In Defense of Women

It is the 100th anniversary of the publication of Mencken’s book, In Defense of Women. An excerpt:

This sentimentality in marriage is seldom, if ever, observed in women. For reasons that we shall examine later, they have much more to gain by the business than men, and so they are prompted by their cooler sagacity to enter upon it on the most favourable terms possible, and with the minimum admixture of disarming emotion. Men almost invariably get their mates by the process called falling in love; save among the aristocracies of the North and Latin men, the marriage of convenience is relatively rare; a hundred men marry “beneath” them to every woman who perpetrates the same folly. And what is meant by this so-called falling in love? What is meant by it is a procedure whereby a man accounts for the fact of his marriage, after feminine initiative and generalship have made it inevitable, by enshrouding it in a purple maze of romance—in brief, by setting up the doctrine that an obviously self-possessed and mammalian woman, engaged deliberately in the most important adventure of her life, and with the keenest understanding of its utmost implications, is a naive, tender, moony and almost disembodied creature, enchanted and made perfect by a passion that has stolen upon her unawares, and which she could not acknowledge, even to herself, without blushing to death. By this preposterous doctrine, the defeat and enslavement of the man is made glorious, and even gifted with a touch of flattering naughtiness. The sheer horsepower of his wooing has assailed and overcome her maiden modesty; she trembles in his arms; he has been granted a free franchise to work his wicked will upon her. Thus do the ambulant images of God cloak their shackles proudly, and divert the judicious with their boastful shouts.

Women, it is almost needless to point out, are much more cautious about embracing the conventional hocus-pocus of the situation. They never acknowledge that they have fallen in love, as the phrase is, until the man has formally avowed the delusion, and so cut off his retreat; to do otherwise would be to bring down upon their heads the mocking and contumely of all their sisters. With them, falling in love thus appears in the light of an afterthought, or, perhaps more accurately, in the light of a contagion. The theory, it would seem, is that the love of the man, laboriously avowed, has inspired it instantly, and by some unintelligible magic; that it was non-existent until the heat of his own flames set it off. This theory, it must be acknowledged, has a certain element of fact in it. A woman seldom allows herself to be swayed by emotion while the principal business is yet afoot and its issue still in doubt; to do so would be to expose a degree of imbecility that is confined only to the half-wits of the sex. But once the man is definitely committed, she frequently unbends a bit, if only as a relief from the strain of a fixed purpose, and so, throwing off her customary inhibitions, she, indulges in the luxury of a more or less forced and mawkish sentiment. It is, however, almost unheard of for her to permit herself this relaxation before the sentimental intoxication of the man is assured. To do otherwise—that is, to confess, even post facto, to an anterior descent,—would expose her, as I have said, to the scorn of all other women. Such a confession would be an admission that emotion had got the better of her at a critical intellectual moment, and in the eyes of women, as in the eyes of the small minority of genuinely intelligent men, no treason to the higher cerebral centres could be more disgraceful. (7. The Feminine Attitude)

Advertisements

A Girl By Any Other Name

That student of the American language, H. L. Mencken, almost always had his finger on the pulse of usage:

Every lover of the true, the good and the beautiful must needs be interested in the Hon. A. Toven Worm’s campaign for a reform in the nomenclature of chorus girls. Hitherto, as we all know, the terms used to designate girls of different heft, altitude and talent have run to a distressing vulgarity. The smaller girls have been called “ponies,” “broilers” or “squabs,” and the larger “hillhorses,” “amazons,” “welterwetghts” or “beefs.” It is the aim of the Hon. Mr. Worm, who represents Miss Gertrude Hoffmann in the capacity of confidential fictioner, to remedy this curse by substituting names of a romantic and poetic nature. Accordingly, he takes space in the current Sunpaper to announce that Miss Hoffmann will be surrounded on her coming appearance here by a choir of “chickens” and “canaries,” with a few “violets” and “rosebuds” for good measure.

