Thursday, 10 February 2011

No Red Mantillas

Alert: Contains Sentimental Married Lady Stuff

Early tomorrow morning I will fly to South Bend for the University of Notre Dame's Edith Stein Project conference. I am very excited! For one thing, I know I have readers driving there, and I am delighted and flattered. For another, I know Wendy Shalit and Dawn Eden are also speaking, and I've always wanted to meet both of them in person.

The conference, then spans February 11 and 12th. On the 13th, a Sunday, I will go to Mass and then fly back to Toronto. On February 14th, I will still be in Toronto, and not home with my husband, which means no Valentine's Day for me.

For years I have been poking fun at Valentine's Day, but somehow when Father Z, who obviously is a man, did so yesterday, I felt rather taken aback. It's one thing for women to laugh about Valentine's Day, but it feels rather different when men do--although they are perfectly right to critique the crass sexual messages. The truth is that many, many, many women take Valentine's Day very seriously indeed. And when wondering why I felt so cold to Father Z's joke that men should give their girlfriends or wives mantillas (someone else, I think, suggested they be red*), I put my finger on it.

Women want to feel loved. Men want to feel loved, too, but they don't seem to have the same attachment to calendar dates as women do. On Valentine's Day, many Single women feel very poignantly their need to feel loved, and Married women feel a need to be loved the way they were loved when their husbands were first courting them. Traditionally, women love to be wooed by the men they love, and these days if we aren't wooed, we'll woo in the hope we'll be wooed back. This has rather mixed results.

We can make fun of Valentine's Day excess, sure, but we can't make fun of women's need to feel love, of Single women's loneliness, of Married women's worry that our husbands just don't find us particularly exciting anymore.

Sentimental Lady Stuff begins here:

On my first Valentine's Day with B.A.--we met in person one September, remember--I had travelled back to the UK to see him, and we went to a small French bistro. He gave me a small antique pin featuring a baroque heart set with a pearl. It was made in the 1920s and B.A. joked to the storekeeper, "This belonged to Nancy Mitford, right?"

"I never said that," said the storekeeper, like a shot, until he realized BA was joking.

But I love that story--which illustrates the fact that B.A. knows who my favourite authors are--and I think of my pin as the "Nancy Mitford pin."

On my second Valentine's Day with B.A., we were married and money was tight. I think this is a frequent song of newly married people. There's more money for romantic presents before you're married than after. So I really wasn't expecting anything and trying not to feel bad that I wasn't expecting anything.

But I did get something. B.A. made me a valentine out of red construction paper and went out to the woods and picked the first snowdrops of spring. (Spring comes early on the east coast of Scotland.) He put the snowdrops in a little vase by the bed, and stood the valentine by the vase, and it made the biggest difference in the world.

This will be my third Valentine's Day with B.A., only I will be over here, and he will be over there, and my birthday extravaganza rather emptied the ol' bank account, so...

I don't know what he's going to do. I know I feel feel sad if he does nothing, but what can he do, poor man? I will just have to lump it, and be in solidarity with the women of the world who are also lumping it.

End of Sentimental Lady Stuff.
Single women who suspect V-Day could be a tough day can prepare ahead by sending their own Single women friends cards and chocolate (and maybe my book!), by meeting up with pals for a mini-Valentine's (or anti-Valentine's) party, by arranging a special treat for themselves that night or by volunteering for the evening shift. Single men, if they are feeling lonely, could contemplate how much money they are saving by not taking women to eat at the vastly inflated Valentine's Day prices which, incidentally, are not women's fault.

Married women and, above all, Single girls with boyfriends, should temper their expectations. But boyfriends and husbands, if they do love their girlfriends and wives, should step up to the plate. Women who are uncertain if they are loved read a LOT into little things. A Valentine's Day gift to a girlfriend or a wife does NOT have to be expensive, but it does have to be romantic. A special lunch if dinner is too expensive. One rose instead of twelve carnations. A lacy scarf. A valentine cut out of a sheet of red construction paper with paper lace glued to the back. It really is the thought---the CAREFUL thought--that counts.

A mantilla (especially a red one) is not romantic. I know Father Z was joking, but I cannot imagine a worse gift. Some Catholic girls are happily and voluntarily choosing to pin on a mantilla when they go to Mass, especially the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. But others are weirded out by it, and think uneasily of burqas. Ofred in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale had to keep her head covered, and her dress--the dress of all the sex/baby-slave handmaids--was red. And the last thing a Catholic woman needs, as she works out how to be a Catholic woman, balancing tradition and modern life, is some man shoving a veil at her, telling her, in effect, to cover up.

It's almost Valentine's Day. Tensions are mounting. Let's all be extra gentle and understanding of each other and ourselves.

*Now I can't find any reference on to a red mantilla! Did I dream it? I pondered the red mantilla question all evening!

P.S. The comment stream is a hoot. I feel badly for the woman who is knocking herself out to make a special Valentine's Day dinner for her boyfriend. My one consolation is that the comment is so over the top that it must be a spoof.

By the way, Father Z has asked bloggers to get their readers to vote on his mantilla poll here. I voted Woman/Yes/But voluntary. Where I got to Mass, some women wear mantillas, others wear scarves, others warm hats, and others nothing on their heads at all. I usually wear a mantilla, but if it is really cold, I leave my wool beret on.

Some women honestly just don't like dressing "like women", and I don't see why they should have to.


Julie said...

THANK you. That made me cringe too. It's one thing if your wife/fiancee already covers her head at Mass -- in that case, a new (or antique, ooh) mantilla would be a thoughtful gift. Otherwise, it's the kind of thing trad guys in particular need to be especially careful about: making women's choices for them.

