Sunday, March 13, 2016

On the woman question 2 - the truth of the body

What is it that we are called to be? Our body gives us some sense of our telos, of our ends and purposes in life. If a man looks at his body he will see his muscularity; his angularity; a body shape built for strength, stamina and speed; a layering of hardness. A woman will see softness, flowing curves, elegance, delicacy, beauty. In both sexes, it is possible to see glimpses of nobility and dignity written into the body.

Our sexed bodies give us some sense of the truth of our created being, of what it means to fulfil our masculine and feminine natures.

Men are made to embody the "harder" virtues. The masculine virtues involve disciplining oneself consistently to a principle; striving to create a unity between thought, belief and action; acting to bring one's environment into line with a sense of right order; a willingness to submit oneself to rightful authority to achieve this; a willingness to bear a burden to achieve this. Integrity, duty, service, discipline, courage, perseverance, concentrated focus, right order, fortitude - these are significant to the male soul.

And women? It was thought until fairly recent times that women were the "weaker sex". I find it interesting, though, that the word "weak" has an extended meaning in the Germanic languages. In Old English it meant "weak, soft, pliant" and in modern German the word "weich" has the primary meaning of "soft".

And I'd like for the moment to focus rather on the idea that women embody the softer virtues. If women are beautiful and graceful on the outside, then we might wish them to be equally so on the inside. Ideally, we think of women as being warmly emotional; as giving unconditional love; of being immediately present to those around them; of being sensitive to others' needs and feelings; of being caring, nurturing and thoughtful; of being delicate in feeling and expression.

However, there is something of a paradox in all this. Women were made to embody the softer virtues, but the softness makes it difficult for women to become virtuous. Men can embody the harder virtues with will and force of character. But if a woman is softly natured, she won't have these same qualities at her disposal to direct herself toward the feminine virtues.

What seems to happen in practice is that many women instead inhabit the feelings that they happen to have at a particular time. They do not have the same drive as men to govern their feelings or emotions with their intellect or reason (this is a generalisation, not equally true of women, I will discuss the significant exceptions later).

In what particular ways does a woman's softness make it difficult for her to embody the softer virtues? It will help a man to understand this if he has an image in his mind of a woman who has feelings descend on her: she experiences them; enjoys or is discomfited by them; may act to alleviate the worst ones; but generally speaking has the sense that feelings happen to her and shape her reality. Feelings happen to her in a disconnected way, brought on by seemingly external forces.

What effects does this experience of the world have on her? We can see one negative effect when it comes to a woman's understanding of marriage. The traditional Western view of marriage is that it should be based on "caritas": on an altruistic, self-giving love that exists not only as an emotional experience, but is settled in the will as an ongoing commitment. It means being actively and deliberately oriented in a loving way to one's spouse. Marriage too was once thought to be based on a commitment to fulfil the offices of husband and wife, father and mother, with these being lifelong purposes.

But if you experience life as a series of disconnected emotional states that you passively experience, i.e. "that happen to you," then you won't understand marriage in the traditional way - you won't be able to participate in traditional marriage. Traditional marriage requires, at a minimum, that our feelings are governed by our reason.

There are many women today, even capable, well-educated women, who see marriage as contingent on feeling alone. If the feeling is right, then so too is their commitment to marriage. If it is not, then the marriage was not meant to be and is not considered valid.

It was once the case that men would note this aspect of a woman's softer nature humorously as being "fickleness" or "inconstancy". But today, in an era of easy, no-fault divorce, it has taken on a more serious dimension, in which lasting damage is done to a culture of family life.

Another weakness that can afflict women is a lack of accountability. If the softer mentality of women is that things just happen to them in a disconnected way, then what might women think when things go wrong? Women are then less likely to see themselves as being responsible for their own predicament. They will put themselves in the position of "recipient" and externalise the source of their misfortune. They might be tempted to see vague forces as determining the outcome of their life (and turn to psychics and the like to find out what is in store for them or what they should do). Or if they feel discontented in a marriage they might, in putting themselves in the "recipient" position, see their husbands as responsible for their negative feelings. They might even, when in this mindset, hold their husbands accountable for negative events that their husbands cannot possibly at a rational level have any control over, i.e. for acts of God.

