Monday, October 10, 2016

The Ryan frame

Paul Ryan is a Republican and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He is very much a right-liberal rather than a traditionalist. He said something interesting in response to the story about Donald Trump talking crudely about women, namely "“Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified".

Women are to be revered? That's an interesting stance to take. It comes across as both naïve and sacrilegious. So why would he say it?

One possibility is that he is simply pandering to women as a politician.

A second possibility is that he is running too far with how he has perceived womanhood. It is possible for men to have a sense of the existence of spiritual womanhood (the eternal feminine) and to catch glimpses of this in individual women. This can be a profound experience that then enlivens a man's experience of himself and the wider world. This idealised womanhood becomes associated in a man's mind with a heightened experience of life.

I recently read the letters of Endymion Porter, a courtier and patron of the arts. Despite his high station in life, and his many life accomplishments, he was one of the most supplicating men who ever lived. His wife did not always respond well to his protestations of devotion, and Endymion Porter was stung by her once to write the following (in the year 1625):
MY DEAR OLIVE, I did not think to have received such a swaggering letter from you, but I see you can do anything now, for time hath worn out the kindest part of your love, which I did hope would have lasted longer. I am glad you had not the keeping of mine towards you for so we might have been without by this time, but be it spoken to your comfort or your grief, I will preserve mine whilst I have breath, nor shall age nor time make me forget my Olive. I know my own thoughts best, and I am not ignorant that you are the best of them, and therefore do not tell me that you will not be unworthy, for if you be you will wrong yourself most.

He seems to be saying that although his wife doesn't love him in a kindly way that he will continue to love her, in part because this love is part of the best of who he is (i.e. no matter what the faults or shortcomings of his wife, he will continue to build her up in his mind as being worthy of love, because this gives him a certain valued experience that he is determined to hold to).

It ought to be possible for a man to accept his ability to perceive the eternal feminine in women, and to value this experience, without then falling into a naïve idealisation of women. It only takes a little mental strength to do so.

Which brings me to the main point of this post. I think I am instinctively repelled by Paul Ryan's formulation because a man who sees women this way won't then be in a position to wisely apply a frame to society which attempts to order relationships between men and women. In other words, if your outlook is to "revere" women, then you won't be focused on the potential in women to act in ways that do harm to society.

But perhaps this isn't entirely true. Maybe if men put women on a pedestal, women then feel bound to act the part. So, in an odd, roundabout way, perhaps pedestalising women is an attempt to apply a frame which then holds women to a standard. Certainly, there have been women's libbers who have felt this to be so. I can still remember feminists in the 1980s focusing much of their fury on men who idealised women - they clearly did not want to be put on a pedestal.

And I noticed that some feminists weren't entirely happy with Paul Ryan's comment, either:
I’ve watched today as politician after politician has said things like this quote from Paul Ryan: “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified,”

Excuse me….I don’t want to be “revered”...Every man who says things like that is just as misogynistic as Trump’s just more insidious this way.

For once, I'm with the feminist. I'd prefer men to be self-consciously aware of both the virtues and the vices of women and to openly encourage the former and to suppress the latter. This requires a little courage (a willingness to acknowledge that women are flawed in their natures), but it has a better outlook in the long run than telling women that they are perfect angels in the hope that women will then live up to the role.

If Western society did try to run with the "Ryan frame" for a period of time, then it's one part of our cultural heritage that is better jettisoned and now is the perfect time to do it, given that women have been brought up to ignore it anyway.


  1. Wow, good interpretation of that quote from Endymion Porter. The triple negative in "and therefore do not tell me that you will not be unworthy" didn't seem to make sense to me.

    Does Ryan have daughters? Seeing girls grow up is a good way to knock women off any pedestals you've put them on.

    1. "Seeing girls grow up..." Yes, as a school teacher I'd have to affirm this. I enjoy interacting with many of the girls, and a few are very impressive young people, but you don't come away from the experience overall thinking that you should reverence women.

      Ryan himself has a daughter and two sons.

    2. Nice analysis, Mark, but in the end I think that Paul Ryan is simply, as the American's would say, a cuck and a back stabber.

      The Paul Ryan's of the GOP have seen the writing on the wall and are now trying to hold on to power (and relevance) as well as they can. I don't know if you read Jeb's 'tweet' on the same subject. It was similarly cuckish in its suggestion that men are never to speak ill of women, ever. The victorianesque purity being called for simply doesn't match up with reality and reeks of hypocrisy. The left have been championing all kinds of degenerate sexual and lewd behaviour (gay pride) for decades, but suddenly they too are wilting wallflowers in the face of some vulgar guy talk that happened a decade ago.

    3. The hypocrisy is unfathomable. As the real misogynists get a free pass. Just as the mental exercise of Islamophobia is worse, in the ideology of the liberals, than the actual atrocities of the Jihadists, so dirty man-to-man banter is worse than actual rape and sexual assault.

  2. I mentioned this at Laura Wood’s site. The Bible tells wives to reverence their husbands not the reverse.