's always hard for me to believe a man's protection will be offered without some dreadful Faustian pricetag, though.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 26, 2010 11:27 PM

I don't know about the pricetag... With a good man, I suspect the protection is more complementary than a matter dominance/trade-off. In other words, if it is a husband/boyfriend he comes to know your strengths and know when that protection is needed/appreciated as you negotiate a life together.

And there are ways a good woman protects a man, too... if she is loving and loyal she creates a "space" that the man knows he can return to for emotional safety and confidence-building that reminds him who he really is--she is his center and he knows she won't reject him. I honestly don't know if that's a good thing, but I do see it as a protective act. It's back to that complementary idea...

(I'm not sure that all made sense. I think it's getting too late for me to keep thinking on such deep topics).

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 12:21 AM

It's always hard for me to believe a man's protection will be offered without some dreadful Faustian pricetag, though.

Years ago when I was on a business trip in another city, a business associate of mine said something that has stayed with me for years.

We were having a conversation during dinner at a table with about 20 other people (I say this b/c I don't want to leave the impression I was somewhere alone with him). I'm not sure how we got on the topic but we wound around to talking about business trips and being away from home and I said that my husband was gone all the time but I didn't travel very much. I said that I didn't get the impression that my husband would be happy if I traveled as much as he did, and that had always half amused, half irritated me.

It was his reply that stuck with me: he said that one of the things that mystified him about women was that after we marry, we tend to give up all the things that made us individuals. We throw everything we have into our marriages and families. And to the extent that we don't do that, we tend to feel torn or guilty (as though recharging our own batteries amounted to robbing our families).

I told him that I thought that was very true. Not all women do that, but a great many women do and especially stay at home wives/mothers. We put all our eggs in one basket and then we expect way too much from the basket. Suddenly the basket isn't just one basket - it's expected to take the place of everything we gave up.

And there isn't a basket on this earth big or strong enough to do that. I think this is a pretty major source of marital conflict that goes unrecognized.

Men don't do this. Because of their careers, they still maintain very strong ties to the outside world.

And there are a couple of aspects to this. It's easy to just blame the women, but in many marriages I've known the man also contributes to this behavior. A lot of guys want their wives "all to themselves" - they feel more secure and happy when their wife limits herself mostly to him and their children.

In most cases, it's not as though there's any coercion involved (though I've seen that, too). It's just a natural tendency on the part of men and women in a relationship. You see it even in couples who have dated for a long time - the woman focuses too much on the relationship before the guy is ready for that. Often that's why men don't marry a particular woman. They sense too much pressure/obligation coming from their mismatched expectations of what a relationship involves.

I guess I've always resisted that tendency. I can remember being discomfited many times over the years when I'd mention that my husband was deploying and my civilian friends would say, "I don't know how you do it". And I always thought, "Well, I will miss him but I took care of myself before I got married and given then most husbands die first I'll have to take care of myself in my old age. Isn't this something everyone should be able to do?"

My family always came first with me (and being an introvert, I don't want or require a lot of socializing). But I always thought it was healthier to maintain as much of my independence as possible. I agree that the pull is seductive, but then you give up who you are and you're no longer the woman he fell in love with.

You're just a shadow of her. I think this is one of those "put the oxygen mask on your own face first" kind of deals. Both partners in a marriage are primarily responsible for their own happiness and that's not a responsibility that can be delegated.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 08:51 AM

Cassandra, you're an introvert?

FbL, I think you must be completely right about the safe space a woman can provide for her man. The men seem to be out there treating each other like gladiators -- if they're lucky, gladiators on the same team -- and I should think they'd occasionally want to relax with someone who's not looking to step on them on the way to the top of the heap. Also, they bounce off of each other like billiard balls. (I keep thinking about the comments concerning how even fairly close male friends might not have any real notion how the other guy interacts with his young children, nor much curiosity, even.) Surely, just occasionally, they hunger for the chance to let the walls down a smidgeon?

It must be so weird for you guys to interact with intelligent, competent women in public. Do you always feel like we're outrageously challenging your personal boundaries? Do we act like we're not responding out of the same playbook at all? I have vivid memories of any number of business meetings that involved a kind of standard opening half-joke about determining who was the tallest guy in the group. It was almost as if that were going to have some bearing on who could best figure out the right way to restructure a debenture. I'm not sure what the women were doing that struck the men as equally beside the point, but I imagine it was something. Sometimes it did feel as though the women thought we were at a barn-raising while the men were playing football.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 09:32 AM

Maybe it's simply a matter of degree--the interaction of a woman with a man can change how she sees herself (open her eyes to things she hadn't seen before), and that's in some ways good because it enriches her life... She just needs to be careful it doesn't utterly change who she is. I mean, if it is important for a man to feel that he protects and is needed, than she needs to be receptive to the exercise of his virtues and what they draw out of her without letting it consume her.

I think that's in line with what I was trying to say about finding that balance, and the idea that a good man learns where that protectiveness is wanted and needed. For example, when I really focus and work very hard to stay on top of things, I can take care of myself in terms of navigation and professional "got my s*** togetherness"(stop snickering, Carrie :P ), but it would be nice to hand a few of those situations off to someone else, such as letting "him" do the leading when wandering through downtown.

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 09:39 AM

I'm very much an introvert. People are almost invariably surprised by that.

But I don't think I've ever scored anything but introverted on any test. But I knew that about myself even as a kid. I always wondered why I felt so different from most kids. I didn't feel inferior, but I did feel like a fish out of water most of the time.

I'm on the rightward side of the introvert spectrum (IOW, not extremely introverted like some members of my family are). My husband and both my sons are introverts too, which is odd statistically (we're approx. 25% of the population).

The best definition I ever read of introverts was that extroverts draw their energy from interaction with other people and are drained by too much time alone. Introverts draw their energy from introspection. It's not that they don't like other people, but too much interaction with people leaves them longing to go off somewhere alone where they can process it all.

That's definitely me. I enjoy people and am quite good at getting along with them, but they wear me out :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 09:43 AM

"Sometimes it did feel as though the women thought we were at a barn-raising while the men were playing football."

Bwahaha! What a fantastic way to put it! It does seem that men often need to "take the measure of each other" before they can settle down into a team that is headed all in the same direction. You see that very strongly in situations such as naval submarine service (the guys are brutal on each other, but it's their unconscious way of testing the psyche of someone who is going to be under the immense psychological pressure of submarine life while having your life in his hands), and to a lesser extent things like an aviation squadron. Once a newbie has "passed the test," everyone gets down to working has a well-functioning team.

Women test each other too, of course, but it's much more subtle and covert.

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 09:57 AM

I suppose I'm an introvert, too, Cassandra, since I recharge my batteries in solitude rather than in interaction, though I need both. I see what you mean.

FbL, you think women test each other? That's not ringing a bell for me. I may be oblivious.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 11:19 AM

It's always hard for me to believe a man's protection will be offered without some dreadful Faustian pricetag, though. -Texan99

If he is unvirtuous, perhaps. The virtuous man is not a gun for hire, he's a volunteer.

The men seem to be out there treating each other like gladiators -- if they're lucky, gladiators on the same team -- and I should think they'd occasionally want to relax with someone who's not looking to step on them on the way to the top of the heap [snip] Surely, just occasionally, they hunger for the chance to let the walls down a smidgeon?

Exactly correct. This also explains the protectiveness. You think after finding this priceless place we're going to let anyone *&^$ with it? The "A man's home is his castle" metaphor is very apt, here. A castle is a strong place: secure from the assaults of the world (and you ladies have a very unique ability to provide that strength).

If you are stupid enough to attack that safe place you bloody well deserve what you are going to get.

It must be so weird for you guys to interact with intelligent, competent women in public. Do you always feel like we're outrageously challenging your personal boundaries? Do we act like we're not responding out of the same playbook at all?

Yes...ish. It has nothing to do with intelligence, nor competence, nor public. And not always, because there is a lot of overlap in the playbook. Which just adds to the confusion because there is no "Danger: Different Playbook Approaching" alarm bell. :-)

I think women must have this alarm because I've never heard of a husband storming out of the room while the wife is wondering "Wha? What did I say?"

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2010 11:30 AM

Wow, this topic just rolls along non-stop, and now I need to play catchup.

Chastity. A lot's been said on this, and I do think the major conflict has been over "expectation". Cass, you seem to feel men are never held to any standard of chastity, and yet it is all important in a woman as far as men are concerned.