If a woman is prone to an unhappy disposition, then this can end badly for her husband. His wife might then cultivate a bitter, critical, judging and unforgiving spirit, in which relatively small offences are held onto, remembered and thrown out at her husband as accusations, or internalised and expressed passive-aggressively through the withholding of love or affection.

The recipient mindset of women can have other negative effects. If it is held to deeply enough, then women can begin to see men instrumentally as existing to serve their own female wants and purposes. If women see men in a depersonalised way as instruments, they will lack empathy for the hardships or difficulties endured by men (in fact, readily dismiss these on the grounds of male disposability); they will feel entitled to the labours and achievements of men; and they will lack gratitude for the sacrifices made by men on their behalf.

The recipient mentality can also lead women toward sectionalism. A woman might make demands on society in terms of getting things for herself as a woman, i.e. for just one section of society, rather than seeing herself as responsible for the well-being of society as a whole.

There is also the issue of softer women being frivolous. It helps here to compare the harder masculine and the softer feminine experiences of life. A man who is committed to embodying the harder masculine virtues will seek to penetrate to the truth of things, to right principle, and then to master himself and his environment so that both conform to right principle. It is a quest that makes of man a seeker after knowledge of self and reality. A softer woman will experience life in terms of feelings that she is subject to, that she receives, one after another. Her feelings will lead her to thoughts, but there is not the same drive to tie these thoughts together to have effect in the world.

This can lead to men seeing a woman's purposes as relatively shallow. Women, it can seem, just want to have fun - to experience pleasurable feelings in the moment. A husband might experience demands from his wife to entertain her, to amuse her, to alleviate her feelings of boredom. A husband knows that he is at risk if his wife is bored - he is then on thin ice in his relationship with her.

For a man, the fun side of life is there as an occasional diversion and rest from his true tasks. A life that was just about seeking pleasure would make many men feel uneasy - it would not engage the masculine soul. Men sometimes have the instinct to deliberately choose the difficult and arduous path, over the easy and pleasurable one, as a way of coming to a better sense of who they are as men.

(I should point out that I am not arguing that a woman's purposes cannot be as deep or as worthy as a man's, only that a woman might struggle, from within her own nature alone, to realise these purposes.)

Which brings me to one final observation. It is obviously true that a man can be immature. In fact, in modern life, men are sometimes put in a position that encourages immaturity. However, if we look at the workings of the harder masculine spirit and the softer feminine one, then there exist reasons for women to be more immature than men, particularly over time as life progresses. If a man seeks to fulfil himself through masculine virtues requiring qualities of fortitude, endurance, integrity, duty, service and self-knowledge, then it is likely over time that he will develop a mature, adult persona. But if a woman is left in a state in which she sees herself as acted on by forces she cannot identify and has no control over; in which she seeks only for pleasurable feeling states; in which she sees herself as responsible only for herself rather than for larger communities; and in which she turns with negative emotions toward those she holds accountable for her feeling states - then the potential exists that she will not develop as a fully mature person, even into her adult life.

Why go to the trouble of pointing out the negative aspects of a woman's softer nature? In my last post I described the three most common approaches to the woman question. The first and dominant one, namely the liberal egalitarian approach, I criticised at length. The second one, the complementarian approach, I suggested was also flawed. I am in a better position now to explain this flaw.

The complementarian framework rests on the idea that men and women are different but equal. It is thought that the masculine and the feminine are like two pieces that together form a harmonious unity. Some complementarians, including recent popes, have concluded that women should have more power in society so that the feminine can have a wider influence.

I too was once a complementarian, but I no longer believe that it is an adequate framework. If I am correct in what I have written in this post, then it is possible still to view men and women as equal in an ontological sense (i.e. in the sense that both are made in the image of God, and in the sense that the masculine and feminine, in their essential being, are equal). However, the relationship dynamic between men and women cannot be equal.

This is because it is a woman's purpose to fulfil the softer, feminine virtues, but the logic of her softer nature does not bring her toward these virtues. To accomplish her telos requires that men establish a frame in society that gives encouragement and direction to the feminine virtues - it is highly unlikely that this will happen unless men lead the relationship dynamic.

Nor is it easy to establish such a frame. There is no simple fitting together of the masculine and feminine to establish a harmonious unity. Complementarianism is sometimes trite and superficial in its understanding of what is required to make things work.