A benign reform, but one which Mr. Worm has failed to workout to more than one place of decimals. His invention of “canaries” deserves all praise, but he makes concessions to current slang in “chicken.” Why not rename the whole hierarchy of chorus girls, from “squabs” to “hillhorses,” with the names of pretty birds? Why not begin with “humming-birds” and run up the scale to “swans,” or even to “penguins” and “cassowaries”? Why not attempt to differentiate between girls who can sing and girls who can merely stand and wait by calling the former “nightingales,” “canaries” and “mockingbirds”? I submit the following provisional and partial list to the Hon. Mr. Worm for his consideration and judgment:

CANARIES—Singing blondes of less than 120 pounds weight, but of a generally rotund aspect.
DOVES—Small, sylphlike creatures, demure and dumb.
PARROTS–Large, gaudy girls with aquiline noses.
PENGUINS—Stately beings in ball gowns, heavy on their feet.
OSTRICHES—The grenadiers of the chorus, none less than 170 pounds in weight.
FLAMINGOES—The so-called “showgirls” of yesteryear: Florodora sextetters.
SWABS—Tall, resilient, necky girls, vocal only in the final chorus.
PHEASANTS–Bunchy little ones.
CROWS–Inky brunettes, large and sad.
TANAGERS—All red-haired girls, regardless of size. (Formerly called “Zazas”).
HUMMING BIRDS–Hundred-pounders.
STORKS–Long, panatella girls, voiceless and austere.
SPARROWS–Happy little chirpers, unbeautiful but industrious.
THRUSHES–Half-portion sopranos.
BULBULS—Deep-chested contraltos, gurgly and amiable.

And so on and so on. I offer only few suggestions. Let the Hon. Mr. Worm engage a competent ornithologist and proceed to the completion of the list. Again, he might try a list of flower-names, beginning with “violet” and running up to “chrysanthemum.” “Sunflowers” would be apt and excellent for towering, gawky blondes, and “dahlias” would fit the auburn-haired admirably. Let the hon. gent. proceed to the business at once. He has launched a laudable and long-needed reform. All connoisseurs of nomenclature look to him to give it substance and permanence.

Neo-Calvinists Ordain Women, New Calvinists Don’t

[corrected] Molly Worthen deserves credit for trying to explain the difference between neo’s and News in the context of wives, husbands, church officers and complementarianism:

“It’s like we opened up a blister, and we’re getting story after story. I’m frankly shocked,” [Marie Notcheva Darlene Parsons] said. “I would say that I’m getting word of new stories once a week, (from churches across the country) and they’re all tied to this Neo-Calvinist movement that’s become more popular.”

Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of American religious history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, refers to this as a Calvinist revival that has been taking place primarily in Baptist and evangelical churches since the ’70s and is continuing to spread into other churches to this day.

“It tends to refer not to the historic ethnically Dutch (Calvinist) church,” she explained. “It tends to refer more to conservative evangelicals, often southern Baptists who have chosen this as a way to support certain theological and social points.”

Worthen, whose studies served as the basis for her 2013 book “Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism,” said that churches in this movement of religious thinking often promote conservative “separate but equal” gender roles.

“There’s a lot of pressure for women just to accept things and accept the authority of men,” she said. “In the context of marriage and the context of the church, the man is the head.”

Worthen also said these churches tend to settle personal matters, such as marriage or abuse counseling, inside the congregation, rather than reaching outside the church for help.

When you start inspiring with every square inch, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

Dueling Videos

When you live by the image, do you also die by the moving image?

Whatever the answer, Roman Catholics are decidedly split over videos produced by the infallible magisterium.

Less restrictive Roman Catholics like Michael Sean Winters and Anthony Annett are cringing over the USCCB’s video on religious liberty.