I can tell you with complete honesty that while "society" in general can seem to support that impression, when you get right down to it, it's not entirely true either. My wife was previously married. Do you honestly think I believed for a moment she was "chaste" when we married? Of course not. But if the societal 'standard' that the woman be a virgin, and the man be a lothario were true, I'd not have married her. And if we accept Grim standard of chastity to include exclusivity in marriage, I think it certainly IS a unified standard. I would hazard to guess that neither you nor I would fail to look down on a man who cheated on his wife. He was unchaste in his marriage.

I also hold the PUA who is merely looking for the highest "score" with women in utter contempt. They are the male "slut". I dislike that term for the very fact that is normally DOES represent a double standard, but I think with the PUA it applies. And society in general does seem to support that view. It looks down upon the cheating spouse (regardless of gender), and looks down upon the man OR woman who is a slave to their appetites. I think where the double standard seems to rest is where the line is drawn for men and women as to how far they can go.

As for the men needing women as much as women need men. I can really only speak to the former, but it certainly is true. We do present a mask to the outside world that only you (our chosen women) ever get to see behind. I actually cannot remember the last time I wept in public. Not even at my grandparent's funerals was the grief greater than the public reserve. However, I have cried like a baby in front of my wife several times that I can recollect. It is only within the safety provided by someone we can trust so completely that we are able to let down our guard and truly be our selves.

Do you know how rare and valuable that is? To say that a woman needs a man to be completely happy but that men do not need a woman (since a woman's virtues are directed at men, but the mens' virtues are not directed at women) gets the whole power relationship backwards to begin with, and is untrue in any event. Women hold a power that no man ever truly will.

You say that in order to be actualized, FbL, you fear that a man might be necessary. Now imagine if you had to keep your feelings bottled up inside and never had someone you could trust in order to let them show or lend a sympathetic ear. I maintain that men need women far more, since we derive not just happiness from our spouse, but sanity itself.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 12:26 PM

Which just adds to the confusion because there is no "Danger: Different Playbook Approaching" alarm bell. :-) I think women must have this alarm...

Actually, everyone does Yu-Ain. It's called paying attention to body language, tone of voice, etc.

Men are good at this, even though they say they're not. I think that part of the whole "holding back your feeeeeelings" thing for men involves a certain amount of blocking anything out that is upsetting or tugs at the heartstrings.

I've seen men do this a lot - I can *tell* by subtle signs in the way they talk that they are very much aware that something is wrong but they're doing their damndest to ignore it/block it out b/c they don't want to deal with the feelings thingy.

This is what makes women distrust men/think they don't care. Our intuition and 5 senses are screaming bloody murder but the guy is like, "Huh???"

He may not know *why*, but he certainly does know something is amiss. And most guys will ignore the warning signals unless they have no choice (i.e., the wife gets mad and escalates).

I've watched innumerable couples over the years and women perform exactly the sort of function Mike describes: if there is trust, we create a space where it's safe for guys to drag out what they've been ignoring.

The problem occurs when there isn't trust, when the woman refuses to respect the man's need to stuff some things so far down they never see the light of day, or when the man refuses to face important things. I don't see women as being always right here or men as being always wrong.

We're just different, and respect for those differences is the key to allowing your spouse to support you with those qualities that are so different from your own.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 12:40 PM

Men are good at this, even though they say they're not. I think that part of the whole "holding back your feeeeeelings" thing for men involves a certain amount of blocking anything out that is upsetting or tugs at the heartstrings.

I'm not so sure on that, Cass. It's a learned thing, and not one that a lot of guys I know get. I watched my parents interact for 18 years as a couple living with them, and I didn't get it. I dated various women for 6 years and never got it. I dated and married my wife, and it wasn't until perhaps four years in before I actually realized that we were not communicating the same way. I taught myself some mental shorthand translations of things, and I've tried to help other guys (who trust me and wouldn't take advice as meddling) learn those same things.

Yes, an alarm bell will go off when I'm talking to my wife and she suddenly goes stiff or otherwise looks upset. But then I need to stop, rewind the tape in my head, and try to track down what was said that clearly got misinterpreted. Thanks to nearly a decade of experience, I'm pretty good at it. But a lot of times, I still need to say, "Honey, I clearly just said something that upset you, but I don't know what it was. I apologize since I certainly didn't mean to do so, but I need you to tell me what it was so I can clarify."

Most of the time that works. But for a young unmarried (or newly married man), he knows something's wrong, but he's not sure what. If he says anything at all (rather than just plow ahead and ignore it to avoid those 'feelings' things) it's probably going to be, "What?" And that's just bound to start a fight. Then he's even more confused, because he's now in a fight and doesn't know why. He'll trade verbal punches as a means of "defending himself", but that's just going to make it worse. Finally he'll walk away to make the argument stop. And that buries him deeper. Because (in my mental shorthand) the woman sees the whole thing from a completely different context.

To her, he said something hurtful (seemingly on purpose), and when he says "What?" she believes he's blaming her for getting hurt. So then she says something hurtful back, and he then 'escalates' the argument by doubling down and saying MORE hurtful things back. Then, cuts her off from talking about it by WALKING AWAY from her without even apologizing. He's clearly a jerk.

She's not wrong, but she's not right either. They're both responding to the same stimulus from (what is in their own viewpoints) a completely reasonable perspective. But each is getting 'hit' by the other from right angles. He said something hurtful and then blamed her for getting hurt by it, she started a fight when he 'asked what was wrong' so he had to 'defend himself', he 'escalated the fight' by attacking her more, he walks away in confusion to make the fighting stop, he walks away to cut her off and not talk about it.

See? Perfectly reasonable.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 01:08 PM

I don't think anything you just said is inconsisent with my comment, though.

I said that he may not know *why* but he does know something is wrong :)

The avoidance tactics you describe seem rational to a man given his assumptions about the way the world (and women) work. But to the woman, the withdrawal seems like an in your face, "I don't give a rat's tuckus that you're upset".

Again, I agree that there's no moral superiority in either side here. I don't believe that everything has to escalate into a mongo discussion of feeeeeeeelings (and we ladies are guilty of that - it's the 'not respecting boundaries' thing I mentioned earlier).

But by the same token, ignoring discomfort/symptoms is not a good tactic either. If your car makes a strange sound, you don't ignore it. Yet many guys will do that with their marriages and then they are utterly blindsided when after months or years of "strange sounds", it breaks down.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 01:13 PM

FbL, you think women test each other? That's not ringing a bell for me. I may be oblivious.

I should've been more specific... I don't think it's as pervasive as it is with men or exactly the same thing, but there is a particular kind of woman who is constantly trying to see where she fits in the pecking order (and simultaneously putting as many other women as possible below her in that order). I find women like that absolutely exhausting. I suppose in the female realm we maybe call it "status-conscious." In that sense, they're testing each other--I get it when new co-workers ask my dating/marriage status, whether I have children, what my background is, etc.

In the male type of testing, they're figuring out what the other is capable of; in the female testing maybe they're just trying to find out where to put each other in terms of dominance/role/control.

Mike & YAG, thank you for those lovely portraits of mutual protectiveness in marriage. I've gotten a sense of that existing in the best marriages when male friends let down the walls a little with me in regards to family/personal struggles and then seem to feel guilty, as if by feeling safe enough for that with me they had been somehow unfaithful to the wives they adored.

You say that in order to be actualized, FbL, you fear that a man might be necessary. Now imagine if you had to keep your feelings bottled up inside and never had someone you could trust in order to let them show or lend a sympathetic ear. I maintain that men need women far more, since we derive not just happiness from our spouse, but sanity itself.

Interesting. I'm not sure that the same isn't true for women. My romantic relationships have been few and far between, but the older I get the more I see their positive impact. I have become very good at "stuffing" and ignoring the emotional and physical need for a man in my life (and I'm not just speaking about intercourse, here). I have close relationships with female friends, I give my heart to my work, I go cycling (and recently took up yoga)... in other words, I don't sit around waiting for a man to make my life complete. But much like not having children, not having a relationship as intimate as a marriage leaves parts of myself hampered/constrained. In short, I rely much more on my intellect than my emotion if I want to maintain a sense of peace and order/contentment in my life.

For men without a safe female place to let it all down maybe they do eventually go insane... for women without the corresponding male influence maybe they just shut down part of themselves in order to maintain that sanity...? I could turn pretty pathetic real quick if I were to acknowledge certain things lurking at the edges of my daily life that I fill with things to keep me distracted…

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 01:17 PM

The avoidance tactics you describe seem rational ...