I intend to look in greater detail in my next post as to why this issue is so complex. In brief, the situation is made complex because the nature of women does vary. There are some women who are so well-natured and feminine that they are able to embody the feminine virtues in a relatively easy and admirable way; there are other women who are more able to govern feeling with reason and who therefore may look to a masculine role and masculine virtues rather than identifying with the feminine; there are also women who struggle to avoid the feminine vices, and within this group some may look instinctively to men for guidance whilst others may attempt to assert a feminine feelings-based frame on society. There is complexity too in the issue of how men might ally themselves with the more capable women in establishing an effective frame in society. Finally, and most importantly, there is the issue of the frame itself. What have the different traditions identified as the means by which women might be brought from the feminine vices to the feminine virtues? How can it be done? What does it take? It takes more, I believe, than most people realise.


  1. I guess by telos men are Hard, women are Tough. Men are like the face-hardening on the steel hull of a battleship; women are like the softer, tougher steel beneath. It takes the two together to maximise resilience.

    1. Simon, I don't really see it that way. There is a group of women who are admirably feminine and naturally virtuous, but they are a small minority. There is another group of women who will never be tough, who don't try, who find it difficult to cope in life and who are vulnerable to feminine vices. There is another group who have masculine capacities and who are tempted to fulfil themselves in a masculine way - they are capable of being tough, but you have to wonder how this speaks to their soul. I would prefer it if we had a society in which women could be soft, at least to a point, but were guided by the social frame toward the feminine virtues.

    2. The (rare) masculine women are Hard, in my definition - the bullets of life just bounce off them. Someone like Ann Coulter maybe.

      The soft, feminine women are tough - like the soft steel behind the hard plate, they support the Hard man so he doesn't shatter when the really big blow comes.

      "women who will never be tough, who don't try, who find it difficult to cope in life and who are vulnerable to feminine vices" are badly made steel - the result of our dysfunctional modern society.

    3. Anyway I posted my thought to Facebook - will it be ignored (possibly hidden by Facebook), will I get a bunch of "How dare you imply men & women are different?!" or will people Like/agree...

  2. I think I agree with you - I would call myself a Complementarian, and for me this has been a journey from the Liberal Standard Model. But although Men and Women are 'different but equal', there is some value in the Patriarchal model. It seems to be that *acting as if* men were in the superior role to some extent, seems to generally bring out the best in men and women. This is maybe a cruder way of saying what you say, that it is best that men are primarily responsible for establishing the societal frame; that women grant men the leading role while of course also shaping it.

    "There are some women who are so well-natured and feminine that they are able to embody the feminine virtues in a relatively easy and admirable way; there are other women who are more able to govern feeling with reason and who therefore may look to a masculine role and masculine virtues rather than identifying with the feminine"

    What I see here in modern (London) society:
    1. Women who are 'well natured and feminine' are constantly attacked and undermined, mostly by male 'black knight' feminists who attack women who speak the truth about gender roles and normal female nature. They are also taken advantage of by male cads, who don't suffer ostracism as they would in traditional society. I don't actually see mainline Liberal women overtly attack these women much, but they don't defend them or criticise the Black Knights & Cads.

    2. Some women do have a more masculine mindset, but what I've seen is ostensibly masculine-minded women like my ex who will then lapse into an emotional feminine state when that suits their purposes better. They don't actually take responsibility or make reason govern emotion. There are a lot of women who are not nearly as masculine-minded as they think they are.

    Liberal society supports and facilitates #2 behaviour while attacking and undermining #1 behaviour.

    Women who successfully square the circle IME tend to talk Liberal in public - Feminism, Independence - while having very traditional gender role marriages where the husband has the leading role, earns most of the money, and the mother is the nurterer and primary caregiver to any children. Likewise the Husband talks Liberal while maintaining a traditional family as hard worker, faithful provider, and strong male role to his kids. But it breaks down if either the husband or wife tries to apply Liberal autonomy theory in the domestic sphere.

    1. Simon, I think that's well observed. I'd like to add as well, that I'm still not sure - still thinking through - what a successful male/female alliance would look like. My feeling is that it would involve drawing on female talents, more so than traditional patriarchy might allow, but without encouraging the more masculine minded women to rebel against their own created natures as women. But maybe this is too subtle to work as a social model.

