Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Reluctant Gatekeepers

Following on the work of St. Edith Stein and St. John Paul II, I feel no embarrassment in saying that men and women are different in fundamental ways. And again following Saint Edith, I observe that femininity, which women tend to have more of than men do, and masculinity, which men tend to have more of than women do, have been adversely affected by the Fall. Just as we live in a fallen world, a creation warped by Original Sin, so masculinity and femininity are fallen, too. All the more reason to look to Our Lord for the best example we have for what masculinity should look like and to His Blessed Mother, conceived without sin, for prelapsarian femininity.

St. Edith notes in her writing that Our Lord was the New Adam and Our Lady was the New Eve, and she reflects also that it is significant that Our Lady's principal role was not spousal but maternal. Both Saint Edith and Saint John Paul hold that all women are called to be mothers of one kind or another.

Saint Edith does not think that men's principal role is paternal. She thinks fatherhood is just a subset of the male call to leadership. Since the Fall, of course, this leadership contains the seeds of selfish tyranny. And fallen motherhood, I would add, contains the seeds of selfishness, too. Mothers have a huge amount of emotional power, and some use this power for evil. Think of the female mentor who develops relationships of trust with younger women at work only to stab them in the back. Yikes.

However, I think a much more likely female sin is to abdicate maternal responsibility, either letting their own kids run wild, or even indulging their bad habits, or giggling foolishly while their male friends behave badly, or just giving in when their boyfriends start to take their relationship "to another level" in the front of a Honda Civic.

At this point readers may shout, "But he shouldn't start to take the relationship to another level in the back of a Honda Civic! Why do I have to be the one who says no?" And I would say, "Because he's the one being excessive." According to the traditional scheme of things, masculine men take leadership in sexual advances. (I would add that more feminine men expect women to seduce them and feel disappointed when we don't.) This leadership is, thanks to the Fall, flawed. And therefore it is a principal of redeemed motherhood to say "No. Stop. This is getting a bit crazy, so I think we'd better cool it."

Frankly, whoever is being excessive is the one who needs correcting. I am sure B.A. could give you examples of feminine excess at the Historical House. Let me see. Oh, I suspect I am way too interested in my friends' lives. And I even used to mope or cry occasionally when not invited to certain parties, which B.A. thought was ridiculous. Saint Edith Stein would say that this was textbook fallen feminine behaviour, had expressions like "textbook behaviour" been current before 1942. Of course, B.A. gets excessive in his leadership, e.g. haranguing me in an over-exasperated tone, which I counter by wailing, "You're not making me feel better! I'm sorry I mentioned it. I should have called a WOMAN!" Etc, etc. Ah, the joys of marriage.

But actually that is what marriage is for, other than having babies, I mean (of the body and/or of the spirit). Man confronts fallen femininity and helps his wife rise above it, and woman confronts fallen masculinity and helps her husband rise above that. To use a very basic example, husbands question the practical advantage of expensive if pretty shoes, and women ban sexual sin. The thought of B.A. saying "Aw geez" upon finding out I spent 65 quid on a new pair of pretty shoes generally stops me from buying a new pair of pretty shoes. And the force of my yowls that he change that channel, makes B.A. change the channel. I was so outraged by that rapey sexual scenario with the Turkish guy that poor B.A. never got to see "Downton Abbey" again. However, how dare they beam such filth into gthe sitting-rooms of Britain? (I admit it was an example of feminine excess to insult All Britain, e.g. What's wrong with you people?, at the time.)

Camille Paglia (you didn't see that name coming, did you?) thinks sexually active hom*sexu*l men are heroes for spitting in the eye of Mother Nature, but even she was shaken by the excesses of urban American gay cult*re in the 1970s. She blamed the excess on the fact that there were no women involved. Given that there was no feminine check on masculine sexual behaviour, she was not surprised by the AIDS epidemic. And, lo and behold, in current discussions around same-sex "marri*ge" the very concept of sexual fidelity is being held up to ridicule. I thought the Sex and the City franchise, though straining every fan's credulity in marrying off Anthony Marentino to Stanford Blatch, was refreshingly open about the fact that Anthony had no intention of curbing his polyandrous sex life just because he was married. And actually it could indeed be that Stanford wouldn't care, as long as Anthony respected their emotional bond, treating all his other partners as, I don't know, less than. For one thing, Stanley might take it as tacit permission to do the same thing. And thus they would encourage each other not in virtue but in excess. Most women, however, naturally and laudably draw the line at such self-indulgent (and destructive) promiscuity in the men they love.

I am not saying, by the way, that women do not suffer from sexual temptation. Of course we do. Obviously this is not something to brag about although certainly chastity educators {who trains these people? do they all have certificates from accredited institutions, or what?*) need to learn about contemporary realities instead of repeating the tired cliches that might have been true back in 1950, when pop culture was not giving girls a 24/7 training in vice. But I am saying that one thing hasn't changed, and it is that women are called to confront masculine excess, both in men and, increasingly, in themselves.