One more comment :)

I always think of the old advice, "when a dog is growling at you, don't run or he'll chase and bite you because to him, running means you're prey".

The best advice is to calmly stand your ground. Women will "chase" a man who is avoiding conflict. It won't go away. But the more they "chase" the more the guy wants to flee.

Conversely, when a guy runs away from a serious problem, it provokes exactly the opposite reaction from what he hopes it will (i.e., the conflict doesn't go away). Either she will pursue and pester him further or she'll lose interest and give up.

Both sexes do dumb things b/c we don't know any better :p You figured it out, but that requires staying engaged to some extent (not necessarily to the extent your wife wants!) But engaged nonetheless.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 01:18 PM

Hmm... we seem to be off-track, but at the same time this discussion seems to argue that it is impossible to describe fully-actualized womanliness outside of its relationship to manliness...

If you're a Christian (and some of the other religions, too), you believe that men and women and intended (created) to complete each other--the "become one flesh" idea, and so that would make sense.

And it applies both directions--as Grim alludes to above, human virtues to not exist in a vacuum...

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 01:23 PM

And the implication of this, if correct... sucks. :P

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 01:25 PM

I get what you're saying, but I'm not there yet.

Take an example of a couple out on a long drive. She says, "Do you need to stop for a potty break?" He replies in all honesty "No, I'm fine."

She get's mad because in her playbook she was starting a negotiation and he just ended it unilaterally by telling her "No, I'm not stopping".

He's baffled because in his playbook all he was doing was answering a simple question. He very well may be willing to stop if she wants to, but she didn't ask *that* question so he didn't answer it.

That sort of playbook miscommunication doesn't sound like a trust issue to me.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2010 01:34 PM

But by the same token, ignoring discomfort/symptoms is not a good tactic either. If your car makes a strange sound, you don't ignore it. Yet many guys will do that with their marriages and then they are utterly blindsided when after months or years of "strange sounds", it breaks down.

Ah HA! Gotcha. Women aren't cars. I've yet in my life to see an owner/operators manual for a woman. Guys KNOW what to do with cars. With women, they're not 'walking away' from talking about the feelings, they're walking away from 'a fight'. See, in Guyspeak, if you're in a heated verbal debate that seems to be escalating with no resolution in site, you've got two choices, walk away or throw a punch. Not wanting to hit the lady in question, the guy walks away.

Rather than rehash the male/female interaction, maybe it'd help if I illustrated what a male/male interaction would look like. Guy A is talking to Guy B. A says something that gets B angry without realizing. A says "What?" B says "You said X!!!" A now knows what he said and can either apologize and explain what he actually meant, or he can refuse to apologize and escalate. But let's say (for the sake of progressing the example) B doesn't explain what the problem is and instead insults A. Now B has 'started the fight'. A then can walk away or escalate. Then B can walk away or escalate. Eventually, all that will be left to escalate with will be a punch. The only way to de-escalate is to apologize for what was said. But for that to happen, one needs to know what needs to be apologized for. Guys do NOT make blanket apologies to other guys.

You'll note in the example of interactions like this between my wife and I, the very first thing I do is apologize for what was said (even without knowing what it was). This is critical. It shows her that I value her feelings and I want to make it right. It is also NOT a natural male communication. I am bridging the gap between our communication styles. By the same token, she can stop the impending argument by using a male communication technique. For example, "Wait, why did you just say X? That makes me mad/sad/hurt." Bam, right there, I know what the problem was, what impact it had, and therefore I can rectify the situation. But after thirteen years of marriage, I also know that's not a natural female communication. It's too direct. Too confrontational. Too... male.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 01:50 PM

If you're a Christian (and some of the other religions, too), you believe that men and women and intended (created) to complete each other--the "become one flesh" idea, and so that would make sense.

I know it's explicitly stated in the Bible, but I don't believe it's just a religious thing. Even if you were to approach it from a atheistic, evolutionary standpoint, interactions between mates would be advantageous to the passing along of genes to the next generation. We normally refer to this as "bonding" when referring to monogamous animals. The male and female of the species bond to each other in order to ensure the children are well prepared to reach breeding age themselves. Biologically, anything that encourages this bonding would be evolutionarily advantageous, and thus would be the more successful pattern.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 02:01 PM

For men without a safe female place to let it all down maybe they do eventually go insane... for women without the corresponding male influence maybe they just shut down part of themselves in order to maintain that sanity...? I could turn pretty pathetic real quick if I were to acknowledge certain things lurking at the edges of my daily life that I fill with things to keep me distracted…
...
And the implication of this, if correct... sucks. :P

If it makes you feel better FbL, I think it's worse for men to be without women than vice versa. I'd present as evidence that widowers die sooner than widows. Sure, it's better for both men and women to have someone else in their lives, but I think men actually suffer more when they're alone than women do. Intellectual pursuits, and social activities can keep life rewarding for a woman (my sister is one of these), but a lone man either needs great religious faith (God becomes his confessor), or he simply shuts down. The lack of a safe space to let go of the mask is actively harmful, in my opinion.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 02:06 PM

You'll note in the example of interactions like this between my wife and I, the very first thing I do is apologize for what was said (even without knowing what it was). This is critical. It shows her that I value her feelings and I want to make it right. It is also NOT a natural male communication. I am bridging the gap between our communication styles.

In the words of Richard Millhouse Nixon, "let me say this about that" :p

I am the last person to judge what works best with your wife (or any woman who isn't me)! It takes a very secure man to do what you describe, and you're right - it works b/c it converts the confrontation from being "who wins/who loses" or "you're wrong/I'm right" into "How can we resolve this misundertanding?"

That said, my husband is very sensitive to not having to apologize when he doesn't think he's wrong. And I get that. It used to bug me because (like you) I didn't mind apologizing if that defused the situation. I wasn't at all worried about the win/lose aspect.

But he's not me. And that's OK.

What he does in that situation (sometimes) is say, "OK. Obviously I've said something that upset you. Would you mind explaining what it was and why you're upset/angry at me for saying it?"

This doesn't apologize, but DOES acknowledge that he knows damned well I'm upset and wants to resolve the problem.

At this point, I usually react very predictably: I tell him which remark upset me and how I interpreted it. And I have an opening to say, "Is that what you meant?" Because sometimes, he meant exactly what he said - IOW, I have genuinely annoyed/upset/angered him and we need to discuss it so I either don't do it again or realize there's a price tag (if I do it again, he'll be pissed or upset, so I'd better have a good reason).

Alternately, sometimes I have totally misread him and I find out I was wrong.

This abbreviated process is followed by hugs and hot makeup sex. Everyone wins :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 02:16 PM

"Honey, I clearly just said something that upset you, but I don't know what it was. I apologize since I certainly didn't mean to do so, but I need you to tell me what it was so I can clarify." Mike, if you indeed routinely respond to your wife that way, you must have a spectacularly happy marriage. I can't even imagine how many useless, damaging quarrels you must have avoided. Just acknowledging that you're capable of noticing that she's upset and that you care enough to wonder why must make her think you're priceless.

FbL -- I recognize what you're talking about now. I don't run into that very often. When I do, I guess I zap the offending woman with my "don't even start with me" phaser set on maximum deepfreeze.

Guys -- It makes me incredibly sad that you should have only one place where you can open up, but I'm awfully glad that you have at least that. (Pity those poor PUA types, who probably never find it anywhere.) I wish I could think I was good at providing a safe refuge. Probably the best that be said for me is that it comes a little more naturally to me than it would to a man. It does make me realize why it's so important to keep my shrewish tendencies in check. If you almost never get to let down your guard, you can't be wanting to have to wonder whether you're getting the Lady or the Tiger. I will say that possibly the most disarming words in a quarrel with your wife that's getting out of hand must be "Please stop doing that. You're hurting me." That should stop us cold even in mid-Tiger-frenzy.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 02:24 PM

He's baffled because in his playbook all he was doing was answering a simple question. He very well may be willing to stop if she wants to, but she didn't ask *that* question so he didn't answer it.

That sort of playbook miscommunication doesn't sound like a trust issue to me.

There's a huge difference between that kind of situation and the one where a couple is fighting about an issue in their marriage. I don't think I characterized even the 'marriage issue' fight as being about trust. I just said it's easier to resolve if there is trust, given that guys don't like discussing their innermost feelings.

Better?

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 02:25 PM

I am beginning to think that I am just weird.

My sense of identity - of who I am - has little or nothing to do with my being female. ... It is more an accident of birth - part of me, but by no means the largest part; and a part I was happy to play, but by no means the only part I wanted to play.

