Skewed Solidarities

This last Wednesday, I sent out the following tweet:

Just so you know, husbands, angry men are terrible lovers.

The day after, I sent out one for the ladies:

Just so you know, wives, complaining a lot is like taking ugly pills.

Both tweets got positive responses, but they also each got a peculiar and similar response from members of the tagged sex. That response was, well, that goes for women too, or that goes for men too. Don’t leave them out. The point must also be made that angry women are terrible lovers ALSO, and that complaining husbands are taking ugly pills TOO. Okay. Why does Col. 3:19 tell husbands not to be harsh with their wives? Have there never been harsh wives? The answer is that you can’t say everything every time, and that generalities are appropriate. Paul is being unjust to no one by apportioning his teaching in accordance with general patterns of human behavior. Men have more of a problem with what Paul was talking about. That’s why he was talking about it.

But we are so in the grip of individualistic and egalitarian madness that we do not want to admit the justice of generalizations at all. Here’s a sample for you. Suppose I said that men are taller than women. Am I refuted when given a clear instance of a woman taller than most men? Of course not. But suppose a combative little egalitarian man comes roostering up to me, and says that, yeah, well, “every time I go to the airport I see at least ten women who are taller than I am.” I would say, yeah, well, that’s because you’re a squirt. Where was I? I think I got off point.

Generalizations. Anybody who doesn’t like them is probably a Cretan, and they, as we all know, are liars, evil beasts, and slow bellies (Tit. 1:12).

Men are more prone to certain sins than women are, and women are more prone to certain sins than men are. And so when we think we are just showing solidarity with our sex, perhaps we are really showing solidarity with our sin. When we are defensive on behalf of another, perhaps, at the end of the day, it is not on behalf of another at all. The evangelical D.L. Moody once said that when you throw a rock into a pack of stray dogs, the one that yelps is the one that got hit.

The same kind of weird solidarity came up in the comments of this post by my daughter Bekah the other day. She wrote a fantastic piece on modesty, and if you read through the comments you will see people feeling sorry for a hypothetical girl in a made up parable.

But this is like a Pharisee listening to Jesus tell the parable of the Good Samaritan, and reacting by saying that the Levite and the priest were probably both rushing to the hospital to visit their dying mothers, and so Jesus’ parable isn’t nearly as pertinent to Jewish animosities as it may have appeared at first glance. We must learn to take all the facts into account, people.

I recall C.S. Lewis once wrote a short story called The Shoddy Lands about a very self-centered young woman who couldn’t see anything clearly except the various baubles that she wanted. I also remember reading a feminist critique of Lewis’ misogyny. He clearly hated all women because he was so clear-eyed about this one woman’s sins.

Whenever we hear a story told, there is a God-given impulse to identify. This is how we come to tell who the protagonist is — we identify with him or, as I hasten to add, her. We are supposed to do that. But we are supposed to do it in line with God’s standards of righteousness, on the basis of what is right and noble. When we refuse to do this, we start bonding on the basis of weird things — like shared sex, shared nationality, shared age, shared birth position, shared Chevy ownership, and so on.

So if I say that angry husbands are terrible lovers — because they are — and this provokes an urgent request for me to, quick, make another statement, one which says that angry wives are terrible lovers too, what does the request amount to? It amounts to a refusal to identify with the true protagonist of this story — the abused wife. It also is a demand for a new story, one where I can identify with the true protagonist but feel comfortable because the protagonist is a man, like me.

This is because we prefer propaganda to parables.

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21 thoughts on “Skewed Solidarities

  1. Anger is very much underrated at the moment; we are to be slow to anger, we are not to sin in our anger, but the man who is not angry at the ubiquitous cowardice within The Body is no man at all..

    @DCHammer: this environment is utterly DOOMED..

  2. I love C.S. Lewis and almost all his work, but I think it has to be admitted that he tended to see women as dim bulbs. I don’t see that as misogyny but as something flowing from a lifetime of single sex education. He was a bit too much inclined to think that women should be off discussing their knitting while the menfolk get to talk about ideas. I think this didn’t change till he met and married a woman whose intellect compelled his admiration and respect.

