Method Eight is: Level Distinctions between Man and Woman*. In order to write this post, I’m going to choose to ignore the grammatical errors and the (at times) lack of cohesion. I can’t say that I don’t think like Esolen does, but I would feel obligated to make sure readers could follow me, especially if I was writing a real book.
I have read enough of Esolen’s writing elsewhere to know that this is not his best stuff (though his examples drawn from the best literature of the ages is so, so refreshing). I wish all authors would aim to give their very best to their readers. The world would certainly be a better place.
Moving ever onward.
Let’s talk about the chapter. First: Isn’t it interesting that the mystery which lies in the difference between the sexes is said to inspire the imagination? I love the way Esolen puts it when he writes:
We have sent men to the moon, and even to Alaska. Yet we human beings wherever we go will always have one frontier right before us, one source of wonder, precisely for the fascinating strangeness of the land. Women will have men, and men will have women.
This reminds me of the Scripture:
There be three things which are too wonderful for me,
yea, four which I know not:
The way of an eagle in the air;
the way of a serpent upon a rock;
the way of a ship in the midst of the sea;
and the way of a man with a maid.
The antithesis of this great mystery in diversity is the herd mentality. Esolen tells us:
[A] herd or a mob is indiscriminate. There is no male cohort in the mob, no bleachers for old people, no children’s wing. If, then, you want to raise herds that will perform exactly the function the state needs them to perform, using no initiative, you will be wise to pretend from the outset that there are no distinctions of sex, or none that matter for anything important. That is why Socrates, in his Republic, decreed for his imaginary totalitarian state an educational regimen wherein young men and young women would exercise together, naked. The idea was not that they would then fall in love with one another–precisely the reverse: they would take one another for granted.
This morning, I was listening to a talk radio show while folding laundry, and a caller declared that a great thing would have been for us to beef up our Coast Guard after 9/11. Our “boys and girls” (his words, not mine) could be defending us now, if only we had done this.
I am raising girls.
And I am raising boys.
And they are not the same thing.
And I dare that man to try and take a girl from my home and encourage her to join the Coast Guard. He’ll have to face this mother bear first.
Women have fought in battles throughout history, it is true. But it has always been as a last resort, and ends in symbolically representing the worst of humanity. I have always loved the resolution of Eowyn (from Tolkien), who fights in battle–and fights bravely, and victoriously, I might add. But the tension required by the times is resolved, and the result is:
I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.
Stereotyping the Differences
As I pondered how we might go about reinforcing the difference–even that there is a difference–I remembered that so many of the differences our modern minds conceive are misguided and based upon our time (and the influence of the 1950s trophy wife idea). I found it fascinating, for instance, to read in Better Off that in the Amish world, mowing the lawn is a woman’s or youth’s job. In my world, men mow the lawn. (Actually, gardeners mow my neighbors’ lawns, but that is a different post for a different day.) In the Amish world, where much more work is done with the hands, mowing the lawn is among the simple tasks, and the women are strong enough to handle a push mower.
I think, then, that Eowyn’s statement actually captures the essence in its simplicity. She is strong. She is brave. She has a powerful energy, and when the time for battle and war has passed, she directs her energy into cultivation–into bringing forth life.
Esolen doesn’t say much about girls in his book, probably because he knows nothing about being a girl. I know a little bit about girls. My little girls always tell me they are growing up, but their word selection is funny. They say, “Look! I am almost a mommy, I think.” I hear this almost daily. I never put this phrase into their heads, but I am fascinated by how natural it is for them to consider nurturing life in some way. And I don’t just mean babies. I mean caring for the sick and injured, the weak, or for animal and plant life. Even insect and amphibian life. They adore life.
My boys pretend to shoot and kill things.
I’m just saying.
I have met folks who are really formulaic about raising girls, forcing them to only play with dolls, or always to wear dresses, or what have you. (Not that dresses are bad. We love dresses.) But I think Eowyn provides us with a better principle of femininity, a force of energy directed at preservation, defense, and cultivation. This is something we can encourage in our girls, if we are intentional. It is naturally there (I see it in my girls’ friends, also), but we often overlook it. This is, I think, part of helping them learn to take their just dominion.
*Read more book club entries linked at Cindy’s blog.
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