I don’t think you’re weird in terms of how you think about your life, Cassandra - I think most women want to play a larger role than that prescribed by traditional roles. I’ve been re-reading Louisa May Alcott’s “Jo’s Boys” and her descriptions of women wanting the same education as men, to be able to pursue a profession if they want, ring perfectly true 150 years later. (Man, that’s depressing.)

Where you are weird is in your apparent ability to be unaffected by the restraints of the traditional role in your own view of yourself. Most women I know struggled with the larger role they wanted versus the role they thought they were supposed to fill. When someone told us there were things we “should or shouldn't or could or couldn't do what I wanted to do because [we’re] female”, we listened at least a little bit.

Neither of us will "need" the other's protection. But we'll still get it because it is our need to give it.

The virtuous man is not a gun for hire, he's a volunteer.

Hmm. Paradigm shift. Excuse me while I readjust my head. So men need and want to protect. I wonder then if some of the confusion is because men don’t always realize that women who seem to be totally independent, in control, un-needy can also appreciate being protected. That is, perhaps men fear offering protection to women who aren’t what we think of as traditionally womanly - stereotypically feminine - because they fear their offer will be rejected, laughed at, not valued.

Chastity. Althouse is talking about this and she quotes the following:

Believe it or not, you can be celibate without being chaste, and chaste without being celibate. A celibate person is merely unmarried, usually (but not always) because of a vow of celibacy. The traditional assumption is that such a person is not having sex with anyone, which leads many to confuse the word with “chaste,” denoting someone who does not have illicit sex. A woman could have wild sex twice a day with her lawful husband and technically still be chaste, though the word is more often used to imply a general abstemiousness from sex and sexuality.

This is what I meant by chastity: not celibacy but refraining from illicit sex. The question, of course, is how we define illicit sex. I think a woman could have wild sex twice a day with someone not her husband (assuming neither she nor her partner is married) and still be considered chaste assuming certain other conditions are met; those conditions are what define Grim’s sweet spot. Cassandra gives us a couple of those conditions:

women want sex to be about more than using the other person and discarding them. And that they want marriage vows to be upheld by both parties

For example, I don’t really think getting dead drunk and picking up a strange guy in a bar and bringing him home and hating yourself in the morning constitutes being chaste. And I do think chastity varies by age. I really don’t think women - girls - should be having sex until they’re out of high school or have turned 18 but I’ve been assured that I’m asking for the impossible - that is, most people seem to think I’m defining illicit sex too broadly.

Also, I think chastity also embodies the appearance of chastity. IOW, not flirting with people not your spouse, or putting yourself in a situation that if not invites, at least supports unchaste behavior (like a night out at the bar with same sex friends without your spouse).

This is sort of what I was getting at when I talked about chastity’s handmaiden, modesty. For me, though, immodesty is not so much doing something that invites/supports unchaste behavior as doing something that is appropriate only between people in a sexual relationship outside that relationship. (I’m really going to step in it here.) A night out at a bar with friends (of either sex) without your spouse or significant other seems fine to me; necking with some guy in the bar does not. Light flirting seems fine to me provided you follow Miss Manners dictum: no one should be absolutely certain flirting is actually going on. Providing your spouse or long-time innamorata with nude pictures of yourself also seems to fall within the lines of current modesty. Providing some guy you’ve dated for a week with nude pictures of yourself is immodest.

As for the question of what constitutes chastity and modesty for men, I kind of don’t care in this discussion. To me this is about what women can do to help ourselves and our daughters (biological and metaphorical) figure out the best kind of life for ourselves when so many of the old rules seem to have been upended and never replaced. Sex is a big deal for women for a number of reasons: we’re the ones who get pregnant; it’s become too easy for boys and men to take advantage of girls who are too young to have sex or not really sure they want to have sex because the old rule (Don’t!) is gone and there are no new guidelines; and because women do have a tendency to attach emotion to having sex. Whether that last is biological or socially conditioned - good girls don’t have sex with men they don’t love so if I had sex I must love him - is irrelevant.

the sense of being protected by a male ... the first time I felt that protection I was much, much older. And it was powerful—I instantly noticed how it made ME feel; it was strikingly different. It allowed me to relax a bit, to let some of those "feminine" or "receiving" traits come to the surface in ways they never had before.

I think this is an interesting point and worth pursuing but it also leads to another interesting point. The previous guest blogger in this discussion was “A Conservative Lesbian”. Does the lack of a romantic/sexual relationship with a man specifically mean feminine or receiving traits don’t surface in lesbians? I don’t think so. I think having a romantic/sexual relationship with someone of either sex allow the people in it to relax, reveal parts of themselves they couldn’t without a partner, create space for the other to be safe and cared for. But that’s just my opinion; I’d love to hear what Cynthia has to say about this whole line of thought.

I also think it would be an interesting exercise to try to think about womanliness without men. If the whole world consisted of just us women, what would be different? Our goals, ambitions, virtues, vices?

Posted by: Elise at January 27, 2010 02:31 PM

I will say that possibly the most disarming words in a quarrel with your wife that's getting out of hand must be "Please stop doing that. You're hurting me." That should stop us cold even in mid-Tiger-frenzy.

I can categorically state that this would stop me dead in my tracks.

Women often say hurtful things because they're misled by the man's surface passivity. I did this with my oldest boy - on the surface he acted like he was ignoring me and nothing I said "got through" to him.

So I would turn up the volume and intensity. Parents do that a lot, but you have to be careful because often your kids really are listening and it's not required to get through to them.

But that just goes to show you what I said earlier about unintended results. If one person puts up a stone wall, the other is going to apply a sledgehammer. And the tragedy is that they would have been far kinder, but for the "need" to get past that impenetrable wall.

This is one reason I've always said I don't believe it's just one person that causes a lot of marital issues: both parties reinforce certain behaviors by their reactions to each other. You can reinforce helpful behavior or behavior that tears your relationship apart.

It's not always easy to do the right thing here, especially when you don't understand the other person. But running away doesn't solve anything either b/c it never goes away.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 02:31 PM

PS -- it's not the apology, in the sense of admitting wrong, that's important. It's the acknowledgement that she's in pain, and that you'd prefer she wasn't, that's helpful. In other words, you're neither blind to her distress nor indifferent. You needn't feel that you're at fault. It might be unavoidable. She might simply be mistaken. Cassandra's excellent husband's formulation works as well as yours. It's "sorry" in the sense of regretting a fact ("I'm sorry you're feeling ill") rather than in the sense of confession ("I am heartily sorry for these my sins").

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 02:32 PM

Oops. Quoted part should have included all of:

I am beginning to think that I am just weird.

My sense of identity - of who I am - has little or nothing to do with my being female. ... It is more an accident of birth - part of me, but by no means the largest part; and a part I was happy to play, but by no means the only part I wanted to play.

Posted by: Elise at January 27, 2010 02:35 PM

"The virtuous man is not a gun for hire, he's a volunteer."

Eeeeeeeeeee -- well, yeah. But where shall we find a virtuous man? His price is above rubies. Seriously, I know that's the ideal, and I have no doubt Grim closely approaches it, but I'm afraid most of us setter types are a little gun-shy. Accepting someone's protection is always fraught. Not all protectors find it that easy not to throw the protection back in our faces a bit. "So you think you're a full, adult citizen? Tell me that again when it's women and children first in the lifeboats and I've got to jump in the icy water." Hattip's churlish eruption a few days ago doesn't represent the views of most men, I hope, but it still wasn't so unfamiliar as to be completely baffling. We're always exposed to that reaction if allow anyone to cut us any slack.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 02:39 PM

That said, my husband is very sensitive to not having to apologize when he doesn't think he's wrong.

Well, what you say is true. I don't like to apologize when I don't think I'm wrong. It grates hard on the times where I've done it. But I freely apologize when I am. And not to take some of that luster off of my halo, but you will note what I apologized for in my example. Upsetting her when such was not my intent. I am perfectly happy to do so. Now, if I say something that is intended to make her uncomfortable (such as when I need to bring something that is bothering me up), I don't really apologize for that. It's not frequent, but it does happen. The key difference is, I know ahead of time that it will be a problem, and that doesn't catch me by surprise.

Mike, if you indeed routinely respond to your wife that way, you must have a spectacularly happy marriage. I can't even imagine how many useless, damaging quarrels you must have avoided. Just acknowledging that you're capable of noticing that she's upset and that you care enough to wonder why must make her think you're priceless.