I'm starting to see the beginnings of a "put the saint back in St Valentine's Day" cropping up around the blogs, and I just can't give that sort of thing the time of day. FIRST I can't take it seriously because I first came across it on an episode of 30 Rock. SECOND we have much bigger fish to fry, people, seriously. THIRD this particular boat left the harbor a heck of a long time ago, if indeed it ever spent much time in the harbor. Giving too much thought to Valentine's Day as an institution -- as opposed to thinking of meaningful, sincere ways to express your affection for friends and loved ones -- seems like a massive waste of time and energy that can only be detrimental.

Plus, if Catholicism teaches us anything it's that the commonest protest of the anti-Valentiners ("I don't need Society to tell me when to express my love!") is wrong-headed on several levels. Happy V-Day Father Z.

sciencegirl said...

Pt 1. Valentine's Day is way fun! People should not scorn the holidays whether religious or secular, particularly those that come in the winter months. We have to have something cheerful in February, because spring is still too far away. I think Teddy Bears are a weird present for anyone out of college who doesn't collect them.

I voted on the veil poll, then read the comment thread & was reminded of why chapel veils used to creep me out. And I own one and wear it when I go to the TLM! I think it is the obsession over the scrap of lace itself over all the cute hats and bandanas that are out there easily accessible on mall shelves. It seems to me that an import from Spanish/Italian culture shouldn't be more privileged than regular old hats. These dudes who want their wives to get into chapel veils would be better off getting them cute wool hats they could wear all over town. My stupid veil kept slipping all through Mass last week, and I had to keep re-stabbing myself with the wretched bobby pin that kept sliding around in my hair, so I'm kind of bitter right now. I forgot I need at least 3 pins to keep the dratted thing in place. Instead of modesty, I basically ended up doing a head strip-tease all through the Holy Sacrifice. Flashbacks. Teh horurs.

Lest anyone think I've come to this state because of a bossy man, the guy I'm dating said once that when I wear my veil (pretty, silvery lace with loads of flowers and scallops), I make him think of Emperor Palpatine. Now there's romance for you.

dark but fair said...

Thanks for sharing! Aw! You are your husband are so sweet!
Yes, I quite agree, there is nothing funny about a woman's need for love. For a fellow to buy a lady a veil when she did not pick it out or express interest in it just has too many bad messages/connotations/implications. In short, it would be gauche. It is a funny mental image, though!

The Sojourner said...

B.A. made me a valentine out of red construction paper and went out to the woods and picked the first snowdrops of spring.


I have no profound comment on this post, but I had to remark on that point.

JaneC said...

I totally agree that men should make some kind of effort to make Valentine's Day nice for the women in their lives, and not just blow it off. We didn't have much money when we were courting, and after three years of marriage have even less. But he surprised me and brought me roses this week: "I know Valentine's Day isn't for a week yet, but they were on sale and they won't be next week." We had already agreed not to go out to eat, but to stay home and bake brownies together.

I wouldn't mind if, assuming we had extra cash, my husband bought me a mantilla for Valentine's Day. Of course, I already cover my head at Mass, with a hat or silk scarf or mantilla depending on mood and outfit, but I only have one mantilla and wouldn't mind having an option in another color like white or silver (NOT red!). It would not, however, be a romantic gesture for a woman who does not already wear a mantilla and might not want to.

Louise said...

I think unfortunately that Father Z's blog is one of the reasons that people don't feel too fondly towards traditionalists. I am a traditionalist, I believe everything the Church teaches, and I come from a family that is not only totally atheistic but completely anti-Catholic, so I greatly appreciate Father Z's liturgical posts and commentary most of the time, but occaisionally he and (much more often) his commentators seem to take it a bit far. For instance, while as Catholics we obviously cannot vote for politicians who are pro-abortion, I feel a little weird about lining up too closely with any one party - vote for them when they are on the right side of issues, but too much loyalty to any one seems to me a good way to lose sight of the hard requirements of our faith (on both sides of most issues). Similarly, while Father often makes great and well argued points, the comments seem to me to vere towards the un-charitable in a lot of instances. I know we have to hate the sin, but we do also have to love the sinner, and it's a fine line without just crossing over into just being flat out uncharitable about people while extolling our own goodness. I know I'm guilty of that sometimes, and I intently dislike that I do that, but I worry that some of those comments have a tendency towards that rather frequently. It makes me sad, because I love reading about the faith and theology, as well as a Catholic take on current affairs, but I also feel like the commentators tend to edge away from the charity to which we are all called.

Alexandrine said...

I'm with you 100%. Women need to feel love today more then ever before and things are hard enough without Fr. Z's commentary- which has annoyed me more then it should have today.

And c'mon a red mantilla!!?? Makes me think of gaudy undergarments- a thought I do not want at Mass.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, the "red" mantilla sounds familiar to me.

Neanderthal in Toronto

Andrea said...

Anyone ever read Love Languages? I don't feel like gift giving on Valentine's Day (or any other day) is too big a deal for me, but perhaps that has to do with how I receive love. I think Gary Chapman is onto something with his theory that people give and receive love in different ways. I think the categories he identifies are Words of Affirmation, Gift Giving, Quality Time and acts of service. Anyways--not all dating or married people are going to care whether they get a gift on Valentine's Day... Although I'd be lying if I wasn't just a teensy bit curious to see what this guy I've been seeing ever so briefly is going to do with the big Feb 14. (Nothing, I'm gearing myself up for nothing, and anything else would be cause to get excited.) Anyhoo. Gary Chapman--check him out.