Annett comments:

First, the video’s approach to liberty genuflects at the U.S. Constitution. From the outset, the video sets the standard for religious liberty in the U.S. constitutional order rather than the Gospel. With its tropes about our “first freedom,” it fails to appreciate the roots of this in Lockean liberalism—predicated on an autonomous individual shaking off coercion, rather than on a social animal seeking the good realized in mutual relationships. In the Catholic conception, this “common good” is the highest good in political life, and it cannot be reduced to the good of individuals, either taken separately or summed. In this Catholic framework, the role of the state is the realization of this common good, not the protection of individual liberty. And yes, by the principle of subsidiarity, this includes respecting the legitimate autonomy of the Church. But this is a very different perspective on religious liberty from the one arising from the U.S. constitutional framework.

Second, the video wallows in America-first jingoistic nationalism. The video is replete with “patriotic” images like American flags. Even worse, it goes “all in” on American exceptionalism, with one speaker even proclaiming that “the U.S. is the greatest country in the history of the world.” This derives from a quasi-Calvinist notion of America being the realm of God’s chosen people, which is completely antithetical to Catholicism and insulting to Catholics all over the world. Another speaker argues that the American approach to religious liberty should be “a model” for the rest of the world. Honestly, the slogan “make America great again” wouldn’t have been out of place in this video.

Third, the video presents a misleading and partisan view of religious liberty violations in the United States. It claims that the Little Sisters of the Poor are being “harassed by the U.S. government,” when this “harassment” boils down to filling out a form to opt out of the mandate to include contraception in health-insurance plans. (To be fair, I believe that the Little Sisters do have a valid argument on principle, but to claim harassment is way over the top). Aside from the contraception mandate, the video also refers to the legalization of same-sex marriage and even to the removal of a Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma. It makes references to the rights of business, but not to the duties of business or the rights of workers. Missing is any reference to the egregious attacks on the religious liberty of Muslims, most notably with the Republican presidential candidate calling for a complete ban on people entering the country based solely on religion. Missing is any reference to local (typically Republican) government efforts to impede the Church’s ability to aid migrants and refugees—the criminalization of a basic Christian duty. And in the week that Dan Berrigan died, missing is any reference to religious-based conscientious objection to funding the great evil of nuclear weapons. And yes, the video includes Hillary Clinton, for some bizarre reason, but not Donald Trump. We know that images speak volumes.

He has three more points.

In contrast we have Pope Francis’ most recent prayer video.

To which Michael Matt (apparently not a pay, pray and obey Roman Catholic — but neither is Annett showing great subjection to his bishops) responds:

If Pope Francis really wants to do something for women, he should denounce the very idea that divorced and remarried Catholics–public adulterers who have abandoned their wives!–can return to the sacramental life of the Church. He should hold high the model of the Virgin Mary, Queen of heaven and earth. He should consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart. He should advocate for the safe return of wives and mothers to the exalted pedestals Christendom built for them a thousand years ago (so despised by the modern feminists). He should turn away from the fanatical Modernist ideology that is destroying the Church, undermining the family, eradicating Christian marriage and leaving women vulnerable to a vicious world where morality is no more, marriage contracts mean nothing, sex means everything and women are left to fend for themselves without children, husband, or God. And this wretched condition they would call emancipation?

The remarkable aspect of this contrast is not simply the significant disagreement among the laity in a communion whose apologists trumpet the church’s unity, but also the very different messages the bishops are sending despite papal supremacy and audacity.

As Annett says:

I don’t see the USCCB devoting nearly as much attention to the priorities of Pope Francis—climate change and environmental degradation, poverty and inequality, the global arms trade and the death penalty, care for migrants and refugees.

Which Roman Catholic will tell Protestants who the real Roman Catholics are?

All Men Know that Women Are More Pious

That’s what makes Tim Challies’ brief for spiritual zeal and all things earnest all the more mystifying:

A number of times I have spoken to a woman and heard her admit that she essentially drafts behind her husband. She takes comfort in her husband’s spiritual strength and discipline but neglects her own. She goes to church when he is around but is quick to bail when he is not. She allows him to carry the load when it comes to teaching and training the children, when it comes to reading and praying with them. She doesn’t only allow him to take the lead (as, indeed, he should) but uses his leadership as a quiet excuse to not put in much effort of her own. She finds that the family is in good shape spiritually but admits that this is far more because she rides in his draft than that she is full-out pursuing the Lord. If he stopped putting in the effort, she would have little strength of her own.