    2. "Different but equal" is an oxymoron.

    3. Anon, I don't see it strictly speaking to be an oxymoron. In the Christian tradition men and women are thought to be created in God's image, so in this fundamental sense they are equal. They both contribute in some sense to expressing what it means to be human, so in this way too they are equal. I think that men sense something in women of transcendent value when they love a particular woman, and this raises women to a level of equality in a man's mind. But having said all of this, I do not believe that men and women are equal when it comes to the relationship dynamic - I have tried to explain why at length in this post.

    4. @Anon - "different but equally important" I mean. Important to the creation of a flourishing society.

    5. @Mark - I agree about your model. In modern society there are Patriarchal sub-societies like the Amish & Mormons that work by 'casting off' those who don't fit in. That isn't an option for society as a whole.
      I think some Western societies are a bit less dysfunctional than us Anglos when it comes to sex roles. France is the most interesting one to me - French women do actually have kids (not just the immigrants) and work. They can take leading roles (eg Le Pen) without being un-womanly, too. Their levels of Toxic Femininity seem much lower than in eg Sweden or USA.

    6. Simon (and Mark), this is a very fruitful debate and I applaud and thank you both. I don't have much to contribute, but suggest that the insightful point about the French might be due to that notion of complementarity which, even though not yet fully extrapolated, is still perhaps the way to go. This residue of Catholicism may be the explanation why France has not gone to quite the same secular extreme as some Western societies in terms of the woman's role in society, late-term abortion, same-sex adoption and (in some cases) pandering to Islamism.j

      Feminism is an evil that must be rejected, because all it ultimately achieves is to divide that which should be indivisible, that sacred and natural union between the male and the female. Keep up the good work.

    7. Mark, you are referring to meta-physical equality, which any Christian can agree with. The "different but equal" mantra is used by right-liberals to weasel their way around that fact that men and women are not actually equal (complementarity is not equality).

    8. "The traditional Western view of marriage is that it should be based on "caritas": on an altruistic, self-giving love that exists not only as an emotional experience, but is settled in the will as an ongoing commitment"

      That is not the traditional view of marriage in Christian Europe. That is the liberal view of marriage which became overt in society after the first world war. Prior to that catastrophic event which destroyed the social order of European society, marriage was essentially about the preservation of family bloodlines and social connections.

      Marriages were arranged by families and priests and other social authority figures with young people having relatively little say in the matter. Love was a behaviour which developed after the committment of marriage as time and common experience progressed.

      Commitment rather than emotion was therefore the dominant feature of marriage rather than love, an emotion. Emotions, like the weather, fluctuate and can never form the basis for stable social order.

      Most people hoped to find love and marriage but did not necessarily expect it and certainly did not expect to find it on a constant unwavering basis. It is psychologically impossible to be either happy or in love all the time.

      Both men and women are subject to strong emotion and impulse and impulsiveness and poor emotional control are more common in men hence their higher rate of conviction for violent crime, motor offences and substance abuse and higher rates of admission for psychiatric care. Severe and enduring mental illness is more common in men.

      The young of both sexes are immature and impulsive although women mature psychologically at a younger age than men do. The frontal lobes of the brain do not reach full development until age 25 hence in humans psychological maturity comes late.

      In traditional society, young men and women are essentially under the control of patriarchal men who define the standards required, dictate the social order and punish those who fail to conform.
      There is no need to undergo liberal progressive new orders. Just return to the traditional one which served for 2 thousand years.

    9. Anon, I think your knowledge of history lets you down in your comment. I know that they are novels, but still the works of Jane Austen written in the early 1800s give some idea of the manners and mores of the time. There was still at that time some expectation amongst the aristocracy that the children would marry for the interests of the family as determined by their parents. There was also some expectation that people would marry within their social class. But from the gentry downwards, marriages were not forced by parents on children. Austen observes that some women married for material security; she understands this sympathetically though she doesn't really approve of it. She also acknowledges that a man's status and wealth might help attract a woman. She observes some women making hasty and flighty decisions to be with men, sometimes to the disgrace of their families. Her heroines generally marry for love.

      I don't think Jane Austen should be our guide, but scripture itself does ask of men that they love their wives.

      Caritas is not a recent liberal innovation.

