Monday, 12 May 2014

Meaning

I have a lot of email to answer, but I am still feeling very tired in the wake of my cold. I feel very tempted to nap. I think this may because of the Polish cookies I had for breakfast, though. Sugar is bad. Very, very bad.

The central point of my lectures, I now realize, is that women are called to love of God and of service to neighbour, not to being found sexually attractive. If women think the point of our existence is to be found sexually attractive, by men or women, then the older we get, the more meaningless our lives will seem and the more frightened we will be of growing old. And we will also buy into a hierarchy in which the most worthwhile women in the world are models, actresses and high-class hookers. Wouldn't it be amazing if there were glossy magazines that outlined not how to get Beyonce's "look" but Mother Teresa's active compassion, or Saint Edith Stein's intellect, or Blessed Natalia Tułasiewicz's courage?

I mention Mother T, Saint E and Blessed N because none of them relied on, or used, any merely human male to give their lives meaning. They were all deeply committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, a commitment that inspired them and helped them to serve others, under even the most atrocious and dangerous conditions. Mother T was never a pretty little thing. Saint Edith, who grew up wealthy, was handsome, but never glam. Blessed Natalia, like the great majority of Poles of her generation, got engaged in her early 20s, but never married the man because, as much as she loved him, he was a Commie and and atheist. She never looked back, and she never wanted to do anything else but love and serve God as a woman in the world. Was she pretty? I can just see a Polish female pal shrugging and saying, "Average for Poland. Maybe below." And why should we care anyway? Saints should be above all that--thank heavens.

Thank heavens for our wonderful woman saints! They are never canonized because they were pretty, or because legions of men found them attractive. They are a glorious army of women of all sizes, ages, conditions, compared to whom top models and screen icons are a pitiful gang.

A woman who is deeply convinced of her worth as a child of God and a soldier of Christ is less likely to be tempted to seek and use men for validation. When I was a child and teen, girls sought to charm boys for whom they had no real affection. It made them feel powerful, perhaps, and pretty. Nineteenth century novels featured women about whom legions of men flocked, and these young heroines collected marriage proposals like trophies. When I was in high school I honestly believed multiple boys calling a girl up on the phone to make dates, all rivals for her smiles, was the status quo because books I read about high school life hinted that it was. What nonsense. And the garden party scene in Gone with the Wind was probably worse for American and Canadian girls than "Some Day My Prince Will Come."

Aaaaactually, no. Snow White's trilling has got to be The Worst. The only Prince any of us can expect with all our hearts is the Prince of Peace. Husbands are usually just nice, ordinary chaps you fall in love with and then you're stuck, and he's stuck with you, and if you're both lucky, grown-ups and good, it's all great fun. Otherwise, it's a slog. Look at old photos of poor young Diana, Princess of Wales, and compare her sad, sulky face with that of wrinkled, satisfied old Duchess Camilla, who, I was reliably told by an ancient (and usually uncharitable) fellow deb, was once the most glamorous creature. Obviously poor Di was not really cut out to be Princess Charles, whereas glammy Camilla actually was. And Diana Spenser might have made a splendid kindergarten teacher and done many good works had she stayed unmarried or waited until she was grown up before she got married. And now poor Di is entirely defined by the fact she got married. I mean, she wasn't assigned the title "Princess of Wales" at birth. Her future career was not determined by anything stemming from her education or resume. Her status was entirely based on her marriage, her looks, her PR and the uniquely British obsession with their Royal Family. And by 1996, her love affairs were turning her into a kind of tabloid joke. Only sudden death could save her, and it did.

Mother Teresa died a few days after Diana, and so the most famous women in the world suddenly departed the world. And when you get down to it, they shared something more than fame. Mother Teresa was a spiritual mother, and Diana, Princess of Wales was a physical mother. The legacy Diana left to the world, besides a deplorable new tendency of emotional diarrhea among the English, was two little boys who believed that, no matter how crazy or unhappy Mummy was, she loved them. That's nice. That's good. She would have made a great kindergarten teacher.