Maybe Challies is simply channeling men’s historic discomfort with women taking the lead, as Jill Lepore reports:

The debate about a female prince advanced all kinds of political ideas, not least the rule of law, the mixed nature of the English constitution, and the sovereignty of the people. It also inaugurated an era of topsy-turvy play in everything from Elizabethan drama and French carnival to German woodcuts, as the brilliant historian Natalie Zemon Davis argued in a 1975 essay called “Women on Top.” Davis wrote that the fascination with female rule came at a time when men were asserting new claims over women’s bodies and their property. In 1651, in “The Leviathan,” Thomas Hobbes wrote about Amazons to support his claim that “whereas some have attributed the dominion to the man only, as being of the more excellent sex; they misreckon in it,” which is why it’s important that laws exist, to grant man that dominion. In 1680, in “Patriarcha,” Sir Robert Filmer located the origins of all political authority in Adam’s rule. Meanwhile, some theorists who imagined a state of nature, a time before the rise of a political order, became convinced that America, before Columbus, had been a “gynæocracy,” as one French writer called it. But the chief consequence of this debate was the Lockean idea that men, born equal, create political society, to which women do not belong; women exist only in the family, where they are ruled by men. Hence, in 1776, Abigail Adams urged her husband, in a letter, to “remember the ladies” in the nation’s “new Code of Laws,” which he most emphatically did not. “Depend upon it,” he wrote back, “we know better than to repeal our Masculine systems.”

Male headship and female piety may explain why human flourishing is as plausible as w-w.

Women

My father may have had problems with the post about same-sex marriage, but my mother, Ellen, who was born on this day in 1923, would appreciate H. L. Mencken’s view of marriage (minus the cocktails):

Every man, I daresay, has his own notion of what constitutes perfect peace and contentment, but all of those notions, despite the fundamental conflict of the sexes, revolve around women. As for me — and I hope I may be pardoned, at this late stage in my inquiry, for intruding my own personality–I reject the two commonest of them: passion, at least in its more adventurous and melodramatic aspects, is too exciting and alarming for so indolent a man, and I am too egoistic to have much desire to be mothered. What, then, remains for me? Let me try to describe it to you.

It is the close of a busy and vexatious day–say half past five or six o’clock of a winter afternoon. I have had a cocktail or two, and am stretched out on a divan in front of a fire, smoking. At the edge of the divan, close enough for me to reach her with my hand, sits a woman not too young, but still good-looking and well-dressed–above all, a woman with a soft, low-pitched, agreeable voice. As I snooze she talks–of anything, everything, all the things that women talk of: books, music, the play, men, other women. No politics. No business. No religion. No metaphysics. Nothing challenging and vexatious–but remember, she is intelligent; what she says is clearly expressed, and often picturesquely. I observe the fine sheen of her hair, the pretty cut of her frock, the glint of her white teeth, the arch of her eye-brow, the graceful curve of her arm. I listen to the exquisite murmur of her voice. Gradually I fall asleep–but only for an instant. At once, observing it, she raises her voice ever so little, and I am awake. Then to sleep again–slowly and charmingly down that slippery hill of dreams. And then awake again, and then asleep again, and so on.

I ask you seriously: could anything be more unutterably beautiful? (In Defense of Women, 207-208)

Speaking of Labels

We do have an industry that supplies us with human identity — it’s called the medical profession. And it might be of help when it comes to people want to decide whether to let a sexual proclivity determine their personal identity. Here’s one blogger who rejects straight as an identity:

1. Publicly declaring that I am “straight” counts as ‘too much information.’

I’ve been asking myself what is the real point of coming out as “straight”? Is that really the kind of thing other people are really interested in? Don’t we all have a vast range of sexual impulses and attractions? Does my deeply personal effort to respond chastely to my sexual attractions really qualify as something I should share with others? To what end? Lots of questions about this—if we’re all human and all doing our best to cope with our own call to chastity, why does it matter whether anyone else knows that my particular discernment has to do with my attractions to the other sex? Rather, it would seem more conducive to personal holiness to strive to align my responses to sexual attraction by seeing a confessor or spiritual director. The parish or the general public? Not so much.