    10. Mark. My knowledge of European social history is based upon fact and evidence from family history which is rooted solidly in this part of the world. The study of the past customs and traditions in actual families which existed in Europe is the source of knowledge. I should educate you with the knowledge that Jane Austen was a novelist which is a writer of fiction and in the words of philosopher Alain de Boton, Jane Austen wrote about how she would have liked society to be and not how it actually was.

      If you wish to know how society functioned in that era, then you need to study actual family history of real people and not fictional characters in novels. You evidently have a major intellectual deficit in this area when you fail to research historical fact and seek to base your views on fictional characters whom you claim illustrate the behaviours and values of that era. I suspect that you have no access to
      Family history and rely instead upon fabrication and wishful thinking.

      Over 100 years ago parental consent was required for marriage and it was the parents choice which prevailed. Without it there was no marriage, the sole alternative elopement which meant the end of a man's professional career. As the Rectir of Alll Souls Church London said. " most men were not just told that they must marry a Christian woman but they were also told which woman they would marry.

      Family background and preservation of bloodlines has always been the basis of traditional marriage as demonstrated in the Gospel recitation of The family lineage of Jesus.

      Scripture asks men to love their wives after marriage, not before. Scripture was written by Jews who did not allow courtship and did not know their future wives before marriage. Dating and courtship are liberal inventions popularised by novelists like Jane Austen who wished to push that view on society

      . It would be wise to educate yourself by developing a deeper understanding of scripture and history.

    11. Anon, I suspect the same things of you that you suspect of me - that you haven't read much history and are therefore mostly making things up. I hate to pull rank but I do have an honours degree in history part of which involved family history. I know enough to be able to tell you that the situation is more complex than you seem to believe (and complex enough for me to hesitate when making grand pronouncements, something that you should learn to do). You claimed earlier that Western marriages were arranged prior to WWI and that what mattered was the preservation of family bloodlines. That is not so, particularly outside the ranks of the higher aristocracy, though the situation was also much more regulated than it is today. There were certainly attempts at vetting. In the upper class there was a debutante and season system. There were also chaperones and a calling card etiquette. And, yes, a man was expected to gain parental blessing as well. Different to today, but not a system in which matches were arranged in a business like way for the sake of family bloodlines with any loving connection perhaps happening afterward. To give you just one piece of evidence for this consider the case of David Blair, a Presbyterian clergyman, who, in the year 1850, desired to win the hand of one Annie Grant. To win her over he wrote her a love letter that most young women today would never have experienced in its exuberance. It's several thousand words long but consider the following excerpts:

      "That I most truly and mot entirely love you - as I never before loved a woman; as I never again can love a woman - I know you believe...You have accepted all the love I had to bestow - valueless as I feel the gift to have been - and I know you have given me the priceless treasure of your true love in return...The love of one such puresouled an d affectionate girl as you are, was all I asked...I do most entirely trust in your faithful love for me...Only I write ... to awaken in you deeper thoughts and feelings than you might be disposed to cherish, under the excitement of feeling produced by fervent attachment (as I believe yours to be)...I have no fault which would be the means of giving pain to a gentle and affectionate Wife. Where I loved, I should be trustful, tender and constant. I am sure I should be generous and tender even to the little failings - for we are all human - of the One I loved...Oh no! I would aspire to make the pure passion by which I was bound in heart and soul to Her, a worthy and exalted passion...The joy of loving and being loved....To me, all that life can give of peace and happiness...would be summed up in the one sweet word Wife...I should have Home, however humble it might be, the sanctified abode of Love and Peace and Purity, so that (like the Patriarchs of old) I might be able to entertain angels if a stray one ever visited our quarter of the world again...from your beautiful feminine grace - your thoroughly developed womanly beauty....I had to wait until the Beau Ideal - the beautiful realised Ideal - should come...[I have seen other women] but somehow there was sure to be something or other that whispered to me that here I could not give my heart safely, and there it would not be altogether wise to plunge lip-deep into love...All that I ever dreamt of loveliness, and all that I ever sighed for in pure affection, and innocent-heartedness, I find summed up, concentrated, embodied, personified, realised, in the pleasant, attractive, agreeable, delightful, lovely, fascinating, bewitching, Annie Grant! And so good night, my sweet love! I kiss you a thousand times, Ever your faithful and devoted, D.B."


