There are two sides to everything.
Quite a few men who read my article "What Women Want" graciously accepted the criticism I presented on behalf of single women. However, a few were more trenchant (one fellow was downright angry) and challenged my premise that women want heroes.
"I disagree that women want heroes," said one gentleman. "Women want servants." He goes on to write, "They will never admit it, and it can certainly ‘translate' to 'hero' in a limited concept, but women of all ages want young, attractive men to wait on them and make them happy. Women might be initially attracted to brave and strong men but the relationship endures only if the income level of the 'hero' is sufficient to satisfy the woman's long-term expectations."
"What happens," he asks, "When the hero gets old, fat and bald?"
A recent poll of more than 3,000 married women answers his question. 36% of married women would not remarry their spouse, 76% fantasize about another man, and 76% of married women surveyed keep secrets from their husbands, according to a recent poll by Women's Day/AOL.
And, according to a New York Times analysis of 2005 census results, 51% of women reported living without a spouse, up from 49% five years earlier.
Young women today are postponing marriage. Current statistics indicate that fewer than 33% of women in their late 20s are married. Women are also staying divorced longer, or are never marrying.
What do these statistics mean?
One interpretation is that proffered by my aforementioned male reader: Women start out wanting a knight in shining armor and then, when he turns out to be an idealistic dreamer battling at windmills, we are disenchanted. Initially thrilled with a successful breadwinner, we become disgruntled when we discover he is a work-a-holic who spends long hours at the office and is frequently away on travel.
We want our men to be sensitive idealists…but also excellent providers who will allow us to stay at home in the regal fashion we deserve. We want them to be handsome…but not at the cost of brains and earning potential. Our man should have a doctorate in theology, but bring home the bacon like a Wall Street trader.
Are our expectations too high?
Or worse, are we gold-diggers?
As a matter of fact, being a successful breadwinner is number 3 on the list of top predictors of marital happiness for women, in a recent study by sociologists at the University of Virginia.
"American wives, even wives who hold more feminist views about working women and the division of household tasks, are typically happier when their husband earns 68% or more of the household income" (www.happiestwives.org).
It is tempting to blame it all on Eve. After all, she was the one who ate the apple first. But we are reminded by John Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatem that "first sin is the sin of man, created by God as male and female."
But, since we are talking about women here, let's take a look at Eve's role in Original Sin. Perhaps her first mistake was to listen to the serpent and begin to doubt God's providence. As soon as she looked at the tree, "she saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom" (Gen 3:6). See how she rationalizes? We women are easily persuaded to overturn our original decision (in Eve's case, her decision to obey God), in favor of the delights of the imagination: look at how attractive that tree is! Surely it must also be excellent to eat and also, as the serpent said, excellent for wisdom (a good rationale for doing what I want). Eve not only loses her resolve to follow God's will, but (worse) she begins to doubt that God was speaking the truth when he told her that she would die if she ate from the tree.
One of the results of Original Sin is that our imaginations are out of control. The imagination is a marvelous and valuable instrument, but it must remain subordinate to the intellect and will. Yet our imagination overpowers our will, hi-jacks our intellect, and provides us with insipid mental pictures that allow our intellects to limp along at a third-grade level.
What does this mean for women, especially with regard to men? It means we should not let our imagination get so carried away that we expect to live in a fairy tale instead of the real world — a fallen, imperfect world. Women who dwell in their imaginations construct ideal worlds that do not exist — then they are disappointed when nothing measures up. They may find themselves waiting forever for Prince Charming…until they have wasted their lives alone. If our imagination gets the better of our intellect and wills, our minds will not be sharp enough to identify the good when we see it and our wills will not be strong enough to pursue it when we have identified it. Another side effect of the overuse of our imagination is (to put it bluntly) perpetual bitchiness. If I am convinced that everyone (except me) lives in an idyllic world, then I will always be dissatisfied and unhappy.
Another effect of Original Sin: "Your desire shall be for your husband" (Gen 3:16).
"If they [women] are just content to just be in love with a guy and not be willing to go out and try to accomplish something on their own, then it leaves the guys in a position where they can not reach their full potential, because they must spend so much time reassuring the ladies about their self worth," Charlie told me. "Women need to be a support to men. I want someone who has goals and dreams of their own…It can't be a partnership if both people are not willing to fill roles."
Charlie makes a good point.