Heh heh heh... you must understand, I married a redhead. What you think of as sweet is actually self-preservation. I kid... mostly. But it really was learned behavior. I do NOT like hurting people's feelings. She's the person most important to me, so hurting her was least desirable of all. Thus, I expended effort to figure it out. I don't catch it every time, but when I do, I'd rather admit a mistake than continue on that path.

I just said it's easier to resolve if there is trust, given that guys don't like discussing their innermost feelings.

I'd sumbit that if there is not trust, the guy's not opening up his feelings at all. It's a hard thing to do for us.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 02:41 PM

I think I got it. It's that public/private thing again.

Texan's remark was about dealing with women in public, and while my example was of a couple, it could just as easily have been male & female coworkers going to a conference.

Whereas when the LG starts on that whole "challenging" thing I can trust that she's not trying to insult me and can react accordingly. The same is not true for the female coworker downstairs I've worked with once, maybe twice a year.

That about right?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2010 02:48 PM

Not all protectors find it that easy not to throw the protection back in our faces a bit. "So you think you're a full, adult citizen? Tell me that again when it's women and children first in the lifeboats and I've got to jump in the icy water." Hattip's churlish eruption a few days ago doesn't represent the views of most men, I hope, but it still wasn't so unfamiliar as to be completely baffling. We're always exposed to that reaction if allow anyone to cut us any slack.

AMEN.

I just read a post the other day that perfectly illustrates this. This is one of my biggest gripes about the way men think: the really do want to protect and take care of us, but the price tag doesn't go away. I don't think men apply exactly the same yardstick to women who allow themselves to be protected that they would to a man, but it sure as hell doesn't go away either.

I struggled with this big time during the years I stayed home with the kids. Being the protector/provider is not a position of equality and men are far more status/rank conscious than women are.

It never seems to occur to many men that we had other choices, or that we might agree to an arrangement that is FAR from what we might really desire because it's the most efficient one for child rearing.

Another example of people viewing what may well be a conscious - and virtuous - choice as little more than biological destiny.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 02:51 PM

I wonder then if some of the confusion is because men don’t always realize that women who seem to be totally independent, in control, un-needy can also appreciate being protected. That is, perhaps men fear offering protection to women who aren’t what we think of as traditionally womanly - stereotypically feminine - because they fear their offer will be rejected, laughed at, not valued.

Ding, ding, ding! And one of the unintended tragedies of feminism... for both men AND women.

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 02:51 PM

I think so, Yu-Ain. I hadn't thought of it quite that way, but you make a lot of sense. You saw an aspect that I missed, which is what's so cool about talking with men.

You all think differently and it's like finding a missing puzzle piece :)

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 02:52 PM

Another example of people viewing what may well be a conscious - and virtuous - choice as little more than biological destiny.

Excellent point. That's what I was trying to get at in my comments on another thread about allowing people to take on the roles and use the virtues needed in each particular situation: just because someone has one role within a situation or relationship doesn't mean they are incapable of that other role in a different relationship or different situation.

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 02:55 PM

I'm interested in the analogy to the alarming noise in the car engine, because that evokes the classic stereotype of the dingbat wife who can't wrap her mind about mechanical problems. "Honey, when the engine began to make that loud, shrieking noise, didn't it occur to you to pull over?" "Fiddle-de-dee, I had to get to the grocery store, and I just figured I'd let you deal with it when I got home. How was I supposed to know the engine would blow up? You know I'm uncomfortable thinking about how cars work. Shall we say no more about it?" The only difference I see in the two situations is that the woman assumes it's reasonable and practical to face up to a communication failure before it becomes a heated quarrel, while the man assumes it's reasonable and practical to address a mechanical failure before the engine is totaled. But each thought the other problem was mystifying and repugnant, to be avoided as long as possible.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 02:58 PM

This is what I meant by chastity: not celibacy but refraining from illicit sex. The question, of course, is how we define illicit sex. I think a woman could have wild sex twice a day with someone not her husband (assuming neither she nor her partner is married) and still be considered chaste assuming certain other conditions are met; those conditions are what define Grim’s sweet spot.

This... and lots of it. Thank you, Elise, you stated this better than I could have. I think it's not unreasonable for a woman to be considered "chaste" and yet have hot sweaty monkey love with her chosen partner thrice daily. The difference is that she needs to be committed fully to that partner, and save her torrid and wanton ways for that partner alone. And really, that would go for a man as well in my book.

Women often say hurtful things because they're misled by the man's surface passivity.

First off, to even break down and say "Stop doing that, you're hurting me" is incredibly difficult to admit. Even with a spouse. But you're right, it would be a very good tactic IF used properly (i.e. not used as a trump card to end an argument... only used when true). But what Cass says is 100% true. From the man's perspective. Add to that the fact that the man's normal response to being hurt is to make the wall thicker and stronger, it only encourages the woman to hit harder.

It's the acknowledgement that she's in pain, and that you'd prefer she wasn't, that's helpful.

In my experience, simply acknowledging her feelings is 90% of the battle. Most guys don't do so. And I think it's important to note that it might not always be ignorance of those feelings either. In a guy/guy argument, acknowledging hurt feelings of your opponent is not just counterproductive, it can be considered a deadly insult. You've broken his mask, so to speak. So by male communications standards, doing so is fraught with risk. So, a guy might 'politely' ignore the obvious hurt feelings in order to spare embarrassment.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 02:59 PM

And I feel the need to point this out. This is the single most interesting, most informative, and the most downright FUN discussion I've had all month.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 03:04 PM

But where shall we find a virtuous man?

Aye, there's the rub, ain't it?

Not all protectors find it that easy not to throw the protection back in our faces a bit.

No, they don't. And hattip's a perfect example: at least he publically self-disqualified himself.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2010 03:05 PM

simply acknowledging her feelings is 90% of the battle. Most guys don't do so. And I think it's important to note that it might not always be ignorance of those feelings either. In a guy/guy argument, acknowledging hurt feelings of your opponent is not just counterproductive, it can be considered a deadly insult. You've broken his mask, so to speak. So by male communications standards, doing so is fraught with risk. So, a guy might 'politely' ignore the obvious hurt feelings in order to spare embarrassment.

I think my husband does this sometimes.

I hate getting upset and I hate it even worse when I get upset and cry. Sometimes I am struggling not to cry and I think he thinks the best thing he can do is pretend he doesn't notice.

But that only makes it hurt more. Women - for the most part - don't see acknowledging someone else's feelings as a humiliation/insult and I think guys do. I assume a guy can deal with his feelings, but also assume it might be a huge relief to talk b/c sometimes (not always) talking things out helps me regain perspective a LOT faster than squirrel caging.

I'm interested in the analogy to the alarming noise in the car engine, because that evokes the classic stereotype of the dingbat wife who can't wrap her mind about mechanical problems. "Honey, when the engine began to make that loud, shrieking noise, didn't it occur to you to pull over?" "Fiddle-de-dee, I had to get to the grocery store, and I just figured I'd let you deal with it when I got home. How was I supposed to know the engine would blow up? You know I'm uncomfortable thinking about how cars work. Shall we say no more about it?" The only difference I see in the two situations is that the woman assumes it's reasonable and practical to face up to a communication failure before it becomes a heated quarrel, while the man assumes it's reasonable and practical to address a mechanical failure before the engine is totaled. But each thought the other problem was mystifying and repugnant, to be avoided as long as possible.

Oh man. You said a mouthful there. And you'll notice that guys will say all the time that they can't wrap their minds around relationship issues. Both stances are not productive (the car won't fix itself and neither will your marriage if you have problems).

And in both cases, one person expects the other to "take care of it".

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 03:08 PM

I wonder then if some of the confusion is because men don’t always realize that women who seem to be totally independent, in control, un-needy can also appreciate being protected.

Not quite, I think.

Let's say that my brother and I are alone in one of our houses when someone breaks in. That burglar is going to have to deal with 2 totally independent, in control, un-needy and incredibly hostile SOBs who probably don't "appreciate" being protected in the sense you mean.

That being said the woman who gets offended by a guy holding a door open for her "because she's totally independent, in control, un-needy": Yeah, she can go stick it and fend for herself.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2010 03:20 PM

This is the single most interesting, most informative, and the most downright FUN discussion I've had all month.

Well that's a relief! I worry a lot.