14 comments:

Julia said...

Hmmm.

I have a question that is not really relevant and which totally misses the point of your post, which I enjoyed very much.

What is with the alleged universal beauty of Polish women? (N.B. I have never been to Poland, so I can't say whether or not I think they are any more beautiful collectively than any other sort of woman).

I'm of Polish descent, and hearing about the collective breathtaking beauty of Polish women rankles, to be honest (I'm not taking a swipe at you, Auntie, your post just reminded me of something I've been thinking about a bit lately).

It rankles because I feel as if I'm now expected to be some supermodel. I'm not unattractive, but I'm no great beauty, and men are not exactly knocking themselves out to talk to me. I think I look Polish (tall, blonde, green eyes), but I also think I've failed the Ethnic Polish Beauty Test. The assumption that ethnically Polish women are all beautiful feels like a bit of a nail in the coffin for me, to be honest. Because hey, not only am I not a real Pole, not only can I not speak Polish, not only to I not cook beetroot soup, but I also don't live up to the Polish Supermodel Standard! But since my surname is Polish, EVERYONE latches on to that, and assumes a bunch of stuff about me. For example, in high school, an uber-nationalistic boy of Polish descent took a shine to me solely because of my Polish last name. It left a bad taste in my mouth (coupled with the fact that he was breathtakingly racist), and I have since rejected his Facebook friend request.

So. What to do? Change name by deed poll?

Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick said...

This was a beautiful piece in the Huffington Post! on universal motherhood.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-adam-smith/dread-mothers-day_b_5296940.html

A happy mother's day to you all!

Sheila said...

I have never heard that stereotype. All the Polish people I've known have been pretty average. They tend to have wonderfully straight teeth though.

Re: looks, considering that most women are called to marriage and motherhood, and that you need a man for that, and men can be terrifyingly superficial (oh, sorry, I mean "visual"), is it any wonder we worry about our looks too much? What if there is some great guy who would love us and be a great dad for our kids, but he never calls us up because we aren't pretty enough to catch his eye in the first place?

At any rate, that's the fear that makes us read those stupid beauty magazines and go on ridiculous diets. Even if untrue, it worries us.

Seraphic said...

It could be a British thing. British women are the fattest women in Europe. (German men are the fattest men in Europe.) When sugar came off the ration, really bad stuff happened. Bad, bad stuff. Bad.

Whereas Polish girls are tall and slim and have high cheekbones and dress better....

When we say Polish, we usually mean, just got off the plane from Poland, not Polish-American, or Polish-Australian, or half-Polish or whatever. There has basically been an invasion of hardworking young born-in-Poland Poles, and many of the girls look really very pretty. And Polish men really like Polish women, too, which adds to the misery of British female self-esteem issues. They steal our jobs,they take our men...whine, whine, snivel. Personally, I'm making placki tonight.

Seraphic said...

Men are terrifyingly superficial until they are about thirty. After thirty they begin losing their hair and suddenly become more humble.

Searching Singles under twenty-five should strive to look their personal best, whatever it is, and after twenty-five consider meeting and dating balding thirty-something men. But, erm, try not to sweat it too much. Landing a man is nice, but NOT the meaning of life.

PolishTraveler said...

As a Pole who lived in Poland for 10+ years and is now in the US, I think probably in this case we are dealing with generalizations which are easy to make but hard to substantiate.

For example, I agree with Seraphic that there is a certain stereotypical "Polish" beauty (tall, slim, high cheekbones) and in general Polish girls are much better at dressing for their body type/individual style than I have seen in Western Europe/US. I also think Polish women may have a certain kind of femininity in dealing with men (somewhat of a 'damsel in distress' although that is an illusion because they are strong women at the core, they just know how to make it work for them) that Western men can find appealing.

And my experience is contrary to Sheila's and has been that Poles have terrible, cavity-ridden teeth (too much sugar in tea drank 4 times a day!) but Polish dentists are becoming quite the destination for medical tourism so perhaps there has been some improvement in recent years.