  3. Jill, As Wilson as quoted several times, Lewis wrote thus //
    Portia wished that for Bassanio’s she might be trebled “twenty times herself.” A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich,’ and protests that, as things are, ‘the full sum of her Is sum of nothing, ‘an unlesson’d girl. It is prettily and sincerely said. But I should feel sorry for the common man, such as myself, who was led by this speech into the egregious mistake of walking into Belmont and behaving as though Portia really were an unlessoned girl. A man’s forehead reddens to think of it. She may speak thus to Bassanio: but we had better remember that we are dealing with a great lady.
    // Hardly a view of dim bulbs

  4. Doug, I don’t know what other responses you got, but there are 4 comments on your men post which are in general agreement, and 30 on your women post of various levels of agreement and disagreement including accusations of misogyny. // If I can make my own generalisation (which will have exceptions) it seems that men are somewhat receptive to facing their sins when they are identified (few defend anger or pornography for example) but feminism has made women both hypersensitive to criticism and defensive of sins that they tend to struggle with. Either denying the sinfulness of such, or defending such behaviour as permissible given the contxt.

  5. I don’t have any sources handy, but I will try to do this from memory (and please, I meant what I said as observation not serious criticism). I think that in The Four Loves, Lewis talks about how women can spoil men’s friendships by demanding to be included on equal terms. He talked specifically about how foolish wives demanded by courtesy inclusion in male discussions for which they were academically unequipped, and that once admitted to the male circle, they destroyed the discussion by the female focus on people rather than ideas. I have not read this for at least 20 years, but I think he went on to say that this spoiled things for the men and made it hard for married men to have satisfactory friendships. I also think he said–because it stuck in my mind–that in the meantime, sensible women were off in their own corner discussing women’s concerns with intelligence and wit. I thought that with all respect to Lewis, this was a little silly and also hard on the educated woman with academic interests. If gender prevents her from discussing Wittgenstein with the men, and 6 years of graduate school has not given her time to develop her domestic side, what on earth is the poor girl to do at a party? (I hung with some very academic men and women, but even so we did not discuss Wittgenstein at parties, I’m glad to say.) I certainly agree that Lewis could recognize staggering brilliance in individual women–especially if they were fictional! But recognizing Portia’s intellect as a comet lighting up the night sky does not rule out a coexisting belief that your married friends have dumb wives and that you wish they would leave them at home.

  6. Jill — I think that passage is observing and noting distinctions about how men and women behave and converse, not prescribing them. He didn’t see women as dim bulbs, but he did see them as women, i.e., as distinct and different from men. Women and men do typically interact and converse differently, and it really is rude when wives disrupt their husbands’ opportunities do develop male friendships by forcing their way into the circle.

    I don’t know the details of how Dorothy Sayers’ presence amongst the Inklings affected the dynamics of the group, but I doubt Lewis and the others ever thought her stupid or scolded her back to her knitting.

  7. Jill, I recall that passage, but I also remember distinctly (from re-reading a year or so ago) that Lewis clarified that, while it was more common for men to be in the educated group, it was by no means impossible for the situation to be reversed, and boorish men to disrupt the learned and intellectual discussion of the ladies. He was, however, chiefly addressing the observed most common tendencies of the culture at the time.

    In other words, it was about consideration for whether you have the education to keep up in the conversation, not whether you have the right chromosomes.

  8. I think I do see it as prescriptive because he was describing an ill and suggesting a remedy–didn’t he use the word rehabilitation to propose a return to intellectual friendships among men? I think Nathan is right that the qualification was more about education than about gender, but not entirely. Valerie sees women as conversing differently than men; but would this apply in a post-doc literature seminar where academic discourse should be more or less gender neutral? First, we should ask if those differences are the ones Lewis complained about. I don’t think so. In my experience, even very academic women are better listeners, less confrontational, and more inclined to seek consensus. I am not sure how the inclusion of educated women with these qualities could ruin Lewis’ night out with the guys (unless women get hurt feelings when the men are more abrasive). But if he believes that there are intrinsic feminine qualities, such as an inability to engage in abstract thought or to have discussions that are not merely personal and anecdotal, that make even educated women unfit for association with intellectual men, I think my comment about dim bulbs was fair. Lewis wanted to put a cap on the number of women admitted to his university so that it would not become too feminized. If the women were equally prepared for Oxford or Cambridge, had passed the same entrance exams, had read the same books, and so on, how do we interpret this except to say that Lewis either did not find women intellectually equal to men, or if he believed that some women were, he still thought the female mind would undermine the university’s atmosphere and mission. By the way, the Inklings was men only, and Dorothy L. Sayers did not attend meetings although she corresponded with Lewis. Concerning intellectual gender issues, Sayers’ book about Oxford “Gaudy Night” presents very clearly the dichotomy I sense in Lewis. “Real” women, good wives and mothers, spoil the men’s fun by talking as if Schrodinger’s cat belongs to the neighbors and is tearing up the flower beds. Academic women can keep up but are seen as so grim and humorless that one would almost rather have the dodoes. I do think that society has largely got past this, and I think Lewis would have too. If he had it, it was a silly prejudice–but it was not misogyny and not oppressive patriarchy.