I don't ever want to do nothing but sex/relationships but on the other hand it's been my impression that the guys don't mind some of it so long as they can speak their minds and not be told "You're dumb/full of it/clueless you big dumb maaaaaan, you! And while we're on the subject why won't you ever open up???" :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 03:30 PM

As so often happens to me at this site, I find myself lost in reveries about surrendering to the siren song of protection. There's no doubt my heart answers with a rush of love and gratitude to the scene where the rescued damsel-in-peril says "My hero!" That's pure sex, right there, back-to-the-womb wish fulfillment in a small package. But if you imagine the hero condescending to the damsel the next week, you can also imagine the damsel saying, "Thanks, but I'll get myself out of my own jam next time, Ace." Just because we're not alpha males doesn't mean we don't have pride.

I had a co-worker I'm very fond of. Both of us were feeling the anxiety of some tough times at the office. I realized I was quite envious of her husband, who made a living equal to either of ours, so that she could afford to walk away from her job and choose to do something else. It was the first time I'd ever been aware of wishing I had a sugar daddy. (And then the unspeakable woman just kept getting pregnant over and over, while I was a barren wretch!) In fact, though, I don't know if I could ever let someone support me financially without going quietly mad. As a dream, it's lovely, but really? It takes a lot of trust. Maybe as much trust as you guys have to have in order to open up to a woman emotionally. Because the counterpart to the intimate shrew is the condescending or resentful hero. I think the women here get the "pricetag" issue completely, but I don't know if we've succeeded in communicating it to the guys.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 03:46 PM

I don't know if I could ever let someone support me financially without going quietly mad. As a dream, it's lovely, but really? It takes a lot of trust. Maybe as much trust as you guys have to have in order to open up to a woman emotionally.

This is quite likely an excellent comparison.

I think the women here get the "pricetag" issue completely, but I don't know if we've suceeded in communicating it to the guys.

Yes and no. I understand it intellectually, but not to the depths you do. But that is because I know myself to be honorable and that you would have nothing to fear from me.

Similarly, you may understand the trust issue intellectually, but not to the depths we do. But that is because you know yourself to be trustworthy and that we would have nothing to fear from you.

But neither of us can truly "know" that about the other.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2010 03:56 PM

It takes a lot of trust. Maybe as much trust as you guys have to have in order to open up to a woman emotionally. Because the counterpart to the intimate shrew is the condescending or resentful hero. I think the women here get the "pricetag" issue completely, but I don't know if we've succeeded in communicating it to the guys.

I could not have said this better. Women walk a very narrow tight rope between seeming ungrateful and seeming grasping and needy.

We get accused of over thinking things a lot, but then we're told that men aren't inclined to look below the surface. The problem is that what's on the surface is so rarely all there is.

I think there's a happy medium in there somewhere. But then I've always thought that this is why we have men and women: two unlike entities that when they combine, find balance.

Then there are folks like hattip who aren't interested in anything but their own "side" to a war that never needed to be.

*sigh*

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 03:58 PM

I think the women here get the "pricetag" issue completely, but I don't know if we've succeeded in communicating it to the guys.

Oh, I totally get it. It's a form of surrender. Just as it's tough for us to open up emotionally to our wives. There's a lot of vulnerability that we don't like exposing ourselves to. And by that same token, something's been rattling in my head during this whole discussion.

Ladies... fear the motives of any man who over-shares his feelings too rapidly. Either you have a man who is slightly unstable, desperate, or trying to con you.

If they are in the first camp, they are either hurting so badly that they'll reach out to any one (in which case they most probably need some form of professional help) or they are actually mentally unstable. I don't mean to say that an overemotional man is mentally ill. I mean it's abnormal. If they're unstable, it's the 'not good' form of abnormal.

If they're of the second camp, it's the equivalent of the re-bound date. Sure, they'll cling to you and do whatever you want, but you will never have a serious relationship with this person. Not that I'd worry too much about this kind of guy. If he's so desperate that he'll cry in front of you on the second date, you probably weren't going to accept a third anyway.

If they're of the third camp, they're a scoundrel. And not the Han Solo variety either. He's oversharing emotionally in order to build a false sense of trust so that he can use you before leaving.

I don't know why this occurred to me to bring up, but it did.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 04:01 PM

Yup, it's definitely about trust, Texan99. YAG and Cassandra, too--you all said such wise and insightful things!

But then I've always thought that this is why we have men and women: two unlike entities that when they combine, find balance.

And we're back to whether women can be completely womanly/feminine without a man (and vice-versa)...

I keep bumping up against an answer of "No." To the perpetually-single woman, that is potentially devastating.

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 04:02 PM

Then there are folks like hattip who aren't interested in anything but their own "side" to a war that never needed to be.

Were it not for the fact that he beclowned himself, I'd actually feel worse for the guy. At a guess, I'd say he's been badly hurt by a woman (or women), and he's blaming the "feminazis" for it. 'If it weren't for that darned feminista stuff, why she'd have stayed' kind of thing. It takes pain to make someone that kind of angry.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 04:04 PM

Or maybe the better way of phrasing it is... "can women (and men) be complete without their opposite?"

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 04:04 PM

I keep bumping up against an answer of "No." To the perpetually-single woman, that is potentially devastating.

Think about it this way: Do you think Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder led less than fulfilled and fulfilling lives?

Yes, they missed out on some things that the sighted got to experience. But that doesn't mean that there lives were any less complete for it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2010 04:08 PM

I keep bumping up against an answer of "No." To the perpetually-single woman, that is potentially devastating.

FbL, remember, we're talking ideals here. Everyone strives for ideals, but rarely does anyone achieve it. My wife and I will never have children. My sister will most likely never be married. These are sad things, but it does not mean we are doomed to be miserable people because of it.

As with everything else, life is what you make of it. And it is my firm belief that we are put on this Earth to help our fellow man and to be good to each other. I know for a fact that the world is a better place because you are in it, and I know of at least some of the good works you have done.

I wish I had the words to express how I really feel about this, but I do hate seeing you in pain on this matter. You should not let this get you down, because you really are a wonderful person, and you really do make this a better place for being here.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 04:10 PM

What's amusing is that men like hattip are exactly the kind of "beta" male they claim to deplore: It's always someone *elses* fault and responsibility.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2010 04:10 PM

Part of the good of feminism was to say that women are more than potential wives--that they can rich and independent lives and they should be free to choose whether or not they spend those lives with a man. That freed women who either by choice or luck or personal failings/damage never found a man to be able to hold their heads high and be recognized as being of value in the world (rather than dried up old shrews who were obviously witches, haha!).

But as is often the case, the pendulum swung too hard the other way. The question is, where's the middle? When I said that thinking men and women required each other to be complete was devasting for the perpetually-unattached/single woman, that's what I meant--if that's true/accurate, we are second-class humans (it makes men 2nd-class too, but the wider culture doesn't see it that way and there IS the tradition of the solo, romantic and independent male in our culture/history).

That's an idea I strongly resist, but I can't find the intellectual argument against it...

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 04:11 PM

Yes, they missed out on some things that the sighted got to experience. But that doesn't mean that there lives were any less complete for it.

THIS!!! What YAG said! That's what I wanted to get across!

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 04:12 PM

I don't ever want to do nothing but sex/relationships but...

I think it's that some of us actually *like* disagreeing about things sometimes.

There's only so much "How stupid can Obama be" before it get's dull. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2010 04:16 PM

But as is often the case, the pendulum swung too hard the other way. The question is, where's the middle? When I said that thinking men and women required each other to be complete was devasting for the perpetually-unattached/single woman, that's what I meant--if that's true/accurate, we are second-class humans (it makes men 2nd-class too, but the wider culture doesn't see it that way and there IS the tradition of the solo, romantic and independent male in our culture/history).

The two extreme positions are that "Women need men like fish need bicycles" and "A woman without a man is incomplete". We're not saying here that the latter is true. We're saying that men and women bring out the best in each other. But that DOES NOT mean that a life without a partner is one not worth living.

Just as I am sure that there can be a single, fully actualized, independent woman; I am sure that there can be a single, fully actualized, independent man. It is not at all impossible. All I am saying is that I believe that men and women have valuable contributions that we can make to each other, and that for MOST of us (but not all) life without a partner is sub-optimal.

Let me pose an example for you. I do not think for a moment that our fellow afe is unhappy, miserable, unactualized, or in any other way a bad/sad/mad person. He seems to be a wonderful human being, but I would not want to live his lifestyle. That does not mean his lifestyle is wrong! All it means is that what works for him would not work for me. And it's completely possible and not at all unreasonable to say that what works for me does not (and might NEVER) work for him. It is what he makes of his life that makes it good or ill.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 04:20 PM

There's only so much "How stupid can Obama be" before it get's dull. :-)

I'm with YAG here. It's not that I don't like Michelle Malkin, but I really can only take so much of it before it starts getting me down. At least the sex/relationship stuff I feel like we can have a lively discussion without feelings getting polarized.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 04:22 PM

MikeD, as awful as AFE's marriage turned out, I have no doubt he learned a lot about himself by falling in love with a woman and attempting to negotiate a life with her--found out things about himself he never suspected were there, and was challenged by both her reactions and his.

