Dear Auntie Seraphic:
Modesty Talks stress to women that men are extremely "visual". We are told how to dress in a becoming-yet-modest way. We want to honor our beauty, but at the same time aid our brothers in their pursuit of virtue. Something that might be appropriate among women alone is scratched when we know men will be around. When every well-catechised young woman opens her closet or shops for a new dress she is asked to take into account, NOT her own feminine worldview/ideas of what is appropriate or acceptable but, in charity, the "visual" tendencies of the other sex. And well she should.
My beef is with the male half of this equation. While we women are told that men are "visual", and we should dress accordingly, men are told that women are "emotional" and they should--nothing. I feel this to be a source of grave inequality in Christian education.
Women, good women, are taught to be ladies. On the other hand men, good men, are taught to be gentlemen in ways that don’t teach them to see themselves through women's eyes, but just build their egos instead. They are taught to be content with outward acts that any trained monkey could do when it is really the selfless habit of putting others first that distinguishes a good man.
A man can outwardly act the part of a gentleman and still be, at heart, a chauvinist pig. I've met them. Their interactions with the opposite sex reek of noblesse oblige. I was once given an over-large bouquet of flowers by a young man who replied to my "Oh, why thank you, you shouldn't have!" with "Of course I should... That is what gentlemen do."
Yet it is also about excellent men that I write. Although the fine young Catholic men of my circle would never consciously manipulate or lead a young woman on, some are naive about how their charm and, shall we say, "emotional promiscuity" can be misleading. They by-and-large have fine male fellowship available to them, but the sweet and affirming company of women appeals to them. They rejoice that they know holy and virtuous women. They delight in the fact that these women bake them brownies and seem to always answer the phone when they call, and they start to drop in to their homes, and they are clueless, utterly clueless, about what the poor young ladies might be assuming.
These men begin asking and taking too much, emotionally, from their female friends. They are like babies smacking and breaking things because they do not realize their own power. Hearts are broken. Friendships are damaged. It is not pretty. And all because the only "modesty" talk they were ever given was "be very kind to girls when they are PMSing, and open doors, and affirm the fine women in your life." The real kicker is, the outward acts of "being a gentleman" are precisely the sort of charming emotion-candy that start to make women swoon and struggle.
I have been told, in essence, that when male-female friendships are complicated in this way it is the girl's fault for "reading too much into it." I freely admit that, just as men do not always keep custody of the eyes, women do not always keep custody of the emotions. Point taken. But here I am, helping the man keep custody of his eyes AND also the sole guardian of my emotions? Really, Auntie Seraphic? Must the girl do all the work?
I'm begging you to blog on this topic. How can guys act with emotional modesty and "dampen down their allure?" How can women keep custody of their emotions? Your "Crushing a Crush" post was a good start.
Dear Modest Millie,
I had a good laugh at your soi-disant gentleman. One hallmark of a gentleman is that he never refers to himself as a gentleman. A gentleman also gives modest, tasteful presents, only at appropriate times and only to appropriate people. It is appropriate to give flowers to one's mother, a hostess, a hostess's mother, a guest of honour, a performer just after her performance and one's love interest. It is not appropriate to give floral tributes willy-nilly.
This is because flowers are tributes. Once upon a time, family members kept an eye on whoever gave tributes to their unmarried womenfolk. A watchful mother would raise an eyebrow, bide her time, and then "have a word" with the young man if she disapproved of him in general, or if she thought he was unfairly encouraging her daughter to love him and/or making her conspicuous, i.e. gossiped about.
Sadly, advertisers and other baleful influences have come sharply between mothers and daughters, and daughters no longer tell Mama anything, let alone everything, whereas Mama is even more afraid of her daughter than she is for her. So, for good or ill, having the word is up to young women themselves.
(In some cultures, the "having the word" is left up to a girl's brothers. Unfortunately, they often are confused about whom they are to have this word, so in extreme cases they just turn on their sister and murder her in cold blood. So let us count our blessings.)
Pompous asses bearing gifts are easily dealt with. Say, "Thank you so much! My mother will love them." Then add, "Chrysanthemums are not my thing" or "I'm off chocolate this week" or whatever polite evasion seems most appropriate. That should tip off Pompous Ass that you are not interested in his tributes and that they are wasted on you. Watching him deflate should give you a thrill of private amusement. But private, please. If he does not get the message, you may eventually have to say, "Stop giving me things. You're making me feel uncomfortable."
This is the way to deal with pompous asses. It is a more delicate when you are dealing with a man who is seriously smitten. So in his case, just say "Thank you, X" and smile. No more, no less. Unless he behaves in an egregiously inappropriate or frightening way, it is dirty pool to complain about his gifts to your friends. You remain 100% free to turn down all his invitations to coffee, dinner, his brother's wedding, et cetera. A gentle and consistent "No" should discourage his attentions. If not, you may have to say, "Please stop. You're making me feel uncomfortable."