Probably it's equal parts skewed perception, equal parts certain male expectations about 'feminine' countries where the evil of feminism has not yet taken root. I believe we had a commenter here a while back who planned to go to Eastern Europe to find himself a docile woman which I thought was rather entertaining. I wonder how he has fared.

Julia said...

Sheila, as usual, you write a great deal of sense.

"When we say Polish, we usually mean, just got off the plane from Poland, not Polish-American, or Polish-Australian, or half-Polish or whatever."

That's what I mean when I say "Polish". But it doesn't seem to matter. When people ask me, "What's your nationality?", "Australian" is not the answer they're looking for.

"Men are terrifyingly superficial until they are about thirty. After thirty they begin losing their hair and suddenly become more humble."

Is that why pretty much the only men who notice me are over thirty, usually waaaaay over thirty? I can't help but think that these guys would never have given me a second glance if they were under thirty, but hey, now they'll settle. For me, a woman who is (gasp!) approaching 25.

Seraphic, can you really blame British women for panicking now that all these Polish Superbabes have landed on their doorstep? I don't know what British people say about Polish people, and if it's racist or xenophobic then that's deplorable, but really, it would feel like a serious kick in the guts for British women if they are getting constantly compared to these glamorous foreigners. Think about it. Unmarried British women would be facing the same struggles of women anywhere in the English-speaking world. A generation of men addicted to p*rn, a couple of generations of men not interested in marriage, family members and Smug Marrieds carrying on about "why are you single", a media dedicated to reminding them of their every flaw. And then. Then a lot of Eastern European women, no more inherently valuable or virtuous or worthy than British women, show up and are praised to the skies for their beauty, charm and glamour by British men. Men who were responsible for producing the culture that knocked the beauty, charm and glamour out of Britain.

What I've written is a whole lotta conjecture, but I bet I'm on the money. Australia is not that different to Britain.

Julia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia said...

Upon some reflection, I think that I'm having a delayed reaction to something that happened on Friday night.

On Friday night I went to a Catholic youth dinner-dance. It was fun. Something sticks out a little though. Perhaps it shouldn't.

At my table was a man my age, a convert to Catholicism and a Latin Mass parishioner. We got to talking about which high school he went to. Turns out he went to high school with a girl I know. He couldn't remember her at all, even after seeing her Facebook profile. "I can't believe I can't remember someone I spent six years in school with," he said. "I mustn't have found her attractive. Yes, I'm shallow like that."

Hmmm. My father thinks it's a grand old joke. Perhaps it is. But wow, maybe it's not the way to go to baldly state your character flaws to a complete stranger. It's not that I'd hold this little quip against him, but it does get filed on a little card in my mind under FUTURE REFERENCE. If you tell me you're shallow, I'm going to believe you, and then do what I do when confronted with shallow people, namely avoid them.

Ladies, gentlemen - please give me a reality check here. Am I being too harsh on Mr Convert?

Seraphic said...

Poor Mr Convert! Listen, boys are not always so good with their words. He made a joke. He might not be shallow like that. In fact, he might have a self-deprecatory (spelling?) sense of humour. He could be okay.

Meanwhile, the over 30 set are probably more ready for marriage than 24 year old guys, so why be angry that they notice you? If you're not interested because they're old and ugly, fine. But don't get mad if naturally they like young & pretty you. They're programmed that way by nature.

Julia said...

Hmmm. I'm not angry with these guys or creeped out by them, I just assume that the interest they show is of the last resort variety. To reference one of your earlier comments, I imagine that the thought process is something like "Okay, well, now I am 40 and balding, and I did not succeed in attracting the supermodel I wanted, so I will settle for this still-young woman who I would never have looked at when I was under 30."

I get that that's a pretty extravagant - and uncharitable - assumption to make. Feel free to chalk it up to a grad school-induced complete lack of ability to use Reason or Logic (that's okay, it's true of me these days).