We cherish the dream that our boyfriend or spouse will be our soul-mate who perfectly understands us, who will solve all our problems and take care of us, and who will answer all our deepest needs. This is too great a burden to place on one fallible human being. Movie romances (and our runaway imagination) have deluded us that there is such a thing as a perfect man and, when we find him, he will fulfill all our most romantic dreams and will be the ultimate source of our happiness. Instead, our trust needs to be in the Lord. He alone is our perfect soul-mate. Only Christ understands us perfectly — better even than we understand ourselves.
There is yet another result of Original Sin: "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16).
There was a reason for the feminist movement. "Throughout the world, men have dominated and exploited women in all societies of which we have any historical record." The fundamental equality of the sexes due to their dignity as persons (see John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem) was violated through Original Sin.
Over the centuries, women have had the worst of it. But the answer to male domination is not for women to become exactly like men. Radical feminists and ivory tower academics once tried to convince us that equality between the sexes would be achieved by denying the fundamental nature of our gender differences. Thus, women had simply to adopt men's roles — such as fighting in the front lines of war, or foregoing childbearing to climb the corporate ladder.
The mistake was not the perception of the problem, but the solution. It is wrong to deny the very essence of our womanhood. But the answer is not the Stepford Wives or turning back the clock to a bygone era of woman as domestic goddess and man as macho provider.
A better solution is for women to discover our "feminine genius."
What is the feminine genius? Psychologist Paul Vitz tells us that there are three views of sexuality: the exploitative model (male dominance); the androgeny or unisex model; and the Christian model, which is the complementary model so eloquently traced to its Biblical origins by John Paul II in his meditation on the dignity and vocation of women, Mulieris Dignitatem.
Discovering our feminine genius includes recognizing the fundamental significance of our capacity for motherhood — which includes spiritual motherhood. This makes us inherently open to new life, gives us a unique "communion with the mystery of life," and even makes us more spiritually receptive. Women are naturally sensitive and intuitive (especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships), and possess a greater capacity for suffering (both physical and moral). In short, women have an unusual strength that John Paul II attributes to our awareness that God has entrusted all of humanity to women.
This openness to new life (whether physical or spiritual) is not passive, but is actively creative. "I have produced a man with the help of the Lord," says Eve (Gen 4:1).
She doesn't even mention Adam.
This woman is strong, creative, and life affirming ("I have produced a man"), while acknowledging her dependence of God. Yet this strong woman also loves a man — whom she is called to support.
The Ideal Wife
John Paul II tells us that "the ‘perfect woman' (cf Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit" (MD 30). The Proverbs Wife is no desperate housewife. She is compassionate, industrious, witty and wise. She is a creative and successful business woman, managing her household creatively and prudently: "She picks out a field to purchase; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard." She rises before dawn, makes sure that her family is well fed and well dressed; and she also is well dressed in fine linen and purple. Others seek out her counsel, for she is not only wise, but also kind and generous. Her husband and children praise her: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all" (Prov 31: 10ff).
A tough act to follow, but not impossible.
As Paul Vitz tells us, "The lives of the female saints have been filled with language describing the intensity of their personal relationship with Jesus and with God. It is as though the capacity of women for spiritually intense relationships is rooted in their capacity for many and intense relationships in the natural world."
John Paul II writes that the test of love is for both man and woman: Can they learn to love each other as persons made in the image and likeness of God?
"She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life," says the Misfit, just after he kills the grandmother in Flannery O'Connor's short story A Good Man is Hard to Find. She was a dislikable character — cranky, self-centered and manipulative — but as she faced death, she had a moment of grace. "Why, you're one of my babies," she says to the Misfit.
And, perhaps that is the truth of it. Without grace, there is nothing but "some meanness." Men and women cannot find the strength to live with equal dignity. Without grace, there is no mutual support — only control and domination. Without grace, our relationships are filled with misunderstandings, jealousy, infidelity, lust and domination.
But God created us out of love, for love. "Man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love." Men and women are made for each other…but not as manservants or as objects of lust and domination. Christ gave his life so that we might live. "He emptied himself taking the form of a slave…he humbled himself becoming obedient to death" (Phil 2:7-8). He wants us to do the same: "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34).With God's help, we can find the true love that God has chosen for us, even before the world existed (Tobit 6:18). And with the help of his grace, we will be able to pass the test of love, loving each other the way Christ loved us.
Laraine Bennett is a freelance writer with articles published in Catholic Faith & Family, Ligourian, New Oxford Review, and the National Catholic Register. Together with her husband, Art, she co-authored The Temperament God Gave You (2005 Sophia Institute Press). Laraine has a BA in Philosophy from Santa Clara University and an MA in Philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Laraine and her husband have been married for 28 years and have lived in California and Germany, and are presently living in Northern Virginia. They have four children — one of each temperament. She can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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