To continue the conversation begun yesterday with a passage from St. Edith Stein, I am channeling Cynthia Crysdale's Embracing Travail. Unfortunately my copy is in under a box under a lot of other boxes in a closet under a staircase in my parents' house. (When it came to shipping I made the heart-squeezing choice of china over books.) However, I do remember Crysdale's strong hint that "giving too much" is a particularly feminine sin, whereas "taking too much" is a particularly masculine sin.
We are all aware, I think, that being selfish is sinful, but we are less aware how giving too much is also sinful. But it is. It is sinful to be a doormat. It is sinful to "act like a martyr". It is sinful to be a coward. Cowardice is sinful.
Of course women are capable of being selfish, and men are capable of being passive aggressive doormats. But we women are usually quicker to ask "Oh, how can he take advantage of me like that?" than "Why am I allowing myself to be taken advantage of like that?" And the latter should be a serious question. Why do you allow yourself to be taken advantage of? What is it that you are getting out of it? What reward do you expect? And is that really fitting to you as a creature made in the image and likeness of God?
Germaine Greer's The Whole Woman (also in a box under boxes under stairs across the sea) also points to women's vast unquenchable torrents of love and need to give, give, GIVE. I seem to recall some poor granny or auntie she mentions knitting endless jumpers for younger relations who never wear them. Her hypothetical granny was not knitting for the pleasure of it or the pleasure she imagined the jumper might give to her young relation, but in order to give.*
The Rules, to add pop culture to this list of saint, Anglican theologian and feminist pundit, warns women not to give men expensive presents. Men are apparently suspicious of expensive presents and subconsciously smell in them an attempt to buy their affections. The Rules does not suggest this is a form of psychological transference, in which men impute their own sneaky motives to women. But neither does The Rules deny that women do try to buy affection with gifts.
Oh dear. The time (and money) I have wasted trying to find The Perfect Present for some male object of my affections. It makes me sad. With female friends, you don't have to look and scheme and dream. You just see something and know "Oh, that's just so Such-and-Such" and, if you can afford it, you buy it. You don't buy it as a symbol of your love or to remind her of you forever or to make an impact on her life. You just buy it because "it's so her", and she will enjoy it for itself, and that's good enough for you.
My husband hates "stuff" and doesn't read the books I bought him as symbols of our shared commitment to Thought, so I now I give him gin or whiskey and try to save for holidays abroad. So much for give, give, GIVE. Let's face it: when you're married to someone you love and who loves you, you don't have to give to get. You just get and give all the time without thinking about it much, and giving and getting are not in direct relation. Marriage is a remedy for all kinds of concupiscence.
So giving, giving, GIVING is more of a Single girl's temptation, and I'm sorry, I've been there, and it sucks. I know Single women who run themselves ragged trying to do something for everybody or everything for somebody, and I grieve for them.
P.S. There is, of course, a Golden Mean. As I write this, I am looking at a beautiful, cotton, lace tablecloth that took my mother over a year to make. It represents hundreds of hours of crocheting and is a Second Year Wedding Anniversary to B.A. and me. (We got our Third Year Anniversary present last year, as an injury slowed Mum down.) It is in the sitting-room because we wanted to show it off to our dinner guests without risking them upsetting wine on it. We absolutely love it, and as it is clearly in the family heirloom class, I have already mentally bequeathed it to my niece in the event that we have no children of our own.
I am sure I don't have to explain how it is fitting for a keen needleworker to spend a year making a tablecloth for her daughter and son-in-law's Second Wedding Anniversary but not fitting for a single woman to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars (or hours) on a similar tablecloth for her love interest.