Now I shall address the problem of the boys intruding on your girl time and giving you Ideas. I agree that it would be nice if boys were told not to take advantage of the motherly nature of girls, i.e. Not To Lead Girls On. Part of the problem is that Chastity speakers assume that Nice Girls are A) not visual themselves (which is why none of us ever bought Tiger Beat nor ever taped a film star poster to our bedroom walls) and B) made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Another part is that men, not having been brainwashed into thinking about their "allure" 24/7, don't know that they have any. Often, the nicer they are, the less conscious of their allure men are.
Men can be stopped dead in their tracks by a flash of bosom or thigh. Women can be stopped dead in their tracks by a quirky eyebrow or a fine set of shoulders filling out a jacket. But several thousand years of culture have told us that Nice Girls hide this weakness, so we do. Men reveal interest, women conceal interest. So men assume we are not interested in them "in that way" to an egregiously obtuse extent. That is why, if she wants to reveal to a man she is interested in him, a Nice Catholic Girl is eventually forced to say something like, "Hey, Steve! Looking good!" and then touch his arm. All the brownies in the world are not going to make him clue in.
Speaking of those brownies, if you deliberately left out an open bag of gerbil food for a gerbil, and the gerbil came along and ate so much of it that he exploded, who would be to blame, you or the gerbil? You, of course, which is why, after I tell men that (SHOCKER!) women harbour desire too, a desire of which men should be respectful, I would give women a hard time about how much attention they lavish on men. When it comes to female-comfort-without-strings, lonely men are hungry gerbils.
In general, I would say to a Nice Catholic Boy that he should not kiss a girl on the lips unless he thinks he'd like to marry her. This may sound strict, but give me a break. Nice Orthodox Jewish boys behave that well; he can too. Men should not give girls romantic presents unless they want to be seen in the light of a suitor: romantic presents include roses, chocolate, perfume, poetry and jewellery. Men shouldn't give these things unless they mean business. But if a girl offers a boy a brownie, he can eat the damn brownie. Eating a brownie is not tantamount to a marriage proposal.
Emotional chastity means that women don't make themselves so available. It means you are too busy to listen to X obsess about his ex-girlfriend. (That's his priest's or therapist's job.) It also means you don't make brownies for boys. (That's their mothers' job.) It means you don't invite lone male friends into your home for a chat or a meal. (That's their girlfriends' job.) It means you never, ever, ever do a domestic chore for a male friend. I don't care how cutely clueless he is about the washing machine. Don't do it. It means that you don't submit to long, warm, snuggly hugs from non-related men. It means that you don't give non-related men long, warm, snuggly hugs.
My grandmother, a wonderfully friendly woman, was a genius at not letting men take advantage. When she was in the nursing home, she refused in no uncertain terms to cut up a widower's meat for him at table. Perhaps you (or his dead wife) would think this cruel. "Awwwwww, poor old guy. Obviously his wife used to cut up his meat for him; why wouldn't your grandmother?" Because it wasn't her job, that's why! Heaven only knows what the widower would have asked her to do for him next. Wash his socks, perhaps. Rub his feet.
I, a married woman and an Auntie to the Singles of the World, will listen to a man obsess about his ex-girlfriend, but only for a limited time. I say straight up how much time he is allotted. Thus, I create a boundary and an understanding that I am not The Nice Girl You Can Always Cry To. I am too busy for that. The only men who are allowed my full attention for longer than 15 minutes are my kinsmen and my husband. I sincerely encourage all young women to develop such boundaries themselves.
Anne Landers often said that no-one can take advantage of you without your permission, and I firmly believe that. So you keep an eye for chinks in your armour, Modest Millie!
A Quick Do and Don't List for Single Girls
1. Do invite Single unattached men to parties you are hosting.
2. Don't invite a Single unattached man to your place for meals or chatting.
3. Do bake goodies for your female friends or for mixed groups.
4. Don't bake goodies for your male friends.
5. Do help out relations and elderly friends with domestic chores.
6. Don't you DARE do a domestic chore for a Single unattached man!
7. Do accept a date for coffee from a nice Single unattached man.
8. Don't accept another date from that man if he spent coffee talking about his ex.
9. Do have long telephone chats with female friends.
10. Don't have long telephone chats with Single unattached male friends. Have short ones.
11. Do lavish female friends and relations with little gifts and hugs.
12. Do not lavish Single (or Married!) men with little gifts and hugs.
Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen. Incidentally, Single unattached men include priests and seminarians. I know it's so totally unfair that, as usual, this is all being put on you. But be careful, girls. Protect your little hearts.
UPDATE: Seraphic Singles available on UK Amazon! But not until May 31. That's a looooong time after the book comes out.
Also available on Japan, France and Germany Amazon! Goodness me. Again, though, May 31.
©Dorothy Cummings McLean 2010