  9. Say I have an automobile which is worth $2000 and I also happen to have a laptop computer which is also worth exactly $2000.. Now, although they are of equal VALUE to me, they have very different FUNCTIONS. This is precisely the way God views men and women; EQUAL value, DIFFERENT functions.

  10. Yes, and clearly the FUNCTION of women is to be decorative.

    What other conclusion am I to draw from Mr. Wilson’s tweet? If I object to anything (complain, he says), I might as well “take ugly pills.”

    And, obviously, any woman who is ugly is useless woman. For women, clearly, are for decorative purposes alone.

    Or, C.S. Lewis tells us, knitting, I suppose.

    That women might be human beings, who might want the right to speak — at universities, in debate, in their own kitchens, even, about how their households are being run — well, that’s just crazy talk.

    Who would want to hear anything a woman has to say?

    (Not Mr. Wilson, I am under not any illusions about that. This does make me sad for his daughters and his wife, but I know they have been told that their value is far above rubies and all the rest of the property in his barn, and I am sure they think this is a good deal: being the most pricey of the property he owns, I mean.)

  11. @delurking: at the risk of defending Wilson, who is very able to defend himself, I’d like to make some comments.

    Wilson’s tweet – “Just so you know, wives, complaining a lot is like taking ugly pills.” – was not to women, but to wives; however the conclusions you draw are about women, not wives.

    In any case, I don’t think it’s fair to draw conclusions about the function of wives from a comment about wives. Otherwise, we may conclude from the other tweet that the function of husbands (or men in general) is to be lovers.

    You seem to have missed the thrust of the generalisation, and the point of this blog post. For example, Wilson uses the phrase, “complaining a lot”, while you use the phrase “object to anything”. There is a gulf between complaining a lot and objecting to anything. Only you, or perhaps your husband, can tell where you stand between the two.

  12. Mr. Delurking has evidently given up even a cursory reading of Doug Wilson’s posts. Delurking leaves a comment about how Wilson doesn’t want to hear anything a woman would have to say, under the very same post in which Wilson references and links to a “fantastic” essay by his own daughter Bekah. I mean, really.

  13. Valerie sees women as conversing differently than men; but would this apply in a post-doc literature seminar where academic discourse should be more or less gender neutral?

    Of course not. Go back and read the post — we’re talking generalizations, not exceptions. The vast majority of people of either sex have never participated in post-doc literature seminars, so that’s not the place to look for general principles.

  14. In my experience, even very academic women are better listeners, less confrontational, and more inclined to seek consensus. I am not sure how the inclusion of educated women with these qualities could ruin Lewis’ night out with the guys (unless women get hurt feelings when the men are more abrasive).

    Well, if you are a man, and you want to discuss things confrontationally, straightforwardly, without having to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings, then the inclusion of someone with conflicting conversational goals would, indeed, ruin a night out with the guys.

  15. @delurking: The Kingdom of Heaven is a) At Hand: NOW, not in the past or the future; ” Do not let your hearts be troubled (past) and do not be afraid (future) ” b) Advancing: how? In grace and mercy; FORGIVENESS. c) Within You: when we forgive, ” Bless those who curse you and pray for those who persecute you, ” The Kingdom is present and advancing within us. Now, this is all very well in theory but in practice it is a messy business where men (on the front line) are overcome by unforgiveness and fatigue etc.. This is where we need women to dress our wounds and support us and love us. This they cannot do if they are on the front line themselves. They also have the most important job of all: bringing in and training the next generation of troops.

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