Meanwhile, Carl Trueman observes the latest example of sexual politics that desperately needs to buy a vowel:

Wesleyan University has taken the ever-expanding list of initials used to refer to sexual identities to new heights of absurdity or sensitivity, depending on one’s perspective. We are now apparently up to fifteen letters: LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM.

It is easy to laugh at such gibberish on the grounds that it is as absurd as it is self-regarding. Yet that would be a mistake. First, there is the long-established inability of such groups to laugh at themselves. Indeed, the new libertinism often makes the old Puritanism look comparatively self-effacing and gently playful. . . . Second, there are surely grounds for congratulating folks at Wesleyan on their consistent honesty in the cause of sexual liberation. Liberation, that is, of sex from any intrinsic moral significance. As Luther said to Erasmus in very different circumstances: You and you alone have placed your finger on the hinge on which everything turns.

The good thing about medicine is that a doctor’s determination of sex confirms what nature, Nature’s God, or the God of the universe (you can choose your god, not your sex) does. People come into the world either male or female, not straight, homo, confused, transgender, or even as believer or unbeliever. Sexual preferences are mere accidents of history.

Even better, the most basic human identity is still linked to the genitalia that God made:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)

Mencken Day 2012

Every man, whatever his actual qualities, is credited with and judged by certain general qualities that are supposed to appertain to his sex, particularly by women. Thus man the individual is related to Man the species, often to his damage and dismay. Consider my own case. I am by nature one of the most orderly of mortals. I have a placed for every article of my personal property, whether a Bible or a cocktail-shaker, an undershirt or an eye-dropper, and I always keep it where it belongs. I never drop cigar-ashes on the floor. I never upset a waste-basket. I am never late for trains. I never run short of collars. I never go out with a purple necktie on a blue shirt. I never fail to appear in time for dinner without telephoning or telegraphing. Yet the women who are cursed by God with the care of me maintain and cherish the fiction that I am an extremely careless and even hoggish fellow — that I have to be elaborately nursed, supervised and policed — that the slightest relaxation of vigilance over my everyday conduct would reduce me to a state of helplessness and chaos, with all my clothes mislaid, half my books in the ash-can, my mail unanswered, my face unshaven, and my office not unlike an I.W.W. headquarters after a raid by the Polizei. It is their firm theory that, unainded by superior suggestion, I’d wear one shirt six week, and a straw hat until Christmas. . . .

I note that many other men lie under the same benign espionage and misrepresentation — in fact, nearly all men. But it is my firm belief that very few men are really disorderly. The business of the world is managed by getting order into it, and the feeling for discipline thus engendered is carried over into domestic life. I know of very few men who ever drop ashes on the dining-room rug, or store their collars in their cigar-box, or put on brown socks with their dress-clothes, or forget to turn off the water after they have bathed, or neglect to keep dinner engagements — and most of these few, I am firmly convinced, do it because their women-folk expect it of them, because it would cause astonishment and dismay if they refrained. I myself, more than once, have deliberately hung my hat on an electrolier, or clomped over the parquetry with muddy shoes, or gone out in a snowstorm without an overcoat, or come down to dinner in a ragged collar, or filled my shirt-box with old copies of the Congressional Record, or upset a bottle of green ink, or used Old Dutch Cleanser for shaving, or put olives into Jack Rose cocktails, or gone without a haircut for three or four weeks, or dropped an expensive beer Seidel upon the hard concrete of my cellar floor in order to give a certain necessary color to the superstition of my oafishness. If I failed to do such things now and then I’d become unpopular, and very justly so, for nothing is more obnoxious than a human being who is always challenging and correcting the prevailing view of him. (“The Man and His Shadow,” Prejudices: Fourth Series)