MikeD and YAG, thanks for the excellent perspective on fulfillment, etc. I actually wasn't thinking about this in terms of happiness or sadness (though your kind words brought tears to my eyes), but in terms of self-value and self-respect. It is devastating to the self-image and flies in the face of feminism that says we are whole and complete by ourselves.

I think the sight analogy is apples and oranges. No one things a person less human or less actualized because they can't see. They most definitely think that of someone (both male and female) who has never formed a strong romantic bond with the opposite sex (or same, if that's the way the sex drive goes). And the sad thing is, I think we've made an pretty strong argument for exactly that.

I'm not sitting here saying I'm unhappy--in fact, each year has been happier than the last. I'm saying that it's devastating to the belief that us perpetually-single types are "just like everybody else," and so has a profound effect on our self-images.

Truly, this isn't an emotional question for me (though the answer has emotional repercussions). I'm quite happy these days--in fact had a great week last week: went to dinner with a group a people that just lit up my life (tons of fun, laughter, and witty/intelligent talk), got kudos for some work I did recently, have been helping out a friend facing a crisis, rediscovered my joy in cooking, and been the recipient of some lovely compliments online and offline. No pity party here, merely a concern that I've argued myself into saying that I'm--as I phrased above--2nd class...

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 04:28 PM

In actuality, I'm starting to think I'm pretty awesome (this last year I've untangled a lot of internal knots and I'm treating myself better than I have in years if not ever). But there's this intellectual argument I fear I've constructed quite by accident...

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 04:30 PM

I agree.

Part of why I asked Cynthia to participate is that I reject the notion that we need a man (or that men need a woman) to be essentially male or female or to lead full lives.

I think that we lead different lives, depending upon our choices and experiences. Not worse, and not "not enough". Just different.

I find it hard to imagine life without a man I could love, but not because I would be any less a woman. Those qualities in me would find expression in some other way. Think nuns. Think Mother Theresa.

They are women, but they aren't in a relationship with a man. And lesbians are women who aren't in a relationship with a man but I don't see them as at all "unwomanly". I don't even think being in a relationship is an unmitigated good - look at how bitter loving the wrong person makes some folks?

To me, that's an abegnation of the self - no other person should ever possess the power to make you that miserable and angry.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 04:33 PM

They are women, but they aren't in a relationship with a man. And lesbians are women who aren't in a relationship with a man but I don't see them as at all "unwomanly".

Exactly. That's another reason I reject that idea. The problem is, I'm not seeing the intellectual explanation for why that's wrong...

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 04:35 PM

I'm no Catholic, but isn't the idea of being a Nun mean you are quite literally "married to God"--that He is your fulfillment?

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 04:36 PM

Okay, I've gotta go bike-riding... looking forward to seeing what comes up next, here. :)

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 04:40 PM

It's a bit like the question whether you can be a whole human being (male or female) without having children. The truth is that childlessness is a hole in my life I'll never fill. Nevertheless, I don't think for a minute that this makes me a failure as an individual or even, more specifically, as a woman. It has compensations in the form of things I've become that I couldn't otherwise have become. More compassionate about sterility, if nothing else. Less willing to believe that the desire and need to procreate are so essential to continued existence that they can excuse absolutely anything that it takes to achieve that goal. More able to devote time and energy to things I'd otherwise have had to give up. We play the hand we're dealt, which is part of what growing up and living a whole life means. "Taking the adventure that God sends us."

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 05:00 PM

I'm no Catholic, but isn't the idea of being a Nun mean you are quite literally "married to God"--that He is your fulfillment?

I sort of touched on that when I mentioned early that a very devout man can have that "safe space" in his life without a woman, but in that particular instance, God becomes his "safety valve". The very fact that it does require such a level of devotion and faith is part of the reason it is so rare. Oh and yes, nuns are "brides of Christ".

No pity party here, merely a concern that I've argued myself into saying that I'm--as I phrased above--2nd class...

While I am glad to hear it, I still would argue the 2nd class bit. Again, we're speaking of ideals and norms. Not all people are the same, ideal or even normal. I recognize that I have an exceptional marriage. I am very grateful for it. I wish that others had the same. But everyone cannot have the exceptional. Otherwise it would be the norm. And again, what works for me might not work for everyone. In fact I do know it wouldn't. That doesn't make it wrong or right. It just is.

My sister is a lovely woman. She has an excellent job, and she's very happy with most of her life. But she has accepted that she will probably not find a husband that meets her standards (she wants a man like our father, and while they do exist, almost all of them are already married). And thus she will most likely never be a mother. My heart aches for her, but I would never in a million years think she's "less feminine" or "less human" or "2nd class" because of it.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 05:02 PM

I think the sight analogy is apples and oranges. No one thin[k]s a person less human or less actualized because they can't see.

And I don't think that a person is less human (or even less male/female) or less actualized because they aren't (or have never been) in a romantic either.

It just grants you access to new experiences you wouldn't have had otherwise. One could construe that to mean that had Ray Charles had eyesight it would have expanded his creative world and he would have been a "more complete" artist. Perhaps he would have taken up painting instead of or in addition to his music.

And I think that's where we're at with the "counterpart" aspects of masculinity and femininity.

There are many aspects of masculinity that would likely be beneficial that I'll never experience for lack of time, opportunity, or simply having overlooked it (no one could experience them all, well... not and survive anyway) but that doesn't diminsish my masculinity at all.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2010 05:12 PM

Bringing up gay relationships does bring me to one observation.

In many (I certainly won't say all) I seem to observe that the they still seem to retain the masculine/feminine pairing. One will tend towards masculine traits while the other will tend towards feminine traits.

For example, the gay couple the LG and I meet for dinner every week. I get to "nerd out" with one and talk about finance, politics, Battlestar Galactica, and the Wii, while the LG spends most of the night talking with the other one about recipes, clothes, etc.

Does that tend to be true in general, or just happen to be the ones I notice?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2010 05:26 PM

I think all bonded pairs tend to polarize, but not necessarily along classic yin-yang lines. Often, though, gay couples polarize along lines similar enough to male-female stereotypes that we do see something that reminds us of that pattern: Public/private; reserved/vulnerable; left-brain/right-brain.

We were talking about whether women become something special in the presence of men. I suspect that they become more polarized in female characteristics. A lone woman (or man) may retain a more balanced set of traits, while men and woman together careen more extravagantly into their own specialized corners. I know I become stupider about the water/sewer/power grids around here in direct proportion to my husband's willingness to shoulder the responsibility for them, while he almost seems to lose the ability to conduct business by phone if I'm willing to take it all on -- to say nothing of his ability to sew on a button or send a thank-you note.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 05:52 PM

The independent-minded feminist in me hates the above idea (that we require the input of others to be fully-realized), but there it is…

I think this is both true and not true in terms of women needing to be in a protected, cherished relationship with a man. It's true because there are aspects of a woman's personality that may not be expressed outside of such a relationship just as there are aspects of a woman's personality that may not be expressed if she never has children. (Ditto for a man's personality.)

But I don't think that means women without children or women without a relationship are not fully-realized because I don't think there's a single definition of being fully-realized. Or if there is, it would be something like "making the most of the your intelligence, talent, and temperament within the circumstances in which you find yourself".

Let's say there's a girl child born who has the capacity to become a true chess prodigy, another Marie Curie, another Steve Jobs. She works and studies to one of those ends, succeeds brilliantly, but never marries or has children. I would argue that she is far more fully-realized than if she had abandoned those ends, gotten married, and had children.

More prosaically, I got married late and am deliriously happy to be married. But I would be much more fully-realized if in my 20s and 30s I'd accepted that marriage was not for me at that stage of my life, that what really mattered to me, where I really wanted to put my time and energy was in my work.

I believe those of us lucky enough to be born in this country in this time all have a whole range of options open to us. We choose some, we let others go, and circumstances (like never finding a man we want to marry who wants to marry us) also do some of the selecting. None of us can seize all of the options available - we don't have the time or the energy.

