Betty Duffy

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Virile Womanhood

(A rerun)

My husband has the flu, so I took the trash out tonight. Seems we forgot to put it out last week, and the Christmas wrappings of this week meant I made several trips from the garage to the end of the driveway. It was cold, and I was glad to have boots that are impervious to wet snow, and an olive green down “Fargo” coat that I inherited from my grandmother. Being dressed appropriately in the snow gave me a little thrill, probably something like a man feels at having the right tools to complete a job. So I stayed outside a little longer. Shut the barn door that keeps blowing open in the 20 mph winds, and abutted it with rocks and rebar. Walked the fenceline. I felt like such a man.

I’ve always been the type to take charge in a vacuum. When no one else can do the job, I’ll do it, and do it well. Several years ago, my husband was out of town when two feet of snow fell. We had just sold our tractor, and everyone I knew who had a plow on their truck was cashing in on the weather to bail out the acres of Wal-mart parking lot. I had four kids at the time, and no choice but to imprison the baby in his crib, put a movie on for the kids, and go outside and dig.

I fancied myself Vigdis the Viking Lady from Sigrid Undset’s “Gunnar’s Daughter.” She skied across the Nordic countryside and mountains for three days with a baby on her back, fleeing from her enemies. I think she even cut off her own finger when she suffered frostbite. Me woman. Me strong.

I had a post up earlier on the male sexual overperception bias (misperceiving a woman’s friendliness as sexual interest), but I took it down (temporarily), because I think I missed the point. I’m not really as concerned about how my friendliness will be perceived as I am about how my particularly female strength should be used.

I was remembering a female drug rep who used to come into the OB’s office while I waited, pregnant, for my appointments. She wore power suits and high heels, and rolled her wares in a briefcase on wheels. With her narrow hips and sharp elbows, I thought, “I bet she always makes her sale.” I had an envy of her strength and confidence that was all wrapped up with her status as a “working woman,” and as such, I presupposed her embrace of feminism and her own sexual prowess. But I don’t think it’s so cut and dry (strong woman=sexy-power-suited feminist).

As I reject so many tenets of modern feminism, I’ve made the mistake of falling into a sort of feminine wimpiness that does not have roots in Christianity. What it amounts to is a sense of helplessness when my husband is around. Changing a diaper is never just changing a diaper when he’s in the room—suddenly it’s an event, requiring assistance: “Can you just hold the baby’s hands out of the way? Can you toss me the wipes?” I can’t bring in the groceries by myself. I can’t pack up the car. I can’t put the kids to bed. I can’t do anything by myself. Why? Because that wouldn’t be fair.

And then something happens, and he can’t help, and I’m suddenly just as strong as I used to be. Or some third party threatens me or my family, and I feel emboldened to take down my adversary “judo style,” as my sister-in-law put it. I have these instincts, and I have this strength because God gave them to me. Mewling around the house like a helpless twit is not a valid expression of my “non-feminism,” it doesn’t honor my “feminine genius,” and it annoys my husband.

My mother-in-law likes to say that marriage is never a fifty-fifty prospect. To be happy in marriage, both spouses must give a hundred percent and expect nothing in return. I find it a bit ironic that when I occasionally adopt the fifty-fifty mentality, a concept that seems relative to the women’s movement, I actually end up feeling and acting weaker. I maybe even “play weak” to inspire the action and assistance of others.

I went back to the Sacred Spain exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art today, and I’m glad I did, because I saw so many things I didn’t see the first time. One painting in particular caught my eye today: a portrait of Madre Jeronima de la Fuente by Diego Velazquez. She’s shown staring confidently into the eyes of her observers. A Poor Clare, she was the foundress of the first Catholic monastery of Manila. The intense gaze of her portrait, the caption said, “communicates her status as a ‘virile woman.’” She exhibited exceptional strength in her “deeds undertaken with a courageous and virile heart.”

Madre Jeronima wasn’t pretty, but I bet she always made her sale. And she did it in a man’s world, with a Crucifix in her hand. Her expression puts me in a mind to rise to the occasion of my vocation, taking out the trash and all.


The Cottage Child said...

"Mewling around the house like a helpless twit is not a valid expression of my “non-feminism,” it doesn’t honor my “feminine genius"..."

I'm torn - you're exactly right. And I wish you would hush. It really isn't fair.

Brilliant piece, btw - every new post I find myself thinking, "no, this one is my favorite".

Our dog died when my husband was out of town (natch) and it was grim - had my husband been here, I would have been tempted to hide in our bedroom with our kids until it was over and done with, but when it came down to it, I was glad I was the one who handled it. I did need reminding that not only am I not the precious vessel type, but it makes me really difficult to live with when I try to play the role.

Tamara @ Living Palm said...

Thank you for this post! I've had these thoughts but have never attempted to articulate them. You not only articulated them but did it so well, I'll be thinking about your words and sharing them with friends for some time. (and convicted by them every time I unnecessarily whimper about needing help to my husband) :)