Scattered Thoughts on Womanhood9:46 PM
I just walked from the most amazing lecture through wet grass and a September night chill to my computer. Forgive the scatterbrainedness of this post. I just want to digest what I heard, what I'm thinking, what I'm hoping for anyone who might need to hear the lecture too. (Come to Hillsdale. Please. It's good for you.)
The lecture was called "Women of Virtue," and even though it's a Hillsdale lecture and not a Vision Forum CD, I hesitated to attend. I didn't have time between a psychology paper and Spanish vocab to hear about how horrible feminism is, how sexualized the culture is, how amazing I am for valuing motherhood or any other cliche topic related to the rather frighteningly stereotypical label of "virtuous womanhood." Praise God that I did attend. You'll quickly see why.
The word virtue has negative connotations for me, especially in conjunction with womanhood. Whenever I hear it, I think about the book Raising Maidens of Virtue, which provided some of the most precious bonding time with my mother at 9 p.m. every night as well as some of the worst stereotypes about womanhood. A virtuous woman smelled nice, planned on staying home, and wore feminine colors. Virtue meant some sort of Christianized Victorian or antebellum view on home and femininity.
Did you know the word virtue comes from the Latin word vir, which means man? An interesting juxtaposition, to be a woman of. . .manliness. The lecturer pointed out that virtue was not about being manly or being a particular sex but of being strong. Being a woman of virtue meant being a woman of strength. Strength -- not the color pink, not skirts, not babies, not dishes -- ought to be a primary defining characteristic of a woman.
With that being said, the lecturer warned against the extremes of defining minutely what a woman's nature is and of leaving a woman's nature up for definition by just anybody. He described our culture as devoid of stability in this area -- an earthquake -- and people's first reaction is to brace themselves against anything they see as solid (ironically a piano on wheels, in his demonstration). This is where we get vehement opinions about what a woman is: She must be a stay-at-home mother or she's blaspheming God's Word. She must get a career. She must do this, be this, no ifs or buts about it. The radical feminists and patriarchalists exemplify this. They live counter to reality -- skirts only are not always practical for the things a woman might be called to do, being a stay-at-home mom is not always possible, hating men and burning bras doesn't help anything related to gender issues.
On the other extreme -- and this is where I tended to fall, since I was confident about what femininity and womanhood was not but clueless about what it was -- is unwillingness to define woman's nature at all. It is not prudent to let any woman determine her own nature. This also goes against reality. A woman of virtue, a woman acting in conjunction with her true character, recognizes that she does possess a nature as well as recognizes the reality around her. She knows what is convention (high heels and pearls) and what is essence (strength). And she develops a life in light of those things.
So then -- what is this nature?
The lecturer used the female body as an analog -- not an exact one-to-one ratio but an analog -- of what her nature is. And like comparisons between male and female bodies, exceptions apply. (For instance, while most men possess more physical strength in certain areas, the lecturer quickly admitted to being an overly-confident loser in a foot race to a girl in the third grade.) The female body was designed not just to give life but to nurture life. This provides insight into her nature as a life-giver and a nurturer -- not necessarily in the context of motherhood but in the essence of her nature. While men may possess natural instincts to protect, women possess natural instincts of noting who needs protection, regardless of who performs the protecting in the end. They are sensitive to and intuitive toward people, wanting to mold them, teach them, protect them, be strong for them. (As a side question, is it possible to have a female or male nature -- a true essence of something -- that doesn't apply to all females and males? Is it then a nature or a tendency? If there really are natures to men and women, is the "exemption" then an aberration of nature?)
This nature provides profound implications for interactions with men, but before he explored those implications, the lecturer emphasized the uniqueness of a woman's nature apart from men. She is still a woman with a woman's nature regardless of whether there are men around. When a woman dies and she no longer has a body, her soul will retain its womanness. Thus, her nature exists separately from both the existence of men and her physical makeup.
However, there do happen to be men around, and the oft-times rocky interchanges between the sexes confuse everyone. Still, women influence men (and vice versa, of course). If it's true that women ought to retain their particular nature distinct from men, then they ought to encourage men to retain their own nature distinct from women. How do they do that? (And here's what struck me the most.)
Women inspire men to be men when they don't budge an inch on their general nature as women and their particular nature as a woman. In other words, they don't need to swagger around and knock back beer at the bar to prove their strength. They don't need to back down and let more incompetent men take a position they are more qualified to fill. They should never suppress their strength, talents or interests in order to make a man feel stronger or manlier. They should never feign weakness to encourage men to "rise to the challenge."
"Weakness does not inspire men," the lecturer emphasized. "Strength inspires men."
Feminine strength calls out masculine strength in men. What happens when a man feels intimidated by a strong woman? In a nutshell, that's his problem. A woman does a man no favors by weakening her nature, suppressing her opinion or silencing her voice. True men of virtue can handle true women of virtue. If they can't, they need to mature using feminine strength as an inspiration to discover masculine strength. Beyond this, there is a danger in becoming weak, because weakness calls out the wrong kind of strength in a man -- a bullying, authoritarian, obtuse strength.
Being weak doesn't do anyone any kind of favors.
Life-giving. Nurturing. Dependable. Steady. Strong. This is the essence of womanhood. Of me. That's a beautiful, wonderful nature to possess.
Addendum. The lecturer presented an interesting (and I think correct) take on the question, "Is the stay-at-home mom versus working mom argument an issue of convention or of nature?" After requesting a postponement of rotten vegetables, he said he thought it was an issue of convention. Being a mother and a stable, steady, dependable nurturer is not a convention -- that's nature. But the idea of a stay-at-home mom is a new idea, only about 200 years old. Women for most of history were both at home and working -- just like their husbands. It wasn't until the agrarian society gave way to an industrial society that men and women working outside the home became normative. Take that as you will.