And Mr Convert? At the time, I sort of laughed along with the joke. It was only later that I sort of thought about it more. I jut thought it was odd of him to say that, but yes, he probably was being self-deprecating.

Seraphic said...

As to the over thirty year old guys, no. No no no no no. Men don't look at 24 year old girls and go, "Well, beautiful thirty-something women won't look at me, so might as well go for a so-so younger model." NOOOOO!!!!!

Julia, take any compliments with thanks and run with them. Look at forty-something me. Some complete stranger (50ish) in a Polish museum asked if he could take my photo because I looked like the paintings, and I will live on it for weeks. Weeks and weeks. Months. Years. I bragged to my own husband about it, which come to think of it isn't so diplomatic. But never mind: he's used to me by now.

Being found attractive by men is not the point of life. The point of livfe is to love God and serve Him, usually by serving others.

However, every time someone is nice to you, or tries to make you laugh, or gives you a compliment, you must exult in it and store it the way a plant stores sunshine. If he or she is old, or ugly, or married, or awkward, or adds that he is shallow, or whatever, it doesn't matter. He or she has given you a little gift, a little recognition that you are a unique and likable creature who inspires a smile, joke or wish for some sort of conversational exchange. This is wonderful.

It is natural to feel awkward about it at 24, but the sooner you realize that these tributes are good things, the sooner you can enjoy them.

Sheila said...

Perhaps Mr. Convert meant to have said, "I sure WAS shallow in high school!" Hopefully he has since outgrown such flaws, if he really had them.

To clarify, I don't believe I've known any Poles-from-Poland. Perhaps one? Plus a girl with a noticeable Polish accent who had been born in Canada. She had just been raised so Polish as not to speak like a Canadian!

Anyway, the straight-teeth thing seemed (to me) to come from a very nice wide jawline, something I envy a bit since my genetics left me with some of the world's crookedest teeth. I amended them with three years of torture in braces, and now my bite isn't quite right, and I suppose the whole thing is vanity .....

But on the other hand, it's nice not to feel embarrassed to smile, like I used to. In every other respect I resist caring about my looks, but I can't help but feel all that sacrifice was worth it to have straight teeth.

Aquinas' Goose said...

In response to the statement concerning the 'panicked women in Britain': "Men who were responsible for producing the culture that knocked the beauty, charm and glamour out of Britain."

I think women are too quick to blame men for the Occidental Cultural Crisis Concerning Femininity when a lot of what I see to be the problem can be laid equally upon the doorstep of women, feminist in particular. As far as I'm concerned, "feminist" is just a code phrase for "misogynist." Why? Because, in the academic circles at least, I notice that the only way to be a "real woman" and to represent the "feminist" via vitae is to be more "manly" than men. There is a constant barrage of insults toward biological men and a constant barrage of insults toward traditional female activity (e.g. needlework). If a woman desires to be married and have kids, she is a failure as a woman. If a woman tries to look pretty without looking like a lollipop, she has given into the patriarchy (because there is arguments in my field that sex is a social construct and that women ought to have sex just like a "man"--never mind the fact that I know of more women with serial partners than men and most men I know actually abhor the idea of serial sex partners).

None of this even begins to scratch the surface of the fact that it is practically a pecuniary impossibility for an Occidental Woman to live out a traditional feminine role should she want to, by which I mean marriage and / or home-crafts.

Now, maybe this is not the case in Britain, but in the American South these activities are either a) neglected, b) demeaned or c) seen as activities only suitable to a woman who's already snagged an upper-middle class man (or a woman who is so poverty stricken it's either that or prostitution).

I read too many academic articles decrying how women were not represented in the Athenian political realm and not enough lauding the women who created gorgeous tapestries / articles of clothing with their own, originally composed epic verses stitched in.

There is no dignity left in the work of men or women. Unfortunately, the "feminist" way of going about dealing with this loss of dignity has brought more harm than good to both men and women.