    12. David Blair went on to have a very successful career, including a stint as a parliamentarian. His marriage was also very successful. When he was 75, and Annie had died, he returned to the place he first met her and wrote:

      "And here it was I first met Annie, and fell, at once and for life, deeply in love with that beautiful girl with the loveliest face I ever saw in my life, and who for 36 years was my more than other self; for whom alone I lived, and, having lost her, have lost all desire to live...Here was the very spot in which I first declared my deep passion, and was accepted, and the first kiss of engagement was given and taken."

      "Two things only stand conspicuously out amidst the thronging multitude of recollections: the first is, how amazingly beautiful She was; and the second, how passionately I loved Her."

      Anon, we are talking here about a minister of religion in the mid-1800s. I don't get the sense that his marriage was arranged in a business like way for external purposes, or that love was merely contingent to it, nor even that Annie's parents were really the ones determining the outcomes. If anything, it suggests that the Victorians had a much more spiritualised view of romantic love than we do - perhaps enabled by a culture that still, amongst the middle-classes at least, encouraged the feminine virtues.

      Whether it was wise for the Victorians to have this type of culture is another issue - it's possible that they erred in idealising women too much - but it's difficult to deny that it existed.

    13. "If anything, it suggests that the Victorians had a much more spiritualised view of romantic love than we do - perhaps enabled by a culture that still, amongst the middle-classes at least, encouraged the feminine virtues.

      Whether it was wise for the Victorians to have this type of culture is another issue - it's possible that they erred in idealising women too much - but it's difficult to deny that it existed."

      This definitely fits with everything I've seen from Victorian & Edwardian writers. I get the impression somewhat that the Idealisation/Pedestalisation of women increased in the very late Victorian era into the Edwardian, and that this did contribute to later ills; the standard-model view today that "Women are Exactly the Same - But Also Better". I don't think the Jane Austen era featured this nearly as much, though the seeds must have been there.

  3. Mark, you wrote: "If anything, it suggests that the Victorians had a much more spiritualised view of romantic love than we do - perhaps enabled by a culture that still, amongst the middle-classes at least, encouraged the feminine virtues."

    Interestingly enough, in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien is primarily accused of two things, where female protagonists are concerned:

    1. They were few and far between
    2. When they were present they were "idealised" (refuted by Eowyn's strength, mind, and her story arc.)

    The first criticism I would suggest is revisionist, based on women's roles in society, and how they have changed since LoTR was written.
    The second criticism I would suggest establishes Tolkien's writing as honouring of "womanhood", which becomes overstated when retrospectively applied by a modern reader.
    Not to put words in Tolkien's mouth, but I'm sure Tolkien would explain that he simply "honoured the womanhood of his characters, duly noting their feminine virtues" and that he did not pedestalise them. Because we, the modern reader, approach The Lord of the Rings from a perspective rooted in egalitarianism, or social equality, this is what actually accentuates the perception of women in The Lord of the Rings, not what Tolkien actually wrote. Our "lower" opinion of women (reduction of feminine virtues) retrospectively "elevates" them in history and fiction like LoTR.
    Too often, I think, we can romanticise history, due to the "distance" in time, and the "distance" in modern public perceptions and values.

    1. Matt, interesting, thank you. It's been a long time since I read LOTR (decades) so it's difficult for me to comment, but I don't see a problem with putting forward a positive ideal of womanhood - though I'm curious now as to how Tolkien saw this ideal.

    2. ​Hi Mark, here is an interesting insight into how Tolkien saw love and marriage, taken from Peter Kreeft's, The Philosophy of Tolkien,

      "Here is Tolkien's philosophy of sex, romance, love, and marriage presented as directly as anyone could wish, in a letter to his son Michael:

      The romantic chivalric tradition . . . can be very good, since it takes . . . fidelity, and so self-denial, "service," courtesy, honour, and courage. Its weakness is, of course, that ...its centre was not God, but imaginary Deities, Love and the Lady. . . . This is, of course, false and at best make-believe.... It takes the young man's eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. (One result is the observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) . . . It inculcates exaggerated notions of "true love," as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a "love" that will keep them always nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts.)