*Here's a thought. No Catholic school, parish or organization should host chastity speakers who have neither a certificate or diploma in moral theology (or philosophy) from an accredited institution nor episcopal oversight. Both would be best. Me, I have an M.Div., but no oversight. You should remember that, especially if you are young, and if teenage readers are ever troubled or enthusiastic about anything I write, I want you to discuss it with a wise and trusted adult who knows and loves you, okay? Just because someone on the internet seems smart or fun does not mean she or he has all the answers.


Sheila said...

I appreciate your take on this. Too often I hear that masculinity and femininity are such intrinsically good things that we must try to become *more* masculine or feminine than we naturally are. Since our gender, like everything else, is fallen, and since each of us only reflects a part of the image of God anyway, it stands to reason we should *learn* from the other gender.

Now not all of our virtues and vices fit into the appropriate gender boxes (for instance, I tend to consider emotional expression as being for sissies, which can be Very Bad when I clam up for weeks about something I'm upset about) but for when they do, learning from the opposite sex can be very handy. We don't have to become exactly like the virtuous men of our acquaintance, but we should imitate their virtues. And yes, we should use those virtues which come more naturally to us for their benefit as well.

It's just hard to strike a balance between "there is a single ideal and we should all strive to be the same" and "my temperament is The Way I Am and it would be wrong to change a single thing about myself." I think each of us has a certain way of reflecting God, and we should all capitalize on our strengths. But because we're fallen, we also have to work on our weaknesses. It's okay for me to be sanguine/melancholic, but I should try to be a *balanced, virtuous* sanguine/melancholic. And ditto for being a woman.

Seraphic said...

St. Edith is not a gender role hardliner. She observes that some women have some masculine characteristics, and some men have some feminine characteristics. But, yeah, having masculine characteristics that run amok is not so great for women either. Women can be aggressive in masculine ways, and it can be good (e.g. in doing business or in tackling a problem or a sport), but can also be pretty terrible (e.g. hitting people in drink-fueled brawls.) Feminine peacemaking by men or women is great, but feminine passive-aggression by either is not. UGRGH!

Sarah Lantz said...

This reminds me a little of something St. John of the Ladder points out in the Ladder of Divine Ascent:
"The good Lord shows His great care for us in that the shamelessness of the feminine sex is checked by shyness as with a sort of bit. For if the woman were to run after the man, no flesh would be saved."

I'm not sure if "shyness" is what we're getting at in this conversation, but certainly a kind of feminine reserve - or gatekeeping - as you said.

Michelle_Marie said...

Don't men have the responsibility and ability to be "gatekeepers" too? Or has my perpetual Catholic single state really really removed from the reality of mean and relationships?

Michelle_Marie said...

Sorry, meant *removed me

Michelle_Marie said...

Sorry, meant *men, not mean.

Seraphic said...

Do you mean are men supposed to check feminine excess? If so, yes, according to their state in life, of course. If my husband tells me off for excess, that's okay. Male pals, not so much.

Do you mean "Should we expect most men to be as good at resisting sexual advances as most women are?" If so, no. Endless studies prove that way more men than women will agree to have sex with a beautiful stranger. That should tell us something. Nobody is allowed to encourage her boyfriend to do sinful things and then get mad that he wasn't a better gatekeeper.

Seraphic said...

Generally speaking. There may be some women who know that they have a strong, "masculine" tendency towards unchastity (i.e. to the extent that they WOULD have sex with an attractive stranger). In that case... er...her chaste boyfriend would probably have to be the gatekeeper, if he could do it, and now I remember why I hate writing about chastity.

Seraphic said...

That is, thinking about chastity means thinking about sex and thinking about sex is not helpful for the chastity of long-term Singles. The best way to cope, in my experience, is not to think about it AT ALL.

Seraphic said...

That is, thinking about chastity means thinking about sex and thinking about sex is not helpful for the chastity of long-term Singles. The best way to cope, in my experience, is not to think about it AT ALL.

Michelle_Marie said...

You're right. It only depresses me.

Alicja said...

Dorothy thank you for your point of view and Edith Stein's point of view on the feminity, masculinity, about motherhood (not only phisical but also spirytual) and our principal roles. Very wise, profound statements which raise my sprits and make me vastly edified. And although I had read this post a few hours (English is still difficult for me) I can say it was really worth.

Sheila said...

If chastity is to work at all, both have to be the gatekeeper. No one's perfect at every moment, but hopefully each will be charitable enough toward the other to first, never push the limit, and second, never let themselves be pushed. Modern people think it is enough to obtain consent before having sex with someone. But I think a truly respectful person will consider whether having sex is in your best interest and a wise choice (if you're not married, it isn't!) and hold you to your own commitments.

If a man isn't committed to being his own gatekeeper, that's bad an unfortunate but it doesn't excuse your own laxity -- and vice versa. BOTH have to be on board or chastity is likely to be a failure. I know my husband and I never could have stuck it out for our (rather long) relationship if we were putting the entire burden of chastity on only one of us. We each had our weak moments, but the other one didn't take advantage. And that definitely increased our respect for one another over time.