Not being married - even never being married - doesn't mean someone is a second-class human. Parts of society may continue to believe that but that doesn't make it so: societies have believed all kinds of stupid things down through the ages. Or, more charitably, in a world where so many people find happiness in relationships, it's understandable that society would consider someone not in a relationship to have missed out on something desirable. Even if that's true, it certainly doesn't constitute an intellectual argument for the proposition that the never-married are second-class humans.

Posted by: Elise at January 27, 2010 07:12 PM

Beautifully said, Elise. I particularly like the example of chess vs. Curie vs. Jobs. Thanks for the food for thought...

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2010 09:26 PM

What I'd argue is that the woman who was studying to be a chess prodigy (or whatever), if she were overcome by a deeper yearning for motherhood, could make that choice without being 'less fully realized' than Marie Curie. I don't think I accept that pursuit of the professional options makes her 'more fully realized' than the recognition that she really needs to be a mother -- assuming here that the particular woman does, in fact, find that she has that need. She would be less 'fully realized' if she laid down something of crushing personal importance in order to live up to the expectation that she might find the new radium.

The point of ethics is happiness (eudaimonia); if she comes to the realization that she cannot be happy if she misses out on motherhood, then she has every right to make that choice and switch her line of operation. She has the right even if that means that some other people are disappointed because they'd hoped she would do X.

There's a dangerous line where you stop saying "Women who don't choose to marry/be mothers are not second class humans," and begin saying "Women who don't choose to maximize their talents in the professional world are second class humans." That's a line that got crossed a long time ago, but if we're examining it anew, I think we ought to fortify the line.

Eudaimonia is supposed to be of benefit to the society and to the individual. It's supposed to make you happy, and yet also it makes you a person who makes us all better off. Marie Curie certainly qualifies; but so does a good mother. If you learn at some point in your life that you will be desperately unhappy if you don't pursue a certain line, sometimes you have to do that thing.

Especially this is so if there are no other people depending on your continued presence in the workforce. If your winnings at chess tournaments are supporting your husband, say. :)

Posted by: Grim at January 27, 2010 11:26 PM

Grim, I don't have any argument with any of that. I should have specified that the little girl I talked about was born with not just the capacity but also the ambition.

That's a line that got crossed a long time ago, but if we're examining it anew, I think we ought to fortify the line.

Agreed. That's what feminism was supposed to be about back in the day: woman (and men) being able to choose the path that would make them happy. And I think that with the idea that:

Eudaimonia is supposed ... to make you happy, and yet also it makes you a person who makes us all better off.

we circle back around to the idea of virtue. After all, one can't be truly happy if one is not virtuous.

I'd also like to give Cassandra a round of applause. We're well over 100 comments now and I think it's a testament to the kind of establishment she's running - and to those in her community - that this discussion has been interesting, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and - most of all - civil. Brava!

Posted by: Elise at January 27, 2010 11:51 PM

"That being said the woman who gets offended by a guy holding a door open for her "because she's totally independent, in control, un-needy": Yeah, she can go stick it and fend for herself."

When I first started seeing my husband, the door-opening issue magically solved itself. We went to a mall once, and he opened the first door for me. Without even thinking about it, I stepped thru and opened the next door for him.
We've been doing that pretty much ever since.

In the same vein, there is a senior citizen lady who lives alone in a house one street over from hours. This fall I was jogging past her house when I noticed the trunk of her car was open and she was slowly unloading groceries. (She doesn't use a cane, but does appear rather slow and unsteady on her feet.) I stopped at once and repeatedly offered to help her carry her things to the door, but she said no, no, no.
The next week I jogged by at the same time and the same thing happened. Again she refused all aid.
I have concluded that managing to unload all her groceries unaided is reassuring to her. Perfectly understandable.
But I still jog by her house in the afternoons, and I still check to see if she needs help as I pass by.
Which I guess is my Ultimate Analogy re: the door-opening thing.

Posted by: Lynne at January 28, 2010 08:48 AM

Exactly,

You make the offer, not out of condescension but from a caring heart.

She responded, not with rudeness but with graciousness even in declining your offer.

This is how it should be for those who really are "totally independent, in control, un-needy".

Those, however, who feel they need to respond with rudeness in order to inform you that they are "totally independent, in control, un-needy" *aren't* and are just trying to convince themselves otherwise.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 28, 2010 10:22 AM

I'd just laugh at anyone who tried to tell me (or any woman) that she was doing something wrong by abandoning her essential public work to raise a child. Talk about its not being their business! On the other hand, it's interesting to reverse the genders and try that thought experiment. What if a man is on track to discover a cure for cancer but decides to take paternity leave to raise some small children? It's still totally his decision and not our business, but how many of us wouldn't wonder if he wasn't a bit odd? Maybe had some doubts whether he was really up to his work? It almost seems like one of those situations where "that virtue is all very well for women." And yet in principle there's no reason why our guy shouldn't find being a hands-on devoted father to be more important than anything he was up to in the lab.

All I can really say is that, if the guy has doubts whether he's willing to sacrifice at least some aspect of his work, and he can't resolve them well enough not to take those doubts out on the kids, then maybe he shouldn't do it. But that would go for women, too.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 28, 2010 10:24 AM

I think part of the difference between how most people would view women versus men who abandon their essential public work to raise a child is that most people believe women have a genetically programmed, hormonal desire to have children and men don't. Most people think that when a woman talks about her biological clock ticking she is referring to, well, biology rather than a social construct.

Posted by: Elise at January 28, 2010 05:08 PM

I think if we didn't all have a pretty strong built-in bias in favor of reproducing our genes, our genes wouldn't have survived into this generation. We may be talking less about a biological urge to procreate than about a biological urge to hang around after conception. Many guys appear to be able to make their genes happy, so to speak, without hanging around. Women typically are not able to pull this off, perhaps in part because things are so arranged physiologically that a successfully procreating woman almost has to meet the helpless little bugger in person at least once before deciding to drift off and pursue other priorities. A guy can leave before the idea that a human being has been created is at all real to him. (I mean he can do that physiologically. I know that for many of you guys, this is unthinkable from the point of view of honor and virtue, and I'm not trying to denigrate that).

Posted by: Texan99 at January 28, 2010 05:40 PM

True but that doesn't require that women have a built-in desire to have a child. It just requires that women have a healthy sex drive (check), bonding after birth (check), and - less definitely but still arguably - a nesting, protective response to being pregnant (question mark). That is, I can't see any reason why evolution would need to select for women who actually *want* to have a child since when we were evolving we didn't have any choice in the matter.

Posted by: Elise at January 29, 2010 09:34 AM

It's an interesting question. Did the primitive female really have so little to say about whether sex would take place? Because, while we were evolving, that was the only point in the process where a woman's choice in having a child would come into play.

After that, the question would have been whether our female ancestor wanted to stick around and nurse the child. I assume that mothers who declined to do so didn't pass their genes on, because if they dropped that ball, the father couldn't pick it up.

The next point of choice is whether to wander off after the child is weaned. By this point the nursing mother, at least, is likely to have formed an awfully strong bond to the child; the father might or might not have. A mother that struck out for new horizons at this stage would be taking an awfully big chance with preserving her genes into the next generation. But a father who declined to raise a child still had a pretty good chance of his genes surviving, if he'd chosen a woman who could figure out a way to keep herself and the child fed and protected, because he could make a pretty safe bet that she would at least try.

What does this tell me about how innate in women is the desire to raise a weaned child, compared to the same desire in a man? Not that much. It seems a little circumstantial. I'm always suspicious of these genetic arguments; you can push them in all kinds of directions. If I didn't have the evidence of modern men declining to take care of their children, I'd have said that both genders would have equally strong genetic reasons to be fanatically devoted to raising them.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 29, 2010 03:37 PM

Did the primitive female really have so little to say about whether sex would take place?

That's why I posited a healthy sex drive in human females as necessary for survival - I suspect they did have a fair say in whether sex took place.

If I didn't have the evidence of modern men declining to take care of their children, I'd have said that both genders would have equally strong genetic reasons to be fanatically devoted to raising them.

It does seem to me that the most important thing to remember about humans is that we're pretty good at overriding our genetic programming. Or, perhaps more accurately, we've got a lot of different genetic options and we can choose among them.

Posted by: Elise at January 30, 2010 12:50 PM

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Lucy

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Posted by: Lucy at February 1, 2010 01:13 AM

I'm sorry I had to miss out on this conversation. I finally got a chance to read all the comments today. I've got thoughts, but since the conversation has died, I'll keep them to myself. They are thoughts I've expressed before around here...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 2, 2010 10:11 PM

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