      Only the rarest good fortune brings together the man and woman who are really as it were "destined" for one another, and capable of a very great and splendid love. The idea still dazzles us, catches us by the throat: poems and stories in multitudes have been written on the theme, more, probably, than the total of such loves in real life. . . . In such great inevitable love, often love at first sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an unfallen world (Letters, no. 43, pp. 48-49, 52)."

    3. Matt, thanks. There is a good balance between realism and idealism in Tolkien's view of things. I particularly like his phrase "and unrelated to will and purpose" - I think he has foreseen the collapse of caritas into a more transitory feeling state here. I admire too that he has written as a father to his son in this way.

      I believe it is a mark of wisdom to be able to sense the ideal nature of something, and to keep a part of this with you, whilst still being able to negotiate the real world and society you inhabit. Tolkien seems to have had this kind of wisdom.

    4. Hi Mark, you noted that you "don't see a problem with putting forward a positive ideal of womanhood."

      Back in my original point 2, I should have said pedestalised or idolised, rather than idealised. I agree that we should put forward a positive ideal of womanhood, so long as idealised doesn't become idolised. Let that be a correction on my point 2.

      I thoroughly enjoy the poetic aspect of Tolkien's point that women are shipwrecked with men, rather than being revered as guiding stars. This roots his idealisation of women in the reality of their age, childbearing, plain life, attached to will and purpose. (It is all of this (the mundane life) which the socialists seem to deride, but which I think is at least indicative of a Christian (but not exclusively so) life built on sacrifice and purpose). Surely there is no clearer description of womanhood, than what Tolkien articulates here - a purpose clearly pointing to a biological reality rather than some cultural manifestation and what woman would rather be, than what they are.

      Maybe people recall and/or prioritise the pedestalisation aspect of chivalric love, moreso than the virtues Tolkien notes, thus perceiving one half as the whole. I recently saw a billboard capturing this former attribute perfectly, of a woman sitting on a "throne" while two men worked over the garden. The implication of slavery rather than sacrificial servitude was hard to miss. This portrayal is evidenced by one party (the men) sacrificing into marriage. No, marriage requires both husband and wife to sacrifice themselves into it.

      Have we now reached the point where it is expected that we idolise women? The way beautiful women dominate the media, I think it is almost inviting reverence of women, and I do not think it is a good thing, for it creates an unobtainable goal for girls and young women, or at least a highly unrepresentative one. This approach, I would refer to as reverential awe.

      If boys and girls see womanhood portrayed as something to revere, how can we expect boys or girls to come away with a positive attitude toward womanhood?

      The other depiction of women in the media is a sexualised one, most obviously in the porn industry, but more subtly in more PG friendly environs. I find it ironic and disturbing that feminists argue that this is woman exerting her right to choose. Is that a choice based on a poisoned chalice?

      If boys and girls see womanhood portrayed as something to lust after and objectify, how can we expect boys and girls to come away with a positive attitude towards womanhood?

      I would argue that this dichotomy of womanhood we see in the media is not only damaging to boys and girls, but also to womanhood, and subsequently manhood. It leaves a highly fragmented, unrealistic perception of love, and can only lead people astray - to the divorce courts, as Kreeft notes.
      Clearly, an idealisation of womanhood involves neither idolisation, sexualisation, or objectification. When womanhood is rooted in her biology, then we see a more worthy representation; even if we have to point women in that direction.

      Thank you - and apologies for the long post.

    5. Matt, another interesting comment, thanks. I agree with you that pedestalisation is something to avoid like the plague. In fact, I think it's possible to track the growing pedestalisation of women during the 1800s with the rise of feminism and feminist contempt for men. That's one reason why I think it's important to raise men with an awareness of both the strengths and weaknesses that derive from a woman's softer nature. It allows men to love women, but discourages men from setting themselves below women, or from allowing the love instinct to run away into the more ridiculous realms of woman worship.

      I mostly agree, as well, that modern society has too limited a view of women - all the focus is put on the sexualised desirability of women, leaving behind the virtues I listed in the post. However, I don't think this means that eros is to be rejected as something negative - it remains part of our sexual identity as men and women, it remains something that can connect men and women at a certain level, and there can be something of an intelligence and creativity attached to it. But it seems obvious that the focus on women as sexualised objects has gone so far in our society that the concept of the feminine has been degraded.