Reader Elisa Choffel Low writes,
I'd love to see a post on how to get beyond the two sides of finger pointing to address sexual woundedness in our culture. On one side [people say that] it's all the fault of feminism and women dressing immodestly, and on the other side it's that the patriarchy has oppressed women and objectified them.
The closest thing I have seen to anyone getting beyond this back and forth was when a guy in a combox commented that women need to understand that men are visually stimulated and out of compassion should dress more modestly, and a woman responded that the best thing he could do was to recognize that women have a deep need to feel valued and admired and so next time he interacted with a woman he should compliment or affirm her in some way.
What an insightful suggestion. There is nothing so effective for cutting through sexual tension as a little bit of grace and extra courtesy. There are several generations of women who grew up with no father in the house (or with a series of mom's predatory boyfriends). Girls who grow up never hearing a man say, "You look pretty" or "I like how you do X, Y or Z" often become women who will settle for hearing any male say, "You're so hot" or "I'd like to do you."
But . . . what about the men? What about the boys growing up with no father? Don't they matter? Why is it always the men who have to change their behavior first? Why is it always about what women need?
Every so often, I hear from a man who has had it up to here with essays that exhort men to do more, be more, try harder. They've given it all, and they've had enough. They're extremely and understandably bitter, because all the women they know expect to be treated like princesses, but give nothing in return. These women expect men follow the age-old modes of Catholic manhood, but they never make any of the sacrifices that traditional Catholic womanhood imposes on women -- and the family court system is often blindly favors moms.
I know that some of these stories must be true. I've seen it myself: I once had a neighbor who demanded incredible chivalry from her husband, expecting him to do all the things a man has always done, plus three-quarters of her job, too -- and then she would mock him in front of her friends for being tired, for folding the laundry wrong, for being old. There was literally no pleasing her; she was perpetually angry and dissatisfied. Eventually she took the children and left, keeping contact only to complain about how difficult single motherhood turned out to be. So yes, these women exist!
And yes, it's tiresome to always hear about women, women, women and their problems.
But if the stories the bitter men tell are true, there is also another story -- a much, much older one. The story is the battle between good and evil. And, as a commenter in my last post said, "Women are the battlefield." We see this daily in the news: the battle for religious freedom centers on "women's issues" like contraception and abortion; the battle for bodily integrity is fought in the womb of an illegally pregnant Chinese woman. When abortions are elective or infanticide is tolerated, it's baby girls who die. Name some social ill, large or small, and you will find women at the center. War criminals know this: this is why systematic rape is such an effective weapon against the entire community.
It's even in Revelations:
The woman, the queen clothed with the sun, is in childbirth, crying out and in pain -- and there is a dragon, waiting to swallow her child when it is born. In terrible pain and anxiety, she struggles to push the child, the savior, out of herself, only to meet the horror of having her child taken away, devoured. The woman herself is not the savior; but without her, there is no savior. Her body is the battlefield.
Most of the Catholic women I know don't need to hear more exhortations to work hard, sacrifice ourselves, put our families first, be generous. We already do these things, and we drive each other crazy making impossible demands on ourselves and each other. This is how it feels to be the center of a culture war: it feels -- exhausting.
Women are noisy, demanding. We are always calling out to be saved, or at least to be heard. Sometimes, as a woman, I feel abashed at my own nature: I feel greedy, or weak, or imperious when I need help or attention-- when I take my own problems seriously -- when I have to stamp my foot and insist on being treated well, even if it's a clear and basic need. Even when I'm only thinking of the good of the family.
Sometimes it would be easier just to be quiet. But what can I do? I am a battlefield.
So, to the men I know who have been wounded, scorned, castigated and ruined by women: I am sorry. I am sorry. I apologize to you on behalf of my sex. You must feel like a solider who steps off the plane at home, only to be spit on and screamed at by foolish, pampered protestors who have no idea that these troops are the ones who are defending their very freedom to protest.
But please remember: those protestors, they are a small minority. There is a grateful nation at home, an entire race of women you'll never meet, who reap the benefits of your struggle every day. We know that you keep society going by working hard, by being good to children, by defending the weak, by using your strength and your courage to promote peace and justice in society -- in short, by acting like men.
In short, by being good to women.
Women are the battlefield. Just remember that, when you're at war, not everyone you meet is the enemy. If you want to win the war between good and evil, it is to women that you will have to come.